Friday, November 7, 2008

Mmmmm... Mint tea!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Marrakech Slideshow!

Fez to Marrakech

The Medina in Fez is the first Imperial city of Morocco and filled
with hundreds of thousands of people living in a labyrinth of shops.
To get a feel for the maze of the Medina I hired a guide to show me
around a bit. Of course I was shown the leather and carpet shops for
his commission, but they were all very friendly and not pushy. After a
couple of days I was ready to leave. Shopping has never been my thing
and the constant clamoring for your attention to buy stuff was getting
old. I had some delicious meals and tried some new foods with mint
tea(their specialty), that was enough for me.

From Fez, Marrakech is an eight hour train ride. I spoke with a few
locals and travelers who told me that Marrakech is even more money
driven, expensive, and the people are not as spiritual as Fez. I
forgot to mention that in each major town there's the Medina (old
town) and Ville Nouvelle (new town). The Ville Nouvelle's are
basically what you would expect, all the new buildings, big hotels,
expensive shops, things you could see anywhere.

When I arrived in Marrakech, it was more or less what I was told. The
Medina was smaller than Fez, but one of the nicer features is the main
strip of shops leading to the huge square just before the maze of
shops. I liked it better than Fez, but I guess it's all about
perspectives. Marrakech is definitely faster pace and main strip
connecting to the big square was a nice change to the claustrophobic
feeling of Fez's Medina. Each night the Marrakeche's huge square
(Djemaa el-Fna) transforms into a gigantic open food court serving
snail soup, sheep's head, or the less exotic couscous and other
moroccan fair.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Fez Slideshow!

Fez, Morocco.

Arriving in Fez at night was a little overwhelming at first with all the touts and not knowing the prices for things like a cab ride from the airport to town. Luckily I had the Lonely Planet (My favorite is the Rough Guide by the way.:) ) to help with what to expect. Getting a cab to the Medina (Old Town) was a bit confusing, I kept getting past along a stream of cab drivers. Later I found out why. The old town is farther away than the new town and the rates to and from the airport is a flat 120dm.

So when I got out to pay giving the driver 200dm expecting 80dm back I was short changed. Ah, my first attempt at ripping me off, how sweet. The driver supposedly didn't speak any english and there was a tout who was translating. Basically, the driver said the town was far so it was more and wasn't going to give me any money back, all with a pleasant smile. After a few minutes of talk, I said lets talk to the police then, with a smile of course. Wouldn't you know it, the driver miraculously understood perfectly and gave me my correct change. Unfortunately, he wasn't smiling anymore. Ahhh, sad.

Then the tout took me to my hotel, giving me a full tour of the place. The touts are exactly the same as other countries like Thailand, India, etc. where they get commission for bringing you to a place. Just remember, if they offer to do anything for you, it usually comes with a price. It's how they make their living. Bargaining is also a way of living, even the price of my new haircut, and make sure you always ask for the price of everything. Otherwise you may get the "Special" price.

Fez really reminded me of India, but less polluted and definitely less populated. With that in mind, it's also more expensive with tons of French tourists. French is the second language here with flights from Paris at 20 Euros and again I had to struggle to stretch my 10 words of French, mixing it up with my Spanish at times. English is slowly becoming the next language learned here. 

With just over two weeks to play in Morocco, it just wasn't enough time to adequately see Morocco. I had to decide which places would be the best to visit after Fez by talking with the locals and some of the other travelers. I decided to visit Essourira, maybe Agadir, and Marrakech. 

Entrance to Fez's Medina

Here's a pig that thinks it's the sheep dog. Just got the photo from another pilgrim on the Camino del Norte.

At the Guggenheim, can you see me?

Camino Portugese Slideshow!

Santiago II

As I reached Santiago for the second time I was hoping for a better
view of the city than the first time and I got my wish (see below). It
was nice being back in the city since I knew a bit about where to go
and what to do. While walking to get my second certification I
randomly bumped into one of the Italians, nice surprise, and then
later in the day who yells my name? Inga, the retired teacher who
traveled from Munich! She invited me to sit with her to drink some
wine and dessert in the open square when we saw a few other people we
both knew walk by from the Camino del Norte. It was so nice to end my
trip with seeing everyone again that I met on the first Camino before
heading for Morocco.

Santiago de Compostel via Portugal.

Sometimes life is just too good.

Coast line just North of Viana do Castelo, Portugal.

So much fun on the Camino Portuguese!

The Worst Day and the Best Day.

Today I had one of the worst days of weather along the coast of
Portugal. The day started well, as I spoke with the local priest to
try and get directions for the Camino Portuguese. We chatted for a bit
as he told me the best route was to take National 13, of course, when
he noticed my Olukai flipflops. Then in his best english he told me
that I walk the Camino like the Apostles. True, however, my journey
was a lot easier with all the nice little cafes along the way.:)

From Viana do Castelo I started to walk along the National 13 and saw
the rough coastal line just 1km away. So again I decided to cut across
and walk by the ocean as the sky became darker by the minute. Then the
light rain came and I put on my poncho that I just bought the other
day. Hoping the rain would stay light or go away, it just got worse.
After a couple of hours I ducked in for a quick hot vegetable soup and
continued my journey on the National 13 in the rain. By this time the
rain was becoming a bit of a windy storm and the rushing of the trucks
whipping by didn't help. As most of you know, cold doesn't usually
bother me that much, but after an hour I decided to take a bus to the
next major town. Unfortunately, there were no more bus stops and I had
to walk another hour to a small town to catch one.

When I finally reached Valenca, just before the Spanish border, it was
late and I was tired, hungry, and wet. I managed to find the Albergue
just before they were about to close the doors, which made me happy.
Then a group of Italians invited me to dinner that they were making in
the Albergue. It was such a wonderful welcome after a rough day of
walking. We had a first and second course with wine, naturally, plus
dessert. On top of that there were three vegetarians in their group so
it was even better. I ended up talking with a few of them and other
pilgrims/travelers till late into the night. I really do love Italians
and everything about Italy...

Camino Portuguese...

I started the Camino Portuguese in O Porto, just 232km from Santiago
de Compostela. I've been to Portugal before and more people speak
english here than in Spain. Also, they seem friendlier and don't have
that, "what do you want in my shop" attitude, generally speaking.

When I talked with the tourist office to gather information about the
Camino they told me there were five different paths I could take.
Naturally, I chose the Coastal route. The only problem was that they
couldn't give me detailed directions for the Coastal path, but
informed me that once I got to the next town on the coast they would
have all the information. Famous last words.

So when I spoke with the tourist office at the next town I was
informed that they had no information on the Camino Portuguese, but
that the NEXT region just north of them would. In the meantime I could
follow National 13, their two lane road, up the coast to the next
town. There were two problems I had with this plan. The first was that
I would be walking along the shoulder of the road. The second was that
it was anywhere from 1-2km away from the actual ocean. So after about
an hour of walking on the boring road I decided to gamble and see if I
could walk along the beach all the way up the coast line.

It was a good bet and there were little sand dunes with paths to walk
along. There were also excellent camping spots all along the way in
which I took advantage of once. The only downfalls is that it's
slower, if you want food you have to walk inland, and eventually you
come to a river so you have to cut back across to take the bridge. For
me, the beauty of the ocean and beach outweighed all of the negatives.

As you can guess, I never found a single place or person who had
directions for the Coastal Camino Portuguese. The Camino was basically
the National 13 road, but I made my own Camino.:P I later found out
that only one of the inland paths was well traveled and had signs
every 50 meters.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Camino Del Norte Slideshow!