Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Photos of Morocco

First set of photos from Morocco - more to come after our dessert tour. Click here to view the photos.

Wooden Boats and Fisherman

El Jadida is a small fishing town completely untouched by any signs of tourism, with an imposing Portugese fort at the entry to the harbour. We rafted the Pjotter up next to the coast guard boats amongst the green and red wooden fishing boats crowded into the tiny harbour. It felt wonderfully authentic and we felt a little like we were seeing something no one else knew about. It turns out that we were the first Dutch boats in the harbour this year.

The check-in process with the police took some time and we needed to evaluate our tipping practices as we were asked for cigarettes, coca cola, pens and of course money by a variety of people that purported to ‘help’ us. We had purchased a carton of cigarettes per boat in the medina in Salé for this purpose and decided to give a pack to the person who took care of our boat for the three days of our stay and individual cigarettes to other people that offered support (ie taking our lines when we arrived).

The fisherman were friendly and waved as we watched fascinated as they tossed basket after basket of fish from boat to shore. A foray into the town started with a careful obstacle course through the fishing nets drying on the quay, under the singing seagulls and past the wagons of fish – ranging from small sardines to massive marlins and two-meter long sharks baring sharp teeth (we are evaluating whether it is a good ideas to take another surfing lesson here).

Seb and Adam went for a rather painful but wonderfully authentic hammam in El Jadida and were scrubbed thoroughly. Seb described it as lying on a rather sweaty and warm bathroom floor, having buckets of boiling water poured over you and being scrubbed by a slightly masochistic man wielding a scouring sponge as you watched your skin fall off around you. Still, they were an experience richer and left feeling invigorated. The hour long process cost approximately 7 euros. Their hedonism continued with a shave in the barber’s stall for 0,90 euros. Boys night out ended with a stroll through the medina and a good long chat over several cups of tea.

During naptime the next day I went to the souq with Adam to stock up our fresh food supplies. Fruit and vegetables were in abundance in the stalls – including big juicy mangos. We bought bags and bags. Wandered into the meat section of the souq and I was a little overwhelmed to see the whole cow heads, piles of lungs and other portions that I am even less familiar with. We decided on chicken and walked to a cleanish looking stall with happyish and health looking chickens. We needed to select a live chicken which was then rather unceremoniously prepared for us in a rapid and efficient manner using some sort of strange machine. We rushed home to put the chicken in the freezer and cooked in long and thoroughly before eating as we estimated the odds of salmonella at about 100%. Fruit and vegetables are also very carefully washed in disinfectant soap before they are allowed on board. We also take off and wash our shoes (and anything else that has touched the ground) before entering the boat. All of these new rules are intended to prevent cockroaches and other nasty beasties from getting on board.

On from El Jadida, another 130 nautical miles overnight to Essouaira. Essauaira is a really lovely port town and we rafted once again against the local coast guard rescue boat, surrounded by blue and white wooden fishing boats. There is an amazing bustle of activity in the port at almost all hours of the day (with the exception of 1840 during Ramadan when people are finally allowed to eat). Essaouira is more touristry than El Jadida but this manifests itself in added convenience rather than detracting at all from the charm.

Mees turned three on September 18th and we marked this important event with a visit to a camel farm (this one was a retirement home for ex-race camels). Emma and Mees were beside themselves with delight as they sat side by side on a special children’s saddle built for two – and beamed at each other for the entire one hour trek. Extremely cute. Macsen and Peter were too small to take part in the camel riding but they made friends with the local donkey and this more than compensated for their disappointment. We closed the visit to the camel farm with a huge and delicious mutton and vegetable tangine followed by the standard cups of sickly sweet tea before taking the tired but happy children back to the boats for a nap.

The next couple of days were spent wandering around the lovely streets of Essouiara, admiring the beautiful cloth, pottery, carpets and wood and watching the children fly kites in the square. Seb and I were treated to an evening of babysitting by the Elena crew and we had a wonderful meal at a little restaurant called Elizir located in the medina. Before leaving Essaouira, we also slipped in a good girl’s afternoon and night out including a hammam massage and fantastic dinner in the Villa Maroc.

Strong Impressions in Morocco’s Capital City

Morocco is punguent. The smells and sights are very intense and new, the brights are brighter and the drabs are drabber and overall the contrasts are much more extreme than we are used to.

