When my name was nominated for an official tour to Algeria, I had mixed feelings. The feelings of excitement to visit a new place near Mediterranean Sea; were under little stress due to the fear in mind of first time solo travelling to an African Muslim country. Due to family support, I welcomed this opportunity whole-heartedly and began the paper work.
The processing of visa papers took whole of two months and after taking a shot of yellow-fever vaccination (it is mandatory before traveling to African continent), I was all set to fly to Algiers, the capital of Algeria. By putting extra numbers of hours on work in the initial days, I finally managed to steal one last day to visit the places around.
As a tradition, I always write about the culture and people of the place, so Algeria is also no exception. The first few things, which attracted my attention were, the good infrastructure, terrifically beautiful and friendly local people, amazing climate and extremely cheap petrol prices. All these were exactly opposite to my imagination about this place.
99% of the local people I met in Algeria were no lesser than Hindi Film actors in terms of looks; there were perfect combination of cute faces, glowing complexions & tall built up. From housemaids to drivers to random shoppers in market, everyone was so charming that you couldn’t move your eyes from them. From the scorching heat of Delhi, weather was very pleasant in Algeria during the day and little cold later in the evening.
There are wide highways in fantastic condition in every province of this country, and the speed of 180-200 was kind of normal. It is a purely Muslim country, and you will find most of the women wearing jaleba (a long dress covering whole body till toes) and hizab (a long scarf to cover head and hair), though young generation has started accepting western cloths.
I haven’t seen a single woman driving the car and very less working in the offices and elsewhere. Language was the main barrier for me, as local people only understand French and Arabic, very few were familiar with English. Our driver ‘Kaada’ was being very helpful and made things easier for us during the trip.
Petrol was for only 35 Algerian Dinar/ltr. (approx. Rs. 20/ltr.) and rich Algerian males are fond of cars and football. There are wide gaps of income between various groups; extreme poor and extremely rich class of populace can easily be identified. Enough of introduction of the ethnicity, let’s hop on the journey bus now.
We (me, one colleague who is already posted in Algeria with his wife) started our journey around 10 AM from Relizane, a small suburb and our base location. After crossing the narrow city roads, we came out to the wide long highway where you can see upto miles on both sides. The car was running on the full speed.
It was such a delight to see large landscape, and feel fresh breeze on your face. After an hour, we entered ‘Oran’, the second largest (after the capital Algiers) and one of the important coastal cities of Algeria. It was appearing to be quite urban with tall building and large commercial places.
Most of the infrastructure was inspired by either France or Arab. Few minutes passed after entering to the city, and I saw one of the most spectacular view I have ever seen ‘the Mediterranean Sea’.
The moment, glimpse of deep blue sea started emerging, I asked the driver to stop and park the car, so that we could stand and grasp the whole of its gorgeousness in our eyes. There was a nice walking corridor build to have a good view of sea, along with main road. We spent good half an hour here and clicked few photographs, before moving further.
Subsequent was the traffic Jam, who welcomed us in the town, and we struggled to get out of it for another half an hour. There was a small cliff at the far end of the city, which offers terrific view of the sea and the town, so we decided to go there.
While crossing the residential and market area, you can easily to be mistaken in any of the French village due to its architecture. But, the highlighted difference is the attire of women, who are covered from top to toe. During our journey up, we spotted a beautiful church, which was abandon for long. The view was mesmerizing; we stop over to pay a visit inside the church.
It was quite an old structure, may be built during French colony era, but now it has no takers. The structure is under renovation and soon going to convert into a mosque as per local people. Its location was super attractive which offers a hefty view of the sea, through its spacious corridors. One can watch the calm sea right from here for hours.
Reaching to the summit of the cliff was the next target. There was small view point kind of place developed at the top to attract tourist, as this place gives a breathtaking view of the Oran city, its port and the Mediterranean Sea.
