In Mauritania, only one train to ride exists: It is nicknamed the Iron Train. It stops once for five minutes in Choum on its daily 437-mile journey from Zouerat in central Mauritania to Nouadhibou on the coast. Its main purpose is to transport iron ore, 22,000 tons mined in Zouerat daily and poured into 220 iron hoppers linked together to make a 1.5-mile-long train. Passengers can stow away for free in the hoppers or they can pay about $3 to sit on benches inside two passenger cars. The journey can take anywhere from 16-21 hours depending on the weight of the train.
Photographer Daniel Rodrigues rode back and forth twice, climbing onto the mounds that sank beneath his weight and turned his clothes burnt orange. Fellow passengers wrapped their heads and faces with long pieces of cloth to ward off the hot winds of the desert, or the iron dust that pierced their skin like tiny needles. Sometimes goats or donkeys could displace the common sight of boxes of apples or potatoes thrown hastily on board by food sellers. People shared tea, cooked atop bits of charcoal dug into the iron and lit aflame. Most of the time people slept as the train ambled at 30 miles per hour.
It was the sky that Rodrigues remembers the most. “It’s that time when the moon has just disappeared and the sun has not yet risen that you can’t believe the number of stars,” he said. “Only in the desert can you see this. Millions and millions of stars.”