Sunday, March 28, 2010

Now for our next adventure...Morocco!

Stef tries to fit in Fez...
The tanners terraces. Even from a viewpoint a few floors up, the smell is overwhelming! These poor guys spend their days stomping on and wringing out animal skins in lime and assorted dyes and who knows what else. Pretty foul, but great to see the process that goes on before all the bags and shoes end up in the markets.

Fez Fez Fez Fez. Ancient medina roofs that haven't changed much...apart from the satellites dishes facing their own Meccas in the sky.

Poor muley.
Chefchaoun dye!
Chefchaoun blue street!
Not sure what the graffiti says...
Our room in Tanger...through the little star window in the bathroom door!

So we finished our one month walk across Spain...and promptly boarded a bus for a 16hr trip to the port city of Algeciras and the ferry to Morocco.

It was a rather spontaneous decision. We figured we were pretty close, and since we had a few weeks to fill before we start work (on a luxury barge in the south of France fyi) we thought we'd just head here and see what it's like.

So what's it like?

Crazy, but not as crazy as India.

Colourful, loud, smelling delicious, and very foreign.

We spent a night in Tanger, the melting pot east/west spanish/french/arab port city and loved it.

Then we spent two nights in 'everyone's favourite town' Chefchaoun and were undewhelmed. The blue photo above is from there. The old town is very beautiful, all painted blue, but it felt a bit sleazy and we felt a bit guilty being there. This is pretty much the opposite of everyone else's reviews of chefchaoun, so perhaps we just needed to chill out a bit more after the walk to enjoy it properly.

Now we are in Fez, which is incredible. The medina is huge yellow walled maze full of markets and mansions and donkeys and leather.

It's peak season so sadly, our intended budget accommodations have not been available. Instead we've had to stay in upmarket Dars and Riads - converted old Moroccan homes. From the outside they look like nothing special, but inside they are incredible. At least, the ones we have been staying in are!

They have a central courtyard, tiled and stuccoed, and staircases lead to rooms that are just...well better than any hotel I have ever stayed in.

Yes we are living the high life.

For a few days.


So I threw out my stinky shoes...

And went to the university square in Santiago de Compostela for celebratory wine, olives, chips, wine, tortilla, wine and salad. Thanks Spain!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

A favourite photo


Walking gives you lots of time for thinking.

Walking overseas gives you lots of time for thinking about home, and getting homesick.

We´ve both been missing home a lot on this trip.

We were thinking of home and wondering where exactly ´home´ is these days (Alice? Tassie? NSW? Elsewhere?) about the time we were walking through Cantabrian hills and spotted some Eucalypts!

Turns out the place is covered in them! There are loads of plantations and some locals really don´t like them (they´re very different to the local vegetation and are just planted then bulldozed ten years later).

It was very exciting to see and smell them. And we´ve also found lots of wattle and even a couple of bottlebrushes.

Everyone we meet assumes we are English or German, or French if they hear Stef´s spanish.

When we tell them we´re Australian the standard response is raised eyebrows, big smile, and something along the lines of ´oh wow that is really far away!´ in spanish.

Then they say ´Antipodes!´ and laugh as they mime digging or drilling through the world to the other side.

Is Australia directly opposite Spain on the globe? Is this something all Spanish children are taught in school?

Whatever it is, it´s very funny.

Eating our way across Spain

Spain = yum. Especially if you are born again carnivore like Stef.

This photo was taken at the end of a lovely and a bit fancy meal out in Castro Urdiales. Stef had local fish probably caught that afternoon. He loved it.

I had ´Seasons mixed vegetables´ which, being in Spain, was full of bacon.

The waiter thoughtfully gave me a plate so I could pick out the bacon bits. I´m not sure how I could have been more clear ... ordering a meal which sounded distinctly vegetarian, and checking with him that it was ´without meat, without fish, only vegetables´.

Oh well at least we have food!

