Sunday, 31 August 2008

3 day trip to Fes

After a day of rest we took a train to Fes and booked into a fabulous hotel, Riad Louna, for 2 nights. Approached down a narrow alleyway, only wide enough for one person at a time, the unassuming doorway led us into a fabulously restored house centred around 2 garden courtyards. It was a tranquil oasis of calm in the bustling old town, Fes el Bali and typical of the hidden nature of the city.

Settled by Andalusian and Tunisian refugees at the beginning 9th century, Fes has dominated Moroccan trade, culture and religious life since the end of the 10th century and was regarded as one of the holiest cities after Mecca and Medina. It was recognised as an advanced centre of learning in maths, philosophy and medicine. Today, the old parts of Fes show little change from medieval times, the only difference being the tourists and some modern goods among the traditional craftwork on sale.

It is an unending labyrinth of souks, mosques, medersas and fondouks and an assault on every sense. Everywhere one looks there is an formidable facade, intricately carved doorway or picturesque minaret. Behind the hidden doorways are elaborate and grand palaces with huge gardens and courtyards. The smell of spices and cedar wood dominates, mixed with floral perfumes, but one isn't allowed to forget the earthy smells of horses and donkeys, raw meats in the stalls and the potent smell of the tanneries. There is a buzz from the busy souks puntuated by shouts from the donkey drivers to get out of the way, calls to prayer and the sounds of copper being pounded or stone chipped away.

The first evening we climbed up to a vantage point over the city where we could see the many mosques with their varied minarets and the different quarters of the city laid out across the river. On our way back into town we checked out various palaces which are now venues for dinner. For a small tip to a porter at the Hotel Palais Jamai we were shown the Royal Suite, a spectacular set of rooms in the old 19th century palace. We decided on the Palais des Merenides and had a traditional Fassi dinner there our second night - expensive and we were hit with lots of unforseen extras but the setting was fantastic.

In the heat, the rounds of sights took their toll. We are somewhat overdosed on carved cedar wood ceilings and lintels, zellij tile work and fountains although they are all incredibly beautiful. The souks are picturesque but relentless, there is just so much on sale, it's quite overwhelming and was lovely to go back to our riad and chill out. We really enjoyed sitting in cafes, watching the world go by.

The most disturbing destination was the Chouwara tanneries. Fes is the pre-eminent city of leather production in Morocco and little has changed since the 16th century. There is a feudal ownership system and the jobs are hereditary. Looking down from a nearby roof terrace we could see the poor workers dipping the skins in vats of dye and pigeon dung, the stench is overwhelming. It is hard to believe that people still have to make their living in such terrible conditions. It was a graphic portrait of the extreme poverty we have seen everywhere.

We are now back in Rabat but have put our plans to visit Marrakesh on hold due to being laid low with some sort of stomach bug. We may now wait to do that trip from Agadir, probably our next stop with the boat.

pictures at

Wednesday, 27 August 2008

visit to Meknes

A first class train took us to Meknes for an exhausting but very interesting day of sightseeing. One of the imperial cities, many of its buildings were created by the tyrannical Sultan Moulay Ismail reputed to be responsible for over 30,000 deaths not including those killed in battle. The Bab Mansour, one of the finest gates in Morocco, was our first stop before visiting the Sultan’s beautiful Mausoleum (although one does feel guilty admiring it after hearing about his cruel exploits). We also stumbled on a gorgeous riad, hidden behind an unprepossessing doorway. There were also vast underground vaults to see which were granaries and storerooms to fend off the effects of sieges and droughts.

As interesting as the historical sites is to just sit in a cafe and watch the world go by, something we did quite a few times during the day to rest from the heat and all the walking we did (there are 45km of imperial city walls and it felt like we saw all of them!). We have seen a very eclectic mixture of dress from the most traditional djellabyahs to quite sexy western. Age plays a part in choice for the men (most young opt for western attire) but not so much for the women who can be in anything from a full-length baggy robe with hood to a shapeless kaftan without headscarf to western dress with headscarf to tight-fitting leggings and tops. It is not unusual to see both extremes walking together.
More pics at

Everyone has been incredibly friendly, helpful and welcoming as we struggle with our school French! Off for 2 nights to Fes tomorrow.

Rabat, Morocco

We set off on Friday morning from the anchorage at La Linea for Morocco arriving in Rabat the next day. With a considerable Atlantic swell the approach to Rabat was interesting - a river splits Rabat and Salé (where the marina is) and is replete with sandbanks and shallows. Our impeccable timing meant that we arrived just after low tide. After surfing into the narrow entrance of breakwaters, which funnels the waves nicely into the river mouth, we were met by a dinghy from the marina and guided up past the monumental city walls, a stunning sight.

