Apparently my writing isn’t as good as Sarah’s so I have gone for a more visual format. Continue reading The Hokey Cokey boat….. in, out, in, out…
Saturday, 9th April brought more gentle weather and winds so we set off for Benalmadena for a second time in rather less fraught circumstances than before. The winds were so pleasant and light that I was able to cook coq au vin en route!
Predictably, by the time we arrived in the enormous marina the wind had picked up to a healthy 20 knots however, we managed to park on the waiting pontoon without incident. Half an hour later we were squeezing into the smallest space between two motor cruisers, juggling fenders on either side.
What a strange marina. It is an enormous basin within which are islands with apartment blocks topped with turrets and rounded edges, covered in twinkling tiles and bits of broken mirror; with arching road bridges so that cars can drive directly into the garage areas underneath. It’s very Disneyesque! It does mean that just to walk out of the marina onto the main road for banks, supermarkets and so on takes about 25 minutes.
Similarly, a walk to the Capitania’s office takes about 20 minutes so when I went to pay I was dismayed to hear that I had to go back to the boat to retrieve the receipt for the key in order to be given my €20 deposit back. It’s all good exercise.
We set off to Caleta de Valez.
The minute we rounded the breakwater the wind was strong. The shelter of the marina giving the impression that it was a calm windless day. Sneaky! The waves soon got up and we had three reefs in the sail again. This time the wind didn’t abate and as we neared the marina we came across an unmarked fish farm ahead, which we just managed to avoid. The height of the waves making it difficult to see the yellow buoys marking the four corners of the farm.
I can explain the strength of the wind at this point by telling you that there were wind surfers everywhere! One of whom found himself on the wrong side of us! Luckily, he was able to steer away. I was on the helm as Ian pulled down the last bit of mainsail, and I had no idea what to do to avoid him! Phew! Next thing..how to get into the marina with a very strong following wind and no clear idea of where we were to go.
After a few shouts down the radio and incomprehensible responses because of static, we saw a man in hi-viz waving at us. We parked up at 1715 in gusting winds, bows to on a pontoon near the boat yard. Fantastic. By 1815 all the wind had completely disappeared! Typical.
So, trundled off to the showers and thence to a bar for a drink and wifi and sat there catching up with the world whilst gradually becoming more and more aware of the unpleasant conversation unfolding between four Brits behind us in the bar. The content of their conversation became more vulgar, graphic and inappropriate and finally Ian, in his own inimitable style, called across to them to ask them to stop.
One of the men thought that Ian was threatening them and suggesting a fight. He made as if to stand up but his friends pulled him back into his seat and calmed him down. However, minutes later he was up and out of his seat and moving towards Ian with his fist drawn back. I grabbed his sleeve to stop him punching and his friends, two Spanish men, and the bar tender were all trying to hold him down. Ian’s woolly jumper had a huge hole pulled right out of it. It was all very horrid.
As the man was dragged away by his friends, disappeared into the early evening night shouting about how he was going to kill Ian
Minutes later, the friends came back and said that they had put the man on his boat and that he was fast asleep. They explained that he was ex SAS soldier who had fought in Iraq. Further, it transpired that he had been given an antidote to Anthrax, which was a biological weapon that was thought to be in use in Iraq. This antidote had caused great problems with the psychological and bodily health of the soldiers. Even now, this man was having monthly blood transfusions and psychological counselling to help him. The cocktail of drugs that keep him alive and relatively functional can cause great disturbances in the delicate chemical balances in his brain when mixed with alcohol! Great! We just happened to be on the receiving end of his complete lack of inhibitions and his excessive aggression.
We left Caleta as soon as we could; firstly to be sure we didn’t bump in to Crazy SAS Man and secondly because a pneumatic drill had started up in the boat yard next to us. After a brief altercation with a lazy line of the boat next to us, we were clear and setting off by motor as the wind was non-existent. All the upset of the night before disappeared as we saw loads of dolphins near one of the fish farms.
