Mauritania: A wild train ride through the Sahara
Mauritania is home to the longest train in the world. But this free, daily trip to the coast is far from a comfortable ride and only the most hardy will climb aboard.
A seat on the longest train in the world
The Mauritania train transports iron ore from mines in the heart of the Sahara to the west coast of Africa. In the coastal town of Nouadhibou, the ore is loaded onto ships. The train then makes the 700 kilometer journey back to the Zouerat area in the Sahara. Some hardy people take the opportunity to jump on. They don't need a ticket — it's free but it's also a comparatively uncomfortable ride.
No air conditioning here
On this wild ride on the "Iron Ore Train", nobody expects soft seats and air conditioning. The journey is exhausting, cold and dirty. But it's also a free trip through the Sahara, offering a daily connection between Nouadhibou and Zouerat, and it is used by many locals.
Waiting for the train
With an area of 1 million square kilometers, Mauritania is almost three times the size of Germany — and with 4 million people, only very sparsely populated. Two-thirds of the country's surface is covered by the Sahara desert. Temperatures can climb to 50 degrees during the day in summer and the country's tourism sector is under developed.
Starting from Choum
The small town of Choum is the last stop before the terminus in Zouerat, a mining town. Most passengers board the train here — with the exception of the miners from Zourat, of course. From Choum, the train with its 200 wagons takes about 14 hours to reach the coast.
Goods and luggage are transported from Choum to the railway tracks by donkey and cart. The journey to the coast begins late at night, and returns in the opposite direction in the early morning. As soon as the train arrives, haste is required. Within just 10 minutes, luggage and passengers must be on board.
The journey on the open wagons loaded with iron ore is dirty. Only a few tourists usually dare to board. In Atar, a picturesque village about four hours from Choum, they stock up on blankets, suitable clothing, as well as the highly recommended headgear. Eyes should also be protected, as the fine ore dust penetrates all pores