I arrived in Marrakesh, Morocco mid-morning, after crossing the Atlas Mountains and it hit me – “ I’ve done it, I’ve crossed the Sahara Desert” My boyhood dream had been fulfilled. It’s big, hot, and has lots of sand!
I could have ended my journey and took advantage of a flight home on a low cost carrier. However, I always promised myself that if I were to do this trip I would either start or end the journey in Europe. I booked into a lovely little hotel opposite the train station; I had negotiated a day rate only, as I had just paid for a sleeper berth on an overnight express train to Tangiers. I wander around Djema el-Fna square, the beating heart of Marrakech and looked around the souks and medina close by. I also stopped for a haircut and shave and ate a wonderful Tagine meal for lunch and again for dinner in the square when it came alive in the evening. I even went on one of those open-top bus journeys around the city earlier in the day; I was tired after 3 solid days on the road and just kicked back and listened contentedly to the English commentary on my earphones.
After a long shower it was time to catch my train and I had an upper bunk in a 4-bed carriage, I slept like a baby and the journey to Tangiers was far too quick, I could have slept longer. Now I know Tangiers very well this will be my 3rd visit. It was the first place I visited outside of Europe and the US and what culture shock it was. To this day it still holds the number one position, for me, in respect of hustlers, touts, crooks, con-artists etc. and I’ve been to India, Egypt et al. All I can say is its changed a bit, I was expecting to be mobbed when I emerged from the train but not at all, unlike my last two visits. One taxi driver approached me and I asked to be taken to a shared taxi stand to take me to Ceuta or Sebta as he called it.
Spain and home.
Ceuta is a part of Spain that is located on the African mainland; they also have another territory further along the coast called Melilla that I visited a few years earlier. Spain also has a few more small places on the African mainland known collectively as the Plazas de Soberania including a small island called Perejil (Parsley) only a few hundred metres from the Moroccan coast. It recently sparked an international incident when Morocco stationed 6 cadets there to tackle illegal immigration. Spain sent in their armed forces to “retake” their territory. All of these Spanish possessions are claimed by Morocco. They are often referred to as Spain’s Gibraltar.
It was about a 90-minute journey to the Ceuta border that was very busy. Many Moroccans cross the border daily, as they have jobs in the territory. Security is also tight as many migrants try to get into Ceuta and thus Europe to claim asylum. When I eventually got through I was no longer in Africa, so to speak, and the contrast was marked. The buildings and plazas were very Spanish and the shops and restaurants distinctively European. I will return here one day for a good look around, on this occasion it was just a cursory glance.
After a bite to eat I secured a ferry ticket across the Straits of Gibraltar to Algeciras and waved goodbye to Africa and the Sahara Desert from the deck of the ferry. To end my journey, I thought it was apt to finish on British soil just across the water from Spanish Ceuta in Africa, so I took a taxi ride the short distance to Gibraltar. I walked over the border, past a familiar red telephone box and immediately to the airport located only a few steps from immigration. There was a flight leaving for London in 90 minutes time, I managed to purchase a seat and was back home in time for dinner.
The trip overall was great and challenging but my experiences in Mauritania took me out of my comfort zone. As I heard a comedian say once “I’ve just been on the holiday of a lifetime, I won’t be doing that again”