Algeria – El Oued, Mzab Valley & Timimuon

This portion of our tour focused on the Grand Erg Oriental (El Oued, aptly nicknamed the city of 1000 domes) and the Grand Erg Occidental (to visit the UNESCO heritage M’Zab Valley, El Golea…the most popular source of bottled water in the country, and Timimoun, which is an unforgettable red hued oasis town). As we drove around the Grand Ergs, the first thing that caught our attention was how different this landscape was from northern Algeria. Gone was the verdant forestry, replaced by vast tracts of windswept dunes. Interspersed in the scenery were large plateaus and thorny scrubs.

Entranceway to Hotel Du Souf; El Oued
Another view of the Hotel Du Souf's restaurant
Restaurant decor at Hotel Du Souf; El Oued
Hallway at Du Souf hotel; El Oued
View of Hotel Du Souf's garden; El Oued
Becky sitting in the courtyard of Hotel Du Souf; El Oued
The Algerian flag flies proudly above Hotel Du Souf
View of El Oued from Hotel Du Souf
Wind tower; Environment Center/Tourism office in El Oued
Courtyard view of El Oued's Tourism office
El Oued's monument honoring the Algerian Heroes in the resistance against the French
Dome on the monument honoring the Algerian Heroes in the resistance against the French; El Oued
View of El Oued's market place; from Sidi Salem Mosque Tower
Fruit seller of El Oued
Two married ladies (as indicated by the face covering) walking the streets of El Oued
"The city of 1000 domes", the perfect image of El Oued's rounded domes
Spice sellers watch as traffic passes them by; El Oued
A donkey cart driver halts traffic; El Oued
Colorful wall mural in El Oued
Minaret in El Oued
Wall mural; El Oued
Another wall mural in El Oued
We enjoyed wandering around El Oued and checking out its wall murals
Wall mural depicting Algerian independence and peace; El Oued
Wall tilework in El Oued
Tile work displaying the Algerian revolution, "Long Live Algeria"; El Oued
Large wall mural in El Oued
A mihrab looking niche in a wall on a building in El Oued
Colonnaded shopping arcade; El Oued
Vaulted shopping arcade; El Oued
Buildings in El Oued have traditonal rounded dome roofs to keep cool in the summer heat
El Oued market
At this Islamic store in the El Oued market, we found that all ladies products had been censored according to the proprietor's discretion
The El Oued marketplace is worth a wander
Ladies dresses for sale; El Oued market
Becky showing a vendor his image at El Oued's marketplace
Becky laughs as the fruit vendors urge her to take their photo; El Oued marketplace
El Oued's vibrant marketplace is full of friendly people who enjoy posing for photos
Dead end in the labyrinth of El Oued's covered market place
Bread seller; El Oued market
Bread for sale at the El Oued marketplace
Grilled lamb chops for lunch; El Oued
We enjoyed our visit to Guemar's zaioua, where the kind manager, Nadir, gave us an excellent tour
Interior courtyard; Guemar's zaioua complex
Old fashioned door (a smaller doorway exists within the larger door frame); Guemar zaioua
Bronze door of Guemar's zaioua
Getting ready for the evening's call to prayer; Guemar zaioua
Interior domed view of Guemar's zaioua
Sturdy entranceway to the zaioua mosque; Guemar
Interior couryard view of Guemar's zaioua
Nadir gives Becky an excellent rundown of the history of Guemar's zaioua
Unraveling prayer rugs; Guemar zaioua
Shrine at the Guemar zaioua complex
The beautiful interior of Guemar's original mosque
Another view of the zaioua's mosque; Guemar
Ornate entrance to one of the buildings in the zaioua complex; Guemar
Portion of the Guemar zaioua that is awaiting renovations
Becky standing near an abandoned mosque
Ruins of an abandoned mosque
We explored the ruins of this abandoned mosque
Sand blowing over the highway during a stand storm; Grand Erg Occidental
Scenery on our drive from El Oued towards M'zab Valley
Robby poses next to a "caution...camel" sign; Algerian Sahara
View of Melika from the rooftop of Hotel Le Rym
Becky perched outside a dwelling in Melika
Melika's water tower
Walking the outskirts of Melika
Alleyway in Melika (where nice views of neighboring Ghardaia can be had)
Fruit and vegetable section of the main market in tiny Melika Melika's alleyways
Local praying at the tomb of Sidi Aissa; Melika
Three traditionally garbed women of Melika (women, once married, cover up from head to toe in a white sheet with only one eye visible to the world)
Construction on a bridge to Ghardaia; M'zab Valley
A veiled woman walks up the staircase to Melika
Staircase leading up to Melika
Another view of Melika
Our guide brought us to this traditional Mozabite dwelling to see how locals live; Melika
Typical Mozabite dwelling; Melika
Interior view of a tradtional Mozabite home; Melika
View of Ghardaia as seen from Melika at sunset
The Mozabite mosques' mud towers are distinctive from their Arab's contemporary counterparts; Ghardaia
View of Beni Isguen at dusk