There was a long walking track along with the cliff (miniature wall of china) where you can enjoy looking at blue sky meeting blue sea with no visible ends. Such vibrant shades of blue color found on earth, so similar yet to so different. In the big blue painting of nature, you can notice small white creatures (which actually are big ships and vessels) and a long white bridge built over the sea.
On the other side, there was another view point, where you can see, the Arial view whole of the city and its port. It was a perfect soothing place to just sit and do nothing. Somewhere inside the rock, there was small secret place for worship, and it was the time of namaaz, so our driver went inside and we just sat and did nothing but to observe the nature’s exquisiteness.
By the time we thought to return back to the town, it was already noon, and we all were very hungry. Being a pure vegetarian is not a good state in Algeria, as it is very difficult to find a decent place to eat. You will find shops offering Pizza (which is called Pizzaria in this region) at every corner, so we finally settled down at a restaurant, where we could find some vegetarian Pizzas in the menu.
Taste was fine, but the size was very large, out of six slices, only two were more than sufficient as per normal Indian diet. Post lunch we went down to the beach to wet our feet. There were only few foreigners on the beach, having fun with water sports and dancing on the songs being played by beach side cafes. Overall it was a perfect beach side scene minus the local people (especially female).
We spent some time watching waves, sea, & sand and then we started our journey to the next destination ‘Mostaganem’. It is another port and beach town of Algeria. As compared to Oran, it was very peaceful place and has some cool café along with the road adjacent to the beach. We first visited the port area and then went to the beach. There was a long queue of eateries with well lighted pedestrian space to hang around.
This place is far away from hustle-bustle of the main city and ideal to spend evenings with family. There were many families with small kids, who were enjoying on the beach. Finding me little different than them, some of kids even tried to talk to me, but the language was the barrier. We both couldn’t understand each other.
Having seen them, I was badly missing my family, but even talking to them at that time was not an option with me, as it was midnight in India. Few minutes later, we saw one of the most beautiful sunsets at this beach.
Post dusk, the sea wore amazing shade of blue and the all the photographs we took afterwards appears to be magical or photoshoped, but they are actually real. There was a strong desire to have a cup of coffee, so we found a good coffee shop, and ordered through our driver. Post coffee, it was already 9 PM, so headed back to our base location.
Next day, I was flying back to India, so my colleague, who was to drop me at the Airport, planned to cover a place called ‘Tipaza’, which was on the way. It was a colony of Rome in the past, so its architecture was more of roman.
We took tickets for a famous tourist place. It was a big park and has ruins of Roman wrestling ground and prayer space. It also offers terrific sea view and boating rides. There were some restaurants and souvenir shops as well. Since it was Friday, an official holiday in Algeria, it was full of local people, who were very keen to get their pictures clicked with us.
After entering, we came across a gladiator styled ground, which was said to be used for the human fights in yesteryears. Also there were remains of worship place, which is now converted into a historical structure. We also noticed beautiful carvings on the tree trunks, which appeared to be very old.
Now it was time to meet the blue sea again and say final good bye before leaving Algeria. The view of sea from this place was truly magical and I couldn’t move for a while, as if I want to absorb the whole beauty into myself before departure.
Since I was getting late for my flight, I dropped the idea to have a boat ride, and bid-adieu to this wonderful place. After solo visited Algeria, many of my myths relating to this African Muslim country busted.
However the main credit of my safe and comfortable stay (being a pure vegetarian) goes to my office, as I stay with our own people in their location. But otherwise I found very vigilant policing and friendly local people in this country. Natural beauty is in abundance in this region, but it hardly magnetizes any of foreign tourists due to its conservative culture.
Algeria is located very close to Morocco and Spain, and its natural magnificence is at par with it, if not more. From Tipaza to Algiers, again it was a fabulous drive on the long wide highway alongside sea felt like a scene from the movie ‘Zindagi na milegi dobara’ which was shot in Spain. Soon we arrived at the airport and I boarded my flight back to home.