Sunday, October 23, 2011

Here's Looking At You, Kid!

Rabat, Morocco - I have been dying to use this famous Bogie line from "Casablanca," even though we never actually visited Casablanca.  I am hoping that just by the mere fact that we are in Rabat, very close to Casablanca, it counts!

Here almost a week now, we arrived after a very calm, yet foggy 20-hour sail.  In fact it was so foggy leaving Gibraltar, we decided to take a little 3-hour break in Tarifa, Spain before making the cross over the Gibralatar Strait.  The Captain was a little stressed to cross over one of the most major waterways leading into the Med with zero visibility.  Of course, having a radar would help, but we don't!  I was not scared until out of the blue a German sailboat was almost upon us and we all did a quick 180.  It was a good idea to wait it out...

We arrived in Rabat at dusk, just at prayer time.  A beautiful fortress laden canal leads you to the marina, lights just starting to turn on and prayers emanating by loudspeaker out of the main mosques in the city.  It is beautiful music/prayers and we hear them about 5 times a day.  While we do not pray, it does make us stop and take note.... a good break during the day.

This marina is a bottleneck for many of the sailors planning on going back over the Atlantic to the Carribbean.  Since there is a specific season - or window of opportunity - all the boats are basically on the same schedule after each being at different places in the Med for the summer.  There are French, American, Norwegian, Canadian boats here... all with the same itinerary:  Canaries, Cape Verde and cross over.  Each has minor variations on the same theme.  There is a group rally called the ARC, which is a group that one has to pay to belong to.  All boats leave the Canaries together on November 23, so many of the boats here in Rabat are headed to make it for the ARC prior to their departure date.  We have met yet another buddy boat - MEHARI - which is a family of 8 (yes, parents with 6 children ranging from 17 to 1!).  Their catamaran is the size of ours and they happily have been co-existing for almost three years.  Their little baby was born while they were in Israel.  Mehari has the same idea to try to go to the Gambia as well... so I think we will be boating together for the next couple of months at least.  We feel more comfortable if we are not alone in certain parts and two catamarans together makes both Captains feel a little better.

The marina here is quite chic and while in America we have the sense that all the women are covered from head to toe, we have found here in the big city - the capital  - there is a wide variety of how people are dressed.  There are modern areas of town, as well as structures from antiquity that are quite well maintained.

A few days ago the 12 of us (Mehari and Begonia) took a five-hour train ride to Marrakesh.  The ride in itself was an experience, with so many kids trying to get on a crowded train car.  Little by little the locals gave us some space and Miles, the little baby, was a hit among everyone.  In this culture it is common for the women to simply pick up a baby without asking permission. … so at least Miles’ mother had a break and didn’t have to take care of the baby throughout the trip.

The landscape we passed through is very similar to some parts of CA or AZ… in fact, in Marrakesh, some parts even reminded me of Scottsdale!  Once there we met the requisite camels, and went to the main marketplace.  That marketplace is a mixture of sounds, smells, noises… so many stimuli all in one place.  It was a sight to see.  And if you show even the remotest interest in something, the vendors will immediately try to bargain with you.  Everything here is negotiable…. I mean everything… taxi rides, meals, camel rides, water to drink, etc. 

The idea was to stay at a local youth hostel.  Great idea… but the directions for how to get there were very vague:  “from the main square, find the building with a tin roof and go down that alley until you see the pig feet vendor, then make a left to the next alley, until you see a bamboo-covered ceiling, etc.”  Needless to say we got lost for about 2 hours.  A little stressful as it was getting dark, we were with 8 very tired children and there are people galore walking by, pushing, motorcycles passing through very tight spaces at all speeds, bicycles, horse-drawn carriages all while vendors are shouting at you trying to sell. Sebas and I just held onto a kid each and navigated through the (organized) chaos.  There is so much for sale, much of the same products over and over (snake charming services, dancing monkey entertainment, little leather camels, Aladdin-type shoes, lanterns, henna tattoos, etc.) that one has to wonder if all of it sells.  It seemed like years of inventory. 

When the alleys started to get darker and a little more remote, and the people thinned out, we thought it was a better idea if two of the guys went to look for the hostel and we waited for them to come back for us.  We finally made it, only to relax, freshen up and then go out again to eat at an outside “restaurant” at the square.  I kept thinking of Tio Max how he would have loved the chicken, lamb and beef skewers there.  On the way home after dinner, we were able to find the hostel just fine and realized the first time we had done a huge circle within the labyrinth that are these alleyways in Marrakesh. 

The next day we visited the home of a Berber family.  These are an ethnic group here in Morocco that had been known throughout history to be very barbaric with the Arabs.  There is an entire colony in the Atlas Mountains and they have now clicked into the tourist trade by opening up their homes and serving tea.  The particular family we visited had three generations all living together in one mud home.  They had two cows for fresh milk that lived right in the house with them, which the kids really enjoyed plaing with.  They served us the typical spearmint tea, fresh butter, fresh honey and homemade bread.  The bread here is similar in flavor to a baguette, but is shaped in a round shape. 

