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Sahara

Day 23: Zouérat to Azougui

Choûm, Mauritania 
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Some don't like it hot. Catching the breeze on the way to Choûm.
Michael Palin - SaharaThis ship of fools moves off southwards at a steady 25 miles per hour. Alongside us the tarmac road falters and merges with the sand. This line is now the only man-made route across the desert.

It is not pretty desert. Grey dust blows over a scruffy plain of rocks and rubble, enlivened occasionally by the detritus of a derailed train or the bleached corpse of an abandoned pick-up truck. I lie down and try to read, but it's not easy, as the slightest change in speed convulses the train.

After several hours of extremely slow progress the train rumbles to a halt at a small town called Choûm. Scarcely has it done so than Choûm station is transformed into the scene of a major disaster. Passengers getting off the train claw at half-open doors as passengers getting on the train hurl themselves at the same
half-open doors like soldiers entering a besieged city. Babies are thrown about, the carpet man is cutting his own swathe through the crowds and the low hum of diesel engines mingles with the pathetic falsetto of ore-stained goats.

This is where we get off. If we can.

From Choûm the train turns west to reach the Atlantic coast sometime tomorrow. We pick up the vehicles and head south and east, into the interior of Mauritania, away from the long arcing border of Western Sahara, which has held us like a magnet these past ten days.

As if reflecting the change of direction the landscape changes too. A long escarpment wall has risen up from nowhere and dominates the eastern horizon until the light goes down and it blends into the general darkness. Our convoy rattles on, twisting and turning until the track tackles the escarpment head-on. For the first time since crossing the Atlas Mountains we are climbing, steadily, if not spectacularly, following the thin dusty plume of the vehicle ahead.

We level out on a plateau of splintered rocks. It's a bare, dispiriting place.

Night falls, and with it comes that vague anxiousness I've felt many times since we left Morocco. A feeling that we could go on like this for days and nothing would ever change.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Sahara
  • Day: 23
  • Country/sea: Mauritania
  • Place: Choûm
  • Book page no: 82

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