The final installment of the Cairo to Casablanca overland adventure
08.11.2009 - 11.11.2009
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SUNDAY 8 NOVEMBER
It was 1am by the time we'd checked in and through customs at Tamanrasset Airport. Not surprisingly our flight was delayed so we had a long wait ahead of us on those ridiculously uncomfortable bucket seats. We all tried to get some shut eye or keep ourselves entertained. Judith and I came up with the fabulously hare brained of writing a “Loos of the World” book for Lonely Planet – couple of different criteria, ie. signage indicating where loos are located, cleanliness, elephant ears/western/long drop/other, door locking ability, hand washing/drying ability, etc. That went on for quite some time and kept us entertained – sometimes it just the small things.
The flight to Algers didn’t leave until 5am and was pretty uneventful - I slept for most of the journey. We arrived in Algers at 8am and were met by our new guide, Seedy (which means ‘Saint’ – and he’s a lovely older guy, anything but seedy). Long slow drive with peak hour traffic to Hotel Samir in Ville Nouvelle, the centre of the city which has a decidedly French feeling to it. We were all pretty tired (and a tad cranky if I speak for myself) by this stage so after a quick bite of brekky at the hotel and a long hot shower (did all my washing – and, as expected, the water ran red from all the dust) I jumped in to bed for a kip.
In mid afternoon we went on a walking tour of Alger’s Casbah. We’d all read and been warned about the dangers of pickpockets, etc in Algers but weren’t prepared for an armed police escort through the Casbah. We had 5 plain clothed police who were all very lovely – at one point I stopped to buy something (a scarf, glove, beanie set with a muslim Barbie (covered head) badge sewed on). Anyway, I lost site of the group but had a policeman trailing me the entire time – there was no time to feel unsafe. Still, it was a good reminder to be vigilant.
The Casbah was great to see – lots of spaces where buildings had been blown up during WW2 and not replaced, earthquake damage to other buildings. There were one or two artisans but not a lot. The walk ended at the market which was a hive of activity but we cruised through pretty quickly – again, more pickpockets in crowded places.
Later that evening Ryan and I found a dinghy little bar to get a long awaited alcohol fix. His choice – beers. My choice – gin & tonic. It was very smokey and there were a lot of rather over made up women who were wearing clothes two or three sizes too small. I think Ryan quite liked the long lingering looks he was receiving but I told him that it was probably because they hadn’t seen someone with a fanta beard before. There was a guy sitting at the table behind us who spoke a bit of English and, while I was tossing around ideas of what my next beverage would be, he suggested his tipple of choice – a shot of each of gin, vodka and whiskey mixed together and drunk neat. Ummm, no thanks.....
We grabbed a falafel for dinner and then listened to some Tuareg tunes on his laptop – kind of wishing we were back around the camp fire. I hit the hay pretty early.
MONDAY 9 NOVEMBER
Drove 1.5 hours eastward along the coast out of Algers to the ancient Mausoleum Royal de Mauretanie high up the hill overlooking the coast. It was a horrible windy rainy day and my one and only jacket was drip drying very slowly in the hotel room. Kate kindly leant me her beany which kept me nice and toasty. What a drastic change to the desert!
Lucky I left my roller skates at home....
We then drove a few kms further to the coastal town of Tipaza and checked out the ancient roman port which is impressive enough to be listed as a Unesco World Heritage site. It was the perfect day to be fossicking around the ruins which lie right on the edge of the ocean – the sea was angry and the wind was giving the trees a hiding.
We had lunch in Tipaza and had a couple of hours to wander. Ryan and I did some checking of emails on the internet before heading down to the harbour and then wandering back through town. Gorgeous spot.
That night Ryan and I went out to find a joint to eat. I apologise for my focus being on alcohol but as it was not readily available anywhere and needed to be hunted out it - invariably it became the reason why we chose somewhere or not. Algers is known for its seafood, particularly along the water front so we headed in that general direction and found a dark dinghy restaurant (yes, all the places that serve alcohol seem to be dark and dinghy) and I had a truly scrumptious fish dish and I think Ryan had a veggo omlette which was pretty good too. We shared some wine and then went back to the hotel and watched “Borat” on his laptop which would have to be one of the most shocking movies I’ve ever seen.
TUESDAY 10 NOVEMBER
I am relatively new to coffee drinking but it really is quite delicious here. Breakfast of the standard bread (but really good quality, scratch the roof off the top of your mouth crunchy baguette – delicious and don’t my thighs know it), jam and, as mentioned, yummy coffee Bus picked us up at 9am and took us up to Notre Dame D’Afrique or Madam Afrique as it is locally known. The church itself was being restored so we couldn’t go in but we were treated to really fantastic views of Algers.
The bus dropped us at the Bardo Museum which a few of the guys visited but Ryan and I decided to give it a miss and walked back to the hotel via the gorgeous museum gardens. Did some souvenir shopping (I bought a fabulous bottle made in Southern Algeria – it’s covered with tanned leather with painted with intricate designs. I love it – and another thing I love is that the bottle still smells of what was stored in it. I don’t know what it was but it reminds me of the incense smell from the campfire. Heavenly. Ryan bought a really beautiful Tuareg cross – heavy, solid silver – which he plans to put on a wall as art. It really is very lovely – but I have to say that as I kind of convinced him to get it and it was US$200 which he was kind of freaked out about as he hasn’t bought anything all year! Anyway, he loves it which is the main thing.