Soon, the headland of Marina del Este came into view. We were given a bottle of wine on arrival at the waiting pontoon, which slightly softened the blow of having to re-park. We had another snagging of a lazy line on the way in but the calm and relaxed assistance of the Brit on the yacht next door made it bearable.
We met up with our Dutch friends from Ceuta on their boat Skadi for a quick drink, which was nice, and then the next day had a visit from Pim, the previous owner. He was in the area looking at flats to rent and very kindly offered to come over to answer our queries about the boat now that we had sailed her a bit.
Later, we walked, the long way round to Herradera the nearest town, where we saw at least thirty para-gliders
bobbing about above the headland. The marina and its setting is certainly the prettiest we have stayed in, with cute little white apartments gathered all around the edge and a huge limestone outcrop protecting the seaward side.
We left Marina del Este at 1000 in light winds and swapped the Genoa for Genevieve, the large genaker sail, which is about as big as a tennis court. With the wind behind us it is a fantastic sail to push us along quickly in light winds. However, we should have realised that the winds would only get stronger. Having run through a verbal ‘what would I do if Ian fell off now’ scenario, I tried to pull down Genevieve’s snuffer myself from the front deck. In the strong winds that had built up, this is like trying to pull a narrow tube over a plate. The power in the sail is massive. At the point when my entire weight was being lifted up of the deck, I decided I just didn’t have the strength!
So, Genevieve has gone away in her cupboard; only to be used in LIGHT winds.
Arrived in Almerimar in 23 knots of wind from the SW so surfed into the marina! Parked in a quiet and windless corner only a few boats away from our Dutch friends on Skadi.
Had a day in this massive marina for shopping and chandlery. Ian spent €75 on a bow fender which took the both of us two hours to fit!
On Friday 15 April we set off for Aguadulce. The winds were wonderfully light in the morning so we tried a little fishing and within five minutes had caught our first fish. A spiked little orange thing with a wide mouth! I unhooked it from the rusty hook, and threw it back in and then I dropped the lead weight and hooks back in to the water. Unfortunately, Ian had only a lot hold of the fishing line and the swivel stick. So the whole lot was pulled out of his hand and plunged down into the sea below!
I cracked on with jobs and covered three fenders with neat and tidy fender socks. Ian did some polishing. See my other blog regarding ‘Routine’.
Soon after this incident, the winds picked up from a nice 10 knots to 20+ knots. We arrived in Aguadulce and had a bump with the fuel jetty putting a bit of a dent in Linea’s side and stretching the top guard rail. Oops!
Nice and safe in Aguadulce, and after phone calls to Andrew Lowrey and a lovely chat, it seems unlikely that we will be able to get together this time. So we caught the bus to Almeria and visited the most fantastic municipal market. There were polished vegetables and fruit, hams, olives and fish. It was an absolute education watching the fishmongers, fillet, de-scale and de-bone the fish. There were astonishing displays of sword fish swords, whole tuna and massive lobsters, langoustines and prawns and glistening examples of every kind of edible fish.
Almeria also has an amazing Moorish Castillo,
which is the size of a park, complete with gardens, rills,
rivulets and fountains. Beautiful, but VERY windy at the top of the Castillo.
After our sightseeing day we departed fairly promptly for a big sail to Garrucha. With decent winds predicted we were sure we could make it.
We put the second reef in the mainsail and with the wind right behind us we sailed on a perfect run with the sails goose winged.
Garrucha is a commercial port and has the most enormous breakwater surrounding its Northern and Eastern extremities. It can shelter the huge cargo ships that come in to load up with enormous quantities of concrete, sand and gravel. There are around 60 lorries an hour delivering quarry loads of stuff to an area at the end of the breakwater. A team of ten man-sized diggers scoop the stuff on to conveyor belts that pour the piles into the holds of the ships. Gradually, the water line creeps up the sides of the ship and they are not so towering after all.
Anyway, I digress, as Ronnie Corbett would have said. This particular day the waves were crashing against the breakwater and spikes of water were firing right over the top and jabbing into the piles of stone. I imagine that the wall must have been four, or even five stories tall. It dwarfed the lorries as they beetled back and forth along the road towards the loading area. And yet the sea was so big that waves were crashing up against it and coming right over!
