Monday, 26 September 2011

Rabat & Fes, Morocco

Hi from Clare,                           Sunday 25th September 2011

We have now been in Morocco for a week.  We are staying in Bouregreg Marina in the capital city of Rabat.  Along side are two other Aussie yachts, two New Zealand yachts and one American yacht plus a few other nationalities.  So we have plenty of company and some traveling buddies as we explore the area. The marina is fairly new and visiting yachts are very welcome. The security is excellent with many guards on duty 24 hours a day. The visitors are allowed to go anywhere within the marina but the local folk are not permitted to walk along the finger piers amongst the visiting yachts.

                  Bouregreg Marina                                                   Kasbar (fort) at Rabat
Once leaving the marina however the many contrasts in standards is very apparent. On one hand there are excellent quality trams, trains, cars and freeways.  The hotel and private homes we have been to are spotlessly clean, beautifully decorated and have leafy green interior courtyards. The more prosperous people are well educated, well dressed and well mannered. We have had teenage boys give us their seat on the tram.

Rabat Railway Station
Then we venture up to the local market place.  I think the people must be very hardy but for me who is soft in comparison, the smell of the fish market, blocked drains and rotting vegetable matter is enough to almost knock me out. It breaks my heart to see beggars on the street, stray cats and kittens only a few days old, dying of starvation. It is uplifting to see on many occasions a local person giving money or food to a beggar. So it all seems to work but it is very different to our way of life.

Hotel in Fes
We went (with Mark and Amanda from ‘Balvenie’ and Arnie and Jo from ‘Just Jane’) on a two day excursion to Fes. This was a 3 hour train trip inland. We traveled first class and enjoyed air conditioning and light refreshments. There was only one first class carriage on the train.  Second class looked less comfortable and very crowded.

Blue Gate - Fes Medina
The attraction at Fes is the Madina which dates back to 808AD. It has 9600 winding streets and is one of the oldest souks in the world.  On day one, we split up and just wandered around town. We managed to explore quite a bit of the Madina and eventually found our way back to the hotel. That evening we all went out to a traditional Moroccan house for a dinner. The house was seven hundred years old and three stories with a garden courtyard on the roof. The family had owned the house for one hundred years. It had beautifully tiled floors and walls and ornately carved wooden ceilings. The lady of the house spoke fluent English and although she had three boys (including twins) under the age of four, she provided a most comprehensive and delicious Moroccan meal. The family had converted their back yard into a tented restaurant and as it was highly recommended by the hotel it was making quite a good living; very enterprising of them and good luck to them.

Mark, Jo, Arnie, Amanda and us at dinner
Fes market and the satelight dishes
The following day we had a guided tour through the souk. We visited the Mosque, The oldest university in Morocco, a pre school centre, the community bakery (where families bring their bread and pastry products to be cooked in a community wood fired oven) an ancient water clock and a carpet weaving cooperative with show room of course. However the highlight of the trip was a visit to the tannery.
Fes University and the carpet cooperative

The Tannery

Upon our arrival at the Tannery we were given a small bunch of fresh mint. This was to put under our nose to combat the smell. Without it I am sure I would have been ill. In fact without the mint, I would not have been able to see the tannery. The photos tell it all, stinking, back braking work. It is piece work and a beginner earns (in Australian money) $20 a day, once proficient he can earn as much as $40 a day. There was a young boy working there, our guide said he was just helping his father as it was Friday afternoon and Friday is a half day at school. He also said that if the man’s son does well at school then he is free to go ahead, but if he does not do well at school, then he will work at the tannery; what a dismal prospect.  

Tomorrow we will visit Casablanca. If the weather is right we will leave for the Canaries on Tuesday. This is a 450 mile leg and we want good weather.  There are two particularly nasty named storms in the mid Atlantic that we are watching carefully. 

You may notice we now have a Google map showing the area we are in. If you want to see exactly where the boat is, you can click on “Where are we now?” under Links below the map.   Andrew updates this regularly while we are moving about.

Love Candy xx

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Gibraltar to Portugal

Hi from Clare                                                                                                     15th September 2011

We left Gibraltar 1 hour after high water so we could take advantage of slack water in the strait. The 30 mile stretch is tricky to navigate as the water at the western end (Atlantic Ocean) is some 2-3m higher than at the eastern or Mediterranean end.  The strait is subject to currents traveling in both directions. The town of Tarifa on the northern side of the strait registers over 30 knots three hundred days of the year.  The strait is only eight miles wide at its narrowest point and as you can imagine there are many cargo ships entering and exiting the Med.  When we intended to leave there was strong wind forecast for the next few days at Tarifa.  We decided around that instead of going to bed we would seize the chance of leaving before the wind increased. The current was against us at the start, but with at the finish. We had a great sail and the strongest wind we recorded was 20 knots at Tarifa. So we said goodbye to the Med and headed for Cadiz which is 75 miles from Gibraltar on the south coast of Spain.

