Posts by Country

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Marrakech



On Sunday, May 29th, we woke up and had some traditional Ramadan desserts for breakfast. I think we had Halwa Chebakia (sesame cookie), almond milkshake and dates. The rest was some sort of bread (Batbout?), which we dipped in olive oil, and some yellow stuff. Yummy!


After that we went to the mountains to visit the village that we were supposed to be staying at the previous night. There we met a girl named Loubna; she had really good English and so she became our guide.



She took us on a wee hike and showed us a place for taking mud baths. Following her lead, we took some of that mud and started smearing it all over our faces and arms. Apparently it was something especially healthy - the mud and the soda water we drank at a natural spring before that... which wasn't all that great in my opinion. We then went to her dad's place and had some Moroccan mint tea before heading over to a hut to have lamb Tajin with her family.



Finally, we left the village and headed back to Marrakech to visit the Medina there. We had more tasty sugar cane juice and tried to get to the Hammam for a steam bath... but we were too late.


Saturday, May 28, 2016

Rabat



On Friday, May 27th, Anthony woke us up at 5am... but we went back to sleep. Later we went to get a sim for his phone and started venturing out into what Anthony coined as "French-Arab-Africa". According to Anthony's experience as a native of the land (born in Kenya), this was a good description of the local culture - Moroccans speak French, drive like arabs and, of course, live in Africa.



After walking around a bit, we were ready for brunch so we went to a good kebab joint with lots of good hummus and other flavorful dips. Then we went to the King's Palace and wandered around the palace grounds for a while.



They had a lot of military at the actual palace itself and, as we approached, it became clear that we were not welcome... we got that message when they grabbed their guns and started yelling at us.


Around that time we decided to head over to the Medina. It was there that Anthony met a guy who showed us his secret stash then took us up on his terrace to show us the view over Rabat. After that we went to Chellah - an ancient citadel with Roman ruins and landscaped gardens. Unfortunately, we couldn't get in without a special pass so we.made our way over to a cool restaurant for some dinner.



We actually had to find a guy with a lantern whose job it is to lead us the place. Then we went down some stairs into an underground entrance leading into a dining area that was literally quite "cool". After eating some Tajin, and other traditional Moroccan food, we went back to the flat and Anthony went across the street to haggle for some dresses - for his sisters... of course.



Apparently, they locked the doors and tried to rob him. Fortunately, Anthony didn't have $5000 on him so they let him go across to our flat to get it. He locked up the flat and hid in his room while the ladies yelled and hammered on the door all night. Strangely enough, Stefan and I didn't hear any of it but the next morning Anthony assured us that we had indeed been under siege for a good while.



The next day we went to a church where they sang for us and then we went to the Medina again for some delicious sugar cane drink. Later, for lunch, we had some Tajin with chicken and then hit the open road passing through Casa Blanca on our way to Marrakech.



We had a little car trouble on the way, and had to get a pull start from some guys, but eventually we arrived in town. From there we were guided up into the mountains by our host who, after meeting us in a small town, decided to call up his buddy so we could stay at his place which was a lot closer.


Thursday, May 26, 2016

Chefchaouen



On Wednesday, May 25th, I went to one of the banks to close my account. As usual, Cajarural wanted to play a game with me. They said I had to pay for the second half of my insurance, which I happily did, but then they wanted me to pay a fee for not paying when the charge initially posted to my account... Now, this was no problem except that this whole year they hadn't gotten around to giving me access to my online banking. And, the only way I could have known that the insurance had posted would have been to go in every day and wait in line to ask the representative at the desk about my account status. Of course, this would be impossible to manage and they knew it... nevertheless, they charged me 25 euros.

Not the best way to start my last day in Spain, but I still managed to have a little fun before leaving. That day I talked to all my students in Spanish for the first time - I hadn't let on for the whole year that I could and suspicions had grown into something of a local conspiracy. Some of the students couldn't believe their ears, others smiled and laughed and, of course, a couple felt betrayed. One of my students said the usual "you speaka Spanish, I know you do." to which I responded, "si, yo hablo Espanol."

His jaw dropped and he stood there gawking as I continued on toward my next class. Jorge certainly had a penchant for the dramatic - though, I suppose most kids do.

That night my friend Stefan arrived really late - he was coming all the way from Switzerland after all. At 1am, after stopping for a minute to appreciate the castle, we began our journey to Morocco.



