Friday, May 20, 2005

Log 35 - Early May 2005 - A visit to Gibraltar and Morocco.

This log covers early May 2005 where after leaving Seville, we take in Gibraltar and Morocco.  We are officially at the gateway to the Med.

Map for April and May 2005 travels
Having left Seville after six great months, we motor the 60 miles down the Rio Guadalquiver back to the Atlantic Ocean. Our cruising destination for this season is primarily Greece and Turkey, so we have a reasonable distance to cover before the onset of the heat, summer's crowds, and strong northerly winds.  The Mediterranean is known for too much wind or nothing at all.

It feels great to be on the move again though it will take time to get our 'sea legs' back again after being stable for so many months.  It takes no time at all to remember how little our boat is out here...we always have to be on watch.  

A tanker silently going opposite our way. 

May 2, Gibraltar - Watching air traffic from the anchorage

Plane lands in Gibraltar - view from our anchorage.
We arrive in Gibraltar, whose 2.5 square miles mark the southern most tip of Spain and the entrance to the Mediterranean Sea.  To the ancient Mediterranean peoples - Phoenician mariners, Gibraltar and Mount Acho at Ceuta, 25km south across the Straits of Gibraltar, were the 'Pillars of Hercules' and marked the limits of safe navigation and the known edge of the world.   In more recent times, 'Gib' was once an important fortress and still is a strategic naval base for the British.  As a British dependency, English, as one might imagine, is the official language.  It also has strange dishes that we haven't seen for years -like bacon and eggs and fish 'n' chips. 

One of many beautiful old buildings
Gibraltar has been under British control since 1704, when it was captured from the Spanish by combined English and Dutch forces during the War of the Spanish Succession. Without getting into all the details, strained relations between Spain and the British over rightful  ownership have ensued since and Spain has tried on a number of occasions to take control.  Having failed militarily, Spain then tried economic isolation in 1969 and closed its border.  Spaniards could no longer show up for their jobs in Gib, those in Gib lost their only land exit access, and goods and supplies no longer were able to cross the border.  In fact, we met one older man who told us the only way he could find work was to sail across the Straits and back daily in a small boat no matter what the sea conditions!  In the end analysis, all that happened was that Gib was forced to diversify its economy, while both sides continued to  work toward resolving their differences.  Finally, in February 1985, for the first time in 16 years, the border with the Spanish mainland was fully reopened.  Gib has a standing invitation to join Spain at any time and receive 'Autonomous Region Status', but in a referendum voted overwhelmingly to remain a British dependency.

Main street in Gibraltar

Gibraltar's main economic activities are now tourism, shipping, and financial services.  Main Street, with its distinctly British flair, offers a nice place to walk and window shop - a pleasant change though we don't really need to buy anything.  There is a Safeway nearby and we hope to find some hard to find items, like pancake syrup, salad dressings, canned soups, etc.  

Duty free shopping

Gib claims to offer duty-free products, especially liquor and tobacco products.   However, we don't find the prices that attractive at all, except on diesel for the boat, which was very cheap by European standards.  And eating out in this tourist town is double what we are accustomed to.  So, other than trying some grease-sodden fish 'n' chips one night, we opt for meals on the boat.   Residents of the area usually cross the border to Spain to stock-up.

Tuesday, May 3 - Trafalgar War Cemetery

Trafalgar Cemetry - a historically significant sea battle
We visit a very historic gravesite in Gib, the Trafalgar Cemetery.   In here lie many of the soldiers who lost their lives in 1805 in a very significant sea battle just off the southern coast of Spain, the Battle of Trafalgar.  How significant?  Well, in the early 1800s in the wake of the French Revolution, the French led by Napoleon Bonaparte had gained control of the vast majority of western Europe through a series of spectacular victories.  In 1804, Napolean had just self-proclaimed himself Emperor of France and all of Europe's leaders - many now out-of-land-and-riches kings and queens - were very alarmed.  Britain, who's powerful navy and island location had it yet to be conquered, was encouraging other countries to stand up to Napoleon.

