Ceuta - Septa
May 5, 2013
Buenos días a todos,
From the congested hillside city of Tetouan in northwest Morocco, I drive north through rolling farmlands to the Mediterranean coast. My goal for the day: Lunch in Spain!
No, I will not ride a ferry across the Strait of Gibraltar to Algeciras. No, I will not fly to Majorca. Nevertheless, I expect to achieve my goal.
Wars, conquests, re-conquests and mass immigration imbues the north of Morocco with a very Spanish vibe. From 1913 to 1956, the Spanish governed a Protectorate in northern Morocco with Tetouan as the capital. When Morocco achieved independence from France in 1956, the Spanish withdrew, but not completely. Spain continues to occupy two coastal zones of territory: Melilla to the east and Sebta in the west, close to Tangier.
I wait patiently at the modestly chaotic Moroccan border. The inexorable hustlers insist that for only 20 Euros, they will expedite my exit from Morocco to Spain. After a bit of hustle and aggressive driving of my own, I cross the barrier unassisted, and drive up to the Spanish checkpoint where a friendly guard approves my passport. Now, I am in Sebta, or as the Spanish prefer, Ceuta! First stop: an ATM to withdraw Euros to pay for lunch.
Ceuta (pop 80,000) sits on a spit of land (18.5 square-kilometer -7.1 sq mi) that juts out into the Mediterranean. Monte Hacho, one of the two mountains in this enclave, overlooks the port and is one of the possible locations for the southern Pillars of Hercules of Greek legend. Across the Sea, I can just make out the other pillar –the Rock of Gibraltar.
My lengthy and sometimes hilly stroll through the town takes me past fine Andalusia-style architecture and promenades. (¡Gracias a Dios! - it’s Sunday so all the shops are closed.) Actually, it’s quite lovely here. After traveling through the mountains, oases and deserts of Morocco, the view of the beach and the harbor of the Mediterranean Sea is calming and refreshing.
I find a local restaurant crowded with Spanish families here on a day trip. The menu is in Spanish but with my bit of Spanish and the waiter’s bit of English, I manage to order soup, salad, and roast chicken. Ice cream and coffee for desert.
Mission accomplished. Lunch in Spain! Then back across the border to Morocco.
Earlier this year, when I wrote about my visit to the Bario Highlands in Sarawak, Malaysia, an old friend and classmate wrote to me and asked, “Jan, how do you find these places?”
The easy answer is that I read my guidebook from cover to cover. I decide in advance what to see and what to skip. (But since I maintain a flexible schedule, I modify my plans as I travel.)
Another answer is that I prefer the road less traveled. Frequently I avoid the “popular” tourist destinations in favor of areas that seem more genuine or exotic.
Finally, I must admit, I consult a list of “countries” published by the Travelers’ Century Club.
The Travelers’ Century Club established a list of 321 countries and territories and includes not only sovereign states but also certain territories, enclaves, and island groups. The club literature notes that "although some are not actually countries in their own right, they have been included because they are removed from parent, either geographically, politically or ethnologically.”
For example, the mainland of the United States, Alaska, and Hawaii count as three “countries.” Western Russia and Siberian Russia count as two “countries” as does Western Turkey and Asiatic Turkey.
So far, on this trip, I have added two new countries to my list: Morocco and an “enclave” of Spain.
As the name of the club implies, to become a member one needs to have visited one hundred places on the list. At the moment, I’m almost three quarters there.