Algerian Guides, police escourts & ATMs
I had to have an invitation from an Algerian guide agency as a prerequisite for being granted a visa, applied in South Africa. Ian Chappel, also on HU, is currently travelling with me and the same was required from him, applying for the visa in England.
There was no chance of leaving Oran port or even getting through customs before our guide showed up. Afterward we had to keep waiting for "just 5 more minutes" for the police escourt to show up. They arrived 2 hours after we were done with Customs & Immigration.
The guide agency applied for permits from the police for the routes we chose. Some were granted, some were not because thjose roads were closed for tourists.
We followed the police vehicle and the guide followed us, all the way to Ghardaia. Even when Ian tried to draw money from an ATM in Oran there were three cops and a guide looking over his shoulder (I suggested he should destroy the card!). By the way, don't rely on any kind of ATM processing your transaction. The VISA ATM's at Oran port and the Sheraton Hotel in Oran were out of order and the one at Ghardaia airport was out of cash. In Tamanrasset an ATM accepted my VISA card, went through all the motions asking how much and from which account but then could not process the transaction.
The Euro-Dinar exchange rate hovers around 80 dinar for 1 Euro. You'll get about 72 dinar cents for 1 US$, about 10% less than what it should be I think.
In shops they generally show two 'extra' zeros, in other words indicating the price in cents and it can at times be a bit confusing. Sometimes they'll write out eg. 100 dinar but in actual fact mean 1000dinar so it seems even the locals are a bit confused about the numbers.
Everyone had been exceptionally friendly and we have never felt unsafe in Algeria. There's a police presence at every town and the Gendermerie are all over the place so Algeria's main roads are pretty well checked at every town/city. But all very friendly.
Let me know if you have any other specific questions. I'll post if I can get any definite info re currently closed routes tonight or tomorrow.
"The fates lead him who will; him who won't they drag." - Anon