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Day 60: Tabelot

Michael Palin - SaharaHe becomes increasingly concerned when we come across evidence of a recent deluge, and progress is reduced to a snail's pace as our drivers feel their way through flooded ruts and potholes. We narrowly avoid a dried-up riverbed that has turned into a fast flowing stream, 50 yards wide and rising all the time. The sudden power of a desert flood is an awesome sight and Mohammed is persuaded to stop and let us take some film. Then we're back into the cars and racing the last few miles to Agadez, which is, amazingly, dry as a bone.

Back at the friendly little Pensione Tellit, I run into its owner and founder Vittorio, a sixty-five-year-old ex-bank employee from Rome, who first came to Agadez in 1970, fell in love with the place, married a Touareg girl and set up the only Italian ice-cream parlour in the Sahara. He's quietly spoken and looks not unlike an expatriate Roman emperor, with close-cropped white hair and a toga-like African robe. Besides this tiny hotel he has a restaurant called Le Pilier on the main road to Algeria. It's beautifully designed in the Soudan style and serves a very fine spinach and ricotta ravioli.

It's not a great time to be in the tourist business. The economy of Niger is in a parlous state. Income from uranium found in the Aïr Mountains has dried up and the area is only just beginning to recover from the Touareg rebellion of the 1990s. Though the uprising is over, the situation remains volatile. Only two years ago the president was assassinated and most Western governments still warn travellers against going anywhere north of Tahoua, 200 miles south of where we are right now.

When I ring home tonight, however, it sounds as if the rest of the world is much more dangerous than Niger. American airports are still closed. There is talk of war and warnings of further attacks, perhaps on London and Paris as well. Now that the terrorists are known to be Muslim, people back home are worrying that we must be especially vulnerable, here amongst the mosques and muezzins.

In fact, we are, right now, in probably one of the safest places on earth.
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  • Series: Sahara
  • Day: 60
  • Country/sea: Niger
  • Place: Agadez
  • Book page no: 174

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