Friday, June 11, 2010

Greetings from Algeria

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?

20 comments:

Laurie Kellogg said...

Hello, from one of your Unsinkable Sisters. What a wonderful travel opportunity. It sounds like it was very exciting.

Laurie

Mona Risk said...

Beautiful pictures, Clarisse. I have been to Algeria fifteen years ago with my husband and a big delegation from GE. He was the sales director who sold the engine for the plane bought by the Algerians. I have seen Alger, Tipaza and the seashore under the best conditions while a security groups accompanied us everywhere. The people we met were la creme de la creme and very hospitable. They showed us the best but didn't let us walk in the streets and see the real Algeria. We only spent 3 days there. To be honest after seeing Egypt and Tunisia I was a bit disappointed and never went back.

Catherine Gayle said...

Wow, Clarissa. The photos you shared are amazing. Thanks for sharing your experiences. I've never been to that part of the world, but I'm fascinated by it. I hope you've been able to do at least a little of your needed research while gone!

Erin Kelly said...

What a beautiful post! I'm so glad that you were not only able to *have* the experience, but to *share* to experience with us as well. I have only traveled to England for research, though the most exotic place I have ever been was Siberia, Russia when I was 19. I learned then that a country or it's people can be vastly different that what we are led to believe.

My next writing-related trip will be the Appalachian Trail... if the idea I have for my next story comes together. We'll see!

Be safe and have a lovely rest of your trip

Lee said...

It sounds like a wonderful trip..My dad was there during WWII. Very interesting..

Keely Thrall said...

In college I spent a few days in Morocco with a schoolmate after our semester in Italy ended. I still remember the delight and curiousity I felt touring the souk - spice merchants, silver bangles, yarns dyed in a dozen saturated colors.

Two young American women alone was not, perhaps, the best combo for safety, but the rug I purchased from the Berbers still graces my bedroom floor and the taste of the mint tea is fresh on my tongue. Just thinking about the scent of hash-laced Marlboros can make me sneeze and I have never since had such delicious lamb. Such a sensory overload!

Sounds like you had an excellent time in Algeria, Clarissa. Hope you'll have pictures to share at Nationals!

Liz Lipperman said...

Great pictures, Clarisse. Many years ago, I spent a few years on Morocco (before terrorism was a household word.). Your pictures brought back a lot of memories.

Stay safe.

Angi Morgan said...

Wonderful pictures Gail.

I've never made it to that side of the "pond" YET. Loved the mint tea and homemade donuts.

~~Angi

Amy DeTrempe said...

Great pictures and what a great post. I am envious that you have had the opportunity to visit such and interesting place. Thanks for sharing it with us. I can't wait to see how your travles weave their way into your novels.

Jill James said...

What wonderful pictures and wonderful experience. The farthest I've been is Canada and Mexico.

This world we live in is amazing. I wish we could all just get along, then we could all travel everywhere to see the wonders of the world.

Tiffinie Helmer said...

Thanks for sharing your travels with us. Makes me want to pack a bag. The most interesting place I've been to is Finland along the Russian border during the cold war. I loved it, even though I was chased by Russians for taking a picture. I haven't figured how to use those experiences yet in a book. I'd love to plan a trip with that in mind. A writing excursion sounds wonderful.

Barb Schlichting said...

This is amazing. I loved the pictures and wish that I could travel more. I loved it.

Lisa Dale said...

That sounds like a fantastic trip. Thanks for sharing your photos and insight!

Lisa Dale

Jody said...

Thanks for sharing your experience. My daughter was to go to a local wedding there a couple of years ago while she was studying in Italy but they couldn't get the visa in time. Your pictures are wonderful and to travel in Northern Africa must be an experince of a lifetime.

Paisley Kirkpatrick said...

What a grand experience for you. Your photos are gorgeous and your story so interesting. Thank you for sharing it with us.

My stories are centered where I live so guess my most interesting is walking in the tunnels dug during the gold rush of 1849. They still exist under the town of Placerville which was called Old Hangtown in the crazy era of miners. Dark, damp and and narrow, it certainly makes you wonder how the miners existed living underground for so many hours during the day.

Jill James said...

I love the bridge at the end of the photos. It looks so old.

Vanessa Barneveld said...

Gorgeous pictures, Clarissa. I've never been to Algeria, so I'm living vicariously through you.

Safe travels!

Helen Scott Taylor said...

Fantastic blot and pix, Clarissa. I went to Morocco for vacation and research a couple of years ago and found it interesting and beautiful--in a very different way to England where I live. It certainly inspired me.

Kari Lee Townsend said...

Love the pictures and the stories to go with them. Sounds like an amazing trip!

Samantha Grace said...

How awesome that have that experince, Clarissa. Thanks for sharing it with us.