We boarded the longest train in the world across the Sahara

THE IRON ORE TRAIN ACROSS IN MAURITANIA​

When I woke up in the morning after just a few hours of sleep, freezing cold, wet with itchy eyes and my mouth full of fine iron ore, I thought it was just a bad dream. But it was not. The night before we did hop on the Mauritania Railway, probably the world’s longest train carrying iron from the mining centre of Zouerate to the coast at Nouadhibou on a single 700 kilometres railway line. The whole journey took us 15 hours. If for most tourists traversing the Sahara under the stars might be on their bucket list, personally, it was just madness !

For the Mauritanians the Iron Ore Train is vital for the local economy. It is the opportunity for the families who live along the railway’s path to get basic survival like Water and other goods from the merchants onboard. Furthermore there are not many options to come and go from Nouadhibou, the Iron train is the best alternative. Despite some basic passenger cars being attached to the train, most of the locals climbed on the station wagons. The train requires no tickets, no booking and is free of charge.

HOW TO TAKE THE IRON ORE TRAIN ACROSS THE SAHARA ?

If you decide to take this journey, best to get the information on the day from the locals and secure plenty of time to get to the main station. The train stops are limited and the schedule is random. We choose to ride the train from Choum, it stops there every single evenings of the year for no more than 10 minutes.

Our train had a delay and we got on around 10pm. We literally had 5 minutes to climb on the iron cars. Once on it, we had to dig really deep into the iron ore to make our bed for the night and to protect ourselves from the wind and the dust. We shared our space with other people and were all set for the longest rocky and uncomfortable night ever. It got super chilly as the night went on because of the water they poured over the cars before departure and the iron ore got absolutely everywhere.

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Day284 Iron Train to Nouadhibou (4)

gOING FROM zERO TO hero

Despite being totally uncomfortable, you kind of forget all about it when thinking about where you are, crossing the Sahara, listening to the train speeding up. It is when the sun rises and the temperature starts to warm up that you can appreciate the immensity of the desert, the rolling dunes and the remoteness of it all. Eventually we saw the port of Nouadibhou, and in no time we were about to stop. 

We donated all our spare clothes and blankets for the journey, jumped on a shared taxi and went to look for somewhere to spend the night before getting to Morocco – our next stop. It was only when we took off our headscarves and showered that we realised how filthy we were. Few months down the line, I am still finding some iron ore in my backpack ! It was truly THE most unique adventure we had on our trip, and I would recommend to do it once in your lifetime.

(Published August 2019)

Go and get wilde while you can.

City JetSetter
Tips

  • There is absolutely no risk to take the Iron Train ,

  • Must Have : disposable second hand clothes, blankets, headscarf, socks, plastic bags for your bags, long trouser and long sleeves top,

  • Get help from the local people, they will inform you of the arrival of the train and will help you to get on at the right end,

  • Take the journey when the train is full (Zouerate to Nouadhibou). Much more comfortable,

  • Best to eat before getting onto the train (will be dark and dusty by the time you get on).

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