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Day 18: Smara Camp to Tfariti

Western Sahara 
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Looking across to a section of the 1000-mile Moroccan wall, and the minefield in between.
Michael Palin - SaharaThe meal is, surprise, surprise, camel stew, cooked in a pot over the fire, and accompanied by good sticky rice and washed down with Coca-Cola, our main treat in this world without alcohol and wistfully referred to as Coke du Rhône. Now we are indisputably in Western Sahara, Bachir is a changed man. He looks around at the rocks and the desiccated trees with proprietorial satisfaction.

'Ours is the best desert!'

I laugh. But he doesn't.

'It is known to be the greenest, Michael.'

Greenest? I look around at the tawny undergrowth. This is chauvinism gone mad.

'All the great desert poets come from this part of Western Sahara.'

A woman laden down with possessions appears amongst the rocks, going apparently from nowhere to nowhere. When she comes closer the drivers shout a greeting. She nods amiably, comes over for a chat and carries on. It's certainly a friendly desert.

Hours later, the vehicles have stopped again. The sun has set and the horizon is a sand-stained yellowish rim. Our drivers have got out and are kneeling in a line in this desolate place, bowing to Mecca. Bachir, hands sunk deep in coat pockets, looks out ahead. He doesn't join them.

'I am not devout,' he says matter-of-factly.

An hour later, more mundane thoughts. Where are we going to eat and where are we going to sleep? We've been on the road twelve hours and Bachir has stopped the vehicles and is consulting with his driver. No-one appears to have a map, but there's much pointing into the darkness.

Then we're all urged to get in again. They've missed a turning.

Half an hour further on and out of the pitch blackness appears the outline of a long, low, grimly unwelcoming building on the crest of a hill. Built by the Spanish military, this decommissioned barracks is to be our home for the night. We're billeted in two rooms with seriously dodgy wiring. Turning the light off involves physically pulling apart two wires to deactivate the current. No-one dares turn it on again.

The cook is the only one who seems unconditionally happy to be here. With a real kitchen to work in, he sets to work on a vegetable stew, with just a little camel in it.
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  • Series: Sahara
  • Day: 18
  • Country/sea: Western Sahara
  • Place: Tfariti
  • Book page no: 69

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