The Nouadhibou train station in Mauritania consists of a group of small white buildings in the middle of a sandy plain. Looking around, you see nothing but beige ground and blue sky. If you happen to be traveling to the small mining town of Zouerat, the Iron Ore Express is the only way to go. This train is nearly three kilometers long and makes three 674-kilometer journeys to the coast and back each day.
One of the World’s Longest Trains
Standing along the track, even though the Iron Ore Express is one of the world’s longest trains, you might not even see it in the massive cloud of sand it whips up. Once the train storms into the station, you would hear the loud rumbling of its 4 locomotives pulling more than 220 freight cars.
For about 1,000 ouguiya (about $4), you can purchase entry onto one of the two or three passenger cars, where you might find a perch on a wooden carriage seat. Once on board the crowded car, you will share your ride with many local men. The locals make the journey as comfortable as possible, spreading blankets over the floor and sharing biscuits and jam with each other.
For about three times more than the price of a regular seat, you can purchase a first class ticket and gain access to a smaller room complete with bunk beds stacked 3 high. Or, if you happened to spend your last ouguiya on a large bowl of thieboudiene (a fish and rice dish), then you can ride for free on a pile of ore on top of one of the ore cars. Just bring your blanket, your leftovers, and have a picnic!
Your picnic will last about 17 hours. Traveling at a top speed of 50 kilometers per hour, the Iron Ore Express passes through small desert communities on its way to Zouerat. After about 6 hours, the train makes its first stop in the dusty outpost of Choum, where departing passengers hire taxis to reach their homes beyond the sandy dunes.
The second stop, about 2 hours later, is intended to provide passengers with a short break to enjoy a quiet moment in the desert and an opportunity to answer nature’s call (the train contains no private bathrooms). Finally, after 17 long hours, you will disembark among piles of iron ore in Zouerat.
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