Saturday, 31 December 2011

I am an African
Not because I was born there
But because my heart beats with Africa’s
I am an African
Because my mind is engaged by Africa
I am an African
Not because I live on its soil
But because my soul is at home in Africa….
When Africa weeps for her children
My cheeks are stained with tears
When Africa honours her elders
My head is bowed in respect
When Africa mourns for her victims
My hands are joined in prayer
When Africa celebrates her triumphs
My feet are alive with dancing.
I am an African
For her blue skies take my breath away
And my hope for the future is bright
I am an African
For her people greet me as family
And teach me the meaning of community
I am an African
For her wildness quenches my spirit
And brings me closer to the source of life
When the music of Africa beats n the wind
My blood pulses to its rhythm
And I become the essence of sound
When the colours of Africa dazzle in the sun
My senses drink in its rainbow
And I become the palette of nature
When the stories of Africa echo around the fire
My feet walk in its pathways
And I become the footprints of history
I am an African
Because she is the cradle of our birth
And nurtures an ancient wisdom
I am an African
Because she lives in the world’s shadow
And bursts with a radiant luminosity
I am an African
Because she is the land of tomorrow
And I recognize her gifts as sacred.

Friday, 30 December 2011

The desert didn't stop at the border and continued for some considerable time.  I have to say that Mauritanian roads are not the best and in some places non on earth Steve managed to find his way without road signs is credit to his abilities as a driver.

I noted for the first time that the heat and brightness of the sun seemed more intense since the previous day and it was as though we had crossed some invisible line where sun was one side and none the other.  Mosquitoes were to be a problem from now as we progressed further into Mauritania and we had all started our Malaria prophylaxis.

We stopped for lunch alongside a railway and were told not to wander far due to the very real possibility of landmines being in the area.  These were being cleared by bulldozers but a lot still remained and apparently it was felt to be safe if we stayed where the tyre tracks where.  I had to question how sensible it was then to prepare lunch as most people's inquisitive nature and calls of nature ensured that they wandered off and I had to wonder just how efficiently the landmines had been cleared.  When a two mile freight train came along most of the group wandered well off the track to take photographs.  However, for me it was a stark reminder just how unsafe African countries could be and was pleased when we got on the 'road' again.

Sand, sand and more sand

Wild camels or dromedaries - one hump only

There was a definite difference in the lifestyles of the Mauritanians from the Moroccans.  They were clearly much poorer and lived more simply in straw and mud huts and  a lot of tents.  One 'village' looked for all the world like an allotment with sheds but no produce being grown.

Village in Mauritanian desert

It was not until we reached Nouadibou our first stop in Mauritania that we would see housing as such.  However, the roads are sand and no paths exist as pedestrians and cars, horses, goats etc mix in with pedestrians.  Nouadibou was very sleepy but we were still advised to go out in groups of five or more.  We all found that this actually had the effect of drawing attention to us rather than allowing us to blend in so most started going out in lesser numbers.  On the whole the feel of the place was friendly and things were ridiculously cheap. We managed to buy more prophylaxis here and I was able to buy 'puff puff'.  I bought lots and found it very useful for giving to people when stopping and speaking to them.  Nouadibou had a market but in the main no one bothered you and got on with their daily lives.  

We went to dinner with two rather interesting french guys who were travelling across Africa on motorbikes following the same route as us.  It was really interesting as they were heading to Ghana where they would try and sell their bikes as they had no where to store them.  In the event they were unsuccessful we offered them the opportunity to store these in Nigeria as it transpired they were to return and pick up where they left off.  We exchanged emails so who knows we may be seeing them again.  In any event we wished them  a bon voyage!

We moved on the following day to Nouakchott, the capital of Mauritania where we were to spend several days awaiting visas for our Australian and Kiwi members of the group.

