Konyaaltı Beach at Antalya, Turkiye.
Where are Kevin and Ruth now? Antalya, Turkiye.

Where are Kevin and Ruth going next? Paris, France on May 1st.

Saturday, January 28, 2023

The main event... the iron ore train!

Friday evening was the main event! The reason we came to Mauritania was to ride the iron ore freight train through the Sahara Desert. We were all pretty excited about it.

We had most of the morning off to do our own thing. Internet access was actually pretty good while we were in Chinguetti. But only because I had bought a SIM card when we had arrived in Mauritania, and there was a 4G high speed tower nearby. So we took advantage of that and got caught up on some internet stuff.

(NOTE: There is still some kind of problem with the clarity of the photos on today's post. However if you click on the photo to make it full screen, you get the original quality. Then when you go back to the blog, it is good again. I don't have an explanation of why, but it works!)

At 11:00am we hit the road to Atar where our guide Alioune had a friend who had agreed to supply us with lunch.

This section of road reminded me of Namibia.
Long distances of nothingness!

But there was one small mountain pass we had to do.

A bit of a sketchy road.

Yes, be careful!

Scenery along the way.

The road ahead.

We arrived at a side street in the dusty city of Atar. We entered a compound that looked like any other nondescript entranceway in the run down town. But inside, the house was really modern!

Our lunch table.

Johnny and the living room.

The living room.

Our hosts wife had a baby three weeks ago.

Meatballs and rice.


Roast chicken and roast potatoes.

It was a good idea to eat a lot, because it's the last decent meal we would get for the next 24 hours or so!

After lunch, we went with the group to the local store to stock up on snacks to eat on the train.

Then we sat near the main traffic circle and watched the world go by for an hour or so...

Goats wandering the town.

Strangely, there are very few dogs. Considering that in Morocco there are stray dogs almost everywhere, there are very few in Mauritania. There are certainly more goats than dogs!

Then it was time to drive to the village of Choum where we would meet the train.

Scenery along the way.

The actual iron ore mine is located near the town of Zouérat, and some people hop on the train there. It can be a 20 hour journey to do it that way, but we only do a planned 12 hours from Choum.

The train doesn't have a schedule, however it does leave the mine once a day every day. Our guide Alioune has a friend who works at the mine and he would send Alioune a message when the train departed. That would give us a general idea of when the train might arrive in Choum. But it's only a very rough idea because there are frequent breakdowns and unscheduled stops.

This is where we will get on the train!

Our group getting our gear ready.

We were able to separate our belongings and leave behind some of our stuff because the 4x4's would meet us when we hopefully arrive in Nouadhibou the next morning.

Ruth with our train supplies.

We were lucky that there was one single iron ore cart that we practiced climbing up on.

When the train arrives, you have no idea where it will stop on the tracks, or how long it will stay there. But at minimum, we should have at least five minutes. This is a freight train. There are no tickets, there is no schedule. 

We arranged ourselves in groups of two, three, or four people per car. Ruth and I chose to go with Marissa. We had a plan. As quickly as possible, Marissa would climb up the ladder and hop into the box car loaded with iron ore. I would go up the ladder half way, and Ruth would pass the gear to me, which I would pass to Marissa. Ruth would then follow me up.

Marissa, on the practice car full of iron ore.

Our group, waiting for the train.

Ruth and I on the practice car.

Ruth, ready for the train.

They load the cars with three different sizes of ore. There can be larger chunks like coal. There can be smaller chunks. Or there can be fine pieces like sand. You have no idea what kind you will get until you climb into the car, and by then it's just luck of the draw. No time to back out! The larger chunks have a benefit that there is not as much dust. But the fine sand type has a benefit that it is more comfortable... however you then deal with a lot of iron ore dust and it literally gets everywhere.

Sunset as we wait for the train.

Quite a few locals gather around to watch the crazy foreigners get on the train.

They are harmless and more curious than anything, but they are a bit annoying as they constantly ask you for gifts. And if you give them anything, it just encourages them to ask for more. You really can't win. I just ignore them.

Just after sunset, we heard a rumbling in the distance. Then we saw the light of the locomotive. 

Up to this point, I had been quite calm about the whole experience. I was excited, but I wasn't nervous at all. But as I saw the light of the locomotive, I started feeling a rush of adrenaline. 

All of a sudden, our leader Johnny started shouting at us all. The train had stopped sooner than expected! We all had to pile into the 4x4's as quickly as possible with our gear. Some hopped into the cab, and some into the box of the truck. We had to drive, pedal to the metal, with sand and dust flying everywhere as we hung on for dear life bouncing about a half a km back to where the train had stopped. 

Ruth, Marissa, and I ran to the car nearest to us and found that the first two rungs of the ladder were missing! Crap! So we ran to the next car, and Marissa climbed to the top with me following behind. Ruth handed the gear up. Rushing as quickly as possible because the train could start moving at any time!

With our gear in the car, I heaved myself in and dropped into a powdery container of iron ore. I then helped Ruth over the edge and into the dust that would become our accommodation for the next twelve hours or so.

Made it onto the train!

Amanda, Matt, and Thomas were on the car in front of us.

I don't know why the flash made the iron ore look grey. It's actually totally black. It was then I realized that I was out of breath and my heart was pounding. What a rush! But... we made it!

Some of the local teenagers waving goodbye to us.

Iron ore selfie of me on the train.

So, we were on a dusty car, and it turned out that the entire group had the same thing. So we would be more comfortable, but we would have to keep our eyes, nose, and mouth covered as much as possible.


The first thing you do is to make your bed. Again, we had no idea how long it would be before the train started, and it's easier to do this while stationary. Johnny has ridden the train six or seven times now and he said to try and dig it out at the front of the car and make it as level as possible. But Ruth and I found a spot in the middle in between the two humps of ore where we could kind of sit up facing to the rear.

Me, ready for the ride.

After almost a half an hour, there was a noisy lurch as the train slowly began moving. It turned out there was no rush at all, but of course there was no way of knowing at the time.

Ruth, wearing a rain poncho that we had been given for free while in Belgium.

Stay tuned...  part two coming up next!

Great deal on Men's Underwear.

And in Canada...


  1. We watched a Michael Palin program on TVO on Friday night. He was going on the iron ore train!! It was actually quite exciting to see a video of "your" trip.

    1. We weren't able to see the whole episode of the Michael Palin program but we did see a bit of it on YouTube, the difference with him is that he was in one of the passenger cars, so he didn't get the same experience that we got being in the open iron ore cars.

  2. That’s crazy but sounds fun!

    1. Yep, it is pretty crazy for sure but it is what helps to keep us young and as uncomfortable as we were, it was a total blast. We are so glad we did it but we don't need to repeat it. :-)


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