Published: May 16th 2010May 10th 2010
Sorry for the delay, it´s really hard to find a good computer and this blog takes about 2 hours to write!
OK, Valencia. I finally went out on the pub crawl on the Saturday night with Johnny and 25 of my newest friends. The average age was around 22 so I was feeling fairly geriatric. I had to get up at 6.30am the next morning so I left the pub crawl at 3 am and got home about 3.30am and had about 3 hours sleep.
Sunday May 2nd
Feeling very shabby as I caught the 8am bus to Granada. Only a 10.5 hour trip ahead of me to Granada! We stopped along the way at Benidorm, Alicante, and a bunch of other wee towns. Passed by some more beautiful snow-capped mountains - the Sierra Nevada. The original and best! At one stage I woke up with dribble coming down one side of my mouth, Homer style. I need to give up drinking!
I arrived at Granada at 6.30pm and found a wee pension with my own room for 18€ - $27. I wandered around town for a while and it was a great town. They had a festival
on - La Fiesta de Cruces - The Festival of the Crosses. Everyone (especially the kids) was dressed up like caballeros (kind of a bull fighter look) and in flamenco dresses so quite colourful and lots of flamenco music. Loads of people out and very festive. I went to find the Oasis hostel as I´d heard good reports about it, and when you stay in a pension you don´t tend to meet anyone. Juan showed me around the place - very nice gaff. I then hung out in the lobby and started yakking to some other backpackers. I met Barry from Portland, Oregon. He´s a doctor and does medical research for a giant evil corporation. Really interesting guy as he knows loads of stuff. A bit like Dr Karl (for the Aussies). Also Rob from the States and Kirk and Princess Leah from Ottawa. We all went down the road to a wee hookah pipe bar, had some beers and the other guys did the whole smoking apple spice from the hookah pipe. Had a good night and finally got in about 3am.
Monday May 3rd.
Left my pension and moved house to the Oasis Hostel. Got a really
cool room with Marcos from Buenos Aires and 3 others. At midday, I then went and did the free walking tour with Sam (a Yank living there) Really cool tour again and learned a lot about the Moors fighting the Christians, the Christians then battling the Moors, The Moors regrouping and kicking some more Christian ass, Christians fighting Christians, Moors pummeling Moors. Ahhh, religion....bringing people together! Great tour guide and like all of the free tours you just tip the guy at the end.
After the tour, about 5 of us went down to a cracking restaurant called......wait for it.......Canguru. There wasn´t any kangaroo on the menu but it was a buffet, so for 12€ ($18) we just grazed. Top feed. After that we went back to the hostel and I had a wee nana nap. Got up and did a free (plus tip) Spanish lesson so learned a few more expressions. After that, one of the hostel guys, Louis, cooked up a huge paella dish with some spaghetti for 5€ ($7.50). We then went onto the rooftop terrace and hung out drinking beer and sangria until about midnight.
Tuesday May 4th
At midday, Catherine (Canada), Barry and
I headed up to the La Alhambra - one of the most visited sites in the whole of Europe. It´s a massive ancient palace/fortress built by the Moors back in the 14th Century. Pretty impresive gardens and palaces, etc with the Sierra Nevada mountains as a backdrop. Very easy to defend as it was built on a really big hill with 15 metre high walls so potential invaders would take one look at the place and go ¨Yeah, nah¨ and head for somewhere else to invade. We strolled around the grounds for about 4 hours before heading back to the hostel.
Had a wee nana nap before heading onto the rooftop terrace about 7pm and having cheese, crackers and beers with Bad Boy Barry and some of the others. At 9.30, 20 of us headed out on the free tapas tour with our guide, Louis. Really good gig in Granada ´cos the tapas is free once you buy a drink. We went into 4 different tapas places, had some great free food (always a good thing in my book) and then into this really cool wood-panelled bar with flamenco music on the stereo. The flamenco music sounded like 2
cats being garotted with piano wire but was a good vibe nonetheless. We finally ended up at this disco at 4am and the place was jumping with about 200 Spanish students and locals grooving on down on a Wednesday morning. Beers were only 5€ ($7.50) for 3 beers. Brutal! At 5 am, 5 of us walked arm in arm down the cobblestoned alleyways singing ¨ Singing in the Rain¨ and ¨New York, New York¨. Very funny
Wednesday May 5th
At midday, Barry, Catherine, Will and Emily (Hobart) and I jumped on a bus to Algeciras, at the bottom of the Spanish coast. (Janine, I met a Kiwi lady called Jo Basin from Auckland on the bus. She met you and Gary at Toulouse airport for the last World Cup. Her brother, Bill and Ingrid Fisher live in Rotoroua. NZ is a very small place!) Got to Algeciras at 4 and caught a fast ferry across to Tangier, in Morocco - only took 1.5 hours. We then caught an overnight train to Marrakesh. They wouldn´t let Will and Emily in the sleeping compartment together so Barry, Will and I shared a sleeping compartment while Emily, Catherine and another Korean girl,
Kelly, we met shared the girls´quarters.
