Rabat and Lanzarote
28 September 2018 | Arrecife, Lanzarote, Canary Islands
Barbara/hot and windy
We will have had more than a year for this trip – bringing Sequoia home from Europe – and yet it seems like we’re rushing from place to place, with little time to see the sights in each place. Folks who are truly full-time cruisers – who have no deadline for getting somewhere – can theoretically stay as long as they wish wherever they are. Of course that isn’t really true – Countries have deadlines for how long you can stay, and weather conditions often dictate that you shouldn’t be where you are. Health concerns can send you home to get the medical care you need.
We spent a week in Rabat, the capital of Morocco. As noted in our previous blog post, part of the stay was designated for convalescence from our mutual episode of travelers’ diarrhea, likely caused by some food we shouldn’t have eaten, or water we shouldn’t have drunk. Once we were back to full health, there were a number of boat chores that prevented us from getting out and sightseeing much. But to be honest, just doing business in such an unfamiliar place is an opportunity to learn a lot about it, and to see interesting things.
We ran out of the Spanish water in our tanks, so we had to take on water in each of our two ports in Morocco. (The watermaker is not working at the moment; that’s another story). Each of the marinas assured us that the water piped to the docks is fine to drink, but some of the cruisers were not so sanguine about it. The best advice seemed to be to add a bit of chlorine bleach to kill any possible bugs.
In Rabat we went off in search of a) bleach, and b) paper test strips to test the concentration of bleach in the tanks. The bleach bottle was easy to find in the nearby medina. You’d think figuring out the dose for the tanks would be a simple question of mathematics, but hang on a second – the bleach bottle was entirely in Arabic, and the only thing we could read in the midst of that was 12°. Hang on, twelve degrees? Is that the same thing as twelve percent? We went up to the harbormaster’s office, and although the English-speaking guy there could read and speak Arabic, he had no idea what twelve degrees meant. I guess dealing with bleach, mostly used for laundry, is women’s work. I looked it up on the internet, and it turns out that the degree system is in use in Belgium and France, and there’s a complex mathematical formula for converting that to grams per 100. Then there’s the uncertainty of how fresh the bleach is, which affects the concentration…. You get the idea. So we determined that we needed test strips.
We located the nearest swimming pool supply store on google maps, but it was the weekend. Repeated calls just rang and rang. Google in Morocco is notoriously out of date and under-supplied with information. We located another store, and this guy actually answered the phone, although our only language in common was French, and we have little enough of that. We decided it had a positive enough sound that we’d give it a try.
The shop was in a distant part of the city, so we took the modern tram part of the way, and then found a rickety taxi for the remainder. The guy in the marina wrote down the name of the street in Arabic. That was a help, because the cab driver didn’t speak any language we did. The trip took us through newer parts of the city, including beautifully landscaped parks and grounds in the area near the royal palace. When we arrived, it was on a wide boulevard cut through an older part of the city. We located the store by its crudely hand-painted sign on the wall: “Aqua Cristal”. It was a narrow, cramped shop, maybe 100 square feet in size, with an elderly guy ensconced at one end, talking with his buddies. There were modern pool supplies, including filters, fittings, pumps, chemicals and pool toys stacked high up the walls on each side, many beyond reach without a stepstool. The buddies moved aside quickly and offered me the only chair to sit on.
Turned out the guy had no paper test strips, and he gave us a long story in French about how he’d been trying to get them. Then Craig asked about a test kit – yes he had that, but Craig would need to climb up and get it. 50 dirham (about $5), just the thing! Whew – we concluded our business, exchanged pleasantries as best we could, and made our way back out onto the street.
We stopped at a café then, despite my initial reluctance. The people sitting in the café (there must have been 50 or 75 of them) were 100% men. No women whatsoever. No women servers. Was it even proper for me to sit there? We did, and had fine cups of café au lait. All the men – mostly alone – sat at their little tables and stared at their phones. Groups of women walked by on the street with nary a glance at the occupants of the café.
On the way back to the boat, we had the taxi driver drop us at the Hassan Tower, which we’d been seeing from the marina across the river. At night it’s lighted beautifully, although it becomes more ordinary in sunlight. It’s not a tower you can climb, but it’s adjacent to a vast, carefully maintained ruin of a mosque. To gain entry to the area, you go through a gate, between two uniformed guards mounted on horses. The matched horses apparently have to stand there for hours in their little sandboxes. The guards are talkative (unlike the palace guards in many other countries) and are glad to have their pictures taken with visitors. Beyond the gate, acres of stone pavement are interrupted by periodic columns and pieces of columns. Next to the tower is a gorgeous decorative pool and fountain. Other decorative work around the edges of the area is astonishingly intricate and beautiful.
On the opposite end of the stone-paved area is the mausoleum of King Mohammed V, grandfather of the present King. It is a relatively simple rectangular building, with the marble tomb on the bottom floor, and a walkway around the next floor up. There are guards in each corner, but you are welcome to stop and look as long as you want. The tile work is simply magnificent. Intricate designs are formed not in large tiles, but in tiny pieces which are mortared into place. There is a magnificent rug next to the tomb, and a smaller rug equipped with a microphone and open book (presumably the Quran).
I want to tell you more about Adnane, the fellow who lives on the tiny cabin cruiser next to our slip in Rabat. He was persistent in his offers of help and information, and his inquiries into our well-being. But he was seemingly unconscious about the effect of his radio listening until 3 or 4 in the morning, and we didn’t know how to bring it up to him. One day he offered to bring couscous and some other food his mother had prepared for a special Muslim holiday that involved fasting. (I never did quite work out how the fasting and the couscous would work together…) Apparently, the holiday involved sacrificing a ram, which they did on the rooftop of their apartment building, which he pointed out to me, “right over there.” The next thing we knew, Adnane was insisting on showing us video on his phone of the whole sacrifice ceremony, including spurting blood and cleaning up pools of blood afterwards. The flat roof of the apartment building was painted orange-red, so maybe the whole purpose of the rooftop was to host such things???
