A quick getaway from Algiers, and a near-plunge to certain death

On the CS Clancy Centenary ride, we are denied entry into Algeria, but Clancy had different problems to deal with in 1913


Unable to get an Algerian visa in Paris, we sped south through Italy to catch the ferry from Sicily to Tunisia and see if we could blag our way in at the border. After all, Ian Paisley jnr had told us that he was a close friend of the Algerian ambassador in London. Sadly, when we presented ourselves at the border between Tunisia and Algeria, our polite request for admission was met with a baffled “Ian who?”

Oh well. I would give it another shot through the Algerian tourist board when I got home. For the moment, though, Algeria would have to wait for another day, or possibly forever, which seems like a good point to return to Clancy’s arrival there.

When his ship docked in Algiers, scores of swarthy, bare-legged Arab boatmen swarmed up the gangplank and manhandled his Henderson ashore in spite of his protests that he could do it perfectly well himself. Then their chief, “a splendid, fez-capped specimen about six-and-a-half feet tall”, tried to charge him 25 francs, or $5. When Clancy refused to pay more than five francs, he was then harassed by the chief and his cronies over the next couple of days before getting the Henderson out of customs and racing off.

And if he was expecting the burning sands of Arabia, he was in for a shock, for as the road climbed into the mountains, he was first of all frozen by a hailstorm, then doused by torrential rain which lasted all day.

Rounding one corner, he came upon a group of Arab horsemen who were as surprised as he was, and as he rode on over great bridges spanning huge cataracts, darkness gathered around and the wind and rain doubled their ferocity, blowing out the last of his matches and leaving him creeping in pitch darkness along a road which had been dug up and never repaired.

Once, mistaking a streak of snow for the road, he edged along it, only for the rushing of the gorge far below to bring him to a halt only inches from a plunge to certain death.

Finally, aching with cold and having had nothing to eat but a sandwich at seven that morning, he saw a light glimmering in the distance, and then another, heralding the village of El-Kseur.

Steaming coffee
“Never before had a village looked so good to me, and as I dried my clothes before a wood fire and drank pints of steaming coffee, I had indeed reason to be thankful,” he wrote.

He had his customs documents stamped by the French officials in the picturesque port of El Kala, then was told he would have to cross the border at Ain-Babouche.

“The 20 miles there led over a steep, high pass, at the top of which I found several women, with their children playing about, side by side with huge, black negroes, breaking stone by the roadside. Tiny donkeys driven by the older children brought the large stones from the side of the hill in woven rope baskets hung on each side, and all day long these poor, bare-legged creatures pounded away in the hot sun,” he wrote, then put his pen away for the day, and entered Tunisia at the very spot where we stood today.

Read Geoff Hill’s blogs on the CS Clancy Centenary Ride, supported by Adelaide Insurance and BMW Motorrad, at adelaideadventures.com