December 04, 2007 GMT
Broken down in Granada

25 Nov 07 to 4 Dec 07

Our digs at Calpe were comfortable, off-season cheap and equipped with a good kitchen so we could keep eating costs down. As a consequence, it was an easy decision to extend our stay by two days (to six) to catch up on some R&R. At least that was the plan!

We started to stride around the area catching up on some exercise we had missed over the last few weeks and decided to climb the limestone rock that formed a headland at the end of our beach. Rising 332m straight out of the sea, it dominated the village below.

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The headland (Peñon de Ifach) had been a national park for many years and had well established tracks up the sides. It was not, however, an easy climb.

It took us about an hour to scramble to the top where we had a panoramic view of the surrounding country side.

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Although the wild life service claimed there were numerous critters, including two types of snakes, on the mountain we only found the seabirds waiting to greet us.

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Our hotel is down there somewhere, lost among the giant apartment complexes.

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The best view was straight down onto the marina. This shot gives you an idea of how steep the assent was.

The startling view was the carpet of villas covering every bit of land with a southern aspect and sea view. These are often owned by foreigners who use them to escape the northern winters or retire in the sun. This area of the coast is frequented by Germans with a few English. As a consequence, the Spanishness of the place has been diluted by the demands of the invaders. Since we had come to Valencia to see Valencians, this didn’t seem like the best part of the province to be in.

One upside to the northern invasion was the few German bakeries that had appeared around the town. We were able to buy some excellent German bread that was a pleasant change from the sameness of the French, Spanish and English bread that had been our staple for the last few months.

Apart from the great view, the climb to the top of the mountain had another consequence. For Jo it aggravated a back strain she had brought from Australia after a disagreement with a lawnmower. For Mike it aggravated a long standing arthritic complaint in his left foot.

Jo agreed to take it easy for a while and to leave the lifting-heavy-things stuff to Mike, who is basically good at that sort of thing. You know the old saying: “I may not be smart, but I can lift heavy things.” This said veeeery slowly of course!

Mike, having always been one to go the drugs early, found a local doctor to get some medication. The doctor, an attractive woman in her mid-fifties, had been trained in Argentina. She spoke fluent German and good English and wandered past the waiting room to say hello to her new patient with a cigarette hanging out of her mouth.

She took one look at the offending foot and gave what Mike knew to be the correct diagnosis. She then announced that she had had the same complaint since she was 10 and proceeded to pull up her shirt to show where she had a kidney removed because the complaint had been misdiagnosed and mismanaged. She then dragged down an arch lever binder full of articles and pictures on her pet disease.

In short order what followed were an anti-inflammatory injection, blood test and prescriptions for a slack handful of drugs and a lot of advice that was hastily scribbled into the travel journal. By the time Mike left the surgery the injection had kicked in and he walked the 2km back to the pub at the usual brisk pace and without discomfort.

We bolted out of Calpe early on the morning of 29 Nov happy to escape in one piece (each). The run over to Granada was a little over 400km on the excellent Spanish A roads. With a short stop for lunch in a park in Lorca, we were into Granada town by mid-afternoon.

On the run over a simple fact of Spanish geography finally dawned on us. Spain, it turns out, has the second highest average altitude in Europe after Switzerland. As a consequence, as soon as we left the narrow coastal strip we started climbing eventually reaching 1360m at the highest point on the central range. This was accompanied by the obvious low temperatures. After the central range Granada itself was perched above the plain (La Vega) at a pleasant 685m, about the same as Canberra.

On the way into Granada we passed through an area called El Sacromonte where we noticed some interesting housing dug into the side of the hills. Each had a brick or mud wall façade. The one in the photo was a particularly poor example. Most of them were whitewashed and very neat and tidy.

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Cave housing in the Sacromonte.

We found out later that these houses belonged to people who are descendants of the Gypsies who came with the Catholic Monarchs’ army for which they worked as metal craftsmen. Apart from their unique housing, the Gypsies mingled their art with that of the Moorish inhabitants giving rise to the Flamenco which is the principal artistic achievement of the Alhambra (old Granada).

Without a map of the city, we relied entirely on Kylie to get us into the centre and to find a pub. This proved to be a problem. The streets in the old city are narrow, satellite contact is hard to maintain and most alleys are one way but not reflected as such in the mapping. After an hour and a half of wrestling the Elephant down narrow lanes Mike had had enough.

