with love from…Algeciras

My carshare from Granada was loaded up with people who would not be getting dropped off in Algeciras with me. Their (eagerly shared) opinions of the city can be summed up with: “yuck”. They wanted to know why I wanted to go there (crime, drugs, cargo containers, ugliness, etc.). I told them I needed to catch a ferry to Morocco. They then wanted to know why I didn’t go to Tarifa (surfing, kiteboarding, whitewashed old town, ferries, etc.). I told them that I do this postcard then&now thing, and that I had a postcard of Algeciras. So.

The driver said he thought my postcard project was really cool (he seemed to mean it, too!). He was quiet for a minute and added, “You couldn’t find an old postcard from Tarifa?”

By the time they dropped me off, I was feeling defensive. I’d been carrying Algeciras in my backpack for weeks at that point and I thought the place was just fine, ok? I was surprised at my goofy loyalty to this city that I knew nothing about. I was ready to find some trace of the old Algeciras — and to like the new Algeciras, too. Damn it.

As I started exploring I thought, “I’ve seen uglier” (I won’t name names. No need to be catty). Maybe Algeciras doesn’t have picturesque ruins, white sand beaches, or hotels with beds that you’d look forward to sleeping in. But hey, some cities have to do the work for the rest of them. Did my carshare driver think his cute little hatchback was gonna slowly bob its own way over from Asia? Does he want to have a beautiful beach but no cheap plastic imported chair to sit on while he watches the kitesurfers?

So I headed to the port and, um:

Where are you, my little port?

Between whenever that postcard’s photo was taken (there’s no date – but there is a steam engine) and now, the port at Algeciras has become the busiest in Spain and the 35th busiest in the world.

But even with a kabillon tons of concrete and a whole new network of rail lines (and highways), a piece of the old railway track remains — inside a blocked-off, abandoned construction site (I could see it when I stood on a crumbling concrete barricade and looked through the rusty chain link fence. God, yes. I actually did this). This appears to be the old canal, covered up to make an almost-pretty park:

If you imagine a canal running under those palm trees, and a railway buried under the asphalt, you can almost make out the Algeciras from 100+ years before these cyclists were setting out on the second stage of La Vuelta 2014.

I’d never heard of La Vuelta but was excited to see its cyclists spinning over my old train tracks. See, look at Algeciras, having good, clean fun!

The Vuelta’s website has one of the nicest descriptions of Algeciras I’ve seen:

Algeciras is fast becoming a fundamental destination in nature and experience-oriented tourism. It is considered by ornithologists as the third best place in the world to observe migratory birds.  Dolphins and whales can also be seen with the help of the sighting boats that operate in the Strait. Its fabulous beaches and natural trails satisfy those visitors in search of tranquillity who appreciate the environment.  However, it should not be forgotten that the local gastronomy is also one of its main attractions: fried fish, sea nettle, sea urchins… will delight the taste buds of even the most demanding foodies.  The traditional tapas are of an extraordinary quality and only the freshest products are used, almost always from the fresh food market: a multicultural experience for the senses.

I didn’t experience any of those things.

But I saw this stuff and thought it was pretty ok:

It didn’t feel totally, you know, safe, especially on the day when I wandered around without a huge international sporting event bustling around me. But there was almost always a police officer within shouting distance! I’m tempted right now to fact-check my fellow car-sharers’ derisive statements about drug smuggling and rampant crime in Algeciras. But that stuff is always just anecdotal crap, isn’t it? (Unlike this post).

And! Just over the hill from the port, Algeciras even has pretty residential/vacation-home neighborhoods and sandy, sheltered beaches — where you can rent a nice plastic lounge chair… and watch the cargo ships float by.

[[ Note: I just looked at some photos of Tarifa, and whoa, it’s pretty. If you’re headed to Tangiers, you might want to skip Algeciras and catch the ferry from there. ]]

The postcard is available in my etsy shop.

More postcard misadventures HERE.


  1. I love your commitment to looking beyond the rust and recognizing value beyond the beautiful sandy beaches. .. reminds me of boat trip on the Chicago River years and years ago, seeing the flaming furnaces through open bay doors and knowing the work was hard but provided income for families as well as lots of things we’ve come to depend on. Without the gritty work, we wouldn’t have our laptops that connect us nor pretty much anything else beyond what wanders on or grows from the surface of the earth, swims in the sea or zips (naturally) through the air. The postcard project is a great way to see the world. So glad you’re sharing with your lovely photos!


  2. Glad to have you along! :) I wonder sometimes how/why some of the postcards even exist…? What made the port at Algeciras worth writing home about 100 years ago? Do they still make postcards of the new port – or do they assume no one would buy/send such a thing? …


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