How many sand dunes can you photograph on a trekking holiday? Walking from Chinguetti to Tergit took us six days and now I have some four hundred photographs to work on – so the answer to my question is: way too many.
Mauritania is big and beautiful and for me being out of radar, without computers and mobile phones, is what I call a holiday. Plenty of fresh air with beautiful night skies illuminated by the Pleiades, Orion and Andromeda, among thousands of other stars. There were also scorpions, camels, and more camels, acacias, and even a few people from day three onward, mostly wrinkled nomadic men on their camels and with charmingly brief toothless smiles directed at us. Or their wives selling dates and necklaces made out of dried camel poop. The scenery kept changing from sand to rocky hills to mountains as we moved on, and this was in direct relation to the increasing number of abrasions on our feet. Our guide E was a football coach who took a special pride in walking very fast especially in deep sand and steep slopes. He did this also partly because we needed to reach our night camp early so that he would be able to cook for us before dark. Truly a man of many talents. As a result to this speed walking I ended up with a surprisingly large number of blurry pictures and a lens cap that would not close as I would have to focus more on seeing my steps and keep balance… but the dinners were always tasty!
There were also a few palmeraies, peaceful lush valleys with thousands of date palms (I must have eaten thousands of dates in a week to keep myself high on sugar like a local) that I eagerly photographed in all possible lightning. These oasis looked fantastic, like mirages from the Orientalist French paintings by Vernet. My plan is to develop these shots with gum oil sometime in the future.
Mauritania is also quite a contrast to my adopted home country Senegal: so much quieter and almost secretive, as things seem to happen behind closed doors and gates and darkened car windows. Not to mention that everybody is wrapped in practical chèches, fighting the ever present dust and sand. A New Year’s Eve in Nouakchott and we were more or less the only walking persons in that part of town. I realize now that when I am away from Saint-Louis, it is the soundscapes produced by humans and animals that I start to miss first. But the desert is a mind expanding experience because of its vastness that literally swallows you. I’ve had similar experiences earlier in Libya in the Akakus region and in Dallol in Ethiopia. That vastness, in a way, puts you in a place in new proportions and you come to realize your true size on this planet – small that is – just like the ocean does, and your dreams turn big and vivid. Not a bad start for this new year, never mind the abrasions!