Our visit began with a ride in the pilot boat across the river for an early morning walk through the medina, or walled old city, of Rabat. It is the month of Ramadan so the medina in Rabat was not very busy. We walked over to the Kasbah des Oudaias. The Kasbah was very restful and we wandered slowly along the cool and quiet stone walled streets out to the ramparts to enjoy a great view over the estuary. In the middle of the dry stone Kasbah is a lovely lush green public garden and next to this we found a very small one-room weaving studio. Five women were at work and showed us how the beautifully intricate carpets they were working on are made. This is an incredibly labour intensive activity and each one takes a minimum of two months to complete!

Rosa was kind enough to take care of all four sleeping children while Adam, Leonie, Seb and I took a walk to the medina in Salé in the evening. Salé is the smaller town next to the marina and across the river from Rabat, described in the guide book as quiet and traditional. It was a shock to leave the shiny modern marina compound and enter the dark and narrow labyrinth streets of the Salé medina. The walls were lined with the small booths of the bustling souq. People stood or squatted to sell their wares ranging from lovely fruits and vegetables to wilted soggy ones, live chickens and other small birds and animals, colourful clothing and shoes, luscious cloth, left over spark plugs and wires, books, sweets, individual diapers, pens, other odds and ends and almost anything else you can imagine. Seb and Adam had taken a walk there during the day and they came back with an impression of squalor, sadness and dirty, quiet streets with stalls of goods interspersed with desperately poor beggars of all shapes and sizes. It was unbelievably busy and almost festival-like in the evening.

On the recommendation of the Lonely Planet, we took the children out to the Jardins Exotique, a 13 km bus ride from Rabat. The bus ride was an extreme activity. Our bus driver was clearly someone who strongly believed in reincarnation. He drove the bus like a small car and zig-zagged at great speeds through traffic slamming the breaks every few minutes to avoid hitting the car or wagon suddenly in front of him. The Jardins Exotiques are a really lovely and slightly comical place. They were built in 1951 by a French horticulturalist and are divided to represent all of the vegetation he encountered on his world travels – Brazilian rainforest, Polynesian jungle, Japanese pleasure garden among others. Emma and Mees had great fun following the color coded arrows that led up and down through paths, tunnels, along ponds and over floating bridges. Poor Emma very enthusiastically ran across what she thought was a field of green plants only to find herself waist deep in the middle of one of the ponds. I have to admit to laughing a little as I comforted my shocked and embarrassed little girl.

On our second evening, we ate dinner at a small restaurant next to the Rabat medina. When we arrived at 1815, it was almost completely full of people waiting for the gong to sound to announce sundown at 1840 so that they could break their fast of the day with the typical Ramadan breakfast, soup, egg, pancakes, milk and orange juice. We tried it as well, very yummy, although I expect that it tastes significantly better if you haven’t eaten anything else since sunrise.
Pulled out of Rabat marina in the early evening for the 100 nautical mile overnight we planned to sail with the Elena. Check-out was again detailed but extremely efficient – our passports will be stamped for entry and exit in every port that we visit in Morocco. We waved good-bye to the modern harbour with great facilities and sailed on towards the little fishing village of El Jadida.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Big Seas, Malady of Macsen and Morocco!

Our plan was to leave Vila Real de San Antonio in the early morning to head for Rabat, the capital of Morocco. The wind was high so we postponed for an evening departure. This meant two nights and one day at sea rather than two days and one nights. This is slightly preferable as Emma and Macsen are then, of course, asleep. The Vianto de Lavante had been blowing for a few days and we had postponed our departure to avoid it. The Lavante is a very strong easterly wind that squeezes itself out through the straits of Gibraltar and causes high winds and high seas even where we were over 60 nautical miles away. About six hours into our passage we began to feel the effects of the Lavante, steady 25 knot winds (with frequent gusts significantly above that) and big waves, making for a very unpleasant and bumpy night. Poor Macsen woke early and threw up all over his bed. He sleeps in the bow and thus feels more of the boat bucking about the we do. It must have felt a little like being in a washing machine. Emma was also a little bit sick but she was able to let on ahead of time and I had a pan ready to catch it before we had any more dirty laundry. Both kids rebounded immediately and soon had their sea legs and their appetites back. The wind and waves calmed almost immediately as we passed the southern bank of the Strait.

