Day 16 – Nouadhibou, Mauritania

September 17th, 2011
The plan is to leave today for Nouakchott, however my contact, Willem van der Sanden is in Spain and not back until Sunday. So decided to explore Nouhadibou and have a non road day. I’m also a bit tired as we’ve covered some 1520km in the 3 days since leaving Agadir, better to take a break. Also understand that at Cap Blanc, just at the end of the peninsula that Nouhadibou is on, there are some of the last monk seals in the world, as well as an old ship graveyard there. So figure well spend the day and go and see them and a little of the area as well.

Take a walk up the main street of the town, it’s dusty and there’s not much infrastructure and has a very African feel. 80% of the faces now are black, but again Islamic culture predominates. We check out the market and take some pictures of a guy with an air rifle shooting a cigarette butt on a match stick on the pavement – entertainment opportunities are limited here. There’s a small crowd, including us, watching him and helping out. I’m the only one taking pictures however! There’s not much to the town, a small market and lots of stores and dusty streets, but there’s a sense that you can get pretty much anything that you need here. The South African biker even managed to get an M20 bolt for his front sprocket here I recalled.

Headed back to the hotel and jumped on the bike to head to Cap Blanc. Head past the iron ore loading port, which is the main reason the town exists. There’s a railway from here to Zouerat some 800km into the desert which serves the iron ore mine there. The trains that run on this railway are reputed to be some of the longest in the world – but there’s not much waiting to cross the lines in this part of the world! All the ore is brought out here to Nouhadibou where it is loaded on bulk ships to destinations around the world. There were a vast array of ships laying offshore during the time we were there, and the trains are indeed very long.

Cap Blanc is not signposted much, and it turns out that there’s 15km or so of off road piste to get there. Off course we have no luggage on the bike so shouldn’t be a big problem. However 2km in ….. and find myself horizontal on soft sand again albeit at very low speed so no injuries. However Justyna was not impressed with this and a bit spooked, time for a walk. However with a couple of fits and starts, and yours truly trying to learn how to handle soft sand (solo) we made it to Cap Blanc. The scenery is like being in a mad max movie, there’s an abandoned lighthouse, a large cargo ship washed up down below on the beach, hot sun and red sand. It’s like being in some post apocalyptic landscape. There’s a sign at the deserted entrance saying we’re supposed to pay 1200 Ougiya (about €5) for entrance to the “park”. But there is nobody around apart from some guys fishing below us on the beach by the bow of the grounded freighter – they turn out to be Chinese workers!!! (Or maybe the lost crew of the hulk washed up on the shore beside them!

Dismount and lock up the bike and decide to explore on foot. It’s hot! We wander over to the cliffs on the west side, there are two seemingly abandoned cows sitting in the sand chewing their cud, the place seems deserted. There are some buildings over on the western cliffs so we head over there. There’s a plaque on one – says it’s a visitors centre – and then an older guy appears from the depth of one of the buildings and we give him 2400 Ougiya. Although I wonder if the parks department will ever see any of it as there’s nothing in the way of tickets and nothing to prove who ever came or comes there. Still, I guess his family will have a little extra tonight!

He brings us over to the edge of the cliffs, over the rail and it’s a good 50m drop into the ocean. He starts whistling, although it’s pretty blowy so not sure who or what he’s whistling for. Then he points down to the waves, and there sure enough is a Monk Seal, just one, loafing around in the breakers. Monk seals are so-named because their coats supposedly resemble a monk’s robes. They were revered by the ancient Greeks, who believed that seeing a monk seal was a good omen. They featured in the writings of Homer and Aristotle, and were even depicted on one of the first coins ever produced, around 500 BC. Today, they are regarded as the world’s most endangered marine mammal. So I’m going with the good omen part and feeling confident that we’ll make Dakar 🙂

15km on dirt, rock and sand have Justyna nervous on the back (and closing eyes apparently) but we make back to the hotel without going horizontal again, although the bike doesn’t seem to mind it so much – she was, after allm built for this. And the tool tube I lovingly constructed, that Peter said would fall off, remains fixed solidly in place with 4 screw clamps despite being dumped several times in the sand!

Time for another beer and plate of fish at the Casa de Espania and off to bed! Nouakchott tomorrow.

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