A Travellerspoint blog

The License Plate Game

sunny 83 °F

So here I am on the FRS boat about to leave Tangier.
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Goodbye Africa, hello Europe.........We hit the road out of Tarifa and on our way to Estepona. It is not a far drive.....less than an hour.

Have you ever played the license plate game? You know, where you look for plates from other states on passing cars and create mental checklist of which you've seen. It was always exciting to see one from a really far away state (that is what we did before portable DVD players)! Anyway, Steve and I played our own license plate game, except in Europe, you're looking for different countries and it is much more fun! We saw Belgium, Netherlands, Germany, France and GBY and ABZ (what countries are those?)

We decided it was enough to check out a view of Gibraltar instead of going there. Here is a photo of the Rock of Gibraltar

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After a frustrating attempt to find a parking spot, we went to Hostal El Pilar where I booked a room. It is a 250-year old building on a leafy square in the old part of town. We would discover that I unknowingly mixed up the dates, when we went to check in. They were extremely accommodating there and I would highly recommend them. The lobby was beautiful. The owners live there and there was always an old man watching Spanish TV in the lobby. hhahaaha. The floors were all tiled and hanging plants adorned arches and walls. It was very pretty. The room was basic, but had everything we needed. I was glad to be staying in this place for two nights.

We found a great tapas bar in town. It's cheaper if you sit at the bar, so we sat at the bar with a bunch of men and tried different tapas. Here is what a tapas bar looks like. You simply point to the one you want.
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Estepona itself didn't appeal to us. We knew that Nerja set the bar high, so........ We walked to the beach and felt it was dirty. We debated how we wanted to spend the rest of the day and decided that we'd visit before-skipped, Ronda, one of the oldest cities in Spain.

It was an hour's drive inland into the mountains. We blew through so much gas (at about $6.50 a gallon!), but we are SO glad we checked out Ronda. It is an absolutely beautiful old city in the mountains.

Lonely Planet says; About an hour inland from the Costa del Sol, the stunning town of Ronda straddles the 100m-deep (328ft) El Tajo gorge, with the old Muslim town (La Ciudad) and the newer town (El Mercadillo) connected by three bridges.

Wandering around the old city, I shot a few pictures.
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We came upon this huge gorge and these houses butted up against the edge of it. The sun was starting to come down and the warm light against them was a photographer's dream.

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We decided to grab a bite to eat at an outdoor restaurant sitting on the gorge. Here is Steve
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We got a cheese plate of local cheese and I got a salad and Steve got an Andalucian sausage (chorizo) dish, I believe. It was so quiet and the views from the table were breathtaking!

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We ambled around the town as the sun set and I caught this scene from the bridge to the ciudad.
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It was such a beautiful place, and we wished we had more time, but it was dark and we needed to make our way down the mountain and back to Estepona.

In the morning, we debated on where to go. We looked at Bolonia (in Cadiz province) which was about a 1.5 hour drive south, so we decided to give it a try.

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There is a new, huge visitor's center accompanying a Roman city that they are still excavating. It is called Claudia Baelo. What is cool, is that the whole city is still intact.
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Our next stop was the beach. The one in Bolonia was so windy, it felt like you were in a sandstorm on the beach. There were a number of hard-liners out there sunbathing, but we were on the move and we found another beachside town on our way back to Estepona, called, Getares. Here I am with some intensely bad tan lines! There is the Rock of Gibraltar hiding under the low clouds in the distance. We had some helados (ice cream) here as well - I had kiwi and coconut and Steve had nougat and vanilla fudge. We are going to sorely miss their ice cream.

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It was approaching siesta, and we had about a 30 minute drive back to Estepona. We got back to Hostal El Pilar and napped before deciding how we would spend the evening.

We decided on escaping the city for a the most quaint and charming town, called Ojen. Here it is from the road.

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We parked the car and walked up the steep narrow streets to the main square and settled in for what we thought was going to be dinner. Here is some film I took of the square.

We observe fairly quickly that there are no English speakers in this town, which is actually part of its charm! In any event, we see a cafeteria, which is a cheaper eatery. We notice a menu outside, here it is.

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We assume that these are specials and when the woman comes out the help us, we are discussing among ourselves what the different things are. She doesn't understand English, so she's not entirely sure what we're saying. We aren't fluent in Spanish, but know enough to get by and I think she mistook that for us knowing exactly what we were saying. We ask for a pitcher of Sangria and she disappears into the shop as we settle in to an outdoor table. After quite a while, we surmised that we ordered everything we just said out loud! And that is exactly what we got! Turns out they are all tapas, small plates, and we ended up ordering more......we were very hungry and Spaniards don't do dinner like we do. So it all worked out. Everything was delicious. The Sangria in Spain is very good, because they are known for local red wines, of course. So here we are after being given our tapas!

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We left after dark and returned to Estepona. When we parked the car, we decided to hit the "boardwalk". We kind of ignored Estepona until now, and we discovered quite a gem on its boardwalk. The boardwalk is in fact a wide tiled promenade lined with palm trees. It was filled with people, musicians, ice creameries, children's games, vendors selling wares and even a stage on which a bunch of children were performing a dance recital in traditional Spanish dress. That was very cool. Now it is like 11:30 pm and the streets are full and there are children bouncing on a trampoline affixed to the boardwalk on the beach. These people have so much life.

