The White Slave Trade, Anyone? El Puerto de Santa Maria/ Tangiers 1973

Ever since I moved here to El Puerto de Santa Maria, I've been warned about the white slave trade. Apparently white girls — meaning Anglo Saxons — disappear any time they go to Tangiers. They just simply never return. Yikes! The story is that they're sold into a harem. Of course, Mandy, my new Canadian friend and I don't believe any of this, and, since we're out for adventure and excitement, we simply dismiss the stories.

You can't be living so close to an exotic city like Tangiers and not visit it. That's just the way it is.

We hitch-hike up to Algeciras. The slimy guy who picks us up no sooner has accelerated his car when he opens his glove compartment to show us his contraceptives. Is he serious?! We tell him to stop the car and let us out. He stares at us in the rear view mirror.

"You wanna f...y f...y?"

"NO!" We scream at him.

"Okay. Okay. Just asking. You Swedish girls, you never know."

"We're not Swedish." I snap at him with all the gusto of the schoolteacher that I am.

Mandy is taller than me, so I'm sure between the two of us we can deal with any dirty- minded sleaze.

There's silence in the car as he continues to drive.

"I take you to Algeciras. Okay? No problem."

We relax and are chauffeured to Algeciras where we're to catch the ferry to Tangiers.

Nothing has prepared us for Tangiers. No sooner do our toes touch land than we're surrounded by urchins all yelling at us, hands outstretched. We can't move. Maybe the stories about the white slave trade are true, after all? We could be murdered here, and nobody would find our bodies among so many people. They're mainly boys. Some look to be teenagers, and they're all very strong and intent on getting something. We can't figure out what it is that they want. What we want, however,  is to be able to walk down the pier and get to the hotel. We try to ignore the crowd, to no avail. They follow us closely and start pushing and shoving us. Some have stones which they throw at our ankles.

"F...y! F...y!"

Whoever taught them English did a really bad job, if you want my opinion. These two words seem to be getting used a lot today between the driver we hitch-hiked a lift from, and now these wild looking boys. I make a mental note to look up how you say 'f...y f...y' in Spanish.

We try to get away, but it's impossible. They form a circle around us, all the while shoving their hands up in the air. A man arrives.

"Do you need any help?" He's a smooth talking guy, with a flashy grin. He wears cheap-looking clothes that are crushed, and his skin seems dirty. "Pay me, and I'll see to it that you have a safe time in Tangiers."

Much as we hate to hand over cash we figure it's probably the best thing to do. Like magic the crowd of boys and teenagers disappear and we're left in peace.

"Welcome to Tangiers. I will be your guide."

He escorts us to our hotel. Meanwhile, the boys are already mingling around other unsuspecting travellers. It's a relief not to have to deal with people badgering us with their hands outstretched.

"I'll come by tomorrow and give you a tour of the city. Until then."  Just as miraculously as he appeared at the pier, our guide now disappears down a narrow road teeming with people wearing long gowns.

I smell orange and mint and hear odd sounds of a man calling out loudly. He seems to be saying the same words over and over.

We enter the hotel. I guess that's what it is. I don't think it has even one star. It's maybe got half a star, at the most. Our room is located way down a long corridor, far from the bathroom, but the price is cheap. There are two lumpy beds in the room and a tiny window. I suddenly get the overwhelming desire to march down to the pier and get on another ferry back to Spain.

"Ready for dinner?  Where shall be eat?" Mandy loves her food. After looking at the expression on my face, she tries to placate me by saying, "Come on, it will be an adventure! That's what we came for!  Isn't it?"

"I guess. What do they eat here, I wonder?"

Before she can answer, a man barges into the bedroom. How on earth did he get in?   The lock on the door doesn't work! Who is this person?!  He looks dazed, as he offers us something hard. It's a small, rectangular object. Then he sits on one of the beds and practically passes out.

Yikes! Who is he? And what is he offering us? How do we get rid of him?

He comes to and stands up, then wanders out and disappears completely.

"Do you think that was some drug he had in his hand?" I ask Mandy.

"Could be. We should have taken it. Probably could have sold it in Spain for thousands of pesetas!"

I stare at her in disbelief.

"Only kidding!  Really, I am." She starts laughing. "Let's go out and find some food."

"But the lock doesn't work." I hate to be such a whiner, but I'm getting nervous as stories of the white slave trade roll around in my mind.

"We'll put a chair against the door tonight. For now, we'll take our passports and cash with us. Gosh, am I hungry!" Mandy laughs loudly as she nudges me out the door. Then she turns to speak to me, her lips trembling, "Heck, you don't think these stories about the white slave trade are correct?"

"No. At least, I hope not. Do you think they're correct?" I look up at Mandy, hoping that she isn't too concerned, despite her lips trembling.

"We'll find out! We don't have a choice, anyway. Let the adventures begin!"

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