Unfortunately so had the Elephant! The brake failure light started flashing on the dash and the rear brake stopped working. Great!

For those who are not bike riders, the back brake doesn’t do that much work while on the open road but is very important in slow speed manoeuvring, particularly with a big, heavily ladened bike like the Elephant. The technique is to “drag” the back brake at the same time as the throttle is used to stand the bike up. This allows you to maintain engine power and drive to keep the bike stable in very slow turns. On the BMW bikes like the Elephant, the front and back brakes are controlled by the same ABS/servo system and if the back goes out there is every chance that the front will follow.

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The old city is a maze of narrow lanes.

We cut our losses and headed back to the outskirts of town, found a chain motel, beer and food and licked our wounds.

Saturday morning we put on our “you haven’t got the better of us y’bastards” faces and plunged back into town (still without back brakes). Granada is not a very big place, so when we report that it took 90 minutes to find the tourist office and a further 90 minutes to find the first pub on our list you will understand that wasn’t a highpoint of our day.

Halfway through this test of patience we were pulled over by the police for the first time on this trip. Two officers, mounted on gleaming white Transalps blocked our way at the end of an alley and demanded to know why we were going the wrong way down a one way street.

The excuse was that “Kylie made me do it”, but I don’t think the joke translated very well to Spanish. The real reason, that there is no rhyme or reason to the one way streets, went unsaid. We got a stern “talking to” and were allowed to go on our way.

The pub we found wasn’t great, but it was clean, available and we had managed to get the bike within 50m. Under the circumstances we moved in, found some pay parking for the Elephant and left it on its own to sulk over its broken brakes.

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The pub was clean and welcoming but it still took two days to work out how to drive up the lane the right way.

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A room in miniature, but warm and clean.

We spent Saturday and Sunday walking the old city, wandering the narrow lanes and taking the compulsory tour of the Alhambra palace. It looked a bit like this:

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The ruins of an old bridge linking the palace precinct to the old walled Moorish quarter.

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The Church of Saint Jerónimo was more interesting than the nearby cathedral.

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The Church of Saint Domingo was the place where the Court of the Inquisition celebrated its festivities. On this Sunday morning all they could organise was a christening, not an Inquisitor in sight.

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At the Alhambra Palace, Jo is still wearing a “puffer jacket” mid-afternoon.

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Mike keeping watch on the watch tower with the snow covered Sierra Nevada Mountains in the background. The Sierra Nevadas have the southern most ski fields in Europe. The season opened on 1 Dec and there was enough snow to open the lifts on day 1.

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Some parts of the palace were delightful, but we have seen so many old rock piles that we’re not easily impressed. The tour was, however, well worth the €10 ask and the two hours we spent there.

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There are many lovely surprises in Granada. We thought of our young friend and musician Simon when we found this little craft shop where a fellow makes hand made guitars.

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We were also struck by the number of stray cats in the city. Most seemed to be well behaved and were content to mooch food from the, predominately Spanish, tourists.

On Saturday night we had dinner at a restaurant that was unremarkable except for the huge stuffed bull’s head on the wall watching us eat. We have studiously avoided reading Hemingway’s “Death in the Afternoon” and don’t have any strong views on bull fighting, but there is no doubt where these Andalucíans stand on it.

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We had the pork special! Mike was sure it was looking at him all evening.

The next day we found this wonderful t-shirt that summed up our feelings about bull fighting.

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‘nuff said…

All of which got us to Monday morning and sorting out the brake problem. The BMW dealer was about 1.5km away and Mike got the bike over there at about 0800 (and 4 degrees C). They found a mechanic who spoke a little English and agreed to look at it straight away. Mike went for coffee and breakfast and returned two hours later. By this time the Elephant was missing some parts and looked a little miserable.

The ABS/servo unit was stuffed. A new one could be sent from Madrid overnight at a cost of €1600 for the part.

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The Elephant wheeled off in disgrace.

What followed was one of those short brutal conversations that service managers must hate. Documents were photocopied and sent to BMW and after a short delay it was agreed that the bike was still under warranty, there would be no charge and it would be ready the next afternoon.

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The Elephant stripped for inspection.

Mike walked home full of foreboding thinking that if this unit packed it in somewhere in North Africa with the warranty expired it would be a disaster. However, by the time he was back at the pub a plan had been formulated. If the ABS/servo unit went on the fritz again, then any brake shop could rig a by-pass for both the front and rear systems. Lever pressures would be high, but the bike would stop and Mike would build up some hand muscles.

