Crossing the channel to North Africa
The first time I travelled to North Africa was in 1992. I had been on a train from Stockholm via Norway all the way down to Algeciras in Southern Spain, where we continued by boat over to North Africa. We landed in Ceuta, a tiny Spanish autonomous city in the far north of Morocco.
It was during the European Inter-Rail days, when you travelled light, and ended up stopping to sleep on the odd train station bench in Flensburg, on a Portuguese beach – or if you were lucky like us, in a penthouse flat overlooking Lake Geneva…
I was travelling with my Swedish boyfriend, and a short detour to Africa didn´t feel like a massive thing, more like a cheeky little extension to test the limits of our Inter-rail cards. Ceuta was after all Spain!
I was well travelled already, with parents who had done some pretty amazing journeys to many remote places of our planet, and this blog will tell you mostly about my mum and dad´s adventure in North Africa, many years ago.
My dad´s Volvo Duett took them on their first adventures together. I don´t know how many miles that car made in its lifetime, but I know the car was airlifted onboard a cargo ship, which was to take them from Marseille to North Africa in the summer of 1964, where they intended to explore Algeria and the Sahara Desert for the extent of their long summer holiday.
The car, my mum and my dad arrived safe in Algeria, explored the capital, Algier, for a while before they travelled south to a small desert oasis town called Bou-Saada. My dad had built a wooden platform to sleep on in the car, which created a mobile home function, so they just pulled up next to a hotel with a pool and stayed there, used the pool and enjoyed the sun!
By pure coincidence, as I google Bou-Saada, the first thing that pops up is an old 8mm film from 1964, the same year my parents were there. A wishful part of me wants to think it´s my dad´s film.
But Algeria was still in havoc after the 1962 French de-colonisation and various groups were still fighting mean battles. Mum and dad suddenly found themselves trapped behind some guerrilla troops advancing towards Algier, and with air-craft circling above them in a most disconcerting way, they decided that it was probably a good time to move on.
Hitting the road straight north through the desert, they were stopped by an unknown guerrilla troop, searching the entire car (especially my mum´s French dictionary). It took hours. Clearly, they had no clue as to what they were looking for. And after a while back on the road, they were stopped again by a completely different troop of soldiers. This group didn´t know anything about the other troop and asked everything about them; their position, their clothes and what weapons they had.
After many many years, it´s come to mum´s attention, that my dad thought it was very lucky they didn´t find the gun he had hidden as protection at the front of the car…
Mum and dad fled across the border to Morocco, just as the troops, armed to their teeth, started marching into Algier.
My dad always used to travel with a large camera bag on his shoulder and he´s passed on his passion for indigenous portraits and capturing quirky moments to me. His photos are absolutely stunning – and considering he was shooting on 35mm film back then, often in very high contrast and extreme light or dark conditions, with film stock that he loaded, developed and eventually printed himself down in the basement, the quality of his work is just astonishing.
Taking portraits in Muslim countries is always a tricky thing. You have to make a decision first; will you respect other people´s faith, or is your passion going to drive you through the religious barriers to capture that moment. So, yes, you guessed it, we usually break the barrier.
Sometimes it´s a bit like spying, you need to partly hide behind a wall or a person to get the snap, sometimes you have to chance it. You usually get someone chasing after you in anger, but in the end, it often turns out they just want money.
My parents stayed on in Morocco for several weeks, and the photos from the country resonate very strongly with me and it´s a joy to see through my dad´s lens what he saw.
So my parents are certainly a bit travel bonkers and have passed on the travel bug to both me and my sister – one of the first trips they brought me along on, was trekking in Greenland as a ten-year-old. I continued exploring most countries of Europe, then on to Australia where I spent a year with an Aussie family at the age of 16, then we travelled to some remote areas of China while my sister was living there, and I have since explored many many more places on our magnificent planet.
That first trip to Morocco with my boyfriend took us slightly south along the coast to Tetouan, a small market town with no tourists what so ever. The trip has left a strong memory, and I loved the exciting mixture of the vast open land and the narrow dark streets and souks, buzzing with activity. I had my 35mm Minolta glued to my hand, trying to catch the shying population on the market day. Despite wearing black biker shorts and uncovered blond hair, we only received smiles. We didn´t meet any other tourists on the whole journey.
I´ve now been to Morocco several times and am holding a photo group tour there in October, which is open to everyone.
My next blogs will show you more of the country through my own lens, but I´d like to take this rare opportunity to show off my dad´s photos, so here are some more of his shots from the trip through Algeria and Morocco in 1964.
My next blog will fast forward to Morocco 2017 on a photo commission for www.moroccotrips4you.com
Photos by Bertil Elfverson