We had little time to explore the country outside of work. With just two short weeks we had to hit the ground running. Additionally we got our weekends confused. Mauritania, being Muslim, had Friday and Saturday off, but the Government decided to switch it to Saturday and Sunday during our stay. We ended up working an extra day on the Friday to keep up, but then have to be back at work on Sunday and missing another day of the weekend the next weekend as well. We only had about two days off in the 16 days, and on one of those we worked at the apartment. On the other, we took the afternoon off and went to the coast. Nouakchott is inland by about four miles, and the sprawl of the city has not quite reached the coast. We had been recommended to go to the fishing landing site on the Atlantic coast to see what happened there and a taxi man snaked his way through the better suburbs of the north of the city to the road to the coast. Where the city gave out the tarmacced road headed out across a sandy scrubland. The most bountiful thing out here was no plant or animal, but plastic. Millions and millions of plastic bags had been blown out here from the city. I knew it was desecrating the natural environment the world over, but here where there was little vegetation, the bags were stark, and with few rain showers only the sun would eventually break them down, and while the older ones looked decayed, the quantity of new bags was increasing exponentially.
The topography around Nouakchott was flat and repetitive, and only a few small sand dunes to the west marked the coastline, that and a number of superstructures on the skyline. To the south was the port, and a set of silos that seemed to be connected to a concrete factory. Immediately in front a bunch of concrete eggshells marked the roof of Port de Pêche, the fishing port. It was hectic on this Saturday afternoon, but the taxi driver insisted on forcing his way to the centre of the throng by the ramps. We got out of the vehicle and told him to wait for about forty minutes and started to explore. Like the world over, fish were being sold by a bunch of women on the hard, the men were mainly smoking and arguing in little groups. We worked ourselves past the plastic trays and basketry, large thick bloody pelagic fish in piles, their severed heads in a bucket nearby. We walked towards the seaward side, passing traders, customers and loads of little kids trying to see what they could cadge. To get to the beach itself, we had to weave our way through hundreds of boats, long wooden structures tapering upwards at both ends to ride the harsh Atlantic rollers, cross beams for a bunch of hardy fishermen to sit – up to twelve in a crew. Most of the boats on the beach were unseaworthy, years of neglect leaving them to the mercy of the sand, the salt and the spray. All the others were brightly coloured. Out to sea too about a hundred boats buffeted by a high surf. We could not quite work out how the fishermen got out there, whether they hitched lifts on the other boats launched form the beach or had little boats stashed away somewhere. We saws why some were anchored, to haul these huge cumbersome boats up and down the beach took a Herculean effort. Judith and I watched seven or eight guys manhandling one of the boats. Rather than try to bring them up bow first, they took them parallel to the shore and wiggled them first to the left, then up to the right and they zig-zagged up about a dozen or more times to get it beyond the high tide.. These guys were huge, most well over six feet and built as broad, but they still struggled manfully to move the boats. The beach was full of these zig zag trails. Most were wearing huge yellow mackintoshes and floppy sou’westers. I was amazed they needed this so close to the heat of the desert, but when I tested the water, it was extremely cold, and there was a stiff cool breeze blowing onshore. The cold water meant the fisheries here are very rich, upwellings were bringing vital nutrients to the surface and attracting large numbers of fish. To get the fish from the boat to market, several ass stood by harnessed into two wheeled carts. They would haul it back to the huge superstructure we had arrived at.