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Sahara

Day 61: Into the Ténéré Desert

The Ténéré Desert, Niger 
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A trans-Saharan camion carries workers and all their wordly goods, from Libya back south.
Michael Palin - SaharaThe vehicles judder and shudder over a surface that changes with frightening suddenness from hard earth to corrugated rocky ridges. A few miles back we passed a donkey rolling on its back, enjoying a dust bath. Just now we saw another donkey, stretched out by the side of the road, skin drawn back on its jaw, dead of thirst.

Mohammed Ixa points out four fluted columns, apparently of golden sandstone, 3 or 4 feet high, arranged in the shape of a square. The stones are actually petrified wood and mark a pre-Islamic grave. Which means someone was laid to rest here at least fourteen centuries ago.

As the sun is beginning to sink, we see, coming towards us, what looks like a huge upturned ship, with dozens of people clinging to the wreckage. As it comes closer it's revealed to be a Mercedes truck, groaning beneath the weight of fifty or sixty people, close-packed on top of a cargo of rugs, carpets, blankets and bedding which swells out way beyond the sides of the vehicle. Bags of food, water and provisions hang down its flanks like fenders.

Initially friendly shouts from the occupants turn to angry gesticulations as soon as we attempt to film them.

These are trans-Saharan camions, carrying an illegal labour force across the very heart of the desert from the poorer black African countries of the south to the oil-rich countries of Libya and Algeria. The workers generally have no papers or passports, so the camions move at night and take considerable detours to avoid
checkpoints.

We put the cameras away and watch them recede slowly and ponderously on the twisting track towards Agadez, a fat, swaying silhouette against the setting sun.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Sahara
  • Day: 61
  • Country/sea: Niger
  • Place: Agadez
  • Book page no: 176

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