Reading a sign of The Times

It was the best choice of free newspaper prior boarding the Lufthansa flight from Birmingham to Munich. I don’t read The Times too often,  but I was hoping for something slightly cerebral so I could delay ingesting the contents of this month’s Record Collector for later on my work trip to Austria. However it’s clear I was over optimistic.

A few things are clear: Papers want to give you their opinion, with comment sections seemingly outnumbering news stories.  The letters page is bonkers and ‘proper’ news articles aren’t easy to read and don’t seem to flow at all. Nothing dragged me in for a longer read.  The Times and it’s contributor seemed to be intent on banning me from using wood burners, making me eat more fibre, continuing to live in London (rather than moving to a 30 acre estate in Berkshire?!!) and that telling me that micro cheating on my partner is not okay. What is micro cheating ?

That one of the letters was written by a resident of Llangynidr, Wales’ very own nimby Surrey village, and it comes as no surprise.  I am still a bit bemused on why the letter was written and why it was published.  Newspapers still have clout when it comes to swaying the opinions of people, on their choices in life, in particular their politics.  Even if you aren’t a regular reader, the right leaning views of The Times are pretty clear from the story of the “left wing” takeover of the Labour Party. It’s a conservative tendency (with small c) that takes aim at the thrice married UKIP leader and his girlfriend , who happens to be 30 years younger than him. However, for me,  there is indeed a case of a personal need to combat the confirmation bias I have, where possible and pick up The Times rather The Guardian from time to time. I would have picked up the latter had it been available but I would then missed out on the slick 8 page insert offering rail holidays (in partnership with The Times). Perhaps seeking out something that challenges my views and opinions is better than something that agrees with them. This is a challenge for us all but of course doing things we wouldn’t normally do (Christmas eve shopping, buying out of season fruit and veg in supermarkets or listening to Radio 3) wouldn’t necessarily make you happy ?

Like all things, doing it in moderation and balance is good and I’ve achieved that to some extent by ingesting the hateful Murdoch sheet for hour. I am now a secular newspaper reader with a wider tolerance of other readers.

On board

All sorted this morning and arrived in plenty of time for the ferry which was running late in and just unloading from what must have been a late arrival from Portsmouth. Managed to get the stove out and make tea and grab some breakfast and chat to a few other people in the queue. The night in the port had been interesting with about 300 migrants looking to get in, on and under lorries and camper vans. Seems it had involved some interesting clashes with the police and security and not much sleep was had. Gutted I’d missed it but on the other hand all good in the hotel. Dinner a la carte on Brittany Ferries is usually excellent value and has a great (and reasonable priced wine list). Also good on the ferry are the Roy and Renee couples bemoaning the lack of boiling water to make tea how they’ve stared down some foreign chef for serving uncooked seafood. The lorry drivers lounge is situated inside the a late carte restaurant so whilst enjoying fine dining you’ll get the odd sensation of all isn’t quite just so. Just like the Blues Brothers. “How much for the little girl ?”. My time on the ferry has been spent doing emails and playing the guitar. Some progress with an easy chord version of America’s Horse with Noname and seem to have a working strumming technique for it. Got the verses nailed but not the chorus oddly but I have been through a desert on a van with no name, so maybe it’s time to give it one. Or maybe trade it in. The oil in water will mean a trip to Hereford on Thursday to try to understand what’s going on. All very chilled on board and no even concerned about the contents of the van at UK Customs. I’m already in the EU.

Bilbao with a bump…

The bump being the return to work. Appropriately enough I’ve checked into a business hotel neat Getxo (that’s pronounced Getcho as we are in the Basque country) and whilst rooms are cheap not much else is in the hotel. Work was very much the order of the day and my task was now to catch up with the last 4 weeks of work. Did manage to take a few calls during a walk out to and across the transporter bridge, which unlike the one in Newport is in day to day use for fare paying cars and foot passengers. Well worth the 40 cent fare. Bilbao and surroundings are great and I really like the area. You get can grab a Pinxo from a bar along with a beer, which doesn’t mean you starve waiting for dinner to be served at 10pm. Apart from the work a pretty chilled out day, though Morocco seems a million miles away. Have booked the van into VW in Hereford for Thursday to look at the oil in water issue and potentially to run a service just in case. Be interesting to see if the van makes it and what they think is still happening. Ferry is on for tomorrow as the Bay of Biscay looks calmer than it has been. Last day of the trip really and final chance to be away. Though also good to be back!