If push comes to shove, we can always replace the BMW master cylinder with one from a non-servo bike and plumb it straight to the callipers. We won’t be beaten that easily.

So as we post on 4 Dec, we wait in Granada for parts from Madrid and reschedule our forward journey. We have a map of Morocco out across the bed studying the high mountain passes and the edges of the Sahara.

In the meantime we are starting to get a feel for the rhythm of Spanish life. It seems perfectly normal to eat chocolate covered donuts for breakfast, have a beer and tapas anytime and sit down to dinner at 10 pm. Wonderful sounding words like “Hombre”, “Naranja” or “Amigo” roll deliciously off the tongue. And we know the important things to say:

“Dos cervezas por favour”

Or, the all important:

“No dispare! Esos drogas no son mias!”

Posted by Mike Hannan at 10:38 AM GMT
December 09, 2007 GMT
Jerez de la Frontera

4 Dec 07 to 10 Dec 07

After spending too long wandering in new parts of Granada, Mike had to rush to be sure he was back at the BMW dealer at the appointed time to collect the Elephant. That is, if the servo unit had arrived from Madrid and the mechanics had managed to fit it and if the collection time hadn’t been confused in translation.

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Our friends on the Transalps recognised us at the lights when we waved and snapped their photo.

Arriving at 1550, the place was deserted. In Australia, we would take this to mean that the surf is up and everyone has knocked off early. In Spain it simply means that no one was back from lunch yet. At 1557 they poured in with a roar of bikes and cars and flooded the workshops and offices with noise and movement. The dealership is open until 2000 each day.

The Elephant was waiting, still needing a wash, but looking good for a blue. The Service manager, Emilio Garcia, is surprised when Mike is so happy the job has been done on time. Dealers in Oz have left us easily pleased.

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Emilio: “What part of manana don’t you understand gringo?”

Granada was just too cold for us, and we had already extended our stay because of the breakdown, so we packed and skedaddled. There had to be somewhere warm in Spain and our mission had become to find it. We headed west towards Cadiz and the coast.

On the excellent Spanish A roads we made great time flying up through the mountain passes and across endless plains of olive trees. The size of the plantings is amazing and we chatted about our friends Azzat and Nola wondering how their olive oil business in South Lebanon is going and how John Cominos is going with his Queensland olives.

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It was about 4 degrees C with a wind chill of 130 kph when Jo took off her gloves to take this shot of olive groves. It was going to be published regardless of quality.

Our destination was the town of Jerez de la Frontera (the locals pronounce it Heireth). Not on the usual tourist short list but of interest to us as it is the home of the world sherry industry and all of the large sherry houses (called Bodegas). It is also Andalusia’s horse capital and is a hot-bed of flamenco due to the large gitano community. The town has about 185,000 inhabitants, lots of rich bastards thanks to the sherry industry, but high unemployment because the sherry industry is all there is.

Our decision to stay 4 days in Jerez was less related to the town’s attractions and more to the fact that Thursday 6 December and Saturday 8 December are both public holidays, and as we found on All Saints Day in Barcelona, the locals were sure to take the Friday off and make it a four day weekend. We decided the best option was not to be looking for food and lodgings at this time.

Within a few hours we had walked the town and discovered that Jerez has:

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Lots of nice public spaces and expensive shops…

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…most of which have been spoiled by graffiti.

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A great 2nd hand book market on Thursday nights…

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…and lots of orange and jacaranda trees shading the streets.

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We find lots of tourists in the town on the public holiday, but the vast majority are Spanish discovering their own country. The English and Germans come in the summer. This little tourist train is sponsored by one of the large bodegas, Gonzalez Byass, which produces the Tio Pepe brand.

The town has considerable English influence and several of the bodegas are English owned. The financial investment in Jerez dates back to the 17th century but really took off in the 19th century when the English army brought back a taste for sherry after the Napoleonic war. It has brought wealth to some, but many poor areas of the city remain and, as the photo above shows, spill over to the wealthy parts of town.

The great thing about travelling off season is that you often have nice things for yourself. This proved to be the case when we were the only starters for the English language tour of the Gonzalez Byass bodega. We had the guide, Andrea, to ourselves for the tour and no need to fight the crowds.