Just after dinner on our second night at sea, Seb’s fishing reel gave a loud zzzzzing as meters of line were tugged sharply out. We all ran outside to watch as he slowed the boat down and started reeling it in. “What should we do? Should we slow down more? Speed up? Should we reel it in quickly or let it tire itself out? How big do you think it is? Papa, I like fish! Papa, do you think the fish wants us to catch it? etc.etc.” were some of the discussions taking place as Seb wound in the dyneema fishing line. Within 15 minutes we had a beautiful (although relatively small 1.8 kilo) tuna on board. This is an absolutely stunning fish. In the evening of our arrival we shared yummy fresh tuna hapjes and a cold bottle of white wine with the Elena’s.

The warm scent of land hit us about 20 miles off shore. Seb called into the harbourmaster via the VHF at 0545 just as the sun was coming up and a pilot boat whizzed out to bring us in at 0600. We tied up to the quarantine dock and by 0700 we had been visited by a doctor, customs and the local police. All were very friendly and the whole process was impressively efficient . After the entry administration we followed the pilot boat to a berth next to the Elena in a modern and relatively empty marina. We exchanged stories of the rough passage, compared seasick stories and shared the buzz of excitement of being somewhere new and unknown.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Land in zicht!

Not really but we are about 20nm from Rabat and we can definitely smell the land! No sailing in the moonlight but motoring through rain (the first in many weeks and good to get all the salt of the boat). Our ETA is 0630am at the moment. We want to arrive at daylight so we are taking it slowly. It is exciting to be in Morocco in only a few hours.

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Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

On Our Way Again

Feeling a little tired of Lisbon and wanting to make some headway, we sailed overnight the 120 nautical miles from Lisbon to Sagres, the southwestern-most point in Europe. Seb and I visited Sagres seven years ago while I was working in Lisbon. We stayed in the poussada on the hill and remember looking out at a sailboat anchored next to the cliffs and thinking how lucky they were to be there with their own sailboat. It was cloudy and there was an uncomfortable swell but we dropped anchor anyhow and had a nostalgic moment before heading on to Portamao.

Met up with the Elena crew again in Vila Real de San Antonio, our last planned stop in Europe. Great to see them again and Emma and Mees picked up their friendship with great enthusiasm.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Surf’s Up

Seb and I took a surfing lesson at the Praia Pequeno in Sintra. With typical laid-back surfer’s attitude we booked a lesson for 1000 (and donned our hot rented wetsuits at this time) and finally actually got on our boards at 1200. I had beginners luck and managed to stand up on my first wave! Incredibly hard work to battle out through the swell (1,5m waves) and very tiring but great fun! Seb was a natural and the surf instructor was truly impressed with what he described as Seb’s “classic” style. The beach seemed to be a secret surfer’s beach, and we were wowed by the performances of a recent Brazilian national champion and the current world champion. We left feeling exhausted but with a goofy sense of accomplishment.

Pindakaas, Leverpastei and Slaapzakjes

Oma, Tante Linda and Cool Uncle Wouter arrived on Sunday evening bearing incredible quantities of typical Dutch fair and of course, cadeautjes for the little monkeys.

We spent the week as super-tourists on Monday wandering around Lisbon, visiting Sintra and spending lots of time on and in the monuments in Belem. We were lucky enough to move the boat from the rather ugly industrial dock of Alcantan to the beautiful spot rarely available for visiting boats in Belem. The marina is located at the foot of the Monument to the Discoveries and just in front of the incredibly big and beautiful white marble Monesterio de Jeronimo.

A very nice man helped us to dock in Belem. Later in the evening he was sitting in his motor boat grilling sardines and proudly handed one to Seb and one to me. They were hot, juicy and full of delicious flavour. We wandered over a little later to give him a pair of small Delftsblauwe klompjes and he rewarded us with some cheese made at the farm of one of his relatives. This was positively the smelliest (lingering) and most delicious soft cheese. Victor (or Vito as we learned to call him) was a fisherman in his younger days and now just fishes for pleasure. Very friendly. He recommended a small café run by his family just up from the dock. Seb and I took Emma and Macsen there later in the week and dug into sardinhas up to our elbows. Sometimes things just feel good.

Porto, Peniche, The Cabo de Roca Effect and Cascais

Porto is a beautiful if slightly wilted old city. Against the advice of the pilot we tied the boats up to the high-sided bank in the center. The lines needed to be adjusted every few hours to compensate for the tide but otherwise we were in a perfect position and the only sailboats to be seen. The boats looked great with the Ponte Dom Luis I bridge (built by Eiffel) in the background against the Hollywood-like signs of all of the great port-houses on the other side of the river – Croft, Sandeman, Burmester, Taylor, Galem, Graham, Niepoort and more.

