Saturday, September 30, 2023

Spain Part 2

I'm the legacy of immigrants. I'm one of a couple hundred descendants of a strong resilient man and woman who could only imagine the risks and hardships they embarked upon. They crossed an ocean and dug earth to feed the brood. 

Aleja doesn't know her lineage, but to some degree, our stories began here on this continent; Europe. We are from the new world returning to the old world. 

In Spain, it's driven home for one of us more than the other. Her stories have been mine for so many years that I take extra interest in it all. Speaking the language, she augments the day with subtle layers of insight that shade the pastels of the church bricks and color the gray stone castle walls. 

Spain sits atop Africa; so close you can see one from the other. It should come as no surprise that the oldest human habitations in Europe have been found here in Spain. Cave paintings that date back 40,000+ years prove the tenacity of man and straddle a timeline we can all tie ourselves to. The DNA is common to us all: from northern Spain to Northern Ireland, it really isn't that different. As we'll learn, they are Celtic one and all. The truth is... The totality of mankind just wants to gorge ourselves on satisfying food, drink cider until our shoes are soaked, listen to the music that makes us grind our teeth and pretend we'll live forever. Let the party begin. Welcome to Spain my friends.

Leaving Africa

The south of Spain was a blast furnace when we returned on the ferry from Morocco in June. (But you read about southern Spain in one of my previous dispatches. This one is about the 4 comunidades at the top) We sprinted north as fast as we could. Once we got on the other side of Madrid it started to cool a bit. 

The Edifices and Landscapes

We were taken by the soaring architecture punctuated with the grandeur of nature that extends to the horizon. The north is more interesting to the eye than the summer scorched south. We left the cities behind and repeatedly stabbed pins in a map as we hopped amongst charming Roman villages, built over the centuries into medieval cities, and then frozen in time. I can t say we had an authentic experience, but the route north swelled our hearts with the promises ahead.

The Change of Languages

Spanish sounds like a cement mixer. The low rumble of gravel mixed with the garbled growl of a combustion engine. It s mostly trilled Rs, with over pronounced Ps and Bs. However, in the north of Spain we found other languages. 

The Galician language is close to Portuguese. The Asturian language, according to Aleja doesn't vary much from traditional Spanish (Castellano)  a few words here and there; she found it easy to understand. Cantabrian is only a slightly divergent dialect from traditional Spanish, not its own language. Then there is Basque, which is unrelated to any other language on earth. Franco tried to outlaw them from putting  Ts and  Xs next to each other but it didn't stick and still exists today. 

Spanish Terrorists?

Everyone wants to be acknowledged and given their due respect. The Basque wanted a bit more. They actually wanted to secede from Spain entirely. The ETA Killed 829 and injured 22,000. Founded in 1959 it rose from the frustration of the fascist Franco regime. After Spain returned to democracy following his death in 1975 the ETA began losing favor with the populace. It slowly petered out and was completely disbanded in 2018. Sometimes nightmares do end.

Spain Will Jack You Up!

I'm staying up past midnight because, well, the sun doesn't set until 10 o'clock and we eat dinner so late now that our sleep schedules are askew. The other point of derailment is the bottle of wine they gift you for the  "menu del dia"  lunch. So, of course, I'm getting loaded in the day. I love day drinking but it confuses my night drinking.

I loved slurping my wine from a soup bowl

Ah... The Lusty Food Choices

It's that lip licking moment... Like when Sting hits you with the falsetto. Knees go weak, you feel it in your diaphragm, and the arrow on the meter takes a hard right.  Oh god that's delicious!  The menus of Spain are written with hearty honest food that is so deeply satisfying I wonder why they needed so much religion with sustenance like that on their plate. 

The squid alone makes me drool. Add to that the octopus and those fire roasted green peppers and now I m conspiring how to get a Spanish passport. Then there's the ham. 100% Jamon Iberico is free ranging pork raised on nothing but acorns. The tenderloin cut is pure heaven with a mouth feel that forces you to conjure brand new adjectives never before used to describe food. 

