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Sahara

Day 99: Ceuta to Gibraltar

Michael Palin - SaharaThe lucky ones who do get ashore bring waterproof bags with a change of clothes.

Some speak only Arabic and clutch pieces of paper with contact names and numbers. One came to Belinda's door and asked her if she might help her contact a Spanish Internet address. The name she had been given, but didn't understand, was a very sick joke. It was two Spanish words, 'puerto muertos', literally 'the port of the dead'.

As we walk back to her house, through dunes littered with cast-off clothes that may well have protected people on mighty journeys across the Sahara, Belinda explains why she thinks the best way to deal with the immigrants is to allow them a short-term visa.

'Then at least they could come and try it out. I think a lot of them actually come over here and don't like what they see. It's more expensive to live here, they can't get a job, so they're actually happy to go back to their families.'

She pauses and looks out the way we've come.

'But you know, when all your family and friends have clubbed together to get this ticket for you to Paradise...How do you go back?'

It's dark by the time we reach Gibraltar. There's a queue to get in. Our driver grumbles about the usual Spanish prevarication. But there's a lot more for him to grumble about since we left here all those months ago. The British and Spanish governments have been doing the unthinkable - talking joint sovereignty. Though they've been assured that nothing will be decided without a referendum, the folks who live on the Rock are very angry. Joint sovereignty may mean the end of this bickering at the border, but the very suggestion of a Spanish flag flying on Gibraltar, even alongside the Union Jack, is seen by some here as the first rumbling of betrayal, the beginning of the end.

For me, for all of us, this is the end. After nine countries and some 10,000 miles of travel we've made it back to the reassuring armchairs of the Rock Hotel. By tomorrow we'll all be back home, worrying about the price of car insurance and why the plumber hasn't called.

I've had a few beers of celebration and I'm a little light-headed as I stumble out onto my balcony at midnight. I look out over the star-lit Strait towards Africa and try to think big thoughts about what I've learnt from all this, other than that nowhere is Paradise.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Sahara
  • Day: 99
  • Country/sea: Gibraltar
  • Place: Gibraltar
  • Book page no: 254

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