Thursday May 6th
Arrived Marrakesh at 8am and we got a cab to the edge of the Medina (main square). We walked through a maze of alleyways (lucky it was daylight otherwise we would have gotten way lost) and arrived at the Equity Point Hostel. This place is the Bomb! It was a 16th Century Palace and has been used as an inn since the 18th Century. Huge rooms and they´d just renovated a whole new wing (we´d like to think they knew we were coming and the renos were for us!) There was an (empty) swimming pool also - it will be full in summer apparently. One dorm room was the size of my house and only had about 10 beds in it. Very cool.
We got a 6 bed dorm for the 5 of us (we lost Kelly along the way) for 15€ ($22.50) each and then took a stroll into the Medina. What a madhouse! People everywhere! Lots of guys trying to sell us orange juice, carpets, T-shirts, carpets stained with orange juice and everything in between. We would get a big glass of freshly squeezed orange juice for
3 Dirham (or Dh) - 45cents. At about 6pm, the Medina becomes even more alive when about 30 new stalls get set up to sell food. We got dragged into one stall by the local tout, Simon, and we had a wicked feed of shish kebabs, fish, fries, salads, Sprite and rice for about 120Dh - $18. You can´t buy much alcohol here (Muslim country, although we met some Dutch girls later who managed to find heaps of places) but there was one hotel (Grand Hotel Toliz) that had some very expensive small beers. The toilets were bizarre - it bit like Being John Malkovitch - so as you went in, the roof got smaller and smaller. Very strange. You also have to pay 10Dh ($1.50) for the privilege. The Medina now has about 4000 people in it. There´s acrobats, poets, ladies doing henna drawings on tourists hands, people fishing for coca cola bottles. One guy´s playing banjo with a live chicken on his head. Crazy stuff! Barry, Catherine and I had booked a 2 night, 3 day camel trek for 100€ - $150 - so we all went home and packed.
Friday May 7th
We left our main
packs at the hostel and took day packs with us for the 3 day trip. We got a cab to the main post office at 7am where Catherine promptly had her credit card swallowed by an ATM! We had to wait until 8.30 am for the post office to open and luckily they gave her back her card. We finally left on the tour at 9.30am. There was a Brazilian couple, Italian couple, Czech couple, 2 Texan students and Cath, Barry and I. Our guide, Jamal, was not a guide but a very good bus driver. There was no information whatsoever! Here´s how our tour went:
Jamal: There is beautiful view. You take photo. You come back 20 minutes. OK?
Us: So what is this place, Jamal?
Jamal: Is gorge.
Us: Does it have a name?
Jamal: Dades Gorge. Is beautiful. You take photo.
Us: Anything else you can tell us about it?
Jamal looking thoughtfully: Is beautiful. OK?
So after I killed Jamal....... The tour itinerary was quite nice but not impressed with our man, Jamal. He's only been doing this gig for 1.5 years so is either very shy, very stupid or extremely lazy. I'm guessing
a combination of all three. How can you not pick up any information at a workplace after a year and a half?!!
Us: So who do you work for, Jamal?
Jamal: Errrr....lady in Marrakesh
Us: Does she have a name?
Jamal: Errrrr.....it's complicated, I work for myself......no.... I work for her....no......look out window, is beautiful view, you take photo. OK?
The first day we drove over the Atlas mountains (about 1800 metres - is beautiful view) to (I'm copying this from the tour company´s website as Jamal was a little short on what we saw) the really old Kasbah of Ait Benhaddou, (like a fort/town) where they had a bunch of movies filmed including Jesus of Nazareth and Gladiator) We wandered around for a while after Jamal explained that it was a Kasbah and was really old and quite beautiful and to meet him in the restaurant in 25 minutes for lunch.
