Hein and Wil de Vries Website: Chegga - Mauritania


Last updated March 2, 2016

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At 1,200 feet above sea level and with its location so deep into the Sahara desert, Chegga sees the extremes of the deserts' temperature. During winter nights frost covers the ground, while summer days often pass 50º Celsius. During March and April, the hot, dry sirocco winds blow through the region.
We have measured in April/May 1973 shadow temperatures (in a land where shadows are far and few in between!) of 56 degrees Celsius (133 degree Fahrenheit). During trips away from base camp the only available shadow at midday with the sun almost perpendicular above oneself is underneath the Landrover.

CHEGGA: For the most adventurous
Chegga is situated in northeastern Mauritania, in a small triangle of land between Algeria and Mali (bec d'oiseau). (25 degrees 22' 24" N and 5 degrees 47' 13" W). This remote Sahara site has served as a caravan stop for centuries and also houses a bordj dating back to the French colonial period (Foreign Legion). It currently houses the Mauritanian Army.
The main attraction of this locale for the military and other organizations is the presence of a permanent water source.
Chegga offers little to tourists, and its isolation and the region's instability make reaching the town perilous.

During the time of our stay at Chegga we did not meet any of the "Hommes Bleus": the fierce Regueibat tribe of warriors who are leading a mostly nomadic lifestye in this vast region. On other occasions and farther West we met and were invited into their camps and tents. They are a very hospitable people where women are not veiled and curious young girls often visited our roving camps without any male "supervision".
The lack of people in the Chegga region testifies to its remoteness and isolation.

Words of advice:
Both the British and American governments nowadays strongly advise against travel to this remote Tiris Zemmour region of northeastern Mauritania, which includes Chegga.
Bandits and terrorists -- especially those affiliated with Al Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb --pose a particular threat to Westerners and have killed European and American visitors. Anyone determined to visit Chegga should exercise extreme caution: Hire a native guide, form a large caravan, avoid traveling at night and stop at all government checkpoints.
Searching on Google for information about CHEGGA I discovered that what is available is probably provided by persons who never have been there: "small town" ??? Where?? When I was there in 1973 there was no town, no sign whatsoever of a former town ever have existed in this location.
The fort (bordj) the only attraction??? What about the neolithic rock carvings in the oued above the site?
These Neolothic engravings are arguably assignable to the First Period (mainly Tazina style). Many other engravings in the northern region belong to the Tazina style, with figures incised and distorted, especially in their extremities, which have a tendency to elongate in an unrealistic way. Also there are incomprehensible added lines or others which cut indiscriminately through the bodies, making it very difficult to understand the compositions. The figures are idealized and have exaggerated anatomical parts, specially the horns. Some figures share anatomical parts making the compositions still more difficult to read. These northern engravings are less varied than those attributed to the Tazina style all over the Sahara, which are dated grosso modo between 4,500 and 2,500 BP (Muzzolini 1995). However, here there are no horses, carts or clear scenes of domestication and only one human figure. According to the literature the themes of this first period or style could evoke the world of the hunter and is of a much earlier chronology than the proposed by Alfred Muzzolini.

How did I get there?
In 1972-1973 I was the geologist responsible for the exploration and geological mapping of the sedimentary fringes of the Dorsale Regueibat in the context of the United Nations Development Program Projet Mau-4.
In March 1973 we set up our base camp in this fort: not particular ancient but dramatic in its setting on the first bluff of the El Hank escarpment rising out of the sebkha to the North.
This escarpment stretches itself for hundreds of kilometers to the SW and NE and acts as an excellent "handrail" for navigation purposes (all this in the era of no GPS and only compass navigation).

And here the reason of Chegga's existence: WATER
The watersource in Chegga is about 500m. away from the bordj. It lies in the bed of an ancient oued. Nowadays the water trickles out of the rocks and is captured in a concrete basin. When we arrived this basin was filled with reeds and we had to clean a corner in the basin in order to acces the "eau saumatre": a brackish tasting water high in magnesium content. For westerners only drinkable when thoroughly cooled.
The reeds and the few palm trees were a very relaxing green environment to rest in after a day in the relentless sun and heat with only browns and ochres. Plus the chirping of little birds almost made one feel at home.
However dry and hot the Chegga region is today, one can find signs of an altogether other climate almost unimaginable today.
Ostriches, Elephants, Giraffes, wild bovines, used to live in these environs as the rock engravings testify.
These engravings are located in the bed of the oued above the Chegga watersource. Most of them were still very readable in 1973 although the several generations of Legionaires had done a number on them: 'improved" or otherwise obliterated. Some have added their own, obviously more modern, engravings.
Of course being a geologist these ripple marks >600 million years old (Precambrian) testify there is really nothing new under the sun!