From Over The Sea / by George Bajalia



In the Aeroplane as it Crosses the Sea

The ferry ride from Tangier to Tarifa, Spain takes about 35 minutes. Sitting in the climatized cruise-ship style hull of the boat, there are European families returning from vacation, Moroccans and their families returning to home and work in nations north of Morocco. It’s a remarkably simple ride, quick, clean and comfortable. Part of the reason for this comfort is the ship’s staff who make the international crossing countless times a day, ceaselessly wiping the glass doors and serving food and drinks to guests aboard the ferry. With such an easy journey, it’s easy to forget the expanse of the country you are leaving behind, and the people who can’t by a ticket the day before, flash their passport, and board the ship. Waiting for the ride, I stood with tourists, regular voyagers making the trip for work or pleasure, and first time emigrants. Waiting for the tip of Morocco to leave my view, I was surprised to feel the boat docking while I was still peering to the south. As the hulking steel door lowered and cars readied drive out of the hull, the bright rays of light pierced our eyes all the same, and we stumbled down the ramp to wait in line with visas, passports, and labor documents.

            First glances yield a few striking differences between the cities. Riding the free bus to Algeciras from Tarifa, crowds people eating in restaurants midday was confusing for a moment. The cañas of beer accompanying the tapas also make for a slightly different sight than mint teas. Remembering the Tangier I briefly met before Ramadan, however, it’s not all that different. Architecture differs, and there are certainly a few more Christian statues, but the hills feel the same and the gazing out across the straights it’s easy to forget what side you are on. Meeting up with Etienne, we trekked on to the bus station to catch the bus to Ronda. Planning meticulously seemed out of character for us both, so we had agreed to make the journey as it came. Finding out that the bus to Ronda doesn’t run at the same times on Saturdays was still a surprise, but less unpleasant. We bought out tickets for Sevilla and decided to get out of Algeciras anyway.  

            The journey through Andalucia was full of rolling hills, windmills and herds of cows. La Vuelta, the Spanish equivalent of the Tour de France, would be passing these very hills in just a few days. As the bus arrived in the capital of Southern Spain, I remarked to Etienne that Sevilla reminded me a bit of St. Augustine, Florida. A second passed, and I amended my comment to note that perhaps St. Augustine looks more like Sevilla. Leaving the bus, we were surprised to see huge crowds of people hanging out of the streets, some pointing up at the skies and others peering down the road. Making our way over, we realized that people were gathered for a particular reason, rather than just general Saturday night festivities. Remembering our conversation about La Vuelta, we decided to check the schedule in Etienne’s newspaper. We had arrived just in time for the first leg of the tour, the night stages in Sevilla. Spending the evening with tapas, wine, and bikes was an excellent introduction to the Andalus lifestyle.

            The next day, we strolled past a Jordanian restaurant whose sign was in Arabic. About 5 meters past, I stopped and realized that the sign I had just read was not in Spanish, but Arabic. As we inevitably ended up here later, I surprised the waiter with thanking him for the falafel kebab in Arabic, after Etienne and I both ordered in our accented Spanish. Entering into a conversation with the Jordanian proprietor, I tried to keep the conversation in Standard Fosha, rather than Moroccan Darija. Just as we were leaving, I slipped with a “Shukran Bzef” and he stopped, looked at me, and asked if my family was Moroccan. No, I replied, but I spent the past month in Tangier studying. As we left, the man breaking fast at the table next to us greeted me in Darija and we shared a b’salaama as we moved on.

            Continuing our theme of arriving in a city and following the most picturesque buildings, Etienne and I stepped off the train in Madrid and ending up walking down the Gardens of the Retiro. These forests, gardens of peacocks, and cats would become daily staples for our stay in Madrid. We ended up staying right near the Mexican consulate, and despite our amblings around the city full of delicious tapas, somehow we would always eventually pass by a Tex-Mex/Mex-Mex restaurant for some nachos or tacos. Thought the guacamole always has its own distinct qualities, it seems hardly coincidental that I’ve found Tex-Mex in Zagreb, Croatia, Tangier, Morocco, and Madrid, Spain. Surprising, yes, but it’s a small world [system] after all.

            Too quickly, I woke up this morning and prepared to take the Metro to the airport. Heading down into the station, I was greeting by a wall advertisement for a country that would be good for my mind, body, and soul, and where I would pass the evenings with mystics by fireside in the desert after spending the days lounging on the beach. Taking a step back to see where I could find this magical land, I could hardly contain wonder if finding out it was just half an hour from Spain. It’s funny, but I had seen nearly the same advertisements in Tangier for vacations in Egypt.