The past few weeks have been quite active so I thought I would break up this segment (Granada to North Africa) into two segments for those amongst us who have a short attention span (c’est moi).
The weather in Europe this winter has been harsh, and the million or so Brits who have headed for some relief from the ice and snow were disappointed this year. I call myself the Rain Queen because after the wettest summer we now have the wettest winter and people keep telling me it is not normally like this. The day before we left Granada it snowed – not just a smattering but a full blown dump on the hills and surrounding areas. This was the first snow in seven years so there were lots of people out and about reveling in this new kind of weather. Needless to say Martin and Kerry had a great time (our dog just loves snow) moving around the hills behind our house. We didn’t have to shovel it as it melted by the end of the day.
Snow day view
Just to set the record straight I am including a couple of shots of our house in Granada, it was a very special place but needed some work, a bit of polish and warmer weather.
Our living/dining room and kitchen
The green roof is our top deck as seen from the Alhambra
Before we left our neighbour – the beautiful Carrie – took us to a Flamenco evening unfortunately this did not happen as the dancers did not turn up. But we were treated to an incredible night time view over the city of Granada, which sparkled like a jewel and a concert from a singer and an incredible Flamenco guitarist.
The day after the snowfall we left Granada and moved into our apartment here in La Cala de Mijas Costa (you can check it out on Google Earth). The drive to the coast was uneventful and we settled into to what we thought would be a nice couple of sunny weeks. However it was not to be …… 12 days in La Cala de Mijas equals 7 days of rain, 2 days of cloud and three days of sun. We joked with Martin’s cousin Jacqui because she felt guilty about the weather, as she had promised us warmth and sun. It was not cold, (compared to Granada and the UK) but we did not have much heat either. Martin believes the weird weather is a part of the climate change affecting the whole planet, but I explained to Jacquie my role as Rain Queen, so she didn’t feel too guilty!
Our apartment (a condo in a complex) was half the size of the house in the Albayzin. It has two bedrooms and two bathrooms, it is nicely finished, with comfortable furniture, outdoor space, facing a pool and garden area, located about a block from the beach and a couple of walking blocks from shopping and the markets. We have an electric heater, which we have used every day (mostly in the evening), TV with British channels, and all the other kitchen appliances we need, but no WiFi. Electricity is very expensive in Spain so we made sure our €600 monthly rent included power. We are here until the end of March after which we are returning to the UK – hopefully by then it will have stopped snowing there!
Our time in La Cala de Mijas has been very quiet, reading, doing odd bits of craftwork and shopping. We decided that we should take advantage of our proximity to North Africa and go to Morocco, so we booked a five day Flandria bus tour (March 13 – 17) for €298 each. In the meantime we took a couple of day trips to Benalmadena and Nerja – resorts along the coast.
Benalmadena is a very British resort that has sprawled out of a small village, and now includes an internal marina surrounded by some Gaudi-esque buildings that have become a place for Sunday shopping and people watching. We actually had some very nice tapas and a glass of wine in a restaurant just off the main road but within sight of the blowy, foamy Mediterranean Sea. The new development in the area is quite amazing – I am not surprised there was a property bust around here as building and urban expansion has been both rapid and uncontrolled (and very ugly in places).
There are about one million Brits living for most of the year along the Spanish coast (Costa del Sol, Costa Blanca, Costa Brava etc), along with many other nationalities escaping the brutishness of the northern winter: Germans, Dutch, Scandinavians and the newest immigrants – wealthy Russians. These migrants are not well integrated into Spanish society. The number of British migrants is so large that they have created their own institutions and organizations. Being British many of these migrants expect everyone to speak English, and indeed the Spanish people in the area have accommodated them very well. Some Anglos (we can include Canadians and Americans as they also have a presence here) have bothered to learn Spanish. Now we have two to three generations of transplanted Brits living, working and setting up businesses in southern Spain. Spanish people have benefited from this migration, as these snowbirds tend to bring their money and assets with them. This has all been helped by European Union membership that supports the free movement of labour (better than the Canadian Confederation does) and money.
Nerja was our other outing and quite different – it was a longer drive (about 90kms each way), as it is located on the east side of Malaga. The coastal highway is quite a fast road so we were there in an hour. Nerja is a very Spanish resort, white houses, narrow streets, clean and well maintained. There were cave houses down near the beach and long promenades on top of the cliffs. It was a very pretty place with lots of orange honeysuckle and dark pink bougainvillea contrasting with the white walls and marble pavements. We walked through the downtown to the beach (with the other tourists) as a rainstorm was passing through (yes we got a bit wet).