First view of  Nouakchott the capital
Noukachott was vast...a crazy place where anything went, that said we found it to be hassle free.  Those vendors that did approach you if waved off didn't continue to bother you, a stark contrast to Morocco.  People were friendly and helpful and didn't look for tips or money which was a pleasant surprise.   We tried different places to eat each night and enjoyed a happy hour watching the locals wandering by and interacting with them. We left a tip for a waiter and we were a fair way down the street when he chased after us to give us our money we had left thinking we had left it in error...I was impressed but there was a refreshing change in attitude. 

We returned to the same cafe for our last night to try out the Shishas...I don't smoke so I didn't find it particularly enjoyable and just made me cough...although the group were funny taking turns.  An interesting pastime sitting there with a large glass vessle with water in it and hot charcoal of varying flavours glowing away.  Every so often the waiter would appear and give us some more coals.  I decided to stick to the rather nice milkshakes instead and laugh at the rest of the group.

We managed to buy a mosquito net after one night as I heard my first mossie whizzing past my ear in the night. The helpful owner of the Auberge popped out and obtained a mossie net for me gladly. I would liked to have spent more time in Mauritania as I felt it may have had more to offer but alas after three days we moved on.

Camels in Nouakchott

After another night of bush camping in the desert.  This time under our newly acquired mossie net we slept under a clear sky under the stars in the desert.  An amazing experience if you can do it.  However, it does get extremely cold but if you are well wrapped up then it's very enjoyable.  The next day we were up and packed ready to go on our way to the border we were to pass through a nature reserve and at times at 45 degree angle, traversing these roads was akin to being locked in a sweetie tin and being shaken up.  The roads were non existent and as we bumped along we tried to see the various animals in the reserve and take photographs. It was a shame we were not allowed time to get off except for a toilet stop and have a look around but it was really being used as a route to the border away from the main road.

Flamingoes at Mauritanian national park

Birds in flight at Nationaal Park

Once out of the National Park we were back on the main road again...bumping our way along and stopping every few miles for police checks.  Not sure what purpose these served as they never seemed to check us in the back as such and occasionally wandered around the outside of the vehicle and then let on our way.  These are not the jedi's you are looking for - move along   sprang to mind.

Eventually we reached the border between Senegal and another border crossing....

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Well as our tour of Morocco comes to an end it has been an amazing experience.  My experiences in Morocco are none of the things I was expecting so it has overwritten my views on the place and the people. Overall Morocco is a fun place to be and the people are friendly and helpful.

Mosque at La Plage, Rabat
We started and ended our tour in Rabat the capital of Morocco. Our first visit here was to obtain visas as most of the Consultates are conveniently located in a square mile making it painless enough to drop off and pick up for each visa applications.

Medina at Rabat

View of rooftops and skyline in Marrakech with snow capped Atlas mountains in background
Fez City


Rabat is a good start for the uninitiated into Moroccan lifestyle and far less daunting than say Marrakech.  I personally would not recommend planning a visit for more than two or three days to Marrakech as it is so draining.  Marrakech is vast and  you are being encouraged to buy, eat or whatever every step of the way.  It's cheap enough but after a day doing the Souks you feel completely drained.  Afterall how many stores can you buy freshly squeezed orange juice from?  You would think they would be spread out but no they are all clustered together which is a bit odd really.  The Medina is a maze of thousands of streets and all too easily you can get lost or turn down a dead end as we did on a couple of occasions.  Bizzarely mixed in amongst the pedestrians are bicycles, electric bicycles, mopeds and motorbikes dodging around you as they go...mix in the donkey's and people pulling carts and it makes it a surreal place to navigate.  At night Marrakech is jumping with snake charmers and all sorts of other types of entertainment, it can be a blur of activity and makes you need to solice in a cafe or restaurant for respite from the craziness.  Rabat on the other hand is more laid back but still with the various vehicles mingling in but at least you can wander the Medina without being hassled the same as you are in Marrakech by vendors and you can walk the streets without hassle.  There are plenty of eateries in the Medina and Cafe does not mean food.  In the absence of bars Cafe's are really places to sit and drink coffee or mint tea and catch up and are frequented by males.  Females are allowed but it seems to be the preserve of the males, no doubt the females are too busy shopping and looking after the family to spend precious time drinking tea.

