From Europe to Africa
14 September 2018 | Tangier, Morocco
Barbara/cloudy but humid
The last time I wrote a blog entry, we were about to arrive in the southern Spanish city of Cádiz. That was about three weeks ago, and the magnitude of everything we’ve seen, and everything that has happened without my writing about it, is starting to weigh on me. We’re now about to leave Tangier, Morocco, which is only a day’s sail away from Cádiz, but there’s much more distance to it than that. It’s a crossing from Europe to Africa. It’s an entry into a Muslim country, and very different cultural expectations and norms. Plus, it’s a day of sailing that is often not advisable. It is a passage across the Straits of Gibraltar, and there is often a strong east wind, called the “Levanter” that is pouring through the straits, often with resulting heavy seas.
Craig has read about the vagaries of the weather in this area, through nautical fiction based on 18th century maritime history. Both he and Mark Downing, who was then with us, were looking forward to sailing into Gibraltar, seeing the gigantic rock against the sky, and imagining themselves the successors to those 18th century British mariners. Alas, it was not to be. Mark and Fern had a scheduled trip in Morocco, and it didn’t leave time for the wind to calm down sufficiently for us to arrive in Gibraltar before their scheduled departure. So instead, they said goodbye in Cádiz, taking the bus to Gibraltar and a ferry on to Morocco. (Above, exploring Cádiz with Mark & Fern).
We decided to leave the boat in Cádiz for a planned 10 day trip to central Europe. We had train tickets from La Linea (Gibraltar) to Madrid, so we took the same bus there a couple of days after Mark and Fern left us. We took the tram up to the top of the rock, saw the famous macaque monkeys, marveled at the view into the Mediterranean and into the Atlantic from the same spot, and then walked all the way down (our knees did not forgive us for several days). It was fascinating to tour the siege tunnels which had originally been created to defend against the Spanish siege of 1789-1792 and were expanded during both World Wars. The openings in the siege tunnels look down on what is now Gibraltar’s airport, marking the boundary of the Territory.
We took the train to Madrid and spent a nice 18 hours seeing art museums (Reina Sofia and Prado). Probably the most striking for me was seeing Picasso’s Guernica in the Reina Sofia museum. They have it very handsomely displayed with a vast supporting exhibition about the Spanish Civil War. Afterwards we sat down at a table in a sort of carnival for a drink, and struck up a conversation with a young man who grew up in Venezuela and was working as an economist there. Unfortunately he was working for the opposition party, and finally fled the country when things got too bad. Fortunately his grandfather was Spanish, so he was able to claim a Spanish citizenship. Unfortunately his credentials didn’t transfer (he’s waiting for a certification from the current Venezuelan government – that’s not going to happen!) and he finds himself working for this carnival, presumably at minimum wage. It was a fascinating look into a refugee problem from an entirely different perspective than we’re used to.
With some difficulty we made it to the Madrid airport on time, and caught our flight to Prague, where Cori and Jens Kosyna and their two kids, Finn and Simon were waiting for us. We spent an interesting two days with them, sharing a couple of different restaurant experiences, walking around Prague, picking heirloom apples growing on the hill above their house, and finally attending an excellent performance of The Marriage of Figaro in the VERY THEATER WHERE MOZART HIMSELF CONDUCTED THE WORLD PREMIERE OF DON GIOVANNI! For you non-musicians who might not otherwise be able to tell, this was a very big deal for us.
The next morning, we flew to Zurich and then took the train to Altstätten, where Jürg Buschor met us (exactly on time; this is Switzerland, after all…) Jürg and his wife Susanne and children Jonas, Flurin and Lena entertained us for the next couple of days. We started with a dinner of rösti (Swiss potato dish) and cheese. I mean, 20 different cheeses spread out on a couple of big boards, all but one Swiss, in a variety of different flavors. Wow, what a spread! Jürg took us the next day to see the St. Gallen library which was founded in the 8th century by an Irish monk (St. Gall). The building – not nearly so old, merely 400 or 500 years old – was incredible, but the exhibits included some manuscripts from the 8th century, with a recognizably Irish type of script. St. Gall was one of those lights of learning who saved and passed on some of the Roman and Greek knowledge and writings which would otherwise have been lost. (Read: Cahill: How the Irish Saved Civilization).
It got better. The next day the Buschor family took us to Ebenalp at the top of a mountain tramway in the Appenzell region. From the top of the tram we walked down through a cave and across a ledge to a Swiss Inn where we enjoyed a snack. We watched dozens of hang gliders take off from a mountain slope and circle in the sky above us. The scenery was beyond spectacular. The day finished with a barbecue put on by Jürg and Susanne where they invited all the young men (now somewhat older) who had visited us in Forest Grove while Jürg was living with us in 1991. What an experience!
These past paragraphs have not been about sailing (the supposed topic of this blog), but they have certainly given us an interesting perspective on what our lives are like when we are sailing, and how they might be different if we made different choices.