Two old women were walking ahead of us and one unknowingly dropped her keys on the ground. Steve grabbed them and tapped her shoulder. Permiso, he said. She was so grateful. She went on and on in rapid Spanish and we didn't know what to say as we couldn't follow her.

Anyway, it was a lovely walk on the promenade and Estepona's true character came out. It was a nice way to end this latest adventure. In the morning, we'd leave for the airport.

Even though, we skipped, Gibraltar, technically, we still "tripfecta"ed, because we spent the day in Ireland! All in all, this was an amazing adventure, with so many different contours and experiences.

I don't know when we'll be traveling again. We are pretty broke now. My dream is to go to Asia and work with elephants and also a trip to India/Tibet/Nepal!!!!!!! We shall see.......

This trip was another dream of mine come true and I got to share it all with Steve. I am blessed in so many ways. Thanks for following along with us!

Posted by stevedana 19:08 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

Ancient Medina

sunny 85 °F

Whew! When we hadn´t heard from anyone in 2 days we thought something was wrong with the girls. We are back in Spain and made a bee-line to this internet cafe to see if there were messages from you and there are! (sigh of relief) We were laughing out loud at the Gypsy story.....she is funny with milk: but no milk for her no matter how cute she is.....she has hypercalcemia - 3 licks won´t hurt her though : )

It is so cool to read your comments and hear how everything is going at home and its so neat that you can follow along with us!!

35 minutes on the boat to Tarifa, and it is like a whole other world here! Spain seems much less foreign now.

We wondered the same thing about the man singing.....was it a recording or was it real? I am going with it is a little man reading from the Qu´ran in a minaret - he has on a Fez and yellow shoes and a white khaftan!

So we were on a hotter, sweatier bus from Chaoen to Tanger. It was like 85 degrees and no AC and people were shutting the bus windows! We were like ohhhhh nooooooooo......... I don´t know how they don´t melt. There was Arabic music playing on the rickety bus ambling down out of the mountains and toward the city of Tangier. We noticed a drawing of a man holding a bomb....? I took a photo of it. Sorry that it is blurry, the bus was shaking and I didn't want to be obvious about my curiosity!
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So weird! Oh yeah, on our walk to the bus stop in Chaouen, there were some men decorating a car for a wedding....just like we do...it was so cool. Here is a photo of them.
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Yes, photos were very difficult. I try so hard to respect their culture so I am willing to miss out, to a degree. Still, it is so hard to take photos of ANYTHING because invariably there is someone standing there! I tried to ask a Berber woman if I could take her picture and she said no, and I put my camera away but it wasn´t adversarial. I did take some photos of Steve with people conveniently in the background but that is as far as it went.

So we FINALLY get off this hot rickety bus and we were back at the bus station in Tangier. (Remember, we locked our duffels in the trunk of the rental car which we hope is still there when we leave here)......so all we had was backpacks with us in Maroc (Morocco) and so we were mobile and that was so nice.....getting on the bus......off the bus and so on.

Our clothes were literally stuck to us when we stumbled off that thing and we trekked into Tangier. We had yet another shady map from Lonely Planet and asked a police man if he knew directions to where Hotel Rembrandt was and again he was perplexed as to why we didn't speak French (the language of the educated in Maroc). After a frustrating conversation (on both ends, to be sure!) we got some rudimentary directions to the hotel. We made it back to the port and checked out the beach. The women are completely covered on the beach.

Believe it or not, we´ve gotten some hiking in....not your traditional hiking......but we´ve done tons of walking with those backpacks on! It took us an hour of walking to get to the hotel in the "new city" because our map was terrible!

We were approached by two beggar children....that broke my heart. They were just children. One was very persistent, and had no shoes on and to this moment, I have his face in my head. He was completely desperate. He was probably about 11 years old. Can you imagine? We had given all our small money as tips and to homeless people in Chaoen and I literally had nothing in my pocket, but if I had, I would have given him something. [Sigh....]

We did give to beggars there and I am not sure if we are supposed to, but I find it very difficult to walk by and pretend I don't see someone who needs help. Plus, there is no alcohol there, so my guess is that they will buy food.

We found refuge from the crisis of conscience in the hotel lobby. Hotel Rembrandt was a pleasant high-rise hotel in the new city. After freshening up at the hotel, we hired a guide named Abdul to take us into the medina. He was about 20 bucks (150 Dirham) and he was with us for 2-3 hours. So it was a good deal. He speaks 5 languages fluently. Can you imagine?¿?
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He grew up in Tangier so he knew every single windy street and the medina is huge there are you can imagine. Even Steve was disoriented by the web of narrow, tangled streets. It was completely different from Chaouen. Bigger, dirtier, slumier (is that a word?)..... Abdul kept asking which I liked better and of course I said Tangier, but Chaouen was much more charming, but I think that is to be expected. A city is a city.
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Right away we told him we had no money left, so we weren´t looking to buy stuff. Guides make a commission off your purchases, so we didn´t want to mislead him. He was like no problem, so off we went. He explained things to us and showed us stuff and we will have to show you photos. We asked him a lot of questions and he had answers in English. It was very impressive.
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Here is a photo of a mosque in the medina
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People throw their garbage right out the window onto the windy narrow streets so you must watch your step. He took us into a spice shop where a guy told us about different spices and let us smell them and stuff.....like saffron, Moroccan curry, and other cool stuff. He was probably the fastest-talking person I ever encountered.
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Then we went to a carpet shop where they hand-make all the carpets and they are beautiful but WAAAAAY out of our price range. We left without a purchase there and the man who showed us around said ¨Thank you sir for coming¨ to Steve as we left so there was no pressure, which we liked. It was kind of fun going into these shops and learning about their resources and crafts.

