On Thursday we arrived in Atar on the Adrar plateau in Mauritania after a two day ride through the dunes of the Sahara. The ride was one of our most exciting yet. We embarked from Nouadibou on Wednesday morning after a large night with the African Surfers. Stone managed to discover a forgotten bottle of Cameroonian whiskey which had lay dormant in the back of their 4×4. It had been destined for a village chief, luckily forgotten, and somehow managed to make itself appear again in Mauritania. This is just as well as alcohol is also forbidden here and unlike Morocco it’s not legal for non-Muslims to consume the stuff. It was an excellent evening and a fine way to part company.
The ride through the Sahara was blistering but beautiful. There were no roads so we were following trails and plains, navigating the easiest paths through. The directions are pretty simple, follow the train tracks east to Choum always keeping them to your left. Never go north of the tracks because the whole border between Mauritania and Morocco is mined! Once you get to Choum turn south and head along the heavily corrugated piste to Atar. Simple really!
The train tracks in question are the rails of the world’s heaviest and longest train in the world, the Nouabhidou to Zouerate train which carries iron ore from Zouerate to the port at Nouabhidou. Cars (and bikes) can be carried on the train, either on top of the ore carriages or on their own flat beds, passengers just sit in cars or on top of the train! There are no passenger carriages!
We actually saw the train pass as we were setting out and it is a sight to behold as it comes into view. Even as it trundles past you it continues right into the horizon as far as you can see!
Once we left the tarmac and headed for the tracks we hit the first obstacle, and it’s one we should have expected, soft sand! Our bikes were heavily loaded with our normal baggage as well as a combined 80 liters of fuel for the 590 km journey. We immediately got stuck in the sand, much to the amusement of the locals who came out to watch the spectacle. After a fair bit of sweating, pushing and swearing in the 30 degree heat we managed to get both bikes onto firm ground and lower the tire pressure to something which would give us traction in the sand!
After this it was much easier going and we soon got used to the tricks of sand riding. Keep momentum and don’t stop in soft sand or on uphill slopes is the trick!
By evening we had made some good progress despite a late start and we had burnt enough fuel that we could empty the 30 liters we were carrying on the back of the bikes into our tanks, moving the weight forward and making the bikes much more agile and even fun in the sand.
We made camp a kilometer from the train tracks in a secluded and untouched part of the desert next to a large rock to shelter the tent from the desert wind, we didn’t need to worry though because as night falls the wind stops and a peace and calm descends on the desert like nothing you have ever felt before. You really do feel the peace around you and sounds travel for miles. It was a wonderful feeling to be out in the remoteness of the desert cooking noodles on our stove with just each other and our thoughts for company! Such a departure from the hustle and bustle of city life and so much of what this trip is about for the two of us. Getting away from it all to listen to our own thoughts uninterrupted.
To our surprise we found some remote villages scattered along our route through the Sahara. These folks are in the middle of nowhere with no real connection to the outside world except the train. However they still manage to harbour some of the ‘Donnez moi un Cadeau’ (Give me a gift!) brigade. One crowd of villagers surrounded Keith and the leader came forward before the others carrying his baby girl. He handed Keith his child and the kid was gorgeous but then came the ‘donnez moi un cadeau’ line. It kinda spoiled the moment. What had appeared as a warm hearted gesture was only really a ploy to get money.
The desert crossing alternated between pretty hard ground and well defined tracks to dune fields with no clear way through. It was exciting and challenging for the two of us, particularly on the second day which found us both going through the dune fields wondering if our calculations on our fuel consumption would be correct.
As we approached Atar, mountains appeared in the distance and then approached. Then more trees started to appear. All a welcome sight after the clumps of grass and dunes we had been riding through all day.
Eventually we climbed up a pass onto the Adrar plateau and started to see more signs of civilisation before we rolled hot, sweaty and very dusty into Atar. The first thing we did was head to the closest restaurant for some real food and the most refreshing fizzy drinks in a long time! Parts of the journey had been so sandy that Keith managed to empty half the desert out of his boots outside!
More pictures have been added to the Mauritania gallery.