ianskipworth.com > wanderlust > Letter From Algeria

My Camp Site, Ghardaia, Algeria
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Letter From Algeria is from a letter written by Skip to his parents while backpacking through Algeria in 1989 on an overland trip from London to South Africa.

Dear MADGE, Howdy. Greetings from almost the Sahara I suppose.

Yesterday could have been a bit of a disaster but things ended up going quite well. I left the hotel in Algiers at about 7.45am and went to buy a bus ticket only to find that the office was closed. I decided I could buy a ticket on the bus and caught a little bus out to El Harrach from where the buses depart.

At the departure of every bus, including my one to Ghardaia, there were massive bun fights with about twice as many people as available seats. I couldn't compete and missed getting on the 10.30 bus to Ghardaia. After that, I was befriended by a couple of Algerian guys who managed to tell me, largely using sign language, that there was a bus at 11.30 which went to Laghout and that they'd then get a taxi on to Ghardaia. Somehow, with their help, I managed to scramble onto that bus.

Some of the scenery was quite interesting - deep rocky gorges with quite a lot of vegetation growing on the walls. Then further south, just sand and rock desert. We reached Laghout and then got a taxi the remaining 200km to Ghardaia arriving here at about 8.45pm. They dropped me off at a camping ground which is really pleasant - sandy ground and lots of palm trees. Last night it was very quiet and peaceful with the sky full of stars. Today I have had a bit of a wander around town. It's quite interesting - no hustlers and lots of desert people with white cloth wrapped around their heads and faces.

The weather is pretty good. Not a cloud in the sky, just blazing sun all day. In the shade it's very pleasant but it's tough in the direct sun. Imagine what it must be like in summer. In the camp here there are quite a few Germans travelling on big trail bikes. Also, French and Swiss in VW vans and 4WD's. Tomorrow, it's on to El Golea or maybe In Salah but there don't seem to be any direct buses to In Salah.

I need a book to read as I've just finished one - James Michener "Centennial". It was a good long book which took me quite a while to read. It really helps to fill in all those boring patches where you're just waiting for a bus or train. The bus tomorrow leaves at 3.30pm - what a pain in the arse. On the bus yesterday I had quite a conversation with an Algerian kid who wanted me to help him get a job in NZ. I don't have the heart to tell these people they've got virtually no chance. Just paying for the air fare would represent a huge amount of money to them.

Saharan Panorama, Route du Hoggar, Algeria
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3/11/89. I'm now in El Golea but things are not looking too good. I woke up this morning with a guts ache and before too long, had a big spew. I've just been drinking water today and hope I'll be 100% tomorrow. I still feel pretty queezy now at 6pm. Last night I had a feed in a real cheap restaurant and think that must have been what did it. Hopefully it will have built up my immunity and I won't have any more troubles for a while.

The other respect in which things are not going well is the bus situation. Normally there are busses running between El Golea and In Salah, and In Salah and Tamanrasset, but it seems the roads are in pretty bad condition at the moment and neither of these buses is running. That means that I'm gonna have to try to hitch a ride to In Salah tomorrow. The way I'm feeling at the moment, this seems like a bit of a daunting prospect but hopefully I should manage. I was expecting to have to hitch from Tamanrasset south but not before that. I'm not at all used to hitching so I'm not looking forward to it.

I suppose you would have to say I'm in the Sahara now. During the day it is pretty hot and you quickly get dehydrated. Around the town here almost all the people are dressed in long white robes with white cloth wound around their head. Their skin is quite a lot darker than the people in the north but they still look like Arabs. It is interesting to observe what seems to be a progressive change in the race of people from relatively pale skined Arabs right through to black skined Africans.

I did meet a German guy on the bus yesterday but he is travellling with an Algerian guy. There's this little fox thing with big ears - a Fennec which somebody keeps on a leash here. I just tried to take a photo of him only to find that my camera seems to be broken. I dropped it the other day and it received a bit of a bash, smashing the filter on the front of the lens. I haven't taken the big fancy camera with the motor drive but a smaller one with two lenses. It will be a real blow if I don't have a working camera for the whole trip.

Once again, I'm camping here in the tent so it has proved quite useful so far. I'll go to bed very early tonight so I can get an early start tomorrow. I'm really missing NZ at the moment and really look forward to coming home. It seems such a long way away at the moment. Goodnight.

Big Saharan Sky, Tamanrasset, Algeria
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4/11/89. Unfortunately, I haven't got anything very good to report. It's only 3pm but I'm back at a different camping ground and have given up on hitching for the day. I started just before 8am and have got nowhere. I'm sure that I must crack it tomorrow even if I have to pay for a ride. The German guy and his Algerian friend were also hitching. They started at 6.30 and got separate rides at 9.30 and 11.30 so it's not easy. Not speaking French is very frustrating but I will make it eventually I'm sure, even if it costs me.

I'm feeling better today but haven't had anything to eat for 40 hours now. This morning I had the shits but feel like I can start getting back into bread now. I'm so sick of fucking baguettes. Since leaving the UK, they must have formed at least 90% of my diet. I'm going to have to get an extension on my Algerian visa now as it was only for 15 days. I did try quite hard at the hitching today but tomorrow I'm going to try even harder as I must keep moving. It's probably going to be just as difficult hitching between In Salah and Tamanrasset, and then from Tamanrasset to Agadez in Niger.