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The English language guide, Andrea, was from Slovakia, spoke excellent English and Spanish and was informative company for the 90 minute tour. She looked a million dollars in her smart corporate overcoat too, with us in the same old riding gear.

After the stinginess of the French, we almost laughed out loud when we were given a table in the tasting room and had an un-opened bottle plonked down with the instruction to try this one first, a sweeter one would follow. We are not sure how the Spaniards define “tasting”, but this was more like “drinking” where we come from.

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Mike makes a start on the chilled Palomino Fino.

We rolled out with a rosy glow after two hours and headed home for a siesta pleased that we had spent our €18 well.

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The public statue of the founder of the Gonzalez Byass bodega, Manuel Gonzalez Angel.

Not wishing to be seen as only interested in wine, we stepped out to visit the Alcazar of Jerez. This was the citadel and residence of the emir during the Arabic period from the 12th century. Like many national monuments in Spain, this one was well presented and organised without being over-done. Of particular interest was the original olive oil mill.

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The olives were crushed by a mill stone pushed around by a donkey...

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…. The resulting paste was then put onto round woven mats, stacked under the press then squeezed using an 18 m lever pushed up with a screw. The oil was allowed to settle in a sump to allow the impurities to settle to the bottom before being siphoned off for bottling.

Elsewhere in the palace a complete 19th century pharmacy had been restored. Ever the scientist, Jo was very taken with:

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…the beautifully restored and presented display of containers…

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…strange ingredients we were sure you could no longer get in a chemist like “Extracto de Opium”…

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…and great old machines.

Our final visit for Jerzez was to be the National Flamenco Museum. Unfortunately we made the mistake of visiting on the Feast Day of the Annunciation only to find that it was closed during the public holiday.

Normally we would have been surprised that a museum was closed during a public holiday, but since the times for opening and closing of all manner of things had completely eluded us during our month in Spain, we shrugged our shoulders and went looking for a tapas bar instead.

In some way, however, the closed museum was emblematic of our time here. We turned up, but it was closed.

The day we left Jerez for the short ride to the coastal port of Algeciras and a boat to Morocco, we planned to have breakfast at a nice café just around the corner from the hotel. We packed the bike and rode around the corner to find the placed closed and a couple of locals peering in and checking their watches. Spain can be like that. We didn’t stop but kept riding south with Mike humming an old Dylan song in his helmet. The verses were a little confused, but the pretty tune was strong and melodic:

Spanish is the loving tongue,
soft and gentle like the rain.
Was a girl I learned it from
while travelling down Sonora way…

Posted by Mike Hannan at 06:47 PM GMT
December 18, 2007 GMT
Morocco, Atlantic Coast

10 to 17 December 2007

In the Spanish port city of Algeciras we took a 10th floor hotel room with a view over the busy port and across to Gibraltar. There are few things finer than a room overlooking a port. The constant movement of ships and the general hubbub and colour on the docks are always exciting. Waiting for our departure to a new country on a new continent they were doubly so.

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Our 10th floor hotel room was over budget, but the view of the port was worth it.

We checked all of the ferry companies until we found a vessel departing at 0800 the next morning, purchased tickets for ourselves and the Elephant and then wandered the city to see what mischief we could find. Alas, with the countdown to Christmas, the best we could find was a local choir singing Spanish Christmas carols in the plaza so we adjourned back to the pub to watch the port and check our paperwork.

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Spanish carollers singing up a storm in Algeciras

At 0700 on 10 December, we rode down to the docks, were waved through customs and immigration and rode onto our ship.

At 0800 we were underway and it was….

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Adios Spain, and three hours later…

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Ssalamu ‘lekum Tangier.

Not being entirely new to this part of the world, we hussled the Elephant into the melee around the Border Police post, paid a generous “tip” to get to the front of the queue and get the paperwork for the bike sorted, and rolled out onto the streets of Tangier in about 15 minutes. A quick stop for fuel and to change some money took only a few minutes more and we were off, romping the Elephant up the hill into the thick of the Tangier traffic.

As it is in other parts of North Africa and the Middle East where we have travelled, traffic here takes the form of a chaos in slow motion. Folks wander across the road without any regulation, cars and trucks drift across “lanes” and no one ever looks at their rear view mirrors. The unwritten rule is always: if I am in front, I have right of way.

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We have only seen three mid-capacity sports bikes in our first week. There are swarms of trusty mopeds that do the same duties that the Honda step-through did in SE Asia.

