The Sahara and Us Morocco 2011

Sunday, May 29, 2011

The Rock of Gibraltor

North facing point of the Rock of Gibraltor
So another day and another destination, this was quite close, about 85 kms.... the Rock of Gibraltor.

It was eerie driving west on the Costa del Sol and then all at once instead of the Mediterranean  sea you see this huge mountain sticking out of the water. It was great.Arrived about 1:15 pm and decided to have lunch at the base before taking the cable car/gondola to the top. The little restaurant in the parking area is really good and takes reservations. A local family had reserved their Sunday meal there and arrived just as we were finishing. I had spaghetti vongole, a favorite and it was very good. A less is more version. Lots of garlic, tons of butter clams in a tomato sauce with a basil pesto, but very little tomato sauce, just some olive oil. It was very good. Sandra had a chicken caesar salad she said was very good as well.

Then we were hit upon by the taxi drivers there who want to drive you to the top and do a tour for you. Our waiter warned us about them and instead we took the up portion of the cable car, and would enjoy the walk down. 7.5 pounds each.

The monkeys on Gibraltor are a bit of an oddity. They were likely imports during Morrish times, and were sustained during British Colonial days. During  WWII Churchill vowed that as long as there were apes on Gibraltor Britain would be there. During WWII they dwindled in number and Churchill actually snuck more in to keep his troops motivated.

The view is fantastic from up there as you look over the Bay of Algecerias. If you think this sounds Arabic it is, as this is the ferry terminus for the ferry to Morroco. Tomorrow we step into a totally different culture, so we'll see how it goes. 

2 wheels together for 39 years
We've talked quite a bit lately about how we operate in paradigms, and how this trip continues to challenge those paradigms. From something as simple as this is Sunday the border will likely be busy, to eating at different times, to living in confined spaces as most of the population of Europe does, to conservation, foods, the wearing of clothing (nudity and near nudity is far more  common on beaches) and types of clothes, sexual orientation of people and how they are treated by different cultures, etc. It certainly allows you to grow in understanding of others.

So this will be our last post of 10 days or so. We don't expect to find easy internet access while in Morocco ( another paradigm), and we will be doing quite of a bit of travel each day, but I gotta get to the Sahara desert, so we'll next check in around June 15 or so.

And we will learn more about some new paradigms.

Saturday, May 28, 2011


The Don Alfredo

Our drive to Marbella was short, only about 65 kms in total but it transformed us from a high mountainous region (Revelstoke high) to the Mediterranean sea again. Now Marbella is the beach town/city that Spaniards come to and we had picked the Don Alfredo Hotel on the recommendation of Trev and Chenty. It has not disappointed. It is situated just outside the old town with it’s face on the NE corner facing old town. As you can see from the pictures it has some beautiful views from our 3rd floor balcony.

And Marbella is typical , with a promenade overlooking the beach, two smaller marina’s right on the promenade, many many restaurants. And the nightlife with people strolling in the evening, eating after 10 pm  is common as it begins to cool, it was 28C on the beach and 33 -36C back off the beach during the day, it is a magical trip to a very different lifestyle from ours, and one we are adapting to more each day.
A room with a view

The old town streets of Marbella at nite

Taken from our balcony
street restaurants at 10:30 pm

Old town walls in front of our Hotel
The most beautiful scene

The fountains are beautiful, so are the women you can photograph with them, and the living is good.

Sandra wanted a picture of us both here so last night we took a picture of some other people there and they took this one for us.
Two Wheels spinning 2gether for 39 years


A Ronda panorama
The Ronda bridge between old and new, click on the picture to enlarge it and you will see the climbers on the waterfall.

Old town and countryside
Ronda was another possible stop, but since we decided we weren’t going to go to the Alhambra in Granada, 360 kms after just seeing the Alcazar in Seville, it became a definite on our way to Marbella. Eventually this will lead us to Gibraltor in the next few days before crossing to Morocco. And we will see many Alhambra’s in Morocco.

Ronda was nothing short of picture post card perfect with scenic views, panoramas,  ruins etc. We stayed at Hotel Ronda in the old part of the city, and it was an exquisite boutique hotel. The rooms, sheets, bed coverings, location etc. etc. were fantastic and each time we came out of the hotel someone was taking a photo of it.