We then spent the afternoon in a smoky try hard American diner style restaurant taking advantage of their free wifi. It was boring but necessary.
Being our last night together we had a group dinner at Brasserie des Facultes – meals on Intrepid! What a treat! We had a nice evening but I hadn’t packed so Jud and I wandered back after eating.
The rest of the group followed not far behind and we were surprised to hear that there was an attempted mugging. Elaine was walking at the back of the group and a man was running towards them. He grabbed her bag which her daughter had made for her. As Elaine said, it’s lucky her daughter doesn’t sew very well as the bag split in half when the guy grabbed it and all he got away with was her make up bag! Ha ha! Imagine his face when he got home. Bugger, bugger, bugger! But, gosh, is complexion would look good using that foundation! They thought it was an organized job where someone called ahead to tell the guy that a group of tourists were walking towards him. Apparently some young boys offered to help and ran off to find the guy but, hell, they were probably the instigators… I didn’t find any of this out until the next morning but Elaine was not hurt and her passport, etc were safe and sound in her money belt so all’s well that ends well.
Still, not the best end to Algers but we had been warned and, now, so have you.
WEDNESDAY 11 NOVEMBER
The usual brekky - delicious coffee and fresh, crunchy baguette with the usual jam. I’d like to say I’m sick of it and, in a way I am, but these ones are so delicious! Had a quick walk with Judy around the nearby streets which have become familiar over the past 3 days. Bright, clear day in Algers with rain overnight which had washed the streets clean. Bought some deodorant with my last 400DH.
Bus trip to airport and said good-bye to the driver. He was a bit of a classic – loved getting in photos with us, arms around and smiling all the time. What a guy! We had to queue outside the airport to get through security – the usual police and military standing around with machine guns. Checked in and said goodbye to Seedy. I had originally planned to travel by train from Casablanca to Tangers and then catch the ferry over to Tarifa, Spain and making my way slowly along the coast towards Cadiz before heading north to Madrid. Anyway, my beautiful friend, Helena, was flying out to meet me in Madrid on Saturday which would have made the trip extremely tight so I thought I’d look into other alternatives, like flying to Madrid from Casablanca and cutting out a massive bit of middle man. I tried to find a Royal Air Maroc office at Algers Airport to see if there were any flights to Madrid from Casablanca later that day but no-one was in their office.
Flight to Casablanca was delayed (which flight in North Africa isn’t?) by an hour. The flight itself was fantastic – I was sitting on the window and had clear views of the Algerian coastline for the entire trip. We had a quick stop in Oujda on the Moroccan border to refuel and then flew over the Riff mountains, Fez, Meknes to Casablanca.
Said good-bye to Elaine – she was transiting through to a flight to Barcelona – and made our way to passport control which was a massive bun fight. Managed to choose a relatively fast moving line and Elaine and I picked everyone’s luggage off the belt. After exiting I went to try and get a flight – first stop was Air Arabia who only had flights to Barcelona. I asked a guy in a telecom shop where the Air Maroc office was – he told me it was upstairs and could he get my number. Ah, no – and, ciao, I’m in a bit of a rush. I met the rest of the group who had got some Moroccan currency and were preparing to catch the bus in to Casablanca. I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to get a flight that day or not but thought it better to say goodbye and let them all get on their way instead of having to wait for me. Afterall, if I couldn’t catch a flight that day I would just make my way to the hotel and see them later.
Ducked upstairs and eventually found the Air Maroc ticket office. I explained what I was thinking (flight to either Seville or Madrid) and she said there was a flight with check-in closing in 5 mins to Madrid. I felt slightly pressured by my own stupid head and bought a (very expensive) ticket - check in closed at 4.30pm and I was running along the check in counters looking for the flight to Madrid with my back pack bobbing around behind me making me look like a uncoordinated and ungainly snail – or maybe a tortoise. And, let’s face it, tortoises are not meant to run. I didn’t get to check in until after it had closed (4.35pm) – but the chick decided to use her God complex abilities to let me on (and I know they’d all been laughing their heads off to see me running with my backpack on up to the counter). Not my most cool, calm or collected moment and when I joked that I felt like a contestant in The Amazing Race she responded with, “Excuse me madam but I don’t know what that is and I think you should just slow down”. Ok, sorry.
Rushed through passport control and customs and to the gate. Spectacular sunset over Casablanca (saw the mosque) and the Moroccan coast. Was very melancholy to say good-bye to North Africa but particularly Algeria. What an amazing adventure. So there I was, in a bit of a mess – split end city hair, Muslim suntan (think truckers tan but with forearms covered, nice and modest, as opposed to Bonds singlet tan) and the souls of my feet in desperate need of a pumice stone. There had been challenges throughout North Africa, no doubt, but all I could think about was returning. It’s rare for me to do that – I’m generally an onwards and upwards kind of gal. Where to next people? But if ‘where to next’ happened to be Algeria, then I’d be a happy girl. One day, in sha allah. Ma’ a salaama, Algeria and shukran or tan-oo-mert as the Tuaregs say.