After this visit we went to some waterfalls a little higher in the mountains and climbed and climbed.  Can you believe that up the mountain there are also vendors selling their wares?  They coud find any random steep incline and make a stall out of it.  On the way back down the mountain we did eat some lamb, chicken and beef cooked in a “tagine” – a clay conical shaped pot that is put directly into the fire.  Delish.  By the time we arrived back in Rabat to the boat, it was past midnight and already Sofia’s 8th birthday!

Sofia had been a little concerned these past few months leading up to her birthday about whether we would be sailing en route to somewhere or stuck without other kids on her big day.  She was very thankful to have her new friends celebrate with her and decided to have a “World” theme to the day.  So, the kids dressed in international garb and we had yet another get together on Begonia.  I made some cheesecakes and since the theme of this entire trip is to “Be Flexible,” we used our imagination, and put 2 of the cakes together to make the figure 8 - perfect!  Sofia was thrilled too to hear from family and friends back home who sent her warm birthday wishes.  Thanks for thinking of her!

We have been very pleasantly surprised by our visit to Morocco.  It is a beautiful country with very happy and warm people.  Having been here over a week now, awaiting another “weather window,” we feel we have gotten a good taste of the country.

NEXT STOP:  Canary Islands, leaving Tuesday or Wednesday of this week for this 3-4 day sail.

Foggy Strait of Gibraltar

Zero visibility

Captain taking a catnap after his early morning watch shift.

Entering Rabat canal

All of us with the water vendor
The Captain with the water vendor -isn't he hot in that outfit?
They said the water tasted like coffee
Playing hide and go seek
Admiring ancient relics
Benjie has a new friend
Beautiful tilework
Scene at the mosque
With Levi

Getting dark, lights welcoming us
Entrance to Rabat medina
Buying fresh dates - We're addicted!
Hassan, tower of biggest mosque in Rabat

Sofia and friends
"Window shopping" at the medina
They sell interesting things at the medina
Tha baby is very popular with the ladies
Kids on the train to Marrakesh
Scene from train
Scene from train
Are we in Scottsdale?
Playing with palms in the desert
Just HAVE to do a camel ride while in Morocco
Too close?
This pottery was to die for
Snake chamers
Tea vendor
Henna vendor
Isn't that the bamboo ceiling we were looking for?
Has anyone seen the youth hostel?
The princess on her 8th
Kids from around the world...
Very happy to get Kammie the Camel.
Here's looking at you, kid!
Happy Bday, Sis!

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FOUNTAINE PAJOT ATHENA 38 CATAMARAN FOR SALE – After our wonderful experience, BEGONIA is ready for its next sailing family – with or without children!  Please contact for more information.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Return to THE ROCK

