"Welcome! Are you going to the Sahara?"
I was on my last days of Tunisia. I already had my visa for Algeria which was beyond unique for how I thought it would go? The Algerian visa can for many travelers be a hard one to get. It is especially true if you do not apply from the country where you reside.
I had been doing a lot of online research and non of it was looking very promising. Many travelers before me had been turned away at the Algerian embassy in Tunisia. There were some faint references indicating that it had been possible for someone in the past, but now it's completely impossible. Everyone I spoke to confirmed that point of view. The general gist was that if you first get a "no" from the Algerian embassy then it will be near impossible to change that to a "yes" further down the line. With all of this in mind it felt like an impossible difficult finale for the African Continent. However what is "impossible" for the Saga? We've been chewing up impossible and spitting it out for a long while now! I'd truly like to see anyone try to do what has been done to get the Saga this far?!? It really hasn't been easy and to watch someone else would be fun :)
"Ben's" parents. The lovely Salem (who put on polo for the photo) and Hamida (who put on a scarf) Love them :)
My friend Mohammed "Ben" Ben-Braham came to the rescue. He's Tunisian and works as a country manager for Maersk in Djibouti and Somalia. He just happened to be on vacation in Tunisia. I contacted Leila who is the Danish honorary consul in Tunisia. Great woman who works as a doctor from her clinic in Tunis. Leila created a french letter stating that while I'm a Danish citizen I'm not a Danish resident. I still have my "letter of intent" from the Danish Red Cross stating that I'm a Goodwill Ambassador so we added that, too. Finally Hedia and Slim from the Tunisian Maersk office created a support letter and with all of that "Ben" and I headed to the Algerian diplomatic mission in Tunisia. We went straight to see the consul. After a little while of explaining who I am and what I'm doing the consul told us that he liked the project and would help with the visa. "Ben" had been doing most of the talking. The ambassador let us know that he had to run it through a security check and that we could come back the following day. That's how it went and the following day I received a visa valid for ten days starting on July 2nd 2017. Boom!! :)
Pretty much everyone was surprised. A few people in the Danish foreign ministry were surprised as well thinking that it was impossible. One of the perhaps toughest visas had turned out to be one of the easiest. Well, sort of easy but you know what I mean. Now - we did mention that Algeria was the last unvisited country within Africa. Also Denmark is planned to open up an embassy in Algeria in September 2017. Many things could have played a role here. Preparation was definitely one of them.
My ride from Tunisia to Algeria.
Then I went to Libya and returned to Tunisia. I wanted to ride the train from Tunis to the border, cross the border and ride the train in Algeria to Algiers. However the train to the border on the Tunisian side was out of order. I found out that there's a street in Tunis with vehicles leaving for Constantina in Algeria every day. It is a 7 hour drive from Tunis to Constantina.
On the road again.
On July 2nd I got up at 06:00am to catch one of those cars at 07:00am. I was the first passenger out of 4. The hours went by and the sun reached the top of the sky. I think we left around midday. It went smooth to the border although I wasn't feeling well. At the border I was feeling really nauseous and had a headache! I was trying to work out what it could be: not enough sleep? Bad food? Bad water? Overworked? Who knows... It wasn't easy looking fine at immigration but I acted my best in order to keep everything as normal as possible. Everyone had to wait for me at the Algerian side as the Algerian immigration police insisted that I should have a police escort for security. It used to be necessary but that's a while ago. These days it's more like old procedures are still being enforced. My driver was clearly annoyed with this but not with me. After 30-45 minutes of looking for a policeman who could escort me (I presume) they just waived us through. No police escort anyway. A final checkpoint ensured that non of us had anything illicit in our bags and we were in Algeria!!! Finally!!
Isn't that landscape just a dream?
It had taken me 2 years, 2 months and 27 days to reach every country in Africa since I set foot in Morocco. I'm fairly sure that this is the first time in known history that anyone has traveled to every single country in Africa, in a single unbroken journey completely without flying! Furthermore spending minimum 24 hours in each nation and doing all the visas within the continent. And I promise you it was nowhere near easy and is unlikely to be repeated anytime soon. However it's "just" one continent within the Saga; but what a continent!!
The Atlas Mountains run from one side of Algeria and across to the other.
Algeria is unbelievably beautiful! So was the west of Tunisia and naturally the nature doesn't care which side of the border it is on. The hours went on and we weren't exactly going fast anymore. We stopped several times to cool the engine and add water. Finally it got dark, we were on a three-lane highway and the vehicle broke down. That was it. Another vehicle turned up behind us and slowed down. The driver came out to ask something which looked like directions. My driver was quick and within a minute I was sitting in this new car which had just shown up! I understood what was going on. My driver was paid to get me to Constantina but knew I was continuing to Algiers (the capital of Algeria). This random driver was heading to Bordj Bou Arreridj which is closer to Algiers than Constantina is. That's how it worked. I've forgotten the name of the random driver but he was nice. He didn't speak any English and only spoke a little French. We communicated as much as we could in Arabic and whatever French we could. He wanted to know where I wanted to go and suggested taking me beyond Constantina. I accepted that which was a great cultural loss for me! I should have had at least half a day in Constantina!! Algeria is so rich on culture and history. As we continued the traffic suddenly came to a complete stop on the highway. There had been an accident and no one could pass. We waited for three hours before traffic began moving again. It was about 01:00am. The random driver and I pulled off the highway to find me a hotel in Setif which is before Bordj Bou Arreridj. However the driver wasn't happy with the prices offered in the middle of the night and we drove off again. We reached Bordj Bou Arreridj around 02:00am and checked about 5 hotels before the driver was happy. Algerian hospitality already appeared to be high on the list of countries visited.
