Me And My Desert Rose In Mauritania

I dreamt of rain. I dreamt of gardens in the desert sand. And unlike Sting, I did not wake in vain.

That’s because I made it to Mauritania. What is there in Mauritania, you might ask. 🤷

Well, there’s the infamous Eye of the Sahara, which some people believe is the ruins of the lost city of Atlantis. There’s also an old center of wisdom for the Arab world. And of course there’s a lot of desert and dunes.

For me, this provided the optimal opportunity to meet, or rather bring, my Desert Rose🌹.

Setting the scene

After traveling a bit around Europe, I met up with my girlfriend Alana to take her to see some places that she had only dreamed of visiting before she met me.

Join us on our journey as we travel from the Middle East to Mauritania, a West African country that is the eleventh largest on the continent, but of which 90% is just the Sahara desert. It may be a long and dusty journey through the desert, but rain and greenery awaits.

A Taste of the Middle East

Alana and I spent a week together in Dubai, which she had never visited before. I think the city made a good impression on her, as we met many friends and did a tourist program so she could see some of the emirate.

Having fun in Dubai with the lovely Alana 😍

From Dubai, we flew to Istanbul, where we took a bit of time to explore the city.

Despite the cold and wet weather, Alana was excited to see some of Istanbul.

After dropping our stuff off at the airport hotel, we took a taxi to Taksim Square, walked to the Galata Tower, then went to see the Sultanahmet area with the historic mosques and sights.

We had just enough time to see the essentials, like Hagia Sophia

We walked back to the hotel, then had dinner with a friend. It was a cold and rainy day, but Alana liked Istanbul a lot.

Reuniting with an old friend for dinner with a view 😋

Arriving in Mauritania

That night, we traveled for eight hours from Istanbul to Nouakchott International Airport in Mauritania. Unfortunately, there were no direct flights, so we had to take a two-hour layover in Dakar, Senegal, which was two hours south of our destination. We flew economy class, but it was very comfortable and we got some good sleep on the plane.

In the morning, we landed in Nouakchott, where we found that we were the only tourists there. We had a chat with the immigration officials about tourism in Mauritania, and in the end, they let us through.

Landing at the nearly empty international airport in Nouakchott on a hot day 🥵

Our driver/tour guide wasn’t there to pick us up when we arrived. Even though we were tired, we were stuck at the airport and couldn’t go anywhere. We had to make a handful of phone calls to get us connected. In the end, we found out that our tour organizer had mixed up a.m. and p.m., so he was expecting us to arrive at eight in the evening instead of eight in the morning.

It was quite a hassle waiting outside of the airport in the heat, but we finally got picked up and taken to the hotel, which of course wasn’t ready for us either. Our guide arranged for us to stay at another hotel, where we relaxed, slept a bit, and did some work. In the late afternoon, we were ready to discover more of Mauritania.

That afternoon we drove to the fish market, which was quite interesting to see with lots of people living from fisheries in Mauritania with very basic boats.

Their boats were simple, yet beautiful.

We walked alongside the fishing boats, the beaches, and the fish market, looking at the catch of the day. There were lots of fish, rays, and sharks — basically everything edible that the Atlantic has to offer. After that, we returned to the hotel to prepare for our desert adventure for the next couple of days.

The catch of the day? 🤣

The Adventure Begins

We would not take the Iron Ore Train, which many people do, because I was told that it was quite boring, very dusty, and not very comfortable. I decided that wasn’t something I wanted to do with Alana anyway. It turned out that Alana was quite a good traveler, though, despite the fact that Mauritania was only the seventh country in the world that she had visited.

This car took us everywhere we needed to go, and was a lot more comfortable than the train.

We had quite a lot of fun riding across the desert in a land cruiser. Over the next few days, we headed to the desert towns of Atar, Ouadane, and Chinguetti. And we cruised all the way to the Eye of the Sahara, a collapsed geological dome that is heavily corroded and predates the existence of life on earth.

Overall, seeing the desert towns was a pretty cool multi-day side trip. 😎

We started our journey the morning after our arrival, embarking on a long drive that took most of the day. We drove across the Sahara desert to the town of Atar in the Adrar Region where we stayed overnight. Atar is a small, local town with a famous market that we walked, and a little museum.

Entering the Atar region

The Almoravid tribe that had conquered the Iberian Peninsula in the Middle Ages had their base in area, so we were able to see the ruins of that, which was quite interesting.

The surroundings were quite nice with a big hill and some sand dunes. Our land cruiser got stuck in the sand there, and it took a few minutes for us to free ourselves. But it was all part of the adventure. We drove up the dunes and watched the sunset.

The former Almoravid capital, from which they conquered Morocco and the Iberian peninsula.

