From Africa to Europe

As I’ve said before, one of the great things about overland travel is being able to experience the transitions between places. Places may appear as solid blocks of color, delineated by neat lines, on a map, but the reality is that places blend and bleed into each other. Derek used to remark how, when taking the New York subway, your location shifts as if by magic–as if by pneumatic tube, which of course some early subway systems were based on, you are whisked from one place to another, instantaneously and jarringly, without seeing any of the places in between. Each neighborhood exists in one’s mind as a certain radius around each subway entrance, unconnected to other neighborhoods. And so it is with air travel. I remember as a child reading the introduction to the book The Twenty-One Balloons, and its elegy on balloon travel. We may not have the teleportation it disdains, but travel by modern jet is similar–traveling by air disconnects us from what used to be a fundamental part of the travel experience, the “getting there.” In a world where you can fly direct from Paris to Mopti in Mali or from Verona to Samarkand, places until recently reached only by exerting extreme effort, there’s a lot to be said for avoiding air travel when possible.

We’ve completed two great overland stretches on our trip–from Shiraz, Iran to Xian, China, through the old Silk Road, and from Cairo, Egypt to Venice, Italy, through Palestine and Turkey, using one short flight to cross from Israel to Cyprus–and are nearing the end of our third, from Dakar, Senegal to Spain, crossing the Sahel and the Sahara. And today we took one of the most monumental and defining steps of that journey, the crossing of the Strait of Gibraltar from Africa to Europe, a continental shift in geography and politics.

Morocco may lie in Africa and Spain in Europe, but of course even the most minor delving into the two countries identifies their close ties throughout history–history which ties almost all connected regions together, despite their apparent differences. In the case of Morocco and Spain, the two Mediterranean regions have often been part of the same cultural and political spheres, from the Carthaginians to the Romans to the Arabs. Even the break caused by the Reconquista and more recent times is being eroded by proximity and deeper historical cultural ties, as Moroccans emigrate northward and Europeans vacation and retire southward, and perhaps even more by technology, in the form of a futuristic tunnel connecting Andalucia to the North African coast.

So, by ferry, a farewell to Africa, and a welcome to Europe.

The line to get on the ferry, headcover helping to identify the ethnic Moroccans, perhaps travelers perhaps new immigrants perhaps citizens of Spain

The pillars of Hercules, in sculptural form

From mid-Strait, it’s possible to see Africa on one side and Europe on the other

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