The food here is awesome! We have Tagines the whole trip. A Tagine is basically a ceramic pot with chicken or beef or lamb and vege, just like Mama used to make, really yummy. I could never get sick of it. We drove for another
4 hours or so, along with random stops of beautiful views, until we arrived at the Dades Valley Guest house. I pulled Jamal aside and asked him when the real tour guide would turn up. I quietly explained to him that I ran a huge global tour company with tentacles stretching across the globe and that his style wasn't quite what we'd paid for. He spent a bit of time on the phone talking to the mysterious owner and we had a result for the next day - Morad, we'll meet him later. Cath, Barry and I shared a room, had a couple of pre dinner drinks before tucking into another beautiful feed of Tagine. After dinner, 2 guys came out and banged some drums and gave us some sick Moroccan beats, banging some other castanetty type thing before talking to the group in 5 different languages and playing lateral thinking games (which I got 2 of them correct - Go Team Australia!). Very entertaining
Saturday May 8th
We then (apparently) visited the Dades Gorge, Todra, Todra Gorge and met a new guide (after Jamal's last night phone calls) Morad. Yay! This guy knew his olives from his persimmons
as he took us through the Valley of the Roses and talked about the local agriculture and Muslim practices. We wanted to kidnap him for the rest of the journey! We ended up in this Berber traditional carpet weaving place where Barry and I (the only 2 people on the tour who weren't exactly tight-ass backpackers) paid way too much for some Berber rugs, hand weaved in Taiwan by Chinese locals. I know, I'm cynical. I (apparently) bought a camel wool rug for only 750 DH - $110 - which will last about 300 years so my children's children's children's children's children's will still be kicking it around when I'm dead and buried. They only shave camels every 3 years so that's whay it's more expensive than normal sheep's wool carpets (so I'm told. Any camel wool experts out there?)
We stopped at this cool marble fossil factory. The High Atlas mountains used to be under the Mediterranean and now has fossils there that are over 350 million years old. They have a machine which takes 1 hour to cut 1 cm through these big slabs of marble. You could buy fountains, sinks, tables, statues, whatever you want, so
a very cool place.
We finally ended up at a wee town called Merzouga, on the edge of the Sahara. I think it was the Sahara as Jamal just said "Is desert". We jumped on our camels and took off for an hour and a half across the dunes to our camp at Erg Chebbi. After another great Tagine and banging bongos around the campfire we hit the hay about midnight
Sunday May 10th
Up at 6.30am and headed back on the camels to the hotel where we had brekky and then spent the next 10 hours heading back in the bus back to Marrakesh. Got back about 8pm, had a feed, I bought some cool paintings. The guy originally wanted 1 painting for 1500 Dh ($225) but I got 2 paintings for 380 DH - $53. I love the bargaining! I almost bought another carpet but my pack is loaded down with books and pressies and carpets so declined.
Monday 11th May
Barry and I got a taxi to the airport and caught a RyanAir flight to Seville for 100€ ($150) and got a bus to Oasis Hostel there. We checked in then had an awesome
feed of 5 beers each, heaps of tapas and raspberry cheesecake for the princely sum of 11€ each - $16. Brutal! We then hung out in the hostel bar and took turns plugging our Iphones into the stereo system and playing DJ. Good night!
Tuesday May 12th
Did a walking tour of Seville with Will, our guide from Melbourne. Very funny dude. Reminds me of my mate, Rob, also in Melbourne, with the same mannerisms and humour. He said the local Sevillans get the piss taken out of them by the rest of Spain because apparently they talk with a mouthful of frogs! Cool guy. Barry and I then hit a tapas bar where you stand at the bar and they write your bill in chalk on the bar top in front of you. More expensive than yesterday but fun place nonetheless.
We then walked around the Alcazar, another beautiful summer palace owned by some King from some century after he´d slaughtered the Christians or Moors or someone. We were a bit palaced out by this stage so not world changing for us. We found the Spanish Inquisition museum and learned a bit more about that. Pretty evil
mofo's the old Inquisitors (lots of Monty Python quotes abounding) but history keeps repeating - Nazism, McCarthyism, the Stasi, the Homeland Security laws, etc
We then did a tapas tour that night and hit this amazing flamenco bar. Brilliant guitarist, brilliant singer and brilliant flameco dancers. Such passion! Finally got home about 3am
Wednesday May 13th
Caught a local bus to Sanlucar la Mayor about 20kms outside Seville. I managed to hire a pushbike for 5€ and biked out to the Torre Solar (The Tower Of Power!) An amazing site with 3 huge towers surrounded by mirrors and all the sunlight is relected up to the towers which have a steam turbine inside and the sunlight heats up and creates green electricity to power about 5000 homes. Really amazing to see. Their website is: www.abengoasolar.com Wonderful countryside as well. Dropped bike off, caught bus back to Seville and caught fast train to Madrid.