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We scooted past a gathering of men and boys playing a street game with coins and I asked Abdul what they were playing and he said ït was a Moroccan Casino and I said ooooohhh like Moroccan poker? And he laughed and said yes.

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We ate dinner at a place in the medina and they tried to charge some British girls in there 60 euros ($100) for their dinner.....2 tagines, a salad and a bottle of water in total! So they fought with them and didn´t pay the 60 euro. We negotiated price before we agreed on having dinner there, suspecting that might happen, but I still feel like we overpaid by their standards. We never saw a menu, they simply presented us with the meal. I now wonder if that was the norm? The food, as usual was delicious, and I am determined to find a Moroccan place here. We started with Harira soup (a tomato based soup), then we had the pastillas again, and then we each had tagines. A tagine is like a piece of chicken on the bone sitting in broth with potatoes and spices.

Darkness was beginning to fall and we were grateful to be able to meet up with Abdul outside to help us navigate the medina at night. We wandered out the the medina and took some photos with Abdul in the main square. You can see the main mosque and a beautiful fountain in the background.
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It was mobbed with people. Abdul´s tip was every bit of change left in Steve´s pocket and he laughed and didn´t want to take it!). We went our separate ways. We wanted to take in this square for awhile, so we wandered around and shot a few photos. On the leisurely walk back to the Hotel Rembrandt, we encountered a woman huddled with her son on a busy street (in fact, I noticed on our way in to the medina as I struggled to keep pace with Abdul). Thinking again about those beggar boys earlier, I gave her a euro (we were literally out of Moroccan money, but they are thrilled to take euros in this international city). She thanked me profusely in Arabic and we wandered off.

Our hotel which is in the ¨new city¨and it is like any other city....dirty, crowded, pretty Westernized and so on. On the way, I was distracted by the colorful storefronts, displaying hats, shoes, dresses and so on....all in traditional Moroccan style dress. I saw some dresses in a dress shop and asked if I could take a photo of the dresses - they were so ornate! There were even some wedding dresses in another shop.
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Earlier, Steve ran to reception to get our passports back at the hotel counter and the elevator is very small and very old. A Moroccan woman and her 2 daughters got on with Steve and the father waited outside fearing he couldn´t fit, but Steve waved him in and he was appreciative. He said parlez vous Francais? And we don´t speak French (which amazed people in Tangier, who know at least 2 languages). Steve said No, English and the man points to his daughter and says ¨´English´¨ So in English she asks Steve is his name so he tells her and asks hers, and she turned her head into her mom like she was shy. So evidently, those children learn Arabic, French, AND English. So impressive!

So this morning, we checked out, paid in cash (everything is cash only here) and we walked to the port. Tangier was interesting, but I am really glad that we went to Chaouen - it is much more authentic and quaint....or so it seemed.

We decided to skip Gibraltar.....we´re going to a lookout today to take photos of the rock and then we are off the Estepona.

We have the rest of today and tomorrow in Estepona and then we come home. We will check in again tomorrow in Estepona. We miss the girls terribly!!!! Neither of us have slept very well - part of if for me is the girls.......

Thanks SOOOOOO much for the updates on the girls! (I hope Nit isn´t being too solitary!)

Posted by stevedana 03:41 Archived in Morocco Comments (2)

Christmas Eve

sunny

When I was a kid I couldn't sleep on Christmas Eve.....anxious about what awaited me under the tree. It was one of the few nights a year my brother and I were true partners in crime waiting for mom and dad to get up and stumble over to the coffee maker. That is what it felt like for me last night......I couldn't sleep due to sheer excitement. I rolled over enviously as Steve peacefully rested through two early morning prayer calls.

(This keyboard and mouse are even crazier then the last.)

We had dinner last night at Restaurant Tissemlal and it was pretty cool: we got all traditional things to eat....I will explain later as it is very hard to type this out here. The olives and breads and spices we smelled in the medina were now on our plates! Here, women prepare the meals and the men serve them.

We started out with salads. I got a Moroccan salad with diced onions and tomatoes and an olive, a very tasty pickle and their version of goat cheese on top. Steve got a cheese salad, with the pickle, olive, cheese and corn. All was very tasty with lovely flavorings. Next, we got "Pastillas" (pronounced Pastiya; Arabic: بسطيلة). According to wikipedia, it is a North African dish....{with} shredded chicken. It is a pie which combines sweet and salty flavours; a delicious combination of crisp layers of warka dough, a thinner cousin of the phyllo dough, savory chicken slow-cooked in broth and spices and shredded, and a crunchy layer of toasted and ground almonds, cinnamon, and sugar. I got the vegetable pastilla, which was delish!

Here we are in the cozy place. Lonely Planet says this restaurant inside the Casa Hassan is another sure-fire bet for a fine meal in enchanting surroundings. Don't miss the fresh goat-cheese salad, a local Rif speciality. This was a really good dinner AND it was included in the price we paid for the room!

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We totally loved this place (minus the homeless kitties) Here is a photo I took of a pretty shop. It reminds me of Arabian Nights!
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So we're sitting in the main square, called Plaza Uta el-Hammam, just watching this blue Arabian town go by and waiting for the next call to prayer. We notice children playing in the dry fountain that we're all sitting around. The next day, as we're sitting, yet again in the square, we wonder what this smell has been by the fountain, only to discover in the daylight, that the fountain is used liberally by the local cats as a litterbox! This is the same fountain that the children were rolling around in!

