The Straits Of Gibraltar

When the traveler has come to the southern end of Europe, he must either retrace his steps or ” carry the war into Africa.” We had finished our visit in Gibraltar, and the summer weather had not yet come upon us. There was still time for a short excursion to Tangier, and so we went to see the Moors.

In a clear day one can see across the Straits of Gibraltar without glasses, but, in spite of what the guide-books say, the crossing under the existing conditions takes from four to five hours. One writer says, “The passage from Gibraltar is pleasant.” Perhaps he would say the same of the English Chan nel. Some of the passengers who crossed the Straits in the tug Hercules would not be of this mind. The tide was flowing in from the Atlantic at seven miles an hour; the powerful under-current from the Mediterranean was pushing out its mass of waters; there was a strong wind blowing against the tide, and the Straits were white with wave crests. The dirty old cattle-boat wheezed and groaned and belied its name “Hercules,” for once or twice it nearly turned around in mid-channel. At this the captain, who was born in Boston, though he looked like an Arab and talked a dozen tongues, said, “She’s blamed hard to steer, but we’ll get her through this time “; and so we did, but we had been on board exactly five hours. There was no cabin, and no comfortable seat; and one of the ladies who gratefully accepted the captain’s bunk, so that she might lie down, repented afterwards in haircloth and Persian powder. If any of my readers intend to go to Tangier, let them choose a big French steamer or a smooth day, unless they are good sailors and superior to trifling annoyances. To such the crossing gives a fine chance to see the Spanish and African coast. Algeciras, with its white houses and groves of aloes and prickly-pear, backed by wild moors and rugged mountains, and Tarifa, sleeping amidst orange groves, faded gradually from sight. As we turned southward, in the distance we could see the snow-covered peaks of the Atlas Mountains and the nearer heights of Capes Malabette and Spartel. The latter forms the western extremity of the African continent and rises, a projecting mass of stone, a thousand feet more or less into the air. A lighthouse is maintained here by the mutual aid of Great Britain, France, Germany, and the United States, each nation paying one-fourth of the cost. This union to protect the commerce of the world from disaster, and save the lives of sailors, is far better, in my opinion, than combinations among civilized nations to despoil the heathen and divide their lands among Christians. As we slowly worked our way across the Straits, we saw many steam vessels going to and fro, some arriving from long voyages around the Cape of Good Hope and from South America, others from Italy and the East, and others still from France and England, on the way to various Mediterranean ports.

The steamer entered the Bay of Tangier, and cast anchor at a short distance from the shore. Tangier is situated at the northwest extremity of the bay, and rises in amphitheatre on the slopes of two hills; the northern one is occupied by the citadel or ” Kasbah,” and the town occupies the southern.

Seen from the sea, the city bears a picturesque aspect, somewhat like Algiers, though smaller. At first it seemed to be a multitude of white specks on a green ground, then the specks grew into white houses in the midst of orange and citron trees, and along lanes of aloes, with minarets rising from the mosques and towers from the governor’s palace. Prominent among the large houses near the shore is the Continental Hotel, as nice a resting-place for the Oriental traveller as can be found in Africa, clean, commodious, and comfortable, with a good table, a choice library, and excellent service. Beyond the town there are green hills, among which are many fine residences of diplomats and merchants, with choice and delightful gardens.

No sooner had the steamer cast anchor than it was surrounded by dozens of boats, from which issued a swarm of naked and half-naked Moors and negroes, who seized the luggage promiscuously, and often the passengers also, to carry them ashore. Fortunately it was high tide, and we were able to land at the staircase, though in the midst of a squalling and tearing crowd of wet and dirty natives, all eager to serve and cheat the bewildered foreigner. When the tide is low, these fellows carry passengers on their backs through the surf to the shore. An English lady of our acquaintance vividly described her horror at being addressed by a gigantic and half-naked Moor with, ” Here, woman, back,” as he solicited her to employ him to carry her through the waves. These men have a habit of stopping half-way from shore and making their bargain at a point where failure to agree to their terms would result in being dumped into the sea. We escaped these annoyances, and at length arrived with our boxes at the city gate. There sat the receivers of customs. They hardly deigned to look upon the infidels whose luggage was opened before them, and placidly inhaled the fragrant tobacco through their long pipes, nodded their turbaned heads, and continued to squat on the wooden divans while the trunks were strapped up again and carried to the hotel. On the way to the hotel, through filthy lanes blockaded with multitudes of laden asses, we were beset by a variety of natives of every shade from black to olive, dressed in white and blue linen, and covered with fez caps or massive rolls of turban, who desired to serve as dragomans and guides. We made our selection upon the general ground of a knowledge of English and French, and were at once relieved from the importunity of the rest. It certainly was worth a dollar and a half a day to be piloted about through the nondescript crowds of Tangier and defended against the legions of beggars who infest every street and square and public place.

Beggars are to be found in every country, but there are varieties of the species. I have known one in Rome who could always change a scudo (a dollar piece) to get the huge copper coin which used to pass current for about five cents, and who died rich; and another in New York, who managed for a year to collect a considerable sum each week to bury his child; and a fashionable one in Paris, who gave readings and lectures, ostensibly for charity, but really on the ” beggar ” plan. These specimens are interesting and amusing. There are, too, the jolly beggars of Naples, and the sanctimonious beggars of Spain, and the obscene beggars of Liverpool and London; but for downright and utter misery, filth, disease, and nakedness combined, T have seen nothing equal to the representatives of beggary in the Barbary States.