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 true 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, as I climbed up towards 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, devouring reading matter relating to the old silk trails and the camel caravans moving along the desert, I´d had this romantic notion of wonderful colours as the train was seen from afar, dancing and feasting upon its arrival, but the realisation hits you very quickly that it must have been a brutal affair. A truly dogged determination to get to the next point on your journey without running out of that most rare of desert substances, water.
Back down the hill, past the still sleeping soldier and into the auberge, where I was able to confirm that my ears still worked and I really could hear sound, if there was any.