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Sahara

Day 21: Mejik to Zouérat

Zouérat, Mauritania 
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Street art in Zouérat. The bold, bright telephone sign not only looks good, but is also vital in a place where many cannot read.
Michael Palin - SaharaMohammed Salim, so ebullient at desert draughts yesterday, is subdued. He has some problem with his eye and we've left him medicine from our filming kit. Nevertheless, he hugs me with surprising force as we begin our long farewells.

The fort at Mejik and the waving Saharawis are quickly obscured by a violent sandstorm. I still have my dry desert cough, which the sand hissing against the windows and squeezing in through the floor isn't doing anything to improve. Visibility drops to a hundred yards. It feels as if we are in limbo, and the lack of any
point of reference increases the unreality of anything we glimpse outside. Did we really pass a new-born camel, still wet from its mother, lying on the sand? Or a UN border patrol in four immaculate white Land Cruisers, their aerials swinging and bending in the wind like fishing rods?

Then, three short, sharp shocks in rapid succession - a line of concrete houses, a railway line and a hard-top road. Never mind water in the desert; after days of being thumped and jolted and flung about, it's tarmac in the desert that sends the spirits soaring.

The controversial Mauritanian border is not marked, and there is nothing to indicate a change of country until we reach a checkpoint, a metal rondavel, clanging violently in the wind. Two tall, loose-limbed guards peruse our passports, with more bewilderment than suspicion, and then we are free to enter the town, nay veritable metropolis, of Zouérat, where there are bicycles and motorbikes and cars and garages and shops and sports grounds and, at last, a hotel, the Oasian. The Polisario camps were much cleaner than Zouérat, and young boys there did not flock round, hands out for money or presents, as they do here.

But, for now, the promise of cold beer and a hot shower makes up for everything.

There is no hot water, owing to a problem with the boiler, but the beer is awfully good and I'm able to get through to Helen on the satellite phone and tell her I was dying but survived. She tells me that last night she dreamt I was in bed beside her, sent back home by the BBC for being physically not up to it. I'm quite touched by the fact that we should be having the same anxiety dreams.
Zouérat, Mauritania 
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The portrait of Saddam that we're not allowed to film.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Sahara
  • Day: 21
  • Country/sea: Mauritania
  • Place: Zouérat
  • Book page no: 76

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