The bikes here are mostly tiny mopeds and the cars are small and low powered so it all has a surreal feel for us. There is nothing of the lethal intensity of our own traffic with many more vehicles and ballistic speeds. Best of all, it all happens with good humour and the traffic manages to flow despite the best efforts of everyone.

We bustled through Tangier and found the Atlantic coast road heading south for the little village of Asilah. Tangier can wait until we are on our way out of Morocco.

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Asilah locals ask all of the standard questions: how big, how heavy, how fast? To which the answers are: too big, too heavy and not bloody fast enough!

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Asilah is a very pretty town, full of tourists in the summer, but almost deserted when we visited.

An overnight in Asilah allowed us to get our bearings in the new country. We had a couple of good meals, a good night’s sleep and then headed south again to Rabat, the capital city. Our route took us along the rural roads and away from the freeway that links Tangier with the great cities of the south and interior. We crossed inland over the vast plains of the Ouerra River Valley.

This area is many times larger than the Darling Downs and the soil is so rich you could eat it with a spoon. The river and a tributary are dammed up-stream and there is an extensive irrigation system providing water to some substantial agricultural enterprises (although we noticed that some sections of it were in disrepair).

There were some big farms with good levels of mechanisation, but there were also small farmers ploughing a few acres with wooden framed ploughs and donkeys. In many cases we saw lucerne being mown by hand; hard work for sure, but not profitable work.

As we travel south over the next week we are struck again and again by the richness of the land, but for every commercial enterprise there is 10 times the area given over to small cropping. The economist in me has a few theories about the influence of French agricultural models here, but we need to talk to more people and get to the bottom of this!

Rabat is a modern city of about 1.8 million souls. As befits a capital it has wide boulevards with modern cafes, a cosmopolitan population and sophisticated feel. We spend three nights in Rabat and, while we visit the old Kasbah and the Medina, our main purpose is to get a feel for modern Morocco.

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The Kasbah in Rabat is mainly residential and has many beautifully kept streets.

Rabat is a place of contrasts with many new, often western, influences mixed with traditional Moroccan practice. The locals seem to blend the old with the new seamlessly; not afraid of the new, but always respectful of tradition.

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Always Jo’s favourite in any souk, the spice seller’s stall is a blaze of colour and wonderful aromas.

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Even in the modern city of Rabat, there is a good chance that your lamb tajine will be freshly butchered.

On our last day in Rabat we sought out the English language bookshop to replenish our reading supplies. The tiny shop was jam-packed with second-hand and new books and we thoroughly enjoyed searching through the stacks looking for books we would both read (we can only carry one or two books each at any time so we both need to read each one).

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The English language bookshop in Rabat is so packed with volumes that there is almost no room left for customers. As always, we were desperate for new reading material.

As we were about to leave, we struck up a conversation with another customer, a Moroccan named Khalid Ammani. Khalid is an English language teacher working at a number of schools. His English is excellent and, like all Moroccans, he is a great conversationalist. Khalid invited us for coffee and then to join him with his Intermediate English class at a nearby language institute that evening. Not having anything planned (the story of our current lives) we were pleased to accept.

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Jo, Kahlid Ammani and Mike.

Khalid’s class was an adult education group. There were two blokes and about a dozen women and they ranged in age from a 16 year old to several in their 30s. They were well educated and bright and, like adult education students everywhere, very clear about why they were studying.

We spent about 90 minutes talking about ourselves and our travels with the Elephant and asking them about Morocco. The word “codger” came up in discussion about our ages and it is such a great word to roll around the tongue, that I wrote it on the board and recommended it for used in polite company.

For us, the visit was a delight. We left reassured that if these young folk are the future of Morocco, there will be plenty of good things happening.

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The Intermediate English class. All bright-eyed, bushy-tailed and ready to take on the world.

Through these first few days, Jo and I had been settling down to Moroccan tucker. After the difficulties of getting fed in Spain (you can’t have tapas for every meal; can you?), we were pleased to be back in a snacking culture like our own where the food is available anytime, tasty and affordable. With the cool winter weather we especially appreciated the tajines. Our Australian friends will have all been exposed to these in the past, but here in the home of the tajine, they reach a different level of wholesome tastiness.

One evening Jo curled up in bed and complained that she felt uncomfortably full. I pointed out that the fact that she eaten a tajine for lunch and another for dinner may have had something to do with her condition!!! Finally, we were eating too well. Morocco gets a gold star.