This morning we had breakfast at Casa Hassan....breads and crepes and preserves....don't know what kind of preserves, but they are sweet and orange color. We went into town and ran into Kesey having tea at an outdoor cafe, so we sat with her and chatted for a long time before coming here. She has spent some time in Zimbabwe. She wants to be a journalist, but she said that she plans to go to law school and be an international human rights lawyer. We talked about our families, incidentally she was raised by a hippy mom in Boulder. After our chat, Steve and I decided to hit this internet cafe and write about our time here, before it slips away.

There are tons of homeless cats here and I swear this one kitten was dying. It is very hard to see and there is nothing I can do about it! Here is a cat that looked just like her.

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They were everywhere. I wish there was something I could do about them. There were a couple of stray dogs as well, and one was a puppy and on two occasions, we saw men do a faux lunge at the dog to scare it and this little puppy was scared and nearly scampered under our feet in the crowded medina. I tried to sweet talk the dog. We saw a man do the same thing to a large dog and I was pretty upset by that.

If I was rich, I'd investigate bringing a veterinarian in there to spay and neuter the animals and rehydrate them and stuff. The wheels are turning.........................I will remember this place if I ever have the resources to do that.

The other irony is money....our bills are too big.....100 dh is like 13 bucks at home, but it is a lot here and no one has change for bills that big! We are getting by. One strategy of ours is to buy a bottle of water with a "big" bill.

Steve went off to buy water and the man was accommodating, but visibly unhappy about struggling to make the change. Steve felt bad so gave him a tip of 5 dh (or 64 cents according to xe.com). Steve said his face lit up!

The hijab has been a bit demystified for me. It seems less mysterious when you watch women performing everyday tasks in their traditional dress (I bought a couple hijab scarves there, just to wear as scarves at home). I feel like I know so little about the world and have tons to learn. What was the man singing from the mosque at 5 am for example?
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We noticed a woman in the medina selling perfume cubes out of a basket. In retrospect, I wish I had taken her photo. In fact, oddly... someone on Trekearth posted a photo they took of her and I recognized her when I was browsing their travel photography. This is her: http://www.trekearth.com/gallery/Africa/Morocco/North/Tetouan/Chefchaouen/photo39601.htm

Anyway, I bought a bunch of homemade perfume cubes from her for 5 dh each. So all the girls are getting them when we return. Things are ridiculously cheap here. We paid 60 cents for internet yesterday as we didn't use the full hour. We did some good bargaining in the shops and that was cool. I got two Moroccan lanterns for less than the original price of one. I have a backpack full of trinkets!
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The garbage situation is odd here. There are not many cans. People throw things on the street and then sweep it up. There are different hygiene habits here for sure...... "For sure" and "for example" is something the Enligh-speakers say here a lot.
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I have gotten some cool pics one is of paint.......it is in powder form in brilliant colors in baskets and spices are in cone shaped piles......you have to see it!
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This place is surreal.
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It is sad to see the poor animals here as it always is for me. Our pets are so very lucky. We are so very lucky. So much to tell! Can't wait to show photos. We will check in tomorrow afternoon or eve from Estepona, Spain.

Kisses for the girls!

Posted by stevedana 03:55 Archived in Morocco Comments (4)

Arabian Alice in Wonderland - Chaouen

sunny 83 °F

All I can say is......woah... this place is like nothing I ever saw before.

(The keyboard is totally different so excuse the typos. There are some cool characters on here like çà赧 and some other cool things). If i understood the guy correctly it is like 13 cents to use the internet here.

So we got on this tremendous boat to Tanger and so many people on it were not dressed appropriately. Many of them were day-trippers on a day tour in a group and they were wearing tank tops and shorts, which we were informed was a bit of a no-no. We always try to respect the local culture, and since we were there for a few days and not just in a day tour, we felt we needed to cover shoulders and knees as was suggested.

Anyway, the boat is HUGE and there are people from all walks of life on it, so it was kind of a cool experience. This is the boat.
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Here is Steve on the boat.
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I took video from my camera of us coming into Tangier port. We were pretty amped!

There are a couple hundred people on the boat with us all funneling out and into the welcoming arms of Moroccan salesmen! When we disembarked we were approached by many touts. We purposely waited until others got off first so most would be gone by the time we got off. I think it worked.....only about a half dozen approached us. Saying "No, thank you" (pronounced la shukran) in Arabic works wonders! It ended the haggling immediately in almost all cases. We each have cheat sheets in our pockets that we have studied. A man in Chaouen helped us with pronunciation....more on that in a bit.

So, Lonely Planet is 99% on point and this was the 1%. It said the CTM bus station was right by the port, so we see a CTM sign and inquire, but the man speaks no English and in fact is a bit perplexed as to why we don't speak French. We wander around confused as a few men circle us asking if we want a grand taxi to Chaouen, overhearing our conversation. For the most part, we just ignore them and try to get our bearings. After a few exasperating exchanges in two different languages, we figure out that we must take a taxi into the city to the bus station there.

A cabbie takes us for $2.90 (2 Euros). We knew it was a rip by their standards but it was cheaper than any NYC cab, so we didn't mind paying the 3 bucks. So, on the way to the car her tries to tell us we could have a Mercedes taxi take us to Chaouen for 60 euros!(like $100!!!) We tell him that is too expensive and we prefer to take the bus and I think he was a bit surprised that we were taking the bus. Most people take the car and driver.

