Mauritania is a unique although seldom visited country, with some stunning landscapes and interesting ancient towns that used to take part of the desert caravan route a long time ago.Their infrastructure is limited.There are not many hotels and just a few roads.Although the country was an unsafe destination a few years ago due to Al-Qaedda activity in its desert area, it’s currently a quite safe destination, with many checkpoints along its main roads.
Mauritania is mostly covered by vast desert and semidesert areas.The desert has been continuously expanding since the mid 60’s.The country is mainly a flat area interrupted by deep canyons, plateaus and isolated peaks.The Adrar Plateau is the highest plateau, with an altitude of 500 meters, see picture below.
Mauritania is a great destination for birdwatchers, with more than 570 species of birds.Banc D’Arguin is an area of great importance for wintering and breeding seabirds and shorebirds.Other important birding areas are Diaouling Nature Reserve and Diawling National Park in the southern part of the country. The endangered Mediterranean Monk Seal is one of its landmark mammals, with a population of 500 individuals located on the shores of Cape Blanc, also called Ras Nouadhibou.
To get to Mauritania it was an odyssey.Firstly i crossed Western Sahara from Tarfaya to Dakhla.We stopped for a while in El-Aaiun.This town was fully controlled by the army due to the Sahara conflict.Fortunately the bus stopped for a short time. While going by bus all i could see was desert and barely any single person.I understood why this area is known by being one of the lowest populated area in the world.After 12 hours by bus i arrived in Dakhla,where i slept for one night.
Next day i arranged a shared taxi with some other people to go to the border.After a 6 hours trip we arrived in the Moroccan checkpoint.They stamped my visa and we passed through a land mined area that doesn’t belong to anybody.The mines where the remains of the previous war between Mauritania and Morocco for the control of Western Sahara when the Spanish abandoned it.Fortunately there was a “road” to follow, although i heard that a tourist died a few years ago due to the wind changed the direction of the sandy “road” and his car blowed up.I have to say that it was pretty scary.The longest trip of my life in only a distance of 3 km.When i saw the Mauritanian post on the horizon i started to breath calmly.
Once in Mauritania border, i had to pay 120 euros for a visa.There were no tourists and things went very smoothly.Finally my taxi dropped me in Nouadibhou town.I felt like i was in the middle of nowhere.I got into a taxi and told him to bring me to a hotel.He barely understood me, but then a woman got into the car and helped me to find the place.I have to say that Mauritanians were very helpful and one of the most accommodating people i have ever seen in all my trips.
Once in the hotel, i talked to a guy to contact a taxi using my basic French.The taxi driver came and i could arrange my trip to Cape Blanc for about 40 euros.
Next morning he came to pick me up.After 40 minutes driving we entered into a rough road that crossed a dunes area.The road was very sandy and the car was sliding all time.The driver put a kind of weird arab music that seemed like a mixture of psychedelia, techno and traditional music.I have to say that i got a bit sick !! :-p
Finally we arrived to Cape Blanc one hour and a half later.This peninsular area was surrounded by steep cliffs.There was a lighthouse and a small house with a guard.The guard told me that there was only one individual of monk seal on the nearby and that the rest of the colony lived in a restricted farther area controlled by the army.Even though i felt a bit upset hearing that i persisted in my research.
I explored the surroundings looking for the monk seal.I waited patiently in front of the fences that are near the cliff.The guy told me that the seal had been near here the day before in the afternoon.He showed me the tracks of the seal.Notice them on the picture below.
Afterwards i went around but no sign of the solitaire creature.I spent almost 2 hours but my search was proven fruitless.I came back to Nouadibbou quite upset.When we arrived at the city i told the driver to come again in the afternoon and we negotiated the price.
About 2 o’clock we started our second trip.We arrived about 4:00 pm there.I excitedly scrutinised every single hole of the cliffs and the small beaches that lay on the bottom of the cliffs.
Finally,after 30 minutes i saw the seal.It was sleeping on a small sandy beach.From time to time it moved her fins or it slightly changed the position of its head.I was a bit far and my camera was a bit short of reach but i managed to take some decent shots.
I took many pictures as i could till it started to get dark.About 5 pm i came back.I felt fully satisfied and the surreal music even sounded like Mozart to me !!!
I was very happy to capture some pictures of one of the most endangered seals in the world !!!
Tomorrow i am going to China to see if possible pandas in the wild and some of its interesting birdlife !!
As soon as i come back i will continue posting reports about Senegal, Gambia, India, Singapore and China !!
On the meantime if you have any suggestion or question don’t hesitate to contact me.I can answer it while traveling.
See you soon my friends !!