Thirteen days in the Sahara

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netllama
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Thirteen days in the Sahara

Post by netllama » Sat Dec 22, 2018 3:32 pm

Continuing my periodic, ongoing series of trips to the world's deserts, I've recently returned from spending time in the Sahara desert, the largest of this planet's many deserts. More specifically, I spent nearly 2 weeks exploring very remote corners of the nation of Mauritania.

Some of you may be thinking, Mauri-what?? Mauritania doesn't get much attention (and relatively little tourism), but its actually the world's 29th largest country, and sits on Africa's west coast, south of Morocco & Algeria, north & west of Mali, and north of Senegal. Nearly 99% of the country is desert. Many consider it to be one of the world's last remaining traditional desert cultures (more on this in a bit). Truth be told, I originally wanted to visit Mali instead (Timbuktu, etc), but the security situation there made it impossible, if I wanted any assurance of returning alive & unharmed. Thus, I started searching for alternatives, that weren't overrun by tourists (Morocco, Egypt), didn't have painful entry requirements (Algeria, Sudan & Tunisia), and weren't considered unstable or dangerous (Libya, Chad & Niger). Technically, the US State Dept still categorizes Mauritania as a level 3 (reconsider travel) destination (just below the level 4 'do not travel'). However, all the information from those on the ground suggested that the warning was vastly overblown, and the chances of danger were quite low as long as I kept away from the eastern Algeria & Mali border region.

Mauritania is not a wealthy nation. Iron mining is their largest industry (google the 'iron ore train' for more on that), but that benefits very few of their citizens. Outside of their 2 coastal cities, most of the country lacks electricity, safe drinking water, or even a reliable food supply. While that's not good, it does mean that change is very slow, and many people still live very traditional lives. Many are still goat or camel herders, nomads, living in simple tents that they move based on the seasons & weather. Camel caravans are still a thing (although not quite at the same level as hundreds of years ago). Many days, I visited with these people, stopping in for tea. Or they'd visit us. One evening, just before sunset, as dinner was being prepared, this guy wandered into our camp, from I have no clue where. He shared tea with us, chatted for over an hour (well past sunset), then got up, and walked off into the darkness. I'm guessing he lived in some tent, somewhere out there, but it was both creepy and amazing to see him wander into the night, with nothing other than his experience to guide him.

Enough rambling, you came here for the photos, right?

ImageFor a sense of scale, look for the tiny, white Toyota Hilux parked in the center left

ImageDead horse tells no tales

ImageCaravan route

ImageChinguetti dune sea

ImageOudane ancient mosque

Imagethe eye of the sahara. Can be literally seen from space.

ImageAderg

ImageView opposite Aderg

ImageSomeone used to live here

ImageBen Amera, the 3rd largest monolith on Earth

Imagefinal campsite

ImageGoat transport

ImageLook for the crocs on the sand bar

ImageWell water

ImageEating the road

ImageSahara selfie

Imagethe wall

Imagestuck!

Imagea perfect spot for lunch

Imagepyrex 23. A solid 2 hour drive from civilization, they wandered into our camp at dusk, wanting to sell random trinkets.

Imagehours from everywhere

Imagethe freeway

Imagegoat, its what's for dinner

ImageBen Amera dawn

ImageJust 173 more miles to the coast


Hundreds of additional photos are available here. A very detailed, day by day trip report is posted here.
As a side note, I also spent about 9 days riding a motorbike south from Dakar, Senegal to Bissau, Guinea-Bissau as part of the same trip. That was also an amazing experience, but for completely different reasons. I've posted a detailed trip report of that portion of the trip here.

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TacoLand
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Re: Thirteen days in the Sahara

Post by TacoLand » Sun Dec 23, 2018 10:39 am

What ... a ... trip. I always enjoy checking out your photos & trip reports. Just finished the first day by day report and plan on tackling the second motorbike one once I brew up another cup of coffee. I laughed multiple times while reading the first one and really wish that I'd been more diligent over the last few years writing up my trip experiences because I'd love to read back on some of my own personal reactions to 10+ days of questionable food & sleeping conditions in foreign lands. Thanks for taking the time to document & share all of this.

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netllama
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Re: Thirteen days in the Sahara

Post by netllama » Sun Dec 23, 2018 10:55 am

TacoLand wrote:
Sun Dec 23, 2018 10:39 am
What ... a ... trip. I always enjoy checking out your photos & trip reports. Just finished the first day by day report and plan on tackling the second motorbike one once I brew up another cup of coffee. I laughed multiple times while reading the first one and really wish that I'd been more diligent over the last few years writing up my trip experiences because I'd love to read back on some of my own personal reactions to 10+ days of questionable food & sleeping conditions in foreign lands. Thanks for taking the time to document & share all of this.
Thanks! Yea, my trip reports are loosely based on the emails that I'd write up each day to send my wife (mostly as a "i'm not dead" sort of thing, although sketchy, unreliable internet access in remote corners of the world sometimes made even that a challenge). They have a very off-the-cuff tone, but they're also quite fresh in my mind when I wrote them.

