Wassim Allache is one of the biggest travellers we know from Algeria, which is one of the countries in the Low Passport Index ranking – in fact, the listing was Wassim’s idea. The owner of Algeria Tours 16, in other words ‘your man in Algeria’, fluent in a number of languages including Chinese, he talks to us about Algeria and his travels.
Corcovado, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil 2011
Algerian flag in Machu Picchu
Wassim, tell us something about your early years and how your interest in travel developed.
I was born and raised in Algiers, capital city of Algeria. I have always been interested in world maps , countries capitals and geography in general. I remember that one of my neighbours used to be a diplomat and the very first gift I got from him was from his trip to Syria in the mid 90s. Adding to the fact that my mother is a Spanish language teacher, naturally my two biggest hobbies are languages and travels and it is such a good combination, because for me languages really help me to have a better approach and understanding of the country that am visiting.
You speak a number of languages fluently, including Chinese! How so? How has all this knowledge affected your life?
I was born basically speaking two languages, Algerian Arabic and French. I learned English and Spanish at school. Then on my freshman year at university I had a sort of vision and realised that since I was majoring in translation and linguistics and so were thousands of other students, I needed to stand out from the mass. So i decided to take up a new challenge with learning Chinese Mandarin.
Everyone has been telling me it was impossible to learn so I had to do it just to prove them wrong and I made it, self-taught, which really required a lot of dedication and hard work. At the same time I was learning Portuguese by myself too, making a good use of my commute time to the University. I would listen to Chinese podcasts on the way to University in the morning and Portuguese on the way back home…
Honestly speaking, these two languages have been a major life changer for me because I managed to have a part time job in a multinational company when i was barely a sophomore. I had the opportunity to represent them in different trade shows and exhibitions from Brazil to Kenya, passing by UAE.
When I graduated from University, although I was barely attending any classes, I ended up unexpectedly ranking first in my University. Because of that and thanks to my language skills, I had a great job offer from a company in China where I worked for many years, which enabled me to see so many more countries.
With Kenyan locals playing music in the market
How do you believe being Algerian has affected who you are? And how do you think people perceive Algeria if they haven’t visited it?
It has affected me in a positive way. Very few Algerian travellers are found in remote countries.
Fun fact, Chinese language helped me to get a free upgrade on my very first flight to China back in 2010. During the flight, the flight attendant was having a hard time communicating with a Chinese passenger who got caught smoking in the lavatories, so I helped with the translation and a few hours later, the captain asked to see me. I was in total panic (that was my very first flight to a far destination). He gave me a very warm welcome in the cockpit and put his hat on my head, let me have a souvenir picture with him and then he asked the flight attendant to upgrade me. An amazing memory that I will never forget.
Once, I was trying to use toilets in Italy in a kebab shop managed by an Indian guy. He would charge me 2 euros to use the bathroom for non customers, but I managed to recall a few life saving words in Hindi and the door was opened for free. The conclusion – languages can open all sort of doors!
At Taj Mahal 12/12/2012- last date combination possible
You are the owner of Algeria Tours 16. Tell us a bit about the company, the reasons you developed it, the challenges and rewards of it.
The more I traveled the more I realised that people didn’t know much about my country. They would know about neighbouring countries but not Algeria.
Back in 2016 while being in line to check-in to my flight to Easter Island, I met a group of 15 Chinese tourists who I became friends with very quickly. They suggested I tag along their trip since they had a free seat on their SUV and would offer me free meals and I just had to speak Spanish in return.
I invited them to visit me in Algeria and all 15 of them made it and that is when I decided to set up my own tour company.
The main purpose is to really give the most accurate image of my country to the world and so far we are doing well. We rank first on Tripadvisor but this wasn’t an easy process. We had to establish a reliable network, connections and a way to help foreign visitors get their visas with less delays.
The biggest reward is when people start their visit to Algeria with many questions, doubts or sometimes fears. They come as visitors but then they leave as friends, with plans to come back again.
Financials have never been the drive for me to have this business. I even offer free tours sometimes because I really genuinely enjoy what I do. I traveled as a businessman and as a backpacker as well, so I know what various people are looking for and am happy to provide them with whatever makes them happy.
Scuba diving in Easter island
Is there a general ‘profile’ of visitor who comes to Algeria? What do they have in common?
Curiosity is the right word I would say. They all have this in common – not knowing much about the country, since there are very few guide books and many of them are not updated.
Most of the visitors are looking for an authentic experience in a country that doesn’t suffer yet from massive tourism. Basically, most of them are looking for a unique trip, off the beaten track.
Ahaggar mountain, Tamanrasset, Algeria
And what are common reactions of people once they have travelled in Algeria?
I have many people saying that Algeria is one of the most misunderstood countries. Other say that their trip really changed their vision about the country.
And it did happen that a few of them booked flights to return, way before they left the country, so this really made me feel grateful.
Chichen Itza, Mexico
Now give us some of the gems of your mother country that not many people know about – the secret places that not even most of your visitors see.
Unfortunately, many people only come to visit the north of Algeria and don’t venture more into the inner cities and the south. Algeria is such a bio diverse country that going to Ghardaia might give you the impression that you have landed in another country or era.
