One of the downsides of a canvas tent in the desert is that they don’t tend to have ultra secure doors. The type of doors that would, for example, keep a cat out in the middle of the night.
Aside from our brief cat-terruption, we slept soundly listening to the wind across the dunes, and immediately set out on a hike upon waking. We saw evidence of all the desert creatures that had been out in the night – lizards, mice, birds, cats, and a few unidentified creatures. Nobody in camp was much of a naturalist, so we’ll have to leave it at that.
Breakfast got us going with lots of coffee, bread and eggs. Then it was back to the car, and on our way to Saint Louis (pronounced San Louie).
Saint Louis has a long history, serving as capitol to the French, British, Dutch, and Portuguese. It was also, for a time, the capitol of Mauritania, which is just across the water. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage site (for now), with a lot of preserved colonial architecture. In many ways, not unlike Penang, Malaysia.
The drive took around 2 hours. We arrived and immediately got on a horse-drawn city-tour. We kind of rolled our eyes at the idea of a horse-drawn carriage, but this turned out to be a good way to weave in traffic (the carriage is narrower than a car and can make tighter turns). We had to wait for our local guide, which gave us time to grab sandwiches (beans and spicy stuff on baguette) and cafe touba (sweet coffee) from a street stall.
Our tour took us all around the main island of Saint Louis, as well as to an adjacent island populated mostly by folks involved with fishing. In contrast to quiet Saint Louis, the boisterous fishing village was brimming with people and goats. The smallest children followed our cart and waved as we passed.
Saint Louis has a more recent history as a departure point for boats of illegal migrants headed to Spain, along the African coast. The government has started more tightly controlling how many boats are built and who has access. It’s hard to believe these tiny boats make it so far, and the causalities weigh heavily on everyone in this town.
After our tour, we got a late lunch at Alex’s favorite spot – another take on the familiar rice/onion/fish combo, this time with a particularly tasty twist of chilis and paprika. We also learned that this very short-grain broken rice is grown nearby. It’s really delightful stuff, partway between couscous and rice.
Post-lunch, we drove out to our hotel, which was south of the fishing village on the island adjacent to Saint Louis. It’s bit of a compound, with beach access and high walls, far from the more interesting parts of the city. The biggest bonus of the hotel is that it is home to three very friendly dogs whom Colin had the pleasure of getting to know. A bit of miscommunication with Ali when we first landed resulted in us ending up here. Perfectly nice, but we’d much rather be poking in some back alleys of Saint Louis rather than dining at the hotel restaurant with a couple big tour groups. Lessons learned.
Tomorrow, we’ve got a Whole Lot Of Driving, as we head back south and inland.