Amazing Journeys, Camels and Challenges
Vast desert landscapes, nomads with weathered faces and blue robes, who fit the very definition of exotic, lots of sand and lots of camels! These describe my past week or so in Oulatta, a small desert town and home to this year’s cultural festival of Mauritania. As has often been the case through my African journeys thus far, the last few days were filled with excitement and awe, but also disappointment and frustration.
I want to provide a little disclaimer for my posts because some folks seem to be missing the point of them. To those of you from Africa, or, who spend years of your life in Africa, my view of the world and my blog posts will probably seem very much like a reflection of some middle-class-white-man’s fantasy. And you know what? In a sense that’s exactly what they are.
People love to talk as if they understand Africa or certain countries in Africa. Other whites/westerners who have stayed long enough, love to talk down to those who haven’t spent as much time as them, as if only they are enlightened or truly understand. Some Africans get offended because (in their opinion) I exoticize things and don’t show some supposed truth of progressive youth and incredibly forward urban areas of their country.
I make no apologies. This has and always will be a blog for my personal views and impressions. If I’ve presented something, it’s because I saw it. I try to understand the countries I travel through and I do this through photography. However, I connect with some of them more, with others less. I also don’t have a problem not understanding. I don’t have a problem with not having a purpose, apart from to glimpse into the world of others. Generally I photograph what fascinates me, what I find beautiful. Simple as that.
Back to the journey. Oulatta is remote. It’s about 1,300 km from the capital city of Mauritania, Nouakchott. Over 1,100 km along a paved highway and the last 120 km or so, along a desert track of sand, rocks and a very bouncy corrugated surface. I suppose because of the area’s remoteness and proximity to Mali, some people had told me that it’s dangerous to travel around there.
A couple more images from the viewpoint above Oulatta.
So what was the frustrating part of this little journey? Partly the usual things that frustrate and annoy me. People trying to rip us off, which is fine or rather to be expected in the big tourist destinations, but, you don’t expect to be quoted 30$ to take a shower by a village woman who initially offers you “help for a small amount of money”. No thanks, I can wait for the shower.
The nagging for cadeu (gift) can get obsessive. Sometimes kids are intelligent and you can see it in their eyes. Other times, they just have zombie eyes and there’s nothing that’ll distract them from asking and asking again.
The most frustrating thing of course was self-inflicted. I somehow screwed up the clutch in my car. The road was quite rough from Oulatta to Tigjigja. The track would disappear and at certain moments I’d just find myself hopping from sand dune to sand dune. The whole thing was crazy, like a movie. The clutch went out in a small town called Tichit. With 270km of sandy tracks to go to the nearest paved road, we miraculously made it with a semi-broken clutch. We were VERY lucky to have made it. Getting stuck in the sand would mean many days till we’d even have a chance of getting the car pulled out.
Once we got to a highway we drove about 35km towards the capital and then, the clutch died completely. I always felt that tough moments and need for help reveals whether the people of a certain region are truly nice and helpful, or, not so much. It turned out to be the latter in this case, as I was charged an exorbitant amount of money to get towed back to the capital. Anyway. There are enough kind souls too. A Lebanese man who owns a garage in Nouakchott, where I fixed a small part before was ridiculously helpful. The man got me back on my wheels in 2.5 days! If anyone needs a mechanic in Mauritania, Nouakchott, he’s just around the corner from the Star petrol station and Auberge Sahara. Honest, elderly man, who to me seems to be from a “no-bullshit-generation”.
I thank my lucky stars. I stress again that I was very lucky not to get stuck in the middle of nowhere and I still have enough time for another quick journey into the “wild”. That’s exactly what I’ll do from tomorrow onwards.
See you all in a bit!
P. S. – Still shooting with the Fuji x100s and loving it! The only images not taken with it are the camel racing (shot with a 70-200 on a Canon 5D MKIII) and the one of the two nomad friends with the sand blowing.