When I awoke the next morning, I had a decision to make.
I had originally planned to stay in Morocco up to four days. I considered a trip to the powder blue village of Chefchaouen or desert city of Marrakesh. But after the events of the prior day, I was ready to get back across the Strait of Gibraltar as soon as possible. After spending the entire morning confined within the walls of Al-Andalusi, I was contemplating taking a late-evening ferry to Tarifa.
I was eager to return to the land of tapas and siestas, but my plans changed after a friendly face offered me a helping hand. I was fortunate to meet an American national that was living in Morocco and fluent in Arabic. My new friend Sarah volunteered to show me around the city and grab lunch with me.
To say she made an impact on my Moroccan experience would be a massive understatement.
She took me to a delicious restaurant and helped me order food. She translated while I attempted to haggle with merchants and shop owners. And most importantly, she kept the sharks away.
We jumped into a cab to head to a café across town. Naturally, when the driver saw two tourists hop in, he had no intention of charging a fair rate. He was clearly caught off guard when Sarah asked him in Arabic, to “please turn the meter on.”
“Oh there’s no need, it’s just over there,” he said.
“It’s the law,” she replied.
He shrugged his shoulders and flipped on the meter.
My second day in Morocco was much more pleasant and less stressful than my first. Still, I was eager to get back to Europe and on to my next destination. I booked a ticket on the 7 a.m. ferry back to Spain.
I awoke the next morning around 6 a.m., nearly an hour before my boat left the port. I thought I’d have plenty of time to make it on and get a good seat. However, I didn’t account for the ridiculously confusing medina to slow me down. GPS was shoddy and I could barely tell north from south.
I anxiously navigated through the twisting alleys until I finally found a path down to the docks. I breathed a huge sigh of relief as I made it through security and onto the ferry with only three minutes to spare before we departed.
Ahmad al-Mansur’s revenge
I’d never felt so relieved to hear the Spanish language.
After an hour-and-a-half at sea, the FRS ferry pulled into port and I made a b-line for Tarifa’s bus station. A short wait at the bus stop and another hour on the road and I saw my next destination rising out from the horizon – as if the sun itself had turned to stone.
The Rock of Gibraltar was far larger than I imagined. And it only grew in mass as my bus approached La Linea – the Spanish city that lies directly across the border from Gibraltar.
A quick check-in at the immigration office and before I knew it, I was strolling across an active runway, and crossing into British territory. After spending a short time exploring the city, I walked to the eastern side of the peninsula and checked into my seaside hotel.
The Caleta on Catalan Bay was the only hotel I stayed in during my entire summer abroad. As a budget traveler, I stick to hostels, Air B&B or home stays. But because there is only one hostel in Gibraltar, and because that hostel was fully booked (and piled on by bad reviews), I decided to splurge.
And to be honest, the Caleta wasn’t all that expensive for what you get. The view was beautiful, the staff was pleasant and the room was luxurious. It was a far cry from my previous night’s lodging. And after two weeks of sleeping in hostels, seeing a heavenly king-sized bed was almost too much for me to process. I felt like I’d just learned magic was real and got accepted to Hogwarts.
That night I turned in early. I aimed to enjoy my one night of luxury and looked forward to hiking one of nature’s world wonders first thing in the morning.
I awoke feeling well rested and ready to seize the day. I headed into downtown Gibraltar where I took the first cable car to the top of the rock. I intended to spend all day exploring the rock’s nature reserve, caves and war tunnels, and eventually hiking back down into town.
My body had other plans.
I’d felt a strange aching in my lower back around the time I arrived at the cable car ticketing office. At first I brushed it off as nothing more than discomfort.
I probably slept in strange position. After all, I’m not used to a comfortable bed.
But as the day dragged on, so did the pain. And it got worse. Much worse.
I hiked into the nature reserve, nervously watching Gibraltar’s famous Barbary macaques (tailless monkeys) from afar. The pain in my back was starting to feel less like a crick or a pulled muscle, and more like an inner organ pain.
The feeling was similar to a pain I’ve previously felt in my kidneys when they were working to recover from a night of binge drinking.
Perhaps I’m dehydrated?
I began guzzling down 1.5 liter bottles of water, but to no avail. My condition took a turn for the worse as I made it to the entrance of St. Michael’s Cave – one of the largest tourist sites on the upper rock. By that point, I had begun to feel a dull ache in nearly all of my muscles and joints. I felt incredibly weak. It was a task just to hold my camera up and make a photograph.
But I have to push on. I don’t know if I’ll ever be back here.
I ducked into the cave for less than 10 minutes, snapped a couple of photos, and headed back outside where I found a bench to sit down on.
I was dizzy. I was sweating profusely. And I was cold.
It’s 37 degrees Celsius. Why am I cold? Oh no.
I wasn’t even halfway down the rock yet and I knew the hike would take several hours. After weighing my options, I decided my best bet was to head back to the cable car and grab a ride down.
I was only about half a kilometer away from the cable car and nature reserve entrance when my body decided it needed to expel something. I shambled off the path to a nearby bush and vomited out what seemed like a gallon of water.
So much for staying hydrated.
