Morocco. They’ll let just about anyone in.

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Even if you’re a little, shall we say, slow, Morocco is happy to have you visit.

You don’t need to wear a turban, or a burqa, or bow toward Mecca five times a day (although it was a little cool to hear the broadcast waft about the city when it was time for the Muslim residents to do so).

Tangier is a very metropolitan –indeed, almost European– city, having been conquered and occupied by Rome, the Byzantine Empire, Portugal, England, and Spain, as well as a couple of drunk Dutchmen for about six days. It’s a sister city to Pasadena, of all places, which is ironic because not many little old ladies drive around brand new, shiny red Super Stock Dodges in Tangier like they do all over Pasadena.

Burqa TankWe were glad the clothing requirements were lax for women because we were afraid Carolyn might have to wear the latest in Islamic clothes or headgear, like the infamous tank-top as shown to the right, which has become quite popular in some parts of Afghanistan.

There’s so much misinformation and misdirected hate aimed toward Muslims (at least in the states; I haven’t found that to be true for Europeans), that we were glad to see for ourselves that, lo and behold, they’re just people. The places that have most of the terrorists are in backward states largely populated by a disaffected, undereducated, and over-propagandized populace; kind of like Mississippi or Alabama.

Morocco is a peaceful place where mosques, churches, and even synagogues coexist side by side. We saw women dressed in dresses, scarves, burqas, shorts, and bikinis. Okay, maybe not bikinis, in the city anyway. We saw some beaches from afar, but I couldn’t tell whether the women were wearing full body armor or not.

Morocco has a rocky coast, and so got it’s name from the Romans after they sent an exploration party across the channel:

“Giuseppe! What did you see there?”

“Oy, nothing except more rock-o!” he replied. And so the name stuck.

IMG_8500 (1)This is the approach to Tangier. We took a one-day tour provided by the oddly named Bland’s Travel. But I guess if you’re going to Africa for the first time, you probably don’t want to be in a tour named “The Bullet Dodgers” or “Most of You Make It Out Alive Tours,” so we settled for Bland.

IMG_8100This is the scene that greets you when you walk off the ferry. That tower is part of the mosque next to it. There are a few vendors here and there, but none that bother you much. They saved the bothering for later in the tour.

IMG_8472A closer look at the city once we landed. It’s not all that different from cities in Spain and Portugal, actually. They even have electricity and everything!

IMG_8424Our tour guide was a jolly ol’ Englishman. My wife was played by Carolyn on this leg of the journey.

IMG_8107Their main language is written in an alphabet we wouldn’t have even tried learning had we moved to a country that used it. Their secondary language is French; Carolyn doesn’t remember much from high school, except she does know how to say, “Ooh la la! Those boys are really cute!” I tried using it and almost got arrested. If you think Christians hate homosexuality, you should try America’s ally Saudi Arabia, where it’s punishable by death. Sheesh. Even in Morocco, it’s actually illegal, but you “only” may have to serve three years in prison with a bunch of other, uh, men. Psst. Don’t tell the authorities, but they’d probably be a lot more miserable in a woman’s prison. Just sayin’.

IMG_8433The tour took us to the other side of the city, where the Mediterranean meets the Atlantic. We didn’t see any color changes, lines, or wave differences, so it’s hard to tell exactly where they meet, but we’ll take their word for it.

IMG_8477The tour also included a delicious lunch in –get this– an authentic Moroccan restaurant. I can’t remember if I’ve ever had genuine Moroccan food before, but it truly was delicious, and I’d certainly have it again.

IMG_8122They have enormous palaces around the area, some of them owned by Saudi royalty. Guards are in place to keep the riffraff out as well as arrest any woman who isn’t behaving properly. Oh, wait, that’s America’s ally Saudi Arabia who does that.

IMG_8453A local tour guide joined the tour, giving us all the inside scoops about Tangier and Morocco. This is at the entrance to a pretty spiffy cave, called the Cave of Hercules. Here he demonstrates just how strong Hercules must have been to separate the continents.

IMG_8154The cave features an entrance that looks either like a woman screaming or the outline of Africa. Pictures of this are quite famous, especially now that another photo of it is in this blog.

IMG_8148One of the downsides of that particular tourist agency is they really go cheap on the transportation. It took us hours just to go a couple of blocks downtown, what with all the cars honking at us and stuff.

IMG_8141One of the upsides is that I got to ride right next to Anne Hathaway.

IMG_8449Mounting and dismounting is kinda hairy. You have to hold on tight, because you go almost perpendicular at one point. Here Carolyn is holding on for dear life. She made it, thankfully. And the camel’s fine, thanks for asking.

