Saturday, November 03, 2007

Hotel of the Petrified Forest

For reasons not explained, the flight from Algiers south into the desert left at 11 p.m. By the time we got through security checks and baggage claim it was nearing 3 a.m. when we arrived. Two men from the travel agency, thank God, were on hand with one of those little placards with our names on it and they loaded us into an SUV and drove off into the dark.

Within 50 meters the road was surrounded on both sides by nothing but sand. SAHARA! we squealed involuntarily. They shook their heads at the stupid tourists.
We were really looking forward to getting to our hotel until we got to it. The Hotel Bois Petrifie was a long low-slung building in utter darkness in a parking lot that contained not a single car or bus in the parking lot. It looked abandoned. The men let us out at the front door and said our guide would be there to pick us up after breakfast.
A skinny, laconic French-speaking man with a cigarette dangling from his fingers led us to Room 5. It was like a camp site with two sway-back beds, a refrigerator with a bottle of water in it, and a tiny TV on a plastic table.
Hawley was distraught that there was no itinerary for us, no schedule for the next day and where was the hair dryer?
We are going into the desert, I reminded her. How good does your hair have to look?
We fell asleep immediately after.
The next morning as we were eating stale bread and jam in an empty breakfast room, a tall dark man in a blue turban appeared at our table and asked if we were ready.
He led us out to an unmarked white SUV. Another man in a turban sat in the front seat and the back was loaded to the top with gear. The driver started up the car. I got in, ready to go. Hawley got in, not so ready.
Who ARE you? she asked loudly.
Quoi? the man in the passenger seat, turned around to ask.
On my side of the car, I realized that these were very good questions. I probably should have wondered about them too.
Somehow I have fallen into complacency that despite the seeming lack of organization and infrastructure things do eventually get done.
This how we met Naou-Naou, our driver and guide, and Ahmed, our cook, for the next week.

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