We left Linea in her sheltered position and took a trip to a little hilltop town down the coast. Mojocar.
We jumped on a bus but it was only going to the beach. We walked back to another bus stop and found the right us to take us up. To the top of the peak…Mojocar. Hmmmm a funny kind of place and most definitely a tourist attraction. But why? A beautiful ancient tree, a church, a statue, a peak with views, narrow streets, but other than that, not a great deal.
We took a bus back down and walked along the front, with waves crashing to our right, back to the marina.
After a day of jobs, we set sail again, this time to Cartegena.
Another big day’s sailing heading for Yacht Port Cartegena. The entrance was most confusing; we were directed by the Guardia Civil, in their motor boat, as to the correct course to take to enter the harbour. It appears that the cruise liner pier is being extended and the preparatory work is to drop tonnes of rock and debris in the harbour. Unfortunately, it is not clearly marked off and we skimmed the very edge of it! How pleased was I to have completed 49 miles and parked up in strong winds, next door but one to Skadi! I needed that hug from Peter and Annelies!
More culture was to be had in Cartegena. We visited the superb museum of Sub Aquatic Archeology and then walked around the city and up to the castle. It is the most amazing collection of eras.
Moorish, Roman, Christian. There is an incredible amphitheatre,
a bull ring (being renovated), and loads of fantastic buildings in the historic centre. There is much clever and considerate renovation going on, where the facades of numerous houses have been preserved and the building that used to support it is about to be replaced with a modern equivalent.
It’s probably a city to visit In another five to ten years. They are on a mission. The museums are interactive and impressive. No expense has been spared in the presentation of artifacts and information. The centre is compact and attractive. The views are amazing. The history, incredible. You can imagine the hive of activity that there must have been years ago when Cartegena was the hub of commercial activity of ships from all over the world and also an important port of refuge for war ships.
We left Cartegena for Santa Pola, Marina de las Salinas.
We had to motor today as there was virtually no wind. We arrived and as directed in the Pilot Guide and we headed for ‘the cheaper of the two marinas’. Where we paid €50 (!) including electricity, water, wifi and car parking space! Oh, and the added privilege of being directly under the flight path of the local airport. Ouch!
After leaving San Pedro we headed further north to Altea, our final stop on the Spanish mainland We knew that if was a fair way and that if we got there today we would have two days to provision and do jobs before David Heane’s arrival on the Monday.
So, we decided to crack on which meant another night sail. We passed Benidorm and noted the high rise skyline, reminiscent of Hong Kong. We managed to clear the headland to Altea Bay as the sun went down so we could see where we were heading. Our French friends on Moriannee were anchored in the bay….we contemplated a drive by… briefly.
We motored straight to the marina by now in pitch dark. We radio-ed in and asked for a berth. We were allocated P12. Which is fine, if you know where P12 is. By now, the wind had completely dropped so we were able to hover until we saw a man waving a torch. We headed to that spot and parked up bows to. We were handed lines to attach and a lazy line to fix the stern: Proper!
Altea is pretty; narrow streets, hills, churches with blue tiled rooves, quaint squares, stunning sea views, a long promenade, yellow beach and cute shops. Well worth a wander round the steep and narrow streets of the historic centre.
So glad we are here for a few days of jobs and recuperation before the next big leg to Ibiza and Mallorca.
Aiming to arrive in Mallorca by the end of April to meet up with friends from Yorkshire we began our journey of some 600 miles by setting out from Ceuta.
We waved goodbye to new friends, Peter and Annelies on Skadi and Elio and Maria on Sela and headed back out across the traffic separation zone towards the East coast of Gibraltar, and the Mediterranean proper. The wind was strong so we reefed in the mainsail and veritably whizzed across. No dolphins this time.
We were overtaken by Skadi who were trying out their new ‘laminated’ sails. Very fast.
We arrived in Estepona and since Peter and Annalies were anchoring, we figured we should try that too! So we dropped the pointy heavy thing off the bow and spent a night bobbing around on the swell in the bay. Ian had his new App working which tracks your movements on the anchor during the night and sets off an alarm if you start to move away from the anchor. The App is wittily called “Drag Queen” and in her capable arms we had a fairly peaceful, if rolly, night.