Seven and a half grueling hours later, we tiredly rolled into Algeciras just in time to catch our ferry to Africa. At both borders we found ourselves being conned into giving "helpers" (beggars) a "coffee" (money) for assistance in determining which way was straight ahead. The truth, of course, is that these "helpers" are just people who get away with taking your money in exchange for directing you to follow the car in front of you. Asking for a coffee is probably just a way of sugarcoating the fact that they're extorting money from unsuspecting tourists.



After a two hour ferry ride we were at the second border control where they decided to search us. This was no big deal until Stefan admitted that he wasn't actually sure his car would be allowed in Morocco. As it turns out, you're supposed to register your car when you take it to another continent. Fortunately, since Stefan's car is Swiss, they let it slide.



Upon entering Africa, we proceeded to break the law by cutting across the first roundabout we came to - Stefan doesn't like to go around the long way. We then went to exchange some money and found that one euro nets you 10 Durham! Of course, a water costs 5-10 Durham so that's not much less than the going rate.



At this point the plan was to get to Rabat by sundown but then Stefan and I both agreed that the scenic route would be more exciting. As we meandered through the countryside we saw random animals on the roadside, picked up a hitchhiker, stopped in Chefchaouen and, while driving through the mountains, hit some of the wildest country “roads” I had ever seen - many were so narrow and full of potholes that it would be fair to say that there was more dirt than bitumen.


Eventually we did arrive at our destination and were able to pick up our rather anxious friend Anthony from the airport. Despite our being surprisingly only a few minutes late, old mate wasn't a real happy chappy.  Still, we reached our spacious, well-equipped AirBnB flat at midnight and, well, not bad for $8 a person! Clearly the dollar goes a long ways in this land.


Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Despedida



On Sunday, May 22nd, I went to el Buen Parto with Julio and friends for a festival. It would also be my last time with them before leaving a few days later. This was essentially my despedida or "farewell".



We ate lots of paella and watched the different events unfold (marching band, people on horses, lots of vendors, etc.)... but mostly we ate paella :)


Sunday, May 15, 2016

Castilla-La Mancha



On Friday, May 6th, I rode to Ciudad Real for the Conferencia de Jovenes (young people's conference) - a gathering of young people in the church. The last time I was in Spain (back in 2010) I went to one in Cordoba.



As before, we enjoyed a lot of time together eating and enjoying and I got a chance to talk with a friend who, like me, is also planning on moving to Germany in the next year.



About a week later my good friend Steve arrived from the UK and we spent the afternoon at the castle in my pueblo. The next day we went to Restaurante Castilla for a solid Spanish breakfast of Chorizo, pigs ear and other rich, oily meats. We then headed over to las Lagunas de Ruidera (the lagoons of Ruidera) - a group of lakes famously depicted in the story of Don Quixote.



Next we had lunch at a nice roadside restaurant on the way over to the waterfalls of el Nacimiento del Rio Mundo (the birth of the world river) - one of the most beautiful waterfalls in Spain.



Finally, after wandering in the forest for hours trying to find the entrance to the cave at the top of the waterfall, we had a nice lamb dinner in a restaurant near our campsite. We made sure to leave a "propina" (tip) even though the custom is really not that big in Spain as of yet.



The next day we had another fantastic roadside food experience (lots of oily, meaty goodness!) on our way to Cuenca. Upon our arrival we first had a look at the Casas Colgadas (hanging houses) and Casco Antiguo (old quarter) before making our way over to the trail head at the other side of the valley.



It was a reasonably brief hike (about 30-40 minutes) up to a rather large statue at the top then we hurried back to Casco Antiguo to meet up with Laura and Jonathan at a cafe. Finally, we went to Museo Antonio Perez to see some artwork.



We were both particularly fond of the works of Bosco Sodi (above). He glues sawdust to canvases and pours paint down them to get images that often resemble forests or sometimes something more elemental like lava or water.



Back in Belmonte we had another very nice meal, this time at at La Muralla (one of the main restaurants in town), and, the next day, Steve headed off to the airport for his flight home to jolly old England. Overall, the trip was a complete success and, aside from a bit of rainy weather and slightly inadequate sleeping arrangements at the campground, we couldn't have asked for better conditions. Okay, some signs pointing us to the cave might have been nice but, then again, getting lost is part of the fun!


