Tuesday, December 13, 2005


Enclave to Enclave

After Madrid I went to Almeria on the south coast of Spain. A strange city, half ugly and half beautiful, dominated by a gigantic castle on a cliff. Then I caught the ferry to Melilla, the Spanish enclave in North Africa. Sunrise over the mountains viewed from the deck of the boat was awesome. I took rather a liking to Melilla. It has a scruffy charm and is full of 1930s Art Nouveau buildings designed by Nieto and other disciples of Gaudi.

Then I crossed the border into Morocco. I actually walked all the way from Melilla to Nador. As I crossed the border I waited for the hustlers, but none appeared. I even sat on a low wall with my rucksack by my side to attract them (I wanted to get the hassle over and done with as quickly as possible) but none came. Then I realised that of all the border crossings from Europe to North Africa, Melilla-Nador is one of the most hassle free. A good choice.

Nador was unremarkable but pleasant enough. I stayed a night and then caught a Grand Taxi to Al Hoceima (four of us jammed into the back seat) for the 144 Km journey. A three hour ride and it only cost 55 dirhams -- about 5 euros! Al Hoceima is a quiet little place on the northern coast. I wanted to travel to a far more interesting destination, the mountain town of Chaouen, but to get there I knew I would have to pass through Ketama, the epicentre of Moroccan hashish production, and that prospect unnerved me. Ketama has a very bad reputation and the region is rife with gangsters!

In the end I took a big detour south. I first went to a town called Taza, then I travelled to Fes, and then I went to Meknes, staying in the medina. There is a souk in Meknes that just sells musical instruments! How cool is that? I gave a banana seller 10 dirhams (about 70p) and ended up with more bananas than I knew what to do with!

After Meknes I travelled north to Tetouan, a gorgeous looking town but full of really cynical hustlers. On the way, I passed a place called Larache and the next time I visit Morocco I want to stay there for a couple of days. It's a pleasant seeming place on the Atlantic coast. I caught a taxi from Tetouan to Ceuta, the Spanish enclave, then I caught the boat to Algeciras on the Spanish mainland. I took a day trip to Gibraltar to climb the rock and see the apes. On the bus back to Algeciras I met an innocent young fellow from Manchester who was planning to travel to Morocco to sample the kif. I fear that the hustlers in Tangier port will take him apart...

After Algeciras I went to Cadiz by bus. Saw more places on that journey that I want to visit in the future, Tarifa in particular looks splendid and there's almost 90 KM of beaches that stretch northwest from Tarifa to Cadiz. Really must walk that shoreline one day! Cadiz was nice enough but a bit quiet at this time of year, so I caught the train to Seville, supposedly the hottest city in Spain. That's certainly not true in winter! Anybody who says that Spain is warm all year round is lying through their chattering teeth! The cathedral in Seville is apparently the biggest in the world. It's impressive but to be honest I've had my fill of cathedrals. It's nicer just to wander the old narrow streets under the orange trees...

I looked for the 'Church of Don Juan' that features in Georges Bataille's infamous STORY OF THE EYE. The only church I could identify as a possible contender is the Hospital de la Caridad. However, my favourite structure in Seville is probably the Torre del Oro near the river, a 13th century Almohad watchtower. I'm more affected by Islamic design these days than Christian: it's fresher to my eye because I've been less exposed to it. Spain is a great country but I've come at the wrong time of year. Tomorrow I'll probably head back towards Portugal. I want to cross the border in the old fashioned style, by river ferry from Ayamonte to Vila Real de Santo António.

My interview in the Portuguese national newspaper ESPRESSO came out the other day. I have a full page spread and a photo of me looking suitably bemused. Let's hope it helps to shift some books!

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