Timimoun, Sebkha Circuit, And Sahara Desert. The bus rolled to a stop. Sand danced on the bus’s window. “Timimoun, Timimoun!” the bus driver’s assistant hollered. I grabbed my bags and pushed my way through the crowds and exited the but station. A lone taxi driver waited. “Bonjour monsieur, je veux aller Ksar Masine Hotel.” My 10th grade teacher would be spinning in his grave in shock and surprise that I was able to construct a simple sentence in French. I was not known as a French scholar during my school days. Fifteen minutes later and 60 cents poorer I dragged my bag into this very isolated hotel.
I took in the scene. Twenty men dotted the lobby and the adjacent patio, all clutching their mobile phones. Algerian music blared from parts unknown in the hotel. I stood at the unmanned reception desk and scanned the lobby for an employee. Eventually, a thin young man approached the desk, and welcomed me with a toothy grin.
I was in Timimoun … a desert town in the Algerian Sahara Desert.
In a smorgasbord of broken English, even more broken French, and Google Translate, I ordered some sort of vegetarian dinner. In some countries, I temporarily convert to being a vegetarian after viewing the handling of meat in a local market. Omar, the hotel staff employee, informed me there was no restaurant and the food was going to take 90 minutes. I found this quite odd, but due to the hotel’s isolation I really had no other option but to wait.
I joined the 20 other Algerian men, slouched down on a couch, and stared at my iPad taking advantage of the slow wifi. Sweat trickled down my face, the evening was thick with heat and humidity. My frustration and hunger grew as time ticked on after my 8 hour bus ride and also skipping lunch. After two hours, I approached Omar with Google Translate in hand. Still calm, but irritated, I asked where my food was. Omar’s face flushed. The food had been ready the whole evening. A lost in translation moment had just taken place. I rushed over to a table and munched on bread, salad, and a delicious lentil/chick pea type soup. I then proceeded to my room, to shower off the humidity, and prepare for my desert trip the next morning.
Yussein greeted me promptly at 9 in the morning. Yussein was to be my guide for the day as we explored the Sebkha Circuit. The Sebkha circuit translates to salt lake, and today is simply desert. Yussein, with a scarf wrapped around his face, knew less English than Omar.
We made a pit stop at Timimoun’s answer to 7-Eleven. I asked Yussein via Google Translate if the tour included food and water. He responded with a smile: “Oui”. After a cursory glance of the car’s interior I deduced there was no food or water, so I stocked up with some basics in the store.
We then headed to the center of town, and parked in front of the police station. I deduced that before heading into the desert that I needed to register with the police before our desert adventure. In some parts of Algeria, where security is a concern, tourists are registered with the police and sometimes even required to have an escort. I was not running into many tourists during my trip in Algeria so I was happy to notice two other cars parked next to us.
I popped my head through an open window and I met four new people; two French parents, who were visiting their daughter who was living in Algiers with her Algerian husband. He was a flight attendant for AirFrance and spoke good English. I was graciously “adopted” for the day as the older brother and it was nice to have the company.
After we received permission, our three car convoy headed into the desert. The Sebkha Circuit is an approximately 75 km run through the Saharan desert. The day is split in two. With the first half the day visiting an abandoned crumbling red stoned village set on a hill. Then visiting a ksar (old castle) set in an oasis. We rest here and have lunch in the shadow of a cave. And of course, sweet mint tea is prepared for us.
The second half of the day is spent wadi-bashing. For those of you have been to Dubai, you might be familiar with this experience. Wadi-bashing is when you take your 4×4, head out the desert, and drive over towering, sand dunes. The experience is somewhat similar to a roller coaster as the 4×4 races over the tops of sand dunes, and then the truck dances sideways down the dunes. There were a couple of moments, where I was surprised the truck did not start tumbling down the dune due to the precarious angle. The benefit of wadi-bashing in Timimoun was there were only three cars in our group. In Dubai, you will spy scores of white 4x4s crawling over the dunes.
I then prepared for my second adventure. My weathered iPhone 6 had seen better days. My battery had been jiggling, it had somehow come loose. And, my neighbor on the bus, from Ghardaia to Timimoun, knocked my phone out of my hand, finally jarring my battery loose, rendering my phone useless. I negotiated with my driver, Yussein, that he would take me to a mobile phone store. He informed me that he would be back in an hour at 5 pm. I sat in the now empty lobby, it appeared the hotel had emptied out from the previous night. I was still waiting at 6pm, and Yussein had never reappeared. I then saw Omar from the hotel, who then assisted and called Yussein. Yussein informed Omar that he would now not come until 8 pm since something had suddenly come up. I felt like a spurned Marcia Brady date.
I then enlisted Omar on my quest to fix my phone, who then called his friend to pick us up to drive us into town. Timimoun is only 30,000 people, so the town center is a bit subdued. The first store we visited was a no-go, but we hit pay dirt on our second stop. A man in a skullcap, plied open my iPhone, and glued my battery in its place. Two hundred dinar (under $2) later, and my phone was working.
Omar and his friend then dropped me off at Hotel Gourara, an oasis in this dusty town. This hotel was the Saharan luxury. I arrived at sunset, passed the infinity pool, and gazed into the desert. The sky was lit up in gorgeous orange and yellows. An oasis of palm trees adjacent to the hotel, transitioned into the Sahara.
I then saw my adopted French-Algerian family from the day and joined them for dinner.
The next day before my flight, I headed into Timimoun center for a mini-exploration. I discovered the local market. My eyes widened, and I grasped my camera with excitement. This was a target rich environment for photos. I was to leave in frustration. I approached over a dozen locals in the market, but each one declined.
It was time to catch my flight to Algiers.
For more details on Timimoun, check out my practical guide. Timimoun, Sebkha Circuit, And Sahara Desert.
Check out my other posts on Algeria.