We were supposed to be, but that’s just not happening. Well, first we were going to be in India but those plans got derailed so then we decided to visit North Africa. A great way to ring in the Christmas and New Year times, right? We’ll spend a few nights in Morocco – an easy way to acclimate to Africa – before heading over to Oran and Algiers. Flights were rather readily available on points and the intra-Africa flights were reasonably priced and fun new airlines to experience. So what happened?
The simple answer is that we actually did some research.
It started off well enough, with bits like this:
Nestled between the Mediterranean and the steep, forested hills that form its backdrop, Algiers is a city whose rich history can be seen in its architecture, from its Moorish mosques, Ottoman-style palaces and the Kasbah, a designated UNESCO World Heritage site, to its Berber fortifications, French colonial houses and modern boulevards.
But then we discovered other gems, like this one:
Having recently emerged from a civil war, intra-Algerian violence is far from finished, and this social and political instability is a threat only magnified for tourists as a result of Algerian Islamic hardliner attacks on Western visitors. Further, women must dress and behave with oppressive religious constrictions in mind when touring most of the country.
Still, a visit is manageable, so long as one stays in safe neighborhoods, well-known hotels, and indoors come nighttime. Also, keep drinking activity confined to the hotel bar and do not inadvertently offend anyone by discussing politics. Try to avoid public transportation and narrow streets. The old city and French city boroughs are not all that safe, but the beachfront is generally alright.
Hmmm…we cannot do most of the thing that we’d normally do during a vacation, like go out or ride public transportation or get lost wandering among the random alleys and passageways in town. That sounds a bit like a deal-breaker to me. Still, we were not completely dissuaded. Indeed, we next went to my favorite bookstore in the world, Idlewild, and started looking for some print references. Maybe a guide book or two would make it seem reasonable.
Nothing. Not a single book on the shelves related to Algeria. This place is a mecca of travel literature and guides and they had nothing. Not a good sign. But they could get a book for us. The Bradt guide to Algeria was available from their distributor and could be in the next afternoon. OK, make it happen.
As I thumbed through the book, checking out various suggested itineraries and some of the “peak” attractions I came across a rather disconcerting passage. Sure, the book starts with the typical notation that the petty theft issues are no worse in Algiers than in other major cities. So long as you do not demonstrate any wealth and you keep your head down you’ll probably be OK. And then there’s the awesome line, “I was warned out of the Casbah by youths who stated that a local gang was planning to come and steal my camera.”
When that’s the sort of welcome you get that’s about where I draw the line. I suppose it is a good sign that some of the youths warned him, but I’m not so sure that’s enough to make it a safe destination.
I’m willing to experience a lot of different things. I walked through Stabroek Market in Georgetown, Guyana and even got mugged in Togo (though I did take my money back from the schmuck) and I survived both of those just fine. I’m sure we’d survive in Algeria, too. But that’s just not the type of vacation that makes for a relaxing and pleasant New Years experience. Hopefully another day.
Instead we’ll be in Tunis and Carthage, enjoying all that Tunisia has to offer.
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