It was clear that this was the case, because at the bus station we were the only visible non-Moroccans. We noticed the men all wearing clothing that covered shoulders and knees as we did. Some Eastern European tourists later joined us at the bus station. We worried we were in the wrong bay, as there were so many buses and ours was nearly 1/2 hour late. I walked on to one bus and said to two women "smeh leeya" (excuse me), Chaouen? And they emphatically shook their heads no. So I said "shukran" (thank you) and said to Steve, our bus wasn't here yet. Anyway, I observed a woman with intriguing markings on her hands that I identified as henna. From afar it looks like the person is a burn victim, seriously. Up close, it is so ornate. Their feet are decorated as well. Anyway, I hope I wasn't being rude, but I took a photo of her hands.
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Our bus pulls up and we hop on. We decided to leave our duffel bags in the trunk of the rental car parked in Tarifa on the street, and took only backpacks with us to Morocco. We like packing light, so we are more mobile! This bus was about 5 dollars each and it was considered a luxury bus with A/C, but everything was filthy. Tangier is a filthy city and there is trash everywhere.

Here is a photo I took from the bus of the beautiful view into the Rif mountains, where Chaouen is.
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(It is taking me forever to type this because everything is moved on the keyboard so bear with me......)

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We get off the hot, sweaty bus 3 hours later and discover we were on there with a girl named Kesey from Boulder....small world!

We all decide to get our bus tickets out of here and the bus is fully booked tomorrow! Kesey got tickets for the next day and there were only 3 seats on hers left!

Still, we didn't panic. At the tiny bus station, we noticed a man sitting behind another counter with flies roaming around and the sign is in Arabic. I prayed that the man knew some English and he did! So this was another bus company, not the government-run one. It was the only way out of town the next day, so Steve bought us two tickets for 27 dirhams each or $3.46! That is for a 2+ hour ride to the city (this bus made fewer stops). What a bargain - we'd find that everything was cheap in Morocco.

So we all get our tickets and Steve, Kesey, and me make the sweaty uphill climb up the many hills here into town....we are in the Rif mountains. Kesey has a much larger backpack with her (she's been travelling for months) and we just have daypacks, but it's still very tiring. Our maps aren't very good. We both have Lonely Planet maps, which are usually good, but in this case, wasn't the greatest. I actually spotted the entrance to the old part of town (the medina) and way make our way over.
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As soon as we enter, it's like an Arabian Alice in Wonderland for me.
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It is all blue & smells like spices and there are tangled , shop-lined streets. I have already done some shopping! : )
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Our accommodation, Casa Hassan, is in a riad in this magical medina - a traditional house and it is $108 per night and that includes breakfast AND a traditional Moroccan dinner. When we checked in, the young guys who checked us in there asked us if we were near New York and when we said we were, they were in total awe.

Here is Steve entering into Casa Hassan. Check out the sweat on his back from the bus ride and the hike into town!
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Here I am in the lobby as Steve is talking to the guys checking us in.

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At the hotel they know we are American and they like Obama and we do too....so that was cool. I think a lot of countries around the world are frustrated by Bush's first-term foreign policy. I was impressed that they know about our people.

We decided that we would be from Ireland with the shop owners. I know it's a little sketchy, but Lonely Planet said that they are hard bargainers and they perceive Americans to be rich (as well as the Japanese), so we decided to play the "poor-ish" card. At one point we got turned around in the medina and were approached by a persistent carpet salesman. He asked Steve where he was from and Steve said "Ireland". The carpetman believed Steve, but said that Steve had dark skin like Moroccans! It was actually pretty funny!

Here is film I took of our room at Casa Hassan

Every building here is amazing! I can't describe it. The ceilings are painted the doors are carved the detail is unreal and all is very old and authentic.
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So we see a man knitting in a little shop .... actually i first noticed 2 of many homeless cats here..... with a piece of cheese that he left there for them to eat. I recognized him as a kindred spirit and we went into his shop. He was an interesting and pleasant character. He is known as "The Hatman" and proudly showed me a blurb they wrote about him in Frommers.
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He was a very positive character and he said he loved all people: Americans, Palestinians, Jews, everyone. We bought a few things from him. This is a photo of his "small shop" lit by one candle and smelling like incense.

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I was glad the Hatman fed the cats. The emaciated cats everywhere was extremely difficult to see.

Next, we went into another shop and had mint tea with the proprietor. I went to grab the tea with my left hand instinctively as a south paw, and abruptly stopped myself.....that will be difficult. I bought 8 bucks worth of stuff in there. I could have bargained him more....but quite frankly everything is so cheap here why bother for extra dollar? He is a Berber and taught us some Arabic and Berber.

He was a character.....he swore at some rasta looking European tourists, who had him showing them a bunch of jewelry in his store that they had no intention of buying. He explained to us after dealing with them that some people treat him like a donkey and they did. We noticed the girls were not dressed respectfully either, so that may also have had something to do with it. He was like Jekyll and Hyde and was a totally different person with us. He was very talkative and helped us with Arabic and told us some things about Chaouen and Moroccan people.

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It is a photographers dream here, but I really shouldn't take photos of people so that stinks. We witnessed the call to prayer. The streets get quieter when the call comes from the mosque. Here is some film I took of the call to prayer in the evening.