Next day, we set off to Marbella and found a nice marina to the Eastern side of the town where we encountered a Harrier hawk in town to scare off seagulls reducing bird poo on the sails. After a circuit of the marina she perched on our boom, and left a present.
We were able to enjoy a long walk down the promenade, people watching and then wandered up into the delightful historic centre to make our way through narrow and attractive lanes to find The Farm Restaurant which is owned and run by the people we had met in Ceuta.
Elio and Maria were most welcoming considering we had only met up briefly on the pontoon a couple of days before. We shared a bottle of wine and had a platter of delicious cheeses and meat for our supper. The restaurant was simply beautiful, with a secret garden at the side and tables set on the pavement square out front, as well as a lovely room inside. If you are ever in Marbella, I can recommend it.
The following morning we were up early to take Keira to the bus station to catch a bus to Malaga airport for her flight home. We shall miss having her aboard.
Determined to try and find some wifi for weather reports and other vital communications we set off to a little restaurant we’d used the day before. Somehow, between us, we managed to leave our wallet on the wall outside. On returning there ten minutes later, it, and all its contents, had disappeared. So, the next hour was spent phoning round to cancel cards. Not only was there our credit card and cash card there were our newly arrived EHIC cards and Cruising Association membership cards! Very annoying.
So we were even more down in the dumps after that.
We decided to set off to Benalmadena for a change of scene and a change in fortune. After a few hairy moments when currents and wind were pushing us towards the huge concrete pontoon we set off relatively smoothly. By the time we rounded the renowned Cabo Pino at the half way point the winds were quite ferocious. Gusting up to 30 knots. The direction of the wind (NE) would mean an uncomfortable beat into the wind for the last leg. Fuengirola, the nearest post of call, is more difficult to enter on a strong NE wind. Not being sure really sure how the weather was going to develop we decided to turn back. We zoomed into Marbella for a second time on strong winds.
This time we parked bows to to make getting on and off easier. We have also learnt that it is important to prepare strong lines for whatever the weather might throw at you. Everything tidy and sorted BEFORE the beers come out! And that there are simple preparations to do in port prior to leaving that make things a lot less hairy than trying to do them in 30 knots of wind!
Lots of lessons learnt.
Well, just in case you think this adventure is all about G and Ts on the deck before the sun has even gone over the yardarm, I thought I’d fill you in on the general daily sailing routine on board Linea.
First, obvs, Ian brings me a cup of tea and immediately my first work-out commences. Twenty vigorous pumps up and down and I can feel the pressure mount. Some lubrication is necessary. We use olive oil on the advice of other seafarers. Suddenly, flushing is a lot easier and the toilet (heads!) is squeaky clean. Frantic, but necessary exercise and then we have breakfast!
We set off to shower in the marina shower block, if there is one, and, afterwards, I go to the marina office to return the key and go through the obligatory paperwork. (At least eight pieces of paper, sometimes twelve!). Since the offices are at the arrival pontoon this usually involves a fair hike to and fro.
Whilst I have been away, Ian has been checking all the weather reports. It’s no good just checking the one, since the weather is so unpredictable in the Med at this time of year and each one predicts slight differences. We take the average and add ten knots!
He has re-attached the main sail halyard and unzipped the sail cover. The navigation has been done the night before, putting all the crucial waypoints into the computer so that we have a clear course to follow. We have the paper charts and pilot guide to hand, having read up, in detail, about where we are heading, obstacles along the way and the destination port.
Whilst waiting to depart we hear a Pan Pan message going out on the VHF radio to all ships in the Straits and Alboran sea. There is a dinghy adrift with 50 souls on board and we are asked to keep a sharp look out and report any sightings. We gasp at the thought of people being stranded in those waters with no means to steer or propel themselves in such a busy traffic area. Hopefully they will soon be found and taken to safety. These messages have become a daily occurrence.
