There are two colours in Tamanrasset. Weak milky tea – of desert sand and white. No. There are three – pale blue (of the sky). The rest of the palette is incidental – a daub of green here, an afterthought of red there. These last belonging to dribs and drabs of scrubs and bushes dotting what is a vast, mind altering silent sea of sand. We are at the beginning of the Sahara Desert and at the end of the Algeria. The meaning of insignificance becomes intimidatingly defined here. You are nothing. The Sahara is all and everything. The silence is all encompassing, like a universal temple. Spiritually inclined or not, an atmosphere of the mystical and mystery penetrates the sense. I whisper for reasons unknown and even that is loud for the world echoes my words back. I have never seen anything so beautiful and terrifying in my life. A little later, walking about, haunted by the idea of disappearing into miles of sands just a few steps away, that you can get lost in, of Lawrence of Arabia blistered and burnt, a church appears. Out of nowhere in the middle of nowhere. A white robed Arab guide points at it. It looks left behind. It is in ruins – you can step over a broken heap of wall and inside there are rows of solid wood pews – fresh looking, chocolatey – surreal in all this dryness, and on the walls in beautiful illustrations, the life of Christ. My corrupt city mind wonders why they haven’t been stolen, wood and art. There is no explanation for it – which is refreshing and exciting in these times of cordons and plaques and chattering tour conductors. You can discover at your leisure, conjecture at leisure.
Ghardaia lies next door. An oasis. All noise and colour, thriving markets, draped rugs, handcrafted jewellery, 5 star luxury hotels in desert architecture. Until you get there you don’t realise noise is what you were thirsty for. Your spirit relaxes differently. You are mortal again – a careless, carefree, consumerist mortal, away from the Sahara’s daunting spirit. Ghardaia is as touristy as it gets and as pretty as its name. White washed walls, happy hospitable people who like to show their hospitality by paying for your meal because you are a guest of the town.
The Rif mountains are a nation away, in Morocco and in the valley between lies magic. A town like a blue and white bird’s egg, called – Chefchaouen. Or Chaouen to the. You want to be a local. The walls are washed blue, they were painted by the town’s locals women and so only up to the point where the women could reach so the rest of it is white. It’s not just one blue but every kind – turquoise, cerulean, aqua, ocean. The alleys are winding, sometimes broken in steps, sometimes decorated by intervals of arches. Vendors ply their colourful ware – rugs, leather goods, jewellery, crafts against this blue canvas so the town is a twinkling, bright, vivid, luminous palette of touches of singing colour. The blue wash is to keep the town cool. You are aware of Andalusian, Berber and Arab influences – perhaps not by name but you can see the melding of cultures and traditions. Doorways are particularly beautiful – each one a work of art, in different architectural styles, painted in different colours, decorated sometimes with brick crowns.
North Africa. Off the beaten path for so many. The other side of the Mediterranean hiding so many enchanting secrets. If pattern, colour, design and architecture are what fill your soul this is one part of the earth you should explore.
Ghardaia, Image 2- https://www.algerieprofonde.net/wp-content/gallery/wilayas-dalgerie-en-images/Ghardaia-47.jpg
Ghardaia, Image 3- https://www.trover.com/d/tJWM-ghardaia-mzab-valley-algeria-ghardaia-algeria
Chefchaouen Image 4- https://www.ramblersholidays.co.uk/the-rif-mountains
Chefchaouen Image 5- Sourced from Unsplashed
Cover Photo- Sourced from Unsplashed, Timothy Simon