Transafrica 2018 STOP 20

May 28, 2018

Dakar – Atâr

Flight distance: 439 nm
Hours in the air: 0.36

The vast grandness of the Sahara

When deciding to go to he Sahara, we wanted it done the most direct way, which meant flying straight into the desert town Atâr rather than than making the detour over the Capital Nouakchott. That resulted in a very slow process of immigration as there are hardly any direct international flight coming into Atâr anymore when the crisis started in 2008. Since then Eastern Mauritania is considered off-limits for travellers by most nations, something we can not agree with at all.

After being cleared to enter the country we went straight to the semighost Sahara town of Quadâne (dating from the 14th century) over almost 200 km of dirt road, hence managed by very experienced drivers at speeds between 80 and 100 km/h. After a very late lunch we visited the ancient stone town in the late sunlight followed by a dinner outdoors.

The next days had us continuing through the white sands direction to Chinquetti, another desert town where we relaxed during the hot afternoon hours before visiting the local library which contained ancient books and document form the early ages of existence of this region. We finished the day with watching the sun go down from atop a huge sand dune. Dinner again was simple, yet delicious, even though we were missing a nice wine to complement it, left alone enjoying a cold beer coming back from our outings. That all should change as we are headed out tomorrow.

Facts & figures

A Northern African country in the Maghreb region bordering the North Atlantic Ocean in south west. Countries with international borders to Mauritania are Algeria, Mali, Senegal, and the Western Sahara. The country covers an area of 1,025,520 km², making it about twice the size of Spain, or slightly larger than the US states of Texas and New Mexico combined.

Much of the country is covered by the Sahara, about three quarters of Mauritania are desert or semidesert. Mauritania has a mixed Arab and Berber population of 3.4 million inhabitants (in 2014), about one third of its people live in Nouakchott, the capital and largest city, situated between the dunes and the ocean.

Mauritania’s population consists of about 70% Moors, people of Amazigh (Berber) and Arab descent, and 30% non-Arabic speaking Africans: Wolof, Bambara, and Fulas. Spoken languages are Arabic (official), Wolof (official), and French. Mauritania is an Islamic country, the majority are Sunni Muslims. Legal tender is Ouguiya, but Euro is the preferred currency. Rumor has it there is a working ATM in Nouakchott.

The Bafours were primarily agricultural, and among the first Saharan people to abandon their historically nomadic lifestyle. With the gradual desiccation of the Sahara, they headed south. Many of the Berber tribes claimed Yemeni (and sometimes other Arab) origins. There is little evidence to support such claims, but a 2000 DNA study of Yemeni people suggested there might be some ancient connection between the peoples. Other peoples also migrated south past the Sahara to West Africa.

In 1076, Moorish Islamic warrior monks (Almoravid or Al Murabitun) attacked and conquered the large area of the ancient Ghana Empire. Over the next 500 years, Arabs overcame fierce resistance from the local population (Berber and non-Berber alike) to dominate Mauritania.

The Dutch trading post of Arguin in 1665 The Char Bouba war (1644–74) was the unsuccessful final effort of the peoples to repel the Yemeni Maqil Arab invaders. The invaders were led by the Beni Hassan tribe. The descendants of the Beni Hassan warriors became the upper stratum of Moorish society. Hassaniya, a bedouin Arabic dialect that derives its name from the Beni Hassan, became the dominant language among the largely nomadic population. Berbers retained a niche influence by producing the majority of the region’s marabouts: those who preserve and teach Islamic tradition.

Independent from France in 1960, Mauritania annexed the southern third of the former Spanish Sahara (now Western Sahara) in 1976, but relinquished it after three years of raids by the Polisario guerrilla front seeking independence for the territory. Opposition parties were legalized and a new constitution approved in 1991.

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