We arrived in Nouakchott late afternoon, and by the time we hit the ATM for cash, paid our taxi driver, and got to the hotel, it was early evening. The hotel had blast gates up, and taxis were not allowed into hotel grounds, so for the second time this trip the taxi had to drop us outside and we had to walk through security to get into the hotel. They weren’t paying much if any attention to their metal detectors, but at least things seemed pretty secure.
We were staying at the Monotel Dar El Barka, which most sites seemed to agree was the best hotel in town. Only problem was – a few months before our trip it was showing completely sold out so we had made alternate plans. Fortunately, rooms opened up about a week out so we were able to switch and very glad we did.
Check-in was quick and we were shown to our first floor rooms, which were exactly in line with all the online reviews. Rooms are very poorly lit and dark, but the AC is freezing cold and the beds are comfortable. Overall, it’s a solid hotel and the rooms were good. Except as often seems to happen in Africa we had no towels…and my bed had no sheets. A quick call to housekeeping and they showed up in 15 minutes.
At this point, after the long travel day, we just wanted an ice cold beer, but after retreating to the hotel bar were left disappointed:
Yes, unfortunately Mauritania is a completely dry country, and while you can supposedly get your hands on black market alcohol it’s extremely expensive and somewhat hard to find. Not at all worth it for a few days. We were also really hungry after missing lunch on the long drive from Saint Louis, so decided to have desert before dinner. The profiteroles were delicious:
After the sun had set, we decided to venture out and find dinner. There were no sidewalks per se, because they’d all been covered in sand, and even many of the roads were hard to see in places. We walked for about 15 minutes, and eventually found the restaurant that had been recommended – a very smokey place called Le Frisco. Complete with San Francisco stained glass cityscapes on the wall.
There was a small menu of items which were incredibly inexpensive, most $5-6 and a large board of daily specials with maybe 20-25 options most of which were closer to $10. I ended up getting the chicken cordon bleu which was actually super tasty and came with fries which were also super tasty. Just water to drink, although it would have gone fantastic with a beer. The music selection was even more interesting, consisting mainly of 2Pac with a little bit of Justin Bieber thrown in for good measure. I swear restaurants in Africa have the most entertaining music selection…
Back to the hotel, where I think I passed out for about 10 hours – the long days overland had definitely taken a bit of a toll.
In the morning, we met up for breakfast, where it was quickly clear why the hotel had been initially sold out. There was a big football match going on – I believe qualifying for the Africa’s cup or some such thing. Mauritania was playing Cameroon and the entire Mauritania team was staying in our hotel. No idea why they weren’t staying at home if they were local, but they had not only completely taken over the hotel but also raided the breakfast buffet. There were no coffee cups to be found, no plates to be found, etc. Eventually some were rounded up, and there was just enough food left to make a decent breakfast. The usual francophone africa baguettes, real Nutella, plenty of coffee and/or tea, and some hard boiled eggs. Overall, pretty solid.
After breakfast we went to the front desk to ask them about getting tickets to the football match, and they said you had to go to the stadium. Oh, and “I like your tattoo – can I take a photo?” Fortunately, Ian thought to get a photo of him taking a photo:
After this, I had to work for a bit, so took care of that and mid-afternoon we headed for a walk to stadium to look into tickets for the match. Fortunately, it was at around 6pm so we had plenty of time. We had a hard time finding the entrance to the stadium, so ended up walking much farther than we needed to, which wouldn’t have been a big deal except it was hot. Really hot. 114F hot. Fortunately, there was absolutely no humidity, and even 114 didn’t feel too awful.
Eventually we found the place to buy tickets, and there were dozens of heavily armed riot police standing around. We debated if we wanted to go see the match, but eventually decided the large group of riot police was probably a bad sign given Mauritania does suffer from a pretty serious terrorist situation, so we gave it a pass. In retrospect it probably would have been fine, but…
Instead, we decided to grab a cab and head to the port to see all the fishing boats coming in. Ironic given we were trying to be security-conscious that we hailed a random cab on the streets, but it worked out just fine. Managed to negotiate a reasonable price which would include him waiting for us, however, once we were in the cab he “just had to make one stop.” Uh, ok. The stop was only maybe a five minute detour away and I finally realized why I imagined I was smelling fresh bread – because I was! There were a couple of giant bags of baguettes in the backseat which he was delivering to a restaurant for dinner. He attempted to convince us to visit the restaurant later for dinner, and if you do “tell them Mohammad sent you.” Yeah, not because you’d get a commission or anything…
After maybe a 20 minute drive, we were at the port. He said he would come back for us in 15 minutes, and we were left to wander. It was late afternoon, but there was tons of activity with all the fishing boats coming in:
Fisherman repairing a boat:
Several boats pulled up in front of what seemed to be the main market square:
Right next to the square there were several very very dead fish, which looked to be discarded, or not acceptable for sale. Or maybe that was just because of all the flies around and the stench of fish everywhere:
Rough surf coming in:
Group of fishermen hauling a boat in:
Large fish for sale:
Back to the hotel, and a dip in the pool sounded fantastic. However, I had more important things to do – namely washing the smell of fish off of my shoes. Everything stank of fish, but after an hour of scrubbing it was mostly gone, and by that point, it was getting late and the pool didn’t sound nearly as enticing:
We opted instead to head out for an early dinner, but as soon as we left the hotel compound there were hundreds and hundreds of football fans streaming our way. Apparently Mauritania had lost, so the potential for unhappy crowds – combined with the whole “stay away from large crowds in un-secure places” thing we opted to wait. Back into the hotel for an espresso while we waited:
Decided to head back to El Frisco again for dinner, and the “specials” were exactly the same as the day before. The clientele, however, was quite different and consisted mainly of local football fans enjoying a post-match drink instead of being mostly expats like the day before. Had a quick dinner, and retreated back to the hotel since we had to be up at oh-dark-thirty for our flight to Istanbul.