Saturday, June 24, 2023

Morocco Part 1


It’s the land of the Barbary Pirates, the Atlas Mountains, the clay pot tagines, and bottomless mint tea. We were there for 3 months and a week. 



From my diary: “It’s my 80th country! We left from Algeciras Spain and crossed the Strait of Gibraltar in 1.5 hours. Driving south from Tangiers, the gentle green rolling hills look like France with mild poverty.” 



Morocco started with a whimper, as you will soon read, but I left with more than one epiphany.

The top 2 lines are Arabic and the bottom 2 are Berber (Amazigh)
Rabat

We parked right in the middle of the city. Good God. The Muslim wakeup call started at 04:00, and it went on for an obnoxious hour. They took a ten-minute break and I’m assuming it then converted to open mic and every man trying to get right with Allah started chanting. 



This is going to be a very long 3 months.

The souk in Rabat was our first. We’ve now been to so many we know this one was a runt by comparison. 



There is a street here that is congested with blind beggars. They don't rush up to you. They don't say a word. They just silently break your heart. So many of them. I wish I'd never walked that street. That isn't an easy memory to expel from one’s mind. 

Casablanca

I began the paperwork for my new passport at the US consulate. “Come back in 3 weeks? Sure, that’s easy.” We left after 1 night. Casablanca is just a big city. We found an outstanding resto and little else. The taxi rides were the most exciting. You want to roll down the window for some relief from your unbathed driver but you can't due to the billowing pollution. It makes for an eye watering ride. Aleja is famous for saying, “He smells like a homeless.” I doubt there are a lot of homeless but a lot smell like it. In fact, most of your time in Morocco will be spent timing your breathing. The wafting sewer smells are overpowering but the restaurants and bakeries smell so good. Timing the inhale is key.




Oualidia

We came here 3 different times. It’s where the Moroccans go for a beach holiday. We saw very few foreigners and devoured seafood as if the fisheries were about to collapse. I can recommend this place. In fact, I did – to my friend Matthew who flew in from San Diego. We spent a couple nights here together enjoying the lagoon by boat and walking the old ruins.


Matthew inspects the 300 year old cannon littered on the ground



Matthew on the dramatic coast


Essaouira

Call it whatever you want. When you put 4 vowels in a row no one is going to pronounce it correctly. We made 2 visits. If it’s not the best medina, it’s in the top 3. We rented a riad down the hall from Matthew and shopped, ate and walked the walled city which is just one large bazaar. 







I Do Haikus

Freezing in Europe.

I'm roasting in Africa. 

King of the complaint

That's a haiku. I can now whine in different iambic pentameters. Don’t even get me started on the bug bites. Be careful what you wish for. I wanted an end to the cold and I got everything that goes with it. Matthew brought my shipment of calamine lotion from The States. 


We went from the meat locker of Europe to the pizza oven of Africa. It happened fast.

Maybe Morocco is a lesson in searching for that middle ground. You want the wind, but not so much that it picks up the sand. There's a perfect velocity before the sand goes airborne. And without any wind, it's just deathly hot. You want authentic but that usually comes with reduced hygiene. You don't want the hawkers, but you love that fresh bread coming around. I know there is a lesson here but I just haven’t nailed it down yet.

Imi Ouaddar

A great place to hide from humanity in an enormous campground with lots of shade trees. There’s a waterpark & of course the beach, but we rarely left our 5 sq meters of campsite. We put out the awning, chairs, and hammock, made friends with the cats and cooked all our meals and enjoyed our self-imposed exile. Sometimes I just really need to not be a tourist. This lasted for a week and then we were ready for people again.






Ouijjane

Now this was a real step back into time. Rarely do campsites get a perfect 5-star review. This place came very close. I wanted to see it for myself and it was Aleja’s birthday, so I had made an appointment to rent quads. The French expat hosts were very warm and their headman Hassan was a real treat. He walked us thru the olive groves and explained how the water rights worked. 

Those are 300 year old Portuguese walls


Hassan explains water rights


Shadows & Water Rights

We arrived at a wall, there were lines drawn in the dirt and every family in this small village knew whose line was whose. The shadows cast would move with the sun and when your line was illuminated the master water keeper would pull a sluice and the water would change course and irrigate a different field. Shadows & water rights. Primitive but it’s worked for 1000 years. 

The shadow casting wall of water rights

Inside the 3 story abandoned mud house


Typical alleyway in this ancient town

Ruins galore



Tafraoute

More forced relaxation with our friend Paul. Paul might be the most interesting mash up of a traveler on the road. He holds a Bermudian passport and his vehicle wears an Andorran plate. We shared nightly bottles of wine and swapped road stories. We had previously met in Serbia about a year ago. 


Aleja finds the petroglyphs

I shepherd in my spare time


Tafraoute looks like Bedouins discovered Joshua Tree and sunk roots. Which is pretty much what happened. Daily, you are visited by people willing to deliver food, propane, water and laundry services. Then there are the auto mechanics who will do everything from body work to complete mechanical over hauls, as well as paint a fresco on your vehicle of camels and palms. The mountain will come to Mohammad. There is no reason to move the mothership. I did get some cosmetic work done on my bumper and our laundry washed. We hiked the hills and road the scooters into town. 