IMG_1659She’d walk a camel for a mile.

Actually, she wouldn’t. I wouldn’t want to either. That’s a very bumpy ride on an ornery animal. I think maybe walking a mile for a Camel might be better for your health than walking a camel for a mile.

IMG_8436In case you ever wondered what it looks like from atop a camel.

IMG_8200After the camel ride, I thought I had become Moroccan so I had to buy one of these thawbs. Yes, that’s what some call it, a thawb. It made me look fat so I kind of thobbed about it, which made me realize where the name came from.

IMG_8179Sans thawb, back to lookin’ like just another dumb ol’ tourist.

Examples of Tangerine architecture. Interestingly, none of them were orange, plus we couldn’t tell if there were any seeds inside.

IMG_8169The entrance to the local WalMart.

The Tangerine Walmart. They seem to take great pride in laying out their goods in an organized, beautiful way. It may be all out in the open, but it sure is neater than any Walmart I’ve ever seen!

IMG_8489That didn’t make Carolyn like it any more than she did. All that meat laying about isn’t so appealing to many western sensibilities, especially when your potential food is grinning at you.

A couple of the pictures above were taken in the fish market. Despite all the fish, it really didn’t smell as bad as you’d expect. Open and airy, but they keep it clean!

IMG_8497This guy was a hoot. As you walk through the areas with shops, various peddlers cling to you like spiders on Carolyn’s back. “Get it off! Get it off!” They’re very persistent, and seem to receive “No, not interested,” as “Of course I’m interested, I’m just playing hard to get! Wear me down for another half hour and I just may buy something!”

I had a running dialog with this guy, who asked me for the tenth time what my price would be for the shirt he was selling. I finally said “free.” Unfortunately, that began the negotiations. He followed us all the way down to our bus. He was good-humored and a funny guy, he just wouldn’t take no for an answer. Despite losing the sale, he responded with a big thumbs up when I brought my iPhone up for a shot. I almost bought something out of pity because he obviously has to wear a tablecloth to make ends meet.

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So that’s it for this particular road trip. On the drive home, we encountered some of the record-setting temperatures Spain and Portugal were going through. I glanced down and noticed it was not only 43.5 degrees centigrade (110.3 fahrenheit), but that Lucifer was really enjoying it. When it peaked at 45 (113 fahrenheit, or in scientific terms, “Holy shit it’s hot!”), we were Knock Knock Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door. If I’d have been more ambitious, I would have pulled over and called up “Highway to Hell” on my iPod, but one can only do so much for one’s art. Besides, I now figure my iPod is sending me messages regularly and I just hadn’t realized it until now, so I’ll be living my life as an iPodian from now on.

“Honey, it’s playing ‘Why Don’t We Do it in the Road’ again!”

Anyway, bucket list: Been to Africa. Check.

Kevin & Carolyn Meet the Rock

K&D with the RockOn our journeys, we actually relish experiencing the unexpected (unless it’s the bad kind, like a flat tire, a plane crash, or an empty minibar in your hotel room). We like going off the beaten track once in a while, because you never know who or what you might run into.

So when we found ourselves with an opportunity to meet the Rock, well, we of course had to make the most of that opportunity. We were delighted to have almost a full day together.

But before we get into our adventures with the Rock, while we were driving from Grenada toward the coast of Spain, we decided to take a detour into the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Some of our American friends might wonder why we drove all the way to California and didn’t bother visiting them, but they might be surprised to find out the original Sierra Nevadas are in Spain. Just like the original Matterhorn is in Switzerland, not Disneyland.

IMG_8026Sierra Nevada means “mountain range covered in snow” in Spanish, which means the Spanish think just about every mountain range in the world is called the Sierra Nevada. The actual version contains the highest point of continental Spain, and the third highest in Europe, just ahead of the Matterhorn in Disneyland Paris.

When Carolyn first pointed out that there was snow on them thar hills while looking up at them from Grenada, I scoffed, thinking there was no way in this 100 degree weather in late July that snow could still be on the peaks. But as we took the drive up the mountains and got closer to them, I could see she was right. To which I say, “tens razão Carolyn,” which means “you’re right” in Portuguese; otherwise translated as, “I bow to your incredible wisdom, oh wise one, please forgive me for scoffing… so, um, can we still have some nookie tonight?”

