Sahara by Jody MacDonald

Jody MacDonald is an award winning adventure sport and documentary photographer. For the last 8 years she has been the resident photographer on a 60 foot catamaran on a global kite-boarding, paragliding, surfing expedition to explore the wildest corners of the planet.

Flying low over the Sahara getting ready to land I wondered how this trip was going to play out. What I would see and photograph, would the desert be as magical as I imagined? Would I get arrested? When I travel to different countries I get overwhelmed by how much there is to see and how little time I have. Two months, I know from experience, is never enough. To know a place, to understand its nuances, to truly experience it you have invest your time and curiosity and you have to BE there, enmeshed and committed. At the same time you have to be invisible, the proverbial fly on the wall. You have to become a local, trusted and transparent. I’ve waited a long time to do this trip. When I was young I used to look through National Geographic magazines and dream of adventures like this. Train hopping through the Sahara on one of the world's longest trains. I had dreamed of the oceans of sand, the loud noises of the train, the cold, the wind, the scorching sun, the unknown smells and sounds of the desert and the discomfort that goes with it. Turns out that visceral experience is exactly what we got.

My assignment was to test Leica’s new all weather cameras in a harsh environment. I ended up in Mauritania. The majority of Mauritania’s lifeblood is found in its vast deserts and if you want to move around in the north the best way to do it is by one of the longest trains in the world. Catching the train from a mine in Zouerat in the north, it slithers through over 700 kilometers of Sahara as it’s making its way to the city of Nouadhibou on the coast. The three kilometer train transports approximately 84 tons of iron ore across a country crippled by terrorism, slavery, and poverty. Mauritania is one of the poorest nations in the world and a country in which four percent of its three million people are enslaved. It’s nearly twice the size of France and 90% desert – vast arid plains broken by occasional ridges and cliff-like outcroppings. Ceaseless winds constantly reshape the mountainous dunes of Mauritania’s interior, while its northern coastline is littered with rusty shipwrecks and long-forgotten land mines.

After arriving on the coast, curiosity led me to spend some time with the Imraguen fishermen in Banc d’Arguin National Park. It is a world heritage site because of its natural resources and fisheries. The Imraguen tribesmen have maintained age-old lifestyles, based almost exclusively on harvesting the migratory fish populations using old traditional sailboats. They still use techniques unchanged since first recorded by 15th century Portuguese explorers. From there I wander up the coast in search of long lost shipwrecks and undiscovered surf. As my journey comes to an end I reflect back on the sandstorms, train hopping and shipwrecks and realize that it was one of those rare times in my life where my expectations of my dreams and reality converge and played out how I imagined.

All photos by Jody MacDonald