Adnane brought around two different women he called “my girlfriend.” One was only about 18 and still lived with her parents. (Adnane is perhaps 40 years old). She was quite beautiful, going through some crisis, and Adnane appeared to be providing emotional support. We think in this case the girlfriend was a young person he was attempting to mentor, rather than having any sort of sexual attraction. The second girlfriend was perhaps 35, and Adnane confided that this was the woman he wanted to spend the rest of his life with. She lives in France with her three children, and only occasionally comes back to visit. It’s not clear how that could work out.
One evening we invited Adnane and one of the girlfriends to join us for dinner. He was a most gracious guest, glad to be welcomed aboard our boat, and full of curiosity.
We learned that Adnane, who clearly has a lot of problems, is on a disability pension. His former job was as a waiter to the King. For 18 years he prepared the beverages for the King, a highly prestigious job. He told us all about what sorts of smoothies the King liked to have for breakfast. Then one day, Adnane fainted, fell backwards and cracked open his skull, apparently due to untreated high blood pressure. He was in a coma for 5 days, was rehabilitated and came back to work, but was unable to continue. His personality changed, his wife divorced him and he has lost touch with his kids. The King provided him with a pension, so he is able to support himself by occasionally taking visitors or families for outings on his boat. Wow, what a life history!
After a week in Rabat we were finally ready to go. At high tide there were “personal watercraft” races on the river. Machines went by at a high speed, wending their way around a course along the river. The marina’s pilot boat led us out across the course, between the racers and then toward the ocean. We went past the fishing boats, the modern condominiums and the forts and palaces where the Barbary Pirates once held sway.
It was a three day/three night passage to our next destination, the island of Lanzarote, part of the Canary Islands. We never had much wind, and at times we were navigating through thick fog. On the plus side, the middle night was full moon, so we had plenty of light all three nights to help the nighttime visibility. I was able to make most of the passage food ahead of time, so we had a pretty easy time in the galley department. We read our Kindles and listened to podcasts while keeping an eye out for ships and fishing boats. The ships generally have AIS transmitters so that their information shows up on our electronic charts. The fishing boats generally don’t, and sometimes they don’t even generate a radar reflection. That makes for some tense moments.
After three days of motorsailing (we get pretty sick of the motor noise) we finally arrived in Arrecife, the capitol of Lanzarote. It appears to be a volcanic desert island, with low groupings of buildings and not much green except for city parks. We were greeted by our friends Kris and David of S/V Taipan, who had preceded our arrival by three days. I was glad to be back in a country where I could actually sort of speak the local language. (The Canaries are part of Spain). Things became easier to understand. The strict Muslim dress rules for women no longer applied. Big sigh of relief!
The first day involved a lot of sleeping, and then we made our way into the City for our first excursion: checking in with the police and getting our passports stamped. We got directions from the marina office (“yes of course you can go there by bicycle”). The directions were fine as far as they went, and then the bike path ended at a locked gate. The other choice was a gravel/sand road into a nautical garbage dump. We could see the likely buildings where the police station would be, but there appeared to be no direct way to get there. We chose the dirt road, which proved to be a challenge for our Brompton bikes with their tiny tires (two bike falls). The road headed past old boat hulks and skeletons of windmills, all surrounded by fields of lava and lava gravel. When the pavement finally started up, it took us past garbage transfer stations, recycling and various other industrial operations, and finally to the edge of a highway. We stopped to ask directions and finally made it to the police station.
Of course no one was there, despite it being during their marked open hours. There was a number to call, and two fellows finally did show up. They were very nice, even though we probably interrupted their lunch hour. They ceremoniously stamped us in to the Canaries, saying it was important to know that we were still in Europe, and that we would need to get an exit stamp when we left “Europe” (the Canaries for us, but also possibly – for others – in the Azores or Madiera).
Getting back to the marina involved reversing the previous route, although we did make a couple of stops – once for lunch, and another time to wade in the water at a nice little beach along the way. When we returned, of course, we were completely exhausted and spent the rest of the hot afternoon napping.
Today we invited Kris and David to join us for a trip to the Fundacion Manrique, a museum celebrating the art and architecture of César Manrique, a man who is perhaps the spiritual father of the island. He was a friend and contemporary of Picasso, Miró and other early twentieth-century artists, and their work was featured in one of the rooms. Prior to becoming a museum, the building was Manrique’s home. The lower level is built in room-sized lava bubbles, some of which are entirely enclosed, and some open to the sky at the top. Manrique connected them together with tunnels which are now painted white (like much of the building above). The bubbles house pools, exotic plants, big seating areas and art displays. It reminds one of the luxurious underground rooms seen in the James Bond movie, Dr. Who. The upper level consists of big rooms with views over the surrounding lava flow landscape. Surrounding the building are amazing desert gardens featuring Manrique’s sculptures and mosaics, along with native and exotic plants. There are quiet cool corners everywhere, and it makes you want to stop, sit, and think profound or not-so-profound but relaxing thoughts.
Tomorrow we’ll move on to Gran Canaria, where we’ll leave the boat for a few weeks while we head home and take care of some important things (like voting!). So I will leave you here, dear reader, and I wish you all the best.
Craig & Barbara Johnston