Our ultimate destination was a village called Capileira, so-named because you need a lot of extra capillaries to live at that altitude. It is the highest and most northerly of the three villages in the gorge of the Poqueira river. Cars are not permitted to continue across the mountains, so Capileira is the highest village that public traffic can reach, unless you’re driving a tank, in which case you can pretty much go wherever you want.

IMG_7973On the twisty-turny drive up we spotted this little cave with a small building built inside.

IMG_8335So of course I had to inspect it. It was just some sort of abandoned one-room hovel. I guess a mountain man or some such built his little castle and then either died or left it when the road was put through. Love to know the story about it! Probably just a cave troll, though, who are now mostly extinct.

IMG_8057There was also this small castle on a small hill. We love castles, but this one was pretty small and not something you could visit. Probably built for elves, who are now mostly extinct.

IMG_8053The road up was full of twists and turns, some with minimal protection right next to a steep cliff. The good news about that is they don’t have a problem with drunk drivers there. Whoever tries it the first time generally has taken their last drive.

IMG_8016The village is built right into the side of a cliff. They used to play baseball up there, but after the 430th time the ball went bouncing down the hill, ending up about ten kilometers away, they switched to backgammon.

IMG_8007Cool, clear, free, unfiltered water ushers forth from faucets scattered about the town. It honestly was possibly the tastiest and most refreshing water we’ve ever drunk. It was as fresh and delicious as water gets. Of course, we had the shits real bad a few days later, but hey, we got a photo op out of it beforehand! Just kiddin’ about the shits. It made us poop flavored yogurt for a couple of days, actually.

It’s a charming little town with quaint shops and gorgeous views of the countryside. The items in the shops were even reasonably priced; we don’t buy much on our travels but we did buy some things there. Like Imodium. Just kiddin’.

IMG_7994The views were definitely breathtaking, especially if you walked anywhere because there was nothing that wasn’t on an incline.

After a thoroughly pleasant visit, and gratitude that we’d veered off the beaten track and seen a place not many American tourists ever visit, we mushed on to the Spanish coast… and the Rock!

IMG_8521Most Americans have heard of the Rock of Gibraltar (aka the Rock), and– what? You thought we meant the Rock, as in Dwayne Johnson, the guy who gives every professional wrestler hope that they can go from pretending to wrestle to pretending to act? I never said that. As you should already know, he wasn’t even in Spain at the time!

Anyway, it’s a famous rock that stands guard over the entrance to the Mediterranean Sea. I think Dwayne needs to make a movie there.

On the other side of the channel, in Morocco, stands the other “Pillar of Hercules.” In ancient times, the two points marked the limit to the known world. Legend has it that it’s where the earth actually ended; that there was nothing whatsoever beyond. That’s why they sent Columbus past there, hoping he’d just fall off the end of the earth. Instead, he discovered Indians running around America, and so invented McDonalds in the hopes of eradicating them all because they were a bit more tan.

IMG_8093Accceso might have looked prohibido, but we went up to the top anyway.

IMG_8264Oops, maybe it was prohibido.

The Rock of Gibraltar is also famous for being home to a couple of hundred monkeys, who make a living looking cute and asking for handouts. The Barbary Macaque population in Gibraltar is the only wild monkey population in the European continent.

IMG_8590Here mom shows her baby how to deal with the tourists and beg for handouts.

IMG_8629Sometimes they don’t wait for handouts. This clever fella jumped on the back of this tourist, unzipped his backpack, and stole a plastic container full of food. Guess he was tired of the free fruit and vegetables. The man did get his container back, empty.

IMG_8626Sometimes its hard to tell which children belong to which family, so occasionally little kids are left to fend for themselves while the imposters who replace them puzzle their parents as to why they need so many haircuts.

IMG_8543After seeing the long line for the gondola ride up the mountain, we opted to take a van tour instead. The bonuses were ongoing and educational commentary from the driver, several stops along the way for views and sights, and…

IMG_8250…having a monkey sit in our laps. This little fella clambered up onto the van while it was moving, and proceeded to sit in both my and Carolyn’s lap. I didn’t want to take a picture of it because I was afraid he’d steal my iPhone and scamper away, subsequently racking up thousands of dollars of long-distance calls to his cousins in Africa.

IMG_8636Some of them are just begging for affection. This one looks more likely to rip my face off.

IMG_8634This baby was getting all the affection and grooming his little heart desired. His mama gets a free all-you-can-eat buffet of lice.

Inside the rock is a labyrinth of caves. This particular section was lit up with all sorts of colored lights. They even hold concerts inside there… I’d love to hear a concert with those unique acoustics. Obviously, they can only play rock.

