Sebastiano was a good guy to travel with. Around me he didn’t display that crazy, manic side we saw so often back at the Plaza de Santa Ana. He knew I liked him for who he was and he didn’t have to be anything else. Lots of times people in restaurants would think we were father and son even though genetically we were very different. He would say with force, “No, somos companeros!” For a young man out on his own for the first time it was a nice, protected feeling being with him, like having a father who was also a buddy or a strong big brother. With my command of the language and his intimidating fearlessness we managed very well together.
The boat to Morocco sailed from Algeciras across the straits of Gibraltar to Ceuta, which is a little postage-stamp piece of territory in Africa belonging to Spain. The sun blazed. Objects cast impenetrable black shadows as in De Chirico’s paintings. On the boat we could feel the heat coming out of Africa and the Mediterranean sparkled its special cerulean blue light. A breeze softened the heat. Every variegated shape of fair-weather cumulus cloud moved across the blue sky. A group of foreign legionnaires smoked on deck and talked together, rough, virile men, their shirts open to give their chest hair freedom and all of them looking like they were ready to kill.
Our plan was to go to Tetuan and buy kief, which is what they call pot there, and then go to Tangiers and take the boat back to Algeciras from there. The reason for not going straight back was that we had heard that the pot sellers turn around and inform on you. That way they get their pot back or some kind of kickback. This kind of information made me aware that we didn’t exactly know what we were doing.
Marijuana was hardly known in those days except to a small group of beatniks, musicians and actors. I knew enough not to be afraid of it because, back home in Pelham, Felix said it was good medicine. Felix later made a lot of money and a lot of good music with a group called “The Rascals.” He had gotten some pot from the jazz master of the organ, Jimmy Smith. But the rest of us couldn’t get any. And now I was going to find out about it in the most exotic place possible.
Just about the time we were out of the mountains and going through the last series of downhill turns we came to a short tunnel about two or three hundred feet long. This was ordinarily not a big deal except that it was black as coal in that tunnel. I can’t remember if I turned on the Triumph’s big chrome light or not. It wouldn’t have done much good anyway because the contrast between the intense Spanish sun and the black of the tunnel was too much for the eye. But the road had been good so there was no concern until, in the middle of that black tunnel, we hit a hole that almost spoiled everything.
From high off my seat somewhere in space I struggled to keep the front fork from going out of control. Sebastiano went so far up in the air that only one of his hands was able to touch the top of my helmet. It was like a circus act. Somehow the motorcycle kept going and we literally fell out of space and back into position. We pulled over on the other side of the tunnel and took stock of ourselves. I was sure the motorcycle had a wrecked front wheel but it was okay. And after a few minutes of nervous congratulations, we were on the road again, very grateful and a little wiser about the traps the road can set. After that, I think we felt like we could travel around the world like this and be all right. We descended from the mountains and saw Granada in the distance. The aroma of gardenias and all the flowers of the Alhambra rose up to meet us on the hot afternoon air.
Now we were getting close to the Mediterranean and our destination on the straits of Gibraltar. The next day, late afternoon, we got to Algeciras, found a small hotel, and started walking everywhere, way out on the breakwater where the boats were coming in and around the big horseshoe walk along the ocean that every town of this type seems to have. But Algeciras was different in other ways.
The Moors were in Spain for seven hundred years and controlled all of Andalusia. Their influence could be seen everywhere. Here in Algeciras, they were still in control and the place had a mysterious and distinctly Muslim feel to it. Mosaic tile work decorated the small hotels and restaurants and, in the cafes, there were dark men with sunglasses reading papers and waiting for messages or to meet somebody. People spoke Arabic as much as Spanish. The kitchen smells were different, cumin and coriander and fennel instead of garlic and olive oil. We knew we were entering a different world.