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Sahara

Day 96: Algiers to Oran

 
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Michael Palin - SaharaWe're climbing now, through a long tunnel and into a station called Ain Torki. The only people on the platform are soldiers wearing camouflage, but in the distance, my eye is caught by a procession of women leaving a graveyard, scarves and veils streaming behind them, plumes of colour in a hard brown landscape.

At Chlef, two and a quarter hours into the journey, our guard is changed and no less than eighteen black-clad members of the Gendarmerie Nationale, wearing body armour, squeeze aboard. Eamonn casts a professional eye over them and notes that one or two have Simonov precision rifles.

'They're serious.'

The soldiers settle down behind us, but when Nigel raises the camera they all move away and hide.

The last few miles into Oran are particularly sad. An arid landscape of stony ploughed fields is covered with blowing rubbish and drifting plastic bags. The stations, once trim symbols of French civic pride, are falling apart, with gaping holes in pantiled roofs, windows smashed, red-brick walls stained and grafittied. It pains me to say so, because our Algerian hosts are charming, co-operative, friendly and above all desperate to please, but this is a vision of callous decay.

And, perhaps, a perfect metaphor for post-colonial Sahara. The old owners have been thrown out and the new ones still haven't decided what to do with the property.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Sahara
  • Day: 96
  • Country/sea: Algeria
  • Place: Chlef
  • Book page no: 249

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