I flew to Rota, Spain, to perform my two weeks of active duty with the Navy Reserves during the summer of 1975. I was in VP-91which was based out of Moffatt Field, CA. Our schedule cycle was a Duty, Ready Alert, Training, and Off (my recollection from nearly 50 years ago). Every four days, it repeated. That afforded each crew four days of R&R in Spain or nearby.
We flew antisubmarine missions on submarines transiting into and out of the Mediterranean Sea. Additionally, we flew surface surveillance, search and rescue, and other missions as tasked. There was nothing to write home about most of the time – from an unclassified perspective, of course.
We were inside the Med by 500 miles, not far from Algiers, during one training flight. We were roughly 20 miles off the coast with a 12-mile international boundary extending into the Med.
There was a Soviet Foxtrot submarine on the surface, barely moving. We were at 5,000 feet above him, talking amongst ourselves about heading down for a closer look. When we decided to descend, a Russian Mig 17 jet entered the picture – probably flown by the Algerian Air Force out of the Tafaraoui Air Base outside Oran.
It appeared to us (from above) that the Mig was doing simulated strafing runs on the submarine. He was very low and approaching from front and back of the sub at relatively high rates of speed. He did almost a dozen approaches and a couple over the top of the sub and then disappeared. We took many photographs of the encounter and decided to depart without further exploring the submarine any closer.
What did surprise us was the wing tanks on the Mig-17. The Mig-15 has external fuel tanks under its wings – about midway to the tip of the wing from the fuselage. This Mig – similar in silhouette to the Mig-15 with 45-degree swept-back wings. At the end of each wing tip were fuel tanks. I had never heard of them or seen any pictures of them.
We wrote up our almost-unremarkable mission, attached the film cartridges, and never heard back from anyone about this Mig-17 with wingtip fuel tanks. Regardless, we had a good time tracking surface and subsurface contacts in the Straits of Gibraltar area.
Our four-day R&R came up, and several of us decided to go to Tangiers, Morocco. I rented a car, and four others hopped in, and we drove to Algeciras to catch the ferry from Spain to Tangier. During my indoc to Spain, we were told that we could go 20 km/hr. over the posted speed limit to pass a vehicle, so long as we returned to the speed limit once we were safely ahead.
My first opportunity to exercise this option came halfway between Rota and Algeciras on this trip. A Spanish police car was going about ten clicks under the limit. So, we followed it for a couple of so miles. I decided – it was actually a group discussion with consensus – to pass the police car. So, I did and was never bothered by him once I was ahead of him.
We bought first-class tickets for around $3 on the ferry and boarded. The ferry was not crowded, and we enjoyed a nice summer day going from one continent to another. I recollect it took a bit over three hours to arrive in North Africa.
We passed through the customs and immigration control without issue and began looking for a hotel. We noticed several guys marking the outside of suitcases with white chalk. I found out later and took advantage of it on our return.
We found a hotel near a mosque, a church, and a large market square a couple of blocks from the ferry landing – a short walk – for next to nothing for the next few nights. However, we discovered quickly that the water to the toilet, shower, and sink did not work.
That created a bit of a problem, but nothing serious. We bought bottled water to flush the commode, and all was well. The price was so low it was not worth looking for another hotel. Food, drink, and other entertainment were very nearby.
Our first mission was to visit the kasbah. So, we hired a taxi and found out that it was only a few blocks – fifteen or twenty minutes of walking. So after that, we walked, except when it was wiser to hire a taxi than carry a lot of stuff back to the hotel. I learned that lesson the hard way during a buying spree outside Utapao, Thailand.
One thing I will never forget is that every place we entered had lots of merchandise and no prices on anything. Whenever we asked how much something was, the standard answer was, what is it worth to you?
The exchange rate between the Moroccan dirham currency was in the range of 9 or 10 dirhams to one US dollar. After a while, I would respond that whatever I wanted to know more about was worth one dirham to me.
That game did not last long, and we broke the impasse and got a starting price to begin negotiations. Unfortunately, I discovered that prices were on articles outside the kasbah, and there were few, if any, negotiations. Regardless, the experience was entertaining, enjoyable, and worthwhile.
We did the scenic tour one day to visit the Caves of Hercules. The opening to the ocean is like the reverse image of the continent of Africa. We did the camel rides, ate local foods, and watched a few belly dancers.
A bit of advice when getting on a camel – hold on to the rear of the saddle because when the camel rises to his feet, the rear end goes up first, and you will be looking straight at the ground hanging on to your life. It was all good, and no one fell off or got hurt.
The return to Spain started with the colorful individuals with white chalk in the ferry area. One of the guys went over and asked what he did. So, for a few bucks from each of us, our bags were marked with chalk, and we boarded the ferry first.
This time, we bought second-class tickets for around $0.25/each and went straight to the first-class area with a couple of bags of wine, cheese, and bread. The return was unremarkable, with many ships passing left and right in front of us. Passing through customs and other required places in Algeciras went quickly. The drive was slightly longer than the previous trip – about two hours.
The following day, we had the duty and shared our experiences with others who wanted to tempt their fate in foreign lands. My other single days off would find me in Sevilla – a place I would return to many years later.
We flew back home, and it would be years later before I returned to Spain. I spent a couple of active-duty periods in the Azores and Bermuda and would have an occasional overnight visit to Spain in the ‘80s.
My wife and I walked the Camino de Santiago (500 miles in 30 days) in 2016. We spent six weeks in Spain and thoroughly enjoyed the people, the culture, and the food. I am not a Mexican food aficionado but love Spanish food. My wife is the opposite.
I used to drink white wine in the ‘70s and graduated to dry, red wines over time. I fell in love with the northern Spanish white wines, especially the white tempranillo, verdejo, godejo, and Albarino. There are no preservatives in most of the wines I drank on the Camino – a significant flavor enhancer without preservatives? Of course, there are excellent sherry wines.
Live Longer & Enjoy Life! – Red O’Laughlin – RedOLaughlin.com