Favorite thing: To get into Algeria, most nationalities need a visa, which is only available at Algerian embassies, not at airports or border crossings. Visas can only be applied for in your home country, so if you are a UK citizen, you have to apply in London, regardless of where you might be. The requirements for a visa application depend on your nationality, but most people need an invitation of some sort, which makes things a little more complicated than the standard visa application. For a tourist visa, this invitation can be either an official letter from a local (called a certificat d'hebergement and it needs to be stamped by the right people in Algeria), an invitation from a tour company (you need to book a tour to get one of these), or a hotel booking (supposedly for the duration of your stay).
For independent travellers, the hotel booking is the only real option...sounds simple enough, until you realise that not many hotels in Algeria have a presence online, and only a couple of 5* places appear on booking sites. I messed up a visa application in 2007 because the hotel I had booked through a friend was not the sort of hotel the embassy approved of, so if you're a budget traveller like me, don't try and get away with booking a budget hotel! Think 3* or above. Some nationalities have to state exactly how long they are going to stay in Algeria, but for British citizens this is not the case, so I booked a hotel for just a couple of nights, and that was enough to secure the visa. The hotel needs to send a confirmation by fax (that's a fax, not an email confirmation...the embassy are picky),,so I had to persuade the secretaries at work to allow me to use their fax machine!
Alongside the "invitation", I had to send a letter from my employer stating that I had a job worth returning to, three passport photos, two photocopies of every single page in my passport (including the blank ones and the front and back cover), and two copies of the visa application form which must be filled out online first then printed off. I had to pay the visa fee by postal order (the only money the embassy in London would accept), which costs an extra 12%, and enclose a prepaid registered post envelope. All in all, the visa application cost over £120, for a 30 day single entry visa.
The embassy website claimed to take 15 working days, with delays expected in summer and during Ramadan...as it was both summer and Ramadan, I anticipated a long wait, but the visa arrived in the post 10 days after I sent it. That was a happy day!
Follow all the instructions to the letter. If they ask for three photocopies, send them three photocopies...two is not enough, and the visa may well be refused! From reading other travel forums, it seems the Algerian embassies are some of the strictest and hardest to contact (and my previous experiences with them were not great), but this time I did exactly as they asked and all went well.
Fondest memory: For UK citizens, here is the website of the Algerian Consulate in London: http://www.algerian-consulate.org.uk/ where you can find visa requirements and application forms. There are also telephone numbers and email addresses listed, but good luck with those...
THE BEST KEBAB IN HISTORY
I arrived in Algiers on a warm night and was greeted by the van driver form my hotel. He began the drive to Ain Taya, a suburb of Algiers blessed with miles of beaches. As we made the final left turn for the 3 blocks to my hotel, I saw a gentleman grilling kebabs in the middle of the street. After a long day, that looked like a good quick snack option before bed and I thought ‘I will throw the bags in the hotel and walk back up the hill’.
We went a few meters past and parked at the hotel. I duly checked in and threw my bags in the room. Then I marched back up the hill, still in my work clothes from London, and said hello to the man grilling the kebabs.
That’s when I realised that the grill in the street was nearby a large speed boat on a trailer. And in between in the shadows were 5-6 men over various descriptions. Ahmed introduced himself and asked if I spoke Spanish. No, I didn’t and not a huge amount of French either. Never mind, he began to joke with me and his friends joined in. “The German!” he shouted at a (sparsely) blonde haired man. Ahmed was telling me that Algeria was a crossroads of cultures over the millennia. “The Greek!” he shouted at an olive complexted friend. Then mobile calls were made in Arabic. And 2 English speakers arrived.
Rafik was a muscled bodyguard specialising in protecting oil workers in places like Nigeria. Karim was married and lived in London for 14 years until the good weather called him home to Algeria. They interpreted for Ahmed who, more than being a kebab man in the street, also sometimes worked in Spain on unspecified contracts.
The conversation turned to ‘Why have you come to Algeria – a job?’ to a bit of disbelief that an American would come here for a vacation. They were so please and amazed that I had, as a tourist, come out of my hotel and sat in the street with them and was making new friends.
