In the Holding Bay

We have no luck in finding some important items for our journey through Morocco. Despite searching book stores and fuel stations for weeks on end, we have no detailed maps, just one generic, Michelin map covering the whole of Morocco, dismissed with one glance by Jose when he sees the term ‘Sahara Occidentale’ on it, the colonial name for the Moroccan Sahara desert. ‘If the police see this map, they might confiscate it’ he says. Ah, well, we’ll just bumble on through Morocco then, hoping for GPS signals!


The other thing we wanted but have not found was a portable micro-filtration system, such as the Lifestraw or a Steripen. It would have been nice to not constantly have to buy plastic bottles, but it seems that’s what it’s going to be.

When you research about what you might need to know about the ports and crossing the borders, you’d think it the most confusing thing you have ever attempted to do, so we are a bit daunted… but from the various sources, we’ve cobbled together our step-by-step instructions.

When we get to Algeciras, we go to the ticket office of the famous ‘Carlos’ independently recommended by at least 4 different sources. Carlos is not present at that moment, but a young and friendly man called Alex takes us in hand. Contrary to previous warnings, it is all very simple and clear, he needs to see our passports and Emma’s V5. We chat amicably about this and that, and together with the ticket, he also gives us a little present for our first time visit to the ticket office.

It’s so relaxed that we almost forget to pay!

We stay overnight in one of the many car parks of the commercial park of Los Barrios. The next morning, we intend to depart for Morocco, water filter or not, but a little adventure interferes and keeps us in Spain for one more day.


As I step out into the cold but gloriously sunny morning, a young, dishevelled-looking man attracts my attention, barefoot, holding one destroyed shoe in his hand. Lets call him Yusuf. He’s from Marocco, and somehow came across, not by legal means. If I understand him rightly with my bare-bones Arabic (he doesn’t speak any of the other languages at my disposal), once he arrived in Spain, he walked a long way across the mountains and then fell asleep in the bushes by the side of this car park. His phone was stolen when he was still in Marocco, so he has no possibility of getting in touch with his brother who lives elsewhere in Spain.

We hunt around for some clothes to give to him. My shoes are too small, Frank’s too big. Well, the big shoes will have to make do. He is shaking with cold and probably hunger too. We give him some bananas. He starts to relax and trust us. Then we spend the rest of the day accompanying this young man until we know that he’s safely connected. I dread to think what would happen if he got into the wrong hands, and most likely there are a lot of the wrong type of people on the look-out for this kind of new arrival to Europe. This guy is younger than my children! Once the basic needs are covered, Frank gets a football out and connects with Yusuf by playing football.


I wonder what goes on in a young person’s mind to risk their life coming across. Do they think that all will be better once they’re in Spain, or are they aware of the long haul, starting with having to learn at least one new language, and in his case learning to read and write? Going through the long process of applying for residency etc., all the way chancing that he will be deported back home. He’s not a refugee but an economic migrant. I wish him well and I hope he will succeed. It takes some gumption and a lot of motivation to leave home and start elsewhere, not even counting the bureaucratic difficulty that an illegal entry creates.

Humans have moved across the globe for centuries, moving away from arid places where there is no food and no work, towards more promising landscapes. I feel we should open our borders and let this happen, even if it were to create difficulties in Europe (and I count the UK into this! We haven’t left yet!!!).  Anyway, I don’t necessarily think it would create more problems – this would depend on how it’s handled. It may even solve a number of problems. Things would drastically change, yes, but on our journeys in the last 3 years, we have seen a lot of space in Europe that was uninhabited, deserted villages everywhere in central France, Spain and Portugal. We’ve seen the need for careful reforestation and a more labour-intensive, less machine- and profit driven agriculture, maybe along the lines of organic farming or permaculture. There is space and there is work, there is food and there is water. But everything would need a radical rethinking, that’s for sure. This new generation has a lot of trouble to sort out. A more cosmopolitan community, one where we are not afraid of the enemy from outside because we have realised on a deep level that we are all one people, would stand more of a chance, I believe.


The next day, we finally board the boat to Morocco. It is December 1st, the birthday of Mohammed, and a Friday too. Maybe an auspicious day to start our time here.

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