Partly due to this pesky vegetarianism and partly due to finances we have mostly been cooking for ourselves. Here´s a rundown of our daily eating:

Breaky: fruit, yoghurt and cereal

Lunch: fresh bread, tomato, assorted salady things, sometimes boiled eggs pre-prepared, sometimes rice cakes for me when I am sick of bread. Stef does not get sick of bread. Ever.

Snacks: fruit, nuts, biscuits, chocolate, lollies,...all good.

Dinner: those cheesy packet pastas (surprisingly good here) or soups with added veggies and bread on the side, or just a mix of cooked veggies with beans and/or boiled egg. Or tapas and red wine at a bar :)

I do miss tea and soy milk but we´re both really enjoying the fresh food here, and the tapas!

And tonight we´re having felafel kebabs at Bar Madrid in Llanes. Yep kebabs IN a bar, not just after the pub.

The Way

My Dad recently asked me how it is we are walking through fields one day and a major city like Bilbao the next, and did that mean we were walking through endless suburbs half of the time?

Well yes.

And no.

The track takes us across just about every type of track and field there is in northern Spain. Sometimes we´ve got a quiet muddy forest track all to ourselves, other times we share a major highway with semi-trailers. Sometimes the track takes us through tiny old villages and sometimes we walk right into the middle of a big city.

We´ve been up mountains, through green valleys, across beaches over rocky outcrops and headlands. It can be beautiful.

But sometimes it doubles up and backtracks and goes through the most awful stretch of road for no reason, or through what once was a lovely and very significant village that is now dwarfed by a huge motorway viaduct or massive housing estate of ´chalets´.

So sometimes we just get the bus :)

Here are some examples of the way we´ve been walking.

This was a beautiful valley with just a smattering of old old farmhouses and animals left alone - we didn´t see any people at all.

A very old cobbled street in Santillana Del Mar
A beach near Somo just before we hopped on a ferry to Santander

The track tries to take the original pilgrims route as much as possible (whatever the original route was...i imagine it changed just a bit over the centuries!) so we come across ruins quite a lot. Here´s Stef walking over an old aquaduct. Just because it´s there.

The Guggenheim!
We´ve taken the Northern Route of the camino rather than the apparently much easier and cheaper main route (the Camino Frances) because we really miss the sea. The track veers towards and away from the ocean each day and it´s always best when we´re right beside it.

Fantastic old lighthouse and fort and church on the headland at Castro Urdiales.
We´ve seen so many horses on this trip. Especially tiny ones. This photo is actually from our very first day walking, along the spectacular headlands out of Hondarribia. We also go through or past fields with goats, cows, sheep, sheep dogs and lots of chickens.

This way! We spend our days searching for these sometimes elusive yellow arrows, pointing the way to Santiago. I can just imagine the thoughts going through the yellow arrow artist´s mind when deciding where they should go. ¨hmm. shall I put one at eye height at this confusing interstiong? No I´d best save the paint for that long straight stretch where there is no other route to be mistaken for the Camino. Yes I´ll use it all on that historic wall over there...´

What´s in a pack?

We started the trip with two big backpacks, a tent, sleeping bags, sleeping mats, spare clothes and spare food and other things that we didn´t really need.

We soon realised this was unsustainable and have since posted more than half of our gear to a friend in the south of Spain, to be picked up after the walk.

So now we are carrying:
1 sleeping bag (relying on albergues/hostels having at least one spare blankie)
sleeping bag liners
small gas stove
2 pots
1 fork 1 spoon
minimal toiletries
1 book each (In the Shadow of Crows from Angus and The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton)
1 Diary
2 maps
2 small guidebooklets
1 ixus camera
mobiles & mp3 players
and clothing - one main outfit, one spare top, thermals, rain jackets, hats n beanies
Food for the day!

Our packs are wonderfully light and we only have what we really need (and even we need mobiles and Mp3 players?). It´s nice to grab food fresh as we go along too.

I actually bought a new bag when we sent our gear in my old big backpack to our mate. So I now have a great 40L bag and I swear I am only ever using this bag when backpacking from now on. I can actually walk around with it on. What a revelation!