Betwen the Saharan sands and the swells of the Atlantic, the elements show no mercy on Mauritania’s western coast. BRENDON BISHOP drives the highway of life and death.
It may be a desert country with limited infrastructure, where crafty navigators on the annual Paris to Dakar rally can literally carve their own roads, but on Mauritania’s western coastline lies an unofficial ‘highway’.
It seduces all with its stark desert beauty and varying, scattered forms of life, but along the sandy contours, in exposed graves, rest eerie indications of abandonment, forewarning us that not all life passing through here has survived the ambiguous conditions of this Jekyll and Hyde topography.
This coastal highway is also the starting point for many dangerous sea journeys embarked upon by poverty stricken Africans, enticed by the idea of a brighter future on the shores of Europe. The perceived opportunity motivates even the most resilient African warrior to attempt these radical and perilous ocean crossings, but in risking all, these sojourners may well meet a calamitous death.
There is much symbolism that can be construed here, where the mighty mass of the Sahara shelves the temperamental Atlantic Ocean in a vastly vivid world of sand, sea, struggle and survival.
Inside the rustic fishing village, children come out onto the dusty streets to see our overland truck passing through.
Within the wide- reaching grips of the ferocious sandstorm, a local camel herder takes time out to point our envoy in the right direction towards the coast, as we eagerly await the respite provided by the Atlantic Ocean.
Surveying the road ahead. Our overland driver looks out of his window as we wind our way along the coastal highway. Tyre tracks from other vehicles are signs that we are not the only traffic cruising the ocean’s edge.
Fishing is the mainstay of these poor coastal desert dwellers. The remote western coast of Mauritania has some of the richest fishing ground in the world’s oceans. This stretch of coastline is home to the spawning grounds and nurseries of west Africa’s rich but seriously threatened fishing stocks. Because of the particular conditions of the shallow waters of the Gulf, fish migrate here to spawn.
The dried-up whale bones create an unreal yet scarily accurate reminder of the consequences of abandonment in this unforgiving desert environment.