USA, Dusseldorf, Spain, Gibraltar, Morocco, Spain, USA…in 10 days
My travel companion and I were planning to purchase a sailboat in the Med, to keep in the Med; this project has kept us busy exploring otherwise not so desirable/bucket list destinations…and therefore, I’m so thankful for the search. There have been many “search committee” trips, and I welcome more- any time that I can explore a culture otherwise out of my radar, is welcomed handsomely, or perhaps….beautifully.
There was a sailboat which was interesting in Gibraltar. We were in California at the time, and learned of a storm in Miami, to which we needed to immediately attend, then fly to Gibraltar to view a sailboat we’ve been considering online. Well…things didn’t go perfectly to plan. They hardly do.
Our new itinerary from Miami now included a stop in Germany. I have always wanted to explore Germany, as I have German ancestors, and as I grew up during the Cold War; the intrigue is as interesting to me as is Russia…..on my check list….not yet accomplished. I must add that approximately 50% of my friends are Jewish and they are just as open to exploring Germany as am I. Unfortunately for me, we only spent a lay-over in Germany, with no time to explore.
Next, we flew to Spain, rented a car in Malaga, then drove to Gibraltar- which isn’t in the EU, but the UK…so one must go through “Check Point Charlie” in order to enter the tiny Gibraltan peninsula. There are no signs along the Spanish highways indicating where Gibraltar is or isn’t…until the last exit. I’ve heard from the locals on both sides of the borders that Spain wants to own Gibraltar and refuses to advertise it’s location. Also- unlike all of Europe, Gibraltar’s currency in the GBP; Spain’s is the EURO.
The “Rock of Gibraltar” is not a solid entity; there are military installations, tunnels, medical facilities and concert halls. It’s very interesting.
Once we arrived at our beautiful “Grand Dame ” hotel “The Rock Hotel Gibralrar”,http://www.rockhotelgibraltar.com/
We were so tired, that we just decided to order a local take-out pizza and enjoy it on our terrace facing the water, laden with container ships, either on their way into or out of the Med. By the way, that’s Africa in the distance…more on that later in the blog….
Anyhow, we brought a pizza to our room, sat outside, ate half and decided to sleep with the french doors open, as we hadn’t had any fresh air in over 18 hours….we left the un-eaten pizza outside on the table. The next day, we were so grumpy with each other, that we decided to not speak to one another and to recuperate by the pool. Three hours later, as we walked across the street to the hotel; my friend pointed out the tram bringing people back and forth to the point of the “Rock”…. I said, “forget the tram….look at the ape!”
We raced into to the hotel and announced that there was an ape which we had just witnessed that had just opened a window to a guest’s room and had ENTERED!!! The receptionist looked blankly at me and asked which room did I think the ape entered. I replied quizzically that I had no idea and asked the natural question, “is this a normal occurrence?”. She replied that as Gibraltar is part of the UK, there is tea served daily and as a lovely hotel, there are tea and biscuits served daily in our guestrooms- the apes know this. It was very fortunate that we hadn’t had a pizza visitor the night previously as we obviously slept, enjoying the sea air.
The next several days were spent looking intensely at sailboats and sea-trialing them…all to no avail. Everyone involved in the boat dealing process was delightful…on both sides of Europe: we sailed out of one of the Gibraltar yacht clubs, sailed passed the rock of Gibraltar into the confused/rough seas of that part of the Med, then back to Spain for the hull inspection. Unfortunately, the boat we reviewed wasn’t as advertised, but we made great friends and memories along the way.
We continued our path for more exploration, since we were already in that part of the world…
As we had been looking out at Morocco for one week, and had some time to kill, I began my lobbying for a look-see. May I digress a few decades? When my identical twin sister and I had finished high school and were modeling for international brands, we took a summer semester in the University of Madrid- this was the 80’s. During that time, there was a tremendous amount of human trafficking and we were ABSOLUTELY NOT ALLOWED to travel to Morocco- even though we begged. Flash forward twenty years….there was no stopping me this time!