In Rabat we also saw our first example of Moroccan political dissent. While enjoying coffee with Khalid in a sidewalk café across from the National Parliament, a demonstration formed in the street and started marching up and down and chanting slogans. Our inquiries found that they were academics and educated professionals who were protesting for more government jobs.

Khalid explained that the government is required, under the constitution, to provide work for all and these well educated folk felt that more of their number should be on the government payroll. A life outside the public sector was considered too uncertain for such highly educated folk. I gave Khalid a short burst on the evils of the French economic model and the need to get the talented folk into the private sector where growth and jobs could be created and let it go at that. There are obviously many impediments to private sector growth that outsiders like us could only guess at. Perhaps we would learn more about those things later. In the meantime we drank our coffee and enjoyed the show.

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Packed up and ready to leave Rabat. Constantly packing and unpacking the bike is keeping us in good shape. In Rabat we had nine flights of stairs up to our room on which to get some codger exercise.

Casablanca was a three hour ride south on the back roads and a number of people had questioned the sanity of going there at all. With a population of 3.8 million it is a big city by any standards. It is a port and commercial centre with little of touristic interest and little interest in tourists.

With no GPS mapping and no paper maps of the cities (leave aside a page in LP), we ploughed straight into the centre of town and within an hour we had found a nice room in a quiet hotel, secure parking for the bike in the workshop of a local mechanic and had an omelette for lunch. A brisk walk around the city gave us the lay of the land and served as a reconnaissance for the way out of town on departure.

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The old French cathedral, the stain glass window long since boarded up, has been turned into a general purpose hall. There is some discussion about what should be done with it in the long run.

Casa (you can only use that if you have been there) has some elegant and still beautiful administrative buildings dating from the colonial period but not much else of interest. It is noisy, smelly and rushed. We suspect that people only come to Casa to make money.

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The High Court in Casablanca dates from 1925 and the French colonisation. It is still a beautiful and elegant building, understated and in perfect proportion.

Casablanca’s main monument is the Hassan II Mosque. There are no points in guessing which king built it at a cost of nearly $0.5 bil! It has in-slab heating, a glass section of the floor so that worshippers can see the crashing Atlantic Ocean below, and a retractable roof to open worshippers to the sky (yes Duncan, just like a football stadium).

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The Hassan II Mosque. Built by…

The day we went we avoided the mosque’s underground car park and swung into the neighbouring suburb to park. We found ourselves in a pretty tough part of town where the road was thick with diesel-engine oil from local truckies dumping the contents of their sumps into the drains. God is clearly hanging with rough company in Casa.

Our delight in Casablanca was to come across an exhibition on the Summer Olympics at a city school. During our conversation with Khalid’s English class I surprised some of the students because I knew that a Moroccan (I didn’t know Hicham el-Guerrouj’s name at the time) had won the 1500m/5000m double in Athens. Here I found large posters of Morocco’s numerous middle distance heroes and promptly had a photo taken beside Said Aouita a 5000m champion from Los Angeles (84).

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Sporting facilities are few and far between in Morocco but the country is football mad and every village kid dreams of playing in the big European leagues. Wherever there is a flat patch of dirt the boys have got a scratch game going. There doesn’t seem to be much for the girls, but traditional dancing is a common form of exercise.

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Mike and Said (Mike on the left)
There was only one Australian poster. It showed Cathy Freeman striding over the line in the Sydney 400m final. It was accompanied by some well thought out and appropriate words on the importance of the event to national reconciliation. We felt that this was a good thing for Moroccan school kids to learn about our homeland. If only reconciliation was as easy as winning gold medals…

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A Moroccan high school student considers a poster of Hicham, hero of Athens. The Moroccans we have met have been very proud of their country and its heritage.

After Casablanca we rolled south along the narrow coastal road waving back to the shepherd boys beside the road and stopping at El-Jadida and Oualidia. It was a lovely ride through this pleasant and fertile countryside. Along the road, forests of Australian eucalypts had been harvested for firewood. The brown topsoil runs right to the sea. In many cases, green pastures grow up to the edge of cliffs that drop into the surf below. Amazing!

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Industrial Morocco south of Casablanca.

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In the port of El-Jadida the fishing fleet tied up under the shadow of the 16th century Portuguese fort and we had whole grilled fish at a dockside café.

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A communal oven in the old Portuguese City in El-Jadida where local housewives bring their bread (or anything else) for baking at set rates.