At Madrid, I went to the Cat Hostel (Meeooww!) and bumped into Marcos (Buenos Aires) who I'd met in Granada. We teamed up that night and went and had a great feed at this giant BBQ down the road from our hostel. Back to
the Cat Cave (the hostel bar) and we left on the hostel pub crawl at 1am! Crawled into bed about 5am after dancing the night away and trying to teach Marcos how to salsa. (Marcos has two left feet so it was still a bit like the blind leading the drunk)
Thursday May 14th. I was up bright and sparkly for my last day in Spain at 9am. I jumped on a local hop on/off bus and saw the main sights. I jumped off half way through as it was about 12 degrees and I was wearing shorts. I went back to the hostel to pick up Marcos (who was feeling the pain of a big night out - mind you, I'm about twice his age so these kids just can't hack it!) and we caught a train to the airport where the real fun began.
There are 4 terminals at Madrid airport. We think Sydney is huge but it's tiny compared to these European airports. I bade farewell to Marcos at T1 and went up to T2 for my flight. Checked in and decided to finish this blog. No decent computers at T2 so got the free
10 minute shuttle to T4. My flight had been delayed to 5.25pm. Did my net stuff, caught the free bus back to T2 at 4.30 but somehow caught the wrong bus and ended at T3. Found another bus supposedly going to T2, via T4 and started all over again.
Fell asleep (I'd only had 3 hours sleep remember) on the bus, only to wake up as we were pulling away from T2. Got back to T4, 4.45pm. Had to change buses again. Stood at the wrong spot for 10 mins until a bus driver told me the buses left from downstairs. Went downstairs. Same bus driver is there waiting for me! Why couldn't I have stayed on the bus?! Bus goes to T3 and then what I thought was T2. I jumped off. Wrong! It was T1. Jumped back on another bus. End up back at T4!!!! 5pm. This is not happening!! Jump on another bus.....T3.....T1.....T2...out the door. It's 5.15pm. My flight goes in 10 minutes. My gate is only a mere 1 kilometre away!!! I break into Cathy Freeman mode and leg it past amused passengers. "Get the fuck out of the way, motherfuckers, I'm coming through!!!!" Only
in my head, not verbally, Mum.
5.23. Arrive at my gate. My heart is ready to do a Death Star and implode, where's Dr Barry when I need him, can anyone do CPR here?!! At my gate there is only 200 people in an orderly queue waiting to board as they have delayed the flight by another 30 minutes. Bastards!!! Finally I get my breath back and get on board. There is an Air Controllers' strike on so we are delayed another 30 minutes as I'm guessing they are teaching the cleaners how to operate a flight controllers system. I have now missed my connecting flight to Sydney
We arrive Amsterdam at 8.45pm. I wait at the transfer desk:
KLM:It's not KLM's fault the plane was delayed out of Madrid, so we're very sorry but no free hotel for you.
Me: Can I please get my backpack back so I can go to a hotel and get changed.
KLM: It's been loaded onto another carousel in preparation for your midday flight tomorrow.
Me: Can you retrieve it please?
KLM: Sure, where is your baggage ticket?
Me: Errrmm (as I'm virtually stripping down, finding nothing) they didn't give
KLM: EVERYONE gets a baggage ticket
Me: Nope, definitely not, no way, Jose, unh unh
KLM: EVERYONE gets a baggage ticket
Me: I DIDN'T GET ONE, ALRIGHT? Surely it will be in your system?
KLM (not amused): Alright...... here's the number.........it will be downtairs on Belt 18
1.5 hours later, after three different converstaions with airline staff, my bag turns up. I get a free bus to Schipol A4 hotel and get a room at midnight for 95Euro - $150. Great place. Open my daypack up, get my book out. There is my boarding pass replete with baggage ticket..... The screams were heard in Madrid
Caught flight to Kuala Lumpur. Arrived Sat May 15th at 6am, next flight at 9am. Got through security, girl tears off my boarding pass, hands me the stub and I take a seat while the rest of the keen travellers jump aboard. I wait until I am exactly the last passenger (seasoned traveller, me. Why wait on a cramped plane when you can stretch out in the lounge? My seat's not going anywhere) and attempt to get on board
KLM: Your boarding pass, Sir?
Me: Errrmm (as I'm
virtually stripping down, finding nothing) they didn't give me one
Somehow between the security gate, to my waiting lounge seat to the plane, a distance of about 100 metres, I have lost another boarding pass. Flying Spaghetti Monster, help me!!! They made a quick phone call and let me on. The perfect crime.
So, I am now back in Sydney, Liz picks me up (thank you, treacle) and make my way to a friends' 40th birthday Bollywood party for the night.
So, friends and lovers, I'm back in town and if you want to hear more stories, feel free to take me out and ply me with liquor and I'll relive the whole experience for you in glorious technicolour. Thanks for listening to my ramblings. Some dear friends and family have suggested I need to write this up as a book but good friends always say that. However, if there are any people with contacts in the literary business, send me the million dollar contract and 'll get Brad Pitt to play me in the movie
There are more photos below