So valuable they have to lock it up

The Museums

When the Egyptians decided to build the Aswan dam they knew that they were going to flood thousands and thousands of archaeological treasures and so they invited different countries in to help with the excavations. Part of the payment was free looting. I certainly didn't expect to see Egyptian antiquities in Spain but there they are and I count it as an added bonus. 

The Museo De America is in Madrid and a must see. It contains 25,000 treasured artifacts stolen from the new world. I went to every museum in Central and South America but some of the greatest items weren't there, because they are here. I think my jaw was dragging on the floor the whole time. 

The Bandits

While the world was in lock down, we spent 20 months on the island of Bali. We went 18 months without seeing a plane fly over. Our  do everything buddies  were Dan and Jessie Rae Walker. Collectively we called ourselves the Bali Bandits. We left the island in Dec of 2021 and began our European adventure the next month. The year and a half apart didn t diminish the love. It was really great to catch up and drink too much. 

The Celtic Connection

I alluded to it before and it s true the Celts were spread all over Europe. Everything that follows is hotly debated but it seems the consensus is that the greatest expanse of Celts occurred around 275 BC and spread from Scotland to Spain and as far east as Turkey. There is genetic proof of related clusters, and some archeological evidence as well as some linguistic connections, but as of this date it s still a bit fuzzy. Suffice to say, watching a Spaniard play a bagpipe while loaded on hard cider  it's hard not to feel a connection with my Irish half. 

A Constant Commitment To Incompetence

My new mantra is to never attempt mechanical maintenance or repairs south of Brussels. I realize that eliminates half of Germany and all of Austria but I couldn't risk including France.  Sorry Switzerland   I couldn't afford you anyway.

Consistent incompetence. It's like watching someone being pulled toward the lip of Niagara Falls. You try everything you can to arrest it but they are so committed to failure that it can t be prevented. We called to remind them, we sent pictures of the parts in hopes of incrementally improving our odds and it was all to no avail. They refused every life ring we threw to them

We couldn't even get a simple oil change in Spain. Emails go unanswered, phone calls (if ever answered in the first place) are never returned, and the parts department has no idea what is happening with the wrench turners. And before you blame this on lost in translation, please remember that Aleja is a native Spanish speaker. 

"Hi thank you for answering, I've been trying to get Pablo to respond to my email and we are running out of time so I thought I should call again. Can I speak to him please?"

 "He's out. Call back Tuesday after 16:00."

 "Tuesday? But it s Thursday! Can anyone else help me?"


We found a Fiat dealer that could order the airbag module that I need but they wouldn't do it without me first wiring the money. Fine. I get pinched on the exchange rates and the transfer fee but I sent them the 306 Euros. Did they order the part? Of course not.  System not working.  I had to drive to their garage and collect my 306 Euros. Most expensive pain in the ass ATM service ever. We made reservations a week in advance at another place for a simple oil change. Aleja sent them pictures via text with exact amounts and brands, and when we got there, they hadn t even ordered the parts and the price mysteriously doubled. 

Hence my new inner mantra:  "Don't hate them because they are bad people. Empathize with them because they are incompetent."   (They probably aren't bad people. This is what they have grown up with and have never known lubricated convenient commerce.) I'm not even convinced that the mishaps are due to dishonesty, which would be the easy explanation. I still contend they are good people who just have near zero business acumen.

I bought 2 wrenches and I m now qualified to change oil and filter on a Fiat Ducato

Since I originally wrote the above paragraphs, we have driven through all of France and all of Italy and they are no better. The ever-present capitalist failures of Europe. Missed opportunities and soggy competition make me routinely swear that if I ever went back into business (I won't) I could crush the competition with their entrenched errors. Here's all it would take: 

1. Answer the phone

2. Take a message

3. Return the call

Sounds so simple, and it is, but they refuse under the banner of  "We aren't Americans!"  

"Good! And I love you for it! But you are a for profit business. Just do the bare minimum and win."

