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From the mountains to the Sahara

March 8, 2020

We left Constantine for Biskra - know as Sahara’s door. The green of the Atlas Mountains gave way to a high plateau where farming produces rye and wheat for Algeria, then through the more arid Aurès Mountains bordering the Sahara.

Our first stop was the ancient Roman city of Timgad, another UNESCO World Heritage Site on our tour. We had lunch at a hotel near the entrance to Timgad. Because it was International Women’s Day, the restaurant was hosting a special luncheon for women of the area including entertainment- live music - and a rose for each woman attending. Though it was tempting to sty and dance with the women, we still had a full day ahead of us!

Roses with lunch

Timgad, founded around 100 AD, the ruins are a wonderful example of the grid pattern used by Roman city planners. Built as a military colony housing Roman veterans it is an amazingly large site including a central forum, a library, a theater (where Amel tested the acoustics with a traditional uluation), markets, baths, latrines, churches, and homes.

The next stop was to be the Ghoufi Balconies, but the decent through the Aurès Mountains along the Algerian canyon put a strain on the bus brakes and we had to stop to let them cool. Our roadside stop happened to be at a monument marking the place that triggering the November 1, 1954 Revolution for Algerian independence.

Unfortunately, this and other delays meant that we didn’t arrive to the Ghoufi Balconies until just after sunset. Still, even in dim light, it is a spectacular archeological site of cave dwelling homes carved into the cliffs along the Abiod River. Dating back 4 centuries, the village borders a small date oasis on the banks of the river. Since Ghoufi is a tourist spot, there was a vendor selling souvenirs including some old traditional jewelry where I found a Berber headdress with Amel’s help. Several of the ladies found other treasures that helped dispel the disappointment of the very short site.

On arriving at our hotel in Biskra, we were each greeted with a red rose for International Women’s Day! Henna Night followed dinner. Amel taught different berber garment wrappings and costumes, tribal facial markings, and henna patterns that adorn hands and feet for celebrations such as weddings.

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