Gathering ourselves together, we remove the heavy mooring lines from the bow and any spring lines we have set up. Once we are ready, we start the engine and Ian drops the stern mooring line. I then pull in the slip lines and we back out carefully from our spot trying to avoid the mooring lines of other boats next to us.
‘Clear!’ I yell, and off we go out of the marina. My first job is to remove all the lines and coil them up to be stowed. For short slip lines this is relatively easy, but lifting and coiling heavy mooring lines presents serious weight lifting for the arms
I carry them back to the rope locker tucked in the curve of my elbow and lying across my hip, like naughty babies and gently lie them in the locker until they are needed again.
Then, I undo all the fenders – one by one – that’s usually eight, sometimes nine. I carry them to the cockpit and lob them bodily down the companionway. Next, I have to climb gingerly down to the saloon and push the fenders under the table, wedging them in like sausages in a Tupperware box.
Back up on deck, I check that the cockpit is ready for the hoisting of the sails. Reef lines (three of them) need to be placed in even figure of eights so that they uncoil without interruption.
The main halyard needs winding round the main winch in preparation for hauling up. The topping lift needs winching in tight, the vang needs releasing, as does the main sheet.
Soon, we decide the time is right for the main sail to go up. I head the boat up to wind so that her nose is dividing the air neatly and evenly. Ian stands at the mast. I engage Pedro the auto pilot and dart to my position near the halyard. Ian sweats the halyard, I pull in the slack. Teamwork! So we go on, until the main sail is almost at the top of the mast. I then begin to winch in a centimetre at a time! Ian appears from the mast and continues. Then takes the helm to turn us away from the wind. He urges me to winch a little more. I make a tiny adjustment, which he accepts as ‘fantastic’ and, thank god, the thing is up.
No rest yet. I then have to pull the Genoa as Ian releases the furler and finally we have both sails up! Still more tweaking to do, so that they are set and I can sit. But not for long. This has probably taken the best part of an hour.
All the while we are both keeping an eagle look out, using our fantastic binoculars (affectionately called ‘knockers’) for Cardinal marks, lobster pots, fish farms, other boats, dolphins and huge pieces of floating plastic sheeting that can blow off the thousands of huge ‘greenhouses’ along this south facing part of the Spanish coast line.
After being head to wind for so long it is also necessary to check where we are in relation to our course and the chart. I nip down below and look at the Open CPN navigation charts on the computer.
I send the latest activated waypoint information to the helm.
Back up top I go to see how we are getting on.
Perhaps now it’s calm, it’s a good opportunity to pop to the loo, (sorry- heads!) and it is, of course,at this precise moment, that a huge pod of dolphins decides to make an appearance. Ian shouts with delight. I rush up top with the camera and glimpse loads of dolphins in small groups chasing and herding the fish and having a feast but quite far off. There are a number of seagulls flying along in their wake. They have discovered that where there are dolphins there surely must be fish.
The dolphins do not grace us with any close up, dip-diving today.
Surely, it’s coffee time now. I go back down and put the kettle on. Coffee and biscuits appear, as if by magic, in the cockpit and we have a quiet minute whilst Pedro carefully steers us along our course.
Suddenly, Ian is digging in the locker for the stainless steal polish. He sets to, polishing and buffing, around the boat.
Not to be outdone, I decide that this is a good time to start pulling the new dark blue nylon socks onto our scruffy old fenders. Back down the steps I go to retrieve the sewing stuff. Pulling the socks over the fenders requires remarkable strength and is akin to pulling tights up wet legs! Once they are in position, an over-stitch with shearing elastic creates a rope effect and keeps the collar and cuff of each sock in place on the fender. They do look smart!
The wind remains light and constant, so we decide to get out the mackerel fishing line. We are sailing over a fishing haven and there are bound to be fish.
Ian dangles the hooks and feathers over the side and within five minutes, he has a bite. He pulls in the line to reveal the smallest, spikiest fish I have ever seen. I put on the gloves and detach the fish from the hook and chuck it back in. Poor thing looks the worse for the experience. Having detached the minnow, I throw the lead weight back into the sea, but Ian has only a light hold of the rest of the line so the whole thing is jerked out of his hand and we watch it drop to the bottom of the ocean, helplessly.
