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Tony Pro

Aug 24, 2015
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I won't write too much about this as someone posted my old blog post about my first visit to Mauritania here a while back, and I don't like to chew my fat twice. I just want to share some photos, as well as to subvert all convention by saying I've done this trip twice and both times it was neither difficult, dangerous, nor adventurous. Africa in general is neither difficult, dangerous, nor adventurous provided you speak French and don't have too much of an ego.

I hitchhiked from Tiznit to the southern border. That means 1,500km of riding in cars with opinionated Arabs. Not much of a story here. A lot of travel bloggers like dragging the Western Sahara's reputation through the dirt to add edginess to their stories, but in fact it's the most boring region of north Africa, as well as the most heavily policed. It's also home to Morocco's two cleanest, nicest cities, Layyoune and Dakhla.
Crossing the region took me 4 days; I spent about $10 total on tips and urban taxis.

To say a few words about the best damn purchase I ever made -- who knew that if you stand by the road with a musical instrument people will queue up to give you a lift? I bought this (whatever it is) in Marrakech. It became my soundtrack for standing by lonely roadsides.

Mauritania now offers the tourist visa on arrival (cost €55 and a lot of patience) which is awesome. I got through the border around 1pm. I'd already seen Nouadhibou so I took a taxi straight to the yard where you can hop on the train. This being Africa, the train ended up being 11 hours late. No matter for the 50-odd people waiting; we set up camp in the train yard, lit fires, brewed tea, shared snacks, passed around my little guitar and sang songs all night long. I should mention Mauritanians are exactly like Americans. We have two core things in common: the desire for the great outdoors, and to sing the blues (blues music originates in Mauritania. No, seriously). Sandwiched between Moroccans and Senegalese, neither of whom I will ever understand, Mauritanians are a people among whom I feel completely at home and can be myself.

You can have this one for free, Matt.

I don't know exactly how long the train journey is. You sleep, you drink smuggled booze, the sun comes and goes, the natives brew tea. You sleep some more, you hallucinate, you reflect on life's hardships, the hardest of which is being on this fucking train, being cooked by the sun, frozen by the wind, choked by the dust, vibrated into a catatonic state.
For the locals the train is a daily commute. For me it's a dragon, a poltergeist, an enigma, an expression of my innermost strengths and insecurities. There is no force in the universe except the inertia of 2 miles' worth of metal dragging you off into a burning hell. At least the company is good.


Once the train spits you out you're in the middle of the desert, where you can make the most of things if you have imagination. As D.H. Lawrence sang, "Liberty, liberty, elemental liberty!" That's another story.
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