As Morocco is a predominantly Muslim country mosques are everywhere and stand tall against the skyline. However, non-muslims are not allowed entry.  Calls for prayers five times per day starting at 5am.  Each mosque makes their calls so it's an echo of chanting across the towns and cities.  Hammams are a way of life in Morocco and for a small fee you can partake of the ritual cleansing enjoyed by muslims all over.  Hammams are basically steam baths, which is a fun and relaxing experience, although it does have its own rules of etiquette.  Hubby and I managed to take a private Hammam so we were able to do ours together but most Hammams have separate times for men and women.  However, we found it not only to be a cleansing experience but healing for the body and soul as you come out feeling completely refreshed, de-stressed and relaxed.

Fez was a nice place to visit but the Medina is massive and quite overwhelming, I did have an uneasy sense of feeling watched  here but thankfully we had a guide and that helped to reduce the hassle somewhat.  That said we tended to get hassled less in any event as hubby was often taken for being Moroccan.

Surfers on Essouira beach
After all the hustle and bustle of Marrakech, Essouira is a welcome respite. Being a beach resort the temperatures are somewhat cooler than Marrakech but the change of pace was welcome. Here you can partake of surfing, kite surfing, windsurfing, horse riding, camel riding and quad biking. There is a medina but it's much smaller and easier to negotiate and without the hassle of Marrakech.

We struggled with the food in Morocco in that whilst meat is plentiful beef is cooked rare even when well done.  Chicken was a better option, however, you never saw pork on the menu and oh boy I dooo miss my bacon in the mornings.  All foods come with riz or frites (rice or chips).  If vegetables are mentioned then you need to ensure you mention these when you order as you will receive exactly what you ordered.  There were a few places we had amazing meals but in the main unless you were eating couscous some may struggle.  Most menus are carbon copies so when you move to the coast you have the added option of fresh seafood.

Todra Gorge
Todra Gorge was beautiful but as it was winter and in the high Atlas mountains tended to be cold when the sun disappeared.  We soon learnt to plan our day around where the sun would disappeared at one end of the gorge hours before the other end.  However, the village seemed to be in sun for much longer.   I did manage to do a bit of washing in the river, hubby and I with our buckets and washing we walked the length of the gorge.  On the sandy beach the inevitable happened as I was collecting our things together...I slipped in the wet sandy soil wearing flip flops.    Although I tried to get a grip anyone who has ever worn flip flops knows practical they may be but in the wet they don't have much grip so sploosh into the river I went.  Covered in sand and wet...the locals watching us thought this was funny.  Later when walking along the gorge a local cycled by and shouted...'very good swimmer'! No doubt this was the talk of the village.  After I had dried off we went for a coffee and to try some local dishes.  We got talking to a local man and  he told us he was born in the caves where people still live. His parent's apparently still live in the caves.  He told us how cold they were to live in.  It was weird seeing little steps carved into the holes in in the rock face and to think that people still lived there.

The next day during a foray for postcards we found ourselves having mint tea with a local shop owner discussing politics and religion.  He was happy to answer questions about his faith.  We were invited to tea with his family but unfortunately as the light was fading we had to decline and head back to the gorge.

Bushcamp in the Desert
I have to say the most fun in Morocco was had taking a taxi.  These are ridiculously cheap to use and you never know what condition the cars will be in and each day's highlight is seeing just how bad they can get.  Unlike the UK they do stop and pick up other passengers if there is a spare seat up to a maximum of 3 passengers and they seem to stick religiously to this.  Watching the traffic it seems scary but funnily enough from the back of a taxi it makes more sense and is less frightening.