Europe is wonderful and we are having the time of our lives but at least in the south they are absolute failures at simple commerce. We drive on.

I'll conclude with my brother's quote describing his intolerable brother: Me

"My way IS the highway..!"

Bob Friedman

(Well I ended that blog on a down note but I think it's important for future historians to note when I soured on humanity). I planted the pretty pic below so you can still see that I haven't given up on everything. Have a nice day!

Saturday, July 8, 2023

Morocco Part 2

 The Delights!

There is a fleeting moment in which the perfect temperature wind caresses your skin. You smell the pine and hear the birds, and you know that you got here by your own volition. It’s a sense of joy that creeps up around your shoulders and grips you like an old friend around the neck. We made good choices and here we are. Morocco held many “Delight!” moments. 

The Atlas Mountains

We crossed them twice. Check your brakes and make sure your coolant is topped off. 

We were befuddled by all these kids and old man standing on the side of the road trying to sell us geodes. They pick the most dangerous places in these mountain passes to park themselves. There's absolutely nowhere for a vehicle to pull over. and then you realize, oh, right, they're Moroccan, and they stop in the middle of the road whenever they want. They don't realize westerners won't bring their cars to a stop, block the only lane and haggle over a geode. They can't understand why we don't stop. Moroccans - Pick a pull out to sell your wares and we might stop and have a look. 

Squint and you can see the 3 story buildings made of mud. They are all deserted ruins

Exploring countless ruins. Every 15 year old's dream. I'm getting younger

I really like this pic since it shows that the insides were sealed against the dust and highly decorated 

This is the other side of the valley with the new construction. Looks just like the old but made of concrete

This was highly indicative of my Moroccan experience. Endless skinny winding roads through stark desert with ruins galore.

Hiding From The Heat

If the North is agriculturally productive, abundant and green, then the south is a big sandbox with 75% of the world's cats and the kitty litter to match. We spent a week at a corner in the road called Ait Snan. This was downhill from the Todra Gorge but off the desert floor and had slightly cooler temps. We tucked back into a recess in the campground and made friends and went for hikes. What did I learn? The world calls them Berbers, but they refer to themselves as Amazigh. They are a righteous honorable people and separate from the Arab influence. We hitchhiked, asked for favors and tried their patience and we were always met with generosity. I’ll be on the lookout in the future for The Amazigh. I’m a fan.  

Madness In Meknes 

The spiderweb of alleyways went on forever. I'm pretty sure there's no way one could ever walk on the same one twice, unless you spent a year here. Usually, the tourism parts of the city outcompete the portions where the real people live but I didn’t get that feeling here. The maze of alleyways felt more local than touristic. The junk shops overlayed with the domiciles of the permanent residents made it more authentic than Essaouira. We loved Meknes. I know some who skipped it and we considered doing the same. I’m sure glad we didn’t. 

Great museum in Meknes showing the detailed work that their ancients are famous for

The Prison Con Job

We got duped. There was an ancient underground prison and I think it’s free to enter. Some old man saw where we were headed and sprinted in front of us to plop himself down in a chair that blocked the entrance. He wanted 70 Dirham per person. I offered 50. He declined. We turned to leave, and he quickly agreed. Boring. It looks like it’s being cleaned up and will soon be a mall. We saw him 30 minutes later walking around the medina. The most successful extortionists speak multiple languages. These people can hassle, haggle, beg, and apply their trickery in at least 4 languages. Good for him. Con job capitalism. 

Reportedly up to 40,000 prisoners were chained to these walls

The only way to buy alcohol is in what they call "The Cave". It's an adjacent building to the grocery store but unadvertised and purposely built to be uninviting. You are watched by a guard the whole time

Sobriety And Success 

Morocco is a nation of teetotalers. Their religion forbids drinking. If I didn't drink, I'd have twice as much money and 3 times the success. How are they sober and still so poor? I know, I know - I’m a total dick, but it is a head scratcher, right? Why aren’t the Islamic nations the Silicon Valley of the world? 


