Saga Pearl II blog - Captains' blogs
19th November, 2018
A glorious morning was dawning as Saga Pearl 2 was told by the Spanish Pilots to “wait a few minutes” for a ferry to depart Melilla port before being permitted to enter. Residing in Mallorca, I have become familiar with Spanish waiting times and how minutes can sometimes turn into large segments of an hour – or sometimes more. Thus it was, that 45 minutes later – after another ferry had entered the port – we were finally called in to make our approach. Fortunately, the weather was on our side today, with calm winds and a berth in the city centre only half a mile from the port entrance making it a straightforward berthing manoeuvre, therefore we were alongside only half an hour late at 08:30.
It was my first time in Melilla, as it was for many on board. In fact, we are the first cruise ship to call here in 2018, which called for some media attention and video cameras on the quayside. It also meant that the locals were keen to welcome us, with the tourist board offering free souvenirs and such like to our passengers as they disembarked. The sun shone and it promised to be a lovely day, and with the ship berthed only a hundred metres or so from the impressive walls of the fortified old town, it was definitely worth a wander ashore.
I had been fortunate enough to have been invited for a little tour and some lunch, along with a few other of our senior officers. So it was that I mustered on the quay at 10:30 along with our Chief Engineer Mark, Hotel Director Dawn, Cruise Conductor Jemma and Shorex Manager Leo. We were duly given some free sunhats and a vast array of local documentation and such like by the local tourist board, before boarding a van to take us on our initial tour of the city. This fascinating little autonomous territory has a chequered history; essentially since 1497 it has been Spanish, despite several disputes & hostilities in the past centuries with – primarily of course – the neighbouring Moroccans.
Now, though, it looks as if everyone lives happily and in relative harmony here. In fact, neighbouring Moroccans do not even require a visa to visit, although of course one is required should they wish to depart Melilla on one of the many flights or ferries per day to the Iberian Peninsula. There are 4 main cultures brought together by history within this tiny territory: the Christians/Catholics, Muslims, Jews & Hindus. Like most other Spanish cities, there is a beautiful fortified (old) part of town adjoined by a more modern, neighbouring part. The modern, ever colonial-looking neighbour in this case is a right old interesting mix of architectural Art Nouveau known locally as ‘Modernisme.’
We enjoyed a delightful lunch in a local restaurant, the cuisine here is a superb blend of Moroccan & Spanish, I would refer to it as ‘Moorish Tapas.’ During lunch and an in-depth conversation with the president of the port authority, I suggested remaining longer in port as everyone seemed to be enjoying their stay here, and so it was that we decided to overnight in port. There were other reasons for this, too (for example the weather outside the confined shelters of the harbour was very blustery indeed, but was due to calm the following morning) which all made sense. So, that evening was spent in the peaceful confines of this rather unique European territory on the African continent, before we sailed as the sun rose into a beautiful blue sky the following morning. I do hope that our passengers appreciated some Moorish Tapas and a delightful wander ashore during our impromptu evening in port…
Captain Kim Tanner
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