Well, that’s the end of fishing, for the time being but there’s no peace for the wicked!
The wind is picking up and we decide to put the main sail away and use just the headsail as we are on a run and the wind is right behind us. (It’s safer and a lot easier to put away if the wind builds further.) We turn into the wind, which by now has increased to more than 20 knots, and release the halyard. The sail drops down almost entirely into the sail bag, just needing a hand to fold in the last metre or two.
We sail along at about 8 knots. It’s relatively peaceful on this point of sail and we are well-balanced. I rustle up a quick lunch.
The arrival port is in sight.
Then the foresail needs pulling in. Ian does the winching and I ease the genoa sheet so that the sail doesn’t get tangled around the forestay.
Then the engine goes on, and we are motoring towards our destination. I edge my way along the boat to pull up the motoring cone, which lets other boats know that we are motoring. Once that is done it’s time to put out the fenders, ready for parking. I have to go down to the saloon and push all the fenders back up on deck. I climb up behind them and push them into the cockpit and emerge like a hatchling amongst eggs.
One by one, I carry them down the side of the boat and tie them on to the rail. Back and forth I go, methodically. Next, it’s time to get the lines ready for mooring. Usually we need a stern line from the back of the boat and a bow line at the front. I dig them out of the snake pit and scurry around to attach and coil them so that they are ready to throw to the Mariners who are on shore. Of course by now it’s blowing a hoollie to bring added spice to our manoeuvres and I know within thirty of minutes of turning the engine off there won’t be a breath of wind.
Whilst Ian calmly steers the boat against the Arrivals Pontoon, I prepare to fling the lines ashore and onto the outstretched arm of the patient mariner. He attaches the rope to the shore and hands me back the end of the line. I pull this through the fairlead and on to the cleat as quickly as possible so that the boat can’t drift. As soon as that line is fixed I move to the bow and repeat the process so that we are balanced. We both breath a sigh of relief and whilst Ian sorts the paperwork out with the Marina Office, I have a quiet five minutes.
Now that we have been allocated a berth we will have to perform the parking exercise all over again. I fix another bow line. We untie from the waiting pontoon and motor on over towards our berth. We usually go bows to with a concrete pontoon because with the dinghy on the stern it means that it is impossible to climb off the boat when the tide drops.
I fling the bow lines again and fix them. Then I reach back to grab the boat hook and lean over the side of the boat to scoop up the lazy line and take it back to the stern so that Ian can heave up and cleat off the hefty mooring line to which the lazy line is clinging.
Phew, we are all sorted! No not quite.
I lug the huge mooring lines, that I put away this morning, back up to the bow and throw the ends to Ian who attaches them to the bollards on shore. They will take most of the weight of the boat, rather than the thin slip lines which are easier to throw but not as strong.
Then we tighten everything up, Ian ‘sweats’ in the line and I pull in the slack and tie it off. Knuckles are at risk of rubbing raw against the rough surface of the deck, fingers can be trapped by the force of the lines and we are still not done.
The halyard has to be pinned away from the mast so that it doesn’t clank in the wind and keep everyone awake. The sail cover must go on to protect the sail from rain and ultraviolet light. All the lines from the sails must be tidied up and placed in figures of eight around the winches or coiled on the rail to keep them neat.
The wheel is covered with its canvas cover and everything that can be stowed away, is.
Now, and only now, can the kettle be put on for a well deserved cuppa and a quick shower.
But, hang on….we were alongside the Arrivals pontoon at 1500hrs. How can it be 1820hrs already?
We need to cook some supper and then it’s nearly time for bed!!
Anyone interested need only make the briefest of brief applications to be crew on our next leg!
A brief bus journey to the frontera for 80 cents was the start to our adventures into Morocco.
We arrived at the frontier and duly filled out the required paperwork, and joined a short but slow moving queue.