Road along the Atlantic through Western Sahara
After four weeks in Morocco we were all ready and pleased to be moving on to the Western Sahara which turned out  to be not what I expected but starkly beautiful.  I was delighted to be able to bushcamp amongst the  sand dunes and spend some time exploring the dunes.  My first surprise was the sheer size of these dunes, apparently they have a maximum height that they can achieve dependent on the size of the grains of sand.  

At night without light pollution of built up areas the milky way is crisp and clear above you, the stars look bigger and brighter.  I did attempt some night time photography but as I hadn't prepared for this I wasn't successful. 

Vegetation in Sahara
In the morning we were packing up I  wandered off and had it not been for the big yellow truck acting as a marker I would not have found my way back.  The tents blended into the landscape and when I looked around there was definitely no  point of reference and the vastness was eerie.  I could see how people could become disorientated quickly and easily.  As we packed the tent away we were very careful to look for scorpions who could find their way under the tents at night....thankfully there were none.

Certainly the Western Sahara is something you will never forget and something that can only be experienced.  The heat, dust and vastness are overwhelming.  The vegetation is sparse and yet dromedaries wander wild and people live here.

With Morocco now behind us, we enter soon as we cross the border the change is immediate so now we start another adventure.

They really are huge and continually moving

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Gibralter...the rock. A strange outcrop at the end of Spain jutting into the med which has been in British Territory since 1704 having  been ceded to Britain by Spain in the Treaty of Utrecht...and forever an annoyance that they let go so much so that Franco closed the border for number of years. A short distance from the concrete jungle called Costa del Sol, Gibralter stands apart with it's history preserved in this small friendly British territory located on the southern tip of the Iberian Peninsular.

Gibralter is a quirky, funny place with a Spanish influence and all speak Spanish but with the iconic sites of Mother England.  The Airport is a built on this flat area with the Eastern side is made up of sheer cliffs which means that the precarious approach to the runway is from the sea and due to the lack of land area the main road cuts straight through the middle of the main road across the island, so everytime a flight comes into land they close the road.  An eerie experience crossing the road to get from the Spanish border to the main shopping centre.

As we were camping in Spain we only had one full day to explore the rock but to be honest this was enough. There are plenty of taxis willing to take you up the rock to see the 'apes' and relieve you of your cash. The 'apes' are in reality tail-less monkey's found roaming wild in Algeria and Morocco but those on the 'Rock' are the only free ranging ones. However, we decided we would venture into town and see what the locals got up to. We found a good range of shops selling UK, Spanish and some Moroccan style goods.  Much cheaper than the UK though, and better climate.  We sat for a good part in the square eating and drinking with a view of the famous Rock before buying some last minute purchases and sending off postcards. Not an unpleasant afternoon I have to be said...but was a tad disappointed that we were unable to get Spanish food as the square is invaded by those horrible 'English Fish and Chips' signs and English breakfasts.  If you like British food though and want some heat then it's ideal for you.

The currency is Sterling, with notes issued by the Government of Gibralter.  UK notes are accepted as are Euros by most shops but not by the Post Office for some reason.   Euros I found to be more useful as if you plan to cross to the Spanish side which most do they are accepted by both whereas the Gibralter pound is not valid outside of Gibralter.  We tried to change money for Dirham as we were travelling to Morocco but found this difficult as they seem to stock limited amounts, so if you require these for visas etc in Spanish Morocco obtain these before travelling so you don't have to dash around beforehand.

The Cradle of History Monument in the shape of the rock, depicts Gibraltar's important location throughout history.  It shows the first skull of Neanderthal Man, which was found in Gibralter, although not identified as such until later, as well as one of the pillars of Hercules, and other images which represent many civilisations that form part of  Gibralter's history.

A day whizzed by and we were soon back on Spanish soil in our tent ready to set off the following day for the ferry from Gibralter to Morocco.