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Sahara

Day 3: Tangier

Tangier, Morocco 
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A lone fisherman takes advantage of quayside space at the port of Tangier.
Michael Palin - SaharaThe view is less spectacular and much friendlier than I'd expected. It's a painter's view. Below me is a small verdant garden, dominated by the luxurious crown of a palm tree and a solitary Norfolk pine standing with its branches out like a cake stand. Running roughly in line from west to east are a harbour wall, with a ferry boat alongside, a distant beach already covered with tiny figures and, rising gently behind the curving bay, the headland, beyond which a pipeline dives beneath the Strait, carrying 10,000 million cubic metres of Algerian natural gas into Europe every year.

The town is compact. Narrow streets rise and fall around low hills and their damp cobbles catch the morning sun. The buildings look more French than Spanish, with red roofs and white-plastered walls, sooty and streaked by the rain, from which sprouts a canopy of television aerials and satellite dishes. The sharp clarity of the light is softened by the drowsy mix of early morning sounds - dogs barking, doves cooing, a fishing-boat engine springing to life.

I'm excited. I know there's a way to go before we reach the Sahara but I'm on the starting grid. Tangier, where Europe clings onto Africa and Africa clings onto Europe, has a fine record for great departures. Among my birthday presents from the crew, piled up beside a bottle of duty-free champagne (empty), are two books about Ibn Battuta, one of the greatest travellers of all time and a Tangerine, born in this town in 1304. At the age of twenty-one, he set out on the first stage of a 75,000-mile adventure through most of the known world, across the Sahara to Timbuktu, up to Spain and through Europe to Persia, Arabia, Sumatra, India and China, returning home thirty years later to write a book about it.

Not a bad role model.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Sahara
  • Day: 3
  • Country/sea: Morocco
  • Place: Tangier
  • Book page no: 18

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