Nouakchott is the capital of Mauritania and a place that is really hard to describe. It is spread out over a large area with between one and two million inhabitants. There are a few modern buildings in what is called le capital but the rest of the city is mainly one and two story buildings. Chaotic is not a good enough description of the traffic, it is like a giant folk race with cars where nothing is working except for the driveline and perhaps a light bulb or two. They don’t just have dents, some cars are more like loosely jointed pieces of sheet metal. Then there are countless donkeys with carts behind them, goats, dogs garbage and of course people everywhere. There are few paved roads, and since we are in the desert here, the roads are running in deep sand and cars get stuck all the time. Anarchy is the rule, you just push ahead on either side of the road or anywhere a car can slip through, honk your horn and use your lights (if you have any) to show you’re coming. Actually, what looks like total anarchy actually is a rather sophisticated system of communication that has evolved naturally and many of the drivers are eminently capable of driving here without accidents. Still, there are a large number of vehicle impacts. Damage is mostly small though because it is nar impossible to drive faster than 20 kms/hr in the sand and the endless traffic jams.

One of the capable drivers is our friend Abou Moustapha Si who met us at a gas station shortly after our arrival. Abu is a great guy around 25 yrs of age, a bachelor of Senegalese descent.

(The complicated relationship between the Moors and the Africans, the so called “White Moors” who may be pitch black but still think of themselves as white, the various ethnical groups and languages, whether there is still a slave trade and other interesting topics and for reading more about the amazing country that is Mauritania I recommend going to Wikipedia or making a search. For Swedish readers, there is an interesting (but probably not wholly truthful) article by Marianne Ahrne here: )

It was obviously a meeting that Abou had been looking forward to since he first met Jon and Joakim four years ago. Abou is one of the hubs on this trip. He will probably join us on the trip to Mali and be invaluable as a driver, a guide, an interpreter and a friend. He is also a man of many trades, and he would help us sell the Peugeot the next day.

Abou lives in the fifth arrondissement where the population is mixed but mostly African. He has a large apartment where we were to spend the next three days. Abou started cooking right away, one of his many trades. Large chunks of salt water fish, a few vegetables, hibiscus seeds, chili, various spices and a long boil and viola. A lovely Senegalese dish, that we shared eating with our right hands from a big bowl, sitting on the floor.

The Peugeot was sold to a policeman named Yaya. His idea was taking my passport and getting a stamp in it that the car I had arrived in had somehow crossed the Senegal border. I reluctantly let him have my passport and was a little bit worried. And more than two days passed before I was to see it again. Being a foreigner in Mauritania without a passport is not a good idea! And getting a new passport would take a while – longer than I would like to stay here.

We spent the days here driving around, doing a little shopping, taking in the scene and talking to the people around the place where we were staying. The men and the incredibly beautiful west African women. An 18 yr old girl named Bongko helped us with cooking and errands. She and her sisters and other women often came by, and for some reason they were changing their clothes every time. We were more than flattered by their attention. :o)

For New Years Eve Abou slaughtered the little goat that someone had given as a gift to Joakim the day before. The legs were put in a put In a stove with the grease and the liver and three hours after the animal had died we were enjoying it as a meal of very fresh, young, tasty and tender meat.

For the evening, we went to the fishing harbor which is actually only a long stretch of beach with an endless row of wooden boats in the sand. We bought fresh tuna and langouste. They had a huge langouste, over 3 1/2kilos that we thought about taking but it was frozen and cooking it could be a problem (I later regretted this). We took two smaller ones instead.

The tuna and langouste were prepared in much the same fashion as the goat – au nature. Natural, without any recipes or anything else. Only a slice of lemon and some salt. The tuna was grilled over charcoal so it was barely cooked and then we let it rest under a lid for a while. The taste was wonderful. Then the langoustes were halved and then grilled over intense heat. Now the taste was sensational. About the best seafood I ever had. I wonder if langouste is even better than lobster? They look the same, except for the fact that the langouste gets along without claws.

We got the Peugeot sold, learning a few lessons like that in Africa “right away” means tomorrow and ”in an hour” means some other day. Insha’Allah! With Abou now we are four drivers for two cars which make more sense. Today is the first of January 2008. It is Tuesday. Tomorrow morning we are ready to go the Malian embassy and get our visas and then get out of this crazy place. ;o)

Actually, the spirit of this place is amazing, the people are colorful, patient and generous.

There’s a lot to like. Perhaps I will be back someday. Hopefully they will then have running tap water and better plumbing.