Nestled 60 km south of Algeria’s capital Algiers, the renowned Monkey Creek restaurant in Chiffa Gorge boasts a long history of a century and more. A photo wall inside showcases famous personalities, including Napoleon III, Prince Philip, and former Algerian leaders who visited the site. However, the centerpiece is a Chinese sign that reads “Huan Ying Guang Lin” (welcome).
Owner Embarek Nadjem revealed that the restaurant, established in 1850, derives its name from the adjacent creek and Barbary macaques that inhabit the area. Originally a post house for Atlas Mountains travelers, it evolved into a tourist hotspot after Algeria’s independence in 1962. Nadjem noted that around 5,000 visitors frequent the establishment daily during weekends and summer vacations.
Yet, more than a decade ago, the restaurant faced possible demolition due to the construction of the North-South Highway meant to replace the original national highway, which was unable to meet the growing demand for transport. The initial design proposed by a Spanish team involved demolishing the restaurant, destroying a large amount of vegetation, and affecting the habitat of Barbary macaques, which were declared endangered in 2008 by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
It was after the team from China State Construction Engineering Corporation (CSCEC), responsible for the project’s construction, persuaded Algeria’s National Highway Agency to modify the design that the restaurant survived.
After negotiations, the CSCEC team proposed building a longer tunnel to cross the Atlas Mountains from the western side of the restaurant. The adjustment, although challenging, aimed to preserve the wildlife and environment as well as safeguard the historical sites.
For Tan Xiaozu, the general manager of the 53-km-long Chiffa section project of the North-South Highway, the modification entailed routing the tunnel through a significantly larger and more intricate geological formation.
Tan noted that the length of the single tunnel was extended to 4.8 km. He recalled that it took his team a year to set up a tunnel working area that required a dozen excavators and the removal of 460,000 cubic meters of rock.
Despite the challenges, the section opened in late 2020, reducing travel time across the Atlas Mountains by 60 percent. The then-Algerian Prime Minister Abdelaziz Djerad hailed the project as “of great strategic significance to the nation.”
Nadjem lauded the project as a “100 percent successful benchmark,” not only for its impact on travel but also for its commitment to preserving the environment and Barbary macaques’ habitat, as well as safeguarding the restaurant and local memories.
Mohammed and his family, who reside in the city of Blida, which is about 15 km away from the restaurant, have a long-standing connection with the establishment. In an interview with Xinhua, he fondly recounted how, as a child, his parents used to bring him here for leisure. Today, he and his wife continue this tradition by bringing their own children to the cherished location.
Observing Mohammed’s children playing in the courtyard and enticing monkeys with peanuts, Nadjem commented that such scenes might not have taken place if the Chinese builders hadn’t made adjustments to the highway project.
He noted that the Chinese sign “Huan Ying Guang Lin” now adorns the restaurant, serving as a commemoration of the Sino-Algerian friendship and the tale of environmental preservation. “It signifies a successful partnership and a commitment to preserving our shared heritage,” he said.
Distributed by APO Group on behalf of Forum on China-Africa Cooperation.