A long slog

And that’s the good news. The oil in the reservoir bottle seems to be the residue from the initial oil cooler failure as the 1080km passesd without any further problems. Watches the oil and water like w hawk all the way.

Wouldn’t say it passed without incident though. Friend and colleague Alberto in Madrid forwarded me a link to the weather forecast which showed an orange warning for snow north west of Madrid, mainly around Salamanca.

After checking oil and water in Seville pressed on towards Merida and a pleasant drive up from Tarifa. About 5km from the campsite the van a dreaded ping but luckily it was from the temperature indicator that it had gone to 4 C. Given thoughts of disaster with the van id slept pretty well and was nice and warm at 7.30am. After a shower and some breakfast was away at 9am with 9h40 of driving ahead if I was going to do it one go.

It was all pretty easy until going over the top to Salamanca. The police were turning lorries around and it was down to 1 lane because of the snow (and the 1000m pass). Didn’t see much of Salamanca in the blizzard and worst stretch was leader out of town towards Valladolid. Not pleasant driving at all and at around 5 hours in I was beginning to feel it

In total about 200km of snow covered roads and when it eases on the way to Burgos decided to make Bilbao and booked a hotel room near the port which I could use for work tomorrow.

Now trying to rearrange my brain to forget about the van and driving and make plans for work tomorrow. And to get some sleep. 1700km in 32 hours from Marrakesh was pushing it a bit but worth getting done

Played quite of Vertigo artists on the way up and quite a few are on Tidal. Some reviews coming up.

Ping !

As I’d pulled away from the numerous toll booths on the way up from Marrakesh, I’d occasionally get a ping from the VW as I had taken off my seat belt to reach across to pay the fee or pick up a ticket. This has been done 8 times and this was now the last time as I pulled into Tangier after a 6 hour slog up from Marrakesh. Alas the ping was different and it was the same ping that had sounded going through Cheltenham a month ago.

I’d dropped Tamara off at 7.30am after a short trip across Marrakesh from the Ibis to the airport. Sorry to see her go and it also meant I was heading back north. Weather was crap with heavy rain showers and a cool 8 C in town. I picked up another tagine on the way to the autoroute for 50 dirhams and it included a burner underneath with which to use charcoal or sticks.

Made good time till Casablanca where the roads were busy and the toll queues long. Decided then not to push it for the 14h00 crossing and go for the 16h00 from Tangier Ville and stopped for lunch about 150km short on Tangier for a service station tagine. Not too bad.

I had planned to use the last if the dirhams for fuel but following the ping headed down to the port wondering how serious it was going to be. Tangier Ville port wasn’t quiet and having seen a lot of French and Italian cars well laden heading north had a suspicion things were going to be busy.

Took an hour to get through the police check and customs and then line up in the queue for the FRS ferry. There was it seems no 16h00 sailing the next one was 18h00 and the 14h00 had left full leaving a number of unhappy in the port. A French guy with a VW had been there since 10h00 and was no worried he was parked where he wouldn’t get off quickly and how he’s been waiting.

I’d checked the coolant bottle and there was some oil in the top but no water in the oil checking the stick and the cap. Interesting and wondering if the oil cooler was failing in the same way as before or if the oil was simply the residue in the system and had floated to the too after 4000 miles. I doubt it’s the latter and that the oil cooler has failed again.

Now sitting on a very full hydrofoil that’s still in Tangier. Getting in to Spain is going to take some time tonight and will aim for the campsite in Tarifa which I think is open till 10pm. Plenty of thinking to do and I might aim for a gradual drive through Spain tomorrow watching the oil and water every 100 miles. Seville is first target and see where I end up tomorrow. I’m on the 10h00 Tuesday ferry from Bilboa and it’s about 500 miles so we will do it steady city by city and may even go via Madrid for some options.

Like when the van going ping before on the way to ferry on 4th December this also has mixed blessings. It happened 15km from the ferry port after 1400 miles in Morocco, and not somewhere south of Tafraout.

Marrakech express arrives eventually

Played a bit of Buffalo Springfield on the way up from Sidi Kaouki which seemed appropriate for a leisurely drive. Waved good bye to Haijoub, a nice guy and left him with 2/3rds of a bottle of single malt, and a very dodgy bottle of white wine which I think had come all the way from Crete 🙂

Quick coffee and on the road to Marrakech. To be honest given what I’d heard wasn’t really looking forward to it but in the end it was all good. Got stopped again for ‘speeding’ again, doing 94 kph in an 80 zone. Given there were no signs though Waze showed an 80 limit it was no surprise it was a 150 dirham bribe rather than an 300 dirham fine.

