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Day 18: Smara Camp to Tfariti

Michael Palin - SaharaFinally, away we go, up the hill from the house, sliding and swerving on the fine sand until we have a grip on the stony rubble at the top. My last images of Smara camp are the small plots on the edge of town, fenced with anything from rice sacks to beaten-out oil cans, where people keep their livestock - goats, sheep, even camels. Two young girls are dragging a length of chicken wire across the sand to build another enclosure. That life goes on like this in these most straitened of circumstances is extraordinary. Smara is becoming less like a camp and more like a proper town every day. For everyone under twenty-five this is their only home. And that's not good news for the Polisario.

All morning we rumble across the hammada, stony, gravel-strewn desert, which appears featureless and forbidding, but is constantly changing. At one moment we'll be on the flat, at another cutting down a ravine or passing a small hill, both of which seem to come from out of nowhere. A scattering of acacia trees suddenly evaporates, leaving no cover at all. At moments like this, when there is no single piece of shade as far as the eye can see, the desert becomes quite frightening, and our vehicles seem small and pathetically vulnerable. It's like being on a rowing boat in the middle of the ocean.

Fifty-five miles later we stop at a Polisario checkpoint. A rough barrier made from lengths of piping, a few outbuildings, goats sheltering beneath the skeleton of a jacked-up, wheel-less lorry. A couple of Toyota pick-up trucks stand side by side with a couple of anti-aircraft guns in the back. The Saharawi army, Bachir points out.
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  • Series: Sahara
  • Day: 18
  • Country/sea: Algeria
  • Place: Smara Refugee Camp
  • Book page no: 67

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