The Barber of Seville and Arcos

Antonio the Barber of Seville
When you are on the road this long you start to need to attend to things like wash, haircuts etc. Fortunately wash was done in Nazare, but I was starting to get antsy about getting a haircut before Morocco. As it turned out Sandra spotted “the barber of Seville” just 4 doors down from our hotel and fortunately he was able to fit me in right away.  I got a great haircut. Seems like a lot of the great barbers are named Tony.

Well we headed out of Seville to Arcos and wound our way through some small villages (hill towns) on the way there. In one we stopped when we saw a Mercado so that we could get some meat and cheese and bread for lunch as well as fruit. Sandra jokingly remarked later that one of the ladies took pity on me as I was juggling fruit and she went and got me a bag, while Sandra was left holding her fruit.

Arcos Cathedral
Arcos de la Frontera was a bit hazy, don’t know if it was weather or some affects from the volcano in Iceland but the day was a bit gray there. The ‘de la frontera’ part of the Arcos name is shared with many hill towns in this Andalucia region of Spain. During the ‘reconquista’ of the 1400’s these areas were some of the last battlegrounds between the Christians and moors for territory in Spain. They were identified with this moniker, and the towns keep it to this day. Arcos is striking due to its cliffs and ancient ruins.

Arcos in the Haze

The Steep streets of Arcos de la Frontera, challenging on a moto
A friend had recommended we take a little travelled road from Arcos to Ronda via Grazalema. It was fantastic and I have shot some excellent riding video which I will load up to the site shortly. It is stunning.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011


The Bulls Entrance.....No Bull!

Ran the AC all night as it only cooled the bedroom. The bathroom was easily 15C warmer overnight. In the morning the room didn’t come with breakfast so we headed down to the end of the street for a fantastic coffee and pastry place. Wow the coffee was super strong and good, no bitterness to it at all. 

Took the bus #166/ or 160 into Seville proper, 1.3E for a 15 min ride. And walked to all the sites in Seville. The first is the Bull Ring, considered the top ring in Spain, it is where the King and Queen of Spain come to see a bull fight and one is on for this weekend. We took the tour of the stadium and it was very informative. I had attended a bull fight when I was a kid but I learned more from the tour than the actual fight.

Seville has a river running through it that used to at one time allow Seville to be a port on the sea, however in the 1500’s the flood plain silted in and it is no longer navigable that way. The river and activities on it remind me a lot of Florence, an there are many similarities to the two cities. They are very comparable in architecture as well.

We passed on the Cathedral tour the most pressing being it was a long line-up and the temp was already over 30C. So we headed off to the Real Alcazar, where when the Christian’s drove the Moors out of Seville in the mid 1400’s the demolished the Mosque that was in the Alcazar and built a palace for the King and Queen of Spain there instead. It still has many features that are Moorish in style principally because Moorish trades left behind  after the war were available to do the work. It is a gorgeous palace and gardens to see.

Carriages outside Alcazar

We walked the back streets and found many interesting tips on staying cool. First they build their streets so they are almost always casting shade and it generates a bit of a breeze. 

Play Misty for Me?

That's right folks 39C verified by another 3 blocks away
Secondly some of the cafes will mist water over their customers during the hottest parts of the day to keep them cool. It works!

Check out the temperature downtown Seville. Yikes. Now back to drinking cool lemon soda.


Revolucion Bridge April 25
We headed out from Lisbon over the April 25 Bridge and toward the Algrave region. The Algarve is Portugal’s version of the French Riveria with Lagos being the boating centre and Faro the place everyone flies into.

We chose Salema, partly because of advice that had said how it was off the beaten path and we had found a good place to stay there. Well as it turned out the place to stay had gotten a whole lot more popular and pricey so we inquired in town and found another apartment, 2 bedroom with kitchen, balcony, etc. for 45E a night, stay as long as we want. 