My travel companion and I had brought up the subject of a day tour to Morocco to our yacht dealer friends, and EVERYONE said that it was a dangerous idea and only should/must be attempted with a tour. The hotel would not be responsible for our well-being; also, a funny tidbit….I was told that I would be a “Target” and that any man with me would be held at gun-point, while I was kidnapped into the white slave trade. Now, I’m 43 years old, and thought that this was a ridiculous/hilarious, though flattering idea. We pushed on, with caution. I HATE TOURS.
The next day, we informed the hotel that we were planning to drive to Tarifa, Spain, then take the ferry to Tangiers, Morocco for the day, then return later that night. The hotel staff wished us luck, took our jewelry into the safe and sent us off on our way, warning us not to take our car to Africa. My travel companion was very nervous and unhappy; I was excited.
Since the EU, has been implemented, it feels odd to be asked for one’s passport while crossing borders in what feels like Europe. In Gibraltar, there is an international airport, which has one runway….which also coincides with Gibraltar’s checkpoint area….it’s just passed the checkpoint. When leaving Gibraltar, one drives over the runway (if it’s not being used by an airplane) then through customs. It was a lovely Spanish morning, we then cruised through the south of Spain towards Tarifa, Spain, then towards Tenerife. Upon arrival in Tarifa, all went well. We purchased our tickets and were informed that there were ferries scheduled every 45 minutes throughout the day on either side of the Med. Great!:)
All went well; we went through the normal customs drills, then waited outside for the auto-ferry to arrive. There was a long line of Range Rovers with Arabic plates and pedestrian ladies, with families, in Arabic dress waiting for the ferry- along with the expected Euro/US backpacking youngsters. Soon enough, the ferry arrived…
Now, when the doors to the auto-ferry arrived, the most curious thing occurred, people of all ages began to RUN out of the ferry! Not just young people, but older grandparents dragging children and luggage, were RUNNING off of the ferry. HMMMMMM. Perhaps, this was cultural? We boarded, took our seats and awaited Northern Africa….goodie…another cool stamp in our passports. I’d been to South Africa (another upcoming blog entry) but not North Africa. 45 minutes later, we arrived in Tangiers, Morocco.
I’m pretty good at deciphering Spanish, French, Italian and Portuguese, due to my US University SAT Test Latin Roots Cram- but somehow, I missed the announcement in Arabic about the customs procedures during the ferry ride. As we arrived in Tangier, and tried to disembark, we were told that we had missed our window of customs disembarkation and would have to wait for the new passengers to be boarded. OK. No problem. Great. We’ll just enjoy the view from the boat of the city. We strolled outside to the back deck and noticed a very disturbing site….HOLY COW! There was a huge mass of humanity trying to jump onto the ferry…they were pushing with impunity against each other, pushing over each other, the police were lifting up and down the loading dock of the ferry, people were trying to jump aboard, police were batting them back to the ground with sticks. We considered just returning to comfy Europe. I lobbied for exploring Africa….we’re here!!!!
Next…currency….thank God for my good old Bank of American ATM card, which has worked everywhere from China, Africa, UK, EU…..We found an ATM, then hired a taxi (with MILLIONS of local currency in our pockets…about $300USD) and instructed him to drive us around the city for two hours, then to drive us back to the ferry station, please. Fine. We drove to the highest point of the city for the best view and along the way, encountered a few camels next to a Saudi American casino:
Our taxi driver had informed us, just after he removed an enormous flying cockroach from my side of the car (we had to stop the car and run out, in order to get that monster out…I’m not a prissy girl, but that bug was HUGE and FLYING), that he’d be handing us off to his “brother” to tour the Medina (city center) following our auto tour of the city. Super! “We can grab a cous cous lunch with the brother in the Medina?” Sure!! It was 1:30pm; we hadn’t eaten anything except a light breakfast at 7am.
My travel companion presented me with an interesting observation whilst we were touring the city. “Look at the cafes.” he said. “Why? What am I looking for ?” (there was so much to absorb quickly). He said, “There are NO WOMEN sitting in the cafes!” HMMMMM I wouldn’t do well in Morocco. Next, we were dropped off with the “brother” to tour the Medina. …… post to continue tomorrow…..