After a preliminary check in on the police pontoon, we moored in the new Bouregreg marina (not quite finished). It is part of an enormous new development taking place here. They are reclaiming 6000 hectares of the river baisin and spending over $2.5 billion on waterfront marinas, commercial and residential areas including a new bridge and tramway to connect Rabat and Salé.

Rabat is a lovely capital city, easy to get around with striking sites to visit and a vibrant medina. The Kasbah is unbelievably picturesque. With the rise of the imperial cities of Fes, Meknes and Marrakesh, Rabat fell in neglect and was resettled by Andalusian refugees in 17th C. It entered into a famous period of international piracy and its corsair fleets, the Sallee Rovers, raided as far afield as Plymouth. Robinson Crusoe began his captivity in Salé in Daniel Defoe’s novel.

Thursday, 21 August 2008

St Michael's Caves

The Rock has an extensive network of natural caves and man-made tunnels. Part of the normal tourist route is to visit Upper St Michael's Caves - very spectacular and used for occasionally for concerts. We managed to organise a guide to take us and some other yachties into the lower caves.

What we didn't realise until we arrived was that we had to wear hard hats and that it was quite a difficult 3 hour excursion - crawling through narrow tunnels and openings and scaling up and down rocks with ropes! Quite a challenge but really worth the visit. The caves are enormous and absolutely stunning with huge stalactites and stalagmites. There is an underground lake at the end - 30x11 metres and 6 metres deep in places.

We are now at anchor at La Linea and fog permitting, will depart for Rabat, Morocco early tomorrow morning after high tide. More from there...

Sunday, 17 August 2008

Gibraltar, finally!

After Fuengirola we made a brief stop in Estepona to buy some flares (they are not available now in Gibraltar) and went on to anchor in Soto Grande. We woke up on Thursday morning ready to set off for Gibraltar only to find ourselves fog bound! it remained a pea souper all day so we finally headed around the corner on Friday morning.

We are now anchored in Queensway Marina and, weather, currents and tides permitting, will set sail for Morocco on Wednesday. Apart from numerous shopping excursions to Morrisons (to stock up on English food) and Sheppards Chandlery, we have done a bit of sightseeing. Gibraltar is a bizarre place, a bit like an English seaside town with sun! It is however an interesting place to be just because of it's long history and strategic position.

We took the cable car to the top of the rock yesterday and had spectacular views over Spain and Morocco. We then walked all the way down the Mediterranean Steps, hewn a long time ago out of the limestone rock and very steep and treacherous but a beautiful walk.

Tuesday, 12 August 2008

Our route from Ibiza so far

click to enlarge the picture

Elusive Gibraltar

The Cabo de Gata, just east of Almeria is part of a vast natural park with beautiful beaches strung between the arid cliffs and capes. The waters were crystal clear and, so far, we haven’t seen a single jellyfish since the Mar Menor. We spent a couple of days just chilling out, reading and swimming and then planned to continue south. Unfortunately the wind was not cooperating and we ended up retracing our track a little up the coast where we found a sheltered anchorage at Playa de Genoveses, all part of the national park absolutely stunning. It’s fantastic to see a long, sandy beach with no development, ringed by striking rock formations. At night, with no light pollution there were millions of stars to see and incredible phosphorescence in the water for midnight swims.

The last few days we have been trying to make our way to Gibraltar, only 150 miles but very elusive! We have continuously encountered either no wind or headwinds which have reduced us to doing 20/30 mile motoring stints each day and finding somewhere to anchor at night.
We thought that the coastline here (east of Malaga) would be pretty awful but it lined by the majestic Sierra Almjara descending to a series of lovely sandy coves where it is not unusual to find people camping overnight. The rocks are lush with greenery and in our last anchorage fresh water was coursing down the hillside which was cultivated with trees hanging heavily with a myriad of avocados and fields of ripening green peppers. The towns have avoided the concrete towers and, although dense, are conglomerations of white low-rise buildings and pleasing on the eye.

So, now we have to try to get some more fuel to ensure that we can make it safely into Gibraltar which entails stopping at Fuengirola on the Costa del Sol, not a stop we are looking forward to!!!

Wednesday, 6 August 2008

Slow progress

We dropped off our guest, Womble, in Cartagena and then made our way down the coast. We had little wind until Sunday when we had a fantastic sail down to the Cabo de Gata...6 knots with only the mizzen and 9 knots with the mizzen and yankee! We have spent the last couple of days enjoying the cristal clear waters here (something sadly lacking along most of the Spanish mainland).