Sunday, November 23, 2008

Tim's Spain & Morocco travels

G'Day again,

My last email left with me at school, the Spanish course in Granada.
This was a great change from holidaying for me, I actually enjoyed the
routine factor in getting up, going to school for 4 hrs then having a
siesta (sleeping during the day still makes me feel guilty but when
nothing is open in Spain then there is not much else to do), studying,
partying AND then sleeping in the same bed! 14 nights in the same bed
was a real change.

Granada may not have been the best choice as a location to learn
Spanish as they have a thicker accent, but then my goals were quite
unreasonable anyway...learn and speak fluent Spanish in several
weeks...laughable! The course was great but I´m afraid I probably
didn't do much to impress the other nationalities as to Australians
learning abilities. The others in the course already spoke an average
of 2.5 languages hence they had no problems learning another. My first
day I had to learn what a verb, adjective, noun...etc was in English
let alone in Spanish so started a long way behind!

After 2 weeks of Spanish school I went walking in the Serra Nevada
mountains, the highest point in Europe outside the alps. Whether the
altitude had anything to do with it or I am really unfit I don't know
but it was hard work getting to 3400m. Sleeping in a tent on a
mountain that high was a nice change from living in cities although
when it started sleeting/snowing the next morning it made me
reconsider the sensibility behind Australians wearing shorts in all
hiking conditions.

The common sense way to get to Morocco from Granada is a short 150km
dash down to the ports but rather I decided a more inventive way to
get there...via Madrid and the north of Spain. A quick couple of days
in the nation's capital and I was off for a fiesta in Logroño (where
they stomp on grapes in a half barrel to make wine and celebrate the
new harvest). The other event at any good Spanish fiesta is a Bull

Bull fighting...controversial, is it animal cruelty? I had seen the
bull fighting museum in Valencia and was shocked at the way the bulls
death was prolonged so anticipated that I wouldn't enjoy it at all,
but why would thousands of Spanish attend bull fights and thousands of
bulls be killed in this way each year if it didn't have something else
to it? Needless to say I decided the only way to know was to go to a
Bull Fight. MY personal conclusion...I´d go again, cruelty = not
really, brutality = definitely. Done correctly the Bull does not
appear to suffer, the sheer anger and rage the bull is feeling, and
desire to gore the matador takes over any emotion. The bull will
literately die mid-charge. When done poorly (yes the odds weren't good
as this was 2 of the 6 bulls killed) then it is the hardest thing to
watch, when the matador missed the mark with the sword the bull did
suffer and giving credit to the Spanish crowd they gave it to the
matador and were not happy about the suffering. Tradition is also
amazing to see at a bull fight. MY RECOMMENDATION...go, make your own
mind up but be prepared for blood and to spend the next 2 weeks trying
to make sense of what you saw and why humans are the way humans are!

It was around this stage that I found out about the Camino de Santiago
which was to become a big part of my Spanish travels. The Camino de
Santiago is a collection of pilgrimage routes across Europe to get to
Santiago de Compostella. The pilgrim routes in Spain are really well
marked and set up and thousands of pilgrims trek across northern Spain
each summer to get to the west side. This sounded like my cuppa tea!

Hence I went to Pamplona, walked the route were the running of the
bulls occurs and dumped some luggage...ongoing theme here...I have too
much luggage...for a round the world tip PACK LIGHT. From Pamplona I
did several camino routes across the Pyrenees Mountains. Beautiful
mountains and full of history and culture (aka foods and old
buildings), the walking takes you past villages, small farms (slightly
biased opinion growing up in Aust), herd animals wearing bells (huge
novelty) and you see more of the true Spain than you get from several
days in a city.

How´d my Spanish go...hmmm, disgraceful but the Spanish were very
patient with my attempts to recall the correct word and the horrific
pronunciation. So many people tried to help teach me the language,
sadly I usually ended up acting (universal language) again or telling
them I was going to 'swim' my way to Pamplona...I also had a few
creative teachers who tried to convince me to pick up a Spanish lady I
should say XXXXX...later, fortunately I got out the dictionary to find
I wasn't commenting on her eyes at all but lower down!

After the Pyrenees I headed to San Sebastian surprised to find beaches
without rocks! The north coast of Spain is a surfers pilgrimage, the
city is really well built to take advantage of the great beach but I
prefer the mountains so picked another section of mountainous Camino
to walk through, the Picos de Europa. These mountains are amazing,
hard to explain so I´ve attached a pic!

Sadly I then made the mistake of reading the Moroccan guidebook whilst
waiting for a bus...I was having time of my life in Spain but all I
want to do was to get to Morocco. Hence I sped up my travels to get
there ASAP while seeing as much as possible.

Santiago de Compostella was the end of the Camino de Santiago so I
called in to get a stamp in my Camino passport. I probably should
explain more about the Camino. The walk traditionally has a high
religious importance to pilgrims as the routes follow several
centuries of Christians walking to see the burial site of one of the
guys from the table with Jesus at his last dinner. Now it is so famous
it attracts people from all faiths and backgrounds. The pilgrimage is
meant to be a way to discover yourself through hard work this being
walking 20-30km per day for 4-6 weeks. Due to its popularity over the
centuries businesses, accommodation and towns have been built to cater
for the pilgrims needs. Apart from offering some great walking I did
it because the opportunity to meet loads of different people and for
the cheap accommodation that is provided to pilgrims. You get a
pilgrims passport that you collect stamps in and proves you are
walking the Camino. Smile nicely, offer them some basic Spanish and
most importantly tell them your Australian and they will not mind that
you aren't following the typical pilgrim route and doing the whole
walk! I recommend the Camino de Santiago to everyone, as great way to
see Spain and get to meet people (from both Spain and every other
country in the world), I don't think I gave it enough opportunity to
´discover myself´ as I only walked for 4 days at a time...4-6 weeks
might lead to self discovery or you could book a holiday to NZ and go
solo walking in the mountains to achieve it much quicker and with a
lot more effort. The walk is reasonably challenging to your average
adult 20-50yrs old but is well marked, well set out and you won't
regret it at all!