Evening view of pretty M'zab Valley
Grilled lamb chops for dinner; M'zab Valley
Ghardaia is the largest of the five cities of the M'zab Valley, serving as the administrative and commercial hub
View of M'zab Valley
Minaret of old Ghardaia
Ghardaia tourism poster
Ghardaia signpost indicating inappropriate and appropriate clothing for tourists
Clothing store; Ghardaia market
Vibrant colors of yarn for sale; Ghardaia
Chatting the day away; Ghardaia market place
Fantastic sights and sounds await the intrepid traveler at Ghardaia's market square
Peanuts for sale; Ghardaia market place
Ghardaia main marketplace
Bundles of delicious dates for sale; Ghardaia market
Fancy a traditional Algerian carpet? Ghardaia is the place to souvenir shop
Earthenware for sale; Ghardaia market
An odd assortment of kitchen pots, pans and bowls for sale in Ghardaia's main market
Our favorite area of Ghardaia, the main market square
Peanut vendors hawking their wares; Ghardaia market
Village well in old Ghardaia
Souvenir shop in the main square of Ghardaia
The covered fruit and vegetable market is an extremely photogenic place to wander around in Ghardaia
Salim shows Becky dozens of spices for sale; Ghardaia market
Fruits and vegetables for sale at Ghardaia market
The meat market section of Ghardaia
Vegetables for sale; Ghardaia market
Olives for sale; Ghardaia
Fish for sale in the seafood section of Ghardaia market
The vendor of this stall happily offered his wares for us to try (we politely declined); Ghardaia
Spices for sale; Ghardaia market
Vendors selling vegetables and fruits abound in Ghardaia
M'zab Valley is one of the last places to stock up on fruits and vegetables before heading into the Sahara
Children collecting water from a public fountain; Ghardaia
Typical stairs seen through the village of Ghardaia
A trash collector sifts through the debris; outskirts of Ghardaia
Ghardaia's cemetery
Pottery is often placed on a burial site to distinguish each grave site from another
Our Ghardaia guide patiently explains the inner workings of this mud built mosque
Interior view of Ghardaia's mosque
Interior view of Ghardaia's mosque (non muslims are allowed to visit)
Ornate tomb; Ghardaia cemetery
Sign welcomes visitors to Beni Isguen, but reminds that photos of inhabitants is forbidden and to dress conservative
Marketplace in Beni Isguen where the afternoon auction occurs daily (except weekends) 5 pm until sunset Street leading to the main market in Beni Isguen
The only souvenir shop in Beni Isguen
Deserted intersection; Beni Isguen
Robby standing next to a miniscule entrance to a school; Beni Isguen
Alleyway in Beni Isguen
Becky towers next to an entrance to Beni Isguen's mosque
Climb this tower in Beni Isguen for fabulous views over the Mzab valley
Mzab valley as seen from Beni Isguen's watchtower
View of Beni Isguen from Borj Cheikh el-Hadj Tower
The M'zab Valley earned UNESCO world heritage status in 1982. It is a highlight of any visit to Algeria
Interior room of a typical dwelling in Beni Isguen
Kilim rugs adorn the interior of a typical mozabite home; Beni Isguen
Example of a marriage bedroom; Beni Isguen's museum
Kitchen utensils in a Mozabite home; Beni Isguen
Elaborate monument built as an example of a traditional M'zab building; roundabout outside Ghardaia
Monument at a roundabout on the outskirts of Ghardaia that showcases traditional M'zab building techniques
View of the M'zab city of Bou Noura
El Atteuf is the oldest village in the M'zab Valley and the strictest in terms of photography and appropriate dress 
Entranceway to El Atteuf
One of several entranceways to El Atteuf
View of El Atteuf's minaret
Several varieties of dates for sale; El Atteuf
Narrow alleyway in El Atteuf (local custom prevents doors being built opposite each other, forcing entrances to be staggered)
Palm tree stems support the ceiling structure of El Atteuf
Robby in a niche where married women of El Atteuf used to have to squeeze into (facing towards the wall) when they pass by men, lest a men should glimpse at their solitary eyeball
Becky listens as our guide explains the traditions of El Atteuf, the oldest of the M'zab Valley cities
Different clothes of Algeria (Salim in traditional Tuareg garb, our El Atteuf guide in traditional M'zab valley pants, and Fouad in western clothes)
Elaborate tomb stone; El Atteuf village
View of the 700 year old mosque of Sheikh Sidi Brahim; El Atteuf
Our El Atteuf guide at the entrance to Sheikh Sidi Brahim Mosque
Interior of the 700 year old mosque of Sheikh Sidi Brahim; El Atteuf
View overlooking the valley towards El Atteuf
Our first glimpse of sand dunes in the Sahara, drive from M'zab Valley towards El Golea
Hundreds of eager hopefuls look for a bargain at a car bazaar; near El Golea
Salim pours sauce over our couscous dinner; Yousef's house in El Golea
If an Algerian invites you to his or her house for dinner, don't hesitate and say yes! We had our best meal in Algeria at Yousef's house in El Golea
