Today I'm blogging from the beautiful seaside town of Zeralda, Algeria. I originally came to Algeria to research the Sahara for my next novel. When our travel plans were delayed, we decided to skip the heat and stay on the Mediterranean Coast instead.
Algeria's neighbors, Morocco and Tunisia, are well known for their tourism. But this is the Barbary Coast, famous for pirates like Barbarossa and Rais Hamidou. Fiercely independent and proud to be self-sufficient, Algerians have never courted foreign favor. U.S. Citizens must have a visa to get into the country, and the journey is physically challenging even in the age of aviation. So I felt privileged to explore a part of the world few Americans ever see.
Due to negative media reports, family and friends warned me not to go. Algeria is regularly featured on U.S. State Department travel advisories and terror watch lists. But the Algerian government has spared no expense in its fight against terrorism.
Security is tight in the capital and all touristic areas. Our hotel had a metal detector and x-ray machine for screening incoming luggage. Around the capital, one cannot go more than a few miles without passing through a checkpoint. Still, I found the omnipresent military and police forces more reassuring than intrusive.
Geopolitics aside, the best diplomats for Algeria are its ordinary citizens. We were greeted with friendly curiosity everywhere we went. The vendors selling traditional mint tea and homemade donuts on the beach were patient with my broken Arabic and inability to understand their currency.
The Algerian flag is everywhere, draped on corner cigarette stands and painted on the outside walls of apartment complexes. But don't mistake this for a ominous sign of excessive nationalism. It's all in preparation for the World Cup, soccer's biggest international event. Ordinary life has been put on hold while the country awaits their first match against Slovenia. Algeria is scheduled to play the United States on June 23rd. If you want to make friends with the locals, that's a good conversation starter.
My only regret is that I did not have time to see all of the historical treasures the region offers. The Casbah in Algiers, the Palace of the Rais, and the impressive Roman ruins at Tipaza have been declared World Heritage sites by UNESCO. Cleopatra's daughter is buried nearby. Other points of interest include Notre Dame of Africa, the Grand Post Office, and the "New Mosque", which is actually 400 years old.
Have you been to Algeria? If so, I would love to hear about your experience there. If not, what is the most unusual place you have visited to do research for a novel?