between continents

Sometimes small (in relative terms), seemingly insignificant geological formations can have a surprisingly significant impact on human history and life. That was what I was thinking about when I got onto the ferry to cross from Tangier (Morocco) to Tarifa (Spain) to take the short journey across the Strait of Gibraltar.

This strait separates Morocco from Spain and connects the Atlantic to the Mediterranean. The narrowest point is 14 kilometers wide and the depth ranges from 300 to 900 meters. It has played the opposite roles of an easy bridge from Europe to Africa (or the other way around) and a formidable wall between continents and empires. Already the fact that there are areas on both sides of the strait that belong to other countries than those that “actually” are there – Gibraltar (a part of the UK on the Spanish side) and Ceuta (a part of Spain on the Moroccan side) – suggests that it’s a very important place.

But enough of that.

Ferries between Morocco and Spain don’t take the shortest 14 kilometer route, but it’s still quite a short journey. We had beautiful, clear weather when we crossed and when you’re in the middle between continents, it’s quite an impressive sight: there’s the huge African continent on one side, and Eurasia on the other.

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Spain (and Jesus) on the left, Africa on the right, the Mediterranean straight ahead.


There is a lot of traffic through the strait, because as much as the strait constitutes an obstacle for land-based transport, it’s a bridge for ships, boats – and even submarines.

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Long-distance transport – this cargo ship was entering the Mediterranean.

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Leaving the Mediterranean. If you look closely, you can see red text on the white bridge – NO SMOKING.

It takes about 40 minutes to cross the strait. The two coasts don’t look all that different – the mountains are the same, the natural environment looks the same, even the Barbary macaques hang out on both sides. The architecture isn’t all that different, and the humans are just humans on both sides, really. Strange how eager we are to draw lines in water.

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Fishing boat approaching Tangier harbour on the Moroccan side.

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Tangier skyline.

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