Algeria, I've got to be honest, I'm a little disappointed. I know that things haven't been easy. In the 1990's, you suffered a terrible civil war that decimated your tourist industry, although I hear that things have been looking up with the return of peace.
Call me crazy, Algeria, but over the last year I had a sudden urge to visit your capital, Algiers. I had always wanted to visit the Casbah and I must admit, a bit sheepishly, that my desire to do so was probably inspired by that song "Rock the Casbah" by The Clash. In my opinion, it's their second best song after "London Calling." I know it's a bit silly, but indulge me.
I've got to be honest with you: getting a tourist visa is not a straightforward task. Having gone through the visa process for tricky nations such as Bhutan and Russia, it takes a lot to surprise me. Consider me surprised. You clearly like paperwork.
Since I was traveling in Barcelona when I decided to visit, I called your embassy in Madrid to make sure that I was doing everything correctly. In fact, I called three times (I'm a perfectionist). I learned I needed to apply for my visa in person and then pick it up three to five days later, also in person.
Before undertaking the expense of traveling twice from Barcelona to Madrid, I wanted to make sure that I had all the details correct for the application. I'm sure that you can appreciate my desire to make sure I play by the rules - in this case, your rules. I am happy to report that when I called your embassy, the staff were very helpful and told me that my application appeared complete. They confirmed to me several times that that embassy would be happy to issue a visa to an American traveling in Spain.
Finally, the big day arrived. I've got to admit to you, Algeria, I actually felt a little nervous. As I walked up to the window to drop off my passport in Madrid, I felt as if I was at a junior high dance and I was working up the courage to ask a girl to dance to "Stairway to Heaven." Would I be rejected? I'm pretty sure that you don't have junior high dances in your country, but you've probably seen lots of American films on TV, so you may be able to understand how I was feeling.
Unfortunately, my fears were not unfounded. As the visa officer examined my papers, he suddenly looked up and informed me that as a US citizen, I would need to apply for the visa in Washington, DC, and that he could do nothing for me.
I've got to be honest with you. I was a bit shocked. I reminded the embassy official that I had been assured that I would be eligible for a visa - three times! - but I was unable to get any additional information and I was out of luck. I asked the embassy official for his name so that I might lodge a complaint, but he wouldn't tell me.
Since there was no one else with whom to speak, I thought that I would write to you directly. I understand that you have the right to deny admission to anyone who wishes to visit your country. In fact, I'm sure that many Algerians have horror stories about their experiences trying to get a visa for the United States.
Still, I would like to at least share a few thoughts on my experience now that my frustration has abated. A nation such as Algeria can only benefit when a foreigner seeks to understand its culture. Tourism needs a boost and the money that tourists spend doesn't hurt either.
For what it's worth, I'd like to tell you a bit about the experience that your neighbor Morocco has had with tourism. Apparently, the King of Morocco conducted a study and realized that the average foreign visitor spends more than $1,200 during a visit to his country. Given the favorable impact of such spending, Morocco has tried to make itself as tourist friendly as possible.
It turns out that I wouldn't even need a visa to visit Morocco. The day after I left your embassy in Madrid, I booked a flight to Marrakesh. Maybe I'll catch you next time.