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Sahara

Day 99: Ceuta to Gibraltar

Michael Palin - SaharaOn a clear day the hopeful immigrants in Ceuta could see the green hills of Spain with the naked eye. They could certainly see the man-made forest of wind turbines running over the crest of the hills, propellers spinning on top of giant white stalks. If they had a strong enough telescope they could see telescopes looking back at them from the hills above the town of Tarifa. Tourists come here to be thrilled by the prospect of the sheer rock walls of Morocco, and the sight of the Strait of Gibraltar, no wider than a Swiss lake. They buy postcards and take photographs of the 9-mile distance between them and Africa.

For some it might jog memories of unsettling newspaper photographs of couples sunbathing on a Spanish beach beside the huddled body of someone who drowned trying to get to Europe. What the tourists will not know is that some evenings, hundreds of Africans will set out to cross the Strait and land a half-mile away from where they're standing. They will have paid a lot of money to risk their lives, travelling in unlit boats, without lifejackets or maps of any kind, across one of the busiest and most unpredictable stretches of water in the world. Some will never make it. Over 3000 have died attempting the crossing in the last three years.

There is heat still left in the afternoon as I reach the Spanish mainland and walk along the beach at Tarifa with Belinda Whaley-Braithwaite, a traveller herself, who rode from here to Paris on a horse called Dragon and wrote a book about it. Now she and her husband live most of the year in a pretty house with six guest rooms a mile or so across the fields.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Sahara
  • Day: 99
  • Country/sea: Spain
  • Place: Ceuta
  • Book page no: 253

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