Following almost 8 incredible years of intense activity and fun in Malaysia, I have now been in my beautiful home in the incredible mountains of northern Andalusia, Spain for almost 1 year, in a sleepy village called Chirivel. A year of tranquillity however, has been more than enough, and finally my overwhelming desire to be in a city, or large town, and get a bit of hustle back in my life, got the better of me.
I’m not sure if I was simply born with some kind of nomadic genes, but for me the ‘settling down’ just does not work! My feet are itchy and twitchy, and they have an incessant need to keep a-moving. Not necessarily every week, of course! But I have a yearning to explore and savour the richness that the big ole world has to offer. Living, travelling and/or working overseas changes you. It opens up a whole new perspective on – well just everything. There are so many things we simply take for granted as we are fed and we accept, the limited and all too often slanted information from the mass media about the world in which we live.
If one takes to travelling overseas, more often than not, the ‘bug’ is the desire to dig into other ways of life, to reach in, to understand something new. It becomes a passion and a driving curiosity that drives one forward, seeking newness, richness and diversity.
I’m not one for sameness – for example, I hated school uniforms, work uniforms or anything that negated identity, where uniqueness could be lost or diminished. Surely it is our difference and diversity that make us so totally unique. It’s that that has drawn and enticed me and it is, I think, my way of challenging my preconceived ideas of broadening my mind, that has an amazing freeing sense that enables me to see new colours in the rainbow.
So here I am sitting on a ship headed away from mainland Spain to embark upon another, short journey to the tiny Spanish enclave on the tip of north Africa called Melilla. For some time, I have been intrigued by this little place and have read mainly good things about it. Made up of a broad mix of Spanish, Moroccans, Arabs and Jews, it seemed to possess the type of diversity I had become so used to. With an incredible architecture that was second to none after Gaudi and Barcelona, Melilla was said to be one of the main art centres of Spain. Nestled on the coast and boasting the whole of about 12 square kilometres, it seemed to have everything.
I feel that living and working in a place, even if only for a few months, is the only way to really experience it. Short one or two week breaks to a place allow you to skim the surface unless of course you’ve arranged guides to help you explore beneath the surface. So, having landed a short contract I made my way excitedly across the Mediterranean to the port of Melilla.
Getting to Melilla can be by boat from Malaga or Almeria or flying directly from Malaga. I fly everywhere so this time I thought the ferry presented a nice change. Travelling with Baleraria Ferries was an OK’ish experience. The food on board was just about do-able – although my companion ended up with a mild food poisoning following her fish dish. Your own packed lunch and snacks are probably the better option.
It was long 6.5 hours, which ended up being nearly 8 hours for reasons unknown. But, it was a pleasant enough ride and enforced downtime away from the internet! A little time to take stock and relax a bit with the never-ending ocean before you.
Finally, we approached the coast of Morocco. Rugged mountains began to appear on the horizon, followed by the port with its commanding fortress, cranes and buzz of activity. By now the deep blue skies of the Andalusian coast had disappeared and given way to grey non-descript clouds and a cloying humidity. We gathered our bags and belongings and made our way along a very long walkway to the harbour and back onto dry land.
We were met by a cacophony of noise that completely filled the air. People with bags, in thobes, abayas, with hijabs, without hijabs, in shorts and skimpy t-shirts. Children ran around the port shouting excitedly while parents chatted with friends and family. What a contrast, to my past year of quiet.
Outside the port the old fortress of Melilla commands centre stage. Looming over the harbour the views across the ocean vast and the fortress clearly protected the town from would be attackers. Beyond the harbour and into the town one very quickly catches the first sight of the Gaudi style architecture. Buildings standing tall with elaborate carvings, tall pillars, huge windows with balconies that allowed views across the central Plaza de Espana, and into the tree lined park. Everything bustles with cars stopping and starting on the plaza narrowly avoiding pedestrians on crossing.
Once ensconced in our hotel – one of only four – we decided to go out and explore. Wandering now on foot the seeming elegance of many of these wonderful buildings, upon closer inspection have been largely uncared for and somehow disregarded. Many have been left for years and are now in varying states of disrepair, and decay. Such exquisite art now forgotten and ignored.
As we walked the streets, we were also taken back by the dirt that seemed to be everywhere. In simple words the streets were filthy. As is an unfortunate phenomena with Spain, there is graffiti on everything, some ingenious and creative but mostly nasty and ugly.
So many shops and individual stores that are so characteristic of Spain, along the main Avenida had clearly been closed down for years, whether caused by recession or otherwise remains to be seen. Shutters filthy and full of graffiti side by side contrasting the shiny and pristine modernity of stores such as Zara and Massimo Dutti.
Having only spent a few days here and between running various chores, I am hoping that over time some of the old charm that is/was Melilla may begin to emerge.