Today’s guest post is by Benny from Amateurs In Africa. Benny and Harty are two crazy ozzies, currently backpacking overland through West Africa in a bid to reach South Africa in time for the World Cup. Here, Benny gives his top tips for traveling the Iron Ore Train in Mauritania, one of the most epic train rides in the world!
Ever dreamed of throwing your backpack into an empty train carriage, jumping on board and stowing away to where ever the track takes you? It might be a bit different than what you’ll see in the movies but exactly that is possible in the middle of the Sahara desert, Nouadibou, Mauritania.
It’s a ride like no other and it’s not for the faint hearted – so here are five foolproof tips you’ll need to follow to ride the rails like a local on the most epic train ride in the World on what’s considered probably the World’s longest train.
Brush up on European football knowledge
Everybody on the train speaks Arabic and most also speak French but if like us you speak neither you can always rely on the universal language of Football. Trying to hold 5 conversations can be hard so make sure you know your African international players and your Spanish league teams. Our straw poll conducted in the carriage indicated roughly a 50/50 split of the fans between Barca and Real Madrid.
Pack plenty of nuts
Not only will you need them to summon the courage to get in, but you’ll need to pack some packets of nuts as well if you want to make friends. Once the train gets going and you’re mixing it with the Mauritanians they’ll be sharing around tea, breads, biscuits and it’d be a bit awkward in the middle of the desert if you couldn’t return the favour.
Location, Location, Location
They say location is everything. Funnily enough, it’s true even in the middle of the Sahara. Before the train arrives you’ll want to position yourself so that you get in one of the last 3 or 4 wagons before the passenger carriage. The train is 3km long but these are the wagons where all the action is – the locals, the foods, the music. You’ve got a minimum of 12 hours in the middle of the desert so you’re going to want the entertainment. If you’re not sure ask the police, they even helped push us up and into our old sun baked wagon.
As for the passenger carriage – well, come on – you’ve come this far so why would you pay for a seat when you’re so close to stowing away on a train for free?
Wrap it up.
It’s important to wrap things up in Africa – it’s no different on the Iron Ore train. It’s not impossible to do it without it, but let’s just say it’s not ideal to ride without a Saharan style head scarf. We were basically the only two people on board without one and probably the only two people still scrubbing Iron Ore off ourselves 2 weeks after the trip. You’ll want to wrap up your bags as well with whatever you can. You’re riding in a carriage which carries raw iron ore thousands of kilometres through Saharan sandstorms daily – just think about that for a second.
Say Yes and smile.
What ever happens on board our advice is say yes and smile. Say yes to the food exchange, say yes to a seat on the rolled out carpet, say yes to the borrowed jacket and say yes and smile for the hundreds of photos you’ll be in before the sunsets. We said yes to everything and we couldn’t wipe the smile of our faces anyway. If you’re lucky you might even get a dance lesson and a few cups of Mauritanian mint tea – it’s pretty special in the sand dunes of the Sahara.