For 5 days we have had little or no internet, so this is a long delayed--and very long--post. Keep checking if only parts show up.
And no, we have not been waiting for one last beer or cup of mint tea. The "bar is closed" means the waves
Fun with scarves in the souk
Our trip to Fes really outstripped our expectations. Everyone said it was well worth a visit, and we began serious planning after reading the account of a trip to Fes in the blog published by Balvenie – fellow cruisers who left Rabat on their way to the Canaries as we were arriving. They had stayed at a small B&B in the medina called Dar Fes Medina, and raved about it, so we emailed with our choice of dates, only to find that they were full on Monday and Tuesday. But we were able to book Tuesday and Wednesday nights, which worked out just as well, given the fact that the bar (entrance from the sea to the river leading to the marina) would still be closed and we couldn’t leave. The train station in Salé ville on our side of the river is very close to us, and we bought our tickets the day before – first-class, to make sure we had a seat and non-smoking conditions, and the price was very reasonable: roughly $25 each round trip, for a 3 hour journey.
We left on the 11:25 train, arriving at the very new and spiffy train station in Fes at 2:30. Jane asked an English woman whom we met in Salé train station, who runs a guesthouse here, what we should expect to pay for a taxi to the Dar, and the response was “oh, around 50 dirhams” so when one of the taxi drivers out front said 40 dirham to take us to the Bab Ziat (the Ziat Gate into the medina), we agreed with pleasure. Naturally, as we were preparing to return to Rabat we asked our host at the Dar about taxi prices, and he was horrified at what we had paid – so on the return taxi ride to the train station we took a taxi with the meter engaged and were charged a little over 8 dirhams! Oh well, you learn all the time. Since a dirham is about 12 cents US, we can just average the two prices and still come out with an inexpensive taxi.
neighborhood baker, Fes
Our taxi let us out at the gate, and then we had to make our way on foot into the medina to the Dar, which was just inside the gate. We had a map, but this is the largest medina in the world, our guide told us, with something like 6000 streets and a population of 400,000 living inside the walls. Behind a breathtakingly beautiful carved wooden door, we found our dar. We were ushered in and seated in a comfortable anteroom and provided with mint tea and cookies, after which host/owner Mohammed arrived to welcome us and help us plan our visit. We arranged a dinner in a house/restaurant for that evening, and a full day tour with a guide for the next day--at a cost of only $36 US.
Our dinner was wonderful. Fuad, the owner of the restaurant, came to pick us up in his car and also drove us home – otherwise we’d never have found the place and certainly wouldn’t have been able to get home in the dark. Since cars and motorbikes are allowed only on the very fringes of the medina, we were driven around the medina, inside another gate, and then Fuad walked us to the restaurant. Fuad’s wife and mother were the primary cooks, and it was soon obvious that Madame Fuad, a delightful plump young woman who clearly loved what she did, played a major role. The first course was “vegetables” which turned out to be a large number of individual plates of wonderful stuff, including carrots with cumin, an eggplant mix, something with zucchini, olives, lentils, potatoes, spicy cauliflour, rice, three large flat rounds of bread, and several other dishes. The lamb arrived steamed, with cumin and salt for us to add as we liked, and with a side dish of rice with nuts and cinnamon sugar. Once we were happily sated, we got the tour of the house, which is 500 years old, and has been in Fuad’s family for 100 years. It is also a dar, which means “house”, specifically one built with several stories of balcony rooms around a central space which soars to a rooftop skylight. It is not an open courtyard garden. The other kind of residence is called a riad, and those are usually larger and have a garden.
It’s a good thing we had that long and filling dinner on our first night in Fes, because by the end of our medina tour the next day we didn’t have the energy left for such a feast. Our guide Hakim picked us up at 9:30 and we didn’t get back to the Dar until at least 5 pm – what was supposed to be a five-hour tour lasted much longer, with out any extra charage, and was superb. We saw several medersas (Koranic schools), including al-Karouine, which is the oldest university in the world, dating from the 9th century. Among others, Ibn Khaldun and Moses Maimonides studied and taught there. We weren’t allowed far inside these, because they were still functioning, but we could see the beautiful tile, woodwork, fountains, and carved plaster decorations that characterize the architecture here. We visited the tanneries (think Moroccan leather), a souk full of woodworkers and stalls where they were building large ornate wedding furniture which one rents for the occasion – a big palanquin in which the bride is carried, and a huge wedding throne, etc. We visited a carpet cooperative and had a wonderful time learning about Berber carpets. Just as we were getting to the point in the discussions where Jane and I were expecting Harry to take over with the final reiteration of “we love carpets but of course we cannot buy anything as we live on a boat, Harry said of the carpet Jane liked best “is that your best price?” Jane’s face registered total shock when she realized Harry also loved the carpet, which the showing expert called a Berber Picasso because of the way it uses color and design. It’s indescribable – and beautiful.