There’s something to be said for corrupt traffic policeman as they are all out to get you and they are self financing. Keeps speeding at a very low level. Just need to sort out crap driving and cars that have done 3 series of Scrapheap Challenge (now that’s a tv Programme I do miss).

I have developed a hankering for a Mercedes 240D (W123) as the indestructible car of choice. Asked a cabby earlier how much they cost, and 30,000 dirhams seems the price so somewhere less than £2500 for a car with 1 million kilometres on the clock and as original as Triggers broom.

Marrakech is one guy shopping arcade based around the Jebel El Fna, a large square that really comes alive at dusk. Whilst there are many tourists there are also plenty of locals on the hunt for a bargain as the scramble for velour onesies at one stall proved.

With all purchases of carpets undertaken the focus in Marrakesh was on lower cost items and anything where we could find a bargain. Tajines are off the list because of weight and the need for transport to the van. On arriving at the hotel next to the very neat Gare managed to obtain a parking spot with guardien who was also going to wash the van, all for 100 dirham which was reasonable.

Anyway the Tamara and Malcolm Marrakech Shopping Index is as follows:

  1. Teapot : 300 dirham closed 120
  2. Wool jacket : 300 closed 220
  3. Dress thing : offered at 30 with jacket.
  4. Earrings: 50 dirham no haggling
  5. Multi tin opener : wanted 30 offered 10 no deal reached
  6. Hat : 100 closed at 30
  7. Scarf : 500 closed at 120
  8. Cushion covers : 400 for 2 closed at 250
  9. Morocco football shirt: 350 closed at 180
  10. Agave cushion covers : 150 each, offered 100 no deal offered reached

Did see a nice bronze teapot but damaged and with an opening price of 400 dirham and a non moving shop owner not going anywhere with that deal. The end teapot is good for price and a nice momento of the trip. Tamara potentially grabbed the deal of the day with the £10 pashmina scarf where opening price was £43. The wool jacket is great as it’s orange as some flexibility on price was achieved. The camel wool jackets from Essaouira are better quality and potentially better value.

A terrace for tea drinking for an hour overlooking the Jebel El Fna as the sunset was great and the temperature dropped quiet a bit. Resisting the temptation of boiled sheep head from one of the stalls we venutured forth once more into the souks. Whilst there are plenty of people willing to give you directions this comes at a price. Refusing sometimes means getting an insult which I assume in many cases is something the local lads don’t understand.

7.30pm and were were spent so grabbed a taxi back to the Ibis and enjoyed what turned out to be a nice bottle of Moroccan red with some snacks. All in all an enjoyable day and much better than the Marrakesh i had expected. Touristy and tacky in places but also a place for food and shopping. Not sure what else you’d manage.

Not much

The quietest day of the trip which involved Tamara and I not shopping and just sitting on the beach. Some chatting but mainly reading and some drawing.

Tide came in a bit further than even the locals expected and ended up retreating to the back of the beach. Given the previous days full moon on springs so no surprise.

Evening in Aftass and all good with some the good conversations with friends of Hajoubs from Casablanca and later on two Polish girls who given up their degree courses to go surfing. A bit strange but you get the drift of Sidi Kaouki.

The Third Policeman continues to have a high ranking place in list of top books and is probably #1.

More on this when I have move time on the journey home.

Holiday at last ?

Still no water at Haijoubs place after the pump failed yesterday and he’s a bit concerned about it because, well we are paying guests. After an excellent breakfast he’s offering dinner of locally caught Dorado this evening for which Tamara and I cannot refuse.

He’s a nice guy who fits in well with the ethos and flow of Sidi Kaouki. It’s a beach village with some local characters (Swiss guy, Moroccan horse wrangler with afro etc) and a fluid population on tourists. Some are day trippers from Essaouira and some here for a season of surfing and sun, making money when it comes. Some people are on a mission like the guy on the beach who’s learning to kite surf while for others it’s a winter sun break with the kids and where you can involve a camel.

Afftaz is one of the hangouts and where you can get beer and wine. Nice spot and the food is good as is the atmosphere which brings the two communities together. The combination of speakeasy slightly furtive drinking and the I’m on holiday feeling is a heady one and a million miles removed from Tafraout or Taroudant. A different Morocco.

When I came through Sidi Kaouki a couple of weeks ago it was really quiet and a bit colder in the run up to Christmas. As such I didn’t seek out too much social interaction but this was partly of because I stayed at the Villa Soliel which is slightly out of scope to two of the tribes (it was only me in the guest house).

