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We had the visas to Algeria, easily obtained from the embassy in Stockholm. I had emailed several tour organizers, but there was only one that got back with me (essendilene) and none that seamed too eager to take care of us. It was the border to border package that all the organizers offer. The exception was Tanezrouft who actually called us and it was clear they would be our choice. But we would have to wait a number of days at the border for the guide to arrive.
So we decided to go on. We passed at Bou Chebka, lovely place and the best border crossing I have had in Africa. Took three hours and we bough the insurance and drove through lovely pine forests and wild flowers to Tebessa, a welcome contrast to the Tunisian desert.
Next day we drove to Ouargla. In Oueed the police got nervous and started following us around town, making the director at Banque de l'Algerie open the vault for us after hours so we could exchange some dollars. He praised our "courage" to drive around like we did. Courage?
The police then kindly suggested they escort us to the city limits and seemed relieved see us gone.
In Ouargla (perhaps the nicest desert town I have visited) we went to the Bureau de Securité des Etrangers and filled out the forms. They made calls down the route pour faciliter le passage.
At Hassi Belgebbour the guard wouldn't let us pass since it was after 6 p.m. The guard was delighted that we were driving without a guide. In broken English he said "give us a few more years and you can travel here as safely as anywhere in the world". We camped by the dunes and had the frite-omelette.
Next morning we went to Idriss Omar to take the short cut (???) to Illizi, but they wouldn't let us through and directed us to go over In Amenas. Fine by us.
So on day three in the aftrnoon we arrived in Illizi. Now the chief of police drove out to see us. He looked in our car. NO GUIDE?!?! I decribed our passage and asked if we could go on to Djanet. "Gentlemen", he said - "ici LE GRAND SUD!" You must have a guide.
So he found us a fine touareg guide - within ten minutes. Then he recommended the auberge as the hotel wasn't worth the money. Everything was looking good. Guide turned up at 8 the next morning. But by 9 he had disappeared??? Something was going on. The commissar from Algiers who stayed at room #5 at the auberge hinted there was a fuite (leak) - someone had notified the authorities that our guide didn't have his papers in good order. We waited for hours while the police said they would find us another guide. Appears a big arab fellow, saying he is the son of the owner of the only agence in town, offering his services. Which would, as expected, cost a princely sum and would be the whole package, not negotiable. Exacty what we was NOT looking for. "Will you go with us in the car?", I asked. "Walk with us on the plateau?". He turned around and walked away.
So we went to the cafe Aymen. Notre guide - il a disparu! I exclaimed. Soon enough a bunch of people were busy on the portables trying to find us a guide. Everybody seemed to know someone who knew a guide.
Same night we arrived at Djanet, where we hooked up with Sahara Tours and we're having a great time with the touaregs, talking long into the night about our HJ60 Landcruisers and other wonderful things.
-the only thing the guide did was show us how to drive around Bordj al haouas to avoid the gendarmes.
-Anyone can drive the goudron all the way from Stockholm to Djanet in a decent 2wd!
-we haven't seen even ONE single tourist since leaving Tunisia! Not even in Djanet (save for a few Algerians from the north).
-Seems we are the first travellers etrangers to come down here without a guide since 2003? I can't believe it.
Now our guide showed up and we're going to the Tadrart. OUAHIIIA!
Thanks for your report. I foresee queues at Bou Chebka this winter...
He praised our "courage" to drive around like we did. Courage?
He has a point. Anywhere around Tebessa would have been statistically the most risky part of your trip, as many locals and officials have found..
The thing is, you never know if these few unescorted events in Alg are a fluke or if the Algies are really lightening up. Mostly the former I suspect, as B O Driss stood their ground and you did need an escort of some sort to get out of Illizi (as I believe you would to the west at In Salah and around Adrar/Reggane).
Also worth knowing that in the UK at least, it is a Catch 22: hard to get the visa without an invite from the agency. Also I believe they never let you leave Taleb (usual crossing from Nefta) without the escort so dont go there, go Bou Chebka.