When I finally made it back down to sea level, I stopped by the first pharmacy I saw. I described my symptoms, which to the pharmacist, sounded flu-like. I’ve only had the flu one time in my entire life, but I do remember aches and cold sweats accompanying fatigue and vomiting. The diagnosis made sense to me.
I stopped to grab a bite to eat at a fish-and-chips joint and caught a bus back to my hotel. Originally, I had intended to walk back across the border into Spain, and catch a train from Algeciras to Rhonda at 5 p.m. But in my current condition, I knew there was no way those plans would come to fruition.
I approached the Caleta’s concierge. Before he could grab my bags out of storage, I pleaded with him to let me stay another night. I informed him of my condition and asked if there were any available rooms.
I had already bought my train ticket for that day and put down a small deposit on a hostel in Rhonda. So the fact that I had to fork over more cash for another night in a fancy hotel didn’t sit well with my budget. But, at the time, my body was a more pressing concern than my wallet.
Fortunately, the hotel had a few vacant rooms. I booked the cheapest one available and got in my room as quickly as possible.
It’s hard to recall exactly what happened in the hours following my re-booking at the Caleta. The entire evening was a fever dream of fidgety sleep and frequent bathroom jaunts.
The worst parts of my night were the moments when I ran into the bathroom and had to play “toilet roulette.” It’s may sound crass, but the fact is, I was so sick that I had no idea if I needed to defecate or vomit – or both. I’m sure Urban Dictionary has a word for sitting on the toilet while simultaneously vomiting into a trashcan. I really don’t want to know what that word is.
The best part of my night was drinking three cups of Theraflu and sitting on the shower floor while an endless supply of warm water eroded some of the aches and pains I was dealing with. Before I passed out for the night, I prayed to all the gods – please let this sickness pass by morning.
No one was listening.
Her majesty’s infirmary
I awoke to a feeling of utter dread.
I felt rested, but there was no doubt I was still sick. I was concerned that my alleged stomach flu would doom the rest of my trip. For the first time since I’d left Georgia, I longed to be at home in my own bed. But that wasn’t an option. Instead, I settled for a hospital bed.
With all my belongings weighing heavily on my back (including an unwanted Moroccan rug), I drug my ailing body into the emergency room of St. Bernard’s Hospital – the only medical facility in Gibraltar.
I was a bit nervous as I had never been to a hospital outside of the states. Of course, there was nothing to worry about. The staff was pleasant and the cost of care was far better than that of an American hospital.
After a short wait, a nurse signaled me into the inspection room.
“Could ya please wee in this cup dear?” she asked in the most British of accents.
I laughed then obliged before I was led into another room and instructed to wait on the doctor. There, I was inspected by a German physician, Dr. Kussner. After I told him about my travels and my symptoms, he asked me to lie down on the medical table where he felt of my stomach.
“Oh dear, very swollen,” he said. “Yes, seems you have a lot of activity going on in there.”
Gastroenteritis – a bacterial infection of the intestines. Dr. Kussner presumed I ingested some food or water that was contaminated by a pathogen – most likely salmonella.
Tangier strikes again.
As awful as I felt, I was extremely relieved to find out that I didn’t have the flu. Dr. Kussner expected a quick recovery time with the help of antibiotics.
I spent a few more hours in the hospital where I was pumped full of painkillers, antibiotics and saline fluids. For the first time in days, I felt incredible. After paying my bill, I was released and headed to a local market to fill my prescription.
The home stretch
I ended up spending several hours in the café of Morrison’s – a British supermarket. I sat and munched on bananas and guzzled down orange juice and water. It felt wonderful to have an appetite for the first time in days. But as time passed, I had a difficult decision to make.
There was little chance I could make the 5 p.m. train to Ronda, so I had to make alternate plans on where I would spend the night. I couldn’t afford to spend another night in the Caleta, and every nearby hostel online appeared to be fully booked.
As the evening approached, I knew I had little choice. I threw on my backpack and started walking towards Spain. Once I crossed the border, I pulled out my phone and searched for hostels on Google Maps. Even though everything was booked up online, I held out hope that at least one place would have an open room – or at least an open couch in the lobby.
As I walked into the downtown area of La Linea, soreness and fatigue began to set in. The painkillers were wearing off just as my phone died.
Seriously. Could things get any worse for me?
But then, a reprieve.
I saw it glowing on the horizon like an angelic mirage. The sign over the maroon double doors read, Hostal Carlos II.
I hobbled into the lobby and asked the concierge if there were any vacant rooms. Much to my relief, there was one. And in that room I dwelled for the remainder of the day. It smelled like stale cigarettes and had no air conditioning to combat the Spanish summer. But I didn’t care. I stripped down to my underwear, laid down on the bed, and turned on Netflix as I cradled a gigantic bottle of Gatorade.
The next morning, I awoke in pristine condition. My trials and tribulations seemed to be at an end. I ate a hearty breakfast, caught a cab to Algeciras, caught a train to Malaga, and continued my journey.
So in short, Tangier was the single worst place I’ve ever visited. I was stranded, robbed and poisoned all in a matter of two days. I’m sure Morocco has much to offer as a country and culture. And I’m sure that even Tangier has many beautiful sights to see and people to meet. But after everything I went through, I don’t imagine it will be making my “list of places to go” anytime soon.
Thanks for the memories Tangier. At least you gave me a good story to tell.
Also published on Medium.