With the promise of water and fish, Tamara and I headed off into Essaouira for more shopping and a mooch round town. For me I was shopped out but Tamara after some research was out to practice her haggling and Moroccan shopping skills. It’s true for me, if I think is a fair price then why haggle people done. Tamara did locate a comment in the Rough Guide about the price of Berber rugs from the High Atlas should be in the 30-40 quid mark, which did make me gulp the ubiquitous mint tea a bit but I’m assuming this was more of the tea cloth size. Maybe I’ll come on the bike next time, less room for carpets.

A couple of camel wool jackets with additional fitted zips (while we went for lunch) seemed pretty good to me for 300 dirham each and whilst there were cheaper ones around these were made by the guy in the shop and were a bit different. Discussion over lunch around my carpet negotiations and a sense that yes I could have paid less. Tamara was eyeing up a leather travel bag as her next deal so I let her get on with it.

Seems she’s honed her skills student shopping in Birmingham and provided some insight to a strategy such as looking at a completely different item to the one you want to start with and ending up with the one you actually wanted. I watched the start of proceedings at 1200 dirham with the top quality camel leather bag and the use of a lighter to prove the material performance against someone trying to set light to it, before I retreated outside. Tamara walked out a few minutes later without a bag saying her top price was 400 and having got the guy to 450.

Some handwaving on the street and the deal was done at 420 so around 35% of the original asking price. If it was the same item and quality etc who knows but £32 for a leather travel bag isn’t bad. Doing the maths on carpets I think I’m around the 35-38% mark but on higher value carpes. The 200 dirham lamps are a great cheap but and extra virgin olive and Argan oil is indeed great value.

Essaouira was a lot fuller of tourists but not heaving and the city was coming a live as a result.

Dinner was indeed excellent as was the local white wine. We’d managed a couple of hours on the beach and planned to do more of that for tomorrow. The weather was good for Friday but a real change for Saturday with much needed rain coming to most of Morocco. It’s also means temperatures down to 12 C and the same for southern Spain. So after spending lunchtime looking for options for Airbnb in Tarifa ended changing the ferry booking from Bilboa and will get the 10h30 next Tuesday rather than the one for Thursday afternoon. Weather permitting of course !

Back at the seaside

And tonight I’m writing the blog for the first time after consuming 2 beers and half a bottle of wine. Sidi Kaouki has an establishment that serves beer (which is more than Taroudant does) and also does a decent Thai curry, courtesy of the Vietnamese chef whose ended up here (via France, Tanzania and the US)

Did some shopping in the Souk Berber before leaving Taroudant including inding some proper broucant.

250km from Taroudant to Sidi Kaouki and about 1 million in terms of tourism and culture. The contrast is that whereas Sidi Kaouki and Essaouira have developed (or developing) to cater for tourists, Taroudant awaits to be discovered by tourists. I guess the UK analogy would be Sidi Kaouki is Broad Haven and Taroudant is Carmarthen. The latter is a Moroccan city that gives you an insight to everyday lives whilst the coast is trying to give tourists what they want. Both win.

Taroudant is something you can look into and also shop into but it’s 95% local with some special shops for tourists ( I now know where they are). Sidi Kaouki is keeping that back packed beach village feel and you can spend somewhere between £8 and £150 per night to stay here. The backpackers hostel is pretty good by all accounts and the expensive options are some recently built holiday lets (called Riads but they aren’t really, but good for marketing). Owned by a British guy and leveraging the very nearby Essaouira airport and Easyjets two flights a week.

Any price in Morocco is of course up for discussion and even on Booking.com for Riads you have some flexibility. Sidi Kaouki has a lot of places to stay for a village of 140 people and is powered solely from the wind turbines above the village.

Haijoub’s house is clean and tidy though the water pump or filter isn’t working correctly on no problem with the toilet but the showers not going to get you clean. He worked as a fisherman and a policeman in Casablanca and whilst he’s been visiting Sidi Kaouki for 30 years he moved down 6 years ago. His daughter lives in Paris and arranges the Airbnb for him and texts and phones with the details. He does it for the company as much the money it seems and you get a good insight into the village (more so than from Villa Soliel).