The Romans made it to Morocco. This was the extreme southwestern extent of the empire. They built the city in a verdant fruitful valley that was first inhabited by the Phoenicians and then the Carthaginians. Up to 20,000 Romans once lived there. It was always a tenuous existence. When they were overrun in 285 AD by the ever strengthening Berber tribes, Diocletian decided it would be too expensive to recapture and repair. Hence – it was left to the locals and eventually abandoned and buried beneath the sands. A treasure for us to find in the modern era. 


There is not a lot of fun happening during daylight hours of Ramadan. The people are too hungry and thirsty in this hot desert climate to play. Very few restaurants are open. One good bonus is that your mechanic isn't going to stop and take a lunch break. Overly hot and overly hungry, + dehydrated = a tough combination. What is Ramadan? It’s the Muslim lunar month of fasting. Nothing can touch their lips from sunup to sundown. Ramadan! At least it’s only a month. 

Morocco at 60kph

They aren’t the worst drivers (that’s still the Albanians) but they are dangerous. And even though you never have to worry about drunk drivers, they match one attribute: They must be really bad at coloring because they just can't stay in the lines. They like to straddle 2 lanes. I suppose it’s a strategy, like how some people try to hold a middle position at the grocery store as they approach the check-out lines. “This one. No, that one.” And then commit at the last possible second while blocking everyone else. 

To make matters worse they have the world’s most flawed driving strategy by adding traffic lights to roundabouts. Stay with me here: Everywhere else in the world - once you’ve entered the roundabout you have the right of way and other vehicles can only enter when safe to do so. They follow that rule at most of their roundabouts. However, some have the lights, and then the new rule is: once you’ve entered the roundabout you must give way if another artery has the green light. How do you know if they have the green light? You don’t. In fact, the only way you even know if this roundabout is one of the 10% that has traffic lights is if you can spot the unilluminated back of the nondescript light. STUPID. Stupid and dangerous. 

Driving in Morocco is not for the faint of heart. I do it in an oversized motorhome with a stick shift. The highway toll roads are great, but there aren’t many of them. I’ve instituted my “2D” categories for Moroccan roads: Dangerous or Destructive. Dangerous is obvious: The hills are too steep or the curves are too tight or the shoulder-less mountain passes could quickly go deadly. Mostly it was fine. The destructive roads are the ones that test your suspension and threaten to rip your axel off should your tire drop into a pot hole the size and depth of a bathtub. Our bathroom door didn’t hang right after a long bad road and I had to remove it and repair a hinge. Are you crying for me yet?

No matter – we made it, and now I can tell my mom the truth. 


We spent 18 nights in the same campground. The tall eucalyptus trees gave shade and the other campers gave community and comradery. We made some friends and planned the rest of the year. 

Our French Canadian friends: Claude, Helene & Melissa

Neil and Sharon from Newton Aycliffe

I wasn’t enamored with the city of Fez. I think I see a pattern here: Sprawling third world city with the ancient walled medina at the core. Charming tight alleyways with barkers and shops full of tat. Stench and disease, stray cats, and 1000 great photo potentials. I still have some frontier spirit left, but it’s not what it once was.

The tannery. Stinks so bad they give you a mint twig to stick under your nose


They call it the blue city. It actually began life as a refugee camp in 1471. It was where all the expelled Jews and Muslims came from Spain. The expulsion was said to be complete in 1492 but in reality, it continued for a couple hundred more years. Convert, die or flee. You may know it by the term; “The Spanish Inquisition”.

Mike and Nat from Essex

I’m A Mushroom

I live in a motorhome. Why do they call us mushrooms? Because they are usually white, where one appears, others appear shortly after. They don’t move, they just sit and spread. They love the shade. A motorhome campground looks like a mushroom spore.

Aleja zips around on the scooter while our neighbors hibernate

The Cities I’m Not Writing About

We went. We wouldn’t go back. Your results may differ: Sidi Kaouki, Corniche Aglou, Sidi Ifni, Agadir, and Ouarzazate.

