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Sitting outside my auberge, bleary-eyed after a 3am arrival, I enjoyed a breakfast of freshly baked baguettes and date jam (great pastries are just one legacy of the early French rulers) accompanied by rich, hot chocolate, while soaking up the chaotic atmosphere of this busy city.

That night, I was woken by a booming call to prayer emanating from a distant mosque.

Desert makes up about a third of Mauritania, whose neighbours include Mali, Algeria and Senegal.

That's around 775,000 square miles of sand, or about three times the size of Britain.

When I dropped by at noon, in the heat of the day, the smell of gutted fish reached me long before the cooling sea breeze and the sound of the fishermen singing as they hauled their long boats in and out of the sea.

The white-sand beach stretched for miles, teeming with industrious young men in garish yellow oilskins and oversized Wellingtons - even the occasional all-in-one ski-suit - loading donkey carts with squirming fish.

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