Today was meant to be spent exploring the Roman ruins of Timgad near Constantine but instead it was spent sitting in the airport police station for 5 hours wondering if I’d ever get out of Algeria.
WHERE ARE YOU FROM, WHAT LANGUAGE DO YOU SPEAK, WHAT IS YOUR JOB!!
A lot of airports around the world have your bags x-rayed upon arriving but in essence they aren’t looking for much other than explosives and firearms. The liquids, electronics etc are usually sought in a more detailed searched at immigration. That was until I returned to Algiers airport for my domestic flight to Constantine.
A lot of airports around the world have your bags x-rayed upon arriving but in essence they aren’t looking for much other than explosives and firearms. The liquids, electronics etc are usually sought in a more detailed searched at security. That was until I returned to Algiers airport for my domestic flight to Constantine.
Going through the security at the front door I have never taken it seriously and wondered what was ever the point. Then again I’ve never had anything in my bag I shouldn’t have so there was no reason to ever have been stopped until now.
Through the scan the security guy asked me to open my bag to which I happily obliged as I felt once I did he would take a quick look and send me on my way. After looking through it he picked up my drone and immediately had an issue with it.
After chatting to his friends and asking why I had a drone in my bag we made our way to the police station. Now I was pretty calm at this stage I thought maybe they would just give me a warning, I had no doubts I would still be on my flight which was scheduled to leave in an hour.
From there I can only assume (I don’t speak Arabic) he was told to go to airside immigration/customs so we jumped in a police jeep (a Mercedes G Wagon no less) and set off around the back of the airport virtually down the runway and through the door I walked through when arriving into Algeria. No one could be seen here and the fella seemed a little lost so we hung around for a while.
It was at this time I was pretty sure I’d be saying goodbye to my drone and knew it was time for damage limitation. The memory card was still in it with photos of France but I was able to use the excuse of putting the camera lens cover back on and at the same time remove the memory card and slide it into my pocket. Result!
- Algeria is 920,000 square miles.
- The Sahara accounts for 80% of this.
- 90% of the population live on the coast.
IT WAS GETTING REAL
After waiting for customs to open we were told (and again I assume) to go back to the police station and find an alternative method for whatever they are trying to do. In hindsight they were trying to find someone to confiscate the drone as that’s what would have happened if I was caught with it coming into Algeria but the fact I had made it into the country with it was throwing people off.
So back into the jeep (escorted by 3 policemen) we made our way back to the station and by this stage I was able to wave my plane goodbye down the runway. Now the feeling of calm was starting to leave my body and the anxiety was quickly creeping in.
WHO DO YOU WORK FOR?
We hung around for another while and the boss man (he was scolding the guard who had been with me) started to ask me questions that wouldn’t look out of place on a Hollywood script.
“Where are you from, what language do you speak, what is your job?!”
We were then told to go to the International terminal and meet with another senior. This fella wasn’t so bad and after 45minutes and some questions printed out a number of pages for me to sign and have my finger prints taken only to realise some errors and to do it all again. We were approaching the best part of 3hours now and yet no one told me what was going on.
Back into another police car and back to the police station again. I was told to sit in a room and wait by what was a young cop (let’s call him wee cop) who seemed to think he was in charge and enjoyed giving out orders to a white boy.
I sat on my phone texting my guide who had shown me around Algiers what was happening and he was very concerned. I had to let him know so I had someone there who knew where I was. The wee cop stuck his head into the room and shouted ‘No phones!’ which was fair enough until two other fellas joined me and were free to make phone calls!
After another lengthy wait I was approached by the boss and asked the same questions again, generally about my job and then lead into a room for questioning. Here I was sat in front of another cop and a translator and the next hour was spent answering questions. The translator was very nice and almost put me at ease as for the first time I was able to ask what the hell is going on. I asked were they accusing me of being a spy and he shrugged his shoulders.
Questions such as did I know it was illegal to bring a drone into Algeria, did I use it and if I knew someone in the airport that helped me smuggle it in. The wee cop came in and asked if I had anything else to go with the drone, like a controller. I played dumb (easy for me) and said the phone acts as the controller but unfortunately they weren’t buying it.
- 40% of the population is below 20.
- Oil and gas are the main exports.
Then they asked for the charger and the playing dumb thing didn’t work there either so I had to hand over the lot. However as I had preempted the memory card question I just said it’s all inside and you’ll need to connect it with a cable. Little did they know it was sitting nicely in my trouser pocket.
The translator said I won’t be getting my drone for another 10 days or so as it had to be taken to forensics for examination, I was leaving Algeria in 2 days so that was the last time I’d get to see it!
After the questions, more forms and more finger prints I then moved into another room for photos alongside my passport and drone, a mugshot if you like. Then from here it was onto the forensics department where I had another few photos taken and no word of a lie, around 70 finger prints taken, my hands were covered in black and red ink!
After sitting around for another while, the forensics team looked up at me with the look as if to say “what are you doing here” and said you can leave as if it was the most obvious thing in the world. The relief was incredible but I wasn’t counting my chickens until I was out of the country.
After leaving forensics the first port of call was to check for the next flight to Constantine. Some people thought I was mad to want to stay around for another few days but I really wanted to see this place, it’s meant to be special! Unfortunately every flight was full that day and the next so there was little I could do. I called my guide (Wassim) who had arranged my guide in Constantine. It turns out he didn’t get any of my messages and my guide was still waiting for me at Constantine airport, I felt super guilty!
BACK TO THE ICE CREAM
After hearing what had happened he dropped his plans and offered to take me around for the day, his shout! It was a great call and a welcome distraction! We headed to the shopping mall for some middle eastern food and then played a bit of 10 pin bowling. It was exactly what I needed and of course to finish the day off we went back to the ice cream shop he took me too on the first day, the smile was well and truly back on my face.
I’ve been through a fair bit on my travels and one thing it has taught me is to never let anything ruin your trip! Of course I could’ve done without losing my bag twice LINKS and being held at gun point but all those events have played their part putting everything into perspective!
I stayed at Hotel Elhidhab that night as it was across the road from the airport and a lot cheaper than the previous hotel, the WiFi actually worked which was a bonus. More African logic when they gave me two options for rooms and after choosing cheaper room I was given the better one.
Anyway I checked in and said my goodbyes to Wassim and thanked him for his help! Wassim owns the travel company Algeria Travel 16 and had organised all the logistics for my trip. I honestly couldn’t fault him, his wife or any of his colleagues, truly some of the best hosts I have met. This is not an ad and I paid full wack for my trip but can be thankful for Wassim looking after me that day. That really goes for everyone in Algeria apart from a few policemen.
After chilling out the rest of the day and keeping a low profile all drama was not over. My room had a view of a construction site and some cranes so I decided to take a time lapse for 10 minutes and left the camera on the balcony pointing out the window. Coming back out to the balcony I had a few locals shouting why I was taking photos. Oh ffs that was the last thing I needed. So I took the camera, closed the curtains and turned off the light, I’m not moving a muscle until tomorrow where I would get pulled aside by another policeman at Batna airport.
You win or your learn and I suppose today I got schooled!
Pushing a police officer and arriving in Constantine. Click to read.
SAFE TRAVELS, DS x
This post is part of The Algeria Series, click to explore or for episode 1 click here.
To watch the video of my trip, head to my highlights on my Instagram.
- Have you ever had a run in with the police while on your holidays?
- Where was it and what happened?
- Did it put you off travelling?
Let me know in the comments below . . .