We left our small authentic bed and breakfast in the Oasis of Beni-Iseguen in Southern Algeria after savoring a very simple breakfast of toasted French baguette, apricot jam and a café au lait. It took a good hour through serpentine roads before we could spot the first dunes at the gate of the Sahara desert. The temperatures were perfect on this December day. The sun was bright but not harsh.
Except for the excited Spanish family and a French tourist who lived in Algeria in the 70s, our mini-bus was filled with Algerian tourists who came to explore this part of their country and celebrate New Year under the Saharan sky. Our first stop was a camp that consisted of three large nomad tents and modern clean toilets. A short break to stretch our legs and off we went to the dunes.
Visitors to the desert always look forward to a camel ride. It is one of those must-haves that are expected with a visit to the Sahara. We had that alright! But our expedition into the desert also involved a more unusual, adrenaline-boosting activity: sand surfing; well at least that's how it started before it turned into sand diving.
Our guide provided us with a snowboard. There was only one board, which we were asked to share in a group of ten; the tour groups are usually not large enough to warrant the purchase of more equipment. The fact that the material was not abundant did not seem to bother people. In fact it quickly turned into a social event and people laughed at each other’s performance as they glided down the steep dune.
But sand boarding was not adventurous enough I guess because within half an hour the snowboard was ditched and some travel companions decided to use their bodies to go down the dune. Sandboarding became sand diving; an Algerian specialty as someone from the group would later characterize it. In the next hour bodies would roll down the dune, acrobatic skills would be showcased and faces would plunge into the ground to lift the warm sand on the surface and give way to the harder cold layer underneath it.
I must admit that it is not the safest of activities. But what is for sure is that we had a good laugh without anyone having to be transported to hospital. A physically demanding activity followed by a relaxation time under a Touareg tent sipping cups of green and mint tea.