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Sahara

Day 25: Atâr

Tougadh, Mauritania 
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Tougadh village. Western wealth makes little impression on the locals. The adverts are all for the television coverage.
Michael Palin - SaharaThen comes a distant hum, like the sound of a swarm of bees. Moments later the sound changes from swarming bee to angry hornet and a thin line of dust can be seen snaking through the palms. Swinging wildly on the sandy track, the lead car bursts out of the trees and into the village. Compared with the motorbikes, whose riders could at least be seen grappling with their machines, it's disappointingly anonymous. A red box driven by two Lego men. Compelled by Rally regulations to observe a speed limit whilst passing through a village, it croaks and barks through the gears with rather bad grace as it climbs between the houses and over the hill. A young man from the village clambers up, waving vigorously at us. For a moment I think this must be the first Mauritanian to show any excitement about the race, but it turns out he wants to sell us some of his dates.

For the next two hours the sixty-five cars left in the race snarl by, hauling the message of McDonald's and Microsoft, PlayStation and Gauloises through the sleepy, unappreciative village. After the cars come the trucks and an armada of support vehicles, until all that's left is a Toyota Land Cruiser containing three journalists covering the rally. They seem in no great hurry and are opening up the daily ration kits issued to them by the organisers. David Park, from the New York Times, is impressed.

'What have we got today? Pâté de volaille. There's sausage, cheese, two biscuits, one for the pâté, one for the cheese. Petit Napoléon.' He shakes his head in awe and admiration. 'It's so...French!'

A line of village children stand watching Park and his friends as if they've come from Mars. They might as well have done. In almost every material respect they are different from the inhabitants of Tougadh. Well-fed, prosperous, highly mobile, technologically sophisticated, multinational. Everything this part of Africa is not. Park hands out most of the content of his ration bag to the children. His smile is broad, theirs are tentative. Then his Toyota fires into life, the palm thatch fence sways in the slipstream and the last of the Rally is gone, possibly until next year, probably for ever. A little way up the hill, a man still lies asleep with his head in the crook of an arm.
Tougadh, Mauritania 
click to enlarge 
file size
Tougadh village. Western wealth makes little impression on the locals. The adverts are all for the television coverage.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Sahara
  • Day: 25
  • Country/sea: Mauritania
  • Place: Tougadh
  • Book page no: 89

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