Heading south from Nouakchott towards Senegal ,there’s suddenly an incredible transformation in the scenery. and we arrive, unexpectedly, in Diawling National Park.
Driver Naji has relinquished his Arab robes in favour of trousers and shirt today – change portends. There’s still more desert, though there are acacias (if larger) for another two hundred dry kilometres. Then, over a small hill and suddenly we are surrounded by lush vegetation, lagoons and mud banks. We swing right into the Diawling National Park and some warthogs scamper to meet us. There’s a waterfowl of one kind or another posing every ten metres and hosts of lotus flowers. Even a pair of huge monitor lizards. (Naji says they’re crocodiles so we have to double check). It’s a proper ’Scotty's Beamed Me up ’ moment. Astonishing.
Diawling National Park is not without controversy. Opened in 1991, it spreads round a floodplain on the delta of the Senegal River. This is the boundary between the park and the Djoudj National Bird Sanctuary, in Senegal. The establishment of Djoudj had a huge impact on the local tribes. They were both displaced from their homes and denied access to grazing and fishing.
Both parks are home to monkeys, wart hogs, a few spotted hyenas and wild donkeys, but are famous for the diversity of their bird life. The larger mammals all disappeared due to drought and hunting. The last West African lion in Diawling was shot in 1970. Some of the region's worst malaria is found in this area, due to the construction, some years ago, of a dam. The dam also put paid to other species like the manatee, crocodile, and hippopotamus. Bilharzia and invasive plant species have also taken hold.
Nevertheless, it's a welcome splash of green as we head to the border crossing at Diamma. A raised and very ridged mud track and a bridge over the Senegal River, some benevolent officials, a wave goodbye to guide Ahmed and I’m across the border, into Senegal.
Stay in touch. Get travel tips, updates on my latest adventures and posts on out of the way places, straight to your Inbox.