It is completely surreal here. I have been intrigued by this culture since i was a kid reading all the tales from Arabian Nights and now i am here and in complete awe.....ask Steve. I am just interested in any culture that is completely different from my own. The more foreign it is, the more intrigued I am. I have always been that way, and I think that is why I like to travel so much.
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Here are some more scenes from Chaoen for your enjoyment. I took a TON of photos, as you can see.
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It is very relaxed here.....no pressure to buy which I like. We leave here tomorrow at 2pm so we have the better part of tomorrow to do more exploring. It's easy to get lost here....not physically lost, but mentally lost to this exotic place.
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I am so excited to be here. We can't wait to show you pictures. It is so exotic. It smells like spices and everyone has a kaftan on.....well the old people. Here is a photo I took of two men, I HAD to put a caption in!
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The women all wear hijab. I can hear Arabic music coming in from outside.....you know....like the stuff that Mamoun's plays in The Village.... there are no cars in the medina here and everything is cheap. Steve just bought 2 bottles of cold water for like 6 dirhams or 76 cents. Here is some film I took of the medina

It's difficult to take a photo of anything without people there, but here is a panorama of the town.
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A couple times I took a photo of Steve with someone in the background.
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We will check in again maybe tomorrow morning and tell you about our experience tonight! I can't wait!

We would love to hear an update on our furbabies.....hint hint : )

Posted by stevedana 09:58 Archived in Morocco Comments (1)

Nerja to Tarifa

sunny 82 °F

Firstly, we love hearing about the girls and their little nuances, like Orange following Rachel around and Nit venturing downstairs and Gypsy in her box! It is expensive to use the ´net here. Although we found a place that was 2 eurp for an hour (about $3.20) Otherwise it is about the same as home cost-wise or maybe a little more. It´s much cheaper than Ireland was.

We ended up going to a tapas place and I got a Tinto Verano (red wine and lemonade...something they drink here) and Steve got an Italian beer. Incidentally, Tinto Verano is never on a menu.....but when I ask for it, they have it! It was a tip we got from Jessica at Hostal Miguel. We got free tapas (small plates) with our drinks. Steve got like meatballs in this sweet onion sauce and I got a cold potato salad with peas and tuna in it. We didn´t know what the things were so we just pointed to stuff.
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Here is a photo from the Buddha Bar from the bar stools.....everything is so old an beautiful and quaint.
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This morning we got up and got desyanos (breakfast) and Anahi which the Lonely Planet recommended for its view of the ocean. I spotted some cats on the beach and one settled in to a boat, so we walked down there after breakfast and took her photo.
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I wondered if these cats were well-fed. We'd see many homeless cats on this trip.

We wished we could stay in Nerja longer, but it was time to explore more of Spain. On our way out, we went to this rich apartment neighborhood that is beautiful and we snuck in some pictures before we picked up our parasailing pics and headed out.
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I had seen photos posted to trekearth of this place and determined that I HAD to see it for myself.
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You ought to try parasailing, Stace. It´s the closest thing to flying and when we looked down we could see in the turquoise water to the bottom. As long as you´re not scared of heights it is very cool.

We got in the car and headed to Frigiliana, which is the most beautiful town in Spain....no really, that is how it is known. I can´t even describe it. It is this beautiful quintessentially old Mediterranean town.
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As you can see, I couldn't get enough of this place. It was a photographer's dream!
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There were about a dozen old men, having animated discussions in Spanish. I wondered what it must have been like to spend your life there. Steve and I agreed that it wasn´t a bad place to spend your life. It was very hot and we walked all around the town and it is VERY hilly, so we were pretty drenched.
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We climbed up to a couple of lookouts and I got a few photos of terra cotta roofs, hills dotted with white buildings in the background and the Mediterranean Sea.
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What a delightful place Frigiliana was! I wish I could just move right in with Steve and the girls!
Here's a short video clip I took with the camera of Frigiliana!

We decided to skip Ronda for now and head down to Tarifa. It took a long time to get down here. We drove through some cities that actually looked like Ft Lauderdale.....not very exciting, in that they were just like the US. It looked just like home. I was so glad we decided on Nerja on the Costa del Sol. We drove into the seaside town of Estepona where we´ll be staying the last 2 nights. It´s very large and we drove around in circles looking for the tourist office to get a map. In fact, we unknowingly parked right next to it, and walked around the block before we noticed we were next to it. Again, Steve was like "See it´s Big Ben and Parliament, kids" when we drove around and around. We are staying in a leafy square in the old part of town in a 250 year old building. So I am really looking forward to ending our trip there. But we found it and got a quick bite to eat and headed down here.

We could see the HUGE Rock of Gibraltar in the hazy distance and then we could see the northern coast of Africa. Then we passed about 20 huge windmills since this area is known for being very windy! We checked into Hostal Las Marguaritas and made our way into the old town, which is entered though a castle arch.
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You can definitely see an Arabic influence here....there are even some signs in Arabic. This area is known for kiteboarding...remember the wind. The atmosphere is VERY different here. Less families....more young.....a little more pretentious, but still pretty relaxed.

There are a lot of hippy kids here. The very strange thing is that everything in the town is so expensive. There are tons of awesome little shops, selling incense, scarves and things, but they are all very expensvie. In fact, I have seen some of the very scarves I own and purchased in NYC for $5 for twice that in Tarifa. So it is a bit ironic that some of these hippies have so much money to spend on overpriced stuff. Anyway, this is the last town in Europe, a mere 35 minute boat ride away from Africa.

