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Sahara

Day 2: Across The Strait

Strait of Gibraltar 
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Continental Divide. The ferry from Algeciras takes me past the Rock of Gibraltar and out of Europe.
Michael Palin - SaharaAt the highest point of the Rock of Gibraltar, where a sheer cliff face plunges 1400 feet into the Mediterranean, there is a gun emplacement called O'Hara's Battery capable of lobbing artillery shells from Europe into Africa. I'm assured it's never been used in anger and, indeed, as I climb the last few steps on this idyllic Mediterranean morning, the only signs of anger are from seagulls swooping at my head to warn me off their nests.

From up here, the confrontation of the continents is quite a sight to behold. The two land masses don't just meet, they rise to the occasion. The white cliffs of Gibraltar facing up to the serrated black crest of Jebel Musa on the Moroccan shore. The Greeks and Romans were aware of the symmetry and called the twin peaks the Pillars of Hercules, the end of the known world, beyond which lay outer darkness.

Gibraltar remains protective to the last, as if testing my resolve to take on something as bleak and inimical as the Sahara. Since the beginning of human history people have been trying to leave the desert behind, from Tariq Ibn Ziyad and the Islamic armies who crossed the Strait in the eighth century, to the African migrants trying to cross it today. On the morning news there is a report of a boat-load of immigrants capsizing in the Strait last night. Amongst them were three pregnant women. They were only saved from drowning because one of them carried a mobile telephone. I try to find a Spanish newspaper for more details, but no Spanish dailies are sold anywhere in Gibraltar. I sense a glimmer of paranoia here, as if the natural siege mentality that seems to hold Gibraltarians together might be threatened by too much information.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Sahara
  • Day: 2
  • Country/sea: Atlantic Ocean
  • Place: Strait of Gibraltar
  • Book page no: 14

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