If you’re on my email list, you know I was planning to spend part of October trekking a remote plateau in Algeria.
Well, Algeria’s one of those countries most people need a visa to enter. I’ve heard getting one in person requires a healthy dose of table pounding and beady eyed stares. Getting one from a distance is an even more impressive comedy of errors.
It goes a little something like this…
Step 1: Apply.
Actually, Step 1: Check with the proper authorities to make sure you have the correct information.
And there’s your first mistake.
There’s no Algerian embassy here. People in this country are handled by the consulate of Algeria in Rome. The web site only has directions for in-person drop off, so I emailed them to find out where I was supposed to send my passport.
I didn’t get an answer, but I chose to give them the benefit of the doubt. I thought perhaps English was the problem; that the Rome office had been unable to read my letter. Maybe the London consulate could help?
I fired off a polite email explaining the situation to them.
This was their reply:
Please contact the Consular section of our Embassy in Roma. You will below the phone and fax numbers as well as the email address.
They will let you know how to send your application.
You can also visit their website : www.algerianembassy.it
Hope you will enjoy your trip.
Uh huh. I replied to explain I’d already gone down that route. That the reason I was writing to them was because I couldn’t reach anyone in Rome.
No answer, of course. So the next step was a phone call to what I began to suspect was a completely empty building in Rome.
I asked to speak to someone in the visa section. The switchboard operator grunted and said, “French or Italian.”
“I see. Is there someone I could speak to in English?”
And he hung up.
Incredibly helpful chaps. Unfortunately I don’t speak Italian or French, and I wasn’t able to drop everything and fly to Rome in person to sort it out.
But I’m not one to give up that easily. I really like the desert, and I was looking forward to getting away from computers, parking problems and personal hygiene.
The next step was to find someone who speaks one of those languages here. Not an easy task when I don’t know a soul in the entire country.
Voice from another room: …that’s what happens when you never leave the house…
I did eventually succeed in recruiting a French-speaking friend to make another attempt on my behalf. You’ll appreciate the email I got back from him.
“Wow, they are very rude!” he wrote. “His French was pretty clear when he answered, but then he switched to Italian after I asked to speak with someone in the Visa section about a trip to Algeria. I think he said to call back in the afternoon, though he spoke so quickly it was hard to tell. And then he hung up on me before I could ask him to repeat!”
There was no answer the rest of that day, but my friend got through the following day after trying all morning. It occurred to me that paying back this favour is going to require more than just buying a couple drinks…
“Okay, I got through and got transferred about 3 times,” he wrote. “Then they asked me to call back in 30 minutes…”
And after that they stopped answering the phone. They must have wised up and started screening his number, because he never managed to reach anyone there again.
What would a story like this be without a touch of irony?
I was reading the June 2012 issue of Lonely Planet Magazine earlier that same week, where I saw a news item about Algeria in Tom Hall’s column. It said:
“The largest country in the Arab world is seeking more visitors […] It’s government hopes one day to rival neighboring Morocco as a destination for tourists.”
I guess it takes a while for word to trickle down…
That’s how it goes sometimes with travel to marginal places. I’ll try again next season, of course.
In the meantime, I’m going to Belgium and Luxembourg to drink the world’s finest beer and nibble some chocolate! It’ll be nice to get off the island for a bit, to a place with a completely different culture, geography and cuisine.