In this edition, we have combined Mauritania with Mali. Although both are interesting countries, the two fit naturally together as a unit, albeit at slightly differing scales. Technically, this should be a 1st edition map, as it is the first time we have combined these two desert countries on to one sheet, but I’ll let Robert at the Library of Congress worry about the niceties of bibliographic accuracy as soon as Trump allows him to do the work he loves for a salary. Mauritania was one of the most unusual countries I visited as a young traveller. Of course, I had an advantage, in that I was too young to know that what I was doing was supposed to be impossible. I entered from what was then the Spanish Sahara via a piste (a sandy track with multiple pathways, only some of which avoid soft sand), travelling with a young Bedouin man. In Zouerate, a mining camp, I had to tie my VW campervan onto a railway flatbed car, and endure hundreds of kilometres of a sand dune wasteland before reaching Choum, and a siding where I could off-load the vehicle. The track south to Nouakchott was covered with sand and treacherous. Nowadays, there is a paved road to the southern border of Morocco, and a good road all the way along the coast to Rosso, where a ferry can take one across to Senegal. Mali adjoins Mauritania, both being formerly part of French West Africa. The capital, Bamako, is an interesting town with quite a bit of colonial architecture still in place. East of there is Djenne, a ‘forbidden’ city for infidels when I was there (see cover photo), but a fascinating mud-brick city. Further east again is Mopti, a river port where camel caravans off-load tablets of salt mined still far in the Sahara for transport by boat to Dakar. Further east again is Timbuktu (or Tombouctou as it is now spelled), at one time the most exotic isolated destination known to mankind. Further south is the Bandiagara escarpment, a must-see living area for locals who have created a living space from the sheer walls of the cliff. Both countries are fascinating places to visit.
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