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Sahara

Day 83: Benghazi to Sirte

Benghazi, Libya 
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Benghazi schoolchildren stop to watch the filming.
Michael Palin - SaharaNo sign of the horses this morning, which is a relief, as we have the best part of 400 miles to cover. The pink coach is once more at our disposal and Farsi, the video cameraman, is back in action, recording our walk from the lobby to the door and the door to the coach, whilst Abdul photographs him photographing us.

In the middle of a roundabout on the outskirts of Benghazi is a huge installation commemorating the Great Manmade River Project. Its centrepiece is a circular stack of pipes embedded in concrete looking like a giant metal cake. Around it, the cardinal points of the compass are marked by 30-foot-long pipe sections. I climb inside one of them.

About 13 feet in diameter, it feels more like a small Underground station than a water pipe. A quarter of a million of these sections were used in the first phase of the project alone, and apparently the number laid now would stretch from the southern tip of Italy to the Orkney Islands. There have been unforeseen problems, however, one of which is the high saline content of the underground water, which is causing corrosion and leakage that is either very serious or little more than expected, according to who you talk to. Abdul, not surprisingly, is of the latter opinion. A group of passing schoolboys sees us filming and pandemonium and excitement break out. They point, shout, laugh, until their enthusiasm is cut short by our driver, Faraj, who climbs down and gives them a terrific scolding. Their faces fall and I can see momentary fear in their eyes. It's a pity, as this is the first time we've seen any reaction from Libyans on the street and I was rather enjoying it. We're herded back onto the pink coach, sedated with Richard Clayderman and driven south, into increasingly dry, hot, stony desert.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Sahara
  • Day: 83
  • Country/sea: Libya
  • Place: Benghazi
  • Book page no: 221

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