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On the road to Algeria

Central Algeria, sand dunes encrouching on village Central Algeria, kids

Small village near Timimoun in a river bed at the edge of and being covered by the giant sand dune desert, the Grand Erg Occidental, Central Algeria (left). Kids in sand dunes (right).

Imagine the following scenes in the Sahara:

A fata morgana? A visit to the Sahara desert in the interior of Algeria in the summer of 1975?

France and Italy in 1972

In 1972 at age 17 I planned with my brother to hitchhike to Marseilles and take the boat across the Mediterranean to Algers in Algeria.

A priest uncle who ran a priest boarding school in the South of France was visiting my parents and gave us a ride to Lyon on his way home. In Reims he showed us the famous cathedral built by Charlemagne (???) (Charles the Great) in the 8th century after he defeated the Muslims and converted to Christianity.

In Lyon, a small BMW 1600 with a young hippie couple picked us up and we headed for Marseilles. Driving 160 on the highway near Valence, we suddenly got a blow out tire and the girl driving had a hard time keeping us on the road.

In Marseilles the boat ticket turned out to be expensive and not readily available due to Algerian immigrants returning home for vacation. Instead we hitchhiked to Menton, a small town past Nice and Monaco, and caught the train to the nearby Italian border.

In Ventimiglia we spent the night in the dry, rocky, riverbed of the Roia River together with several other hitchhikers, and were bitten by mosquitoes the entire night. In Genoa most of the beachfronts were closed off by private properties which I found very selfish but this seems to be common all around the world. A very polite Swiss elderly couple gave us a ride to Pisa in their luxurious Mercedes with big, comfortable leather seats. They hardly spoke to us and seem to treat us like grandchildren. To Florence we had a communist journalist in his Fiat 1600 who complained about crazy politics in Italy while waving his arms and driving too fast.

In Florence and Rome we stayed in Youth Hostels packed with American tourists. My brother wanted to see the pictures of Italian painters as just finished his first year of the arts school. We finally ended up in Naples and Pompeii, visiting the spectacular excavations. Here we split up and decided to go home after the last of many disagreements. I would go back to Rome to try to find a lost towel in the Youth Hostel, he would hitchhike back home. Hitchhiking separately would be quicker. I never found the towel in Rome.

Outside Rome an English truck carrying sausage and driven by an Italian immigrant to England successful in the Italian and French sausage business, gave me a ride to Paris and a Dutch truck driver the last part to Holland. Rome to Holland in two rides, a hitchhikers dream.


In 1975, I did three weeks of fieldwork in Southern Spain near Murcia in July. The summer suffered from a heat wave, temperatures were constantly between 40 and 45 degrees Celsius and the night around 35. We started at 6 AM in the morning and around 9 AM it would get very hot but we would only drink sips of water as a large amounts would be sweated out anyway, making you body dripping wet instantly. At noon we would return and drink liters of water. Not sure if this plan was medically correct but it surely was tough. Several students failed to pass the field work exam that year by preferring to spent more time at the pool watching the inviting, teenage Spanish city girls visiting the village their parents were born.

After the fieldwork, Joe Kocken, a fellow student who was here for the second time, and I decided to head for Morocco and Algeria. We took the bus to Almeria (visited the old fort), to Granada (visited the Alhambra), Marbella (visited the beach hoping to meet the jet set that frequented this place according to Joe but did not spot them) and finally Algeciras where we took the boat to Ceuta, a Spanish enclave in Morocco.


In Ceuta we took the bus to Fez. Here we mainly smoked hashish and visited tourist shops. While being taken around by a local guide who forced his company on us, we ran into a terrible argument with a shop owner who insisted we tried to steel a leather bag I was carrying accidentally on the way out. He wanted us to pay for it threatening to call the police but after an emotional discussion and with the help of our guide we got out. This incident could have been influenced by hashish, lowering your sense of reality. On the other hand, it sounded more like a selling trick, as the police was never called. Still, the threat left a big impression. Spending time in a Moroccan prison must be as bad as in a Turkish prison. I heard horror stories for being caught for possession of hashish the year before in Turkey.

