Published: April 26th 2012April 24th 2012
Gibraltar - Europa Point
The Mosque of The Custodian of The Holy Mosques - built in 1997 looking out over the Straits of Gibraltar to Morocco
Gibraltar is an anomaly.
Geographically it’s in Spain, and they’d really like it back, but for now it’s British - from the pics you can see even the weather is British – I imagine an isolated cold front hovering over it permanently while the sun blazes over the rest of Spain.
We went there with Pat and Ann, who you met in the last blog, (thanks again for the tour guys!) and who relished being able to light up in the ‘oldest pub in Gibraltar’ while enjoying a decent fish and chip lunch. You can’t smoke in pubs anymore in the UK, so Gibraltar really is more English than England.
The shops are full of Union Jack tea towels and teapots and tourists, but the Rock itself is wonderful – huge, sudden, imposing, white even in the grey drizzle and full of fascinating history like the Great Siege tunnels, where the British tunnelled into the limestone to create a fortress within a natural fortress.
No wonder it has been fought over forever - it’s a beacon of conquest and control.
Then we finally found the Costa
Pat and Ann introduced us to some big guns in town
del Sol that existed in our imaginations - Marbella!
It’s small, it’s cute, it has an old town complete with Islamic ruins, high Catholic churches, impossibly picturesque alleys of whitewashed walls festooned with glowing red geraniums and black wrought iron window grilles as well as tiny boutiques full of blingsy accessories with huge prices.
It is also full of restaurants, some perched right on the edge of the Med (where they barbecue your sardines on a stick in an artfully converted old dinghy), some tucked down alley so you only find them if you get lost.
And it’s 6km from Puerto Banus, mecca for international celebs and ludicrously wealthy people who have their $100milliion boats moored in the marina so their female crew can step straight from the yacht into Cartier, Vitton, D&G or Jimmy Choo. Yes, a pair of Jimmy Choos – perfect for the boat.
We walked from Marbella along the Paseo Maritimo, had our tapas looking out at the marina watching Lambourghinis, Ferraris, Bentley convertibles and handbags that cost more than our house, parade by.
We took a day trip to Ronda
A Rock of Ages
the remains of the Moorish Castle mingle with 20th C British buildings
– all the guide books say it’s too hard to get to and you have to take a tour, but we just caught a bus for the one hour trip up into the mountains behind Marbella.
Suddenly in a valley between rugged and barren ranges, a large town appears out of the mist. The old town is spectacularly sited on the curving cliff top of a very deep and steep gorge, spanned by an amazingly engineered bridge. Islamic buildings, Roman remains, Gothic churches, stunning views…breathtaking.
Next – our carefully planned journey to Morocco.
Oh. My. God. Except I don’t think my God is Allah - it took us 16 hours to get from Marbella to Casablanca. Our tour started Friday evening, but we decided to arrive a day early in case there was a hitch with one of our several types of transport. ‘Hitch’ turned out to be an understatement.
1. Taxi to Marbella bus stop, 7am. All good
2. Bus a bit late, but we’re only an hour from Algeciras, the port where we’re catching a ferry over the Straits. Gibraltar is
imposing and omnipresent. You have to drive over the airport runway after the border control between Spain and Gibraltar
visible in the distance when the bus suddenly pulls over and we notice smoke pluming out from underneath – right where our bags are stowed. In the hour we have to wait till another bus comes to rescue us, we never actually find out what’s wrong.
3. So we miss the 10am ferry, if in fact it existed – our next glitch is waiting in the chaotic Algeciras ferry terminal for an hour and half. The only thing we can find out is that “the police are not happy about something.” They cancel the 11am and noon sailings and we finally get on board around 2pm. The time zone difference should have made today’s travel a breeze, but the delays eat up our extra 2 hours.
4. I missed out the frantic running around the back alleys of Algeciras when Rhys asked a guy in a shop doorway where the ferry terminal was (woman in bus station had just waved and said “5 minutes walk”) Our new “friend” grabbed my suitcase and started walking rapidly indicating we had to follow.
We were also looking for an ATM and Rhys was miming
a little piece of Spanish paradise on the Costa del Sol
getting money out of a wall…Manuel (I shall call him) was gathering his friends around him asking about banks, so at this stage I was sure we were going to be lured into some dark doorway and robbed at the very least - Algeciras has a bad reputation. Thankfully Manuel did just want to help us.