We finally found a hotel which was okay but since it was after midnight I had to go and register at the police station before I could have my room? I've never heard of that before but went with the flow. The random driver took me there and helped me out. The police was nice but not in a hurry. Besides it all looked mysterious to them: bearded European stranger in the middle of the night? Visas from Sudan, Egypt and Libya in the passport? Just a tourist? I decided to tell them who I was and the whole "every country in the world" thing. This fascinated them and my random driver friend asked if he could leave and I could make my way back to the hotel? The police offered to drive me. Having gone through a series of questions about the Saga and a number of pictures on my phone the police finally stamped my papers and drove me to the hotel...with blue flashes and sirens on...just for fun :) I went to bed past 03:00am so tired, so tired, so zzzzz....
Around 06:00am I woke up as the hotel was being renovated and drilling and hammering took over. Please!!! I sort of managed to sleep a bit more, got up, made my way to the taxi stands and found a minibus heading to Algiers. A few hours later I had made it there and called Omar. Omar is a contact an online friend named Ric has provided me with. Omar is a great guy! Perhaps a little taller than me and a lot more robust. He also sports a massive beard and is as nice as the day is long. Omar was together with David, who's an American high school teacher and furthermore landed his 116th country by visiting Algeria. All teachers should be like that. Omar runs a travel agency called www.fancyellow.com
which caters to your tailor made needs. He operates in and outside of Algeria. Omar made sure I got a full Algerian meal to begin with. Wow that was good!!! I've been told what it is called about 10 times and still can't remember? It's good though :) Afterwards we stored my bags and headed out for a walking tour of the capital.
Great capital in my opinion! I've heard several Algerians say that the capital is the worst part of the country and that I should definitely see more. A very common remark has been: "Welcome! Are you going to the Sahara?" I've seen plenty of Libyan Sahara but the Algerians swear that theirs is better. It may be true? However I doubt many Algerians went to survey the Libyan Sahara. Algerians appear very proud to me and I think they have the right to be. Algeria has large green forests, lakes, mountains, desert, a Mediterranean coastline, rock formations and it's the largest country in Africa. In fact Algeria is the same size as Greenland which should perplex your mind if you happen to be looking at a standard map. I shouldn't need to remind anyone that to go once around Africa is equal to going once around the planet. And again; Algeria is the largest of the African countries. It is massive! The Saga wasn't made for large countries. A week in every country in the world would have you back home after 4 years. That's equivalent to a university degree in terms of time. But what is a week in Russia? In Canada? In the USA? In Brazil? In China? In India? In Algeria? A month in every country in the world should have you home again after 16 years. 16 years!!! I didn't sign up for that. And after all...how much could you see of Algeria in a month? Maybe you need 3.
The famous Casbah of Algiers is very authentic and I didn't want to change the atmosphere by taking to many photos.
In a large country you usually find great diversity within culture, food, music and language. Algeria is no different. I had to visit most of Algeria on the internet because I really won't see a lot during this visit. Algeria is rich in history, too. Phoenicians, the Greek, the Romans, the Arabs...don't call them Arabs by the way. Algerians won't like it. They are Amazigh and proud of it. Berbers are the indigenous inhabitants of Algeria. The Algerians had quite a profound struggle with the French. It wasn't easy for the French to colonize Algeria and once the Algerians wanted their country back they took it back! When the Algerians celebrate Independence Day it's not just something which they got through a quiet democratic process. The Algerians gained their independence the hard way. And that alone gives them the right to be very proud. However Algerians are also abnormally friendly and hospitable which adds for an interesting cocktail. I really enjoy Algeria and thirst for more of it. Alas...72 more countries to go...
The metro system in Algiers is superb, clean and highly efficient.
David, Omar and I took the metro out to the Botanical Garden without going in. From there we took the gondola lift up to the Maqam Echahid (or Martyrs’ Memorial in English). It is an iconic concrete monument commemorating the Algerian war for independence. The monument was opened in 1982 on the 20th anniversary of Algeria’s independence. The memorial is fashioned in the shape of three standing palm leaves which shelter the “Eternal Flame” beneath. At the edge of each palm leaf stands a statue of a soldier, each representing a stage of Algeria’s struggle.
Maqam Echahid and me.