Yousef's father prepares tea after dinner; El Golea
Ruins of El Golea’s old Ksar (El Menia), which was built in the 10th century by the Berbers
Soft alcium stone (Yousef said pregnant ladies chew on it); ramp leads to the old ksar of El Golea; El Menia
Stairs leading up to El Menia
Stairs leading up to the old ksar of El Golea
Robby crouching down in the ruins of El Golea's old ksar
View of El Golea's ksar
Mud and stone remnants of El Menia
El Golea's ksar commands an imposing view of the surrounding landscape
Mosque of El Golea's ksar
View of El Golea from its ksar
Tombs in El Golea
A simple mosque is dominated by the nearby sand dunes; El Golea
Church on the outskirts of El Golea famous for the burial site of Charles de Foucauld
Charles de Foucauld's grave (French explorer who became a priest and spend his time in the Sahara getting to know the Tuareg. He built a hermitage at Assekrem and was assassinated in 1916 by anti-French rebels)
Entranceway to Timimoun, legendary oasis town of the Sahara with an alluring mud-red color
The Gate of Sudan; Timimoun
One of the symbols of Timimoun; a water irrigation tower
Village local sitting on the steps of the irrigation tower; Timimoun
Timimoun street scene
Entrance to Hotel de l’Oasis Rouge (now used to house the Timimoun cultural center)
The old reception desk at the Hotel de l’Oasis Rouge; Timimoun
Hallway leading to rooms at the now defunct Hotel de l’Oasis Rouge; Timimoun
Wall detail of Hotel de l’Oasis Rouge, a beautifully constructed, colonial era Sudanese style building; Timimoun
We loved the colonial era, Sudanese style building of Hotel de l’Oasis Rouge
Courtyard of Hotel de l’Oasis Rouge
Roof top viewing platform; Hotel de l’Oasis Rouge
Robby standing at the lookout point of Hotel de l’Oasis Rouge
The Grand Duchess of Luxembourg spent her time in this room after completing the Grand Erg Circuit in 1926; Hotel de l’Oasis Rouge
Locals chilling outside Hotel de l’Oasis Rouge; Timimoun
Minaret in Timimoun
Marabout (shrine to a saint) in Timimoun
Hustle and bustle of Timimoun market
Shopping at the Timimoun market
Baskets for sale; Timimoun market
Fruits and vegetables for sale; Timimoun market
Fruits for sale; Timimoun market
Market scene in Timimoun
Exterior of the Great Mosque; Timimoun
Billboard in Timimoun
Monument in sleepy Timimoun
An oasis of calm; Camping Roses de Sable in Timimoun
Vehicle from the Spanish 4x4 expedition contingent; Camping Roses de Sable
"Camping Roses de Sable" choices are a room or sleeping under the stars (we opted for a room)
Sunset over the Sebkha; Timimoun
Map detailing the Sebkha Circuit; Camping Roses de Sable
Robby donning his taguelmoust (a Tuareg veil)
Beautiful sand dunes; near Timimoun
Village boy living in the foothills of Tindjillet
Robby gulping fresh water; Tindjillet
Detail of a red dragonfly; Tindjillet
Tindjillet is an old ksar approximately 20 km from Timimoun
Rock formation; Tindjillet
Close up of the rock face; Tindjillet
View of the village at the base of Tindjillet
Its an easy hike to the top of Tindjillet, with nice views of the valley below
Tindjillet is a ksar commanding an imposing view over the desert
Becky admiring the views from Tindjillet
Robby posing with Tindjillet in the background
Remains of another ksar in the distance; near Tindjillet
The road ends suddenly; Ksar of Ighzer
Ruins of Ighzer Ksar
The Side Abd Al Rahman marabout; Ksar Ighzer
Another view of the marabout of Side Abd Al Rahman; Ksar Ighzer
Becky next to a simple abode; Ksar Ighzer
dreamweaver lightbox gallery by v6.0m

After lunch, we passed through Biskra and took the road to El Oued. The mountains were now far behind us and everything was looking more like the desert. Also the temperature had increased a bit. We saw several camels along the way and a large area that appears to be a lake in the wet seasons but more of a salt bed in the dry months. As the sun set it became slightly cooler, but it was still hot enough to be a constant reminder that we are now in the desert. As we came closer to El Oued, the outer villages gave us a preview of the famed domes to expect once we arrived. Also, we could see that more of the local people from this area tend to wear traditional clothing over the western styles seen in the big cities. We arrived to El Oued and stopped at a hotel with just a sign of Arabic script and “Hotel”. They only had basic rooms with no showers, so we continued our search. Next was the Hotel Du Souf, which is famed for being probably the best hotel in the city, complete with a bar, swimming pool and its own tower giving great views over the city. Since we had a late lunch, we just opted to get a bottle of juice and skip dinner. Today was such a long day, and we suspected that the guys were happy to break away from us. We agreed to meet in the lobby at 0900 in the morning to check out the city’s main sites.

