EXPLORING A NEW LAND: MELILLA, SPAIN
I’ll always be grateful for those summers spent driving across Europe with my family; the four of us squeezed into our beloved Toyota Carina, wheels buckling under the weight of our endless supplies of food and filled-to-the-brim (and then some) suitcases.
On paper it sounds like a nightmare- two adults, a tween and a baby in a car for 4 days in the midst of a sticky heatwave, covering thousands of kilometres across Europe but I’d give anything to have those days back. We had fun, the four of us. Our annual trip was something special, laughing our way across the continent, cranking up the radio to local cheesy stations-singing along when we could (and couldn’t), playing old school Russian CD’s on loop, stopping for impromptu picnics as we fancied, stuffing ourselves with delicious baguettes and cheese in France, sipping water from natural springs in Romania and making pit stops to explore random towns and cities from Paris to Frankfurt to Vienna and Budapest, Bucharest and finally- Moldova, the most special place of all. We’d spend an entire month there, filling up our longing hearts with a piece of home.
I’ve been blessed with my travel experiences; although I’ve only seen a tiny fraction of our fascinating planet. I love adventures. There’s nothing better than getting lost in a new place; letting the wind guide you as you embrace the local way of life. The foods, the customs and traditions, the language; I try to soak up as much as possible. From climbing volcanoes in Bali to ploughing fields with locals in rural Swaziland; chasing sunsets in South Africa and eating snails in Paris; driving terrifying cliff roads in Romania and meeting orphans in Moldova; husky sleigh rides in Lapland, helicopter rides over Los Angeles and sipping cosmos on the dizzying rooftops of New York City. I feel so privileged by the experiences I’ve had-yes- being charged at by a zebra and bitten by a monkey included.
Last weekend I ticked another place off my list- Melilla. I heard about Melilla for the first time a couple of years ago and ever since, I’ve been itching to know more about this tiny piece of Spain in Northern Africa.
Along with Ceuta, Melilla is one of two autonomous Spanish cities on the Moroccan coast. Home to 80,000 inhabitants, it’s still a relatively undiscovered gem meaning even in the height of summer, the streets are buzzing but not heaving with tourists, allowing for plenty of breathing space- which you’ll be grateful for because temperatures reach the high 30’s.
Melilla’s population is divided between Spanish Christians and Beber Muslims resulting in a culturally rich environment. Moroccan shops line the streets, with tapas bars peeking through in between. The food is delicious and prices cheap. Order refreshing Moroccan tea, mouth-watering patatas bravas with gaucha sauce and fried swordfish; top off your meal with piping hot churros dipped in melted chocolate. It’s not a place for watching your calories so tuck in and enjoy.
Amidst the beautiful architecture, one thing sticks out uncomfortably in Melilla -the extensive fence closing the city off from the rest of Africa; a strict border between the small town and its neighbouring Morocco.
Historically, the recently reinforced wall tells tragic tales and is monitored 24/7; however, many Moroccans commute here daily for work. The economic divide across the border is astronomical- the gap in GDP per capita between both sides of this border is one of the biggest of any border worldwide: the Spanish side is six times wealthier than the Moroccan side. There are whispering's of teens and children being smuggled into the city, and at night, homeless people make the more secluded beaches and caves their shelter; a harsh contrast to the carefree crowds that spend the day sunning themselves in the same spots during daylight hours. Every city has a dark side and this is Melilla’s.
Despite only spending three days on ground, we had a brilliant time in this fascinating place. Our family friend, Denise, is a local and the best guide for the long weekend… I’m just sorry she had to play taxi to us when technically we were there to celebrate her, the birthday girl! Our days were spent exploring the majestic old town where you couldn’t help but feel like you were on the set of a movie, seeking shade (and cold water) from the scorching sun, playing What Do You Meme (brilliant!!) until the morning hours, sipping lemonade by the harbour, trying out different Moroccan dishes in the many local restaurants, enjoying a typically Spanish fiesta- live band included!!!, setting off Chinese lanterns on the beach – some taking flight a little less disastrously than others and doing hit sessions in the baking heat in a moment of madness.
I would have loved to spend more time taking in the cultural sites but unfortunately time wasn’t on our side on this trip, however, a weekend spree is plenty for the potential visitor. Take the 5 hour ferry or 50 minute flight from Malaga (or Madrid)- combine with a longer stay in Spain or Morocco and get ready for a holiday with a difference… just don’t forget sunscreen. Oh. And mosquito spray. They're a divil here.