Joe wanted to go to Tamanrasset in Southern Algeria with the famous black volcanic mountains but I decided to go as far as my money would take me and hesitated given the long trip into the desert. We first took a bus to Oujda near Algeria and the coast passing scenic mountain ridges and palm tree oases [1]. Here we forgot to arrange a visa here for Algeria, and headed to Fiquig, 300 km South to cross the Algerian border in the interior. Visa’s where mandatory except for the French, which sounded like a contradiction given their relations, so we had to make a return trip back to Oujda. Again we spent the night in Fiquiq, now along the side of the road [1] to save money and got bitten by mosquitoes all night.


Joe had already changed some money into Algerian currency at 50% of the official rate and decided to tape it around his dick to avoid customs would spot it as he figured they would never dare to touch his private parts. At the border, the Algerian customs were very strict. Everyone got a body search but let us wear our clothes while they reminded us how they hated Europeans because of the Algerian freedom war with France that ended in 1962, still fresh in their memory. Joes trick worked.

A German girl was crying after she came out. The men also did a full body search on her and were trying to sexually molest her insisting of undressing piece by piece, she claimed. She was traveling with a German man in a Volkswagen van and they gave us a ride to a village near Timimoun and here we wnated to spent the night. They were not a couple, just travel friends, she said while we drove along the desolate road passing the sparse small villages in the barren and hot dessert.

The village near Timimoun was at the edge of the giant interior area of Algeria with sand dunes [1][2][3][4], the Grand Erg Occidental, and slowly being covered by encroaching sand dunes [1]. Here we stopped for the night. The surprising presence of a luxurious hotel [1] in the desert was like a fata morgana, also because we were used to very simple accommodations. The hotel had tennis courts next to the sand dunes [1] and a swimming pool and some 100 rooms. French tourists frequented it to escape the winter in Europe and in the summer it was totally empty.

The friendly staff [1] offered us to stay telling us that they had very little to do, and appreciated to have company. We had free meals with the hotel manager in the cool luxurious restaurant with marble tiles and Persian carpets [1]. We had good discussions on politics, very popular in those days and the pool was refreshing. He offered me to stay in one of the rooms with the youngest servant [1]. At night the young man insisted to share the bed but I felt very uncomfortable and he finally gave up. The invitation to spend the night in the luxurious hotel was clearly in return for young innocent male intimacy so common in Arab countries. A substitute to ventilate sexual energy because of the strict segregation of sexes?

In the morning I climbed the fascinating sand dunes [1][2] and was trailed by two children [1][2]. We also enjoyed the morning at the pool [1][2] but Joe and the Germans would leave for Tamanrasset in the afternoon. As my money ran out and I decided to go back, figuring I had sufficient money to travel back to Melilla, a Spanish enclave on the Mediterranean Coast and take the boat to Almeria. After Almeria, I would have to hitchhike to Holland. I tried to stay another night at the hotel but the hotel manager made me understood in an indirect way that I should leave as well.

It was too late to catch the bus and I spent another night in the village, this time in a small vacant house without doors showed to me by a shopkeeper, as there was no accommodation for tourists in the village. Sleeping on a dirty concrete floor in a sleeping bag, a big contrast to the comfortable hotel the night before.

It took me a full day on the bus to reach Melilla and I was now paying more attention to Algeria as I was on my own. It felt hostile and barren mainly because of the summer heat but the people were very friendly. I felt happy to leave. Crossing the border from Morocco into the Spanish enclave the contrast was large. Suddenly I was in a truly Spanish town and this felt like Europe.


In Melilla I bought cheese and bread for the nightly crossing. I decided to go back to my field work area near Murcia to look at a few more outcrops and take pictures as I felt I needed a bit more information for the field work report to pass the exam. A bit over ambitious it turned out later.

