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March 06, 2018

In Quest Of The Unusual: Morocco

Text and Photographs by Huzan Tata

Away from frequented haunts in popular countries lie fascinating havens that offer unparalleled experiences. We discover the wonders of Ceuta, which is on the African mainland but is a territory of Spain

Cruising around the world, Verve discovers a quiet corner of the French Riviera, sets foot on two continents at once, and walks across a glacier…

Ceuta, Spanish Morocco

Our liner docks at the port a little after sunrise, and I peek out from the verandah of my cabin, in my excitement to set foot in Africa and cross one more continent off my bucket list. But there’s a catch — Ceuta may be on the African mainland, but is a territory of Spain, and one cannot cross over the barbed wire without a visa for Morocco. So, as we head out to explore the city, I’m still debating with my brother whether we’re technically in Africa or not!

At The Crossroads Of Cultures
Being a part of Europe in Africa, Ceuta links two continents, and the people of four communities make up a major part of the population — Muslim, Jewish, Hindu and Christian. Our first stop for the day is Sidi Embarek mosque, just a short drive from the Royal Walls, fortifications that were built to protect Ceuta from attack. While entry into the 18th-century mosque is limited only to followers of the faith, others can walk around the adjoining cemetery that promises some great views of the sea. You’re instantly at peace in the environs, and the white-and-green facade of the mosque against the blues of the calming waters provide a great photo op. But it’s a visit to the church we see next, that soon becomes the highlight of my day.

The Ermita de San Antonio de Padua, or Hermitage of Saint Anthony of Padua, is a quaint little chapel situated on Monte Hacho, a small mountain that overlooks the city. A short walk up the winding slope from where the bus drops us, and we enter the yellow-and-white church. Behind the altar is a small statue of the saint the chapel is named after, the brown, gold and green marble around it lending it a grand touch. On the white-and-brown chequered floor, a few tiles are laid in a different colour in the shape of a cross. Legend has it that unmarried women who sit in the middle of this cross and trace it three times with their behind, will be granted a husband soon after! Ignoring my eye roll and foiling my attempts to escape from the chapel, my mother makes me sit down on this cross and wish for a life partner. (“You can return to Ceuta on your honeymoon to say thanks at this church,” she tells me later.)

On the other side of this 17th-century building lies the Monumento del Llano Amarillo, a 15-foot-tall sculpture that pays tribute to the defeated republican forces during the Spanish Civil War. Stand with your back to this monument, and if you’re here on a clear day, you’ll be lucky enough to catch a fantastic glimpse of the Rock of Gibraltar!

Of Panoramas And Beaches
Still reeling from the fact that I caught a view of the rock at sea, we head from Monte Hacho to a higher point of the city a short drive away, the Isabel II Viewpoint — and what greets us is nothing short of a treat. With the Mediterranean Sea on one side, the Atlantic Ocean on the other, and views of Ceuta, Morocco — and even Spain in the far distance — it’s a moment to save for posterity. Look closely, and you’ll even see the different blues of the two water bodies blending together at a point. It’s as though we’ve walked into a painting, I think to myself.

Several panoramic images and family selfies later, we head back to the main city centre, the Plaza de Africa. Churches, temples and mosques are all within short walks of each other here, and a few minutes away, at the Plaza de la Constitución, is a statue of Hercules, the mythical hero who is said to have separated the two continents of Europe and Africa with his superhuman might, creating the Strait of Gibraltar. This avenue is a delight for history and mythology aficionados, as several sculptures representing significant events and people through time — from Plato to Henry The Navigator — line the long walkway every few metres. My favourite discovery? A smiling statue of our very own Mahatma Gandhi — with his signature dhoti, round glasses and staff to boot — greeting me at the end of the road.

As our ship gets ready to set sail, we decide to make one last stop before we head back to our home on the sea. Making a slight detour, we head to the 270-metre-long beach, the Playa de la Ribera (Ceuta is home to several beaches right in the middle of the city centre) to dip our feet in the clear waters of the sea. And as I walk along the coastline one last time, I mentally add Ceuta to my list of favourite places — for there’s nowhere else in the world where you could be standing in Spanish territory on the African mainland, between the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean, and spotting the British Rock of Gibraltar!

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