Around Atar

After a couple of days of challenging riding I was keen to have a bit of time off the bike and happy to accept Mark's offer of a day tour of the beautiful Saharan surrounds of Atar.

The boys would have a rest day to sort out a few niggles with the working vehicles, while Abou had volunteered to return by bus to Nouakchott, the capital, the previous evening to source a second-hand hub for Jens's Hilux Surf stranded in the desert. To avoid any of his regular customers tracking him down during the secret mission home he got himself a new SIM and phone number so there was no chance that they phone might ring while he was in range‚ÄĒhe was on a mission.

Mark first took us into town to find a mechanic who could weld his Colorado's exhaust and my GPS mount, which had both sustained damage during the crossing. With the transport sorted we made our way out of town (delayed momentarily by some camel traffic) and started climbing down the plateau on which Atar rests, heading for our first stop which was a small, beautiful oasis formed by a fresh spring flowing from a deep crack in the side of the mountain. The stream and pools of cool water were shaded by overhanging rocks and palm trees and we spent a couple of hours enjoying some respite from the recent days of travel and the already harsh sun.

Refreshed and ready for something a bit more adventurous (the group of sandalled French tourists sharing dates and trail-mix on the rugs their guides had laid out for them having made us feel a bit soft) Mark bundled us back into the pre-heated wagon and we zipped off to try and find the head of a track that he knew would take us further down the plateau edge and to the mouth of the "vall√©e blanche", a long stretch of low, white dunes between two dark, rocky ridges at the foot of the sandfield of Erg AmaŠĻ≠l√ģch.

We didn't receive more than friendly shrugs from the odd pedestrians Mark made enquiries with, but eventually he was convinced he'd found the track and he pointed the Colorado down a rocky shelf towards a small riverbed. We followed the rough track down between the shaley fingers of the plateau until we spilled out onto a wide, white dry riverbed at the bottom of the valley.

We spent a few hours driving in deep sand back up the riverbed towards the plateau, the Colorado thrashing wildly over the undulating surface as Mark sweated to maintain enough speed to keep us from sinking (and enough balance to keep us from tipping over). As we travelled further into the valley the sides narrowed with towering red dunes on one side, dark, ragged rock on the other, and bleached white sand under our wheels. It was stunning.

Eventually, we got to the crux of the gorge and had nowhere left to go but back up onto the plateau. We found a local in a much more rudimentary North African edition of a Hilux with a well-loaded tray idling his motor with the bonnet up, cooling it down for a run up the steep dune offering an exit from the valley. We watched in admiration as he gunned it up the track to the top of the plateau and out of sight. After a little rest of our own vehicle it was time for us to attempt the climb, but sadly the little four cylinder Colorado just didn't have the torque to get us up no matter how hard we hit the bottom of the hill.

I'd learned by now that with this crew, every problem simply presented a new opportunity for adventure, so I wasn't too worried about us hitting a dead end, or whether we even had enough fuel to get back the way we came. After one last failed attempt we made defeat official and turned back to follow the riverbed downstream. Eventually, we came across a friendly local out for a blat on his camel and with a few scraps of French, a couple of village names and a lot of body language we had something resembling directions.

A turn off into a tributary of the main river we'd been following lead us to another village oasis nestled beside the mountain and a way back out to the village of Aujeft where we could reconnect with the secondary road that we'd originally turned off in the morning. As we made our way back to bitumen along the sand we passed through little clusters of civilisation‚ÄĒgatherings of grass huts and patchwork shacks made from flattened 44 gallon drums where people eked out a living on the promise of precious, intermittent water.

Eventually, we were back on the N1 which runs between Nouakchott and Atar and we swung right to head back to base camp after a great (though stiflingly hot) day of exploring. Our arrival at the big roundabout in Atar was typically fortuitous as we found Abou there in the passenger seat of with one of the previous evening's possibly dodgy tour operators who spotted him and I assumed a potential opportunity to further embed himself with our group.

After a bit of a wash-up at we went back into town again for a wander around the market quarter and a bite to eat. Having Mark with his travellers French made things a lot more relaxed for me, able to see the easier, lighter side of travel in these parts and not constantly overwhelmed with the task of managing the basics.

I listened on as Mark chatted to a Senegalese family selling bissap (a local, sickly-sweet and delicious, chilled pomegranate drink) about their migration to Mauritania for work. It made me think about where I was heading when this family had migrated all the way here to a remote desert town in one of the world's least developed countries, to sit all day beside the road in the hope of selling a few drinks or vegetables.

Atar from Above
Atar from Above
Oil & water
Oil & water
Welding Shop
Welding Shop
Elderly Patient
Elderly Patient
Over It
Over It
Local Traffic
Local Traffic
Map of Atar and surrounds
Map of Atar and surrounds
Terjit Village
Terjit Village
Terjit Oasis
Terjit Oasis
Off Piste
Off Piste
Ready to Race
Ready to Race
Lunch stop
Lunch stop
Vallée Blanche
Vallée Blanche
Village of Aujeft
Village of Aujeft
Atar of an evening
Atar of an evening

© David Baskind · 2022