Crossing Over

As soon as we had crossed into Algeria, it was clear that something wasn’t right. Our shared taxi was slowing down and speeding up, and staggering from side to side like an overloaded, drunken donkey. To the side, lay a sharp, deep drop from the mountain to the surprisingly verdant valley.

We had eventually managed to find a shared taxi leaving from just outside the Medina in Tunis and had been careful to definitely agree the price before we left (60 Tunisian Dinars). All the way from Tunis, and up the steep mountain road to the border post, the driver had seemed fine. Once we had finally cleared customs and officially entered into Algeria, he seemed to lose his mind.

As we continued to veer from side to side, we received a good beeping from a car coming up from behind. For a minute or so, the driver seemed to regain his senses but as soon as the other car had passed, it all went wrong again. While drifting around a bend – on the wrong side of the road – he suddenly swerved to avoid a dozing cow. I began to wonder if everybody simply went mental as soon as they entered Algeria. This theory was starting to grow on me – it could go a long way to explaining the 100,000 or so killed in the nearly ten year long civil war – when we almost drove into a warning sign (with a picture of a cow on it). By now, I really felt like I ought to say something – I didn’t want to spend my holiday being dead. As I leant forward, I noticed that he had a mobile phone in pieces on his lap. He was struggling to put it back together – presumably with a new SIM card – and clearly had more important things on his mind than actually looking where we were going.

After another couple of hours of driving through unexpectedly green farmland and occasional outbursts of semi-built and semi-abandoned buildings, we arrived at the crumbling Mediterranean port city of Annaba. The driver parked badly down the back streets and walked us up to the Hotel Saf-Saf. We handed over the agreed sixty dinars but he wanted another forty. I’m guessing that he took us up to the hotel reception so that he could pocket a commission but they weren’t having it. From what little French I could work out, he asked the hotel receptionist to tell us to give him another forty and they asked us if we could give him another twenty. We said no and started filling out the checking in form as best we could. He then asked for ten. I eventually gave him my remaining Tunisian coins (around six dinars) to get him to go away, and a big smile broke out on his face. ‘Good luck’ he said, in English, and cheerfully left us to it.

T Coote

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