| Spain to The Canary Islands Dear Family and Friends,Dear Family and Friends,We have arrived in the Canary Islands, our jumping off point to cross the Atlantic Ocean on our way to the Caribbean. Many sailors refer to the Atlantic as “The Pond” but, for us the 3,000 mile crossing will take about 24 days and that is one heck of a pond. Our last newsletter was sent from Valencia, Spain, and we would like to comment on some places we visited between Valencia and The Canaries. Americans can only get 90 day visas when they arrive in the EU and then they need to leave for a country outside of the EU if they want to stay longer. After a bit of research we decided to go to the principality of Andorra which is in Europe but not in the EU, and therefore does not follow the Shengen visa regulations. We rented a car and drove the 3 hours to the compact, alpine “country” of Andorra. In the winter it is a skiing paradise while all year it is a destination for buying duty free. There was a happy Disneyland atmosphere about Andorra which swept us along in a river of people from one shop to the next. The entry stamp in our passports took up a whole page with the words, “Andorra, The country in the Pyrenees Mountains”. Above those words is a caricature of a lipstick imprint. After seeing that comical stamp in my passport I was feeling certain that we would not be legally allowed back into the EU. Or at the very least we would be fined by immigration police at our next port. However upon our exit at the Andorran/French border we luckily were met by 5 friendly immigration police, who after much deliberation, agreed to give us a new entry stamp into the EU. After becoming legal again we sailed from Valencia along the Spanish coast to Gibraltar and visited several small seaside towns along the way. We took our time and savored some beautiful weather and great sailing. In Cartagena, Spain, a week long festival captured our attention and we stayed to see many hundreds of men, women and children parade through the city in Roman and Carthaginian dress. Mock battles were fought, plays were put on, bands played, and as thousands watched, hundreds in period dress put on a great show. Food and drink was plentiful; we drank our share and ate pork ribs as if it were to be our last. Also while in Cartagena we met two young Frenchmen who were kayaking from Gibraltar to Istanbul. They are following the coastlines of the countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea and by their calculations it will be a 10,000 mile trip. During this very challenging trip they will be taking water samples of sea water to document a new algae that has taken root in the Mediterranean Sea and is causing havoc with some sea life. We heard about their adventures when they joined us for dinner one night. Their web site if you would like to view their adventure is http://www.marenostrum-project.com/
As we sailed westward along the Spanish coast we eventually reached Gibraltar and became familiar with its unique geography, history, and present day ongoing squabble with Spain over ownership rights. Our boat slip at the marina was a hundred yards from the airport runway. We had front row seats for take offs and landings. As a matter of fact we had front row seats to everything. Gibraltar is so small in area that no place is far to walk to. The “rock” still has the Barbary apes. Although they are now so well protected from humans that a person caught feeding a peanut to an ape can be fined $1,500 dollars. To escape the confines of Gibraltar, we rented a car and went to visit Spain’s Alcazar and Cathedral in Seville. Our little rental car zipped us, and our friends Bob and Nancy, there in a couple of hours through countryside that looked like rolling hills in Southern California. Along the way we had just enough rain to nicely wash away the dirt on the windshield. Once we arrived in Seville we parked the car in an underground parking lot where we emerged in front of a McDonalds at the exact time we thought of lunch. While we rarely eat at McDonalds, the food is predictable even abroad and sometimes that is what our American bodies need.
The Moorish Palace of Alcazar is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is considered a must see as is the famed Alhambra in Granada, Spain. The Moorish architecture is something to marvel at with all its graceful arches and intricate stucco detail. The gardens are laid out in a relaxed, balanced manner that invites a sense of serenity. Geometric patterns are the hallmark of Muslim art. The perfection of this thought can be found in mosques. All mosques have no paintings or mosaics of living things so as not to distract the worshiper from prayer.
Another UNESCO site in Seville is the Cathedral of Saint Mary of the See, the largest cathedral in Spain and the third largest in the world. It is magnificent in size, ornateness, and graceful interior design. The walls are filled with paintings, statues, mosaics and all sorts of embellishments in silver and gold. The cathedral that is seen today was built hundreds of years ago within a mosque that was built by the previous Moorish rulers. What an interesting dichotomy of worshiping God. One religion tries its best to create visions of the unknowable, and another religion believes the unknowable is too perfect to humanly recreate. The huge tomb of the historical celebrity, Christopher Columbus, has a prominent spot upon entering the Cathedral. Amusingly, the Dominican Republic does not accept these claims by the Spanish for they say that they have the remains of Columbus in their city of Santo Domingo.
After a few days stay we left Gibraltar and sailed to Rabat, Morocco. During our one month eye opening stay in Morocco we had the good fortune to talk to Moroccans about their culture. One Moroccan family invited us to their home for the Celebration of Eid al-Adha, a three day feast. The feast day commemorates God’s test of Abraham. In the Muslim world, on the first day of the feast a ram is sacrificed and the liver and heart are removed, barbecued, and eaten. On the following day the carcass is butchered and divided 1/3 for the family, 1/3 given to friends, and 1/3 given to the poor. The family that invited us sacrificed 3 rams because of their wealth and status.
Our travels in Morocco took us to the celebrated cities of Casablanca, Marrakech, Meknes and Rabat, the capital. The trains were fast, clean and well organized; and they were inexpensive. All the major cities of Morocco are similar in that they have an ancient walled city (a medina) within the modern city. These medina have their various sections, e.g. metal shops, leather works, ceramics, clothing, etc. which are called souks. Sometimes the walkways of the souks are so crowded that one is constantly in contact with someone else. My first experience with this mass human contact gave me feelings of apprehension. But soon, we learned to flow in that sea of humanity. Bargaining is the name of the game in these souks and tourists are at a definite disadvantage. Such give and take on the price is a game that is skillfully played by those merchants. The talent is in their blood, their genes, their culture.
In Rabat, we took a Disneyland like tram from our marina to the Kasbah. We walked along the impeccably clean, maze-like walkways admiring the unique entry doorways. The doors are so beautifully designed and maintained that one can’t help but go on a picture taking tour. In Marrakech we watched the cobra snake charmers in the main square. The snakes would rise up, spread their hoods about their heads and look exceedingly nasty. We kept our distance. Nearby were men with monkeys that onlookers were invited to have on their shoulders for picture taking. Another picture taking opportunity was the possibility of climbing up on an absolutely perfectly groomed and gorgeously dressed Arabian stallion.
Having a coffee in a sidewalk cafe or tea and pastries and watching life parade by was a pleasant way to spend a couple of hours. Or even better was enjoying lunch in a lush garden served by three smiling waiters who genuinely looked pleased to make us feel welcome. Also in Marrakech we spent a couple nights in a riade which would be the equivalent of an Italian pensione or B&B. Dinner was served on a landscaped rooftop with minarets doting the skyline. The squab dinner was sinfully good and the cook blushed when we complimented her talents. Another night we tasted her lamb tagine with herbs and spices, a specialty to North Africa. It was another memorable meal.
In Casablanca we walked the shaded avenues, viewed the largest mosque in Morocco, and got lost looking for the famed Rick’s Cafe as portrayed in the movie “Casablanca”.
We send our love,
Frank and Linda