My new friends in Ain Taya kept saying to me ‘lets go for a drink at Charlie Normals!’ I thought this was an odd name, but they told me it was THE place in Ain Taya. We arrived at a control parking area and stepped through an arch into a very pleasant garden area with lots of trees, plants and a great atmosphere. Stone tables and reasonable plastic chairs are organised across a large area, so you sometimes have to waive to get service. Outside you can drink alcohol, smoke and enjoy the conversation. The music is at a low volume so you can hear easily and settle in for a night of drinking under the stars. Well except where vegetation hangs down.
They have several choices of beers and a full bar. Not cheap, but no alcohol is cheap in Algeria.
If you are hungry they do have a fantastic restaurant back by the entrance. I enjoyed a great peppercorn steak dish that was awesome. In fact you could even sleep here as its also a hotel.
The real name of this place is Hôtel Le Chalet Normand. But just ask anyone to point to “Charlie Normals” and you can walk here from just about anywhere in Ain Taya.
I ended up have a few pleasant evenings here. In fact this was by far the best bar I saw in Algeria. If you are in Ain Taya – don’t miss out.
Modest. Even if it is a bar - you are in Algeria.
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.