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The Flying Dutchman

Three Countries, Two Continents, One Epic Adventure

SPAIN | Monday, 8 March 2010 | Views [3358] | Comments [2]

Hi friends. Long time no blog, I know. It has been a difficult last month for me (traveling is hard on a person...) because after the shocking death of my computer, I was left without any access to the world wide web. I now know how the Inuit feel. Stranded, alone; out on the icy tundra just trying to stay alive. I think the Inuit now have internet though, so really I was worse off than them. Through it all, I persevered. For 40 days and 40 nights I wandered Europe, beaten down and cut off from the world (with company of course) (sidenote from Alice: Neil wasn’t even cutoff from the world. When I was there he was constantly on MY computer and then once I left he went into a STARBUCKS (in Europe, the home of amazing coffee) to use internet. Cutoff indeed), until finally I got a brand new hard-drive on the final day of Carnival! (For those of you who appreciate the irony (fittingness?) of this tale ending on the first day of Lent, I'm glad) So long story short (you know it is still going to be a long story), I have now regained the capabilities to blog once more, and will get you all caught up on the adventures, starting NOW!

Where I (actually, where Alice) left you last, we had just arrived in Tarifa on the southernmost tip of Spain, in the middle of a near-hurricane, and you (and Alice) were all laughing at my expense as I was trying desperately to keep my umbrella from turning inside-out and/or catching the wind and hoisting me into the sky Mary Poppins Style. We did make it to our hostel alive and there made friends with a Canadian couple before drying out and going to sleep.

By morning the weather had cleared up nicely and we checked out the big sandy beach and (carefully) touched the Atlantic Ocean. Alice was still suffering from the effects of that cold she had captured upon arrival into the country (for this reason I will call it the Spanish Flu), and her symptoms now included total sinus congestion, so we popped into a pharmacy to get some nasal (ew) spray (ew) (sidenote from Alice: I apologise that Neil found it necessary to talk about my sinuses). If there is one reason why Alice converses better in Spanish than I do (you think it's because she lived in Venezuela, but really that's not why at all) it is because of the amount of times we have had to go to spanish-speaking-only pharmacies for one of Alice's ailments. This pharmacy was no different. Alice did well, "Yo tengo dolor aqui..." yada yada yada and then froze when saying what she needed, before making the hand motion of spraying something up her nose, and saying "chhh, chhh". Whatever gets the point across. The pharmacist understood entirely, and we got the goods and took off.

We hopped on a bus to Gibraltar, and it took us almost all the way there, dropping us off at the town on the immediate Spanish side of the border (Gibraltar is technically Great Britain), La Linea. We got out and walked in the direction of the Rock of Gibraltar, which loomed over everything else. After showing our passports, we walked right across the border (a first for both of us, and now we were able to say that we walked to Great Britain). Land is precious in the tiny peninsula of Gibraltar, so the airstrip is bisected by the only road in and out, so as we walked signs instructed us never to stop moving and to stay within the lines (sidenote from Alice: Neil didn’t manage to do either of these things. He’s lucky to be alive.). Once we were out of harms way and off the landing strip, we were greeted by a red telephone booth and all other things British. There was no longer any trace that we had been in Spain mere minutes ago, other than the beautiful, very un-British weather. Suddenly all of the people spoke English (with british accents) and we stopped for some delicious fish 'n' chips and watched all the Coronation Street characters coming in and out and chatting with each other. They didn't even know we were watchin'...

We hopped on the gondola which forged a path up the mountain (aka. The rock) and then disappeared into the clouds which were trapped on the top. We, too, soon disappeared into these clouds, and the spectacular view that had been so hoping for only existed with a good imagination. We got off at the top and took the audio tour of the viewpoint, so we could at least hear about the amazing view if we couldn't actually see it. The receptionist told us not even to bother going outside with all the clouds trapped up here, but to our surprise when we did go out to the viewing platform it had started to clear off! Those powerful Atlantic winds blew the clouds right overtop of the rock and we were afforded an amazing view of the city below, the monkeys (Gibraltar has a bunch of wild monkeys for some reason), the rock, and Spain. We squinted and said that we could also see Africa, but I don't think it was clear enough to the south to actually see Africa. We snapped some awesome shots and headed back to Tarifa, where we made some more friends in the American group that was staying at the hostel, as well as an Austrian guy named Tobias.