We made our way back to Cádiz, and found the boat was still there, in good condition. One of the boats which had arrived in the meantime was Taipan of Australia, with Kris Adams and David Frost aboard. I’ve been corresponding with Kris, through several Facebook groups, for about a year and a half. They were in Vlissingen, Netherlands when we were considering it as an overnight stay back in May, 2017 (we didn’t end up going there because the tide wasn’t high enough for us to get across their cill.) A quick exchange of information with Kris helped in resolving our decision. Later that year we came near to meeting in Gothenburg, Sweden. Then in winter, 2017, when we left Sequoia in Suffolk Yacht Harbour near Ipswich, England, it turned out that Taipan spent several months just up the river in Ipswich proper. We nearly met in Falmouth last June, and then again at several ports in France, Spain and Portugal as the summer progressed. Pretty soon our messages were about “when will we meet?” and now, in Cádiz, we were finally seeing each other.
We spent several days together in Cádiz, and then crossed together to Tangier, where we now are. Taipan left yesterday for Gibraltar, but we certainly had a good time together while they were here. We hit it off great, as it turns out, but it will take a concerted effort to meet up again. They are heading back to Australia by plane in the next few weeks, and by the time they return to Europe we’ll likely be in the Caribbean. It may need to be a land trip by them to Oregon or by us to Western Australia. (We have other people we’d like to visit in Australia, and we’re unlikely to get there again by boat).
Marina Tanja Bay, where we are staying in Tangier, is brand new; it has been open only two months. They plan for 1400 berths with the first half of the docks now installed, and I’d say there are only about 8 cruising boats here, plus a smattering of local pleasure boats. The facilities have a way to go. The office people have a tendency to say “I only work here; I have no ability to change things.” (We’ve heard that a lot in Morocco). No hot water in the shower, no laundry facilities, a card access system that only sometimes works, etc. etc. On the plus side, they have numerous security guards who tightly control access to the docks. In addition, we have what can only be described as a “concierge” who keeps an eye on boat lines during periods of high wind, and who will help out with any problem or request we might have. Our “concierge” has gone to bat for us in finding taxis at reasonable prices, giving us good advice about where to find things in the city, and telling us how much something is worth (a help in this bargaining-centered economy). There is a seagull poop crew – Two guys who travel up and down the docks in foul weather gear and boots, cleaning off the messy leavings of the gulls with a pressure washer. They do a very thorough job when they come, but there is so much sparsely occupied dock space to take care of that they can’t come as frequently as you’d like. The seagulls are happy to spend their nights and part of their days on any unoccupied section of the docks.
Much of what we’d like to have is simply not available, or at least we haven’t been able to find it. An example: We have a power cord with a 16 amp connector standard in European marinas. They put us on a dock with 32 amp outlets only. Other marinas have provided adapters, but they have none here. We’ve gone out searching for the parts for Craig to make an adapter, but they simply can’t be found. We borrowed an adapter for a few days from another boat but gave it back when they were ready to move on. At the moment we’re relying on solar and wind power, which unfortunately doesn’t make hot water (back to the issue about no hot water in the shore showers…) So this is a marina with a very promising future, but a number of problems to solve.
After exploring Tangier’s very interesting Medina and Ville Nouvelle, we decided to travel by land to the “Blue City” of Chefchaouen. It’s visually spectacular; I must have taken 1000 photos. The narrow winding streets of the city are painted varying shades of blue, and small stalls sell interesting handicrafts in a less persistent way than what we encountered in Tangier. I bought some hand-woven cloth from a shop where the owner, blind, operates the loom. His son sets up the colors, and the old man does beautiful work. In the back of the shop they have started an institute for other blind people, and several came in while we were there. I felt good supporting that enterprise.
One of the interesting things for sale in the small streets are bags of powdered paint. A person buys a scoop of the powder and mixes it with water. There are 18 or 20 colors, so presumably you can mix or match. They were selling a lot of blues.
We walked up to a waterfall which was historically used as a water source for a mill to grind wheat and extract oil from olives. Now the walkway along the creek and channels is lined with tourist shops, but it is still a beautiful area with an amazing amount of water for such dry countryside.
Chefchaouen is also interesting because of the strong Spanish influence that can be seen, particularly in the architecture. When the Moors and Jews were kicked out of Spain in 1492, a number of them came to Chefchaouen. The Jews particularly lived a very isolated life, and when Spanish soldiers came to claim the area as a Spanish colony in 1920, they were astonished to find a population speaking 15th century Castilian. Today much of the architectural research and restoration that’s taking place is being funded by the Spanish government. You can see plaques memorializing the Spanish financial contributions all over the city. The mill and channels of the waterfall are one of the Spanish restoration projects.
Last night we returned from Chefchaouen, and now we begin the process of getting ready for our next jump, down the coast to Rabat, the capitol of Morocco. We have laundry to do (probably just some hand wash – no laundry service at the marina) food to buy, and other supplies to check.
So I will leave you here, dear reader, and I hope not to leave such a gap before I write next time!
Best wishes to all!
Craig & Barbara Johnston