The border guard inspected my passport thoroughly. Flicking through every page, rubbing each one between discerning fingers and thumb, checking labouriously the embossed design on the front and the photo page within. All the while, delicately adding little doodle additions to the letters on my form. A balloon flying out from the ‘L’s, a circle atop all the ‘i’s, a tick confirming details of name and occupation, a dot embellishing my reason for travel.
After a few important questions; What was my name? Where did I live? Where was I staying? How long was I staying in Morocco?
Then, Chock! Chock!
I had two new ink stamps in my passport. The last two pages were the favoured spots so that the border guards at the other end of the no-man’s land line would know where to look, to double check!
We were spat out from a caged corridor enclosure surrounded by razor wire, on to a roundabout that doubles as the terminus for a rather splendid dual carriageway all the way to Tetouan. We quickly negotiated a fare with a taxi and jumped in to head the 32 km into the former Spanish enclave of Tetouan. At €5 each, it seems reasonable.
Driving along the coast we can see green fields and flocks of sheep being tended by cloaked shepherds, a scene befitting the bible. In the near distance the impressive Rif Mountains loom protectively.
Left and right our heads dart in turn. Signs are in Arabic and French.
As we approach the city, a bespectacled, helmeted man, clad in black, sped along beside us, stared into the taxi, and gave us a grin. He manoeuvred to the taxi driver’s side and salaamed him. He talked at the taxi driver, who shrugged, as if to say, “Whatever!”
“Lovely-Jubbly,” the motorbike man shouted at us.
“I studied English in Piccadilly.” He offered as his opening gambit and his credentials.
We smiled and nodded. He then drove right in front of the taxi, waved and gesticulated and guided us along to a suitable drop off point. The taxi driver made a crazy man motion with his hand against his temple. We all laughed at the shared joke.
When we alighted from the cab, Lovely-Jubbly was there to greet us. He introduced himself as Khalid and was extremely disarming. We soon found ourselves with a guide to take us into the maze of the Medina, and, more importantly, out again!
It certainly helps to have had twenty-four hours to absorb and process all the sights we saw in the Medina. I am eager to give a description that does it justice and adequately expresses just how amazing and different a place it is to see. I have visited all sorts of markets in my time, in many diverse countries, but I have truly never seen anything quite like the Medina in Tetouan.
The nearest I have come to seeing something like this was when I watched Raiders of the Lost Arc, the James Bond film set in Egypt (can’t remember the name, answers on a postcard please) or Harry Potter. The atmosphere, the smells, the hustle and bustle, the people and the stalls, all conspired to contribute to the impression that this was an incredibly elaborate film set prepared entirely for our benefit.
I felt that if I had turned round quickly enough, or darted round a corner, I might have caught some scene-shifter unawares: That I would find myself gazing at the backlot of some enormous Pinewood-ian film studio.
For a start, the extras were so realistic.
The teenage boy, running along bearing tiny little pastries on huge rectangular wooden trays. He rushed round a corner and nearly collided with Keira in his haste to get to the ovens.
The kid, aged about 6, who came tearing into the dark confines of the bakery, shouting, ‘Give me a loaf, but if it’s not hot, I don’t want it!
The merchants constantly rearranged the displays of their produce to best effect.
The constant stream of people pushing trolleys past your legs. Trolleys wobbling with the weight of cow’s heads, stomachs and intestines, bouncing millimetres from being joggled on to my exposed, bare, flip-flopped feet. A trolley load of cow’s shins and hooves, off to the glue factory, presumably.
For extras, they were extraordinarily believable actors!
As if this wasn’t enough, the scene makers had gone to enormous lengths to make the place look authentically medieval. The noises, the narrow alleyways, the maze of streets, the dark doorways that looked as if they led nowhere, the beautiful mosaics, the white, green, lilac and blue painted walls, the covered-over alleyways, the arches, the huge, old, wooden, studded doors, the twenty-four different mosques, the synagogue, the street signs.
Clearly, the property department was not to be outdone. The stalls were stunning. Piles of tomatoes, floes of enormous strawberries, mounds of plump oranges, stacks of every kind of fruit and vegetable you can name, plus some unusual ones, like bracken.