07 Oct, Thur: Our air-conditioning unit blasted cold air all night long, and with the drawn curtains, it was dark and comfortable in our room at Du Souf. It was nice to sleep in, and we both felt rested and ready to go. We enjoyed breakfast in the hotel’s decorated restaurant, with time to climb the tower for an overview of the city before linking up with Yousef and Salim at 0900. To our dismay, our guidebooks had both hyped up the view from the tower, but we found the first glance to be a bit anticlimactic and disappointing as we didn’t get a good overview of the city of 1000 domes as expected. Salim wanted to know what we were interested in seeing, and we figured we’d start off with the museum, followed by a wander to the souq. The locals were checking us out hard as we made our way on foot to the city museum, which unfortunately for us was closed (and had no opening hours listed). Undeterred, we ran into an official who worked at a nearby cultural center and he gave us a list of recommendations on what to see and do for the day. Our first stop was the Environment Center/Tourism office, which had a nice courtyard, flanked by domed offices. The manager was not in, but we were able to wander around the courtyard at will, taking photos of the scenic area. Afterwards, we strolled through a plaza with a monument honoring the Algerian Heroes in the resistance against the French, surrounded by a wall of tiled murals depicting various scenes throughout Algeria’s history. From the right vantage point, this area proved to be perfect for taking some scenic shots, and we took our time framing our photos. On our way to the Souq, Robby inadvertently took a photo of the police headquarters (it is located down a scenic colonnade full of domed arches), and the policemen politely asked him to delete the offending photo, wishing us a pleasant day. Wandering the narrow alleyways of the souq proved to be the highlight of our morning, with friendly locals asking us to take their portraits, and colorful fruit, clothing, and spices catching our attention as we rounded each corner. It would have been easy to get lost here, but Salim knew we were keen on visiting the Sidi Salem Mosque’s minaret tower, so he led us there after giving us ample time to wander around looking at the various products for sale in the market. We were highly pleased with the vantage point of the Sidi Salem Mosque, which in both of our opinions gave a much better vantage point over the city than the Grand Souf’s hotel tower. While the sight of new buildings being constructed, telephone wires, and satellite dishes does detract from the vision of “the city of 1000 domes”, we nonetheless did get some beautiful vistas from the tower, and were glad that we made the detour to visit this special city. Afterwards, Salim led us to El Oued’s zaioua, which is a place for Muslims to learn how to develop themselves and increase their understanding of Islam. We met an English speaking school director, Mouhi, who was a member of this zaioua, and he helped to translate details about this complex. Apparently, there are three main zaiouas in this region, with centers at El Oued, Guemar, and Tamelhat. Mouhi offered to escort us to the center at Guemar later this afternoon if we wished, and invited us to pay a quick visit to his school if we were interested. It was lunchtime after our visit to the zaioua, so we stopped by a local diner and had a delicious meal of grilled lamb chops (our new favorite meat in Algeria!), followed by an afternoon siesta from 1-4 pm as it was suffocatingly hot outside. At 4:30, we linked back up with the guys and stopped by Mouhi’s school for a brief visit, before heading over to Guemar. There, we were introduced to the friendly manager, Nadir, who spoke decent English and gave us an in depth tour of Guemar’s lovely zaioua, allowing us to take photos and explaining the rationale behind this center. It was all very interesting and he was full of knowledge that he freely imparted to us with absolutely no expectations or ulterior motives. He even gave us a helpful pamphlet (in French and Arabic) entitled “Les Principaux Monuments Historiques de la Zaouia Tijania de Guemar” that had before and after photos of many of the renovated buildings in the zaioua complex. We enjoyed our long visit here, and afterwards, back in El Oued, asked Mouhi to join us for dinner (steak and fries). We stopped by a coffee/tea house afterwards, but no mint tea was served, so we had cola instead, while Robby puffed on a sheesha pipe (licorice flavored). We asked Mouhi to stay in touch with us via email, and were fascinated to have met and talked to this 30 year old, self-taught (English), Kung Fu fighting, school director with dreams to visit China, the UK and USA. It was a very pleasant day and we crashed before midnight, with plans to meet Salim and Yousef at 0800 tomorrow for the long drive to Ghardaia.

8 Oct, Fri: To our surprise, we all were ready to go on time this morning. We had an uneventful 400 km drive ahead of us (El Oued – Ghardaia), and briefly mentioned the possibility of visiting the zaioua at Tamelhat along the way, but Salim informed us that we were taking a different route and would have to detour to include the zaioua so we agreed to pass on it. We were able to stop by an old, abandoned mud-built mosque, whose minaret tower was still intact, affording nice 360 degree views of the surrounding desert and palm trees. Other than that, we made great time as Salim and Yousef passed off driving duties, pulling into Ghardaia at around 2:30 pm where we had lunch at a street side restaurant. It seemed that we were in no rush to head into the city, but we pressed onward, as we wanted to visit at least one of the M’zab Valley cities before sunset. First, we had to check into the hotel, and the simple Hotel Le Rym on Ave du 1er Novembre met our needs (air conditioning, hot water for 2500 Dirham). Salim and Yousef had to check into their hotel and pray, so we linked back up at around 5 pm to head towards Melika, which apparently has great views back towards Ghardaia and the entire M’zab Valley. We liked Melika, a small city whose inhabitants number 5000. The small streets are easy to navigate, and the miniscule square (adjacent to the mud built mosque) were full of curious children (who ran away at the mere sight of our cameras), white robed women who only had a single eye uncovered and exposed to the world, and quaint alleyways that reminded us of the Casbah in Algiers. A friendly local who spoke passable English introduced himself as our local Melika “guide” and offered to take us to a traditional Mozabite home. We happily accepted, and the mud built home amazed us with its simplicity, functionality, and beauty. It is perched on the side of the road and without a local guide, we would have walked right past it. At the end of our tour, our guide wished us well and took off, with no expectations of financial compensation. We read in our guidebooks that locals will often serve as a liaison between tourists and Mozabites to ensure that tourists respect and follow the rules in each city. For example, even though the women who are covered from head to toe beneath a white gauzy sheet are extremely photogenic, it is forbidden to photograph them or else grave insult would occur. We abided by the rules as best we could (a few of the ladies are in our photos, but just shots of them walking away, honest), and Becky was able to interact with several teenaged Melika girls who were curiously checking her out. Our visit to Melika was too short, but all good things have to come to an end. The sun was setting, and Yousef drove us up to a lookout point to watch the last rays of sun glisten over the valley…absolutely sublime. We rounded out the rest of our day with dinner at a nearby restaurant, having our favorite dish (lamb chops).