5. I did enjoy the ferry ride with Gibraltar looming in the distance, but Rhys spent most of it standing in a queue to get our passports stamped – everyone else was doing it so we thought we’d better too. There was a merry dance as we got near to Tangier, our Morocco port, as everyone dashed for what we thought was the exit, then the other exit, then had to bundle ourselves and suitcases down some very narrow stairs and exit into the vehicle hold. Nope – we never found out what the problem was.
6. It was now raining and we were being swept with the crush of tetchy passengers to a waiting shuttle bus. Too full, wait for next one. Squashed with soggy backpackers we get to the new ferry terminal, which is
The church of Encarnation
one of many 'simple' little churches in Marbella old town
40 minutes drive from Tangier proper, where we have to get our train to Casablanca. No problem we thought as they have laid on free shuttle buses to make up for this logistical conundrum. But by the time we get there one has gone and there is only 1 an hour – this might be too late for our 3pm train for the 5 hour train journey.
7. Rhys talks to ‘information’ lady who says she will negotiate a price for a taxi for us (to avoid the inevitable tourist rip off) Much waving, pointing and haggling in the rain and we are motioned towards a vehicle which would not be out of place as an extra in Smash Palace. I hesitate. We’ve already committed several cardinal sins of travel today, another is not to take a taxi unless it looks well maintained and official, not about to fall to bits or looking like it moonlights as a brothel.
Rhys is already loading bags into the boot, the young driver ushers me into the back seat – Moroccan techno blaring from the speakers is so loud we can’t hear each other talk. Other
Semana Santa parade
We were lucky enough to be in Marbella in the week leading up to Easter when most places in Spain hold 'week of the saints' festivals. wonderful marching bands with VERY loud drumming!
damp passengers are eyeing up our taxi – yes I thought, another couple can share the cab and fare, but what actually happens is two other guys crush into the front seat (so the driver is even more restricted than he is already by the fluffy dice + religious relics on his dashboard).
Not only do the guys not share the fare, the driver and his pimp extract more money from them. Now we have to have our cabin bags in the back seat with us and I watch with horror as the driver leans back into the car to get some string to tie up the now bulging boot! We finally jerk out of the terminal and start the scariest 45 minutes I’ve ever done in a four wheeled vehicle.
8. The three in the front carry on an animated conversation, I guess about soccer, alarmingly distracting the driver from his job. He’s easily distracted. The roads are dirt track (we find out later he could have taken us on the motorway but didn’t to avoid the toll). He and other taxis, trucks etc zigzag past one another at the drop of
La Pollinica advocation
this was the first parade, held in the early evening, with penitents walking ahead of Jesus on the road to Nazareth
a hat and with no room to spare.
Boy racer-taxi-driver leans out the window to yell at mates, honk his horn and at one stage pulls over, leaps out and has a hearty conversation with a traffic officer carrying a sub machine gun, gets back in and carries on. I thought about putting on my seatbelt…but there wasn’t any. I think there was some scenery on the way but I couldn’t see much out of the windows covered with tasselled and fringed curtains and dirt.
We did get to the Tangier train station on time, but being a Muslim country I couldn’t order some alcohol to steady my nerves… a mint tea helped.
Rhys took pity on me and got 1st
class tickets on the train…fortunately as this was the only carriage with toilet facilities (read broken loo with hole directly onto speeding tracks) or any food for the 5 hour journey.
We spent ages planning the return trip to see if we could improve the logistics, but in fact it was worse! After getting up at 4.30am on the last morning of our Morocco tour we finally
Very impressive, with 46 'hombres de trono' carrying the image of Jesus on the donkey
arrived in Seville at midnight – 19 hours later! We stood/sat for 5 hours at the ferry terminal in Morocco – gazing over to Spain as clear as day only 9 miles and a 1-2 hour ferry trip away.
But how was the Morocco tour?? Brilliant, amazing, enthralling, fascinating. We couldn’t have done what we did and go where we went without a tour. Our tour director was knowledgeable and knew how to impart that knowledge in an entertaining way. I’ll let the pictures tell the story…
There are more photos below