Meat stalls, where butchers carefully carved up chunks of meat and blood oozed; dripping down in dots to the paving stones below.
Stalls were packed in tightly here. Fish, fruit, vegetables and herbs, neatly arranged, spilled out across the already narrow space. Tiny cubby-hole kiosk stalls utilised the tiniest left-over spaces and hooded men perched inside, within an arm’s reach of any of the products.
Pots, pans and kitchen utensils gleamed in the beams of light produced by the lighting department. The sun light filtered in through the narrow space high above our heads. They had achieved, to a tee, the sharp contrast between sun and shade, together with the glimpse of blue sky, cut up in slices between roof lines.
The white wash in big stoney chunks, the powdered tinctures of green, lilac, blue and saffron in huge bags for people to dip into and mix into their paint.
In what seemed like the very epicentre of the Medina, we came across a deserted restaurant, buried so deep in the maze that we were the only customers. Probably because no one else could find it. Its only light came from a huge, orangery type roof three floors above as it was surrounded by other buildings on all four sides. It had an enormous, dusty, crystal chandelier, that helped us to see clearly the curved filigree of the inner arches, the tiles, mosaics and the glittering, plush, tasseled cushions on the sofa benches around the room.
Here, however, the props department only managed to deliver a fairly bland, over-cooked meal, with a mere nod to Moroccan traditional cuisine. I think I could easily have made it myself. A style of Minestrone soup, tiny cubes of beef on a sheikh kebab, a cone of couscous with bendy carrots, stewed cabbage and grey chicken legs finished off with a peanut cookie. Not quite the exotic, spiced, tasty Moroccan dishes we had hoped for and as a government establishment, sadly lacking in imagination and flavour.
The sound department, however, reproduced with great accuracy, the Arabic stream of words, the occasional French or Spanish being shouted by merchants and their customers. They called out their wares in a stream of words, over and over again, even whilst bagging up a sale. It was as if they so were impatient to sell all their produce that they didn’t appreciate the interruption of a sale in their pursuit of announcing and marketing what they still had to sell.
The costume department had shown a keen eye for replicating the kinds of clothes and colours worn in the Medina. Rustic fabrics, full length djellabas on men and women with pointed wizard-like hoods, shawls, straw hats with decorative woollen pom-poms dangling from each side, like a kind of ethnic compass. Children dressed in a mish-mash of clothes, leggings over a skirt, with a jumper and then a coat. Women in tightly bound head scarves. Young men in skinny jeans and denim jackets.
At every turn of the head there was another incredible sight to see.
By making this analogy to a film set, I don’t want to detract from the wonder. I was so completely in awe of what I saw. I loved it! It was an experience in every sense. We had NO hassle, no stares, no harassment. Everyone we met was delightful. Khalid, our guide was knowledgeable, patient and knew everyone in the Medina.
Suddenly, we were jerked back into the 21st Century and factual life, by loud cheers from cafes, bars and shop booths, that added to the spice of life in Tetouan. A ‘derby’ football match against Casablanca that very afternoon. Both teams on 24 points in the national football league; a crunch game? As the 1530 kick off approached, stalls were abandoned and every one was either glued to a small TV with coat hanger aerial and grainy picture or to a radio that screamed out the commentary. By half time the home team was 2-0 down.
“There’s still plenty of time,” was the hopeful common line.
2-1, 3-1, 3-2 …. Final whistle.
We passed miles of spruced up promenade. Ritz-Carlton and Sofitel Hotel complexes being built by the generosity of a Saudi Prince, in an attempt to reap the rewards of a downturn in tourism fortunes for Egypt after their recent problems. The Moroccan King himself is so keen for this to become the Moroccan equivalent of the Costa del Sol, that he has invested millions of his own hard-earned cash to build the dual carriageway road from his seaside palace to his Tetouan one, and back again.
All in all, we thoroughly enjoyed our brief encounter with Morocco. Khalid had definitely made our day. We have made a note to come back and see more of this beautiful, varied and amazing country. We are glad we came in early April, on a cool day when there were no other tourists around.
It was an unforgettable day.