9 Oct, Sat: After a simple breakfast, we linked up with Salim to head towards the Ghardaia market at around 0845. First, we made a quick detour to the Hotel M’zab, which looked abandoned but had a nice view overlooking Ghardaia. From there, it was a short walk towards the main market square of Ghardaia, where we literally felt like we were crossing from one section of the city through a magic portal that transported us to yesteryear, with men and women in traditional clothes milling about the extremely photogenic square. A turbaned, grizzled old man was pushing a cart full of onions through narrow entrance, and we had to squeeze past him before entering the square and could fully appreciate the sights before us. Thankfully, Salim gave us as much time as we wanted to hang around the square taking as many photos as we desired. To our surprise, the inhabitants of Ghardaia were not averse to seeing a camera pointed in their direction, and we received no complaints or menacing stares as we snapped away. In one section of the square, a white meeting area looked inviting to sit and absorb the sights, so we eventually made our way over there. A village elder led his donkey to a post near the meeting spot, and tied his extremely antagonized donkey to it, despite the baring of its teeth. Young boys pushed carts of water bottles filled with water from the village well through the square, and the entire square was the hubbub of noise and activity as the locals busily went about their morning. We read that Ghardaia is the commercial hub of the Algerian Sahara, and judging by the way business was brisk, we could easily see how merchants were either stocking up on goods or offloading them for sale. Afterwards, Salim led us down a small alleyway known as the food market section of Ghardaia, full of fresh and preserved produce, spices, meat and fish. It was almost sensory overload with the sights and smells of this wonderful section, with vibrant colorful fruits in every direction, wafts of fresh mint leaves, the clamor of merchants calling out their deals of the day, and shoppers bustling to and fro with their shopping bags in tow. We really enjoyed walking through here and chatting with the friendly vendors. To see the rest of Ghardaia, we headed back to the main square where an official city guide had to be hired. Since there was another group of tourists already formed (3 Spaniards who could speak both French and English), we were paired up with them and given a grand tour of the old city. Our guide explained the reasons for the unique architecture of this region, and why the Mozabite mosques were so simply designed both inside and outside. We were advised not to take photos of the inhabitants, and told that in order to visit the M’zab Valley, all visitors must be dressed appropriately, with no shorts or tank tops allowed. We thoroughly enjoyed the visit and tour, and felt that it was awesome that all tourists are forced to hire a local guide, as who better to explain any questions about the cities that the locals that live there themselves? Our tour lasted the better part of the morning, and to our surprise, we realized that we had spent over 4 and a half hours in Ghardaia. It was lunch time when we linked back up with Salim and met Fouad, the secretary for Tanezrouft Voyages who is based out of In Salah but was on his way to Algiers. We all lunched together and decided to take a siesta during the heat of the day, with an afternoon excursion out to Beni Isguen in time for the afternoon auction. Our afternoon meeting time of 4:30 came and went, and no sign of our guide. By 5 pm, we were a bit perturbed, but Salim and Fouad came rushing to our hotel and escorted us directly to a taxi that rushed us off to Beni Isguen so we were placated by the gesture (the original plan was to walk to the old city so at least this saved us a little bit of the time that we had lost waiting for them). Once in Beni Isguen, we had to hire a local guide, Bechar, who spoke decent English and gave us a great overview of his city, patiently answering all of our questions. His friendly demeanor and earnestness in answering everything clearly and with elaborate examples was greatly appreciated, as we felt that we had learned a lot from him and gotten much out of our visit to the city. Photos of the inhabitants are strictly forbidden, and we didn’t want to disrespect our guide or the local customs of the city, so we were extremely conscientious about when and where we pointed our cameras. Thus, as we examined our photos later that night, Beni Isguen looks like a ghost town, with not a soul in sight! The best views were definitely from the city’s main tower, Borj Cheikh el-Hadj, and we had to wait while our guide called a fellow guide for the key to the tower in order to summit to the top. The vast swath of green in the distance is Beni Isguen’s vast palmeraie, with many of the city’s inhabitants owning a plot of land inside the city’s walls (their main residence) and a section of land outside in the palmeraie, which is a popular spot for families to spend their weekends to relax amidst the greenery. At the culmination of the tour, we were led to a museum housed in a typical Beni Isguen dwelling, with lots of interesting relics and traditional carpets on display. We ended up buying an English DVD for only 150 Dirhams that gave an overview of the highlights of the M’zab Valley, as we missed the auction at the market in Beni Isguen (held daily from around 5 pm until sunset and is indeed a popular social event for the city’s inhabitants to mingle, gossip and shop) as it doesn’t occur on the weekends (Fridays and Saturdays). Fouad and Salim were waiting for us at the end of the tour, and we headed directly to a coffee/tea house where the men of the city were relaxing after the last prayer of the day. Mint tea was in order, and Fouad gave us our e-tickets for our domestic Algerian flights. Dinner rounded out our busy day, and we were saddened to realize that the water supply at our hotel was cut off at night. Despite the night receptionist’s promise to turn the water back on, we had to wait until the morning to take a shower…not a great feeling especially since we felt a bit grimy after having walked all over the city today.

