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Sahara

Day 70: I-n-Guezzam to Tamanrasset

I-n-Guezzam to Tamanrasset, Algeria 
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Sahara sunset on the way north through Algeria.
Michael Palin - SaharaThe road to Tamanrasset follows one of the oldest trade routes across the Sahara, from Nigeria to Algeria, across the very heart of the desert. It is still a sand piste. There are signs of a hard-top being laid north of I-n-Guezzam, but it runs beside us, tantalisingly unfinished. The surface, by no means free of rocks and boulders, is generally firm, but there are softer patches where wheels cease to grip and the cars begin to swing.

This is a main road without garages or tow-trucks, so virtually everything that breaks down is left to the mercy of the sands. It was between I-n-Guezzam and Tamanrasset that Margaret Thatcher's son went missing in the 1980s. He and his girlfriend were rescued after a long and expensive search. Not everyone was so lucky. A few miles off the main piste is an undulating area of fine sand and basalt boulders so strewn with old car bodies that it's known as the Cemetery. Quite what happened to all these wrecks is difficult to tell. Some are twisted out of recognition, others seem just to have been abandoned, one door swung open, as if someone had decided to get out and walk. Anything that could be removed from them has been removed. The wind, a constant companion in the desert, catches at their metal skeletons, making them twitch and vibrate as if not quite dead. An old Deux Chevaux, painted all the colours of the rainbow and half filled with sand, adds a touch of colour to the wreckage, a reminder of the part deserts played in the hippie dream. There is no shelter here and not a cloud in the way of a sun which is sending temperatures beyond 38°C/100°F.

The wonder is that any of these cars got this far.

Seven hours after setting out, we arrive in the well-kept streets of Tamanrasset. The town feels as if it has just had a makeover. Kerb-stoned sidewalks, concrete arcades, lines of shade-giving trees, walls and buildings decorated in what seems to be a regulation shade of blood-brown. Even the razor wire has been painted in Tamanrasset.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Sahara
  • Day: 70
  • Country/sea: Algeria
  • Place: Tamanrasset
  • Book page no: 196

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