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Sahara

Day 2: Across The Strait

Michael Palin - SaharaSo I'm not persuaded to linger, not by the fine books and leather armchairs of the garrison library, nor by the sound of the British Grenadiers, nor even by the sight of the midday flight back to London roaring across the airport runway, which also happens to be the main road out of Gibraltar.

Once the plane has raced past us and soared out over the Atlantic, the barrier opens and it's a short walk to the frontier. This is not a happy place, for either side. Spain has never concealed its irritation over what it considers British occupation of Spanish territory, and the referendum of 1967 in which Gibraltarians voted overwhelmingly to remain British was followed by closure of the frontier for sixteen years.

Now things are less confrontational but just as niggly. The Spanish examine drivers' papers with elaborate care, causing huge traffic jams, and the Gibraltarians reply with a large sign pointing out who's to blame: 'Gibraltar regrets the inconvenience caused to you due to frontier restrictions imposed by the Spanish authorities contrary to your European rights to free movement'. The next sign we encounter reads 'Policía', and after a perfunctory going over we're out the back door of a long, low, anonymous customs shed and into Spain, where a huge welcoming billboard directs us to the nearest McDonald's.

The ferries that cross the Strait of Gibraltar leave from Algeciras, 3 miles from the frontier. We board a solid, ponderous old vessel called City Of Algeciras, which will take one and a half hours to cover the dozen nautical miles between here and Africa. As the new generation of lightweight ferries has clipped the crossing time to thirty-five minutes, I'm not surprised to hear that this is her final voyage.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Sahara
  • Day: 2
  • Country/sea: Atlantic Ocean
  • Place: Strait of Gibraltar
  • Book page no: 16

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