10 Oct, Sun: We were happy to wake up with access to running water, relishing in our hot water showers. After a simple breakfast of bread and coffee, we stored our bags at reception, and linked up with the guys to explore El Atteuf. En route, we stopped to take photos at an elaborate monument built as an example of traditional M’zab buildings at a roundabout just outside of Ghardaia. Our guidebook suggested it is a popular photo stop for locals, but we were the only ones there early in the morning. Since we weren’t visiting the M’zab city of Bou Noura, Yousef pulled over so that we could take some photos of it from afar, which suited us just fine. Apparently, this city is best appreciated from a distance, and it looked quite scenic in our photos. Next stop was El Atteuf, the oldest of the M’zab Valley cities. As with the other cities in the valley, we were required to hire a local guide and comply with the rules of no smoking, no inappropriate clothing and no photos of local people. Our guide was Mhamed Brahim, a loud, boisterous, elderly gentlemen who is a real jokester. He could only speak French, leaving Salim to translate for us into English, but we caught the gist of much of what he was saying. He led us through the city, showing us the extensions of the city, as well as the original core. The highlight of this village is undoubtedly the views overlooking the 700 year old mosque of Sheikh Sidi Brahim, which we were allowed to enter at the culmination of our tour. Afterwards, we headed back to Ghardaia, stopping by a café to get some bottled water and mint tea. Our final payment of the tour (in Euros) was given to Fouad, and to our surprise, he didn’t count the balance in front of us, handing us a receipt indicating payment in full. It was a bit disconcerting, as we would have preferred to have him confirm the entire amount was in order, instead of taking our word for it. If there were any problems, we would have been long gone before he would have discovered it! While we were sipping tea, Yousef was busy gathering our bags from the hotel, before returning back to collect us for our onward drive to El Golea. We bid Fouad goodbye before heading out towards our next destination, stopping at a few lookout points to take a few, final photos of the gorgeous M’zab Valley. The drive was rather mundane, although there were some highlights of spectacular sand dunes, which we had not seen yet on our trip. At one of the routine checkpoints, a soldier asked for our passports so he could write down our details and ensure that we were traveling with a legitimate (and authorized) tour agency. It was a monotonous drive to El Golea, so Yousef and Salim switched positions for a while. Lunch was an unexpected surprise, with our road side café having a pet monkey, several peacocks, geese, ducks, and awfully cute and rambunctious kittens. The food was good too, consisting of lamb, chicken and freshly fried French fries. The only annoying things about this stop were the incessant flies, which went bonkers and flew around us like kamikaze pilots when our food arrived. The monkey waited for the perfect opportunity when Robby was in range to attack him (there was an opening in the cage where it was able to reach out to rip his t-shirt), and Becky became a hit with the animals when she fed them her leftover fries. The remainder of the drive was uneventful, but we did notice a large, new prison being built on the outskirts of El Golea. Salim told us that he had never overnighted in El Golea before, claiming the people here were bad news. Of course, Yousef had a different opinion, since he is from El Golea! Our hotel for the night was the simple Hotel Vieux Ksar, which had clean, comfortable rooms with AC and hot water but no toilets (there were only common area toilets that had to be shared between all the guests…not what we wanted since we were both having stomach problems!) Since it was only for one night, we decided to suck it up rather than make a big deal about it, and we had some free time before meeting the guys for a drive through tour of the city at 1730. We drove past the 9th Century Ksar, the city museum, the massive palmeraie, and finally stopped in the city center to join the locals in their ritual of sitting in the city gardens, sipping on mint tea, and checking out all passersby. Yousef explained the large number of young men hanging out with seemingly nothing to do. This region had been plagued with unemployment, with many of the youth possessing a high education but lacking sufficient jobs. Thus, an entire generation of bored, educated men who eventually would get into trouble had sprung up. The biggest industry near this area was the highly profitable petroleum sector, but they hired their employees from Northern Algeria, and the locals were extremely dissatisfied at being unable to secure work in their own backyard. Thus, Salim said he avoided this city like the plague as petty crime was rife and the people had bad attitudes. We didn’t witness this for ourselves, but it did feel a bit disconcerting having several dozen men checking us out at all times. We returned back to our hotel while Yousef and Salim prayed, and waited for 8 pm to attend dinner at Yousef’s parent’s house, where his mom had prepared her legendary couscous. While we normally dislike eating so late, dinner was fantastic and worth the wait, consisting of couscous, chorba, grilled and stewed lamb chops (to perfection) and onions/tomatoes. It was our best meal yet in Algeria, and we felt so lucky to have been invited to dine with a local family. Yousef’s four sisters were hilarious, pulling Becky into the house and speaking to her in Arabic, French and broken English, but the gist of the conversation revolved around them wanting her to stay with the family for several days, and tasking Becky with finding the eldest sister an American Muslim to marry. After discovering that Becky had been married for 8 years but had no children, they gave her a present of a necklace and said it that Insha’Allah, children would be forthcoming. In return, Becky gifted them with bracelets, and listened as Yousef’s father played the flute around the camp fire. Several strong cups of mint tea later, we decided to leave and catch some sleep, as Yousef had a long drive tomorrow and we wanted him well rested. We took glorious hot water showers and crashed. During the night, we lost power twice, and each time awoke to the room feeling like a furnace (the AC didn’t kick back on automatically), and as a result, had a fitful night of sleep.

