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Sahara

Day 2: Across The Strait

Michael Palin - SaharaI'm puzzled, though, by the lack of any ceremony. If this had been, say, the last journey of an Isle of Wight ferry, it would surely be full of people in anoraks pointing cameras and tape-recording the last blasts of the ship's horn. Instead, it's like a ghost ship. In the saloon the television screens beam American basketball to rows of empty seats. In the main lounge 'Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me' thuds out to a few thin Moors with wispy beards and close-cropped black hair.

A vigorous westerly rips in as we reach the open sea, where the bottle-neck entrance to the Mediterranean shrinks to a mere 9 miles. This is dangerous water, a tide race of accelerating currents and a thousand ship movements a day, a difficult stretch to navigate at the best of times, but in a tiny boat, at the dead of night, potentially suicidal.

The bonus of this urgent west wind is a panorama of dramatic clarity. The fingers of Europe and Africa almost touching and between them, dead centre, the sun merging slowly with the horizon. I feel for a moment a jubilant sense of freedom, of being in limbo, beyond tribal loyalties, national boundaries, anthems, flags, customs, papers, permissions and prejudices, free from all restraints except the elements themselves. I feel positively Homeric. Then a particularly fierce gust picks me up and hurls me, bodily, into the bar.
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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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