Several hours to the north east of the capital Nouakchott in Mauritania, lies the oasis town of Ouadane. After seeing nothing but sand and camels for a few hours it was something of a surprise to see a collection of houses appear out of nowhere.
Total silence is a commodity rarely afforded to anyone these days, and should you happen across it, it can be a little unnerving, until you come to terms with it.
The old caravan city of Ouadane, now a UNESCO world heritage site, is a place where even my own breathing deafened me.
A brisk 5 minute walk from my auberge, Chez Zouida on the outskirts of the town, I passed the military sentinel fast asleep on his chair in the early morning sun, and I was standing in front of the wooden gate proudly declaring itself as the entrance to the old city.
In true horror movie style, it creaked fantastically as I lifted the latch and pushed, taking care to shut it behind me, although against what I couldn’t tell. The days of marauding invaders, eager to have the town’s water source for itself are long gone.
Before me was a spectacle, a visual feast. Stretching far in front and above me was the old city. On the right hand side, crumbling walls, piles of rocks probably untouched by human hand since they were placed into the wall over 500 years previously.
On the left, an area that´s been reconstructed, thanks to a Turkish NGO. The ornate arches, with their large columns are beautifully finished, with the same skills applied as the artisans of yesteryear.
I walked on, silence reigning. Every pebble moved with my clumsy feet seemed to risk starting an avalanche, before arriving at the well. A quick look showed it was the most heavily defended area of the town. The perimeter walls at their thickest, and placed furthest away from the normal routes of approach of outsiders.
Even though it was early, the Mauritanian sun was fierce, the gentle breeze as cooling as a forest fire, and I was happy to find some shade. A corridor of high walls sheltered me as I took in the signs on doors on both sides. Some of the original inhabitants of the village have their names remembered, as well as their position. Posterity personified. The wooden doors are unlikely to be original, but some leather straps date no doubt to the inception of the settlement.
I reached the top of the slight slope and realized I’d come to the boundary between old and new. Old, pristine, new, the ubiquitous blue carrier bags being carried slowly on the breeze, modern day tumbleweed.
As a youngster with a vivid imagination (see the letter F) I always imagined the arrival of the caravan as a joyous affair, flags, music and feasting but after having spent time in the area, felt the ferocious, baking, debilitating heat I quickly realised that the caravan must have been a true battle for survival, living or dying totally dependent on your water supply.
As I left the old town and walked back past the still sleeping soldier, I whistled to myself, just to confirm that I could still hear things after the deafening silence I’d just encountered.
The letter O was bought to you by: http://www.a-to-zchallenge.com/