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Jo in front of fishing boats at Oualidia. Same outfit different location!! Also note that Jo has taken to wearing a cap. Her hair is now longer than she has had it for many years and she has had no luck in finding a hairdresser. The helmet-hair gets worse.

We end our first week in Morocco enjoying the winter sun and watching the tide fill the Oualidia Lagoon. Our next stop will be Essaouira and our much anticipated Christmas with Mike and Sarah, but for now we are content to watch the tide roll in and think about grilled fish for dinner.

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Posted by Mike Hannan at 05:49 PM GMT
December 29, 2007 GMT

20 to 27 Dec 07

We rolled south towards Essaouira on Thursday 20 December with the fertile land tilled down to the edge of a placid Atlantic.

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We quickly noticed that there was much greater activity in the villages than we had seen in previous days. In particular, there were many markets set up along the road with huge crowds and much excitement.

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Market day draws huge crowds. Folks arrive by grand taxi, donkey, or just walk.

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At the “parking area” opposite the market, the transport waits for the shoppers. It costs 1 Dh to park.

A difference in the time between the bike clock and our watches caused us to get to Essaouira an hour earlier than planned. This gave us plenty of time to have a good look around. We noticed huge crowds in the shopping areas.

By the time we had taken over the apartment at 1500, the reason for all the frantic activity had become apparent. The next day, Friday 21 Dec, was the Feast of the Sacrifice leading into a long weekend when nothing much would be open.

When the penny finally dropped we had only a few hours to get enough shopping done to last three days. At this point it started to rain. In most places rain is just rain, but it doesn’t rain much in Morocco and the streets are not plumbed to handle it. After an hour many streets were like rivers, the crowd of last minute shoppers like salmon fighting against the current.

I got back from three expeditions out for meat and vegetables, groceries and 20L of bottled water, I was soaked to the skin and cold and the stores were closed. Unfortunately, the alcohol shop had closed early and we were without a glass of wine.

Mike and Sarah arrived without drama the next day.

Over the next week we had a relaxed and enjoyable Christmas break with no great touristic adventures but lots of sleeping in and lazing about. The rest is just the detail…and the photos!

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Mike and Sarah arrived before lunch on the 21st by which time Jo and I had scrounged a bottle of Moroccan red wine.

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Our apartment was in the Medina up a narrow lane.

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The narrow steps up to the third floor apartment were just the thing for codgercise when bringing back 20L of bottled water.

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Despite the narrowness of the lane, the local kids managed to get a soccer game going and kept the lane alive with sounds of their play.

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A large cardboard box was all it took to keep the local kids happy for hours one evening.

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The main feature of the Festival of the Sacrifice is that families slaughter a sheep. Each of the families around us killed theirs on the roof. There was much shouting and a general good time had by all, except the sheep. In this photo, a seagull gets a feed from the sheep skin left drying on the roof-top clothes line.

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Essaouira is known as Wind City Afrika. The wide bay and constant winds make it a haven for wind surfers and kite surfers.

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The wide and relatively clean beach hosts thousands of European sun seekers every summer.

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This is take-away Moroccan style. Two tajines were ordered from a hole-in-the-wall a few minutes walk away. We picked them up in a couple of old cardboard boxes and dropped the empty, clean tajines back the next day.

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Under the lids were chicken with vegetables and “meat” with vegetables. Both hearty and delicious.

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On another night, couscous with vegetables and chicken with vegetables, olives and preserved lemons filled us up.

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Essaouira has an active fishing fleet with plenty of fresh seafood available around the docks.

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Not everyone was hard at it down at the docks.

We had our Christmas dinner on Boxing Day at a modern restaurant called Elizir. The food and wine were fine and it was a nice finish to our week with Sarah and Mike. Jo and Sarah had grilled sea bass, Mike had a lamb and fresh pear tajine, while I had a fillet steak with dark chocolate and chilli sauce.

Our relaxing week was over too soon but we thoroughly enjoyed our chance to spend some time with Sarah and Mike. For them it was off to Marrakech before returning to chilly London. For us it was back to the road.

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Our landlord Jeanne visited us each day to make sure we were comfortable and produced a bottle of red at a critical time.

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We found the Elephant where we had left it in a local garage. (It had been cross breeding with mopeds.) The luggage was back on and by 1030 on the 27th, we were back at the office.

Posted by Mike Hannan at 05:11 PM GMT

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