Trafalgar head stone
Now in late October, 1805 a combined French / Spanish fleet was on the move south of Spain when they were intercepted by a British fleet commanded by Admiral Lord Nelson.  On October 21st around noon, the two fleets engaged in battle.   The French had formed their ships into a single battle line, south to north.   Nelson, however, surprised his adversary by ordering his ships into two groups, each of which assaulted and cut through the French fleet at right angles, demolishing the battle line; this bold strategy created confusion, giving the British fleet an advantage.   When the battle ended, in the late afternoon, some 20 French and Spanish ships had been destroyed or captured, while not a single British vessel was lost.  The French commander, Villeneuve, was taken prisoner, along with thousands of his sailors. The British suffered about 1500 casualties, among them Admiral Nelson, who was mortally wounded. The overwhelming British victory destroyed Napoleon's plan to invade England and marked the turning point in Napoleon's fortunes - the beginning of the end of his empire ... the largest empire EVER in history.

Siege Tunnels

One of the many tunnels in Gibraltar

In 1779 through 1783, one of the attempts by Spain to regain control of Gib was called the Great Siege.  During this time, the British hewed by hand more than 70km's worth of tunnels inside the 'Rock', more distance then there are roads in Gib.   These tunnels were large enough for military vehicles to maneuver and served gun emplacements around the perimeter.

Saturday, May 7 - climbing the Rock  

The street leading up to The Rock is also known as the Union Jack Steps or Referendum Steps and were originally painted in 1967 to celebrate Gibraltar's first sovereignty referendum of that year. 

Union Jack or Referendum steps

Joel meets a Barbary ape

Most of the upper Rock is a nature reserve with great views of the Atlantic, Africa, the Straits, and the Mediterranean Sea. 
In the nature reserve are the Rock's most famous inhabitants, a colony of Barbary apes.  Perhaps these primates were introduced from North Africa as a means to bolster Gib's tourism and diversify its economy after Spain closed the borders?  We don't know for sure, but there is enough of them and they are very comical.  Up in the reserve, loads of tourists in taxis and tour buses are unloaded to stare at the macaques.

Apes getting ready to fire ...

While hiking up to the apex of the Rock, we did run into an aggressive band of apes who would not let us and two others pass on a very narrow wall going straight up.  There was no way to avoid them - either get by or return, hundreds of meters straight down.  When Chris tried to scare them off, one grabbed his leg and another perched to leap at his back.   But the valiant Chris persevered and managed to move them back a few meters where a stick lay (obviously used by others).  Stick now in hand, the apes scattered.

The Rock of Gibraltar...amazing .

A lot of effort lands us at the top. We have climbed 426 meters (1398 feet) to what is commonly known as one of the two Pillars of Hercules. The other pillar being in Africa where we soon plan to visit. The views are truly iconic.  Living so closely together on Tioga we truly are each others Rock of Gibraltar. :)

Sunday, May 8 - Heading for AFRICA!

Heading to Africa
Stronger easterly winds (read headwinds) do not make it conducive to enter the Med for the short term, so we decide to reach across the Strait of Gibraltar and make a short visit to Morocco.  We are thrilled to be heading for another continent, albeit, only for a few days.  We are heading for Ceuta, which is a Spanish exclave on the African continent.   There's a marina there where we can safely leave the boat, then we'll use ground transportation to visit Tetuan, Morocco. The highest of these peaks in the photo, Jebel Sidi Moussa, is thought to be the ancient Abila, the other 'Pillar of Hercules'.

11:26am Monday, May 9 - Day trip into Tetuan, Morocco

Moroccan border at Ceuta

We haven't crossed borders looking like these since central America.  We've just taken a 15 minute bus ride to the border and now we are walking towards the border, not too sure what we'll find.  We're hoping to find an English-speaking guide, as we have heard, to take us into the city.

12:30pm - Our first camel...