Cutest things ever



Where is Aleja?


We stayed a week and every evening one of 2 nice old men would show up and collect 15 Dirham ($1.50) for parking. One afternoon a young man came to collect the 15 Dirham. We paid and he left. An hour later the old man showed up. We showed him our receipt and though he trusted us, he said we had all been tricked and that if the man showed up again to take a picture of him. The next afternoon he tried it again. Here is the culprit. Don’t give your money to this man:



Marrakesh

The souk is world class and should be enjoyed. The rest seemed hot and dirty. I fear I’m losing my patience with the third world. 

Our new friend John with Daisy the dog



Losing My Religion

Capt James Cook circumnavigated the planet 3 times. You can read his journals. On the first lap he wrote things like “Notice how ingenious the locals are to have solved this puzzle of irrigation.” By the 3rd sail around the globe, it devolved into: “The ignorant savages ….”. I think the people of Morocco are correct, mostly honest, hardworking and kind. Their culture is as valid as mine or any other. I think I’ve just lost my sense of humor regarding the undeveloped world. I’ve lived in it for 13 years now and I think I might be done. 

If the north is "mild poverty" than the south is "panoramic poverty". I don't have any statistics to back that up but based on my empirical evidence my guess would be that the closer you get to the big sand pile of the Sahara it's harder scratching an existence out of that unforgiving Earth and surplus is scarce. The thing both the north and the south of Morocco have in common is endless pollution. Trash abounds and the particulate count of what you're inhaling in the urban environments tastes appalling. Open sewers and cholera. Zero hygiene and parasites. Can I graduate out of this? I don't want this anymore. Giardia isn't an Italian flat bread. I don't want to see suffering anymore. I’ve had my fill of sick people who look 20 years older than they are and starving abused animals. I'm averting my eyes and packing my ears with gauze.

Ait Benhadou

This used to be a real village, now it’s a movie prop. It’s where they shot the first Gladiator and they are currently rehabbing the arena for the sequel due out next year. Everything from Lawrence of Arabia (1962) to Game of Thrones has been shot here. The locals have mostly turned this hillside enclave into art galleries and curio shops. A few still live here but most have moved across the river into new construction that isn’t built of mud. 






The arena from Gladiator



This guy had a few masks for sale and I asked him about one. He wanted $180. I was thinking I’d pay $10 max. The Moroccans try to retire on every transaction. I shook my head and backed up ready to leave. He moved in for the kill. After explaining how rare and exquisite the wood was, he then began with the provenance of its ancient lineage. My eyes remained dead. He said, “My best price is $80”. I took Aleja by the elbow and we walked away. “But maybe you have something to trade?”  He called out. I turned around. “Like what?” I asked. “I dunno. It could be anything. Anything at all. Maybe like a bottle of wine.” He went from $180 to $8. Let me explain.... When you buy alcohol here you are supposed to show your passport because they won't sell to locals. You have a huge bargaining chip if you're negotiating with a Muslim alcoholic.

The Other Side Of The Coin

We met a man named Mustafa who still lives in his ancestral home. We got off to a rocky start. 


Watch the above video a couple times as the image comes to life. 
So unique

The Pitch

Aleja wanted to buy some paintings for friends and family. Whoever the vendor, they are always reluctant to name a starting price, hoping that you will start above his low point and he can move you even higher. No matter your starting point, their next paragraph is a monologue on how his wares are made from the highest of quality: The finest fabric, the rarest wood, the most expensive indigo ink. Then, and only then, will you hear his counter. Smart. Except we don’t care about the highest quality. These are gifts. I’m not buying a piano. He got riled. There was a very long uncomfortable silence and he then ushered us to a back room and said to take from the walls. Aleja took 5 and he said, “Take 2 more.” She took 2 more and he said, “Take 2 more.” We looked at each other and she took 2 more. He said, “Take another.” She pulled another from the wall and he said, “Take one more.”  He asked if we were happy. We assured him we were and that he was a most generous man. I asked him if he was happy and he said, "I didn't do it for me or the money". He shamed us. It was a thing of beauty. I believe he saw the lesson wash over us and then his smile returned. As we were readying ourselves to leave with our degraded posture, he invited us up on the roof for the sunset. It was a full circle human interaction. Sweet, sour, shame, epiphany, then sweet again. Mustafa is the man. I love that guy.

Your man on point,

Captain Cook


Saturday, June 3, 2023

Portugal

We charted a heading of 270 degrees and followed the sun due west from Seville to the heart of the Algarve. Diesel smells like freedom. Barraveigh, Elsie and now Encore; all my freedom machines drink it down. 


Climate Refugees

Normally it's the “whooshbang” of the van doors, and the engines starting that wake us up. Not here. This is a campground populated by retirees escaping the frost of their northern countries. They aren’t tourists in a hurry to go see attractions. They live here, and there are no spectacles here anyway. Nothing to see or do. It’s just a large converted farm on the outskirts of a tiny village. It’s a George Miller movie sans the violence. This is what the future might look like. It holds little appeal for me, but for the wizened little raisins of France who can’t get enough of their pagan sun worship it’s a gooey lil flytrap of wonderful. #VanLife has a few different subcultures. We move on.



