So, this whole trip started with the romantic idea of four people hopping into a car and just driving to Algeria. This notion then dissipated pretty quickly when we realised the small ton of paperwork, permissions, forms, photocopies, more forms and letters it actually takes to obtain an Algerian visa especially when you don’t live in the country you need to be in to get the visa. Just the time alone, spent in photo booths trying to get a half decent set of identification photos means there can be nothing spontaneous about going to Algeria. Bureaucratic administration takes the shine off the romance.
Here we are six months after the initial trip had been planned and there are no longer four of us, there are twelve. At one point, to an outsider, it was looking a little like a Saga holiday and I think I was one of the young ones, which at my age is pretty comforting. But slowly some of the elders dropped out to be replaced by a more youthful squad. But that isn’t really the point of this trip as the common denominator of the group is that we are all academics with a passion for North African history and archaeology.
I will avoid using the names of my fellow travellers not for legal reasons (they are eminent academics not rock stars afterall) but just because it doesn’t feel right. Besides it’s day one and I don’t need enemies so soon into the trip. Suffice to say they have come from Universities all over UK, Europe and America to converge on Algeria.
The day of departure and disaster was quick to strike. We have one traveller stuck on snowy tarmac in Ireland, others changing plans and racing through the Channel Tunnel to avoid snow delays and another with us, quite hot under the collar, and rightly so, as their visa runs out 3 hours before their return flight resulting in an unhelpful exchange in the airport and the purchase of a new flight. Strong coffee required.
The five of us leaving from Rome became six at the airport departure gate as we met up with a group member fresh faced from their journey from the States. Annoyingly fresh faced in fact. Given that I had evidently had more sleep than them, and recently consumed coffee it seemed a little unfair that I was still wearing that “I didn’t know that those early hours existed on a saturday” face.
Algiers airport. Clean and functional which is what you want from an airport. But after 5 hours clean and functional wears thin. And actually, the National airport next to the International one is only functional. And that wears even thinner.
We have occupied a corner of the airport, managed to break two chairs that are seemingly made of aluminium foil in their robustness and inhaled the smoke of a man successfully smoking a cigar and cigarette simultaneously. Oh you can smoke in Algiers National airport. There’s a whopping great sign blatently telling you otherwise but no, no you can definitely ignore it. Polite banter between the group has ceased and hour four has seen the group revert to the heads down position whether it be to read, snooze, battle with an impossible soduku puzzle or tap on the silent keyboard of an iPad. The air is not only thick with smoke it is bursting with the sound of ring tones. Am getting nostalgic for the Nokia one which is proving to be the people’s choice here.
We have now arrived in Constantine via a plane that was no stranger to dealing with turbulence. Terrifying. But we are here. My pjs are soaked as I watched my bag sit on wet tarmac for 30mins but at least was entertained by mini riot by the folk that sat at the back of the plane demonstrating against this injustice. They too, must have wet pjs. Continuing on the comedic theme, there was the most amusing baggage carousel at Constantine airport. And when I say carousel I actually mean about 8 meters of a moving belt in one straight line. The bags were fed through a hole in the outside wall and if you could not for any reason snaffle your bag within the 8 meter distance it just promptly fell of the end and lay there. I was nearly too busy laughing to save my own bag from a similar fate. Kharma.
All I can tell of Constantine so far as I have yet to see it in daylight is that it is perched on a precipitous hill surrounded by gorges. It was one of the most important cities in Numidia and was called ‘Cirta’ by the Phoenicians which means ‘city’. Inspired.