Some of the streets are so narrow here, they are impassible by car. There was one tiny street where all pedestrians had to stop and move against the wall so the car could get by and then the guy revved his engine after he passed and everyone laughed at him. You had to be there.

Tonight we stroll around the old town and try some traditional Andalucian food at a recommended restaurant in here. Now, we are in a pretty big and crowded internet cafe smack in the middle of things here. €3 for an hour here - everything in this town is expensive. We have an hour, so we may as well make it count!

This is where we ate dinner at the Lonely Planet-recommended Mandrágora's, "behind Iglesia San Mateo, this intimate place serves Andalucian-Arabic food." The food here was melt-in-your mouth good! I got another Tinto Verano (again, NOT on the menu) and Steve got a Spanish brew. Steve got a pork dish in this delicious indescribable sauce and I got these fish raviolis....like it's a VERY mild thin pieces of fish stuffed with cheese, like a cream cheese? and a red pepper sauce.....oh man, it was so good! And the ambiance was so nice, down this little quiet corridor away from the noise of the old town.
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PS - the key board is a bit different - it´s all in Spanish to begin with. You need to press control alt and then the 2 for the @ symbol....see I just did it! haahaaa That took awhile to figure out....I forget where that was, but we remembered when we got here. In Mexico, the keyboard was crazy! Yes, there are so many different things that you only know about when you travel. That´s what makes it so fun.

Tomorrow we board the boat for Morocco. We have not been able to exchange our Euros for Dirhams yet, so we may have to do it at the Port. Apparently, the dirham is a controlled currency, which means it can't leave the country of Morocco. The exchange rate won´t be great, but we´ll have bargaining power in Tangier and in Chaouen. This time tomorrow we´ll be in Morocco in Chaoen....the blue village. I would LOVE to bring home one of those Moroccan lanterns, but I don´t think it´ll fit in our backpacks or duffel bags! hahahaha. We´ll try to find internet in Chaoen and check in.

Thanks again for the update on the girls!

Posted by stevedana 08:45 Archived in Spain Comments (1)

Vida España

sunny 82 °F

Hi everyone - It´s so cool to hear from everyone while we are away....esp. about the girls!! Thanks for the b´day wishes, Steve says. That was nice to see!

The internet cafe we used before has a broken internet connection, so now we are in an expensive place, but I will try to be as detailed as possible.

We go for tapas tonight. We decided to eat outside on one of the cobblestone windy streets (incidentally, steps from where we are staying). We didn´t realize how centrally located it was until we opened the door and found tables and chairs set up for dinner!
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There are people everywhere. The old town (where we are) reminds us very much of the old town in Brussels, Belgium around the Grand Place. We identified only 2 other Americans here so far - one was clandestinely taking photos with his phone of topless Spaniards on the beach. It is mostly Europeans here-Germans, French, Spanish and lots of British people.
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We had lunch at an outdoor cafe. There is a big church in the square and there was a wedding going on. The bride looked like Cinderella. We always seem to run into weddings.

Anyway we had dinner at about 9:30PM last night as no self-respecting person goes out prior to 9 in the evening in Spain! After enjoying dinner and a pitcher of sangria, we wandered around the windy streets among throngs of European holidayers until after midnight, stores were finally beginning to close up.
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It´s our kind of place, being night people.

In the main square we watched 2 street performers show us tango. I filmed them on my camera.

We have had lots of great ice cream here. It is different. It´s creamier and the flavors are very cool - I had naranja (orange) and Steve had papaya. I think we are going back for more soon : ) The cones are sweeter and flakier as well.
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We also wandered on the beach at dusk (before dinner yesterday). It´s my favorite time to be on the beach.
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There we were met by a bunch of black and orange cats-we always seem to find them.
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This morning, we went to the beach and went parasailing. That was the coolest experience!!! We were on the boat with 3 Brits and 2 French girls. They harness you to the parachute and you get lifted off the back of the boat. It´s the closest thing to flying I have ever experienced. In fact a police helicopter motored by (far away of course). We go to the beach tomorrow on our way out of here to get the photos. Nothnig was allowed on the boat, not even shoes, so I couldn´t take pictures.

Here we are
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The view was out of this world. We didn´t realize how big Nerja was until we got the aerial view. The sea has worn down the rock and a large cluster of whitewashed buildings sit on the rock overlooking the ocean. It´s just what you would imagine a Mediterranean city to look like.

I will have to buy a postcard to show you. They dunked our feet in the water and then lifted us up...that was fun!

So next we hung out in a little cove we found where it isn´t so busy and cooled ourselves off in the sea and warmed ourselves in the Mediterranean sun. You should see my tan lines. I have been mistaken as a Spaniard a couple times. Thanks for the olive skin, ancestors! hahahaaa.

The main beach where we left from to go parasailing was crowded but the people watching was interesting. They are all European and have much healthier attitudes about their bodies. There was an old overweight woman with a bikini on. You´d never see that at home. All the little children are naked. Men wear Speedos, etc. I feel it´s a much better atmosphere. Tons of people were playing paddleball on the shore...that must be popular here.

We came back to the room for a nap-seeing it is siesta and all and everything closes in the afternoon. We just had a bite to eat before and tonight we will have drinks and tapas and stroll around.
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Tomorrow, we get breakfast, pack, pick up our pictures and hit the road. We bought a map today and we will be checking out some cool towns off the coast before rolling into Tarifa in the evening. We´ll check back in in Tarifa. Then we´re off to Morocco!