IMG_E8252They also have something called The Great Siege Tunne. I’m still not sure what a Tunne is, however.

They also had a bunch of tunnels, some of which were extended and modified during World War II.

Here I’m directing fire at all the terrorists flooding in from Morocco. I wonder if Trump would have wanted to build a wall across the Mediterranean if he was the President of Spain?

The Rock is heavily touristed, and so the vans pile up. Well, line up anyway. You wouldn’t want to be in a pile-up on the Rock. Most of the road up had only a flimsy guardrail protecting you from a ten thousand meter drop. The entire drive up, I was crossing my fingers that our driver never sneezed or had a sudden seizure.

IMG_8548But we made it safely, and enjoyed the amazing views from atop the famous promontory.

IMG_8628IMG_8235Amazed yet?

IMG_8604But wait, there’s more! For the same low price you also get to walk out onto a clear glass floor balcony, where you can stand and look down a very long way, with the pane of glass being the only thing between you and certain death.

I actually ventured out a little ways onto the glass, but there was this teeny tiny little thing that prevented me from going all the way:

Right next to it, there was a section of the balcony roped off with flimsy tape… because there were big cracks in the glass! How would you like to be the guy standing there when that happened?

So yeah, um, no. I ventured out far enough to check it off my bucket list, but I weigh too much to trust a piece of glass that’s identical to one that’s already cracked.

IMG_8653Speaking of death, for the life of us we couldn’t figure out what this was from our perch atop the rock. Closer inspection revealed it to be a cemetery, I think full of all the dead tourists who tried the glass floor thing.

By the way, that runway is one of the most dangerous runways in the world. On top of that, and possibly contributing to the danger, a highway runs right through it. The pilots conduct an ongoing sweepstakes to see how many cars they can take out while they land.

IMG_8265The Moors got their name from the fact that they made buildings moor-better.

IMG_8351Surrounding the Rock is the town of Gibraltar, which is still owned by the British. Accordingly, prices were in pounds, although they happily accepted Euros, especially since even the English can’t figure out what a pound is worth, or how much it weighs.

The town holds about 30,000 English refugees, who may get stranded there permanently when Brexit takes place and all flights to Europe from England are eliminated. At least I think that’s what is going to happen.

IMG_8260Carolyn snores, er- rests, on the drive home. That was a lot of hilly walking!

IMG_8523And so the sun sets on another adventure; more sights seen, more history learned, and a monkey in our car who refuses to get out.

Road Trip!

Road tripThe main reasons for our move to Portugal include, in no particular order, the desire to use it as a home base to explore Europe, to get away from our kids (just kiddin’), a burning desire to learn another language (Again, just kiddin’. It’s as difficult as I feared it would be.) because life is short and when we’re on our deathbed we want to feel as if we’d done as many things and gone on as many adventures as possible (not kiddin’), and, last but not least, to be able to retire early. Indeed, there is no way we could have retired in the US when we did, mostly due to its exorbitant health care costs (definitely not kiddin’).

In fact, just in case our positive view of European health care has been tainted by Portugal, we were excited to be exposed to another country’s health care (just kiddin’) after Carolyn popped something in her hip (Uh oh, a precursor to breaking a hip! We better get all this sightseeing done before our bodies give out!). She had to be taken to a hospital in Spain because she couldn’t walk on it. Turns out hips are pretty important for walking.

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The U.S. and the U.K. are both high-income, highly developed countries. The U.K. spends less per person ($3,749) on health care than the U.S. ($9,237). Despite its high spending, the U.S. does not have the best health outcomes. [Life expectancy, for example, is 79.1 years in the U.S. and 80.9 years in the U.K. And while the U.S. spends more on health care than any country in the world, it ranks 12th in life expectancy among the 12 wealthiest industrialized countries. Per NPR.
Anyway, she was seen immediately, they took X-rays (and even gave us the film as a souvenir), and announced that she had only three weeks to live. Oops. Wrong X-ray. Actually, she’ll be fine, but the whole visit, including the souvenir X-rays, was just north of 200 euros. In the U.S. the total billing would have probably been, oh, about one million.

I’m sorry, but anyone who still believes the propaganda that we need more freedom for the insurance companies to line their pockets with cash in order to provide proper health care, well, tell you what. Move to Europe, get sick, and see how they do it. You might just change your mind.

In any case, this particular road trip validated all of our thinking because we were able to hop in the car (This is before the hip problem. Hopping for Carolyn will be a bit problematic for another week or two.) and drive all over Spain and even into Morocco. We also were able to confirm that health care costs here will allow us to stay retired no matter where we go in the EU, and we even knew a little more Spanish because the Portuguese and Spanish languages are very similar.