Sole for her
So we grabbed showers, headed for the beach, showered again then went out for supper the first night at AL BOIA and had a great breast of chicken in port sauce with mushrooms which was excellent and then later enjoyed the remainder of a bottle of Monte De Almonte we had taste tested at a wine store in Lisbon, a Tinto reserva wine 2009, which was excellent. Then the next morning we got up, and went to the beach for the whole day, then went out for supper, this time Sandra had a whole ‘Sole’ fish and I had duck.  Both were excellent. Finally the third day we decided we should look around a bit so we drove to Punta Sagres which 
My Duck!
Portugal’s beer is named after. Sagres and the fort were where Prince Henry the navigator chose to train all the mariners who would be responsible for leading the discovery of the naval route to India which made Portugal a major power in the mid- 1400’s. We checked out Punta Figueira which has its own tiny little beach, which appears to be more of a clothing optional place. No signs other than the lack of beachware. I think we’d have ordered a pair of 7-up’s if there had been a cafĂ© there., er..  I mean a couple of Cokes.
3 Canadians on Bikes

We’d use the kitchen for making breakfast each morning and sitting out on the sun drenched balcony before it got overly hot. It got too hot by 8:00 am, then we’d go to the beach, then siesta, then repeat again. Portugal is a very difficult place to……….. leave.

Finally on the 4th day we spent the morning at the beach, shower, and head out just before noon and go to Lagos where Marc Antoine from Quebec City flags us down as Canadians. We exchange travel stories and places to see and stay, swap email addresses and moto shipping info, and we are off to Huelva Spain, where Christopher Columbus sailed to the America’s in 1492. There at the foot of a monastery is a dock where replica’s of his 3 ships are floating. An excellent showpiece. When we went to pay to get in we presented the good old VISA card and found out their VISA reader was down, so we got free tickets to the exhibit!
Columbus Boats in Huelva
Sandra on the Santa Maria
After spending a couple of hours there and finding that Huelva was this huge shipping port and very hot we decided we’d head out to Seville where Pat and Belinda had told us about a place they stayed and actually stored their motorcycle for a year. We got in after ¾ hr of roasting driving in the heat and checked in, turned on the AC, found cold pop and chilled for most of the evening. Unable to find a restaurant open we walked up the street where our saviour was believe it or not, Burger King. First N. American type food in 1 month. It was very good too!

There were more clothing optional beaches in Columbus' time

The workhorse taking a well deserved break in the 35C shade

Sintra and Lisbon

Sintra Castello

Our drive from Nazare to Lisbon was supposed to be through Sintra as it is a WHS town. As old as the hills it stands on it is old. We rode out to a private garden that is called Montserrat however it was like the Buchart gardens. The Castelo there was beautiful and old, just like Convento do Cristo designed by Manueline. From there we selected the waypoint of our Ibis hotel in Lisbon only to have the GPS come back Route construction error. What the ??  Turns out when downloading the mapsets for this area there was a small part of Lisbon that wasn’t selected so we pulled out the netbook and downloaded the proper mapset. Later when I checked the route set I found and caught that I failed to select the maps for Seville. Oh well, now I know.

On arrival at our hotel we were deluged with Goldwings, mostly from Morroco since they arrived first. One of the organizers came up and offered us his card and any help he could provide in Casablanca where he lives and found out we are headed.
The Find Waldro (VStrom) version of the game

The Ibis hotels offer a reasonable value, not as good as the Holiday Inn Express versions but they are good. This one, the Alfragide is conveniently located and fairly reasonable in price. 

Monastery to Vasco de Gama
The night before in Nazare we watched our downloaded version of the Rick Steve’s guide to Lisbon so we were ready after a quick shower to go down to Belem. 

Belem was where Vasco de Gama sailed from to discover the trade route to India for Portugal. Sandra did such great research on this area we accomplished so much in just a couple of hours. At the end, we sat on an outdoor patio, on the water and had pasta/wine/beer and finally gelatos. Hey, we’re on holidays remember!!

Tomb of Vasco de Gama
The next day we set out to go to the own centre and catch tram 28 which is a tourist tram that passes by the Castelo d’ Jorge. Well after I almost missed a turn on the autobahn I looked to cut in to an exit only to have the Policia forbid me. BUT BUT my GPS says I have to go this way. Forbidden to turn I have to have the GPS find an alternate route and it does, down a 30 degree slope that the tram comes up. You won’t believe it and I wish I had the helmet cam on. Down these ultra steep streets crossing tram tracks and cobble stones it was some of my finest slow riding I’ve done.