Gerrit rides a camel

Just inside the border there are actually numerous guides waiting to take tourists into Tetuan.  Our guide, Mohammed, speaks 7 languages and has 12 children.  His English is very good and we double check what the price should be before heading off.  As we head down the road in our taxi, we see a man with camels on the side of the road.  We can't resist stopping for photos and the camel-man offers to give us each a ride (but not out of the goodness in his heart).

1:20pm - Wandering the streets of the old city

Wandering the streets of Tetuan

The streets of the old city are a maze of passages, a mélange of sounds and sights.  Our guide weaves through the streets telling us of Moroccan history and explaining their customs. We pass little shops that sell everything, just as they have every day for the past thousand or so years. 

Colorful street

We want to try some street foods but before we left, our guide told us we didn't need to convert Euros to Moroccan currency.  But he forgot to tell the shop keepers where we wanted to go.  As we suspected, it's the shops, merchants, and restaurants that our guide will take us to that will accept as many Euros as they can possibly pry out of our pockets.  Nevertheless, its enjoyable wandering around.

Making Khobz - Moroccan bread

Old city walls of Tetuan
Morocco has felt the influences of several ancient cultures. Excavations have unearthed elements of the Phoenician, Hellenic, Carthaginian, and Roman civilizations. Christianity spread to this region in Roman times and survived an Arab invasion, but Arabic influences, which began in the 7th century, were to prove the strongest.  The archways of the old city gates are typical. 

Arabic is the country’s official language, which is the primary language of some 75 percent of the countries 30 million  population. Numerous Moroccans also use French and Spanish.

... a mosque

Mosque tower

Up until recently, Islam was established as the state religion of Morocco. Almost the entire population is Sunni Muslim. Recently, however, the monarch has separated Muslim authority from running the country. Still, only 1 percent of the population is Christian, and less than 0.2 percent is Jewish.   Mosques abound, their minarets peaking above the house tops calling the faithful to prayers.

At the rug merchant
We were told by cruisers before us that our guide would take us to a rug merchant no matter what we felt about it (and he did).  We prediscussed our strategy to avoid buying a rug because, frankly, we had not heard of anyone being able to resist the savvy rug merchants.  And our merchant was good.  First, while fresh mint tea was being prepared for us, he would talk about the quality of the handmade rugs, take a lighter to the fibers which would not burn, spill a drink that would not stain.  As we sipped our piping hot tea, his assistant would lay one rug on top of another.   Finally, with a 3' stack of rugs in front of us, he would take one off at time telling us not to worry about cost right now, just to say yes or no if we liked it.   Wow, these rugs were beautiful and for one moment we almost buckled.  But we kept our mouths shut and our merchant eventually got the message, "we are not going to buy a rug today."  Where would we put


We asked these men playing dominoes if they minded us taking a photo.   Obviously they didn't.

4:17pm - End of our short Moroccan tour

Back at the border

As we head back the 40 minutes from Tetuan to the border, Chris explains to Joel in the backseat that there is still one more serious negotiation to occur.  The one where our guide will go for more money than was understood at the outset.  This one got a little gritty, but in the end we prevail.  After over three years of travelling, we've learned a thing or two.  Back at the boat, it's now time to head up to the Balearic Islands.  The forecast shows the winds switching to west tomorrow.

Log 36 has us skirting the south coast of Spain and heading straight to the Balearic Islands. 

Thursday, May 5, 2005

Log 34 - April, 2005 - April Fair, Granada and farewell Seville

This log covers the month of April where we take in the April Fair and head out on a quick trip to Granada. We also sadly say "Good-Bye" to many fantastic people as we head out of Seville for another cruising season.


Sunday, April 3 - El Palacio Andaluz Flamenco Show

Flamenco Performance.

April finds us still settled into Seville with the visit from Chris's parents coming to an end.   Before they leave, Chris's mom treats us to a professional flamenco show while Granddad spends some last quality time with the boys.  The show is an assortment of flamenco guitarists, single dancers and groups of dancers as shown here, all wearing traditional flamenco costumes.   Percussion in flamenco is provided by stamping or tapping feet, clapping hands and sometimes castanets (those clickity things).  Our chairs would literally vibrate at times as the dancers feet pounded the stage in rhythm with the music.  Very nice show.

