Confusion in Tarifa

By Lorenz Rychner
This item appears on page 35 of the August 2019 issue.
View from the <i>Tarifa Jet</i> ferry. Photo by Lorenz Rychner

While sitting in the ferry terminal of Tarifa in Andalucía, Spain, on my way to Morocco on Nov. 15, 2018, I had an experience from which we all could learn.

After hearing me speak Spanish one moment and English the next, a rather distraught couple asked me for advice. They were based in Algeciras, Spain, where I had been for the last few days, and they wanted to make one trip to nearby Gibraltar, east of Algeciras, and another to the ferry port for Tangier, Morocco, on the coast in the other direction.

The problem was that they’d been told they could do both of these bus trips using the same bus, but a few words had them stumped: La Línea, Tarifa and Comes.

When they were told to take the bus to La Línea, they assumed that meant “bus line,” but they didn’t know which bus. And when they asked about the ferry, they were told to go to Tarifa, which confused them because that word can mean “rate” or “price.” Third, the name of the bus company was Comes (so if the Comes bus comes, it’s a good thing).

For Gibraltar, they actually were supposed to take the Comes bus to the bus terminal called La Línea (in the town of La Línea, adjacent to Gibraltar). For the ferry, they were supposed to take the Comes bus to the town of Tarifa (the ferry departure harbor). The word had nothing to do with the fare.

The lesson? Do not make assumptions. You may know just enough about a language for it to be dangerous. Verify, then trust.

Denver, CO