When I arrived in Atar, a town in the Adrar region in the central-north of Mauritania, I was determined to tour the desert. I was fortunate to meet a reliable, experienced, and friendly guide right after I arrived, and the next afternoon, after a visit to the oasis of Terjit, we were on the way. When we had visited the ancient desert town of Chinguetti, our camel driver was waiting for us at the outskirts of town. Our bags, food and water were tied to the camels; we would walk the deserts ourselves. It was already hot when we started walking up and down the sand dunes. Quite soon, Chinguetti had disappeared behind us, and we were surrounded by an ocean of sand. I marveled at the shapes of the dunes, the colours, the views. I was amazed to find a myriad of life on the sand: beetles, plants, grass, shrubbery, insects, hares, birds: the desert turned out to be full of life. At the same time, I was impressed by the resilience of these creatures; the dry and hot desert landscape seemed inhospitable to my human logic. I was happy that, after hiking the dunes for a couple of hours, we found a shaded place where the luggage was taken off the camels, who happily roamed the desert, while we prepared lunch and had a rest under a tree. The camel driver cut meat in strips, which were hung on the sharp branches of an acacia tree. It took the camel driver more than half an hour to find the camels again, and then we were on our way again. We crossed a zone with particularly high sand dunes before sunset, when we had views of a small oasis settlement below. Our place for the night.
Sleeping on the sand turned out to be great; lying on our backs, the dazzling star-studded sky overhead seemed endless, and the shooting stars more than we could think of wishes to make. In the morning, the camel driver found a scorpion under the goat skin which had been his cover. The next days, I would get used to the rhythm of the desert: walk a few hours in the morning, then, lunch and siesta, and a few more hours walk in the evening. We discovered the different faces of the desert: patches of white sand with acacia trees, and flat areas with black gravel, ancient lakes, surrounded by orange sand dunes. We found a wadi with a water source, which was the only place we could wash ourselves during the entire trek. We found several viper eggs - the baby snake already gone. We found areas with butterflies, and in the evening, the sun cast longer and longer shadows of the camels on the sand below. We saw a herd of goats, roaming the Sahara with their shepherd. We spent the night in a different place every night, and had nights without a breeze, and one with a strong wind which had us covered in sand when we woke up.
One of the most remarkable mornings started without any wind, but after one hour, a breeze which had been a welcome provider of cool air, had developed into a storm. Then, suddenly, we came across a pool at the foot of a sand dune. We put up a tent, had a sandy lunch sitting on camel and donkey dung, and the guide and me had a dip in the cool water when the wind had died down a little. My guides sometimes made me laugh, when they walked up a high sand dune, holding their cellphones in the air to see if they could find a network and talk to their wives. It reminded me that, even though it looked like we were far away from civilization, the modern world was around the corner, invisible. The sky was hazy, and the light terrible, when we hiked back towards Chinguetti. Small trees stood at the foot of sand dunes, and I continued to walk the ridge of the sand dunes until the sun set and we set up our last camp. Fortunately, the moon was nearly full: when we were chatting after dinner, the guide suddenly warned me to go away, and I was alarmed by the urgency in his voice. A big scorpion was walking right next to me, and I was just in time to roll off my mattress into the sand. When we finally returned to Chinguetti, it was time to get our stuff from the camels, and bid our camel driver farewell; after four fantastic days in the desert, we were to continue our journey to Ouadane, yet another desert town in the region. But the images of the rich diversity of the desert will stick to our memory.
Around the World in 80 Clicks
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