Algeria? That really is the badlands, right?
Even I thought twice about Algeria... I'd travelled there more than twenty years ago, before the 'troubles', and it'd been a fabulous experience: unparalleled Roman sights, amazing red coloured towns, desert dunes higher than houses, vibrant cities (and mouth watering patisseries), and, after being in Morocco, a total absence of hustlers. All in all a terrific place to travel
But now? I wanted to make the Cairo to Casablanca ride and Algeria was perhaps the most problematical place of all. To the west, the border with Morocco was firmly closed – it was 20 years ago too, but a night time walk with cigarette smugglers fixed things that time but a trike would be impossible, even if the smugglers still plied their trade – to the east, the Kabylia area with lots of mountains and sometimes alleged to be home to Al–Qaeda Organization in the Islamic Maghreb, where all and sundry warn against travelling. Still, the lure of the 'impossible ride' was too much and so I prepared for Algeria
I didn't spent that much time on the bike in Algeria and all up I only spent a couple of weeks there, even so, Algeria is back at the top of my all–time favourite places
Go, be suprised!
Getting ready to go:
Visa: Almost everyone needs a visa and while the visa application is a beauty – a 'certificat d'hebergement' plus full itinerary details (on a bike?), even details of long dead parents etc etc – in the end, the process was remarkably easy
Vaccinations: As usual I didn't bother
Once you're there:
Accommodation: While there isn't much of an established tourist infrastructure left in Algeria there are plenty of hotels of all types, again, some were a bit wary of a foreigner and in some others the rates asked were breath taking in their audacity. Still, with rates so expensive I got to stay in some pretty amazing (and yes, eye wateringly expensive) places like the Cirta in Constantine and el–Djazair in Algeirs that I would have otherwise never even looked at. While a bit of luxury is not too bad after a day on the road, hotel rates were part of reason for a fairly short sojourn...
Food: It was winter and soups were the order of the day and were they good or what? I almost lived solely on the wonderfully thick and hearty chorba frik that seemed to be a staple everywhere. The usual kebab, or to be precise brochette, of chicken, turkey, lamb or beef were also pretty ubiquitous (and tasty) and the 'French' bread sticks and pastries were also great. Getting the idea? Food in Algeria is really good!
Sweet minty green tea was sometimes (mostly, very) good and sometimes just a tea–bag scalded with water from an espresso machine. And talking about espresso, the coffee? Coffee is taken seriously and is seriously good, even in the smallest of places
Bottled water is available, cheaply, everywhere. Wine was sometimes available in upmarket hotels
Money: The relative lack of a tourist infrastructure meant that it wasn't always easy to change foreign notes into Algerian dinar except on the very open 'street market' and I didn't see much in the way of ATMs, that's not to say that they aren't available but given the difficulties I had using plastic I assumed that ATMs may not be connected to the outside world
Roads: Invariably good! As usual, there were some pretty rugged pavements and more often than not nothing in the way of verges, but there were some brilliant roads, including a not yet open 'super highway' being built with Chinese aid which construction workers let me ride on even in it's unfinished state – a dream ride it was too
Signage was in Arabic and French and it was good
Traffic: After Cairo, the traffic in Algeirs seemed orderly. Actually, it was orderly, lane markings and traffic lights were more than 'advisory', but riding in Algeirs, at least, was like riding in any city in Oz, not fabulously enjoyable. In big places, roadblocks (security) slowed traffic, sometimes to the point of traffic–jams, and, as always, taxis seemed to have their own set of 'rules'
The most frequently asked questions:
By folk outside Algeria: Is it safe for an – insert your nationality – to go to Algeria?
Yes, the same old question. This time tho, the usual fears of 'terrorists' weren't just a product of over-fevered imaginations, even in Algeria there were some people who expressed concern over my safety and who went out of their way to warn me against 'vagabonds' (read islamists)
By folk inside Algeria: Where are you going? Can I help you?
That's two questions isn't it? But they were always run together, almost as if it was a single enquiry and invariably the exchange included a cup of tea... As during the whole ride, I found warm and hospitable people everywhere, even the 'vagabonds' (which obviously says more about me than them)