I´ve tried, and failed, multiple times to visit Algeria. The land border between Morocco and Algeria is (mostly) closed. There wasn´t a visa available for Icelanders or Canadians in Tunisia, since Algerian embassies only process visas for residents of the country they´re in, so London threw the same answer in my face and told me to ask Stockholm since Reykjavik doesn´t have an Algerian embassy.
I succeeded in Sweden and flew to Algiers via Barcelona. It’s a short, one hour flight over a small piece of the Mediterranean, and arriving there wasn´t different than arriving in Marseilles – the French architecture and French-Arab street language, with a mix of other African nationalities, felt like I was at home in Southern France.
The goals in Algeria were simple – the live and enjoy the city life of Algeirs with two locals, our couchsurfing hosts. Mary and Daniel were both Algerian, born and raised in various cities, but had both spent a significant amount of time living and studying in Paris. They lived in a 12th floor apartment in a highrise on a hilltop overlooking the city, the port and the sea. Most of the outside walls were glass windows, offering spectacular views and light all the time, although one had broken and wind and rain could meander its way inside anytime.
We wanted to find the best local food, and in a city of 3 million, there were only three restaurants worth trying: El Djenina, Le Caid, and El essaoura (all with doorbells you had to ring to enter). The secret was that the best food in Algiers is found in the homes of Algerian´s kitchens. We shopped at the fish market and cooked BBQ meat at home, with Algerian wine to pair. We bar hopped too all the dark and grungy corners of the city, the few places where mostly older men gather to drink in smoky bars, where no windows or doors were left open to avoid the taboo of being seen in a bar. The restaurants that served beer or wine would only serve it with food, but you could buy shots without eating since their liquor license permitted serving aperitifs and digestives without food on the table.
We were there for Halloween, which noone seemed to notice since it was overshadowed by the November 1st holiday, which celebrates the Anniversary of the Revolution. Not everyone was sure which revolution or even which victory it refers to, but at midnight there were dozens of canons fired into the sea, not all at once but one at a time in a slow, melodramatic kind of way, with 45 seconds of fireworks in a far away square. It was a new and unusual way for me to spend Halloween.
The couchsurfers took us on a walking tour of the Casbah, were we walked past decaying buildings and piles of trash. The old town of Algeirs was once nominated as a UNESCO World Heritage site listing, but after a whole bunch of money was granted and thrown into the project, only a handful of buildings were renovated and the rest of the money seemingly vanished into thin air. While passing some ruins on rue Barbarossa, they told us tales of pirates, and I asked if there were still any pirates. The answer was yes – the government. Hopefully that changes soon, and then the casbah might stay standing long enough for future travelers to enjoy.