Cadiz foreshore


A Cadiz monument and Cathedral
Cadiz is a busy port with little opportunity to anchor nearby.  We anchored behind the breakwater at Porto Sherry a few miles away on the other side of the bay.  The water temperature was now 24 degrees and Atlantic green.  Not as inviting as the sparkling blue 28 degree Med water but it didn't stop us from having a dip.  The following morning we caught the ferry into town.  Cadiz is very compact with narrow streets making it difficult to photograph some of the beautiful buildings.  We explored Cadiz by way of self guiding walking tours showing different aspects of Cadiz's history.


Peaceful anchorage at Culatra Lagoon

By now we were in radio contact with 'Balvenie' who had been anchored in Culatra Lagoon in Portugal for about a week. Amanda described it as a dream anchorage, flat calm day and night.  We arrived at Culatra Lagoon Friday 9th September at . Amanda had a delicious dinner ready for us; a real treat after sailing since that morning.  We had a most enjoyable night catching up on all the news since we last met in July 2010.  

Happy hour at the local in Culatra town with Mark and Amanda

Culatra Lagoon is huge. There are only 60 boats at anchor here although there is room for a thousand more. There is a small town which has been established on a sand spit.  The whole area is just sand with concrete paths leading to shops, houses and the ferry wharf.  The houses are flat roofed white washed concrete structures. Some of the houses have attempted a garden with pots plants and a few hardy shrubs.  It is hot and dry and I feel like we are in outback Mexico.  The people are very lay back and gather in the local café for drinks every afternoon. We have embraced this tradition as the drinks are cold and very reasonably priced.  Andrew and I have been to the beach in the afternoons. There is a substantial elevated wooden walkway to the beach to protect the sand dune vegetation. The beach reminds us of Australia with long stretches of sand, breaking waves and big blue skies.


Faro Cathedral & views from its tower

The four of us caught the ferry across to the township of Faro. We visited the walled town which dates back to the 1200s. We had lunch there in a Portuguese Café/restaurant and had (believe it or not) a very nice 'hamburger'- how local can we get?

Clare and Andrew overlooking Faro

Another day we caught the ferry to the busy town of IIhoe to do some supermarket shopping and get access to Wifi.  I forgot to take my camera and so I don't have any photos. However it is an attractive town with good facilities, parks and gardens and is geared to the tourist trade with lots of eateries and markets along the waterfront.  

There is a very good ferry service several times a day which runs between the towns. The only trick is to know when the Ferry is arriving. NB this is not necessarily when the timetable says it is arriving. However the locals seem to know, so if we are the only ones standing there, good chance we have it wrong. Oh well the coffee shop is not far away and the coffee is good.

Tonight we are going into Culatra to have dinner. No doubt Amanda and I will plunder the little supermarket again as prices are so cheap. I'm sure the owner of the supermarket is having a bumper week.

Tomorrow we are heading off for Rabat in Morocco.  We will leave in the afternoon to arrive Sunday. It is a river entrance and so we need to arrive there in time for the flooding tide to carry us over the bar.  Now that we are in the Atlantic it is a whole new learning curve taking into consideration tides, currents and rolling swell.  We intend staying at the marina in Rabat for a week. We are hoping to do some land travel to inland Fes and Casablanca further down the coast.

Love Candy xx

PS                    Monday 19th September 2010

We arrived into Rabat yesterday at . We had a good sail and only motored for 10 hours of the 40 hour trip.  Within the last fifteen miles there were many fishing nets to negotiate.  We managed not to get caught up in one but we came awfully close on two occasions. We could hear the floats attached to the nets brushing against our hull.  The marina pilot boat came out to guide us over the sand bar.  The swell was only about 1m so we were fine.

Fresh chickens?

Late yesterday, after a sleep we went for a walk to the Medina. We were shoulder to shoulder with the locals being carried through narrow streets of endless shops.  We could purchase everything from beautiful gold jewelry and electronics down to chickens, dead or alive, your choice.  Wherever there was space, there was a stall; sometimes it was just a rug on the ground. The wailing from the local mosque and the aroma of spices, food stalls, fish markets and over-loaded drains all adds to the atmosphere.  

Welcome to Morocco!         

