I arrived in Algeria about 2 days ago….pretty much on my death bed :). That “wonderful” meal I had my last day in Bamako sent my entire body into a tail spin. It was with much help from Bamako airport officials, doctors and translators that I made it off the floor (usually in pools of my own vomit) and onto my connecting flight through Casablanca to Algers, Algeria. I feel lucky that they even let me fly…although everyone was very convinced that it was the “poisson” I had eaten for lunch and nothing more. Thankfully we were all right. I now sit here in Hassi Messaoud, Algeria very healthy. My current residence is a beautiful hotel on the base of a private company that provides logistical support for businesses that operate in oil and gas. I am staring out into the great Sahara desert. The landscape is dotted with oil wells and torches (flaming oil…it is lit to burn off excess in wells). The security here is beyond compare.
A glimpse of this incredibly oil rich part of the country.
The town I am in is considered the richest in Algeria, but corruption runs rampant. No mayor has ever made it a full term without ending in jail (tax dollars from oil always end up in their private bank accounts and not used to further infrastructure and other needs of the town…which is quite evident). Companies like Haliburton, BP, Exxon, and Chevron call all be found here.It is called the “Heart of Algeria” because this is where the bulk of Algeria’s oil is extracted….and with all the pumping that occurs here it truly is its heart.
Before my trip, when I told people that I was going to Algeria, I was usually met with a straight face and then raised eyebrows…and then the conversation diverted elsewhere. I guess it isn’t everyday that an American heads to Algeria as a tourist, but I had received an invite from a friend which seemed hard to turn down. We have started this 10 journey about 1000 km south of Algers in Hassi Messaoud (we took a private charter plane provided by the base I am staying at to get here) before heading more north to Batna, Biskra and then to the Mediterranean coast. Hammams, lesson on how to make couscous and basking in the sun by the Med are all part of the trip itinerary. What I am particularly enjoying is conversation and listening to more than my own humor :)…I do enjoy traveling alone, but there is something special in sharing experiences with someone.
Our 3 hour road trip today took us out of the oil town and into midevil town of Ghardaia. This town is well preserved and works diligently to keep hold of the traditions of the M’zab people.
The town of Ghardiai is behind me.
Technically this picture should not have been taken :).
This is how the women in Ghardiai dress. Their hayek is made from white linen. They only allow one eye to peep through the veil so they can navigate quickly through the winding cobblestone roads of the hillside city. They are literally like ghosts …as soon as you see them they are gone. They wear this attire as much for religious as traditional purposes. The city is self sufficient in the sense that they have tried to create an insular society. They solve thier own problems, have their own schools and marry only within the M’zab people.
One of the minarets in Ghardia.
This one was build in the 11th century. The “new” one was built in the 13th century. Sharia law is what is followed in this town.
Oh, how the Camel Crossing signs amused me….especially since they all seemed a little different. Some camels had tails, some were tall, some were fat…it was like they were all hand painted……but the best part was……
When we saw a real, live, wild camel!!!
This is how he posed after we called after him. 🙂 Show off!
Life here on the base has been quite luxurious with food everywhere, laundry service, pool and a beautiful gym. I have been comparing it to life on a cruise ship…but instead of in water, I am in the middle of the Sahara….and I don’t have to pay for Diet Cokes or espresso :). Frankly it has been a nice spot to recover from my 18 days in Mali :).
Tomorrow we are going to see some of the great dunes this desert has to offer….I got a small glimpse today…more pics to follow! MA’a salama (“good bye” in Arabic)