The Tagine is the national dish. Clay pot cookery

The sweet and savory chicken pastilla. Oddly delicious
The Cuisine

Good thing I like olives. If you are coming to Morocco, you're going to eat a lot of olives. Who knew there were so many varieties. Then there is chicken pastilla. I’ve never had anything like this before. It’s sweet and savory – very odd but one of my new favs. Mostly I find their food to be wholesome and lightly spiced. Everything is built around a generous allotment of veggies and the desserts seem almost healthy. I’m a fan. I thought the food was good, satisfying and healthy, even if the hygiene wasn't.

So many types and flavors of olives. I was in salt heaven

Dysentery Market 

This is the market where whatever you buy comes with dysentery for no additional charge. They exist in every city souk and small village market. Unrefrigerated beef on a board? Dysentery, no extra charge! Anchovies on an old threadbare prayer mat? Dysentery included for free! You can't lose; buy now and we'll throw in tuberculosis from the man who packages your dysentery absolutely free! 

Cultural Differences

  • The first thing a man does when he gets rich is to build a water tap for the public good. I find that really precious. Their culture has a philanthropic feature built into it.  
  • You have to haggle for everything here. There's even a haggle element to their ride share app (think Uber), It’s called “InDrive” and here’s how the app works: You put in your destination and the price you are willing to pay. The drivers can then accept or offer a counter offer. “Abdul says 40.” Muhammed says 42”. You can then agree or counter offer yourself. Isn’t that culturally fascinating?!?
  • The locals here don't have the same personal bubble space that we in the West have so when they put their hacking wheezing face inches from mine, I take a giant step back and pray they are dying from emphysema and not tuberculosis.
  • We even zipped up to Ceuta which is a Spanish portion of Africa just to scarf grilled artichokes and quaff a beer. Google it. Really interesting

  • Morocco is Europe's Mexico. It’s the exotic third world neighbor to the south where everything is cheaper and weirder. It's as if Mexico went Muslim. 
  • I thought Latins were good at loitering. These people do it so much better. Plus, they have that criminal head. It’s what we in the West raised on American movies would call “The genetic villain look” If you needed a bad guy, you’d call central casting and they would send over a swarthy looking middle easterner with the beard and no mustache. I’ve never felt threatened or fearful in the least, but until they smile, I have felt like I was in a scary movie a few times. 
  • Dodging Moroccans. Somewhere there is a Moroccan waiting to step out in front of you. They don't look left or right, hell they don't even lift their head up at all. they just stare at their feet Mumble “inshallah” and step off the curb into potential oblivion
  • Morocco: where you go indoors, to breathe fresh air. The museums are the only place where you can count on clean, breathable, healthy air.

My Little Amazigh

It's happened at least a dozen times now that the locals start speaking to little Aleja in Moroccan. She smiles and they repeat. When she only shrugs in return they ask where she's from in French. She says Colombia. "Oh Colombia!" Everyone gets happy.

The Gypsies of Bosnia, certain tribes in India, and now Morocco. The face is the same. Once in Bali when she had on a facemask and sunglasses the doctor got tired of trying to speak English and said to me: “Get your little girlfriend to come translate.”  She saw only the half-sized body and the long black hair and thought Aleja was Indonesian. She’s ethnically ambiguous and potentially the world’s greatest spy. Can we get a national espionage grant please? The only place I blend in and she doesn’t is Ireland. And if I fake that accent one more time, they’ll break my nose.

This misconception was so numerous here in Morocco that it got me thinking. . . . Who are the Colombians? They are the descendants of the Spanish Conquistadors and the indigenous local first people. Who are the Conquistadors? They are the Spanish who were ruled by, and interbred with, the Moors for 700 years. And who are the Moors? The Moors are the Berbers (The Amazigh)! I think it’s come full circle. I’m sure a DNA test would reveal that to some extent she probably is Amazigh. No wonder she’s so wonderful!

 Your man on point,

Captain Intolerable