On the overnight voyage for the 120 nautical miles from Porto to Peniche, there was little wind so we motor-sailed for much of the way, sadly a very boring trip. Peniche is a pretty harbour and we stayed an extra day to take a bus to the medieval village of Obidos, where the castle is one of the seven wonders of Portugal.

The 45 nautical mile sail from Peniche to Cascais began perfectly. We hoisted the half-winder and the mainsail and settled in for a fast and steady sail. We had heard from a Portugese man in Peniche that the winds could be expected to pick up significantly around the Cabo de Roca (the most eastern point of Europe). The Imray pilot made no mention of this effect but we approached with caution and doused the half-winder as the wind began to pick-up. About 10 miles from the cape we heard a warning via the VHF radio from the Lamawaje (another very nice Dutch cruising boat we’ve met along the way) that the winds around the cape were gusting up to 40-48 knots. A strong force 9!!! This was more than double the comfortable 15-20 knot winds we were then experiencing. The wind picked up slowly as we moved closer and the Pjotter began chomping a little at the bit. We stationed the monkeys inside safely and I took the helm to alleviate the pressure on the autopilot. The winds picked up as expected and we clocked 47 knots on the meter but it was a broad-reach wind and the Pjotter surfed comfortably and steadily through the waves and was not too heavy on the helm. Amazing! The effect lasted just over an hour and then the winds died suddenly after the cape and we had to motor for the last five miles into Cascais. We left this experience feeling glad we were warned and prepared, with a great feeling of trust in our boat and with a hope that our exposure to this level of winds would be minimal.

Cascais is a perfect little holiday resort with an incredible park and playground and a massive mega-supermarket with everything you could possible dream of so we stocked-up considerably.

In Oeiras, on the mouth of the Rio Tejo leading into Lisbon we spotted the big Pjotter sailing by and met up with them for a coffee and a cosy catch-up. We then bumped into them again in a café just beside the Castelo Saint Jorge in Lisbon, in a city with millions of people!!! They are headed off to Madeira to visit with their daughter and grand-daughter so we will probably not see them for a couple of months.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Hello Portugal!

Arrived in Viana do Castelo on a river just south of the Portuguese border and had some difficulty docking due to very strong currents. After a nice walk through the village we took a train with the whole crew (Elena, Mjolner, Pjotter) to the top of the hill. The view was fantastic and the cathedral at the top of the hill spectacular. The look and feel of the village was completely different that just over the border in Spain. The architecture is more elaborate, the streets are extremely clean and almost everybody we have spoken to speaks impeccable English.

We are, however, trying to be very careful to replace our broken
Spanish with our even more broken Portuguese. You only need to receive one really offended glare in Portugal after saying 'gracias' before you switch over to 'obrigada' ('obrigado' if you are male).

From Viana de Castelo, we rented cars with the Elena crew to drive up into the Parque Natural da Peneda Gerês. After a one hour drive into the hills we stopped in the village of Lindosa. The entry of the village is covered in old stone espigueiros, used for storing produce elevated to keep it dry and rat-free, and a large rambling castle ruin. The village itself is comprised of little stone streets made into tunnels by the grape vines draped across them keeping it cool and pleasant even in the >30 degree piercingly hot sunny weather. The centre of the village houses a natural spring and stone basin used for laundry and drinking water and a metal cup hangs from the waterfall there. We used it to taste the fresh and cold spring water, delicious! On we went through the hills for one of the most beautiful drives I have ever taken. We ended in a little village with hot spring pools located just next to the cool fresh river. We all had a good swim in the cool and long soak in the warm and the little monkeys had a wonderful time splashing about. A great day!

Our next stop was about 20 nautical miles down the coast in Povoa de Varzim. Povoa has a big open harbour with more boats on land than along the docks in the water - the majority with a Portuguese courtesy flag, thus not from the area. It is in this port where you begin to really see the 'stayers.' Either people who simply abandon or try to sell their boats because the cruising life doesn't agree with them or people who have fallen so in love with the Portuguese way of life that they stay a year or more. The guest book in the harbour is full of woeful messages of good-bye from people who are heading on after 6-7-8 month stays and more. We moved on after only 2 days.

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