I have visited Algeria in 07 and 08 and the fact is that I always crossed the border at Taleb Larbi and as Chris mentioned there was no way to enter the country without a guide. While we were there in 08 there was a french couple rejected at the border since they arrive from Nefta by cab and there was no guide waiting for them at the border. They went back with the same cab ...
So I suspect that ariving till Djanet without a guide is more exception to the rule and it is not something you can realy relay on. If I remeber correctly this is a second report of this kind posted here so I hope that this obligatory guide rule will change soon.
I'm just wandering how did you managed to get out of Ilizi ?
interesting report. It looks like there are a number of things which helped to grease the progress without a guide (from most important first):
1) entry point
2) its summertime and the authorities further south in Algeria probably haven't seen tourists for 10 or so weeks and so aren't in 'enforce mode'
3) its been quite a number of years since the 2003 incident and things may be relaxing back (although in 2008 authorities in El Oued, Hassi Bel Gebour, Hassi Messaoud and so on were v.definitely asking for the guide and the paperwork on the way in and the way out of towns).
So we're back from a fine three days in the Tadrart.
There are lots of things to add to the above, of course. I hope to have the time to do it soon.
A few points:
We didn't try to sneak in or hide away. The opposite - we seeked out the police or military wherever we went and asked for advice. They were all very helpful.
We always mix with locals wherever we go. We take up hitchhikers when we have the space. We stop to to see if we can help people with car trouble. We sleep with the truck drivers on mattresses by the road. I have always felt that we have been protected by people wherever we have been - Nouakchott, Taleg, Bamako etc. We have felt secure in Algeria, too. I have had long discussions with policemen, tour organizers and regular people here about the situation and told them (from experience) that Spanish camping grounds can be really scary, the police in south of Italy be asking for cash (and lots of it) not to harass you, that an engine failure on the Autobahn can become a nightmare - but there are no guides.
We don't look like a million euros and the car is an HJ60 that hasn't even been washed in ten years. We rarely drive by night.
I have as on African trips before made out a fichecontaining all the information about us the travellers and our vehicle they could ever ask for. In French. This is most appreciated, as European passports sometimes seems a complete mystery to the policemen and guards who are obliged to scribble down the information. This is another reason why we don't need a guide, as this is the job he would normally do (and when we have a guide, he just loves it).
The arab translation of the passports we had done for Libya was also used. All this saves a lot of time.
Tebessah, yes. This is our first trip to Algeria. Learning a lot. Next time I will go to Tebessah again and then on to Timgad and Djebila, which could have substituted for the Leptis Magna and Zabratha we didn't get to see this trip, had we had enough time.
Watch out for suicide drivers between the border and Tebessa. I'm not kidding - young guys packed in cars were driving absolutely mad, overtaking at extreme speeds in curves and before hilltops, their arms out the window waving to meeting traffic "get out of the way or we're all gonna die!". I though "this is Algeria" but south of the Atlas the traffic was very disciplined.
Only problem we had in Tebessah was that there was no gazoil (and very little gasoline) to be had - in spite of there being a depot outside of town? Locals led us to the back entrance to a blocked off gas station and let us fill up, explaining that all the fuel was being smuggled to Tunisia. (Diesel fuel is 17 euro cents here, three times that in Tunisia). Perhaps that can explain why many Tebessans were looking unhappy.
There are hotels in the city that I would NOT recommend. We stayed at the Cherife, which was fine.With secure parking.
It would be interesting to have more local information on northern Algeria. Where do I find the statistics, Chris?
Illizi - we actually found our guide at the bank, again just by talking to people. One of the clerks was a part time guide and he found someone who could go with us to Djanet.
