Retro Travel Photo – Before We Grew Up: Hitch-hiking through the Sahara, Ghardaïa, Algeria

In this new occasional section we share some of the travel photos from our archives – when we paid our dues but rarely our way. Times were tough, hitch-hiking was a favoured mode of transport (yes, even through the Sahara, as shown here) and luxury hotels were places we tried to sneak into to have a swim.



Way back in the golden days of 1992 all I needed was my rucksack and my ghetto-blaster. This picture was taken just outside the beautiful town of Ghardaïa, Algeria, where the road south to Niger is still tarmac. I got a lift to the city limits from the owner of the hostel I stayed at and settled down to wait for my first lift. I think this was taken about 8 a.m. and it was just starting to really heat up, but I only stood there fifteen minutes before a 2CV stopped and its five local occupants squeezed up to fit me in. Top of the list of countries I want to return to, Algeria is an amazing combination of stunning landscapes, incredibly hospitality and adventurous travel. The brutal civil war had just kicked off when I was there but I only experienced friendliness and charm.

Again, this pictures was taken on my first (non-digital, obviously) SLR and the quality is not great, but so it goes.


This Post Has 5 Comments

  1. Lisa

    Wonderful…I remember hitch-hiking in Israel to Jerusalem with my Israeli boyfriend, but not having a lot of success ( perpetual competition from the reserve army )…so deciding to go via somewhere else & changed our position, only to be picked up by someone who was popping into town then going on to Jerusalem! But, of course hitch hiking can quickly go pear-shaped, from the relief & joy of getting the ride, to OMG get me out of here, when your lift turns out to be a royal pain in the ass ( or worse!) as happened with this brief moment of joy…But we made it! Exciting, Risky, Exhilerating, Triumphant & Frustrating all at the same time! Love it! :):)

  2. Andy Higgs

    Oh yes, there are upsides – I scored a two-week long, 3000+ mile lift with a nutso German guy driving a former hearse (yes, I consider that an upside…) and downsides – an excruciating two-hour jaunt down the autobahn near Munich with a guy who insisted on playing me his favourite tape, some crooner doing a very, very bad Sinatra impression. But you always have stories to tell…Algeria was hands-down the easiest country to hitch in, I’d say probably the UK was the hardest, at least in those days. Probably next-to impossible in Blighty now

  3. Pete Harvey

    Most of my hitch-hiking experiences also date back to the nineties. The UK – especially England – was definitely the hardest place to get around! New Zealand was probably the easiest – I remember two Swedish girls complaining that they once had to wait ‘at least ten minutes’ – even I didn’t have to wait more than twenty and that was on roads with very little traffic! I don’t have any experiences to compare with hitching across the Sahara but I have a few memorable stories:

    A bloke in SW Ireland picked us up mid-afternoon and dropped us at a busy intersection saying ‘if you’re still here in 3 hours when I’ll be on my way to the pub, I’ll pick you up and you can join me for a pint.’ Low and behold 3 hours later we were still there – despite my mate Pierre lying in the middle of the road at one point! He took as to his local, which was a small pub in the middle of nowhere. The drinks started flowing and we were made to feel very welcome. At around 10pm one guy pulled a tin whistle out of his coat pocket, another suddenly plucked a violin out of nowhere, another a small drum and the singing started. We had a cracking night, at the end of which we slept in the field opposite the pub, although we didn’t quite have the stamina to pitch the tent! The next morning we got a lift in a brand new Mercedes within 5 minutes of waiting.

    In Ghana I was walking to the bus stop without even sticking my thumb out when I got a three-hour lift from Kpando to Accra from a very friendly local.

    I got picked up by a fierce-looking Maori, his face covered in tattoos, in an old Cadillac in South Island, New Zealand. I was slightly wary, having recently watched the extremely violent ‘Once Were Warriors’, but he turned out to be a thoroughly nice guy and went miles out of his way to get me to where I wanted to go.

    Also in New Zealand a young couple picked me up, and the wife, who was very chatty, invited me to join them at the beach. Fortunately, I caught the husband’s expression in the rear view mirror and realised he was less than keen on the idea, so I declined the invitation!

    In Zimbabwe I rather foolishly picked up a local guy who seemed intent on stealing my pickup until I pointed out that it belonged to the government and mentioned I was a close personal friend of the Minster (the former was true but not the latter!).

    In Scotland my car broke down and a couple picked us up and towed my car to their house in Stranraer where they gave us dinner and insisted we stay the night. The next day we took the ferry to Belfast and when we came back a week later the husband had repaired my car free-of charge!

    There were several other lifts involving indoor air pollution of a particularly uplifting kind but perhaps this is not the place to share them!

  4. Andy Higgs

    Great stories Pete! I should add that one particular ride I had actually changed my life, in that I got a lift to Berlin, arrived at 3 am in the West and found it to be a city that didn’t sleep, which was extremely appealing after licencing hours in the UK. The guy who was driving gave my mate and I a place to stay and at breakfast the next day in this shared house I got a load of tips on job-hunting and the offer of a place to stay for 6 weeks for free during the summer holidays (about 2 weeks later). I dealt with the fact that it was a room in an all-girls student accommodation block (some hardships just have to be endured) and got a job too, the rest, as they say, is history. If it hadn’t been for my 1.5 years in Berlin I’d never have saved the money that I blew on my adventures round Africa, including the very journey I mentioned in this article. Oh and I get your point about the uplifting air pollution. The very next ride after the idiot with the godawful cassette was a trucker with something a little stronger in the cab than a magic tree. I ended up falling asleep and roughly 200km west of where I was supposed to be going, but I’d at least got that damn music out of my head…

Comments are closed.