An hour into the trip we had finally left Algiers. Nothing like that 1pm Thursday traffic. But a trip to Oran for a weekend is always worth the journey, so we pressed on, rocking to all your old favorites: the Nuge, Fleetwood Mac, Jethro Tull, and a bunch of other, obscure ‘70s bands that seemingly only recorded for the Algerian market. Its like Hasselhoff being famous in Germany – ‘70s white-guy blues-rock is the coolest thing going for your not-so-casual Algerian rock-n-roll audience.
About two-thirds of the way into the trip – made nice and smooth by the new highway connecting (almost) Algiers and Oran (the world's largest current road-construction project), constructed by a Chinese firm (motto: “The new east-west highway strengthens the bonds of friendship between Algeria and China”) – we came to the point in the road where smooth sailing ended and construction began. Traffic on the highway was diverted to the old road, closer to the coast.
Or at least traffic that didn’t know any better. My friend, however, had heard tell that it was possible to bypass the blockade and get back on the completed section of highway. And indeed it was. We followed some trucks down a little dirt road, across a small bridge, and then back up to the highway. And there we were, a huge, open road with just us and construction workers completing bridges and off-ramps. On we sped, with no traffic to impede our progress, nothing in our way save the occasional huge chunk of concrete in the road, or a bunch of workers working, or the occasional truck barreling down on us – you know, the normal stuff.
It was interesting to see how the construction proceeded. The Chinese firm that won the contract arrived with all the tools and machines direct from China, and all the workers, too. The guys building the road lived in shipping containers stacked with bunk beds and set down by the side of the road. When one section of road was completed they just picked up the container and moved it along, keeping the workers right there in the middle of the action. We got glimpses of the containers as we drove through the uncompleted section of road, and we could see beds in one, and what looked like a little kitchen in another. There were satellite dishes on some of the containers, so I’m guessing they could watch TV. (And you thought shipping container homes were just for the green-homes set.) Power came from large gas generators plopped down next to the containers. I imagine the workers sign a contract and stay on for a year-long shift or so, moving with the work, sending their paychecks to families back home.
The unfinished highway eventually set us down right on the edge of town – a nice route as long as the police don’t stop you in there, or you hit a pile of rebar, or some other construction-related catastrophe. After having a little snack and a drink at a friend’s house we were off to the birthday party that brought everyone to Oran. It was dark, around 9pm, and as we drove the cars ahead of us started to swerve a little. A second later we saw the cause of the commotion: a man in a t-shirt dancing in the headlights. And I mean just a t-shirt. He was also holding a little plastic sack, but that wasn’t providing him with much coverage. A naked guy, dancing in the street. He seemed like he was having a great time, and the police van a few cars ahead of us didn’t seem to mind, either. O, Oran!