Hitchhiking from Almeria to Murcia was difficult. At a gas station outside Almeria, the trick to approach drivers and ask them for a ride did not work. This was always very successful in Germany. The mostly middle class Spanish were just about to shake off 35 years of Franco regime with his death later that year in 1975 (???) but now any hitchhiker was considered either a Franco spy or a potential criminal, and the car passengers kept on staring in the distance without reacting. After hours of waiting in the heat, students finally picked me up. We also stopped at a Western village used for shooting Hollywood spaghetti westerns.

A bus took me from Murcia to Yecla but that night I developed a high fever. This lasted for 3 days and a doctor gave me some antibiotics. I figured this was the mouldy cheese I ate in Melilla but it may just have been a total body collapse combined with weak intestines due to the harshness of the past two months. The doctors and pharmacists bills were more than my last money and the extra resting days forced me for the first time (and only time ever) to phone for money from my parents. I finally went into the field. August was much cooler than July, only 30 degrees Celsius. I caught a 8-km ride from a farmer, took pictures of the geology while crossing the low mountain ridges and finally was absolutely sure on the geological structure. I walked back the long and warm 6 km Yecla unable to get a ride, but felt relieved.

With sufficient money received from my parents, I did not have to hitchhike the 2000 km home but could take public transportation which was a relieve as Franco surely prevented hitchhiking in Spain. I took busses to Valencia and Barcelona and caught another bus to Cologne in Germany, a bus that could take me close to Eindhoven in Holland.

On the 24-hour bus I sat next to a hippie mother from Cologne with her 5-year-old son and we had lively discussions. At that time I really liked older women for the interesting discussions and she must have been around 30 to 35. She was telling me she spent two months in a hippie colony in Ibiza, which sounded interesting. I told her I lived in Amsterdam, which she knew well as she has lived several months in Amsterdam and she knew the health food store the Belly in the Jordaan. She wanted too visit me and we exchanged addresses.

We arrived in Cologne at midnight and as the last train to Eindhoven already left, she invited me to spend the night with her. This she meant literally, as she took off all her clothes expecting me to join her in her bed. I got instantly disinterested or perhaps just shy of the experienced woman, using the hanging small breasts with large rough nipples as an excuse. Instead I put my sleeping bag on the ground and pretended to sleep quickly. The next morning her son came in early with big weary eyes, possibly happily seeing that she did not share a bed with yet another substitute daddy. She did not speak a single word at breakfast and we finally said goodbye at the station where I took the train back home.


The Germans in their Volkswagen van split on their way home in Morocco. He got caught in Spain trying to smuggle a few kilo of hashish in his van, according to Joe.

Joe quit the geology study relatively quickly, living in a small run-down, noisy apartment above my brother. They had constant fights over the noise as Joe favored night live with shady friends, often intoxicated by hard drugs like cocaine.

The last time I saw him was in the early nineties at a station in Eindhoven. He came back visiting his father who was a well-known surgeon. He was smoking heavily and we had very little to say.

Overview of photographs

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Palm trees and mountains, somewhere in Moroc


August 1975

Fiquig, sleeping place behind shrubs (middle) along the road.


August 1975



August 1975



River bed near Timimoun at the edge of the giant sand dune dessert, Central Algeria. Villages slowly covered by encrouching sand dunes.


August 1975

Village, view at river bed.


August 1975



August 1975



August 1975



August 1975



August 1975

Same village but view to the encrouching sand dunes.


August 1975

Sand dunes


August 1975

Sand dunes


August 1975

Kids in sand dunes


August 1975

Kids in the sand dunes


August 1975

Sand dunes, hotel and tennis courts


August 1975



August 1975

Hotel manager with Jean


August 1975

Young servant in water


August 1975

Near pool, Joe (left) and Jean (right).


August 1975

Hotel staff


August 1975

Jean on pool diving plank


August 1975