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Sahara

Day 18: Smara Camp to Tfariti

Michael Palin - SaharaThe wind is rising. As it gusts it hisses against the tent and there's a grittier than usual texture to the freshly baked bread this morning. We've eaten most of the camel by now, but it appears at breakfast today in one last manifestation. Along with the usual offering of tea, coffee, bread and oranges is a dish of beans and diced camel liver. Out of a confusion of politeness, greed and a misplaced desire to experience all life has to offer, I pop a couple of cubes into my mouth. I know immediately that this is a mistake. The liver has a high, slightly gamey piquancy. But it's too late. One has already gone before I can retrieve it. I put up my hand to palm the other, only to meet Krikiba's eye. She beams at me expectantly. What can I do but grin and swallow.

In bright sun, sharp shadow and a cold wind the drivers Bachir has organised to take us several hundred miles down the West Saharan borderlands to the Mauritanian frontier are loading up. Our overnight bags are being squeezed into any available space left around the 200-litre fuel drums, which weigh down two small pick-up trucks. Ourselves and the rest of the baggage, as well as a cook, food and cooking materials, are divided between three four-wheel drive vehicles, which stand as tall as the house we're about to leave.

The children are going to miss us. We've been like a travelling funfair for them, and the extended family presses things upon us at the last moment, including a cassette of Saharawi music and a near-impregnable can of Spanish ham, which none of them is allowed to eat. As a parting gesture, eighteen-year-old Hadi, Bachir's pretty, coy niece, introduces me to her boyfriend. He's a young soldier and doesn't smile. The long-suffering Krikiba is persuaded into a hug and even, for Vanessa, a kiss.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Sahara
  • Day: 18
  • Country/sea: Algeria
  • Place: Smara Refugee Camp
  • Book page no: 67

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