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Day 71: Tamanrasset to Assekrem

Michael Palin - SaharaHaving covered the next 50 miles in a painful four and a half hours, we catch sight of a tiny hut silhouetted on a ridge high above us, a refuge built by the ascetic French missionary Charles de Foucauld ninety years ago. After a few more agonisingly slow hairpins we pull up at the gates of a compound below the hut, where there is a hostel maintained by the town of Tamanrasset.

The accommodation is basic mountain stuff: an uncompromising stone-walled building, with two outside lavatories (quite far outside), three dormitories and a communal meeting room, with rugs and cushions, chairs, tables and an open fire. After our meal we sit in here with Arouj, the administrator, a heavily turbaned, moustachioed Touareg, probably a devastatingly handsome man in his youth, now a little fleshed out. Business doesn't look good. There's room here for 150, but apart from ourselves there are only four other visitors tonight. One is a young German biker, who set out to cross the Sahara with two friends, both of whom have had to return home after arguments with sand dunes. Arouj orders some mint tea for us all. He's pleased to see us. Very few British ever come here, he says. Germans, yes, Italians (for the rock climbing) and Spanish.


He wobbles his hand. Some French.

I feel for him. The locals have put a lot into this place. There is an airstrip at Tamanrasset, and the Hoggar mountain area is a national park, protected by UNESCO. But as long as Algeria remains better known for its civil war, places like Assekrem will remain a well-kept secret.

I make my apologies and get off to bed. We're to be up at five tomorrow to walk up to the refuge. Arouj hands me his card. It has his website marked.
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  • Series: Sahara
  • Day: 71
  • Country/sea: Algeria
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  • Book page no: 199

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