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Sahara

Day 70: I-n-Guezzam to Tamanrasset

I-n-Guezzam to Tamanrasset, Algeria 
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Mirage effect on the horizon. The massive rocks look double the size, as if reflected on water.
Michael Palin - SaharaI should be used to the gripping chill of the desert nights by now, but I still find myself reaching for a sweater in the small hours. I find I've laid my sleeping bag beside a small drainage hole in the wall, through which a blast of gritty wind is blowing straight into my face. Stuff my towel into the hole, wrap my turban round my head and settle myself back to sleep. It doesn't come easily. There is a constant subdued roar coming from somewhere, as if planes are warming up for take-off (I'm later told it's the town generator). I can't wait for the dawn.

It is a beauty. The sun rises as a pulsing red ball, glowing like a hot coal before softening into a peachy glow which fills the sky with benevolent promise. (I keep making a mental note to myself not to describe any more sunrises, but some are majestic and, jaded travellers though we are, we never ignore them. They raise the spirits like nothing else. Apart from a cold beer.)

The mayor and the commissar and the surgeon of police all gather around as we load up. They're candid about the problems down here at the frontier. There is no oasis and no water for crops, so all their food must be brought in from Tamanrasset, 250 miles away.

The mayor unpicks a stick from his teeth and gestures at a row of new houses across the street.

'The people are poor, but very conservative. We build new houses, with floors, and they still want to sleep on the sand.'

As Said puts it, they mistrust the 'chair culture'. They remain nomads at heart, so everything expendable is dumped in the street for the goats to sift through.

'And the women,' the mayor shakes his head, 'you don't see them. Some of them never leave their houses.'

As the time comes for yet another goodbye, the mayor and his friends are warm and courteous, but I sense they are already switching off, preparing to return to the reality of their isolation. They know that almost anywhere else is better than here and yet it is their home. To survive it must require a particularly indomitable spirit.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Sahara
  • Day: 70
  • Country/sea: Algeria
  • Place: I-n-Guezzam
  • Book page no: 195

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