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Day 67: The Ténéré Desert

The Ténéré Desert, Niger 
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Divided loyalties. Izambar, in indigo robe at far right of picture, and Omar, next to him, watch as I try to tear myself away from the team. A sad and happy leave-taking, after almost a week together.
Michael Palin - SaharaThe noises in the night prove to have been the work of little black beetles, and judging by the network of tracks around my tent they had put in a full night's work. There are over 350 species of black beetle in the Sahara, but I haven't seen so many in one place since we watched the camel train come into Timbuktu. They bustle around as I pack, full of curiosity, wanting to get into everything, as they had presumably wanted to get into my tent last night. Nor was I the only one to have been kept awake by them. J-P, dark-eyed and dishevelled, became convinced that hyenas were prowling around and has barely slept a wink. I can understand it. In such a soundless environment the slightest noise can become weirdly amplified. And he had had a brandy or two.

Renaud, whose speciality is aerial photography, is also up early to take advantage of the light at sunrise. Lashed to the wheel of his paraglider like some mediaeval penitent, he runs into the wind, but there isn't enough to fill his parachute, and he has to keep on running, trying to find the elusive lifting breeze. He disappears behind a dune, engine revving away. There's a pregnant pause, and a moment later the sound of an engine cutting out, followed by a short splintering crash.

Renaud is fine, but his machine is a write-off. Later, François manages to get his craft airborne and the morning's travelling is enlivened by his appearances over the dunes, sweeping down across the camel train, filming with one hand, steering with the other.

To get the right pictures the camels have to be led backwards and forwards over the same ground, which emphasises how, in a way, things have changed. Omar and his team are following us instead of us following them. Whatever relationship I might have assumed I was forging with the Touareg has been subsumed by Western technology.

In the evening I have one last meal with the cameleers. In a recklessly generous act of hospitality they cook the remaining sheep, preceded by a tasty mix of crusty-topped goat's cheese and dates. We sit round the fire and go through my Touareg vocabulary for the last time.

'Tagel-la.' (Roars of laughter.) 'Izot!' 'Issan!'

As we raise our glasses of mint tea I teach Izambar some useful English in return.

I advise him that the English say 'Bottoms Up' when they raise a glass.

Izambar is a very quick learner, though his first faltering attempts - 'Bott-erm erp' - give me a chance to get back for all the Tagel-las.

The main thing is that we laugh a lot. Almost like old friends.
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  • Series: Sahara
  • Day: 67
  • Country/sea: Niger
  • Place:
  • Book page no: 190

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