11 Oct, Mon: We woke up at 0730, packed up and went to breakfast. After having only bread the past few days it was nice to finally get a little more variety. The hotel served yogurt, juice, coffee, croissants, French bread and butter with jam. After breakfast we checked out and took a ride over to El Golea’s old Ksar (El Menia), which was built in the 10th century by the Berber people. While it appeared to have been given a face lift in the past 10 years or so, it was still crumbling away under our feet. There was no fence, gate or anything keeping it from being entered and climbed over at will. Even as it continues to crumble away, there is still enough intact to get a feel of what it would have been like in its heyday. There are layers of rock and soft green colored material up the side of the hill. People dug dwellings into the green material and made frontal walls of mud and stone. It is very photogenic and gives great views of the surrounding area if you climb to the top. Next we drove a couple of kilometers out of town to visit the grave of Charles de Foucauld. According to Lonely Planet, he was somewhat of a playboy when he was in the French Army stationed in North Africa. The faith of the Muslim people really touched him and when he returned to France, changed his ways and became a priest. Eventually he returned to the Sahara to spread his faith but only managed to convert one person in his life. He was killed in 1916 by rebels. The Eglise Saint-Joseph was built in his honor and his grave is in the cemetery nearby with about 20 other graves. Passing back through town, Salim grabbed us some water, cokes and cookies to get us through the long drive which lay ahead. We stopped by Yousef’s house to fill up his water jug and he grabbed some fresh dates for us. His father was outside and came over to bid us a final farewell. The landscape across the desert was much like the previous ride with the scenery changing from dunes, to big canyons to scrubs of desert bushes and even a tree once in a while. The road was in good condition making the ride quite comfortable. Wind blew sand across the road, but nothing heavy enough to slow us down. We stopped for lunch at one of the only diners between El Golea and Timimoun. Our lunch special of choice was cold roasted chicken, stale bread and some local soda that is similar to root beer. Lunch was followed by some strong warm tea while the guys prayed. We continued on and arrived in Timimoun at 1600. The guys were trying to scope out a place to stay and we read that Hotel Gourara was great for a view out over the desert. We went to the hotel but it was closed for renovations. The next choice was Camping Roses de Sable, which is actually more of a hotel with some straw huts outside for those that want to “camp”. We were given a clean and comfortable basic room with private bath. There was a Spanish group of about 10 with several 4×4 trucks and motorcycles already at the hotel. They all had stickers on their trucks. We were curious about what they are doing as we haven’t seen many foreigners and are dying to talk to other travelers about their experiences here. Since there was a strong wind and dust blowing, we opted to relax in the room until dinner. At 1830 we met the guys and drove into town. The wind calmed down a bit and there was now a fresh breeze blowing. Salim selected a diner and we ordered the obligatory roasted chicken with fries. After having days of unsettled stomachs, we are still not comfortable with trying too much unfamiliar food. We saw the Spanish group and the ladies visited the pharmacy next to our diner. It appeared that they were having a little trouble conveying what they wanted to purchase, but they eventually got what they needed. Our waiter put a jug of water on the table and a crazy bum walked up to our table and drank half the water (without saying a word to us), dribbling it all down his shirt. Then he moved on to the group of Spanish guys standing in the parking lot and attempted to shake hands with them as they all stepped back in confusion. The bum took a half smoked cigarette from one of the guys and continued on his way. Just after we finished our dinner, the crazy bum came by again just in time to grab some scraps of chicken off our plates before the waiter came to take it away. It seemed that he does this frequently as he had perfect timing for each visit. After dinner we had a tea and headed back to the hotel. We agreed to meet in the morning at 0900.

