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Sahara

Day 69: I-n-Guezzam

I-n-Guezzam, Algeria 
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Whatever happened here? One probably turned without indicating.
Michael Palin - SaharaAll are armed. Said reminds us that no walkie-talkies or satellite phones are to be used while we are in Algeria. Security, he says, with a quick shrug and a smile, before turning to the drivers.

'Come! We go!' he shouts, a touch manically. Engines rumble into life and, accompanied by our substantial entourage, we head across the two or three miles of no-man's-land that separates the end of Niger from the first town in Algeria.

The crescent moon and green and white verticals of the national flag flutter above the sub-prefect's office in the main street of I-n-Guezzam. Construction is going on to turn this dirt strip into a dual carriageway, but work seems desultory. Two rake-thin guards, rifles slung over their shoulders, stand outside the office where our papers are being checked. As we wait, Said confides to me that I-n-Guezzam is considered the end of the earth, and a posting here is usually a penalty for past mistakes. I like Said. He is clearly proud of his country and impatient with it at the same time, like a father with a delinquent son.

He apologises that there are no hotels of sufficient quality in I-n-Guezzam. We have been invited instead to spend the night on the roof of the mayor's house. This is a two-storey brick and plaster building with a small garden tucked away behind high walls. The downstairs rooms are full of people, mostly family I assume. The mayor, a tall slim Touareg, wears a yellow turban, matching gandoura (an Arab kaftan), leggings in cream and red check and a pair of thin scholarly glasses. Our presence is clearly something unprecedented in I-n-Guezzam and he is for ever bringing people up to the roof to meet us.

The commissar, a short stocky man in T-shirt and Umbro training pants, shakes hands all round, followed shortly by someone introduced to us as the Surgeon of Police. I think they're all quite keen to hang around and party, but we cross-Saharan travellers are by now desperately in need of food and sleep.
 
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Sahara
  • Day: 69
  • Country/sea: Algeria
  • Place: I-n-Guezzam
  • Book page no: 194

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