Sitting outside next to the fire with a bottle of wine (and my improving french) it was an Airbnb dream set up and it’s true sharing someone’s house means you get to know what’s going on and a bit entertainment. This for £18 per night:-)

More beachside fun and a trip into Essaouira tomorrow and be interesting how I see it now after Taroudant and other towns

Atlas trekking

New Years Eve and 19h45 and I am writing the blog fron the floor of Berber house in the Atlas mountains. Tamara has alao retired to bed after a superb tagine and a bit of Moroccan TV. Not the usual New Years Eve and no alcohol in sight but as with Christmas Day something really different. Prompt start this morning was attempted and achieved from Taroudant. The night was noisy with music and signing opposite until 2am and then the mosque at 6am. After stopping off at Said’s house to pick up his stuff and and groceries we headed north out of town. The animal market was running and as last week as I headed to Tafraout, a lot of people coming into town just for the meat and veg for the week. Lots of buses and overloaded pickups but alas no triple decker cow transporters. Drove for about 40 minutes up and out in the foothills of the western High Atlas and the village of Amzaourou. Met with the woman’s who house we were staying with that evening and handed over the ingredients for that nights meal, before we headed up to the left hand ridge of the valley. Remembered to bring some water and Said (this is the correct spelling) set a steady pace. Tamara was making good progress also and after about 3km and 600m of ascent we stopped for lunch at a really nice viewpoint. Said lit a small fire for making tea and brochettes which were provided with a good salad and also bread.

More tea and lunch continued at a pace not really worthy of the walk done so far. But the view was impressive. We eventually continued walking along the ridge before taking a pretty complex route down into the valley. Walking here doesn’t really follow any paths except for a few goat tracks from time to time. It’s both stony and loose underfoot and you need to watch your step most of the time. Very different from a walk in the lake district. The walk continued down through the valley and the villages where you sense that the pace of life has gone unchanged for quite a while, however this are indeed changing. Back to the van to sort out things for the evening stay in one of the houses.

A memorable News Year Eve with tea and cakes and dinner of home made bread olive oil and chicken tagine. Dinner was eaten communally from the one tagine and using the bread. There was plenty of food and by the time we were finished you could feel that you were tired. In bed and asleep by 8pm and whilst not unheard of for me not to make it to midnight this indeed a bit special.

The Village

Indeed an M Night Shalyman (sp) film but something that in a wider content that came up in the conversation with the Dane at Sidi Kaouki a couple of weeks back. That people have no real connections to the cycle of the day, to living based on necessity and within a real community, that they are struggling with modern life. The Dane made the valid point that the village approach is much more in the correct cycle of things and how we live our lives. I agreed to some extent as cities and modern living rationalize things to such an extent you don’t know what your role is anymore. In the village there are distinct roles for individuals and also for the community.

Amzaourou is a village where there are individual farmers each of who have a donkey, some sheep or goats and also chickens. They have a small piece of land to grow vegetables and wheat (if there is enough rain usually in March) and most importantly some olive trees which are unusual this far south. They are watered by the river from the Atlas whereas normally you’d only find Argan trees. What’s great is the cycle of life is simple and though poor there is a rich sense of belonging and being part of something which includes the land and the community. The lady we were staying with is the local midwife whilst others also have specific skills others can call on. The olives are being harvested and it’s a community effort to process them which is not a easy job for human or the mule. The olive press is little changed for a hundred years or more and while olive pressing is mechanical in Taroudant it’s mule powered in Amzaourou. Village life is nostalgic and nice to be part of but it’s also inefficient and not going to make you rich. Three sons from the house now work in Casablanca and Tangier as there is little to sustain them in the valley. Olive production is less than 50% of what it was 15 years ago and this is because there is now a lot less rain. The river has not been full during those 15 years and the economics, however small they may be, mean that it’s dropped below subsistence level. Yes aspirations are higher for younger people but there is also a need to exist.

Day 2 of the walking and it was a lot warmer with temperatures at 29 C which isn’t normal for Jan 1st. The walk up to the ridge on the north side of the valley wasn’t easy and Tamara was feeling the heat. We cut things short but the ascent and descent was more scrambling than walking and pretty adventurous. Back to the house for couscous which was again excellent and communal. Nice to chill and even the locals were saying it was hot. 4pm and we were back in Taroundant and having a nice shower and relaxing on the terrace as the heat of day disappaited.

Can of course recommend walking in the Atlas and based n=2 days there’s of course some obvious things to point out .

  1. There are no waymarked paths so a guide is in the main essential.
  2. It’s at altitude and much higher than anywhere in Europe except for the Alps.
  3. It’s hot and dry even in winter so you need to carry quite a bit of water.
  4. A lot of off road walking and some scrambling; sure footedness and a head for heights is good.

A lot of the usual suspects for trekking holidays will give you good quality but at a price significantly higher than you can arrange by finding a guide locally.