Friday, 9 September 2011

Cartagena to Gibraltar

Hi from Clare,                                                                                         Thursday 8th September


Abandoned RIB

We left Cartagena Saturday 27th August to sail for two days (230 miles) to Gibraltar. For the first 24 hours we sailed with the wind behind us averaging 7 knots.  The wind then dropped and we motored for the last 20 hours. On arrival at Gibraltar the water temperature had dropped from 28 degrees to 17 degrees and the colour changed from sparkling blue to murky brown/green.  The cooler water and the heat from the land caused thick fog. We could see on the AIS and radar many large cargo ships anchored off Gibraltar and despite the fact that they were well lit we didn’t physically sight them until they were within two miles. The lack of visibility was making me a bit nervous as the previous morning we found an unmanned 27 foot RIB with two 200HP outboards adrift at sea. We tried raising the Coast Guard but nobody would answer our calls until we used some magic words like “Securite”.  After some difficulty with their understanding of Andrew’s accent they finally got the message.  So I was hoping in the fog that we wouldn’t find a similar hazard in our path.

Early morning Rock

Gibraltar is a fabulous place and we spent a week in the Marina Bay marina which is a five minute walk from town. There are 30,000 inhabitants in Gibraltar and it is mostly English speaking. The main supermarket has English products like scotch eggs and Cornish pasties. Then there’s the Gibraltar Arms Pub which has delicious fish and chip and chicken pie with chips, peas and gravy.   Two meals for pounds.  Things we probably wouldn’t eat at home but after months of Mediterranean food a touch of English tucker was fabulous. Shopping is inexpensive and when the cruise ships arrive the streets are very congested. Alcohol is duty free and so I had a great time stocking up on spirits and liqueurs; a litre of Bombay Sapphire, Tia Maria, Baileys and the like cost around $15.

                   The big picture                                                         Main Street Gibraltar

Gibraltar is a compact 6 square miles. The airport runway crosses the main highway connecting Gibraltar to Spain.  The boom gates come down and the roadway is manned by police to ensure no pedestrians are crossing the road when the planes are using it.  The runway is next to the marina and so the noise of the first few flights is quite an experience. I think I must have looked rather shocked as our Aussie neighbours Jo and Arnie on ‘Just Jane’ quickly reassured me that the planes didn’t fly at night. – be grateful for small mercies I say! 

Another close landing

We took the chair lift to the top of the rock; how could we not?  We had a marvelous view of the town, surrounding waterways and Morocco which is only eight miles across the Gibraltar strait.


Views from the Rock

Flamenco trio
We went on a two day excursion to inland Spain to visit Sevilla. Our helpful Aussie neighbours on ‘Just Jane’ told us that Sevilla is very hot with no wind for relief. So we dressed lightly and took one back pack with bare essentials.  Fortunately I took my umbrella for the sun because it poured rain for the two days we were there. Our first purchase was a couple of one euro plastic ponchos which we hung up at night so they could drip dry by the morning. On day one we visited the Alcazar which is a group of palaces built a thousand years ago, the 12th Century Cathedral and the Bull Ring built in 1881.  By then we were sick of walking around in the rain so we sought refuge in our hotel room till night when we ventured out again in our ponchos to attend a Flamenco Dancing display. This was held at the cultural centre and with only 150 people in the audience we all had a close up view. The movements of the female dancer almost divide her body into two parts. Her upper body and arm movements are artistic and fluent while her lower body and legs are all power and frantic hammering – it was very exhilarating.  The flamenco guitarist was fabulous and the singer who is telling the story of the dance was very passionate. Unfortunately he sang in Spanish so we couldn’t follow the storyline.


The Alcazar

The following morning we woke to heavy rain and so out came the faithful poncho. We only had summer clothes with us and so I wore the poncho to keep warm. I must say it was pretty robust as it stood up to two days of wear without tearing. I now have it in the bottom of my handbag for emergencies.

We visited Plaza de Espana situated in The Paseo de la Palmera the most beautiful avenue in Sevilla.  The Plaza was built in 1929 as the centre piece for the Ibero- American Expo. It is the most visited monument in Sevilla.

                        The Cathedral                                                        Plaza de Espana

The used our time in Gibraltar to make duty free purchases in preparation for the Atlantic Crossing shortly after Christmas. We now have a life raft, complete spare auto pilot, spare starter motor and new starter battery. Let’s hope we don’t need the life raft!

We left Gibraltar Tuesday at . For the first time in our cruising life we now have to consider the tides. We traveled down the Gibraltar strait and exited the Mediterranean; but more about that next time.

We will see a bit of the south of Spain before sailing on to Portugal where we will meet up with Mark and Amanda on ‘Balvenie’  We are looking forward to catching up with them.

Candy XX