Africa, the Outside EdgeMar 15, 2008
Author: KIngsley Holgate
When we last spoke to the Greybeard of African adventure they had been turned back from the Algerian border with Morocco. “Closed even to a camel” he told us by satellite phone – “it’s a bitter blow for the expedition, so we had to travel all the way back to Tangier and take a ferry over the Straights of Gibraltar to Algeciras in Spain.” Herewith some scribbled notes from the expedition journal.
6 February 2008
A detour Across the Straights of Gibraltar
It’s a dark 5 am in the morning and the Moroccan customs are a bit edgy. The Rif area of Morocco grows one of the worlds largest hashish crops and Tangier is renowned as a smuggling port. An icy cold wind blows across the Mediterranean.
The three South African registered Landies nicknamed John Ross (after the little shipwrecked fellow who had been led by Shaka Zulu’s impi to Delagoa Bay in search of help), this one obviously driven by Ross Holgate; the Landie Mary Kingsley (she was a great Victorian lady explorer who single handed explored the rivers of West Africa), this one driven by Kingsley, the Greybeard and Mashozi (Gill Holgate); and Lady Baker (the great woman explorer who was freed from slavery by the explorer Sir Samuel Baker who she accompanied up the River Nile to Lake Albert) were all lashed down onto the bottom deck whilst the expedition team rams coffee and ham sarmies on the top deck.
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this way for fish and chips
How ridiculous, here we are prisoners of North African politics, having to detour through Spain so as to get to Algeria – it plays hell on our bloody budget, but at least we get to visit the Rock of Gibraltar where under a Union Jack with a Battle of Trafalgar billboard on the wall we’re served big glasses of pale ale and plates of fish and chips at the Lord Nelson pub. We ask ourselves – what the hell are we doing in this little British outpost when we’re supposed to be circumnavigating Africa? – But that’s the Zen of travel and you have to roll with the punches.
9 February 2008
Come what may – destination Algeria
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Cabin fever on the ferry to Oran in Algeria
We’re on the night ferry from Alicante in Spain to Oran in Algeria. People on foot trading with bundles and bags, second hand shoes, babies feeding bottles, cartons of cigarettes, nappies, toilet paper, blankets and mattresses. Those with vehicles have loaded fridges, washing machines, bicycles, furniture and TV sets. Others were trading in brand new cars. Some had cabins, some slept on the decks – the weather was bad and the toilets overflowed.
We stole into the Algerian Port of Oran at sunrise. It was a customs and immigration nightmare. Vehicles being stripped and searched – there’s a terrorist scare on the go and a travel warning. Several bombs have gone off recently and the UN Headquarters in Algiers had been targeted. We are nervous as all hell.
But what a welcome. Aah! Afrique du Sud – South Africans – you are most welcome. There’s security everywhere – flack jackets and automatic weapons, an Algerian security lady – she’s pretty and speaks English, explains: “You’ll need security wherever you go. Foreign visitors are not allowed to move without it.”
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with recent bombings in Algeria we can not travel anywhere without an armed convoy
The boom goes up and we follow the flashing lights of a police escort – one in front of our three Landies and another guarding the rear. Sirens screaming we zigzag through the streets of Oran. Plain clothed men usher us into a parking garage. The gates closed behind us with a clang. Then it’s through a side door with our bags. Djamal the manager of the Hotel Adef speaks delightful English.
“Welcome to Oran, we haven’t seen tourists for years.” We hand over our passports – mothers name, fathers name, date of birth, passport issued when and where, and what your occupation.
Djamal in his mustard coloured jacket grins broadly. We have a restaurant, we have a bar, we have room service, we have the best nightclub in town. Mashozi and you Papa King – we’re giving you the biggest room in the hotel with a view of the sea.
We pull back the curtains to reveal a grain silo, a scrap metal loading dock, hundreds of shipping containers of different colours, a tall brick chimney, the ferry that’s just brought us from Spain and beyond that the Mediterranean. We bang on the gurgling water pipes and run the tap. Finally there’s the hissing of steam and hot water. We are the only people in the dining room, the staff are delightful – Welcome to Oran.
11 February 2008
Filling in the puzzle – off to the Saharawi refugee camps
Western Sahara was a Spanish colony for over one century. In the early 1970s the Saharawis began to organise against Spanish colonialism and formed the Polisario liberation movement. In 1975 the Polisario was on the verge of gaining independence from Spain. Then, in secret negotiations, Spain signed a clandestine deal with Morocco and Mauritania. The three countries agreed to split the territory of Western Sahara between Morocco and Mauritania, instead of granting independence to the Saharawis as promised. This illegal annexation of Western Sahara in 1975 was the start of the war with Morocco and Mauritania.
Tens of thousands of Saharawis fled their homes in Western Sahara as Morocco dropped American napalm and phosphorous bombs on civilians. Facing aggression from countries both north and south, the fleeing Saharawis turned east, to Algeria.
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It’s a place where temperatures reach a scorching 135º F in summer…
There, they were granted asylum and began to build refugee camps in an area of the desert considered uninhabitable. It’s a place where temperatures reach a scorching 135º F in summer and plunge below freezing in winter. Sandstorms, called siroccos, rip through the refugee camps without warning. Flash floods wipe out entire tent neighbourhoods, destroying everything in their path. Here, in the southwest corner of Algeria, nearly 200,000 refugees are struggling to survive in this inhospitable part of the great Sahara Desert.
Some weeks ago when we had journeyed up the coast of Western Sahara, it had been impossible for us to properly meet the legitimate citizens of the country. Now thanks to the efforts of our Department of Foreign Affairs and invitation from the Saharan Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) in exile in the South of Algeria, we find ourselves loaded up with soccer balls, learning materials and spectacles for the poor sighted as in a heavily armed escort (there has been a recent upsurge of terrorism activity in Algeria and the authorities don’t want us killed) we head off at break neck speed in a 3,000 km there and back dash – an opportunity for us to fill in the puzzle, all part of our crazy journey to improve and save lives through adventure – we’ll keep you posted.
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