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Sahara

Day 93: Tunis to Algiers

Michael Palin - SaharaThe electric train service into Tunis is clean, efficient, regular and stops at Carthage, which may have been laid waste by the Romans 2000 years ago but is now the smartest place to live in Tunisia. A sign of its significance is that there are no less than five Carthage stations listed between here and Tunis. I get on at Carthage Hannibal, partly because station names don't come much better than that, and partly because I've always had a fondness for anyone who stood up to the Romans. Hannibal's dramatic invasion of Europe and his spectacular feat of transporting an entire army over the Alps made him their enemy number one and resulted in the eventual destruction of the Carthaginian empire. As a symbolic gesture of this destruction the Romans ploughed up the fields and sowed them with salt.

At Tunis Marine we disembark and take the tram a short way through the city to the main station in Place Barcelone, from where the Trans-Maghreb express leaves for Algiers.

We pull out, on time, at 1.10 pm. Six blue and white coaches run by SNCFT, Société Nationale de Chemins de Fer Tunisienne, the name itself an indication of how comfortably Tunisia has dealt with its French colonial past. A hundred and twelve miles, and three hours away is the border with Algeria, where things are tragically different.

Jamina, the girl sitting opposite me, is studying in Tunis and going back to see her family at the weekend. She speaks English well, but with the over-deliberate emphasis of someone who has taken the learning of it very seriously. Jamina gets off the train at Ghardimaou, less than a mile from the Algerian border. I watch her go, confident and self-possessed, on her way to see her mother, who was illiterate but whom she and her sisters have taught to read and write.

She has a spring in her step, a belief in herself and her country, which is a sharp and poignant contrast to the apathy and resignation I've seen in so much of the Sahara.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Sahara
  • Day: 93
  • Country/sea: Tunisia
  • Place:
  • Book page no: 240

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