Peniche

My sailor friend John lives here. We met in Panama back in 2007. We were part of the Pacific crossing fleet that braved the Big Salty that year. We shared a few anchorages along the way. I beat him to Bali and when he arrived, I showed him around. We lived on that island together for a long time. Friendships forged in foreign lands have a special element to them. He’s carved out a nice little existence here surfing the Atlantic swells and sailing a Polynesian catamaran he built with his own hands. That’s a man.


This aqueduct was built in 1573. It's 3.4 km long. Obidos

I love the way this medieval city has a high and low road upon entering









Obidos

I love a walled city. This one follows the typical timeline: Roman origins, then Visigoth vultures, occupied later by Moorish Muslims, and eventually retaken by the Catholic kings. That will be a repeating chronology in this part of the world. Memorize it.

Guarda

It’s important to keep the Freedom Machine purring so we went to this town only to pay a Fiat dealership to change my timing belt. It was painless except for the expense and she’s been running great ever since.


I also doubled my amp hours by putting in 2 new batteries in parallel

Viseu

This was a very pretty little village with the typical cobbled medieval streets and ancient fortified walls. We would never have stopped here if we hadn’t gone so far out of our way to get to the Fiat dealership. I’m glad we stopped. Aleja even met another Colombian from Medellin. She gets so happy when she meets a Paisa. 




Aviero

It didn’t grab me. It happens. Sometimes a place just doesn’t deliver the shine. My Wednesday just wasn’t as good as your Tuesday. Here’s the only pic I took:



Porto

This place on the other hand…. We loved it! It’s a city split by a river. That always offers dramatic shots. Having two environs to explore makes one feel attached a little quicker. “I like the north side with those quaint steep alleyways.” “I like the south side with the riverfront restaurants”. The debate need not be contentious for both are splendid. We gallivanted all over until our exhaustion was complete. 




Can you read the placard? This house was built in the 8th century. That's the 700s!!! That's 1300 years old and it's 5 stories!!!!



This bridge is iconic and a large part of most pictures. This is the backside. You can see the 2 different elevations at which you can cross. The lower for those with vertigo.


Tomar

Who doesn’t love a Knight’s Templar fortress! This is the one to see. A little history: 



Beneath the modern city are the Roman ruins, but we aren’t going back that far. In 1160 the Grand Master of The Templars laid the first stone for this enormous fortification and convent. The Templars are utterly fascinating. You know of them as the Christian warriors who waged war against the Muslims for the Holy Land in what was called The Crusades, but they are also arguably credited with being the first multinational corporation and an early form of banking. However, even with all their power, it didn’t end well. Betrayal and burnings at the stake for the leaders brought it all to an end in 1307. 



This is looking into the cathedral floor where the pews used to be


Lisbon

Jimmy Robinson and I flew into Lisbon in 1991. We took a cab from the airport to the crummy hostel in some horrible neighborhood, dropped our packs and went straight to the bar. Within minutes some old lady was rubbing Jimmy’s knee and making herself obvious. I felt the hand on my shoulder moments later. Even without a common language it was obvious what was happening. We were 23. “Let’s get out of here!” We ran away and stopped beneath a streetlight howling with laughter. A young girl approached with a big smile. Laughter is contagious. She wanted to know what was so funny. We pantomimed and butchered her language with our bad Spanish as we tried to pass it off as Portuguese. She understood and said, 

“Yes, that is old lady hooker bar. This whole area is hookers. I am hooker too. You want come with me?”

“Run Away! Run Away!”

I told that story months later to a South African girl on a beach in Greece and she said, “You didn’t do it? You’ll never be a writer.” 

Bijou on the left and Encore on the right
This visit to Lisbon was a lot more wholesome. We parked next to friends at the campground and spent a night and a day hanging out with Linda and Steven from Bijou fame. This is the lady who coached me on how to buy a vehicle in Europe. You might remember them from our visit to Edinburgh last year. 



I like Steven and Linda better than Lisbon. Lisbon couldn’t outshine their light. I’d go back for a 3rd try, but Lisbon just didn’t have the charm of Porto. 

Kicki

My good friend Anders is a Swede that I’ve been pals with for 4 decades. His sister lives in the Algarve of Portugal. She was our last stop as we pushed south back to Spain to catch our ferry to Morocco. We had a wonderful boozy night laughing and eating and holding up the Swedish traditions to the light. That is one culture I just adore. It has nothing to do with Portugal and doesn’t really belong in this dispatch but I’m so enamored with those kindhearted Vikings I’ll never miss a chance to brag about them.



In Conclusion 

It was a rather quick spin around Portugal, only 20 nights. We really only met a couple of true Portuguese and they were old world wonderful. I’d like to come back, and I’d like to meet more. We are now in their ridiculous toll road system so why wouldn’t we? The prices are lower than the rest of Europe. The food is excellent. The people are correct. If they weren’t so isolated from the rest of Europe I could live there. Portugal! 

Your man on point,

Capt Bobby

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