«One might imagine travelling through the Sahara by train to be a zen-like voyage. In some ways it is – but it is also an unforgiving and ceaseless assault on the body and senses… a constant elemental symphony of heat, wind, and noise.» — Alastair Gill
Mauritania is one of those countries that take up rather a lot of space on the map but somehow flies right under most people’s radar. A blocky chunk of West Africa, this Islamic Republic is larger than Egypt but has a smaller population than Nairobi: just under 4.5 million. A fifth of those reside in the capital Nouakchott, on the Atlantic coast, which was a mere fishing village until selected to be the metropolis of the newly-independent state that emerged from French-colonial rule in 1958-60.
But the most remarkable statistic about Mauritania — apart, perhaps, from it being the last country in the world to outlaw slavery, via a 1981 ruling belatedly enforced in 2007 — concerns its railway lines. Or rather railway line: it has only ever had one, a sideways-L-shaped affair connecting the country’s second city
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