At one point they pulled a man of about 30 around the corner of the nearby boat and, holding him from seeming to pull away, pointed at him and said ‘Do you see this man?’. I said from about 8 meters away ‘yes’. ‘He was a rebel. He has never seen an American.’
I was suddenly very awake. I was looking at a man sworn by his faith and a religious law to kill me on sight. And he was looking at me.
He never came near and disappeared quickly. He was the only man never to greet me and shake my hand in all the time I was in Algeria. Nor smile.
As soon as he was gone, I asked if he just might be going home to get a weapon. ‘No. He handed in his gun with the other rebels when the peace agreement was signed’. It still made for a few moments of reflective thought.
So back to my kebab that was now ready!
Ahmed made sure it was just right and it was delicious. And only about $1.
After several hours of conversation I said my thank yous, goodbyes and goodnights.
The next day, something magical started to happen.
It seemed at every corner was one of the guys I had met.
And every car ‘DAO! Get in!’
Yes, for the next 3 days I could not walk anywhere. And oddly everyone I met sitting in the street – on the road or in the dirt – had a car in daylight.
Then the 3rd day.
I had gone to a ‘4 star’ hotel to use the free pool overlooking the beach. Afterwards I sat in the grass of their restaurant garden for a late lunch. As I finished I saw a man acrobatically riding his speedy Yamaha Waverider jet ski nearer and near to the hotel landing just past a tall locked metal gate below.
As I videoed and photographed the choreography of the jet ski and its driver I kept thinking something was familiar here. As the man came nearer I though ‘he looks familiar’. Finally he pulled up to the hotel and shouted at the hotel staff member he knew on the other side of the hotel.
Then it clicked!
“Ahmed!” I shouted. He looked over and said “Americaine!”. And motioned me down.
So I actually handed over my rucksack with all of my money to a hotel I wasn’t staying at and climbed over a high locked fence and gate. And handed Ahmed my boots to put inside the Waverider and hoped on the back.
Off we went!
2 hours of jumping waves and out to see some of the small rocky outcrops in the sea.
It turns our Ahmed owned the pizza restaurant opposite his grill in the road and that he ran tours for a business he owned. And his friends? The middle class backbone of the town with good hearts, nice cars and a new friend.
So next time you see a guy in the street making food – you might want to make a new friend.
Favorite thing: Hello Hello, we are also planning a trip this way (Algiers/Oran/Timioun) We are Annie and Danny from Belgium we will be there 23/december till 3/janurari
when you want to contact us, it's ok for me
Favorite thing: The Algerian arabic is the most spoken language in daylife, don't get surprised if you heard some french words with it, this is because this local arabic is mixed with foreign words from other langiages, mostly french words and few turkish, spanish, words .. due of the colonial history of this land. There are also some berber dialects, as kabyle in kabylie region, chaouia in the east and tergui in the deep south (touareg land).
Beside arabic, most algerians speak or undrestand french especially in the big cities, so it's not a problem, few people can speak other languages as english, or spanish in the west of the country, most young people can undrestand few english since it's studied in shcool and it became a must too as an international language..
Officially, Arabic (Fus'ha) is the official language of the country, this is the classical arabic which is studied in school and writen on posters on the streets ..etc, it's common with all arab countries and widely studied and known throughout the Islamic world.
Classical Arabic has been a literary language since at least the 6th century. During the Middle Ages Classical arabic was also a major vehicle of culture, especially in science, mathematics and philosophy, with the result that many European languages have also borrowed numerous words from it.
The Arabic Calligraphy is a beautiful art itself, it's used in the arabesque art and to decorate mosques or to write the holly quaran.
The best desert views from the top of a dune
Favorite thing: Climbing the dunes in Algeria you can find the cleanest fresh air, very quiet places and do not forgett about unbelievable views.
I cannot explain the feeling to be surrounded by that uncomparable solitude. Being alone in the middle of Sahara is a unique ocasion to feel your smallness in front of wild nature.Related to:
- Work Abroad
Favorite thing: I love the beautifull sanddunes. These dunes near Ain Sefra were the first we saw and climbed during our trip in 1993.
