October 29, 2013, by Guest blog

I was pleasantly surprised to see rows of palm trees and other exotic plants decorating the city

Post written by Jack Revell.

I arrived in Melilla, a Spanish enclave in North Africa, from Madrid on a scorching hot Saturday afternoon. The first things I noticed when stepping off the plane were the thickness of the air due to the humidity and the menacing looking fences encircling the city, which separate the autonomous Spanish territory from the Moroccan Rif Mountains. Melilla is served by an incredibly modest airport, which makes use of one terminal and a single conveyor belt for baggage, though considering that the city is home to a little over 80,000 residents this is hardly surprising. Once I had collected my bags, I was shepherded off via taxi to my hotel, where I had booked a room for one week in order to give myself time to find somewhere a little more long-term to stay. On account of the heat and the fact that it was mid-siesta, the streets were practically empty, with residents avoiding the outdoors in favour of a mid-afternoon snooze in air-conditioned rooms. Melilla’s architecture struck me as reminiscent of Madrid, on account of the fact that it was designed by a Spanish architect who happened to be one of Gaudi’s students, Enrique Nieto. I was pleasantly surprised to see rows of palm trees and other exotic plants decorating the city, which along with the architecture represented the overlap between Europe and Africa. However, some of the more neglected buildings (of which there are many) in the poorer neighbourhoods mar Melilla’s essential beauty.

The following few weeks mostly revolved around dealing with Spanish bureaucracy (in pursuit of the coveted ‘NIE number’, which I would need in order to be paid my salary), exploring the city, frantically searching for an apartment, settling in at work and trying out the local food. As I steadily become more settled, I find myself looking quite often to the border (which I can see from my balcony) and dreaming up a weekend escapade with a few friends to Fez, Chefchouen or some other far-flung Moroccan city, all of which I now consider to be on my doorstep.

Although I’m still settling in, it’s clear that Melilla is quite a confusing place. Although technically a part of Spain, it feels very un-Spanish in certain regards, owing to its position as a multicultural melting pot of different cultures and religions. As far as cultural hurdles go, fortunately there has been no “cultural shock” yet for me, though I have yet to learn why the delightful little beach which stretches along the east coast stays so empty each day in spite of the scorching heat.

Posted in First impressions