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Sahara

Day 72: Assekrem to Hassi-Messaoud

Assekrem to Hassi-Messaoud, Algeria 
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In the heart of the Hoggar Mountains. The peaks are cores of old volcanoes.
Michael Palin - SaharaBy the time we've reached the top of the path and the broad flat plateau on which Père de Foucauld built his refuge, we're above 9000 feet and gulping gratefully at the chilly air.

There is still three-quarters of an hour to go before sunrise, but the stars are fading slowly and a faint lemon-magenta glow is shading the eastern horizon. Up here the mountains are all below us. Only one summit, that of Tahat, away to the north, is superior, and that by a few hundred feet. Even before the sun comes up the view is breathtaking. The misty pre-dawn light compresses the spaces between the mountains, giving the appearance of a solid range to what we know to be a collection of eccentric individuals.

Said whispers in my ear.

'This is third best sunrise in the world, after Fiji and Ceylon.'

He pauses a moment for me to take this in.

'The purity of the air here is recorded by the meteorological station and sent back to the United States. To measure carbon and ozone in the atmosphere.'

(I'm not altogether sure about this purity of the air bit; it brings to mind something less reassuring that I recently read in Jeremy Keenan's book Sahara Man. At In Ecker, less than 60 miles northwest of here, the French tested their first nuclear weapon. According to Keenan, there is anecdotal evidence of poisonous emissions and mysterious deaths immediately afterwards.)

A bitter north wind drives me to take shelter in the refuge. Above the doorway of this plain stone construction is a white marble panel. It reads 'Charles de Foucauld, juillet-décembre 1911'. Inside, a narrow passage leads to a small chapel, where there is a picture of a lean Frenchman with a well-trimmed beard dressed in a white monk's habit, and, above it, the emblem of a red heart with a cross rising from it.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Sahara
  • Day: 72
  • Country/sea: Algeria
  • Place:
  • Book page no: 200

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