Thursday, May 5, 2016

Los Mayos



On Saturday, April 30th, the festival of Los Mayos began. Los Mayos - a festival celebrating the start of Spring - is basically a chance for locals to walk around eating and singing for a couple of days. After visiting with some locals in my pueblo, I headed off to Pedro Munoz to join Julio and the others for the main event.



We have the 30th                             I will paint your legs
of April finished                               your tiny feet
tomorrow May begins                      with many charms
beautiful and flowery.                      you are a sorceress.

Waiting we are                                 Sorceress you are
the light of the morning                   here's the lady
to see the sky open                           that (the name of the lady) is called
the sun on your face.                        from this aurora house.

Beautiful face painting                     Goodbye wallflower
a number to do                                  goodbye lily
to paint                                              farewell fleur de lis ("flower of the lily" - French royalty)          
don't bring brushes.                           goodbye beautiful rose.

Brushes or feathers                           We say goodbye
and one of yours                                but we're not leaving
you have to give to the beautiful       our hearts here we leave.
Imperial Eagle.

Imperial Eagle                                   If you are not satisfied
in sleep you rest                                 with this May you have been given
wake up if you sleep                          take the bottle... (original: "and have a drink")
and hear the couplet.                          and the Jamón serrano (cured Spanish ham)

... yeah, translating this was not easy! The singers in the video sang a different version but, if you listen real closely, you may be able to hear the crowds singing this version. By reading the lyrics you can actually get a feel for some of the major themes in Spanish festival culture: excitement, singing, community involvement, nostalgia and, maybe the most important, food!

 
It was a big night out with lots of chanting in the streets and eating tapas everywhere we went. Still, we got back at 3 am - which is pretty early by Spanish standards. The next day we went to a big show where dancers from all over Spain came to show off their local cultures' dancing styles. The dance styles were very lively and the clothing very colorful. It all makes for a rather entertaining atmosphere to say the least!



Friday, April 29, 2016

Parque de Attracciones



On Friday, April 8th, I rode up to Madrid again to stay at Preston's and the next day a bunch of us went to the local amusement park - el Parque de Attraciones. We spent a bit of time at the gates there trying to get a group discount and, after convincing a few random strangers to join our group, we got in for a few dollars less. We then went straight to the biggest roller coaster and waited in line. Well, it wasn't a super long line but I wasn't overly impressed with the thrill factor either. After having a go at the main attraction, we went on a few other rides - all of which had much shorter lines. All in all, I'd say that none of the rides really got me all that excited but, nevertheless, it was a nice, fun day and the wait times were pretty reasonable.



Over the next few weeks I went back and forth between Madrid and Belmonte a couple times for the meetings and some board game nights with friends in another neighborhood. Back in Belmonte I started swimming at the local pool in Las Pedroneras and spent some time getting to know my locality a bit better... and maybe too well - some local jokers put a dead bird in my bike!


Thursday, April 7, 2016

POP!



On Sunday, March 27th, the journey home continued from Madrid. It had been a reasonably safe journey with a low rate of serious problems... until now. I was about 13 kilometers from home when I heard a loud "POP!" and came to a stop. Not surprisingly, the sound had come from the back tire popping - I guess it was a good thing we decided to turn back when we did!


I continued riding along on the straightaway, and was even able to get up to 70 kph without any problems... until the last two kilometers. I had to make one turn before the final stretch into town and the flat tire didn't handle it well. For the last few minutes I found myself swerving all over the road... but still making progress at 50 kph! As I pulled into town some guys sitting out front of one of the bars started laughing and then stood up in surprise pointing excitedly at my back tire. I nodded in response, shrugged and continued on my way to my mechanic amigo - Luis. Luis took one look at the tire and shook his head disapprovingly - it was, of course, completely bald.



Over the next couple weeks I worked and recovered from the predominately successful journey around Spain while Luis worked on replacing the tire.


Saturday, March 26, 2016

Logroño!



