Just for Fun: A Weekend in Bou Saada

Saturday, December 28, 2019 | Bou Saada, Algeria

At the Kerdada, the trip organizer got to park his antique Mercedes front and center.
As if they weren't already the best hosts in town, back in May our friends Daniel and Dzeneta, a dynamic duo of Dutch diplomats, organized a weekend to remember with an eclectic international guestlist of 50+ hailing from nearly 20 countries, including Algerians, foreign residents, and many who traveled from abroad to attend. (Daniel prepared a 14-page programme and briefing document to anticipate first-time visitors' questions.)

The weekend's destination was Bou Saada, one of several towns in Algeria's arid midlands often called the "gateway to the desert."

After a lengthy (and exhilarating, thanks to the leadfooted gendarme escorts that guided our caravan southward) four-hour drive, we decamped at the Hotel Kerdada—the same address where Nina and I stayed with her parents during our first visit to Bou Saada back in 2015. (See "Bou Saada: A Begrudging Appreciation".) Formerly the Hotel Transatlantic in colonial times, the Kerdada remains the nicest spot in the otherwise disheveled town, and we spent a good portion of the weekend sunning by the pool.

The surrounding countryside offers more to see than Bou Saada itself. Nina and I skipped group visits to the local museum dedicated to orientalist painter Etienne Dinet, instead joining a desert outing and also taking our rental car for a lengthy swing through the rocky scrublands outside town.

Rugged landscape outside Bou Saada
The highlight of the weekend, however, was the nightlife, when our hosts' organizing skills shone brightest. Nightly soirĂ©es on the Kerdada's terrace featured formal dinners animated by a local Ouled Nail dance troupe, an internationally renowned burlesque dancer, a DJ from the Algiers nightclub circuit, and the famous desert blues band Imarhan. (At Daniel's invitation, the group had agreed to deliver a private concert after he met them by chance several months earlier on a flight to their hometown of Tamanrasset.) Based on the reactions from the hotel staff—many of whom loitered on the terrace late into the night even after finishing their shifts—this was one of the more exciting weekends the Kerdada has seen in recent memory.

Unlike so many of my journeys in Algeria, this trip to Bou Saada imposed no noble struggles and revealed no hard-earned lessons. And for me, that was the best part: the weekend was just plain fun. People came from around the world, mixed with Algerians, spent their money and enjoyed themselves, got a snapshot of the local landscape and culture along the way, then went home. The world didn't end. And in that way, this simple weekend in Bou Saada served as proof that good clean fun is possible in Algeria, a country that unfortunately seems to discourage it more often that not.

Imarhan performed an intimate private concert on the Kerdada terrace.
Warm thanks to Daniel and Dzeneta for organizing this enjoyable trip.

My Rolleiflex photos from Bou Saada are available here: 2019 Rollei - Bou Saada.

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