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Sahara

Day 60: Tabelot

Michael Palin - SaharaTo the accompaniment of rumbling groans and one or two angry roars, the camels are brought to their feet and the tethering ropes removed from their front legs. As Omar hands me the guide rope I'm reminded how big these creatures are. Ekawik's head rises several feet above mine and he observes me through the luxuriant lashes of his heavy-lidded eyes. I smile back with what I hope will convey both friendliness and confidence and pat his flanks, which he doesn't like at all.

As far as camel trains go, ours is modest. In 1922 a Captain Angus Buchanan saw a caravan leave Tabelot with 7000 camels and 1100 men. The train stretched 6 miles from front to back. We have twenty-eight camels, nine men and stretch about 200 yards.

There are no emotional leave-takings and, as far as I can see, none of Omar's four wives or fifteen children turns up to say goodbye. Gingerly attached to Ekawik, I accompany the caravan out of the village and over the first hill. There I hand over the reins and watch them snaking their way off through the rocks, nodding and swaying as if in slow motion.

The Aïr Mountains form such an impenetrable barrier to the north and east that to link up with the camel train we must retrace our steps back to Agadez and take the Bilma road, which skirts the high ground and heads straight across the desert. Mohammed and the drivers are anxious to be on the move, as the clouds grow thicker and greyer above us. In the rainy season one downpour can easily turn roads into rivers. They pack up the camp at speed and we set off at the faster end of safe, stones spinning off the track behind us.

Though the rain holds off, Mohammed keeps an anxious eye on the clouds massing around the 3500-foot summit of Mount Taghouaji, halfway between us and Agadez.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Sahara
  • Day: 60
  • Country/sea: Niger
  • Place: Tabelot
  • Book page no: 174

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