After standing at the northern most point of Spain and then eastern
point I headed to Portugal. Here I had plans to go walking again but
the weather dampened my plans so I went tasting Port in Porto (city in
Portugal) instead. I should also mention that I stayed a night for
free in the Fire Station, realising every boys dream by sleeping in
the rooms where the firemen sleep/wait for the fires to start. Sadly
there was no sirens or bells, or pole to slide down (this is opening
myself to many jokes) but it a memory I won't soon forget either.

I also was able to discover Couch Surfing in the best way possible and
used the website to stay at a Portuguese blokes place in the sea side
suburbs of Lisborne (capital of Portugal) and see the city, the
amazing castles in the hills next to Lisborne and attend a Portuguese
birthday party without paying 20euro a night for a hostel. PLEASE if
you have a spare room, couch or floor space register to and spread free accommodation!

Following Portugal I quickly called into see Sevilla, watched a
backyard flamenco show in a pub and then to Cadiz (smaller Spanish
city with some fantastic old castles right on the waterfront), then to
Tarifa to do some washing (using a machine) and eat ham before
catching the ferry to morocco.


My first 2 weeks in Morocco I spent traveling around the rural areas
of the country. The first stop was the famous blue walled city of
Chefchauoen. This city is painted in shades of blue, a stunning effect
but try to navigate a Medina (lots of really close buildings and
narrow laneways within a walled fortress) where everything looks the
same and is in blue…it confused me as much as the bees. (one rumour is
that the city is painted blue to keep out the bees who think its

This blue town sits in the Rif Mountains, famous for the amount of
hashish that they produce. I put on the walking shoes and spent
several days exploring the farming terraces cut into the mountains and
quaint mountain villages. I was a month late for the Hashish plant
harvest, so all I saw was the dry stalks remaining, yep disappointed,
BUT then I got curious as to the drumming noises coming from the
villages so went to find out. It turned out to be the sound made as
they beat the hashish plant to extract the pollen…fascinating to watch
and wonder how many years in jail you would spent if caught with the
equivalent of 6 round bales full of hashish leaf and flower!

From northern morocco I headed East to the Sahara desert where it
started to rain…just my luck. I spent the next day sitting beside
raging rivers as the bus waited for each river to go down, the one
bonus was that the rain kept out some the tour buses and things were
quieter once I arrived. Sand dunes are always spectacular but after
the Egypt oasis's and Namibian monster dunes I didn't need to ride
another stinking bloody dromerder (camel with 1 hump).

Eastern Morocco also has some fantastic gorges were the water runs
from the Atlas Mountains out to the desert. I got homesick looking at
the scenery here as the colours and rocks are very similar to central
Australia. However I couldn't confuse myself with being at home as the
palmeries (date palm groves) were fascinating to walk through as they
feed the overpopulation from these groves using ancient watering
systems and tools (donkey/mule ploughs).

The highest mountain in Morocco was always going to be a draw card for
me. The only problem was that the recent snow meant that its 4167m was
covered in snow and I was to chicken to learn how to use crampons and
ice picks by myself. The walking around is bottom was spectacular
though with the autumn colours and snow..

After the rural areas I spent the final 2 weeks traveling the cities
with Deborah, my cousin who the Moroccans insisted that as she was a
maternal cousin I could marry! We basically went city hoping to eat…
her first lunch in Morocco was a BBQ/Boiled sheep-head. The experience
will be well remembered, particularly playing with it while pretending
to enjoy it! Other foods included home made cous cous with a family we
met in the streets, sugary & oily pastries, targine's, bread, bread
and more bread. Moroccan food is nice but the array is limited and
surprisingly for the amounts of spice they have on offer at markets it
is not particularly spicy. The best way to enjoy good food I guess
like anywhere is to have it in someone's home…easy to do, just drop
the right hints to a family in the markets and they'll get you to buy
the food for that nights meal for the family and invite you. One last
memorable food moment was eating sheep testicle…the experience of
buying single 'nut' you've chosen off the carcass hanging in the
street and then taking it to be grilled in front of you is not to be
forgotten and the taste…I'd eat it again before a sheep-head anyway!

The cities of Morocco are chaos as with any 3rd world city, but the
Medina's provide hours of fun walking around, getting lost or more
correctly realising at different times that you actually know where
you are! The shops owners use aggressive sale tactics and bargaining
is essential for everything, make them drop their price to a 3rd of
the starting price and you are probably then only paying double what
it's really worth to a local. Mint tea is offered to all potential
customers and then the unfolding of every carpet in the shop will
begin, if you want to 'think' about it and not buy now! then watch out
for the language and screaming.

I have just finished a week in London, doing touristy stuff,
organising myself and watch repeats of TopGear episodes on Dave...also
trying English ales and get educating my liver with pint's (not
drinking for several months made London much cheaper).

Currently I am in Stockholm (waiting for my sisters flight) looking
forward to seeing Scandinavia and spending time with Mum & Dad.
Currently -4 C and fresh snow...any tips on how to deal with -30 C
further north would also be appreciated…

Best wishes back home and across the world and I look forward to
getting some Christmas 'what the year entailed' type emails.


PS: where to next...Scandinavia for 3 weeks (Finland, Sweden, Norway),
1 week in the UK early dec, Swizterland for Xmas, New year in the UK
and THEN fly to South America Jan next year...5 months to go!