Thursday, April 7 - Joel's stitches out 

Elizabeth and Joel

Two weeks ago, Joel unfortunately  tripped on our dock and fell into the swim ladder bracket on the side of Tioga.  Just above the knee, his leg split open into a 12 cm gash, requiring a trip to the local emergency clinic where he received a long internal stitch woven from end to end of the gash as well as stitches over top of the wound.  For 15 days he was unable to bend his leg in order to help with healing and  minimize scarring.   Amazingly, he learned to  run and carry on as usual with one peg leg!   Here, Elizabeth from s/v Nakita,  who is as a registered nurse in Sweden, patiently helps remove the stitches. Funny, for the first week after removing the stitches, we had to remind Joel to bend his leg while walking and running!

Friday, April 8 - End-of-winter cruisers' party

End of winter party

Well, where has our time in Seville gone??  We find ourselves into our sixth month here and now our departure date begins to loom.   Many other cruisers are planning to leave throughout April as well, so we decide to plan one last get together before the bulk of our winter companions leave.  With still some projects to complete on Tioga (like getting the engine back together!) we enjoy another great pot luck dinner on the terrace at Club Nautico that extends well into the wee hours of the least for some of us it did! 

Sunday, April 10 - Feria de Abril  (April Fair)

Carriage Parade

Seville's April Fair always comes on the heels of Semana Santa (Easter Week) and it is a big release after all the solemnity associated with the crusification of Christ.  It takes place on the special recinto (site), El Real de la Feria, in Los Remedios, across the street from where we are staying at Club Nautico.  What once began as a group of horse traders getting together for drinks to buy and sell horses, has now become a city festival the likes of which are hard to imagine.  On the Sunday before the fair starts, there is a carriage show that culminates in the Plaza de Toros (Bull Ring).   Those who have a horse and carriage parade about in their finery.  The colors are stupendous and what are normally traffic jammed streets, are now carriage jammed streets!  
Carriages culminate in the Plaza de Toros

Monday, April 11 - Ceremonial lighting of the Feria Grounds

Gerrit and his mom enjoying the ride.

Since our arrival in Seville many months ago, we have watched the flat, open grounds of El Real de la Feria, transform into a mini city, complete with sign posted streets, lights and beautifully decorated buildings of all sizes, called casetas (see below).  Historically, the ceremonial lighting of the fair grounds is at midnight on the Monday of Feria week.  The literally thousands and thousands of lights that have taken months to string and hang, along with the huge arched fan built at the entrance to the grounds, will all come on at once, causing an electrical brown-out to other parts of Seville! 

Ferris wheel during April Fair

With a few hours to kill before midnight, we head off to the huge fairgrounds which also accompanies the Feria.   The fair grounds have been in full swing for a couple days now and our boys already have the inside scoop on rides they like, thanks to Mark from s/v Arcturus, who took them last night as well.  There is no wasting time tonight as our guys know exactly the rides they want to repeat.  Yikes, they are much braver than when we were in Disney Land! 

April Fair entrance arch
By midnight, we are strategically placed on a corner to see both the fan arch and the street lights come to life.  Like clock work, the lights ablaze at midnight and you'd swear it was the middle of the day!  This lighting of the lights is the starting gun for six nights of eating and drinking, flamenco dresses of every size and color, and music and dancing till dawn!


Tuesday, April 12 - Feria by day

Street of the fair

By the light of the day, the grounds are still busy with the added craziness of every horse and carriage in the country on site.  Street sweepers continually make their rounds and people mull about waiting for their true desire....night time, so that the partying and dancing can start again and continue until dawn. 

Non stop carriages.

Tuesday, April 12 - Casetas

Rows of Casetas
These pictures give an idea of the colorful rows of casetas, or small buildings built literally, over the past months for these six days of party.  We are told there are 1047 of them on site this year, each privately owned in order for that host to invite friends to wine, dine and dance till you drop for free.   Each caseta blasted out its own music and the people danced in the streets as much as the inside crowds did.   