On to Ouadane

The next day we drove to Ouadane, a famous town made of stone in the middle of the Sahara desert. It was another long day of driving because Ouadane is one of the most remote towns in Mauritania, with nothing but desert from there all the way to Timbuktu (where I’m supposed to fly in March).

Ruins from the acient Saharan city of Ouadane

Ouadane is quite nice. We just walked around through the stone hills and up some watchtowers where we took a lot of pictures.

Our main purpose for visiting Ouadane was to visit the Eye of the Sahara, which is a three-hour offroad drive through the Saharan sand.

Again, some people believe that the Eye of the Sahara is the remains of the lost city of Atlantis. In reality, it’s basically a crater from a meteorite in the middle of the Sahara, which from a bird’s eye view, looks like a giant eye.

A centered satellite view of the Eye of the Sahara and its proximity to Oadane

It’s difficult to drive into the Eye of the Sahara because you can easily get lost or start driving in circles. Luckily we had a good driver/guide who took us straight into the center of the eye.

Inside “the Eye” with Alana… This is a place where few Brazilians have ever been before!

Even though it was a lot of driving, it was a pretty cool experience because the desert is so beautiful.

A view of the landscape from inside “the Eye” 👁️

It was actually a lot less sandy than I expected — there are a lot of rocks and bushes there too. It also rained while we were there, which I think is a pretty rare experience to see rain in October in the Sahara Desert.

See Sting… trees and rain. It must have been my Desert Rose.

We left Ouadane for an off-road stop in the desert. Until Ouadane, we had mostly been driving through gravel and asphalt roads. After Ouadane, we were mostly driving through the sand of the Sahara desert.

We stopped at a desert oasis where we experienced Bedouin hospitality. We were taught to make Bedouin tea, which they make using a special ritual. We liked it and thought that this style of Mauritanian tea was quite tasty.

A nice cuppa tea

A Holy Town

Next, we drove to Chinguetti, which is famous for its old library. Chinguetti is considered to be a very holy town, and it is a major pilgrimage destination for Sunni Muslims. Chinguetti has a lot of glorious ruins from way back in the day, which are interesting to visit whether you’re religious or not.

The amazing desert town of Chinguetti

The town was quite big, but there wasn’t really so much to do besides exploring the old town. We went to one of the old libraries, which was very nice to see with a lot of ancient Qurans. We were given a nice introduction by a local there, who told us a bit about what we were looking at.

Chinguetti was the center of wisdom in the Arab world. Libraries and universities existed there since 400 A.D. This book is 1500 years old.

I also went burka, or headscarf, shopping with Alana in Chinguetti so that she would have some nice, appropriate, regional wear for this trip and for future travels to Muslim countries. We talked with some nice local people there and bought some souvenirs as well.

Roses are red, and some burkas are too.

In the evening, we watched the sunset from the famous Sahara dunes. Unfortunately, it was quite cloudy with a bit of rain, but we still managed to take some nice photos there in our local clothing. From there, the desert looks just like you would imagine the Sahara, with sand dunes in every direction as far as the eye could see.

With Alana and I in full desert garb, I opted not to run down the dunes as I had done in Sudan.

Taking in the sunset with my desert rose 🌹

The Long Road Back

After leaving Chinguetti, we continued back to Atar over the desert roads and through the sands of the Sahara. We passed through many different cities, with mountains and valleys along the way, and we even got to see some beautiful oases with freshwater sources.

A more lush garden — green oasis in the desert

One oasis that we stopped at is famous for being very green and even having a waterfall, which we took a little hike to see. We had lunch nearby at a place that had a nice watchtower.

Even more greenery. And fresh water is beautiful to see in a place like this.

Back in Atar, we had dinner at a place that we had first tried a few nights ago. They actually had good internet, so I had the opportunity to make some consulting calls from the desert. In most other places we visited, the internet signal was too weak. But in Atar, it was okay.

It’s understandable that we couldn’t find internet in towns like these.

The next day we drove back to Nouakchott and had a little city tour to see the things we had missed on the first day when we had only gone to the fish market.

We went to check out some mosques and a local museum, which was basically a gallery of some nice pictures of Mauritania. It also had a farmers’ market.

We got to check out a local camel market too!

We went to a Lebanese restaurant and learned that there are actually a lot of Lebanese people living in Mauritania. There we had some delicious kibbeh and hummus that we enjoyed a lot.

Overall, we thought that the food wasn’t bad at all in Mauritania. The hotels were okay too. So in the end, I found that the hospitality industry in Mauritania is overall better than I expected.

One more shot of that epic landscape

It was a cool little trip for me, and quite an adventure for Alana. There was a lot of driving, but we quite enjoyed the beautiful desert landscapes. And the real desert romance. 🌹

From Mauritania, we flew to Dakar. And from Dakar to Guinea-Bissau, but that’s a story for another day.

From the desert to the ocean. Onward to Guinea-Bissau!