When I sat in the sand with Ain Sefra at the background, I realize how easy it is nowadays to travel and spent a few thoughts at the travels of Isabel Eberhardt nearly 100 years ago.
Fondest memory: Ain Sefra is known because Isabel Eberhardt is buried here after she drowned in a flood in 1904.
I loved to read her book and admired that she as a woman - allthough dressed like a man- travelled in the desert of Algeria for many years in a time that this was not easy. She -orginally a Russian born in Switzerland- became a muslim and knew a lot about arab culture.Related to:
- Hiking and Walking
- Historical Travel
Favorite thing: It’s almost impossible to describe the huge variety of plants, flowers, growing in the sand (well, you can ask Francois for this); we found such colourful, wonderful vegetation both in the Oued Djerat and in the Tassili n’ Njjer.
Ahmed (guess which one) told us that it has just been raining a few weeks before our arrival, some hundreds days since the last rainfall.
Favorite thing: Read the beautifull books
of the algerian writer
Malika Mokkeddem, born in the western desert of Algeria (1949), now living in France.
Les hommes qui marchent
( De blauwe mensen)
Le siècle des sauterelles
( Yasmine of het tijdperk van de sprinkhanen)
(Een vrouwelijke odysseus, N`zid)
Favorite thing: the gathering together of water at the creation gave us the sea to sail on,as their separation gave us the land , on earth they give drink ; as rain from above they give food ;
if such beauty can be seen in one element !
how exquisite is the whole ! ?Related to:
- Adventure Travel
Endless sand dunes
Favorite thing: In the Algerian Grand Erg you'll find terrific desert landscapes with endless sand dunes.
Probably one of the best places is Beni Abbes oasis. You can climb the nearest dunes that almost enter the town and admire the stunning views from there. Do it at sunset because the heat is bearable and it's amazing to watch local kids playing on the dunes.Related to:
- Adventure Travel
The collosal sky
Favorite thing: I have never seen such a huge sky in my life. It's clear, withouth pollution. And you can see ALL the stars it contents.
Fondest memory: This is one of the things I miss most, having supper watching the moon and the stars.Related to:
- Adventure Travel
Choose well the season you go there
Favorite thing: First of all you should now that Sahara in summer suffers incredible hight temperatures. I went in September and at midday it was around 50 ºC, I was not used to it and it was not easy to pass, and I found it very heavy.
Fondest memory: On the other hand you can take a profit of this hot time having a snap, resting in a shade and seeing the "mula-mulas. It is a bird that touaregs tell that brings good news, they are very confident and come very near people, if you leave them some water in a glass they will drink easily.
My greatest memory was being...
Favorite thing: My greatest memory was being entertained by the people of Djelfa, who gave a performance of traditional dances, and treated us to a typical feast, roasted lamb on the spit.
Fondest memory: I enjoyed meeting the people, they were curious and gracious, and appreciative of our gifts, and proud of their heritage.
Visit the Roman sites -...
Favorite thing: Visit the Roman sites - Djemila, Timgad and Tipasa.
Fondest memory: Driving through the desert to Ghardaia. The friendliness and hospitality of the fabulous Algerian people. Walking around the Roman city of Djemila. Driving along the coast.
Visit the Sahara Desert. The...
Favorite thing: Visit the Sahara Desert. The size and grandeur of the Sahara is absolutely mindnumbing. I hitched down into the desert and got dropped off in the middle of nowhere at a turnoff to nowhere and all I could see was a thin ribbon of highway stretching north and south into the desert. I got a lift with the next car that came by 15 minutes later, but the isolation that I felt while standing there was rather awesome.
Fondest memory: I spent 4 days with a family in Bejaia on the north coast and they were extremely hospitable and treated me like a king. The picture above is of the mother of the family in her kitchen. Even though she didn't speak a word of English, she was able to communicate how she felt about me as her guest and is one of the sweetest people I've ever met. Seeing how they lived and getting a bit of a feel of their culture and how they related to each other was a real treat. Exposure to other cultures is the main reason that I travel.
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