The next day we, along with all of our new friends from the night before, hopped on a ferry and went to the next continent (sidenote from Alice: YES, it was JUST as casual as this sentence seems). We had found a really good deal with a local tour company where we would get a ferry to and from the city of Tangier, Morocco, a tour guide would show us around the city, and we would get lunch, all for about $100. This was less than the cost of a ferry ticket alone, so we jumped on the opportunity. We had not idea how they could make any money doing this. We got out into the Strait of Gibraltar and could see the mountains of Morocco on the other side. Just seeing Africa was exciting. We got to Tangier and officially stepped on African soil (I'm pretty sure I took a picture of our feet), as well as entered an Islamic nation for the first time. We wore our stickers dutifully on our chests and our tour guide picked us out of the crowd and led us to his van in the parking lot (this went against everything they ever taught me in elementary school). He spoke several languages, so we got the tour of the city in English as well as Spanish. He drove us around the main parts and explained all of the history and stuff and things. We noticed a rather extraordinary police presence, and he informed us that, it was our lucky day, the King of Morocco was in town! This also explained the countless large flags with the Kings face on them. There was at least one or two police or army officials on every single block of the city that we passed, so we felt quite safe in Tangier's hands.

We made our way up the mountain, past some beautiful vistas overlooking the city and the Strait of Gibraltar, and came to a stop next to, wait for it... camels! Ya, we got to ride them. I may or may not have worn a fez while doing so (pics on FB). I must say, riding a camel is a cool experience, I would definitely do it again. (sidenote from Alice: as touristy as this whole tour was becoming – I am a firm believer that it was an amazing way for us to see so much of Tangier in such a short time. Fez, dusty camel riding areas and all) Afterward, we carried on back down to the Medina (old city), got out of the van, and walked through it. Surprisingly to me, there were actually more people in casual dress than in traditional robes and scarves. Our tour guide also noted that today was the holiest day of the week for Muslims (Friday) so there was more traditional wear than usual. There didn't seem to be a certain demographic that dressed more traditionally than the others either.

Probably the highlight of the day for me was seeing an Arabic guy about my age, dressed in the long robes and such - but sporting a faux-hawk. The fohawk is my thing, but I can let him claim ownership of it for the Arab World, I'll represent in North America.

The differences we had were obvious, we were from two different cultures - two different worlds. Two different worlds which so often had such difficulty finding common ground, yet we had done so already. Two worlds, oh so far apart, yet we were united by something so simple, yet so powerful: a faux hawk.

...So that was me waxing poetic about mah hair-do. (sidenote from Alice: that actually just happened.) Moving right along, we were led through some of the markets of the Medina, where we found quite-recently-offed chickens, rabbits, and other creatures hanging up for sale, fully intact. We didn't stop for much browsing. (Try getting that across the border. "Do you have anything to declare?" "Ummmm, ya, a dead rabbit?") Our fearless leader told us about the many little neighbourhoods that make up the 1.4 million strong city of Tangier, and how they each have certain characteristics. They all have a school, a central water-source (as most of the places don't have running water) and some other facilities which I cannot remember right now (this was a month ago)(sidenote from Alice: one of the COOLEST things (personal opinion) that they have is a communal bread baking fire pit place. There is a man who sits in a dugout room with a wood fire who cooks the bread. Everyone brings their dough to the man and he cooks it. Apparently neighbours pick up each other’s dough on the way and it’s all very communal and friendly and lovely!), and I also noticed that they all seemed to have one room that opened up onto the street with a TV and video games which the neighbourhood children shared. We also walked through the centre square of the city which housed a famous mosque. The king was due to arrive for second prayer so there was a exceptionally large crowd waiting for him. If only we hadn’t been running on strict tour-time we could have met (or at least seen) the king! I guess we’ll just have to go back again!

We next were taken into a traditional Moroccan restaurant for lunch, which consisted of a delicious cinnamon soup, lots of bread, couscous, shishkebabs, dessert of sugar bread (which is like bread that is made out of ONLY sugar), and coke with Arabic writing on the bottle!!! As we ate we were serenaded with Arabic music by a band of skinny old men. (sidenote from Alice: the one that kept grinning at me was a few helpings of sugar bread too many away from skinny) It was so sweet.

