In the capital Algiers at least, life seemed freer and more lively than we expected. The shops and cafes were full and, superficially at least, this did not seem to be a place on the cusp of revolution. It felt like a country coming out of something very bad and now quite determinedly making the best of a difficult situation.
But when we began meeting human rights activists, we got a much better sense of what ordinary Algerians are up against and what they really think. To start with, the military and intelligence people, the DRS, are omnipresent, so meetings had to be arranged surreptitiously. On one occasion, for example, a contact identified himself at a street corner by using pre-arranged code words. Then he asked us to follow him very discreetly and at a distance to the Metro, past the police and the surveillance cameras, onto a train and out to his tiny apartment in the suburbs. Only when safely behind closed doors did he feel able to speak freely about the repression and the many economic problems the country faces - a housing crisis, rocketing unemployment and spiralling food prices. He told us things were so bad that desperate young people were burning themselves alive.