Tanneries at Fes
When it came time for lunch we made it clear that we didn’t want anything heavy, just something like a sandwich. Hakim sat us down at a little shop that sold nothing but fruit drinks and water (including individual cups of water that locals came by and purchased by leaving a coin, pouring a little water from a big bottleof spring water into the common metal cup, drinking it, and leaving the cup for the next person). Hakim asked us what we wanted and went off to buy us and himself a sandwich of kofte (which was delicious) for a tiny price, 15 dirhams each (about $1.50 US)
the calm bar entrance, seen from the Rabat Casbah
Internet here is very, very spotty, so this will very short. We decided to come to Morocco now because the weather forecast showed the bar would be closed for the next week because of Atlantic swell. It is wonderful, with no backsheesh at check-in and no hassles in the medina. We are off on the train in one hour to spend 2 nights in Fes, so more later (assuming we get any internet connections)
Waterfront park, Cadiz
We almost didn't stop at Cadiz, but midway through the trip it was apparent we would get there well before dark, so in we went to the Marina America. After a farce involving changing slips 3 times (mostly our language barrier), then finding there is no wifi, and finally being told the surge in the marina gets bad when the ferries go by, we were thinking we might not stay more than one night. Then morning came and we went for a shower. Wow, there was a laundry, clean toilets and showers, and even a glass walled garden beside the sinks. It doesn't take much to make a cruiser happy.
After that we walked into town, and it was just one beautiful vista after another. Interesting facts about the city are that it was supposedly founded by Hercules, maybe after he pushed on the pillars to open the Med? ( I have to admit that I made this up). There is evidence of Phoenicians from 3000 years ago. More recently, it was the site of the congress of the mainland Spanish and the Latin American countries which wrote the liberal Constitution of 1812. Since next year is the bicentennial, every thing is all spiffed up. These photos here are a lot better than words, so here they are:
Dale and the Barbary Ape
Dale, Jane's sister, arrived in Gibraltar on Wednesday the 5th and she'll be sailing with us all the way to the Canaries. Here is a copy of what she wrote about our first days together:
I arrived safely on Wednesday -- we walked around town that afternoon and then went out for a wonderful Indian dinner, the hit of which was chicken jalfrezi -- if you ever see it on an Indian menu, get it.
On Thursday we took the bus to begin our explorations, and found that the city has made all bus trips free, hoping to reduce the number of cars used,and the pollution. What a treat! There are five bus routes, and among them they can get you almost anywhere in Gibraltar (but not to the summit, as you'll find later).
We went first to Europa Point, which is the point closest to Africa -- Jane and Harry had been there before but it had always been too gray and cloudy to see the African coast, but this time we did.
Then we took the bus to the cable car that goes about halfway up the rock, to a nature preserve where you can see the Barbary apes and take several walks. We had the tourist information map of Gib, and it seemed clear that we could walk south and get to the Mediterranean Steps, and follow them in a long curve further south and east and down to a few more interesting spots. So we set out, after having lunch in the cafe at the cable car depot. Thank goodness we had lunch first. The walk was interesting, and after a bit we realized that we were actually getting to the summit, which we had thought was out of bounds. The view was even better than from the cable car area. Then it got really interesting. After a longish uphill hike, we began to go down -- but not down where we had thought, but down the back (Mediterranean) side of the rock. And this was no simple walk down a hill; it was a series of switchbacks that were very steep, and went on far further than we thought possible. And still there was no indication of a way to get to the location that the map showed as the end of the Mediterranean Steps. At one resting point Jane joked that Harry was pretty soon going to think that we had embarked on another one of Jane's Bataan Death Marches, to which Harry replied that he had thought that long before now. And then the path turned upward again, more switchbacks, with poor Florida me beginning to realize how little I use the climbing up and down muscles. And still no sign of ending at the right place. More walking up, with every turn promising possible to be the end... but nooooo. We encountered a total of four other people on the way, all much younger than us. Finally we got to a kind of tunnel, which I just knew was the end. But it wasn't. We did get out on the other side, but still had some up before we got to more down, and finally to the main road.
