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Published: October 17th 2008
at the heliport in Ceuta
There comes a time in every adventurers experience when they have the opportunity to do something out of their range. For a cruise ship aficionado for instance, this might take the form of a jungle trek when at a port of call. For me, as a usual die-hard budget backpacker, this would mean simply breaking into a higher budget class. In December of 2005, as I read my books for Spain and Morocco I noticed that the tiny port of Ceuta, a Spanish enclave on the north coast of Africa, offered a peculiar transportation option. Ceuta is particularly well serviced by ferries and acts as one of the major points of entry into Morocco for overland visitors, second only to Tangier. The ferries mostly launch from Algeciras in Spain, but I noticed for one hundred Euros that one could travel from Ceuta to Malaga. This is actually rather expensive but obviously we were paying a premium for something special, because our mode of transportation was helicopter.
Our journey through the heliport almost didn’t come to be. My traveling companion, Jon, and I had all along planned on an overland journey through Tangier, down the well beaten path to the Moroccan imperial cities. The day we arrived to catch a ferry the high winds in southern Spain halted that plan. With the threat of losing a day of our already compact trip, we decided to head for Tangier via Ceuta. This was against my already researched plans so upon arriving a journey to the Tourist Information was a must. I had to enquire how to get to Tangier and a bus onwards. After receiving this information (which mostly turned out not to benefit me), and as I was practically out the door, I thought to enquire about the helicopter service. I had originally thought that it would be possible to show up the same day and book a seat. Not being a seasoned helicopter passenger, I had no idea that this was an incorrect assumption. In fact the helicopter often booked out weeks in advance and we were lucky to get two of the last spots on board, as there were only twelve seats.
So six days later, after numerous adventures in Morocco, from food poisoning to camel rides, and from carpet haggling to exploring ancient ruins, we found ourselves back in Ceuta. Not exactly sure of the protocol for flying a helicopter, we showed up well before the time required. We weren’t going to squander our only chance at this. Missing this ride would mean catching ferry to Spain and then a bus onward, which wouldn’t have cost us much time but would have cost us the experience. And so we arrived to Ceuta as usual and looked for a place to store our bags. The heliport would not open for another few hours so we each watched each other’s bags as we took turns walking around the city. The city actually did not bear much exploring, there was a main pedestrianized street where all the stores were closed, a few churches (though after six days in a Muslim country it was nice to see a church again) and a lackluster boardwalk.
Eventually the heliport opened up and we checked through, very similar to what one goes through in an airport. A sense of anticipation filled our thoughts. We yearned to have our ride, and soon enough we were off. Jon got, in my opinion, the worse of our two seats. While he was closer to a window he also couldn’t really see out the other side. I was in the row ahead of him, about in the middle and I got to see both sides as well as the cockpit controls. While the flight was a little anti-climactic in terms of scenery, it was still a bright and clear day and we saw all manner of ships below us, from fishing vessels all the way up to freighters. Although the ride was just under an hour long it seemed like no sooner had we lifted off that we were already staring down at the suburbs of Malaga. Soon after a bird's eye view of the city we were touching down on European soil, no customs to clear because we flew from Spain to Spain, and then off into the city itself.
Our shot journey was over, but for once I got to live the life of a jet setter. I have crossed many borders in many different ways, even once by motorboat, but I must be one of the few people to cross continents by helicopter.
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