Colorful casetas and people
As we wandered the streets, we saw many styles of dance, the most popular being  Seville's own Sevillana, involving some very intricate steps and maneuvers with arms, hands and bodies.    Oh, there were 3 public casetas which we visited a couple of times, but they were clearly not the 'in crowd' and you had to pay for food and drinks.     Though the whole affair was a bit exclusive as outsiders were not openly invited in to these private casetas, we still enjoyed experiencing the passion of these Sevillana's in their glory.  Clearly, the love of the flamenco music and dress, combined with the ability to dance the traditional Sevillana dance was an honour. 

Thursday, April 14 - Granada, Spain

The Alhambra Palace
With the party for Feria still in full swing, we decide to head out of town for one last quick road trip in order to see the famous Alhambra Palace in Granada.  Once settled into our hostel, we head out to explore the streets and are amazed at the Muslim influence still alive and well.  Kabob stands and tea houses complete with hookah pipes line the streets.  As evening sets in, we hurry to the famous lookout to view the sun setting on the solid red walls of the Alhambra.  Stretched along the top of the hill known as La Sabika, the Alhambra was a fortress from the 9th century, turned into a colossal palatial city by the Nasrid Sultans (emirs) of the 13th and 15th centuries.   

Friday, April 15 - The Alhambra Palace

Palacio Nazaries
An early start finds us on site of this monumental complex in awe at the mix of all the artistic styles which flourished in the late Muslim period.  Once again we can not even begin to show pictures of this place and we'll keep the history short!  Basically, after Cordoba fell back to the Christians in 1236 and Seville in 1248, Muslims sought refuge in Granada where various leaders had recently established an independent emirate.   This allowed Granada to flourish over the next 250 years and to become one of the richest cities in medieval Europe.   Two centuries of artistic and scientific splendor peaked under emirs Yusuf I  and Mohammed V with the building of  the Alhambra's crowning glory, the Palacio Nazaries.   Palacio Nazaries is considered the true gem of the Alhambra and the most beautiful surviving example of Western Islamic architecture in Europe.  Its perfectly proportioned rooms and courtyards, fine carved wooden ceilings and elaborate muqarnas (honeycomb/stalactite) vaulting all in mesmerizing symbolic, geometrical patterns.   Notice the size of the people in this photo!  

Beautiful courtyards everywhere

 The GeneralIfe.

The Generalife, or Architect's Garden, was the home of the Nasrid sultans, high government officials, servants of courts and elite soldiers.  Holding to their traditional use of water, the Muslims created a paradise-like garden in which fountains and water are a central feature among the tall trees and flowers of every imaginable hue.  We could only begin to imagine the complete peace a ruler would have had in these elite gardens

One of the many Alhambra pools
By the 15th century, internal rivalry developed amounst the Muslims and the Christian armies seized their opportunity.  By 1491, Christians had laid siege to Granada and eight months later, the city was surrendered in return for 30,000 gold coins, plus political and religious freedom for its subjects.  On January 2, 1492 (the same time Columbus was discovering the Americas) the Catholic Monarchs (Isabella of Castile and Fernando of Aragón) entered Granada.   After the Christian conquest the Alhambra's mosque was replaced with a church.  Carlos I, grandson of the Catholic Monarchs, had a wing of the Palacio Nazaries destroyed to make space for a huge Renaissance palace, the Palacio de Carlos V, which sadly still sits incomplete even to this day. 

Restored garden

In the 18th century, the Alhambra was abandoned to thieves and beggars, and during the Napoleonic occupation it was used as a barracks and narrowly escaped being blown up.   In 1870 it was finally declared a national monument and since then has thankfully been salvaged and heavily restored.   Whew, that's history in a nutshell!

