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Day 71: Tamanrasset to Assekrem

Tamanrasset to Assekrem, Algeria 
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In the Hoggar Massif. Rock formation like a petrified starburst.
Michael Palin - SaharaAround 10.30 the four rusty flagpoles on the forecourt of the Hotel Tahat recede into the distance as we take to Tamanrasset's gloriously smooth and comfortable roads. Within a mile we throw an abrupt right onto a track so ferociously jagged that for a moment I fear we might have been hijacked.

It does not get much better. Every now and then we come to a stretch that is merely rutted earth, but these are few and far between. Generally, it is a bed of broken and solidified lava, over which the vehicle judders and shudders as if possessed. A puncture offers some brief respite, then the whole painful process begins again. But it is a price almost worth paying for magnificently dramatic scenery. We are in the Hoggar Mountains, which, with peaks rising to 10,000 feet, are amongst the highest in the Sahara. They're formed by the hard cores of ancient volcanoes, eroded into a series of weird and wonderfully shaped towers, plugs and pinnacles.

Some have incised vertical surfaces, as if they've been clawed, others are so deeply scored that their sides look like organ pipes or massive petrified tree roots. On one the scarring runs in all directions like a starburst captured in stone. There are knobs, spires, needles, arcs and bluffs, rocks standing four square on plinths of rubble, resembling mediaeval castles. Tenacious tufts of grass cling to the defiles and gullies; otherwise, this is a land of rock and stone. The Touareg know it by the suitably Tolkien-ish name of Atakor.
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  • Series: Sahara
  • Day: 71
  • Country/sea: Algeria
  • Place: Tamanrasset
  • Book page no: 197

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