I had travelled down to Cadaqués in Catalonia to see if I could meet Salvador Dali who lived there. I settled into the café life there, like many students traveling in that era. We sat outside the Café Maritime feeling the soft Mediterranean breezes, discussing the issues of the day or of life in the kind of profound detached way that students do, while we sipped our café or wine.
We were like caterpillars chewing on leaves, oblivious to the rest of life around us, but enjoying our repartee and easy life. Another traveler arrived from the south a week or so later and told us about his time in Morocco. I was growing restless and perhaps influenced by the recent pop song “Marrakesh Express,” Morocco didn’t sound very far away, and was an even warmer climate.
Spain and Morocco are interwoven. Parts of Spain are actually in Africa on the north coast. They are enclaves, totally surrounded by Morocco. After learning Spain extended to Africa, I thought “how far can Morocco be? Should I take advantage of the proximity to see some of it?”
So off I went, first to Valencia. The coastal highway was fairly well travelled and hitching a ride was not too difficult. South of Valencia I was dropped off at a gas station by the highway.
There was a large truck with three levels of steel racks filled propane gas tanks, 40 per level, 120 in all. I went over and smiled at the driver Pedro. He smiled back and asked where I was going and if I wanted a ride. I told him I was headed to Gibraltar.
He smiled even more broadly and told me that he could take me as far as Granada. Perfect! Our long drive took us along narrow, winding roads along the East and South coasts of Spain. I felt we were in a traveling bomb with all that propane behind us. But slowly I settled down and got used to it. Fortunately, Pedro was a skilled driver who obviously loved his work. He delivered essential propane fuel to appreciative customers all along the coast. As his guest and occasional helper wherever we stopped for food or drink along the way, I was treated as a member of his crew. While I sensed that we were a traveling bomb, clinging to a sometimes very narrow coastal road, after a while I felt completely safe, as Pedro expertly and happily guided us as we glided through the spectacular scenery!
When we stopped in Cartagena, Pedro dropped me by the harbor to sightsee while he made his local deliveries. I looked across the harbor and saw what at first looked like a rocket ship, It was one of the very first successful submarines, the Peral. It was successfully launched in 1888 – amazingly before its time. The inventor and builder’s vision was not shared by the Spanish Navy, and despite successful trials, the project was abandoned. How can you fight a naval battle from under water? The hull now reminds everyone of the folly of the Spanish Navy, and the vision of Sr. Peral.
The old Moorish capital of Granada sits amongst hills and is the location of the Alhambra palace and the gardens of the Generalife. The Alhambra is almost a thousand years old and is a marvel of Moorish architecture.
That Arabic influence is everywhere in Spain, particularly this area. Our school classes didn’t teach us that much of the conquest of Spain by the Arabs and their more than 700 years rule. The Alhambra was a testament to their sophistication and appreciation of beauty – mosaics and pools everywhere.
The Alhambra became the royal palace of Ferdinand and Isabella where Columbus received his commission to sail off to the Indies in 1492. But the Arabic mosaics and architecture overshadowed that and made me more curious about the Moors. I spent a day wandering through these thousand year old walls, amazed at the civilization that had built them so many years ago.
I continued south the next day, easily getting rides to Almería and then along the coast south all the way to Algeciras, pretty much Europe’s most southerly point.
You can look across the bay from Algeciras to the Rock of Gibraltar, the British enclave. It is a dramatic sight, and you can understand how ancient mariners marked it as the entrance to another world. It seemed quite spectacular even shrouded by low-lying clouds which enveloped the peak the entire time I was there.
The regular ferry passage from Algeciras was quick. We travelled with the Atlantic and the Straits of Gibraltar on one side and the Mediterranean on the other. The cloud-shrouded Gibraltar had given way to bright sunshine by the time we reached the Port of Tangier. An hour and a half later, I was in Tangiers, in Africa – a continent I had never set foot on.