Exploring Djanet Tadrart rouge area with some rock art painting that go back to 8000AD will really make you wonder how life was back then, especially because of the fact that you no longer have phone coverage. So you will really disconnect from the outer world and connect with your inner self and the amazing vast Sahara, nature and even beaches that are dazzling in Jijel region.
In Djanet with a road sign leading either to Libya or Niger
My fourth visit to the Great wall of China
Turning to travel, you have visited more than 60 countries yourself and you are a bit of an expert in China. Tell us a few of your China stories that remain in your memory.
I am traveling on an Algerian passport which means I need a visa almost for every single country and yet I managed to visit around 65 countries across the world. It took me about 3 years to manage to get a visa to Australia, but it felt really good once the visa was issued, a real achievement on its own.
I went to China over 21 times and each time I go there I feel like home. I have this special attachment to the country. In my free time I am always wandering around markets, parks, connecting with local old people playing table tennis or fruit vendors with whom I became a friend. And each time I go, they recognise me and we catch up over a cup of a tea or a meal.
I visited so many remote villages where they never saw a foreigner before and when they met up with me, some kids would greet me in English saying ‘Hello’. You can just imagine their faces the moment I greet them back in Chinese – either shocked, or beaming with happiness. It breaks the ice immediately and you get crowds very quickly around you, curious about this foreigner who doesn’t look like them and yet speaks their language.
Visiting an elementary school in China …
With Chinese locals in Xi an, China
And of the other countries, which ones have impressed you, positively or negatively and why?
It is always difficult to choose favourite countries, but usually if I really have to, it is mostly based on my interaction with local people.
I would say top 1 for me is Peru where I went to Cusco from Lima on a 24 hours bus ride and didn’t feel bored a single moment. People there are really nice, sharing food, sweets, playing guitar. A huge lesson in humanity.
The top 2 is a tie between Vietnam and Mexico, for the people as well. I remember visiting that small town of Da Nang. As I was walking by a restaurant, two gentlemen sitting there invited me to share their meal, although we didn’t speak any language in common. It was just smiles, handshakes and laughs.
Before i flew to HCM, I used one passenger’s phone to call my friend in order to let her know my flight was delayed. So one day later walking in the streets of Ho Chi Minh city, my friend receives a call from the same number. It was the same guy calling to check if I made it safe and sound. How can you beat this level of care and consideration?
In Mexico I’ve been blessed to meet all of the Mexican friends I met on different travels across Europe and online as well. They all came to meet and treat me with local food and showing me around.
One of them, named David, around his mid 60s, took a night bus just to meet me and went back the same day. He was really my highlight of that trip. It was also to congratulate me with a gift for the birth of my daughter and I’ve kept being in touch until today with him.
Top 3 at last, but not least, is Japan. I don’t think Japan qualifies to be just a country but a total different planet. People there, although shy and not speaking English, always helped me in the streets, metro, absolutely everywhere I needed any sort of help.
I was lucky to meet with one Japanese friend in Osaka who I met online. She invited my wife and me to her place, to meet her son and husband. We bonded so well that she also took us to her parents’ small restaurant where they had a special halal dinner for us, since we are muslim. Such a nice consideration, very rarely found anywhere. My friend also invited her cousins and uncles to this dinner so it really felt like a big family reunion.
The following day, her mom invited us again for lunch and for a cooking class along with Kanji writing class. No words to describe our happiness back then and we had a hard time to say goodbye.
Wearing Japanese traditional clothing in Kyoto
You have a family; do you travel with them or mostly alone, and does that impact your travel style?
I did many solo trips for work or backpacking to remote areas, but I do also enjoy family travels to nice destinations as well. It is a good balance, I believe, two different traveling styles and two different perspectives and challenges.
How has covid affected your work and your travels?
Well, basically Covid really changed my life 180 degrees. No corporate work, no tourism, no travels, been stuck for over two years, so instead of going straight to depression I decided to volunteer in my town by giving free English classes to a dozen of people, age range from 12 to 45 years and it was a great way to contribute to society. Some of them could have better job opportunities and offers in the near future.
Travel wise I did more trips within Algeria with my wife and daughter and other times with some friends too. So it was just amazing to be able to see and explore more of the largest country of Africa.
Feeding a giraffe in Kenya
And what are your plans for the rest of the year, travelwise and workwise?
The recent NomadMania expedition to Azerbaijan was my first trip during the two years of Covid and I also visited the world expo in Dubai.
I am also thinking of following up closely with countries in South America and Europe to see which ones are re-opening and might take it from there to plan a new adventure again.
Workwise, always trying to get Algeria well-known on the international stage, but always trying to organise tours and trips with a personal touch.
In the streets of Havana
Finally our signature question – if you could invite any 4 people to dinner, from any period in history, who would you invite and why?
I would definitely invite my parents, Kobe Bryant, Nicolas Hulot and Martin Luther King. These are the people I look up to.
My parents for raising me and helping me become the person that I am today.
My love for basketball started with MJ but boomed mostly during KB era and had the chance to see him play in L.A.
Nicolas Hulot has been to so many countries and remote places on Earth and he was my inspiration to the travel world.
And at last, but not least, Martin Luther King with his speech of I have a dream, made me believe that everything is possible if you put the hard work and faith in it.
With Brian Shaw, Lakers, NBA
DMZ line from South Korea side