Friday, April 15 - Granada's Islamic quarter, the Albayzin

Mon at his Kabob Stand

We are famished after hours at the Alhambra and decide to check out the Albayzin district. The Albayzin name derives from 1227, when Muslims from Baeza moved here after their city was conquered by the Christians.  It survived as the Muslim quarter for several decades after the Christian conquest in 1492, and though there were many tough years of religious persecution and expulsion, the Albayzin still largely exists.  We were happy to find this 'kabob house' ran by Mon and his family.  His family was actually from Syria and we had a great conversation with him.  Funny, we were so engrossed in our conversation and eating, he forgot to give us the bill when we left!   Luckily, we remembered and returned for this photo and to clear the bill!   Late in the day, we head out of Granada, south to the Costa del Sol for a night before heading home to Seville. 

Saturday, April 16th - Back to Seville via Ronda?

Road to Ronda

Well, all good things must come to an end... Unfortunately our car, BUC, died on us on our return trip from Granada and area (sigh).  We were driving home via the beautiful green hills of the Serrania de Ronda,  when BUC began to sputter and spurt.  Chris quickly diagnosed a failed alternator and a totally flat battery.  A kind man helped us get a new battery, which allowed us to get safely back to Seville. Sadly, Ronda will have to be next time around.

Thursday, April 21 - Good-bye BUC (Black Ugly Car)!!

Good-bye BUC!
Now, with our depart date looming,  we decide we don't have time or energy to have BUC repaired, then drive him back to Portugal where he/it is registered for a potential sale that we do not think will happen as he's showing his age!  We didn't feel comfortable abandoning BUC, so we did the next best thing....called an auto wrecker to come pick him up and pay us 30 Euros!  Sad end to BUC, but we don't have time to deal with a car and a boat.   Good-bye added tremendously to our time in Spain. 

Friday, April 22 - A good-bye to Seville day out

Sheila and her favourite building.

We decide to spend our last day in Seville in the centro, seeing some favourite things and eating some last tapas.  The Spanish like their 'tapas' or saucer-sized minisnacks, which come in infinite variety.  You can either make a meal of them or simply have a drink and sample a few.  Some typical tapas include olives, paella, potato salads, gambas (prawns), cured meats and cheeses, and on and on.  We joke that we will use the 30 Euros we got yesterday for our little car and enjoy some last tapas, so we literally spend the day 'eating BUC'!   The day is quite nostalgic for us as we are both sad to be leaving such a wonderful place with great memories, and yet we are excited to get moving now that the time is here.  Late in the day walking back to Tioga, Sheila has to have this last photo of her most favorite building of all in Seville.  Something about the sun hitting those colors that was special. 

Saturday, April 23 - Hasta Luega Sevilla!

Tioga leaves the dock at Club Nautico, Seville
Well, our time in Seville has actually come to an end.  We have worked hard the past week getting our boat stowed and ready to move again after months of pulling stuff out!  The tennis rackets and other land paraphernalia have been given away to local kids and final good-byes said.  With over 20 people on the dock sending us off, we know we have made some very special friends here in Seville.  The 5 o'clock bridge opens on time, and once through the lock, we are once again on the Rio Guadalquivir heading for the ocean.   We have already decided since it is late in the day, that we will not make the 90 or so km journey out to the ocean in the dark, so we anchor for the night just past the lock.  Tomorrow at 7am begins a falling tide with the currents we need to help us make it out in one day, and we take it!  

Tuesday, April 26 - Gerrit's 9th birthday in Sancti Petri, Spain

Sheila, Gerrit and Joel 
Here we are a few days later, successfully out of the Rio Guadalquivir, having moved about 40 miles towards Gibraltar.  Gerrit is posed with the question of choosing to either postpone his birthday until Gibraltar, or stopping in the quaint village of Sancti Petri and celebrating on a beach filled with sand dunes.  The dunes win out and not being a cake fan, he requests crepes layered with cherries and jam for his candles.  Having stopped, the forecast is now showing big easterly winds through the Straits of Gibraltar so we'll safely spend the last days of April enjoying being back at anchor and swimming again. 

Don't miss Log 35.., Gibraltar and Morocco....hope you're still enjoying our travels.