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Re: Thirteen days in the Sahara

Post by Gowergulch42 » Mon Dec 24, 2018 4:59 pm

Amazing. Truly amazing.
Check out my reports and informative ramblings at http://dvexplore.blogspot.com

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Re: Thirteen days in the Sahara

Post by MojaveGeek » Mon Dec 24, 2018 6:14 pm

Wow, this is really cool, nice trip! In 1972 I hitch-hiked across the Sahara from Algiers to Niamey (and then onward, many more miles in Africa). When I applied for my first non-corridor Grand Canyon permit, and they asked what desert experience I had, I said I'd crossed the Sahara. No further questions, permit issued :)

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netllama
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Re: Thirteen days in the Sahara

Post by netllama » Mon Dec 24, 2018 9:02 pm

MojaveGeek wrote:
Mon Dec 24, 2018 6:14 pm
Wow, this is really cool, nice trip! In 1972 I hitch-hiked across the Sahara from Algiers to Niamey (and then onward, many more miles in Africa). When I applied for my first non-corridor Grand Canyon permit, and they asked what desert experience I had, I said I'd crossed the Sahara. No further questions, permit issued :)
Wow. That's impressive. That was a different world back in 1972. How long were you in Africa for that trip?

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Re: Thirteen days in the Sahara

Post by Death Valley Dazed » Tue Dec 25, 2018 6:26 am

OMG thanks for sharing such a thrilling experience. If and when I ever feel complete about Death Valley I might try to trace a few of your footsteps. Thanks again for sharing the world!
Life begins in Death Valley

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netllama
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Re: Thirteen days in the Sahara

Post by netllama » Tue Dec 25, 2018 9:04 am

Death Valley Dazed wrote:
Tue Dec 25, 2018 6:26 am
OMG thanks for sharing such a thrilling experience. If and when I ever feel complete about Death Valley I might try to trace a few of your footsteps. Thanks again for sharing the world!
Thanks. I don't know that anyone will ever feel complete about Death Valley, as there's always something new to explore, or something that has changed over time. However, I find it fascinating to see how different deserts around the world are similar & different from what we're used to closer to home.

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Re: Thirteen days in the Sahara

Post by MojaveGeek » Fri Apr 12, 2019 1:28 pm

netllama wrote:
Mon Dec 24, 2018 9:02 pm
Wow. That's impressive. That was a different world back in 1972. How long were you in Africa for that trip?
Oh I missed this question, too busy with the holidays! Actually I was in Africa about 8 months. I traveled Morroco (entered via Ceuta, Spain) - Algeria - Nigeria - Kenya. All by land, most but not all of it hitch hiking. It was a tough trip though. Going across the jungle lands, some days you'd get 50-100 km and then the rains would make the roads impassible till the next day. Spent a couple of months without ever seeing a horizon, which I realized only when I went over the mountains on the east side and saw one again. Africa is *huge*. You don't realize it so much by looking at the usual Mercator projection of the globe, which makes northern latitudes seem bigger. I figure I traveled the equivalent of about 2 1/2 times across the US - on dirt roads for the most part.

Yes it was a very different world back then. As in, I spent about 3 months in Afghanistan at various times, was quite comfortable for months in Iran, HIV was not known in Africa (though I did get nasty malaria), Turkey was entirely mellow, Syria was a beautiful country with lots of history... Sigh.

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Re: Thirteen days in the Sahara

Post by netllama » Fri Apr 12, 2019 8:25 pm

MojaveGeek wrote:
Fri Apr 12, 2019 1:28 pm
netllama wrote:
Mon Dec 24, 2018 9:02 pm
Wow. That's impressive. That was a different world back in 1972. How long were you in Africa for that trip?
Oh I missed this question, too busy with the holidays! Actually I was in Africa about 8 months. I traveled Morroco (entered via Ceuta, Spain) - Algeria - Nigeria - Kenya. All by land, most but not all of it hitch hiking. It was a tough trip though. Going across the jungle lands, some days you'd get 50-100 km and then the rains would make the roads impassible till the next day. Spent a couple of months without ever seeing a horizon, which I realized only when I went over the mountains on the east side and saw one again. Africa is *huge*. You don't realize it so much by looking at the usual Mercator projection of the globe, which makes northern latitudes seem bigger. I figure I traveled the equivalent of about 2 1/2 times across the US - on dirt roads for the most part.

Yes it was a very different world back then. As in, I spent about 3 months in Afghanistan at various times, was quite comfortable for months in Iran, HIV was not known in Africa (though I did get nasty malaria), Turkey was entirely mellow, Syria was a beautiful country with lots of history... Sigh.
There's hope. In the past week the dictators of Algeria & Sudan were toppled. I'm seriously thinking of planning trips there for next year.

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Re: Thirteen days in the Sahara

Post by MojaveGeek » Tue Apr 16, 2019 7:28 pm

My original plan had been to go across the Med coast and up the Nile to Kenya, but at that time - early 70s - Americans were not allowed in Lybia at all, and not allowed upriver from the Aswan Dam in Egypt, so did the Algerian Sahara crossing instead.

Hopeful for Sudan... but don't expect too much from any government there until it proves itself.

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