Gibraltar Strait, Ceuta & Rif, September 27, 2007

Trip Start Sep 19, 2007
Trip End Jan 05, 2008

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Thursday, September 27, 2007

The ferry across the 12 mile wide Strait of Gibraltar between the so-called "Pillars of Hercules" (the Rock of Gibraltar on one side and the Rif Mountains peaks on the other) was more exciting for its meaning of traveling from Europe to Africa at the entrance to the Mediterranean than it was for its scenery.   In fact, the ferry was configured in such a way that there were only two small outdoor decks at the back of the ship, providing a somewhat limited view of where we had come from and virtually none of where we were going. 
We actually traveled on the ferry not from Gibraltar to Morocco but between two Spanish ports, Algeciras on the European side and Ceuta, one of two small Spanish enclaves on the African side of the strait.  The famous Rock of Gibraltar was in view, though, and very impressive as a large stand-alone monolith rather than the rocky terminus of a larger mountain range I had envisioned.  Ceuta, meanwhile, is a true bit of Spain on the African continent and, as duty-free port, was a good place for us to stock up on cheap groceries, soft drinks, and beer before entering Morocco
There was very tight security at the border crossing from Ceuta into Moroccan territory with many people mulling about the border not unlike at many spots along the U.S.-Mexican border.  A surprisingly large number of those contemplating the border fence also looked to be Black Africans rather than Moroccans.  Although many Moroccans wish to head to the European Union for a better life, for them crossing into Ceuta is in and of itself not a particularly meaningful step.  That's a different story, however, for people from many sub-Saharan African nations for whom Ceuta is the easiest E.U. territory to get a foothold in and with it the opportunity to request political asylum in Europe from their repressive governments.  The sight of hundreds of people loitering by the border and Moroccan guards beating aspiring border crossers with clubs were among our first images of Africa.  Allegedly the violence occurred because everyone was grumpy since it was Ramadan and Muslims were fasting daily from sunrise until sundown. 
Once past the border we took a westerly road which climbed quickly into the Rif Mountains, a drive which provided spectacular views of mountains and seascape in the western end of Morocco's most northerly mountain range before it descended back towards the coast.  We had a quick truck lunch on a bluff overlooking the Atlantic while trying to stay hidden from road traffic so as not to offend Ramadan observers with our midday feeding.  From there it was a quick drive to Asilah via Tangier, Morocco's famed and hectic northern port city.
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