All the road stops we have passed, I have had a funny feeling they were expecting us. I sometimes asked if they had been notified beforehand, and they would answer "no". But then they would say things in passing to the contrary - like the policeman in Illizi who said "now don't loose your passports", thus referring to what happened south of In Amenas when we couldn't find our passports (they were somehow under the passenger chair).
And then there was the guard south of Illizi who asked for the fiche - how did he know we had one?
Someone is watching over us.
If you're interested in Algeria you can easily get lost in these for hours.
In recent years we've read of many attacks around here large and small - it was a location for former GSPC/now AQIM/whoever hideouts, as is much of the northeast/Kabylie. The interesting Roman ruins you mention are right in the middle of this area.
I have never been there but I would not be surprised if the govt 'punishes' this region by limiting investment or instigating a heavy army/police presence (who in turn have often a been target for ambushes). Along with whatever influence AQIM/etc may have, IMO this would account for local discontent more than limited fuel resources. It may explain the crazy driving too, in as much as the region is lawless/neglected. As you say, elsewhere in Alg driving is normal.
I have had a funny feeling they were expecting us.
This is the paradox in Alg; there is more going on than meets the eye (all of which makes '2003' and 2008's Austrians' mystery transit to Mali all the more odd). We had the same experience returning in 2000 and many times since. There is a discrete level of surveillance or tracking all the way from the border, but less so once on the piste or if you fly in, so what's the point? They must know you were travelling without an official escort (a more appropriate word than 'guide', IMO) and yet allow you to proceed at least as far as Iz.
It must be with someone's approval rather than a string of highway checkpoints all the way to Illizi being manned by dozy conscripts who were unaware of/unbothered by the rules. The smart guys in the green and white Patrols (Gendarmerie) are a cut above your average militaire or cop in an ill-fitting uniform. They know what's going on. Sounds like you had a close encounter with the agence of Ahmed Zegri in Illizi, too.
FYI, probably as a result of '2003', we have found/been told the Wilaya (county) of Illizi - includes Djanet and the classic tourist highlights - has been notably more restrictive on tourist piste access than elsewhere in Algeria, hence BoD turned back. Was it actually BoD or at Quatre Chemins, 62km from HbG that they stopped you?
You're welcome, and thanks for the links. I'll read up when I get home, trying not to do too much internet when we're here in paradise...
In recent years we've read of many attacks The interesting Roman ruins you mention are right in the middle of this area.
As far as I know all attcks have been directed at police and army, and tourists haven't been targeted (but then again, there are no tourists, right?)
Perhaps think twice before I bring the family...
They must know you were travelling without an official escort (a more appropriate word than 'guide', IMO) and yet allow you to proceed at least as far as Iz. It must be with someone's approval...
It wasn't a fluke.
Sounds like you had a close encounter with the agence of Ahmed Zegri in Illizi, too.
FYI, probably as a result of '2003', we have found/been told the Wilaya (county) of Illizi - includes Djanet and the classic tourist highlights - has been notably more restrictive on tourist piste access than elsewhere in Algeria, hence BoD turned back.
LE GRAND SUD, as the commissar in Illizi said.
Was it actually BoD or at Quatre Chemins, 62km from HbG that they stopped you?
It was at the Quatre Chemins. They called the gendarmes in BoD and got the neg reply, I guess they didn't wanr us alone on the piste. I wanted to take a left towards Tin Fouye but they made us go back to HBG. Lost two hours, but then what is two hours in Africa?
Thanks for your report, a very interesting one.
Just one remark
"And then there was the guard south of Illizi who asked for the fiche - how did he know we had one?"
Many travellers have the habit to make this "fiche", especially those who have gone to Mauri and they give one at each control even in Algeria (like us in 2007) , so policemen who find this "fiches" very practical have also took the habit to ask for it, in case of...
Many travellers have the habit to make this "fiche",
Actually, it was obvious that he was expecting us. I wrote about the fiche since it seems that not everyone has one made...then again, I am new here and don't know how experienced the readers are so pls bear with me if I am long-winded.
