Hiding out in the woods dodging Moroccan soldiers, Marcel Nhyomog, 30 years old and a citizen of Cameroon, spent six months plotting how to climb over the razor-wire fences separating Spanish territory from Africa.
With the help of ladders and dozens of other young Africans, he said in an interview, he tried to cross the double fence four times, but each time he was caught by Moroccan police and deported to the Algerian border.
This week, he finally reached Spain's North African enclave of Melilla, a multicultural seaside city where veiled women wander along dusty paths lined with Spanish-style buildings.
"This is combat -- you have to have a plan," Nhyomog, wearing a bandage on one hand, said shortly after arriving in Melilla. "There is always a leader. The captain gives the signal and we go."
Hundreds of mainly West African migrants have tried to storm the border in large groups recently. Sometimes the melees result in death. [Moroccan officials said six African men were killed Thursday in a clash with Moroccan police outside Melilla, the Associated Press reported.]
Nhyomog said his journey started near the equator in Cameroon. He traveled, sometimes on foot, through Nigeria and the desert expanses of Algeria and Niger, where he saw the skeletons of those who had died making the same journey.
In the woods northwest of Melilla's border with Morocco, the migrants make ladders from trees, binding the branches together with cloth or nails.
Nhyomog said they formed groups of five, with two ladders among them, which they passed to each other in relay as they scrambled over the fence -- 10 feet high in some places, 20 feet in others.
Nhyomog is now in Spanish territory, and because his country has no repatriation agreement with Spain, he said he expects to be taken to the Spanish mainland within two months. But Spain has said it could start sending migrants back over the Moroccan border.
From their makeshift camps in the woods, the Africans, all with months of arduous travel behind them, can see the lights of Melilla. Near where they sleep, the Moroccan army has set up camp. A Spanish helicopter clatters over the border all night.
The migrants say Moroccan police and troops have periodically destroyed their camps and burned their possessions, but they cling on in the forests.
"We don't have food, we don't have clean water. The police have broken everything," said Diarra Tou Coro, 22, who left Mali, a poor West African country, in May 2003.
Crossing the land border has become more popular because the main alternative -- paying smugglers for a ride on a rickety boat to southern Spain or the Canary Islands -- is expensive.
"If you have money, you don't come this way," said Gambian Mohamed Lamine N'Diaye, 25, at a dusty and crowded Red Cross center in Melilla. Crossing by boat, he said, costs the equivalent of about $1,800. "Here you don't pay anything," he said.
The fence is probably safer, too: ATIME, a Moroccan nongovernmental organization, estimates that more than 4,000 people have died since 1997 crossing the Strait of Gibraltar between Spain and Morocco and the short stretch of sea to the Canary Islands.