I don't know if you've got a decent map on which you can follow my travels bit I have two Michelin maps - one for North and West Africa, and the other for Southern Africa. They are excellent and are about the best maps available at the scale (1:4,000,000).

Boy, I could really do with a decent feed. Even while I was in London, the food I was eating was very basic. I was never staying anywhere where I had the facilities to cook a decent meal. In the bedsit, all we had was one frying pan thing and all I could cook was spaghetti. We had no forks or spoons, no plates, and one knife. A big roast dinner is what I'd really like. Roast beef, spuds, artichokes, peas, carrots - yum. All I'll get for the next few weeks is fucking baguettes. I should tell you that I've taken to smoking one or two cigarettes a day when i get home after work.


Unfortunately, smoking has become a bit of a crutch for me. I know it's a bad habit but at the rate I'm smoking at the moment, it won't do me too much harm in the short term. It is important for me to be able to relax at the end of the day. A beer is a great way but a cigarette also can help me to unwind. When I came back off the road today, pretty disheartened, just sitting down and relaxing made me cheer up a bit and decide that tomorrow I would crack it.

Saharan Rest Stop, Route du Hoggar, Algeria
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5/11/89. Dear MADGE, I just had a thought - it's Guy Fawkes day today. There certainly won't be any crackers for me tonight but I dare say there's a few going off back there in little old New Zealand. The news is not good again. I have failed to get a lift today but my spirits are still OK. I feel reasonably confident that I will eventually succeed. I tried to get a taxi today after hitching for a while but there are none going. I guess the road is too bad.

I can't really think of much else to say so I might try writing to someone else. I hope my report of tomorrow's events will be a little more newsworthy. The other foreigners in cars are certainly not the people you can expect to get lifts from. Their vehicles are fairly full and they're all reluctant to take on any extra weight. They're mostly arrogant French but I talked to some Poms today who had a big Landrover - still no go. My system seems to have cleared up now.

6/11/89. Dear MADGE, this is turning into a real diary. Today I have got some better news to report. I am now in In Salah - incredibly, after 4 nights in El Golea. I have a ride which will hopefully continue tomorrow with a bunch of French "hippies" of all people. Could you imagine anything weirder? There's 2 guys and 1 gal and each is driving a car down to Niger where they will sell them. They're a bit rough and don't say much to me but they're OK.

The road was in a lot worse condition than I expected. About 250km was good road but the rest (~150km) was piste. We got stuck once and had a few crunches on rocks but it was OK. It will be really interesting to see how much worse it gets. It is quite an adventure. Even this early stretch is pretty damn rugged. The landscapes were impressive. Very few of the typical sand dunes and lots of very flat terrain with only rocks, sand and mirages. I saw a few camels but not much else. Also went through a few eroded valleys with rocky outcrops jutting 200 or 300 feet into the air which looked very picturesque. Again, the heat was there but not intense. There are actually a few clouds in the sky now. In summer, this place is supposed to be the hottest at up to 60°C. I think these guys are planning to go the whole way to Tamanraset tomorrow, about 658km, on roads which are supposed to be a lot worse than the one we travelled on today. Funnily, it's not all that satisfying making it all the way to In Salah even though it was a bit of a mission. I think I'm just worried about the voyage which lies ahead now.

In El Golea, I met a Japanese guy who was trying to bike to Kenya. He's got no chance even to get through the stuff today. Tomorrow, it's 658km of desert with very few places to get water. There was only one very crappy cafe on the road today. Last night I also talked to a very friendly Swiss guy who was riding a motorbike back from Niger after having come down with a car which was sold in Niger. Driving cars from Europe to West Africa and selling them seems to be quite popular. The Swiss guy said that if things go well, you sell the car for enough money to pay for the car, for all the petrol to get it there, for all your food and accomodation, for an airfare back to Europe and still have a little money left over. Basically, a free holiday. If however, the car breaks down in the middle of the desert and you can't fix it, you basically have to forget it. As soon as you leave it, it will be stripped. Then, it would work out to be a very expensive holiday.

Overnight Camp Site, Route du Hoggar, Algeria
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8/11/89. It took us 2 days to get from In Salah to Tamanrasset but I am finally here. Yesterday was quite a full days drive and today we arrived here about 4pm. Last night was spent camping out in the desert which was quite good fun although I was as grimey as shit and unable to wash at all. You get covered in dust and sand, especially when you have to dig a car out of the sand. Last night and today it has been quite overcast and as I look up at the moment, I can see some very grey clouds.

My digestive system is going well. I have eaten several of the very cheap and nasty couscous meals, the local staple, which did me in before with no ill effects so far. I must post this tomorrow. It looks as though I will be able to continue on to Niger with these people. I may have to miss the spectacular mountains which are about 90km away from here but getting a ride is important and I don't want to go though the hassles I had before if it can be avoided.

Things are really going quite well for me at the moment. This letter must end here I'm afraid. It's getting so dark I can hardly see. I'm A OK and have made it as far as Tamanrasset. I think these guys are stopping here for a couple of days and then on to Niger. Hope you're all well. Lotsa love, Ian.


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