Prince Henry the Navigator and all the support people
Then I turn into the plaza only to be denied again by Policia. Around I go to find a place to park only to be denied again by Policia. Finally I get a place, right beside one of their bikes and park. I made sure the rider would have to pull out to mount the bike after. I did utter some expletives that they don’t understand. We hope………..
Castelo d Jorge

The Beautiful streets of Lisbon
We decided since we rode the tram line and were warned of pickpockets on the tram that we’d just walk up to the Castelo. And during the tour we enjoyed the 360 degree Leonardo D’ Vinci periscope designed by him. Man that guy was super bright!

Later we went to Decatholon a super sized sporting goods store that has great stuff at super reasonable prices. Weather again was hot, in the neighbourhood of 28-29C and sunny. We have sure been lucky. Riding most days in ‘air’ mode with our jackets which we had hoped for at some point, but May. Wow!

Friday, May 20, 2011

Tomar and Nazare

The border with Portugal
Welcome to Portugal Hill Town

Heading from Avila (pronounced a-vi-LA) to Castelo Branco was in keeping with our idea of doing approx 300 kms a day. The ride was easy , with no traffic to begin with, then we began climbing up into a mountain pass and then down on the other side with really tight corners and sheer cliffs to one side. It was such a change in pace but it was nice too. When we got into Plasencia we picked up some fruit to eat and headed for Castelo Branco with the deal being we wouldn’t make a decision on whether to head on further until we saw the town. The border crossings  between Spain and Portugal was probably the most interesting in that there is no formal crossing now because of the EU rules, but of course there are all the old buildings and the required country signs. By the time we got here it was very hot so we changed into the “air” version of our riding gear, had some fruit and continued on. When we got to Castelo Branco it wasn’t anything impressive so we decided with approx 100 kms of Autobahn we’d gain the time and stop in Tomar. Now Sandra did the research for this area and of course consulted the UNESCO World Heritage Sites register to see if there were any in this area. 

Some of you may think we are either on a UNESCO World Heritage Sites (WHS ) quest or a religious pilgrimage quest, neither is the case, the fact is our human history is intrinsically linked to religion because it was so central in human development and the historians were most often clergy.

Segovia ( Aquaduct) and Avila (Walled City) are two WHS. There was mention of a “Convento o Cristo” in Tomar in the UNESCO book 
Convento do Cristo Order of the Knights Templar
Entrance to Church
so she had made a note that if we were going thru there to stop and see it. Well the next morning when we did we were absolutely blown away with our impressions of it. First it was right out of an Indiana Jones scene, and with nearly no one there it is apparently not on many of the tour routes yet, though some did show up later.
Next, it hasn’t really been restored yet, some work is being done, so the old mold, moss, and patina colorations are all original and authentic. Then of course the architecture dates from 1160 to begin with, and then the mystical story of the Order of the Knights Templar comes to reality here, with this being the preparation convent where the repel plan for pushing back the muslims in Spain and elsewhere was developed. Then as we toured, the inner sanctum of the church was revealed and it was like you stepped back in time completely. Needless to say we spent a lot of time touring this place and it has become to highlight of our trip so far.
An Explanation on the origin of Convento
Order of the Knights Templar Symbol

Inner Sanctum with Crucifix in Centre
See explanation below

On to Fatima, a major stop for anyone Catholic. Needless to say it was a very powerful and personal experience for me. And to round out our WHS for the day, Batalha, another monastery town about 11 kms from Fatima, so we can count it. We will have an serious hit list by the time this trip is finished.

We then headed to Nazare, a town on the Portuguese Atlantic coast that is famous for it’s Phoenician style fishing boats.

Rick Steves makes the place famous as well as it is covered in his videos. Well fortunately it is off season so it wasn’t busy but it sure got hot. We stopped down in the beach town part, then headed up to Sitio, the upper view part. There we met a lady selling nuts and dancing in the traditional crinolines of Portugal. I thought I’d ask here if she knew of any rooms and she ran over to another lady who was eating in the tavern and before you know it we were shown a “house” right at the viewpoint. 
The view from our "House" a $1M for 40E a night

Cliff views like from the restaurant we visited
 Needless to say we took it. After we’d walk the upper town part and found Arimar a restaurant with a million dollar view of the coastline, and great grilled salmon and wine for supper. Life is good in Portugal.