12 Oct, Tues: The large group of Spanish 4×4 expedition members was loud and annoying in the morning, trumpeting around the campsite as if they owned the place. We quickly wondered when they would get their desert raid show on the road, but found out from Salim (who found out from their local guide) that they were “camping” here for another 4 nights. When we propped our window open to let in a breeze, we noticed that one of the group members had stuck his cot, mattress and sleeping bag right outside, so he had literally spent the night just inches away from us. Breakfast was larger than we had become accustomed to, with plenty of yogurt, biscuits, chocolate croissants, juice and coffee available, self serve. We checked out the desert map on display at Camping Roses de Sable to scope out our route around Sebkha Lake (which has essentially all dried up and is now a large salt bed), and asked Salim where he planned on taking us. According to both our guidebooks, one of the highlights of the Sebkha Circuit is Tindjillet, a ksar commanding an imposing view over the desert. One of the guidebooks indicated that Tindjillet is about 50 km from Timimoun. Salim initially stated it was too far away, but we would go if there was time. Not wanting to argue, we decided to just go with the flow to see how our day would turn out. We first had a brief stop in Timimoun, while Salim bought some water and gifted us with taguelmoust (a Tuareg veil) much to our delight and surprise. We had been scoping out these simple veils worn by almost every man in this region, vowing to buy our very own and Salim must have overheard our conversation, picking a blue one for Robby and a pink one for Becky. Onward we went, stopping about 20 km outside of Timimoun to ask the locals where Tindjillet was. They pointed off in a direction, and we soon pulled into a remote village that had an imposing ksar soaring above it. However, we wondered if this was indeed Tindjillet as Salim had professed, since according to our Bradt guidebook, there was a 30 km discrepancy. (We later confirmed at the tourist information office in Timimoun that the site really was Tindjillet, so our guidebook was way off on this one!) No matter, this stop was equally worthwhile, as we were able to see how the locals channel their most valuable resource (water) into orderly irrigation channels to help them water their plants and palm trees. We were able to hike up to the ksar and above it, affording us fine views of the valley and beyond. It is shocking to consider that there are literally dozens of similar ksars surround the oasis villages near the Sebkha Lake, all built by Berbers hundreds of years ago. After Tindjillet, we drove a short distance to one of the most popular stops on the Sebkha Circuit, pulling into the Ksar of Ighzer, which looked very well preserved (an Italian team had spent some time renovating it). Immediately adjacent to the ksar is the Side Abd Al Rahman marabout which is painted white and stands out next to the red hues of the its surrounds. It was lunchtime after we explored the ksars, so we headed back into town and had lunch at a restaurant near the gas station. Surprisingly, the food was excellent, with all the dishes prepared piping hot. After the obligatory mint tea, siesta was in order, with an agreement to meet back up at 5 pm. It was hot in our room, so we cracked open the windows for a breeze, and took a short nap. Later in the afternoon, we put the 4×4 into test mode, engaging the four wheel drive as we zoomed about the remnants of Sebkha Lake. It seemed as if we were trying to find a route deeper into the desert, but after about 30 minutes, we were surprised to see Yousef pull out towards town. A brief stop was made at a car garage, so we assumed that some indicator light must have appeared on the truck. However, after it became apparent that we were wandering aimlessly around Timimoun, Robby finally asked in an exasperated tone as to what we were doing. Salim looked a bit surprised and said we were exploring the small neighborhoods, but Robby was insistent on catching the sunset over the dunes. So Yousef stepped on the gas, got us to a lookout point just as the sun began to set, and all was well. Since we were already in town, we decided to hang out with some mint tea before dinner, and afterwards, ate at the same restaurant we had dined at the night before. More mint tea followed dinner, and it was late by the time we returned to our room. No such thing as an early night in Algeria!

13 Oct, Wed: The Spanish group has definitely outstayed its welcome…loud, obnoxious, and boy, were we glad to be leaving the camp site this morning to get away from these people. Even the local guides complained about their complete lack of consideration in keeping the noise down as folks were trying to sleep at night. Since the group had risen early, the breakfast buffet was barren, as if a swarm of locusts had passed through the restaurant and laid it bare. Thankfully, one of the hotel staff members had managed to squirrel away two yogurts for us, and several croissants. After our light breakfast, we checked out and headed into Timimoun. Our first stop was to the awesome Hotel de l’Oasis Rouge (the unmissable building on av 1er Novembre), a beautifully constructed, colonial era Sudanese style building. Entrance is free, and the interior is stunning. The lucky inhabitants today are the Timimoun Cultural center, as the building has long since ceased functioning as a hotel. One of the doors down the hallway was labeled as the guest room for the Grand Duchess of Luxembourg, during her inauguration circuit of the Grand Erg Occidental in 1926! The rooftop offered decent views of the compact city, but we were saddened that we were unable to scale any higher buildings to get a bird’s eye view of the city. Our next stop was to the Porte du Soudan, one of the city’s original entrances. We had seen an antique photo of the gate at the tourist office, and can attest that it looks exactly the same today as it appeared decades ago. We rounded out our tour of Timimoun at the market, where vendors were conducting brisk business in one of the largest markets before heading further south in the Sahara. There were lots of photo opportunities, and we tried to be discreet when snapping away. Lunch was a repeat of yesterday’s venue, where again we had our favorite lamb chops meal.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *