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Monday, 22 March 2010

To Camels from Cows: Algeria Overland - Page 4

Written by Tom Coote
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As soon as we had crossed into Algeria, it was clear that something wasn’t right. Our shared taxi was slowing down and speeding up, and staggering from side to side on the winding hillside road, like an overloaded, drunken donkey. To the side, lay a sharp, deep drop from the mountain to the surprisingly verdant valley.

To Camels from Cows: Algeria Overland, Mediterranean port city of Annaba, Hotel Saf-Saf, travel Algeria, travel Constantine,  Sidi M’Cid suspension bridge, Constantine, Saharan oasis of El-Oued, The Grand Hotel du Souf, Roman ruins of Hippo Regus, Tom CooteThe following morning we got up quite early to explore the busy, labyrinthine market. It had a great atmosphere and was a pleasure to get lost in but there wasn’t a lot that I would actually buy. Still, if I’m ever in the Sahara again and need to buy a wide selection of brightly coloured plastic buckets then I’ll know where to go. There was also a small museum that gives you a bit of background information on the town. There aren’t any great tourist attractions in El-Oued, but the town has a special feel and is a pleasure to wander around.

Having very little time, we now needed to figure out how to get back to Tunisia. At the bus station we found a shared taxi going to the border. There was a young, trendily dressed Algerian guy waiting in the taxi. He spoke a bit of English and helped us to sort things out with the driver and change our last Algerian Dinars to Tunisian Dinars. He was on his way to Libya for ‘business’. On the back seat there was a traditionally dressed young man with a full beard and his even more traditionally dressed wife.

We had been in the taxi for several minutes when something startled Nong Buff - she hadn’t realised that there was another woman in the car and had been shocked when what looked like a pile of bags on the back seat had suddenly moved. After more driving through featureless desert and scrubland we arrived at what was possibly the most unappealing village I have ever seen. It consisted of a few ugly bungalows surrounded by gritty sand. It was where the traditional couple lived. As we got out the taxi, to let them out, the strong wind blew sand in our eyes, ears and mouths (I would be finding sand in unusual places for days to come). There were no trees or shade of any kind in the village to provide protection against the sand or the sun and I wondered how they could actually earn a living. I asked the young Algerian man why they lived there and he just shrugged.

Soon after, we arrived at the exit point for Algeria and were subjected to the usual pointless waiting around. While in line for the customs check a guy in front asked how we were getting to the Tunisian border. Naively I had assumed it was just next to the Algerian border. I was wrong; between the Algerian border post and the Tunisian border there is 4 km of desert and no buses or taxis. He told us not to worry – he was driving and offered to give us a lift all the way to Tozeur in Tunisia (along with our new friend from the shared taxi). If not for his kindness, we could have been left waiting in the desert for a long, long time.

During our short time in Algeria, virtually everybody we met was incredibly friendly and helpful and despite the usual warnings we never seriously felt at risk. It may well be a while until their first 18-30 resort opens up but it won’t be long until more independent travelers and backpackers make their way into this huge, friendly and diverse country.

© Tom Coote

Visit his website: www.tomcoote.net

 

Getting There

We flew in and out of Tunis through BA.Com for £64.00 (inc. taxes) each way.

Visas

A tourist visa costs around £36.00 but you will need a confirmed hotel booking. This is not as easy as it sounds. We got nowhere by attempting to phone or email any of the hotels. We eventually received official reservation letters from Hotel Saf-Saf in Annaba and Grand Hotel du Souf in El-Oued. We wrote to them with a SAE and it took around seven weeks to get a reply.

Algeria has effectively been out of bounds for independent travel for over two decades but it is now beginning to open up again.

(Page 4 of 4)
Last modified on Sunday, 16 December 2012

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