After lunch we discovered how this tour makes money. We were "given the opportunity to go to a traditional Herbal Pharmacy and see all of the traditional Moroccon health products!" This meant that we were all paraded into the "pharmacy" (I do not use those quotation marks lightly, this place was not legit) and sat in a circle around the ""pharmacist"" (check that out, DOUBLE quotes). He would tell us about some mysterious powder which, after one sniff, would stop your snoring forever, or another which would combat seasickness, or some garamasala or whatever, and then his trusty assistant would bring the item on display to each person and force you to smell. Literally, he would squeeze your nose and close one of your nostrils and then hold the strong smelling powder up to the other one, and you would smell and go "mmmmm, smells gooood". There were like 26 different miracle products, and I'm pretty sure what he said would cure acne for good, he also presented as fine saffron. He even had "Moroccan Viagra". After he had gone through all of the products, he went through them again asking each of us how much we would like to be. There was about ten of us in the group, and it was the most awkward time in the world because nobody bought anything. Not even the Moroccan Viagra, amazingly. He would go down the line individually and at first we were like "Ummm, no I don't think I'll get any of that, Thanks!", but after the first ten minutes we were like "No", "No", "No", "No". He stayed cool for the most part but near the end he started to show signs of exasperation with these cheap North American backpackers. I really wished there could have been just one money-bags with us who was willing to buy one of everything, just so it wasn't so awkward. SO awkward haha.

We FINALLY got out of there (interesting experience, but dragged on a tad long) and our traitor, I mean leader, took us to the next place, a rug store. Here it was less awkward and drawn out, and we got a presentation on how they make the finest rugs in the world and stuff, and then they attempted to sell us the thousand dollar, 12 foot long rugs. Where am I supposed to fit that? Well I guess there would be lots of room in my wallet for it! O ha, I made a funny. But ya at least these guys were nicer about it and didn't pressure us too much. (sidenote from Alice: I am disgusted to see how LITTLE Neil has talked about these rugs. This store was AMAAAZING! Packed from ceiling to floor with beautiful, elegant, amazing, to die for rugs! We saw a woman making the carpets using a traditional loom, we sat while they rolled countless beautiful rugs of every shape and size out in front of me, and the entire time I sat there mentally trying to work out logistics of fitting a rug into my backpack and how on earth I would pay for it. Unfortunately, the money to rug space and sensibleness ratio didn’t quite add up and I left empty handed. The owner of the shop did offer numerous hundred camels for me though (how flattering!). Luckily that deal never came about and we successfully continued on our way.)

As we exited the building there were several men hovering around the door ready to sell us stuff, like watches, rugs, miniature camel figurines, jewellery, etc. I think they make all of their money off of these daily tours, and I wouldn't be surprised if the tour company got some of the cut. One guy picked me out of the crowd and offered me a watch, "10 euro" he said. I, after zero hemming and hawing, declined. "Good price" he replied, as if I would only now realize what a steal his authentic Rolex's were. "I already know the time, thanks" I said as I showed him the watch on my wrist. "Five euro," He bargained, "Good price". I must be quite the bargainer, I thought, I just made the price of that Rolex cut in half. After his smooth, professional start, the Moroccan street-hawker soon became pathetic. "Please," he continued, "Three euro, please" and he used his Puss in Boots face to perfection, his eyes nearly making me want to cry. I offered him one euro for the watch and he acted as if I had hurt him in some way, but I could tell he was thinking about it. I really had zero need for a watch, so I just kept declining, but he walked with me for five minutes all the way to the next store, which he couldn't go inside. I wanted to stand on the invisible line that he couldn't cross at the very edge of the open storefront and stick out my tongue, but I thought better of it.

This store was a little nic-nac shop with dewdads and trinkets and gewgaws and other funny words. Alice turned out to be the big spender of the day and bought a coin-purse. After leaving the store we were told that that was all that was planned for the tour, so we would have some time to wait for our ferry. As we stood outside the store, all of the street hawkers took advantage once again, and made their rounds through us. As you know, I like to be creative with street hawkers, so I answered one "I don't speak English", then he spoke Spanish and I said "No hablo Espanol". "What language do you speak then?" I tried to think of something obscure, that he wouldn't know, but the best I could come up with was, "Dutch" (why I would say the name of the language that I speak in English, I don't know). To my surprise, he started speaking Dutch, and I gave up on trying to outsmart him. (Why the best job this guy could get was selling toy camels on the street escapes me. He knows like 12 languages. I try to buy a ticket for a train in Italy and they know only Italian)

We got back on the ferry and returned to Europe, knowing that, despite the money-grabbing attempts, we would not be forgetting our side-trip to Africa for a very long time.

Tags: alice berents, gibraltar, morocco, neil loewen, tangier, tarifa





  Tanner Markin Mar 8, 2010 2:58 AM


We've all waited a looong time for this but it was worth it!

  Mom Mar 9, 2010 3:53 AM

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