Fear and Loathing in Algeciras

Prompt: Share the story of a time you felt unsafe.

March 17th, 2011.

The train down from Madrid had been surprisingly pleasant, and a supply of podcasts and doodle paper had kept me entertained. I’d also read a bit of Paul Theroux’s The Great Railway Bazaar, a thoughtful gift from a friend to take with me on my own mini adventure.


The first few days had passed with little drama and I’d navigated Paris and Madrid surprisingly easily. Sure, I got done by a street scammer and had lost a few Euros but on the most part I felt pretty good about it all.

This was my first solo trip anywhere and having thrown it all together in a matter of days, the whole thing was going better than I had expected. This travelling lark was a doddle.

The only concern was that as we neared Algeciras the sky was darkening and I had to admit to feeling a few nervous doubts as to the reliability of my directions, a few sketchy notes and a Lonely Planet which had one page about the town.

But I reassured myself that it was fine. After all, my hotel was apparently just around the corner from the station.

Grabbing my stuff I hopped down and found out that the hotel write up had lied. The station stood slightly apart from the town, and I crossed a wide road to reach the streets.

I set off into town and soon got more than a little lost.

First impressions of Algeciras were not good. It quickly claimed the crown of roughest place I’d been, and bear in mind my trip had started in Port Talbot.

A car blaring loud, aggressive rap slowly rolled by and would reappear during my waderings, succeeding in weirding me out. There were very few people around, aside from a gaggle of ageing, rough looking women congregating on a street corner who I decided to avoid.

The car passed for the second time and my unease was growing, I wanted off the streets, my phone and body in need of recharging. Algeciras was unappealing but it was only for one night and then I’d be leaving Europe for the first time, catching a ferry South to Morocco.

I found a sign with a map and found the street I needed, but the sign didn’t have a “You are here” so it didn’t really help.

If I was nervy before it only got worse as two dogs emerged from the darkness a hundred yards away. A few months earlier my little sister had been attacked by dogs in Romania, and this was still fresh in my mind. This transformed them to hulking hounds, vicious and hungry beasts on the hunt, while in reality they were probably just scavenging mutts.

My ears caught the thumping bass of angry rap, growing in volume as it neared, the car circling around once more. Pride be damned, it was time to ask for directions.

The only barrier was my Spanish.

All I knew know was what I’d gleaned from Speedy Gonzalez cartoons and how to order two tequilas, courtesy of Alan Rickman in Dogma. At this point another line from that film seemed fitting.


I grabbed the next local I saw and hesitantly, in an unholy mash of English, French and a few Spanish words (there may have been some Welsh and Klingon in there, I was babbling like a madman). Luckily his English was far better than my Spanish and he gave me easy, basic directions.

I was less than 200 metres from the hotel, two turns and I was there. Had I not asked I would have missed it and ended up as food for los perros. I checked in, texted my mother and stretched out on the bed.

I scribbled postcards and relaxed. I would leave Algeciras behind and be on to Tangier. My eagerness to see Africa swelled and I felt sure that the hard part of the trip was over.

I was a fool…

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.

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