Other than that one control, we could have driven all over the place without a guide. Had we encountered the gendarmes in the desert, they may have disapproved, of course.
As it were, we had a good stay in Djanet and then went with our touareg friends to Tam in two cars. They were invaluable in the desert.
On the route to Assekrem, they did slow us down since their old FJ60 really wasn't up to the task. We drove up and down with our old HJ60 without a glitch. On the way down, we overtook a touareg in a dinky FJ60 which triggered him to race us - that was a riot! He nearly lost control and finally had to give it up with a flat tire (our 205s are better for racing than their 7.50s).
Assekrem was as good as it gets. And not a tourist in sight. May is a great time to be here - the mid-day heat doesn't bother me as much as those cold January nights did.
Now we want to go to Niger. The drive seems straightforward enough - drive Tam to Assamaka on our own, then with a guide to Arlit if we want one. The convoy runs from Arlit all the way to Tahoua, I am told.
We applied for visas in Tam right away. The wait is two days rather than the two hours it used to be. But when we returned from Assekrem they weren't ready? The Niger consulate claimed their fax wasn't working .
I talked to some Algerian car dealers and they said the wait is often 3-4-5-6 days. Cost is still 50 euros for 30 days. We went to the neigbouring Malian consulate for consolation and had a good time but they were too meek to offer us any visas - "al Qaida is everywhere", they said.
What now? No fun hanging around Tam for very long.
That's a pity. I think there's quiet a big chance you can enter Mali at Tessalit without visa. In other words: arrange your visa at the borderpost there. With a good Tuareg guide you can then continue to Gao. (Ask at the campingground about 10 km (ofr maybe 20 km) north of Tamanrasset on the road to in Salah - forgot the exact name. They have good contacts.)
cont........on day 5 the Nigerian consulate opened again but there were no visas. The secretary showed me the fax she had finally sent on Thursday (day 3) with 15 applications. But no reply yet.
We waited outside, then we were told that our visa applications had been rejected?!
I asked to talk to the consul, and he said that from now on all applications for Europeans and Japanese and Americans etc would have to be applied for from their home country. Only Algerians would be given visas at the consulate. He also went into a tirade about how difficult it was for Africans to get into Europe. He said he only acted on orders from Niamey.
I told him I would be writing about this new situation on the internet and in magazines and that it was vital that the information was correct.
He stood by what he had said. I asked if this was a temporary change or permanent and he said he didn't know.
So we won't be going to Niger on this trip.
I don't know what to make of it. Perhaps they didn't like us, after I complained when our visas weren't ready as promised on day 2, and offered to buy them a new fax machine (as their excuse was that the fax didn't work)? Or perhaps I shouldn't have mentioned in passing that I was not only a teacher but also wrote articles?
So perhaps there are tourists getting their visas as I write this. Others will have to review the above.
We could have visas for Mali (800 dinars, same day service, nice people esp. compared to the tense Nigerians) but we don't feel like going to Tessalite.
I think we will now just disappear into the desert...
Ok, so it was all my fault. Forgot to change my companion's profesion from photographer to something else on the "fiche". This is what I found out through a Nigerian in Tam.
Apparently other Westerners should be able to get their visas for Niger in Tam, but as they said the situatuon right now is "fragile". Don't write journalist, writer, photographer as a profession, go with butcher, farmer, nurse etc...
We went to Kidal over Timiaouine, and had no problems with an older touareg guide from Kidal in the car. There are some strange dudes in the desert in NE Mali, but they recognized our guide and there was embraces and polite handshakes. Without the guide it could have been different.
Lastly, let me recommend "La Grotte" in Kidal if you want to dance your ass off with the touareg and the bambara. Best disco I've been to in decades! (then again, maybe I don't get out enough)....
In the second news-agency down in the list given by Chris, Liberte, there is reference to the S.A.S. ...and a special operation. What's this about - are we in northern Mali? If its secret or covert, odd that its even mentioned?
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