Nouakchott, Mauritania -- This country, clinging to the southwestern corner of the Sahara Desert, is almost entirely without bank machines, fast food or pay phones. The desert nation with less than 900 kilometres of paved roads is continually harassed by drought, locusts and sandstorms. Had I parachuted out of an airplane onto this beach, though, I might think I was in South Africa or the west coast of India or on some fishing beach in the Caribbean. But from the stamp in my passport and the weariness that lingers after five days travelling by train, bus and bush taxi over rough roads, across deserts and coastline from Casablanca, I know I'm in Nouakchott, the capital of Mauritania.
Hundreds of long, narrow wooden fishing boats are pulled up on the beach. The heavy, solid boats with names like Yasmine or Tuliya stencilled on their bows are covered with colourful designs.
Buoy markers, tattered multicoloured triangles mounted in foam floats, protrude from their prows like Tibetan prayer flags. Resting on the beach, bobbing on their ocean moorings or crashing through the surf onto the beach with a happy crew and a fresh catch, they're clearly part of a hard-working fleet.
The fishermen wear worn-out shorts, T-shirts and scarves wrapped around their heads or yellow rain slickers as they work in the surf, hauling in nets or struggling under massive baskets of silver fish balanced carefully on their heads.
The Arab buyers wear flowing white or blue robes that catch the wind and billow like sails snapping in the breeze.
Women's clothing covers the spectrum of the rainbow, although the style is almost uniform.
Lengths of cloth are wrapped around their bodies and over their heads and shoulders. They sit on the sand selling fish, working with the men or chatting in small groups while sipping tea. Their interactions occupy me for hours.
Carefree little boys splash in the surf or play soccer. Some follow the men who carry fish to the market, jump up to snatch a stray sardine, then run away, all smiles, as fast as their legs can carry them.
Women and men occupy separate social groups, as custom dictates. People pray between the boats, facing east, foreheads touching the sand.
The soundscape is made up of market men calling out fish prices and the long "Hooooooahhh!" cadence that crews make when hauling a boat up the beach, spinning it slowly on its keel until it inches into its parking spot. Snatches of Arabic, Pulaar, French and mixtures of all three combine to create a noise that mingles with the sound of the surf.
I smell fish guts, salt water and sweat. The sky is huge here, and in some places the desert seems to stretch right to the shore, where it becomes a beach before dissolving into the Atlantic.
This fishery, abutting one of the world's most inhospitable climates, is among the planet's most plentiful.