TRAVEL - THE PLACE THAT CHANGED ME: BEN MILLER

One half of Channel 4's Armstrong and Miller found magic in North Africa
Click to follow
The Independent Travel
n 1987 I travelled to North Africa. It was the first time I'd travelled under my own stream, and it had a significant effect on me. I was a student in the early days of Interail and I really wanted to go to Algeria. People thought we were mad, as you never really heard anything about Algeria then. It was this mysterious place that no one seemed visit. Me and my then girlfriend took the train to all the way to Sicily and across to Tunisia. The rail ticket was a sort of book which each country you passed through had to stamp. Most places in North Africa didn't know what an Interail ticket was then, and although it wasn't meant to cover Algeria, I think the authorities there saw stamps from Italy and Tunisia and thought, `Oh, all right then. Why should we be left out?'

When we crossed the border from Tunisia to Algeria we didn't have a clue where we were. Coming from the Moorish enclaves of Tunisia it was strange to suddenly find such European heritage in the French colonial architecture. And we had no idea that Algeria would be so friendly. The people were unbelievably generous and we kept being taken off to family homes for food and lodgings. The day we arrived in Algiers we were taken to this guy, Constantine's, house on the coast and treated to royal hospitality. In that instance we were at least able to repay it a bit, as a few years later a friend of his turned up on the doorstep of my college digs and stayed on my floor.

I remember one night in Morocco, in Sale (the sort of sickly, half-brother town to Rabat). A chap called Mohammed invited us to stay in an empty house, free of charge. We thought it rather odd and it all became rather clear later on when he arrived with a belly-dancer, some sweet-meats and a couple of girls from the university, plus some pretty bloody strong dope. I guess we were naive but you never imagine that someone is trying to arrange an orgy for you. It got a bit messy when he said `Now I stay in this room and you stay here with the girls'. So in best News of The World tradition we made our excuses and left.

The summer after we were in Algeria, the civil war broke out. There was some sense of impending trouble when we were there, but again, we didn't really put two and two together until later.

But my most enduring memory is climbing up onto the roof of a hotel in Ghardaia to watch dawn break. A mullah had just started his morning prayer, the bells were ringing. It was one of those little moments when, somehow, you grow up a bit.

Comments