Thanks for keeping up. We love hearing about the girls!

Posted by stevedana 10:59 Archived in Spain Comments (2)

Happy B'day, Steve / Nerja, Spain

sunny 81 °F

Hi there- We are in Nerja (pronounced Nair-ha, but the "h" is a guttural noise, like you're coughing), but it took some doing to get here.

We flew to Dublin yesterday took a bus into the city center since we had a 7 hour layover. It was overcast and 60s. We walked around and did all touristy things: Grafton Street, Trinity College.... just took in the city. We also grabbed a bite to eat before returning to the airport. So, we started Steve´s birthday in the air, then in Dublin and then ended it in Spain - technically 3 countries in 1 day! Coming home will be MUCH easier because we won´t have that layover,plus we gain time coming home.

Happy Birthday, Steve! Here is the birthday boy in Dublin:

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We got in at 9PM at Malaga airport and we hit a few bumps in the road, as I like to call them. We booked an airport Holiday Inn thinking that since it is only 2km away there would be a free shuttle. That is the way it is everywhere.....but not in Malaga. I guess I assumed......and you know what they say about assuming! Well we find this out after waiting for a shuttle outside to no avail (after asking airport information, no less). So then I call them (and that was a bit of an adventure!) and we ask if we can walk. I have a lot of trouble understanding their directions (imagine that!) SO ..... we start walking and we realize we don´t have a clue where we are going. Meanwhile, we have been told we can take a taxi for $30!!!!!!!!! You got it, that´s what we ended up doing. Welcome to Espana! 30 bucks for a 10 minute taxi ride. So we finally roll into the hotel and the restaurant just closed 5 minutes before. Long story short....we got sandwiches from a gas station nearby ---- Happy Birthday, Steve! When we got to the room, our kitties had made a birthday video for Steve, so that brought a smile!

So it gets MUCH better. Actually, it is comical in retrospect....we were like Nation Lampoon yesterday. There is major major construction going on at the airport....hence the confusion. And so it took us about an hour just to find the rental car company. We finally get into our orange mini Kia and hit the pavement running away from the city. 52km north is this paradise we are in now, called Nerja. I could move here, like so many British ex-pats have done.

It´s breezy, beachy, cobblestoned and windy and with whitewashed buildings accented with beautiful tile work.
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We love where we are staying at Hostal Miguel...it's a guesthouse, and it´s right in the middle of the old town and it has so much character.
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It's nice because we have a room down a hallway in the back of the long narrow building, so we're by ourselves back there and it is very quiet (but hot!) We are in an internet cafe right now, just a short walk from the hostal. Everything is walkable. Steve just noticed that is costs .20 euro to use the bathroom in here ?¿?¿?

When we rolled into town it was immediate paradise. It´s a big town, but we are exclusively in the old part and it´s so quaint and safe as well. The town hugs the Mediterranean Sea, so it is all beach here. We hit the beach right away. It was so nice to be in the water. We found a quiet little cove away from the main beach and enjoyed the turquoise water there. The beach is more rocky then sandy and we saw a number of beautiful rocks on the beach.
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We joked that now we can tick the Mediterranean of our list! We dried off on the shore using the sun, so hopefully we get some more color! Oddly, it reminded us of Maine because there are so many rocks. The water is turquoise and it is 80 degrees out. The women are mostly topless and very well-tanned on the beach. It´s the norm here. It is very relaxed. In fact, we are coming out of siesta right now. It´s a ghost town from 2-6 pm which gives me ample photo ops of quiet streets.

We plan on strolling around and getting a late lunch (their biggest meal of the day). In the evening it is customary for a drink (Sangria perhaps - this is where it comes from) and some tapas (small plates----also from here). I can´t wait to eat. They have all good things here....olives, peppers, chick peas..... Hostal Miguel recommended a Spanish place where there are no foreigners....so we are excited about checking out authentic tapas later.
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Now that we are settled in and know where this place is, we will check back tomorrow. I think we are going parasailing tomorrow. It looks like so much fun!

OK, better go. We´ll check in tomorrow during siesta again!

Hope our girls are well. We think about them CONSTANTLY. So hard to leave them.....

Posted by stevedana 06:51 Archived in Spain Comments (4)

The Tripfecta

sunny

Monday August 18
Leave JFK

Tuesday, Aug. 19th
Happy birthday, Steve!
Arrive Malaga, Spain in the evening.

Wednesday, Aug. 20th
Drive from Malaga to Nerja


Thursday, Aug. 21st

Nerja

Friday, Aug 22nd
Nerja, Frimilginia, Ronda, Tarifa

Saturday, Aug 23rd
Take the ferry from Tarifa to Tangier, Morocco first thing in the morning. After passport control, get on a bus for a3-hour ride out to Chefchaouen, Morocco. Spend the day/night in Chefchaouen.

Sunday, Aug 24th
Get on the bus back to Tangier. Spend the night in Tangier.

Monday, Aug 25th
Take the ferry from Tangier to Tarifa, Spain and then drive 27 miles to check out Gibraltar. 3 countries in 1 day! spend the night in Estepona, Spain

Tuesday, Aug 26th
Estepona, Spain

Wednesday, Aug 27th
Flight from Malaga back to JFK.

Posted by stevedana 10:11 Comments (4)

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