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A desert country at the heart of the Sahara

date of entry 08/11/2004
mileage 424,650

capital Nouakchott

area 1.030.700 km²

population 3.438.000

GDP 2.756 M. US US-Dollar

official language Arabic

Life in the desert state of Mauritania is hard. The Sahara is constantly encroaching on towns and villages, and water is an extremely short supply. The Holtorfs visited the country in 2005, and Gunther travelled down the coast again on his last major African tour in 2013. This time, there were very few other vehicles because the road was reckoned dangerous.
  • He was particularly fascinated by the houses’ ancient wooden doors
    22  of  22
  • Mauritania is truly a desert land. Sometimes people lose the battle against the sand, and towns gradually vanish.
    1  of  22
  • Living in the mountains is safer. The tall buildings act as chimneys, funnelling cool air from below.
    2  of  22
  • The mud-and-stone houses blend in with the landscape.
    3  of  22
  • Once abandoned, they crumble into dust.
    4  of  22
  • Firewood is always in short supply in Mauritania, and often has to be carried for long distances.
    5  of  22
  • The colourful doors in the background show that these houses are still inhabited.
    6  of  22
  • When houses collapse, the stones are used to build new ones.
    7  of  22
  • Even modern buildings are constructed in traditional style.
    8  of  22
  • Walls and window frames are decorated with elaborate white patterns.
    9  of  22
  • There are subtle differences in ornamentation.
    10  of  22
  • Huge baobabs are a common sight in the Mauritanian savanna. Otto is 2.4 metres tall, but was dwarfed by this one.
    11  of  22
  • Striking rock formations provided shelter from the wind when camping overnight.
    12  of  22
  • There was little traffic in Mauritania in 2005, and much of it was slow moving.
    13  of  22
  • Nomads had to water their camels from very deep wells.
    14  of  22
  • The men like to carry weapons: In 2005, many wore beautifully decorated traditional daggers on their belts, and AK-47s over their shoulders.
    15  of  22
  • Markets in small villages were often sparsely attended
    16  of  22
  • But this cattle market attracted more buyers and sellers
    17  of  22
  • There was fierce bidding for the best animals
    18  of  22
  • Men sometimes wore their daggers on their chests
    19  of  22
  • Gunther often climbed onto roofs for a better view when taking photographs
    20  of  22
  • This was a great way of taking everyday street scenes
    21  of  22
  • Video: Mauritania: land of mines and drifting sand

Otto was here before ...

Western Sahara

date of entry 27 November 2004
mileage 430,602

Morocco / Ceuta  / Melila

date of entry 29 November 2004
mileage 431,933