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Day 23: Zouérat to Azougui

Michael Palin - SaharaThe iron ore that is the bedrock of the Mauritanian economy is shifted from the desert to the coast on a single-track railway line, which is as important to the country as the iron itself. The Polisario knew this, and their repeated attacks on the line are what eventually forced the Mauritanians to abandon plans to occupy Western Sahara back in 1979.

It's not surprising therefore that we have to negotiate two or three increasingly serious roadblocks as we drive 9 miles south and east from Zouérat to the Guelb mine.

With the storm still howling across the desert, sand-ploughs are out keeping the road clear, and our first sight of the boxy superstructure of the mine buildings is through a spectral cloud of rasping stinging dust.

At Guelb, the desert has been transformed into a dark satanic world of noise and movement. Caterpillar trucks grind up and down, bringing freshly mined material to the crushers. From there, conveyor belts carry the pulverised rock to a hopper, which fills railway wagons at the rate of a 100 tonnes a minute. Today, the wind is catching the iron ore dust between hopper and wagon and sweeping most of it out across the desert in billowing black clouds. Through this mad screaming tempest of wind and dust, yellow and blue diesel locomotives, bells sounding dolefully, keep the wagons moving slowly forward.
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  • Series: Sahara
  • Day: 23
  • Country/sea: Mauritania
  • Place: Zouérat
  • Book page no: 79

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