But we were at the main road far past the end of the bus routes, and worse yet, not at all commercial, for we had long since finished our water and would have been very grateful for a shop that would sell us even an expensive bottle of water. Finally, considerably footsore, we got to a bus stop, and caught the bus back to the marina. We stopped by the ice cream store for a wonderful confection called the Exotic, which has a mango crust, and vanilla with mango swirls inside. Very satisfying, and when we got back to the boat there was lots of water, because Gib water is very good. And then drinks of course...
Yesterday we prepared for leaving -- which means I went on a bus + walk trip to a couple of interesting museums, and Jane and Harry went to the grocery store.
We left the marina for the nearby anchorage in La Linea, Spain, from which we left Sat. morning at 4:30 am, so as to catch the best possible wind, tide, and current combination to make the 78 mile trip to Cadiz before dark. We mostly motored, but it has been a very nice day anyway.
It is now Sunday and we are sitting in a plaza in Cadiz with wifi. Our trip was beautiful but the winds were lighter than expected. Oh well--better than stronger for sure. Cadiz is a 3000 year old city so just wandering is a treat.
Ape wants a cuddle
Jane's cousin Anne and her husband Jay took a day out of their travel time in Portugal and Spain to cross the border into Gibraltar. It seemed so easy for them to rent a car in Marbella, where they are staying, and drive the short distance to Gib. What none of us knew then was how long the queue would be to cross the frontier. After over an hour in a long line of traffic, the bored border guards on both sides finally waved them through (and us the following day, as we in turn rented a car). We had not seen Anne in 10 years and had never met her husband Jay, so we had lots to talk about. We had coffee and cookies on the boat while we talked non-stop, showed them our home, and made plans for the day.
We started out to walk to the cable car, then walk at the top of the rock and see as much as we could. Along the way, we met a mini-bus tour tout and changed our minds. It is alot bigger and steeper up there than it looks, and if you take the cable car you have about 3 hours of walking and it actually ends up costing about 1 pound more once you buy entrances to the sites. So with 4 people from the south of England, we went to Europa point, into St. Michael's cave which was converted into a hospital in case of invasion in WWII and is now used for concerts, saw lots and lots of the famous Barbary Apes of Gibraltar, and went into the siege tunnels started for the great siege of 1779 and enlarged for WWII. The apes are not actually apes at all, but a type of macaque monkey with no tails. The myth is that Gibraltar will remain British as long as the apes inhabit the rock. They are now fed daily with healthy carrots and fruits, and their population even has to be controlled with some form of birth control so their family groups don't get too large and cause fights.
We topped off our touring with an hour in the Gibraltar museum. Then it was back to Cormorant for drinks and more talk before an early Indian meal. Anne and Jay needed to get back before dark so they could rest for their planned day at the Alhambra in Granada on Thursday. Here are more Gibraltar photos:
The "new" bridge at Ronda, 1752
We decided to rent a car for a few days so we could get our propane gas cylinder filled and do some exploring. A friend told us to google "cheap cars", so on a site called traveljigsaw we got a car for 4 days for a total cost of 51 euro. Amazing. We reserved the smallest car offered but the one we got was the Peugot 308 diesel--really nice.
We got stuck for over an hour on Thursday morning trying to get back to the boat to pick up the gas cylinder after getting the car on the Spanish side of the border. Then we got lost in La Linea, but finally we got to Estepona where the man is who will refill American tanks. All the European fittings are different, so getting propane is something of a mission anywhere in the Med. Our man had to go for his 2 hour Spanish lunch before we could get there, so we also had a 2 hour lunch while we waited! At about 5:30 we started up into the Sierra mountains to the historic city of Ronda, and we were glad we had been delayed so long on the coast. The road was twisty and steep, but all the day tourist traffic was over so it was a stunning drive.
The town was built at the top of a mountain split by a deep river gorge. The first bridge across the gorge was built in the time of the Moors, about 800 or so, to link the old town and the new town. Then in the 17th century another bridge was built higher up, but it is now called the "old" bridge because of its replacement, here seen out the window of our hotel. The other important thing about Ronda is that it is the site of the first purpose built bull ring in the world. The first fight in it took place in 1785, and it is still in use. We had no interest in seeing a bullfight, but the building and the museum and the stables and bull pens were fascinating. Hill towns are in every European country it seems, and all a