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Sahara

Day 69: I-n-Guezzam

I-n-Guezzam, Algeria 
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At I-n-Guezzam, described to me as the Siberia of Algeria, the national flag is raised. My guide, Said Chitour, stands to the right, saluting.
Michael Palin - SaharaHe shakes his head. 'Mokhtar works for himself. And for the freedom of the South.'

'South?'

'Of Algeria.'

The car slides to a halt.

'There it is!'

My driver points to two metal posts stuck in the sand.

There always seems something faintly absurd about borders. One stone belonging to one government and the stone next to it belonging to another. In the immense void of the desert, marks of sovereignty seem gloriously irrelevant. Yet here they are, confirmed in a plinth at the base of a 6-foot-high oval steel tube.

'F. Algéro-Nigérienne 27/11/1981'

The clipped inscription has been crudely applied, picked out by a finger whilst the concrete was still wet.

Next to it is a shorter triangular steel post, which my driver tells me is an upright for the palissade, a fence which the authorities hope will one day make this a serious border and stop the likes of Mokhtar ben Mokhtar treating Algeria's desert like his own private fiefdom. This could be the fencing contract of all time. Algeria's Saharan border is nearly 2000 miles long.

There is one other marker at this desolate spot. It's a small concrete trig point left behind by the French. Detailed measurements and the words 'Nivellement Général' are inscribed in a clear, legible and ornate inscription. This was the work of people who intended to stay in Algeria for a long time.

Nearby, the shells of two abandoned cars lie in the sand, as if, like marathon runners breasting the tape, the effort of getting to the line was all they could manage. Jettisoned tyres, a carburettor and an un-rusted cylinder head are scattered about.

Across the border our Algerian hosts wait to greet us. Said Chitour is a journalist from Algiers who has worked tirelessly for this day. He's a stocky, busy man in his early forties, anxious and exuberant at the same time. With him is our security man, Eamonn O'Brien, with a broad smile and the reassuring physique of Action Man, and an assortment of uniformed attendants. Gendarmes in green, border police in black.
I-n-Guezzam, Algeria 
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On the road to Tamanrasset we pass what's known as the 'Cemetery', a graveyard of hopes that driving across the Sahara was easy.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Sahara
  • Day: 69
  • Country/sea: Algeria
  • Place: I-n-Guezzam
  • Book page no: 193

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