On Friday, March 25th, we made our way over to Logroño - the wine capital of Spain. It just so happened that a friend of Preston's, who he knew from Texas but hadn't seen for a while, was visiting that very same day and we ran into him in the street! That friend had a local friend in Logroño who was happy to show us his favorite areas including one in particular that locals tend to frequent:



We had some good tapas and ice cream then tried to find a mechanic so we could salvage the rest of our trip... no luck. Well, that did it - we decided to cancel our travels through the Basque country in the north of Spain which, as it later turned out, would prove to be a very, very good call! Thankfully what happened next didn't change our new plan: we were heading back to Arnedillo for the night when I realized something very interesting - both of the brakes were working again! I later learned that the problem had likely been caused by overheating and that the fluids had simply had to re-condense. After the fluids regained pressure it was just a matter of applying the breaks and 'voilà' - back in action!



That evening we had another look at the hot pools (though they were a bit... nasty, so I don't think we went in) and then, the next day, we headed on to Madrid!


Thursday, March 24, 2016

Girona!



On Wednesday, March 23rd, we got the new battery in and continued on our way to Girona - the northernmost point of Catalonia - on the French border. We arrived at the home of Jose Félix and his family and he gave us the grand tour of Girona!


We had some pizza, visited with the church in Girona and climbed the wall overlooking the city. Then we went to some really unique shops and ate at a nice restaurant in the Jewish quarter or "Juderia" with some visiting ones from churches in other cities.


The next day we rode for over 10 hours to get to Arnedillo... it was quite dark when we arrived. Of course, we still had to find our camping spot so we rode around a bit until we found a mountain road. Unfortunately, this road was not for maxi scooters - it was rough. Moreover, it didn't have any areas tucked away and appeared to be a scenic walk that people would be up on early in the morning. So we headed back down the mountain and that's when my brakes went out. Well, one did but then other kept working long enough for us to get to the bottom.

We then took a track along the river (turned out it was more of a footpath) and ended up in a tunnel under the pueblo - this was pretty cool. Nevertheless, we were super tired and just wanted to find a spot to camp before the other brake went out. We went to the edge of town where we found a promising bushy area on a river but, alas, it was not satisfactory. We then went up another mountain, paved this time, but no dice. Finally, we got back on the main road heading out of town and, just like that, we found it. A pull off had a small path heading down to the river and, in the trees - under the cover of a cliff side - was a campsite previously used by other freedom campers - a beautiful and welcome sight to behold!


We quickly set up camp and went back into town to find the hot pools or "aguas termales". We talked to some locals at a bar where a friendly local gave us some advice and history on the pools - apparently they can get quite hot! Fortunately we were there when it hadn't rained too much (or too little?) so the water was a pretty comfortable temperature... if only a little crowded.



Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Barcelona!


On Sunday, March 20th, Preston and I hit the road on my little maxi scooter loaded down with all of our gear. We soon made our way up into the mountains and arrived at a small pueblo nestled in the hills called Montanejos. The steep drive was probably not the best thing for my little recently rebuilt moto but still well worth it.... hot springs.



Not ordinary springs - these are the "eternal youth" variety... or, at least, that's what the Arabic king Abu-Ceit thought. In the 13th century he built the springs for his favorite wives so that they could “forever maintain their youth and beauty” by way of the nutrients in the waters.



That night we camped out up the hill on one of the many random side roads that branch off into the hillside. This was Preston's first acampada libre or "wild camping" experience and it turned out to be a good one - open enough for setting up a good campsite yet hidden enough by the landscape and trees to insure that we wouldn't be stumbled upon by random passersby. The next day we had another go at the springs then got back on the bike for a ride up to Peniscola (pronounced "penny-scola").



That night we camped out in at another random spot up in the hills. Preston made a magnificent stew with our camping stove and I fashioned a trip cam  mount on the bike windscreen using duct tape!



We continued up to Barcelona where we ate some good Botifarra and then saw the Sagrada Familia and Park Güell - both designed by one of my favorite architects: Antoni Gaudí.



That evening we hit a bit of a snag... our battery died. At first the bike wouldn't start but we managed to roll charge / start it and get on our way out of the city center... at which point the lights started to dim and brighten. Just happy to be on our way, we didn't think much of it until the speedometer started jumping all over the place. Still, it was getting late and I wasn't about to risk what daylight we had left on a potentially complex problem... then it happened. As we were pulling into a small pueblo we lost power and the bike was dead. Now, as incredible as it may sound, we were just a block away from the only bike shop in, not just that pueblo, but any pueblo within 50 kilometers! Unfortunately, they were closing, but they were friendly (and they liked my custom cardboard "Acerbis" hand guards and trip cam mount) and, after showing us around town a bit, they directed us to a campground for the night.