The train to the east

Read / lees in : Nederlands

Iron Ore Train from Nouadhibou to Choum / Mauritania
Unprecedented luxury, living the high life

I really didn’t know anything about Mauritania, except for the fact that they have a very wide beach. And when I say wide, I mean really wide. And according to our ministry of foreign affairs it’s extremely dangerous in this sandbox. Terrorists are hiding behind every grain of sand. So my plan was to race through Mauritania as fast as I could, and as close to the coast as possible. Until I saw videos on Youtube, like this one, of the iron ore train that runs between de coastal town of Nouadhibou and the mine in Zouérat, in the east of the country. Deep in the Sahara and the deadly red area on the MOFA map. And yes, you read correctly, they still do old fashioned metal mining in this country instead of mining Bitcoin. The big advantage of this train is that you can ride in the cargo wagons for free, something that has been forbidden in the Netherlands since 73 years. Since I’m a cheapskate ánd suicidal I decided to ride the train to Choum, and continue from there by bus to Atar: The Gate to the Sahara.

Somewhere between Nouadhibou and Choum / Mauritania
One of the settlements we passed by. Why would anyone want to live here?

The Dutch Railway ain’t that bad after all

The train was supposed to leave at 3pm. So I was there, a bit naïve, at 2pm so I’d be sure to have a place on this train with its length of just two kilometers. It proved to be not a minute too early, because we left just before midnight. Because it was already dark at that hour me and my wagon companion crawled into our sleeping bags, that we had rolled out on the thick layer of iron ore dust, right away. I heard a deafening metal screeching, followed by a loud bang and a brutal shock that went through our wagon. So I thought that another train had hit us. Unfortunately this was nog the case. I found out it was all part of the experience, which meant that this phenomenon would keep us from sleeping all night long. Because of the wiggle room between the carts, inertia and the enormous amount of carts, the train as a whole expands and contracts every time it accelerates and breaks, much like an accordeon. With that racket and shockwave as a result. Because of the strong wind, which apparently is always blowing in the desert, the sand and iron ore dust swirled non-stop through our wagon. This forced us to wrap ourselves like mummies in our sleeping bags ánd cover our mouths. It barely made a difference, because after a sleepless night we arrived with white black powder in our noses, ears, teeth, hair, etc. Yes, even there where the scorching desert sun never shines.

Atar / Mauritania
When I said goodbye to Just his neighbour wanted to be in the picture with us. And you know me, I’ll do anything for money.

Compatriots abroad

After arriving in Choum I said goodbye to my wagon buddy, who had to ride all the way to the endpoint of the train, and boarded one of the minivans that were waiting there to bring people to their next destination. I hadn’t arranged anything for after the train ride. The only thing I knew was that there’s a Dutch guy running an accommodation in Atar, called ‘Bab Sahara‘. So I just told the driver to drop me off there. All I wanted was to take a shower as soon as possible, and find out what moves somebody to settle down in a dusty little town in the middle of the Sahara. With a German wife even. When I arrived I didn’t see Just, the owner, but his staff showed me a room that exceeded my expectations with regards to comfort and cleanliness by far. Without further ado I headed to the shower where I saw the water that came off me disappear into the drain black as a skillet. Once I was cleaned up I found Just outside in the shadow with a plate of spaghetti. We talked for a while, but why he and his now deceased wife moved here of all places remained vague. No problem, I was more than happy to be able to talk in Dutch for a while. On top of that I found out, after my siësta, that Just brews very delicious beer on-site. How happy can one be, after a shower, a nap and an ice cold beer? You can only find out the answer to that question if you first ride the iron ore train to the east in Mauritania. Highly recommended!

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