The museum beneath it is absolutely breathtaking! It vividly depicts the cruelty of the past and that independence was not just something Algeria was given: as mentioned earlier it was something they took back! A big part of the museum consists of large colorful paintings and full size portraits. Photography was not permitted in the museum so you'll just have to go and see for yourself. It's definitely worth it.
The great team at www.maersk.com
in Algiers honored me with this precious gift. It is a pin which commemorates the first day of the resistance against France which eventually led to independence. Algeria celebrated 55 years of independence during my visit.
Omar had found a place for me to sleep. It was a dormitory in which I had a madras on the floor for $11/night. Accommodation is quite expensive in Algeria compared to its neighboring countries. However food, fruit and vegetables all come at reasonably low prices. Transport is also quite cheap as well as tickets to parks and museums.
The dormitory was noisy and every night Algerians would be celebrating something driving their cars about honking honking their horn. Congratulations on the day of independence, and winning the finals, and the wedding...
At the dormitory I met Bilal who is a lawyer who found a job within customs clearance. Bilal is looking for a place to rent or buy but that isn't easy to find in Algiers so he's momentarily in the dormitory. From the moment I met Bilal I hardly paid for anything anymore. That kind of hospitality really stands in contrast to general hospitality elsewhere in the world. Sudan, parts of Egypt, Libya and Tunisia all share that mentality with Algeria: "as long as you are in my country you are my guest and I will take care of you". Other parts of the world have that mentality, too... like Iran for example. Imagine how disappointed those people must feel visiting the rest of us?
I tried to fight Bilal several times for the bill and various other costs but it was fruitless. He wanted to pay and said: "Money isn't important". Together Bilal and I headed out to Le Jardin d'Essai (botanical garden) which dates back to 1832 and is a spectacular place to visit! I really like botanical gardens and have seen a few around the world by now. Something less botanical made this one really special for me though. Johnny Weissmuller played Tarzan here in 1932! Apparently, Hollywood producers of the 1932 "Tarzan the man ape" used the Algiers botanical gardens in place of the real West African rainforest to shoot at least one of his adventures. I absolutely love that for whatever odd reason?
Botanical garden. Where is Tarzan?
Visitors to this popular tourist attraction soon come to appreciate the diversity of nature as they walk down a pathway lined with enormous date palms, stroll past sago palms from Japan and China, admire the spiky yucca from South America, or sit in the shade of an ancient Norfolk Island pine tree. I spent half the day with Bilal who like Omar is a great ambassador to Algerian hospitality!!
My friend Bilal :)
You know it's a strange thing; Guinness Book of World Records will record you for balancing a chair on your head but they are not interested in this Africa record? I was told that "Fastest time to visit every African nation without flying" does not have interest because it can and has been done faster by flying? That really annoys me! Furthermore it is fairly irritating that I haven't received any credit outside of the Sagas wonderful and loyal social media for reaching every country in Africa with or without flying?!? Isn't the world just mad like that? Well, at least I can truthfully answer yes to anyone who ever asks me: "have you ever been to Africa?"
I haven't cut my hair since I entered Africa in April 2015.
The Saga continues! I actually had a European tour planed for more than a year now where I wanted to revisit about 30 European countries with focus on the Red Cross, on public speaking and on European media. However it has proven a logistical and bureaucratically hellish nightmare trying to get it organized so it has been restructured to 8 countries instead. And just coordinating those 8 countries has nearly broken my spirit because motivation appears to fall short among those I counted on. But there is some reason in the madness and I figure it will all stand a little clearer later on. So that means that the next 8 countries will be revisits: Spain, Portugal, France, Belgium, Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland and Italy. Afterwards we will get back on track with country number 132.
Finally coloring the last country in.
A ferry is bringing me from Mostaganem to Alicante in Spain. The ferries leaving Algeria are ridiculously expensive by most standards. A day ferry from Algiers to Alicante is around €250 for a seat. However by traveling 3 hours west from Algiers to Mostaganem I can get a ticket for about €150 which is a big save but still far too expensive for a 12 hour ferry journey? Oh well, it will be "the Saga out of Africa" and then the European train tickets can start digging into all the money I don't have.
Algeria!! I will see you again some day. Perhaps in a future adventure with a Toyota Land Cruiser, my wife and 2 children.
After all this time, and all this distance; I feel a lot like how my bag looks.
I have reached Mostaganem and have found a nice hotel to spend my last night in Algeria. My last night in Africa! Africa has been my home for the past 2 years and I have seen more of the continent than most people alive today. No matter what you think about the continent I can assure you that you are wrong. I can see the Mediterranean Sea from my hotel window. I've been working towards this for so long but now it feels daunting. I will leave Africa with much relief as I will literally be leaving blood, sweat and tears behind me. However, the continent is home to more than every 4th country in the world. I have so many memories, so many stories of where I've been. So many stories of whom I have met. I have learnt more than I could possibly imagine. I find that Shakespeare is more right than ever before this time:
"Parting is such sweet sorrow"
Mostaganem, my last African sunset.
Mr. Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - done with Africa
"A stranger is a friend you've never met before"
Once Upon A Saga