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Sahara

Day 96: Algiers to Oran

Algiers, Algeria 
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Inside the station, I bid farewell to Said beside the Oran train.
Michael Palin - SaharaA peerless morning. The only cloud in the sky is caused by an enormous flock of small birds, which plunges us into shadow as we wait in the hotel courtyard for transport to the station. More and more birds seem to join all the time, crying and calling, until their numbers reach a critical mass and, as if on a given signal, they execute a dizzyingly precise banking turn and disappear southwards. Our coach driver tells me they're swallows, migrating from Europe to winter in the Sahara. They regroup here on the mountainous shoreline before starting the final leg of their journey.

We who are migrating the other way, out of the Sahara and into Europe, are also on the last leg of a journey. Today we catch the train to Oran, second city of Algeria, which is less than 300 miles from where we set out all those months ago.

Eamonn is anxious. Travelling from Algiers to Oran by train is, in security terms, an out of the frying pan into the fire situation. He has trawled his dictionary of doom this morning. Over the last ten years this has been the most bombed railway line in the world; it passes through an area known as the Triangle of Death (not mentioned in the timetable) and terrorists have been known to board the train and kill people 'in awful circumstances'.

It all sounds theatrically exaggerated on this brilliant, life-enhancing morning, as we drive down through the city for the last time, past the grand arcades, the long straight thoroughfares, the great domed Post Office - built by the French in 1913, but so Moorish in its inspiration that it looks like a mosque - and the long white walls of the apartment blocks, flecked with the bright colours of a thousand sun blinds.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Sahara
  • Day: 96
  • Country/sea: Algeria
  • Place: Algiers
  • Book page no: 247

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