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Into Algeria

Touggourt, Algeria

A truck with German plates pulled in the next morning. One of the border patrol people engaged the driver in a conversation, I wandered over, and there I met Wolf Gaudlitz. A writer, radio show host, film producer and (not kidding here), traveling picture show, Wolf had visited Algeria many times over the last 5 years, and readily took me on. Wolf had left his Italian wife and 3 year old child in Germany to try and write, and he told me with some resignation that he didn’t know if they would still be there when he got back. Girls: don’t get any ideas. He had in his truck a screen and projection equipment, and enjoyed showing movies to the desert people, German movies it turns out, so that no one understood a word but was transfixed nonetheless by the imagery: for most their first experience with film.

Within 3 or 4 hours, we had both been fully processed at the border, Ahmed the guide had arrived, Ahmed had taken official responsibility for my well-being, the bike was loaded in Wolf’s truck, and we were on our way to El Oued. I was in. My bicycle trip was clearly over for now, but I was in.

Near Touggourt, friends had arranged a cook-out on a new palm Plantation amid the dunes of the Grand Erg Orientale, and we stopped for several hours to grill meat, and talk and eat. Wolf’s truck was immediately mired in the sand, and he spent most of the time letting the air out of his tires, moving the truck, and then re-inflating the tires. I helped where possible, but the joke remained that Wolf was a slave to his machine. The work literally took him hours.

We continued on to Touggourt, to the house of Mohammed, a tall, strong-featured friend of Wolf’s from some years back. Mohammed had rescued Wolf when his rear axle broke outside Touggourt during a period of serious banditry and some danger. Refusing any payment whatsoever, he had seen to the complete replacement of the axle (and from what I could tell, actual milling of axle to fit the truck), completely filled Wolf’s absolutely huge gas tank, and seen to Wolf’s personal needs throughout the ordeal.
Touggourt, waiting to connect with Mohammed

My respect and admiration for these people grow, and my severe embarrassment at some of the shortcomings of our own culture swells equally. Frankly, they are my own personal shortcomings, not even something vaguely “cultural”. I try to imagine the reception Mohammed might have were his truck to breakdown in Acton, United States, and while I could imagine extending some small kindnesses I could equally imagine suspicion, an encounter with the police, a very large tow truck bill, an even larger repair bill, and if he was inordinately lucky and I wasn’t late for work, a ride to the Concordian motel. Before this trip and maybe still, it is unimaginable to me that I would take a stranger in, personally see to his well-being, and take on the financial burdens of his unfortunate circumstances in the manner that Mohammed took care of Wolf.

permalink written by  roel krabbendam on January 10, 2007 from Touggourt, Algeria
from the travel blog: Harmattan
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I got some word of caution from my Algerian friend Yacine:

"About your friend who wants to cross Algeria by bicycle, it may be dangerous. Not because of the so-called fundamentalists, but simply because of thiefs.
As long as he is in the Sahara (El Oued, Touggourt, Ghardaia, Tammanrasset), I think there is so much danger now. He may be robbed but nothing more. If he goes more to the north, he should stay on the main roads and go through cities or big villages.
I hope he'll enjoy his trip. The Sahara is reallly beautiful.


permalink written by  Tamas on January 12, 2007

Travelling with care, and with frequent discussion about security with those around me. So far so good! Many thanks for the message from Yacine: this country and its people are magnificant!

permalink written by  roel krabbendam on January 13, 2007

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7 Trips
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Here's a synopsis of my trips to date (click on the trip names to the right to get all the postings in order):

Harmattan: Planned as a bicycle trip through the Sahara Desert, from Tunis, Tunisia to Cotonou, Benin, things didn't work out quite as expected.

Himalayas: No trip at all, just...

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