After refusing to buy the ticket to Alicante, I was now needing to get a ticket to Almería. Ferries go there from Oran every Monday, which being a Thursday would have meant waiting for 5 days, or riding 180km to Ghazaouet where they left on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Not wanting to impose on my host by staying longer in Oran it was on to Ghazaouet. There was apparently an auberge 70km away in Ain Temouchent so after nipping into town to buy my ticket, I was on my way west again. The gendarmerie and police who had followed me at every step of the way until I entered Oran, continued not to care as I went past a few and they ignored my existence – a wonderful feeling.
With Algeria being so cheap, I decided to make the most of it and get a hair cut before I left. I’d tried to find a barbers in Oran, but not been too successful in my brief walk so when I stopped in a town to buy some milk and saw a barber just over the road it was a definite visit. There were giant football posters all over the ceiling, and I was 3rd in line as I sat there in my shorts and got some funny looks. Thankfully the guy in front of me got pretty much what I wanted, a super short cut and so when I sat down I asked for the same. The man, called Salif, who had been before me spoke to me in French and it turned out he was a PE teacher and apologised for apparently talking about me when I entered – something I of course had no idea about. After a brief chat about the trip, and then giving me his Facebook information, he said his farewells and left. When I tried to pay for my haircut, it turned out that Muhammed had paid for my haircut. I can’t even pay for those!
Arriving in Ain Temouchent it began to drizzle and be cold, as I tried to find the auberge that wasn’t marked either on my GPS or on Google Maps. I got some confused directions from the police who I actually struggled to find, the police presence in the west seems to be much less, and eventually arrived at the auberge. Or well, kind of. It turned out that the Auberge had been closed for a few years and would re-open one day in the future but who knows when. The guy who was explaining this to me certainly had no idea, he was mainly focused on wondering why the police had not known. He suggested a hotel, but I was eventually by myself and wanted to actually try my regular style of speaking to random people.
Riding out of town, I got to a petrol station and pulled in. There was a building that seemed to be under construction that I asked an attendant about, but he seemed to say no and gestured me towards the café. Even with the prices of coffee having increased in this western area, from 20 dinars to 30/40, I figured that a single coffee wasn’t going to break me. It turned out to be an amazing idea, as when I ordered from the 3 men standing behind the café one of them spoke to me in English. Mohammed had studied British literature in university and could actually speak quite well too although he was out of practice. This of course meant that I wasn’t allowed to pay for the coffee. The other two guys spoke no French, nereid English, but now they had a translator they used him to ask me lots about my trip until they decided that they needed a photo with me. I went to stand by my bicycle, and as well as posing with those two guys individually, I ended up posing with about 10 other people, customers from inside the café who all wanted to get a picture with me and to congratulate me on having ridden across Algeria. This was the kind of experience that I had been looking for in Algeria, and it was finally happening.
After a multitude of photos, I was offered some food, and then some more. I also got to meet Mohammed’s uncle, who owned the café and when he heard I didn’t know where I was sleeping (that had kind of slipped my mind) he told me that I could definitely stay there at the petrol station. As it was bouncing down, I was happy when this was clarified as being inside rather than in my tent. The offer got increased even more when I went to the guard room, where the guy attending the pumps during the night would stay, and after waiting for a while I was asked if I’d rather stay in a hotel. Unlike the earlier suggestion, this was an invitation and so I said sure why not, thank you. We put my bike behind the shutters of the café as it was closed up for the night, and I was driven the 5km back into town to a hotel. Life was so much better without the police.
Mohammed picked me up around 8 and took me back to the café where we chatted more and had breakfast together for an hour. I didn’t have much of a goal for the day. My ferry left the next day at 2pm but it being only 90km away I had plenty of time to dawdle which I definitely did, and even doing so had time to meet some lovely people who were once again attempting to talk to me, especially at the restaurant where I stopped for lunch. My main thoughts during the day were again about how much more I’d have enjoyed the country if I’d not had the police or gendarmerie with me. I found a decent place to camp about 4km before the ferry, as the road dropped into town there was a bit of space to the right where I ended up above the road and out of sight.
I was less than 100m from the road, but so well hidden that I stayed in the tent until around 10am, even though I was close enough to town that I could hear the call to prayers from two different mosques (that started about 10 seconds apart each time). After packing up and dropping the last couple of kilometres into town, I made sure that everything was OK with the ferry, and spent my last dinar on super cheap coffees and a ridiculously cheesy pizza for €2. In the central plaza, there was a church, but as in Oran it had been converted into a bookstore rather than been demolished.
Going through the police checkpoint at the ferry proved a little confusing for them. They asked me where I’d stayed, and after letting them know I’d camped a few km away the night before, but otherwise mainly stayed in auberges and hotels (I had no desire to get any of the people who had hosted me involved again so they weren’t spoken about). They asked for the name of the hotel I had stayed in the night before, so I explained what had happened, and how I had no idea of what the hotel was called but that they could feel free to get in touch with the police who had come over to the hotel to register me that night so should have a record of me. Knowing it would take a while, I sat on the ground, and ate the cheesy pizza much to the amusement of the other police who were watching me. After 20 minutes, they finished with me and I was free to go.
Of course the 2pm ferry, wasn’t ready to load until past 1:30, and so I got to talk to another policeman who was standing around controlling the queue. When I asked him about his perception of the danger in his country, he said that it wasn’t so bad other than a few specific areas and was very surprised to hear about the constant escort during my trip telling me he thought it was excessive and hopefully I could come back another time to visit other parts without the police. Maybe it was just a regional mentality? I have no idea. I boarded the ferry, which didn’t depart until almost 4pm, on my way to Spain and away from the madness of Algeria.