There is a small biography on Nina Murdoch on Wikipedia and in the Australian Dictionary of Biography. It is the standard biography and covers facts such as where Nina was born, North Carlton; where Nina grew up – Woodburn in Northern NSW, not far from where my family live; who Nina married journalist Adams McCay; and, where she worked, the Sydney Sun. Nina was one of the first female reporters to cover Senate debates.
There are things you find out about Nina while reading her book She Travelled Alone in Spain. Nina likes reading the rules on the back of hotel room doors. I have a vague memory of the days when hotels had rules on the back of the room door. Pertinent things like check out time. I have started checking out the back of my hotel room doors. There usually tends to be just the information in case of fire. The doors Nina read back in 1934-35 had rules such as ‘no spitting’ and ‘women are not allowed male visitors in their room’. Rules that obviously hark back to a different time in a very different country to what Nina was used to.
Nina also like walking in the rain. She believed the Spanish didn’t like the rain so she enjoyed being out in it. I often said on the Camino that it doesn’t rain on me. Largely – and until today – the truth. Even on the Camino I never had heavy rain. Small showers, a bit of drizzle and three hail showers in one day but apart from that – it doesn’t really rain on me. Or didn’t. Until this morning.
Nina was described as ‘an independent woman’ who travelled alone in many countries. I don’t think Nina travelled to Morocco but I wanted to, so I booked a day-trip to Tangier. I had an early pick up point about ten minutes away from where I was staying. As the hostal door closed behind me the sky opened up and it poured down. With no raincoat or umbrella, I rain through the rain in the dark. Trying my best to avoid puddles, I usually ended up ankle deep in them. Maybe because there were so many puddles. By the time I reached the pick up point I was soaked through. Luckily my day pack proved to be water resistant and hence I had a dry back. The pick up point was undercover. As I stopped to wring out my scarf, the rain stopped, the sky cleared and it was over. I waited for the mini-bus and again watched the hundreds and hundreds of Spaniards cross the border into Gibraltar to work. Only five minutes, late the bus turned up and I met my nine other travel companions for the day. It would be a forty minute drive to Tarifa and then a short 35 minutes ferry ride across the straight of Gibraltar to the city of Tangier.
I went to Morocco in 1987. Back then it was so different from any other international place I had travelled in – which up until I took that particular ferry ride thirty years ago – included Bali, London, Paris and Spain. My companion and I crossed the Gibraltar Straight and spent no time in Tangier. The guidebook of the day warned it was full of hustlers, scammers and thieves. Instead, along with my travel companion, two Swiss, a French Canadian and another young Aussie guy from the ‘Gong’, we jumped into a Mercedes driven by two Moroccans with a boot load of stolen tyres and car wheels. We travelled on each other’s laps with back packs piled on top of us down to a little beach town further away from Tangier.
Memories of that first visit, thirty years ago flooded back. We were taken down into Portuguese pirate caves by a couple of fishermen. We came out about half way down a cliff with a clear view of the Atlantic Ocean. Afterwards, the fishermen took us back to the top of the cliff and cooked freshly caught crabs over an open fire. They used rocks to break open the legs and pass us the freshly cooked crab. I think we gave them the equivalent of two Australian dollars. It is still one of the best meals I have ever eaten. I remembered the Square of the Dead in Marrakech, walking around at night, seeing snake charmers, mongeese, belly dancers and drinking mint tea. I remembered my companion being offered 25 camels for me as we strolled through Essouira, a town made famous by Jimmy Hendrix. I wondered if I had held my value, if it had gone up like age and weight, or down ……
Today I visited Tangier properly an on an organised tour. Something I rarely do, I prefer to travel outside formal tour groups. As soon as our group were sat down for the ‘carpet talk’ I knew why. It’s the places they take you to so that you can buy goods from their preferred traders that I can’t stand. Next it was a herb and spice shop. One of the other tourists, a guy from Derby said to me ‘next up, its the time share’. That made me laugh. Despite the shops it was a pleasant tour, in the rain. We stood at the point on the shore where that Atlantic Ocean meets the Mediterranean Sea. We went down into the cave of Hercules near this same point. Apparently the ancient Greeks believe this is the spot where Hercules ripped apart Europe and Africa. I wonder what Nina would have made of Africa. I suspect she would have liked it.
Friends asked me about Nina’s journey before I left Australia. Questions such as, how did she get to Spain, how did she travel around, how long did she take travelling? Some of these questions I can answer along my journey, some I may not be able to. Of one thing I am certain, it would have been a lot slower in the early 1930s than it will take me in 2017. Tomorrow, I begin my journey following in Nina’s footsteps, where she began hers. On the train from Gibraltar to Ronda.
If you would like your very own copy of She Travelled Alone in Spain, there are two copies available from Amazon. She travelled alone in Spain