Gibraltar - We have spent the last 4 days back in Gibraltar for an unplanned repair after having been in North Africa prior.  More money!  Why didn't we listen when people told us having a boat was a money pit!?  ; )
Ceuta, North Africa - New, old.  Modern, Ancient.  Traditional, non-traditional.   However you want to say it, North of Africa is  an exercise in contrasts. 
Melilla is located on Africa's northern coast east in the Mediterranean Sea.  Because it actually is a Spanish enclave within Morocco, Melilla seemed like a good first step for Begonia to gets its feet wet in, since we have had mixed reactions about us travelling to this area of the world.  While we personally believe in the good of all people, there are those who are suspicious of all things that are different, be it language, culture or religion.  Many of the critics of this region we found, have been sailors who never even have come here, so we decided to go on the word of those who we've met who have come and have found the region completely enchanting and educational and do the 24-hour sail from Almeria, Spain, cross the Med.
Like the British control over Gibraltar in La Linea, Spain, it is not clear what the current reason is for Spain to continue to maintain Melilla, as well as Ceuta, another North African Spanish territory.  I guess the Spaniards figure if territories have been taken from them, they too can take territories from others.   Spanish is most widely spoken and tapas can be found just as readily, if not more so, as falafel and shewarma.  The people are a melange of Spaniards, Moroccans, East Indians, and other Arab cultures.
The city center is small but beautiful with palm date trees lining medium-sized avenues, and a large fort high on the cliff overlooking the beautiful water, like many other Med pictures we have seen.  October is already the off-season, but still it is is warm, about 75 degrees, although not warm enough to enjoy the water, and you can actually see some people walking around in fleece and one guy even had a jacket on!  Obviously this is much cooler than the normal temps in the heat of summer, and of course how someone feels the temperature is all relative.
Nador is a Moroccan city located just about 2 miles southeast of Melilla that we were recommended to visit, and here you see the contrast between Spanish Melilla and the true Moroccan city.  The local bus ride to the border was an experience in itself since most of the passengers were Moroccan going back home after a day of shopping in Melilla.  Riding a bus is aways a great way to see the local color in a foreign country and it always seems like you, the tourist, is the only one who does not know how to play the rules of the game.  Funnily, many of the passengers had clear plastic packages with blankets in them, as it does get cold in desert climates at night.
Now the border itself was quite spectacular... organized chaos?  Or just chaos? There were hundreds of people at the "bus stop," comprising of street vendors selling delicious looking fruit, toys, candies, watches, etc.  Some of the vendors are roaming, some have stands, but they all are pretty aggressive in their sales tactics.... lots of loud voices, gesticulating and bargaining.  It was not clear exactly where or how we had to pass through the border, but we followed the crowd of people and eventually tried to stand in a line, which we then kind of got pushed out of since there is not a culture of waiting for one's turn.  Tourists/foreigner have to fill out some paperwork and naturally we had forgotten to bring a pen.  The officials do not lend their pens out... we were denied when we asked them... instead there are a few enterprising individuals who are not government officials, but simply citizen entrepreneurs who have a pen and a couple of the papers on the side and will charge you 4 euros for this service!  I had wanted to take a picture of this whole scenario, but it did not feel right.
Once in Nador we went to the main square and street.  Vendors here sold beautifully decorated women's chadors, handmade leather unisex pointy flats, and plastic toys from China!  Again there was tantalizing fruit, but since we were hungry for lunch we went in a different direction.  Finding a place to eat was difficult.  There were no women seated at the cafes we saw, and it wasn't clear why.  Was it forbidden?  Were these private members-only men's clubs?  Again, we did not know the rules and we did not want to offend anyone but having me sit down in the middles of everyone, so we kept walking.  Finally we came across a place that had one woman so we sat down there.  But the next obstacle was that it was too early for lunch and there was not much food to order.  There was also a language barrier, and the only food we could seem to get across was "one fried egg and Coca Cola."  So that's what we ate!  I don't even like Coca-Cola, but it was really the only thing we could communicate.  I am ashamed to say that since that "one fried egg and a Coca-Cola" was not enough food for us, we ended up stopping at a McDonald's we found on a street heading back to the border.
Ceuta was our next stop and the first one for the Portuguese Henry the Navigator when he first started his sailing campaigns in the 1400s.  Somewhere throughout history the Portuguese lost this territory to the Spaniards so as mentioned above, it is part of Spain.  Another ancient fort up on a cliff and beautiful date palms lining the streets.  Another McDonald's with free wi-fi, food the kids will eat and a playground for them to play while we are on the internet.  Their marketing strategy really works for us on this trip, even though back home we rarely eat there!
In Ceuta Sebastian went up the mast( regular procedure before long passages) and  discovered a problem with one of the shrouds.  There is one wire broekn (out of 19) and it must be fixed befroe doing a major passage.  So, back to Gibraltar where we know they have cost-effective materils and labor for sailors.  Like back in the Azores, where we had 6 out of the 19 wires of the forestay, it is important to fix as soon as possible, or it jeopardizes the stability fo the mast.  Thus our trip back to the monkeys and back to the Rock.
NEXT STOP:  Rabbat, Morrocco - leaving tomorrow.
Typical Mediterranean terrace.

Scene from Southern Spain

Melilla downtown

The boys in Melilla before taking the bus to Nador

Chicaken market in Nador... pick your own live chicken!

Our delicious Nador lunch

Posing along the waterfront

North Africa of old and new.... that's McD's there in the background!

Uncle "Cork" and Karla

Nador street scene

The kids play with a local little guy

More Nador street scenes

Crossing back into "Spain" to Melilla from Nador... much more organized than in the way in!

More dolphins on the way to Ceuta.

"Red skies at night: Sailors delight... red skies in the morning, sailor's warning" Thank goodness this was in the evening!

Arrival in Ceuta

Captain, Cork, Benj, Sof and Barbie in Ceuta downtown

More Ceuta scenes

Going back in time...

three of the four Koziuras...

Nice Ceuta plaza

Tile depicting Ceuta centuries ago

Market Street in downtown Gibraltar

It almost looks like London!

On the Rock contemplating life and watching planes landing and taking off at the airport below.

Corcho and a monkey

On the Rock contemplating life and watching planes landing and taking off at the airport below.

On the bus to cross the border back into Spain.

The Puerto Madryn contingent... Patagonian friends, Maria Ema and Jose happened to be in Spain for a business trip and stopped by to visit

How many Patagonians does it take to haul a Captain up a mast?

Taking turns cranking Sebas up there....

Corcho helping to fix the shroud... he shall be missed once he leaves us in the Canaries.  He has been great company and a great help.

Scroll down left panel to see prior postings!
FOUNTAINE PAJOT ATHENA 38 CATAMARAN FOR SALE – After our wonderful experience, BEGONIA is ready for its next sailing family – with or without children!  Please contact for more information.