Between a Rock and a Hard Place

Part of Spain lays on the African continent. In many ways, the location puts it right in between a rock and a hard place.

We are in Ceuta now. Ceuta is in Africa. It is also part of Spain. We crossed the border on foot today, passing the beggars and poverty of Morocco and entered into the European Union in this Spanish exclave on the northern coast of Africa.

l am sitting on my balcony on the third floor of our parador overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, with the lights of Morocco off in the distance. We left the blue city this morning and walked about a mile through the city to get to the bus station. We took a trail downhill and ended up on the campus of a public school and had to be escorted off the property by the school security, but we picked the right route as we exited the school grounds right next to the bus station. We arrived about 1115, just as a bus was leaving for Ceuta, which we boarded. We were not expecting a bus until 1215 and were told that we could only go as far as Tétouan, where we would have to take a taxi to Ceuta. After I bought the tickets from the driver, the man who took our bags and placed them in the luggage compartment below demanded 10 Dirhams for each bag that he touched. He touched them for 2 seconds each. When I gave him 10, he demanded more. It was a con, but I did not want retribution, so I reluctantly paid up. A Sociologist friend of mine told me about a book that mentions that there are two types of people in this world; prophets or wizards. After spending time in Morocco, I would postulate that there are only two types of people in this world; beggars or thieves. This does not just apply to Morocco, it to people around the world. Even people who work for a living fall into one of these categories. At school we have a collective bargaining unit….which makes us beggars in a way. I could go on about this subject, but will leave it for a different post. We have been hustled and several people have tried to scam us this past week. And the beggars are ubiquitous.

this morning leaving the blue city

The bus ride had drama. The bus was filthy and crowded and two older Muslim ladies got into a heated argument with the driver over not being able to pay. I briefly stepped off the bus at the Tétouan station to make sure our bags were not stolen. We finally made it to the end of the line and started walking toward the border. It was a bit longer than we realized, about a mile and a half. The Moroccan side reminded me of Tijuana, Mexico.

Ceuta in the distance

Hundreds of cars jammed the roads at the border. Barbed wire fences going down to the beach kept any beachcombers from illegally crossing. Once inside Ceuta you would be inside the European Union. We had our passports checked at four different places.
Once inside Ceuta, we boarded a bus into town and got off at Plaza Africa, where we walked to our hotel. The streets were cleaner. I could speak Spanish again and not worry about French or Arabic. I am looking at a fort and a Catholic Church as I write this. I feel like we are in Europe again, even though we are technically still in Africa.

Beth and I had lunch this afternoon at cafeteria El Puente, which has a statue of Hercules pushing apart the two pillars, one being the Rock of Gibraltar and the other being the mountains on the African side.

the Pillars of Hercules

These two rocks mark the choke point that is the Strait of Gibraltar, which separates the world of the Mediterranean from the unknowns of the Atlantic Ocean. It marked the end of the world as the Greeks, Egyptians and Carthaginians knew. We plan to cross over to the Rock of Gibraltar tomorrow.

We hiked up to the end of the peninsula and climbed steeply to the remains of a fort used by Europeans to control this strategic area. The sun was setting over the mountains to the west in Morocco as the almost full moon was rising. We glimpsed a beautiful view of the city from our vantage point.

Those who control choke points control access to commerce. Military is necessary to accomplish this.

The Portuguese and later the Spanish controlled parts of North Africa. Spain also has Melilla, another possession on the African coast. Morocco wants this land back. Spain recently refortified the barrier wall around Ceuta. For now, Ceuta remains a small strip of land between a rock (Gibraltar) and a hard place (Morocco)

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