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Sahara

Day 66: The Ténéré Desert

The Ténéré Desert, Niger 
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Ancient and modern. The camel train pauses as a French motorised paraglider invades their space.
Michael Palin - SaharaHe talks about the paraglider like a boy with a new toy. The whole kit folds down into two bags and can be carried with them as accompanying baggage. Yesterday they were in Paris. And the experience of flying it? Smooth and solid.

'Like swimming in oil.'

Their theatrical arrival is upstaged by the clutch of Western newspapers and magazines that they have brought with them. These contain the first pictures we have seen of the attacks on America eight days ago. Since then we have all carried our own separate mental pictures of the destruction, made up of descriptions from families and friends at home, BBC World Service reports and individual imaginings. Now, by the light of a flickering lamp in the heart of the Sahara, we share with the rest of the world, for the first time, the classic images that will come to define the tragedy; bodies falling through the air, black smoke blotting out Lower Manhattan, dust clouds racing down the streets.

By the time I climb into my tent it's nearly eleven. This is very late for the desert, where darkness rules and we're usually in bed by half past nine, yet for once I can't get to sleep. The arrival of the paragliders, with their papers and their magazines reminding us of where we came from and what we shall soon have to go back to, has broken the spell, compromised our isolation, drawn us back into the wider world just as it was becoming soothingly irrelevant. Much as we might want it otherwise, life in the desert is a diversion and the blazing skyline of New York is the reality.

And that's not all that's keeping me awake. There are persistent scratchings on the side of my tent, as if the wind is blowing something against it. But there is no wind.

Heart beating a little faster, I pull the zip open and peer out, but there's nothing there, and indeed what could be there, in the middle of the Ténéré? Apart from camels. Oh, and snakes. And scorpions. And gazelles. And paragliders.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Sahara
  • Day: 66
  • Country/sea: Niger
  • Place:
  • Book page no: 189

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