I just had to get used to saying “Grathias” because in Spain they pronounce the “ç” like a “th.” For a while, I was saying “grathiath” because I thought it was only because everyone had lisps. Speaking of which, what numbskull decided the word for “lisp” should be “lisp?” Talk about adding insult to injury!

HamBra
Al’s Ham Bra

So we had four main stops on this particular road trip. First up was Grenada, Spain, the home of The Alhambra and (gre) nada else. And no, I’m not talking about Al’s ham bra you’ve heard so much about.

The Alhambra is a palace and fortress complex located in Granada, Spain. It was originally constructed as a fortress in AD 889 on the remains of Roman fortifications, and then was largely ignored until its ruins were renovated and rebuilt in the mid-13th century by the Nasrid emir Mohammed ben Al-Ahmar (Nasal for short) of the Emirate of Granada, who built its current palace and walls.

The Alhambra was the last holdout of the Moors in Europe until it was conquered by the Christians in 1492. Ironically, the whole thing started out as a big celebration because Christopher Columbus, who no one liked, had just sailed off the end of the earth, and they were ecstatic to be rid of him. The party turned into something of a riot, and the next thing that happened, moor or less, is that the Moors hightailed it back to Africa. But honestly that was mostly because they missed their camels and they were tired of the Spanish anyway.

My many rabid readers (okay, there’s only one, and it’s you! Wait! Don’t leave! I mean rabid in a good way!) may recall that I visited Grenada and the Alhambra with my two good friends Cale and John Lee back in January. I knew Carolyn would really appreciate it, so this, for me, is round two for Alhambra. I wanted Carolyn to see it, but I also wanted to see if anything had changed in the last six months. You know, just in case.

So without further ado, here are the pictures of that portion of our trip (if I had invented Twitter, it would’ve been limited to 144,144,144,144 characters), but yay! Here come the pictures!

IMG_8329The sun rises over the hills of Spain. Once in a while we accidentally take a shot that’s actually kinda pretty, so I thought we’d start out with that. It goes downhill from here.

IMG_8267I mean, immediately downhill.

Because first up is this shower shot from our hotel room. But it might help you understand why I’m so stupid. I keep hitting my head on all these low things. That bar went right across the middle of the shower.

And to complete the bathroom portion of this blog, below is an actual shot of our sink after we’d moved in. Notice anything unusual? Remember that I’m traveling with a woman. Unbelievably, she leaves no trace in the bathroom ever: no make-up, no curlers, no piles of bottles and gadgets whose use is a complete mystery to men. She’s awesome to room with, especially for a woman. Ha!

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IMG_7676I guess they moved Elvas’s body to Spain after he died. Okay, I know it’s “Elvis,” but the Spanish have never been known for their spelling prowess. Otherwise they’d be called Spainish.

IMG_7734Grenada gets pretty hot. They erect shades in the summer to keep the sun off the tourists. On the other hand, these could be someone’s sheets being hung out to dry, I dunno.

IMG_7744Since I’d already been to Grenada and Alhambra, Carolyn took most of the photos. Sometimes I’d get tired of being in them, so I’d hide.

Grenada is a nice town with a vibrant touristy area. But the main reason to visit is the Alhambra.

So first up from said attraction is a short slideshow presentation of some roses from its many gardens. A rose by any other color is still a rose you know.

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Now on to the rest of the Alhambra, presented in a mosaic, because there’s no way I can come up with interesting things to say with that many pictures. Not that I ever do, but hey; write your own blog if you’re gonna keep complaining. You might be rabid, after all.

So that’s The Alhambra after I edited out the 142 pictures with me in it. It’s a beautiful palace, with lush gardens and amazing architecture. Definitely worth a visit if you’re headed out Granada way!

IMG_8299For some reason, signs like this are like crack to an addict, as if cajoling me, “Go on! Go on! There must be something cool beyond this sign!” On the other hand, maybe they just don’t like El Paso, Texas.

IMG_8321After our tour of Alhambra, we took a walk up a big hill in Granada in very hot weather. That’s the Alhambra behind us. That’s us about ready to die in front of it.

IMG_8326As you can see Carolyn had become a bit overheated during the walk. Ninety-plus weather and a 40 (or was it 80?) degree uphill slope will do that to ya. The Sangria was just what the doctor ordered. Really. The Spanish medical system is that awesome. Anyway, we were treated to some of the best Sangria we’ve ever had, plus there was no deductible!