Crossing the Strait: Gibraltar to Tangier
When I was 9 years old my class at school had a pen-friendship with a class the same age in Tangier. We created project boards with drawings and explanations about France, Paris and our life at school which the teacher sent per post with further letters to Tangier. The girls on the other side of the Mediterranean wrote back with similar stories and drawings describing their city, their country and their life. Of course, we studied the map and learnt everything about the Strait of Gibraltar separating our two continents. I was fascinated by this exchange.
No wonder then that the city of Tangier has long been on the list of places I wanted to see at some point in my life. And when we decided to travel to Morocco, it was obvious that there would be only one acceptable way to enter the country, namely by boat crossing the Strait, and that we would go the limit and pay a visit to Gibraltar as well.
Landing at Gibraltar Airport in the evening as we did was definitely something special, with the sea on both sides of the plane, disembarking at the foot of the illuminated rock and simply walking away to our hostel in nearby La Línea de la Concepción in Spain (much cheaper than Gibraltar!).
Next morning we headed straight to Jews Gate at the northern end of Gibraltar town where we entered the Upper Rock Nature Reserve. We took a footpath called Mediterranean Steps, a hiking trail that stretches all around the southern end of the Rock, quite steep in places, and ends at O’Hara’s battery, its highest point. We were pleasantly surprised as we did not expect to experience such a demanding and scenic hike in Gibraltar: the views to the south and Africa as well as those along the eastern side were breathtaking.
We hardly saw anybody on the trail and were quite taken aback when after some exploring we eventually came to St Michael's Cave and a road open to traffic: the traffic there was horrendous and really sobering. We followed that road until we reached a spot where we saw some of the famous apes; it was stop-and-go with lines of taxis and so-called “safari cars”, driving slowly as their passengers were walking along side to take pictures.
Once we had seen the apes we just had one thing in mind: forget the apes' den, we had seen enough in terms of monkeys and get away from this road as quickly as possible. So, after a detour to the Windsor suspension bridge, we made our way to the cable car top station and from there walked all the way to the northern side of the Rock exiting at Moorish Castle where we met the tourist masses again. Except for this stretch of motorised road we thoroughly enjoyed the Nature Reserve, something we had not anticipated at all.
We spent the rest of the afternoon visiting the town itself: Main Street, the cemetery with the tombs of the Trafalgar dead, the church, all very British indeed. We shopped at a Morrisons supermarket for our evening picnic, it felt almost like home!
There are many ferries travelling between Spain and Morocco, but we wanted expressly to travel with FRS Ferries from Tarifa, FRS being the only company with a connection to the port of Tangier Ville (as opposed to Tangier-Med, a deep-water port opened in 2007, and located about 40 kilometres east from Tangier Ville).
Getting to Tarifa was quite straightforward. We first took a bus (2.5 € per person) from La Línea to Algeciras where FRS has offices to catch a free shuttle bus to Tarifa Port and purchase our tickets. The bus was about 10 minutes late when it finally arrived in Algeciras and we were tight with time, so we rushed to the harbour, bought our tickets and boarded the shuttle bus just in time. We were only five passengers, the sun was shining at last and the drive to Tarifa was quite scenic, much better than the one to Algeciras which went through a heavily industrialised region with many oil refineries.
In the end, the crossing turned to be rather disappointing.
First the ferry was a closed ferry: impossible to go outside and watch the African coast slowly approaching, leaning on the railing with the wind in my hair as I had imagined ;-).
Second the ferry was full to the brim with other tourists. They were from all nationalities, some came from holiday resorts on the Spanish coast where they had booked an all-inclusive day out in Tangier, others were in organised groups (many Chinese) touring Spain with a bonus day in Morocco. The problem was that all border controls to enter Morocco have to take place on-board during the crossing, that's the way things are done. So, imagine a single Moroccan border officer not particularly hurried in a small cubicle behind a counter having to check and stamp the passports of approximately 500 foreigners in one hour… The guides in charge of the day-trippers were hectic and while we waited for the boarding to begin, we heard them summon their tourists to make sure that they would start queuing up at the counter from the very moment they entered the boat: every minute was precious to keep the day's schedule. The tourists in organised groups were more relaxed as their guide would queue for them, with a batch of passports in the hand, which meant that the line stalled for what seemed ages while the officer dealt with 20+ passports and the queuers grew very annoyed indeed.
Suspecting this mess we had decided to keep calm and just wait it out. So we boarded among the last passengers, found a seat and in lieu of scenery watched the snaking queue making its way down the aisle. We had already been in Tangier for a while when the queue finally started to clear and we got up to join the last 10 waiting passengers.
Oh well, so much for my romantic expectations, all in all quite a frustrating and crowded experience!
The good thing was that when we at last got our passports stamped, we simply stepped out of the boat, made our way to the medina just opposite the harbour, a pleasant way to approach magic Tangier.
$updated from: Blog.htxt Mon 03 May 2021 16:08:28 trvl2 (By Vero and Thomas Lauer)$