A Month in Morocco: Ferry to Africa

At some point in my early life, someone told me that the Prudential Insurance brand logo was modeled after the Rock of Gibraltar. Probably my dad. Of course I believed him. Yet last month as scoped intently over a windless and glassy Mediterranean for the jutting monolith, the ferry from Algeciras (Spain) nearly passed the infamous landmark. Had I not overheard a man point it out to his girlfriend, I’d certainly have missed it. “That’s it,” he said. “That’s the Rock.”

On instinct I busted out my crappy camera and took a dozen or so forgettable shots of the lumpy island. It looked nothing like the famous logo. Not from this angle, anyhow. There was no precarious crag or anything to highlight it as antiquity’s northern Pillar of Hercules. While planning this trip, I had assumed I’d visit Gibraltar. It seemed a strange place. Rich with history and still a British colony. It’s also home to the only wild monkey population in Europe — a thriving troop of Barbary Macaques that are thought to have been introduced by occupying Moors back in the eighth century.

But as it turned out, simply I couldn’t delay my call south. From the ferry station and across the Sea I could see Morocco’s Rif Mountains. I felt magnetically drawn to the African continent. Less than 48 hours after touching down in Lisbon, and less than three days after breathing North Carolina air, I was going be in Africa. As the ferry blew its horn I spoke this fact aloud. Everything about this was surreal. As if I was about to land on the moon.

Disembarking the ferry, I stepped back in time. I latched onto a Moroccan man who offered to help me get my bearings. He insisted we hurry to catch the last train to Tangier. Seems that this Tangier port was a newer one and far away from downtown. 50k, in fact. He offered to help me negotiate a ride to my hotel and explained the difference between legal and illegal taxis. He told me that Moroccans are known for their hospitality but live a desperate life, especially in cities. That I should watch my back.

As we sat in a private car on the train, he offered me tangerines. They were the most delicious ones my mouth has ever felt. I ate three while we discussed his business in Rabat — high-end women’s fashion shoes. He said business was booming and that if I made it to the coast, I should stop in and find something nice for my wife. He was the first of many Moroccans who would assume I was married. And the first of even more to assume I needed to buy gifts for people back home. The orange skins erased the smell of train exhaust. Our chewing afforded us both a little time to quietly watch the coastline pass outside the dirty window.

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