Montag, 27. Juli 2009

On y va... en Algérie!

I'm thrilled to announce that my trip to Algeria (something that seemed nothing but a crazy idea a few months ago) is not only becoming reality, but is already in its final planning stages and about to start very soon. Since the tickets are already paid, the visa is finally issued, and my backpack's in the corner ready to be stuffed, i think that my mother (who was convinced from the beginning that I would get hijacked) really has to be worried now.

For those of you who don't know where Algeria is, you can find out on the little map below. It is located in Central Northern Africa, sandwiched between Morocco and Tunisia, and although it is actually the 2nd biggest country in Africa (and N° 11 in the world!), not too many people know a lot about it.

This is, in part, due to political and social difficulties the country had to go through ever since it seperated from its former colonial emperor France in 1962, making it unattractive to the average tourist (for the adventurous, Algeria was always interesting). Although, on the surface, Republique Algérienne seemed to improve quickly after its independence, and (thanks to their wealth in petrol) develop into one of the most advanced nations on the African continent, things were boiling underneath the surface (high youth unemployment, cultural and ethnic diversity among the population, corruption & censorship employed by the government), and this boiling pot finally exploded with the unexpected win of the Islamists Party (FIS) during the first real elections in 1991. The reigning government could not accept that defeat and "cancelled" (!) the elections, which started a cruel decade of civil war between Islamic fundamentalists and the Algerian army, with more than 100.000 victims, often innocent women & children, across the country. The capital Algiers, formerly known as La Blanche ("the white city") turned into La Rouge, a city becoming known for its violence: slit throats, car bombs and other cruel assassinations became a daily routine, as Europe and even the neighbour countries were watching helplessly in shock. The Islamic Fundamentalists often picked the country's cultural & intellectual elite (writers, journalists, musicians etc.) as their prime victims, and the government responded with corporal punishment, deportation camps, and merciless special forces to pursue and punish the terrorists.
A few years ago, after the government promised to grant amnesty to former terrorists that decide to call it quits, the conflicting parties agreed upon a kind of cease-fire ("politics of reconciliation") and the situation has slowly improved since. Although Algeria cannot be called a normal and safe tourist destination, the government tries everything to attract and protect foreign travellers. This was apparent a few years ago, when an Austrian couple got hijacked by terrorists in the Tunisian border area and got released later after intervention by the Austrian & Algerian governments. However, not everyone was so lucky: just a few months ago a British citizen was found decapitated after the British government had refused to cooperate with terrorists. In both cases, "Al-Khaida in Maghreb" claimed responsibility for the abductions.
I am hoping that none of this will become an issue for me, and I'm trying to prepare myself as good as possible, so nobody (not my parents, not the Austrian government) has to worry or pay ransom for me ;-)

So what is there to see? First of all, Algeria is a huge country, and therefore one cannot expect to see everything in one trip (unless someone would have a LOT of time at his hands). The main attractions are the Mediterranean coastline, with its lush beaches and towering Tell-Atlas mountains not far behind, which bear countless traces of all the civilizations that landed in Algeria at some point (Romans, Arabs, French...). For example, Timgad (a place I intend to visit) has one of the best preserved Roman Ruins in the world, which are listed on the UN world heritage list! This northern region of Algeria is also home to most Algerian cities and the majority of the population.
The biggest attraction, however, is probably the SAHARA, the greatest desert in the world. It covers several African countries and out of all of them, Algeria owns the biggest piece of the cake. The Sahara covers 90% of Algeria's landmass, yet only a small percentage of the population. But contrary to popular belief, it is not just all dunes, dates & camels, but actually a very diverse landscape. In the south there is even a volcanic mountain range called "Hoggar", that is scarcely populated by the legendary nomadic "Touareg" tribe, and famous for the most spectacular sunrise of the entire Sahara. However, without a 4WD car and plenty of water supplies, there is no need to even think about going there, which is why I will not be able to see it. But I am planning to at least go to Biskra, a town up north which is called the "Gate to the Sahara". So stay tuned as I will try to post travel reports & pictures if possible, or at least sum up the trip afterwards.

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