Then we headed inland to the marvelous underground caves full of stalactites and stalagmites, caverns that were 50 feet high and large enough to hold a performance venue. The caves were discovered in 1959 and have been opened up so that we mere humans can marvel at the magnificent geological wonders of this underground world. The sculpture that nature in the form of limestone and water, has produced are quite awe-inspiring.
We left on our trip to Morocco early on March 13, setting out from the small city of Fuengirola (or ‘fun granola’ as I call it). Kerry was staying with Jacqui, who was excited to have a walking companion. Our bus picked up a number of people on the way to the ferry at Algeciras. This city is a huge port on one side of a large sheltered bay, the Rock of Gibraltar is on the other side. We boarded the car carrying catamaran (like the ones demonized by the BC Liberals) for the 50 minute trip across the Straits of Gibraltar, the stretch of water where the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea meet.
The Straits flow between the two pillars of Hercules – Gibraltar on one side and the rocky outcrop on which the Spanish city of Cueta stands on the other. I was surprised to find that Spain controls the south side of the Straits, and it now made sense to me (and probably most of the countries inside the Mediterranean) why Spain should not control both sides of this strategic waterway. We (being a little biased) thought it was quite ironic that the Spanish government spent much time throughout history demanding the return of Gibraltar while they were hanging on to Cueta. Luckily the EU sorted that out and the border between Spain and Gibraltar is now very open.
Cueta was a bustling city of 80,000 on a 22km square isthmus that borders the country of Morocco and the continent of Africa. Approximately 20,000 migrant workers crossed the border from Morocco everyday, mainly women to work in low paid unskilled jobs. Cueta was originally established by the Portuguese but passed to Spain in 1648 at which time Spain controlled the Straits of Gibraltar, that changed in 1713 when the Treaty of Utrecht ceded the Rock to England. Our local guide indicated that the Moroccans wanted Cueta returned to Morocco, but she also indicated that the Moors wanted the return of the Province of Andalusia from where they were routed in 1492. This discussion about the Pillars of Hercules (Gibraltar and Cueta) brings me to the conclusion that sovereignty is deeply felt concept.
Crossing the very untidy border station was, as expected, a change in culture, religion, language, architecture, roles, economic activities, and attitudes; it was like stepping into another world. Morocco is a bridge between Europe and Africa, a place with a legacy of Spanish and French colonialism, a constitutional monarchy and democratic representation. We (about 22 English and Spanish speaking tourists) drove from the border with our guide Mohammad and our driver Farrid through the Rif Mountains towards Rabat. Our tour was in both languages, which was great as I could understand the Spanish information quite well. We arrived on a fairly sunny day, but I was surprised at the how green the countryside looked. Mohammad explained that it had been a very wet winter, and the green landscape would change.
Morocco is a highly agricultural country (60% of people live on the land), and we saw lots of cows, sheep, goats, donkeys and horses, all with their human attendants (shepherds etc). The land was very flat and plentiful once we crossed the Rif Mountains, the plain was again very green and covered in wild flowers, and arable production included ground fruits (strawberries), grains and olive orchards. As a consequence of its dependence on an agricultural economy, Morocco is a relatively poor country with average wages around €250 per month. The plains on the northwest corner of the country are highly productive, but south of the Atlas Mountains (just outside Marrakesh) the land becomes dry and arid as the Sahara Desert becomes the dominant landscape.
The Kingdom of Morocco is geographically about the same size as France and Spain put together, with a population of about 32 millions, 28% of whom are under age 14. The people are 98% Moslem – mainly Sunni, who look to their king – Mohammad VI as their spiritual leader. King Mohammad is also a progressive younger man (47) who has been on the throne since 1999. He sees the need for economic development through building new infrastructure (like the new port, highways and tourist destinations). We drove along the coast passed a massive new port development on our way to Rabat via an expensive but very clean late lunch stop (we also put our timepieces back one hour to GMT).
Rabat is the capital of Morocco and the current seat of King Mohammad VI. The bi-cameral Congress also sits in Rabat, elections must be a little chaotic as there are 33 political parties (no wonder they have a king). Rabat has two main areas the new city – mainly styled by the French and the Arab quarter. Together with its sister city of Sale, the conurbation has about 2 million inhabitants mostly employed by the government. As a government town it was progressive and seemingly middle class.
It took about 4 hours to get from the border to Rabat, our tour included breakfast and dinner served in the local hotel. We were staying at the Rihab Hotel (yes, Amy Winehouse came to mind), Martin and I had an hour or so before dinner, so we went walkabout armed with a small map. We found the Royal Mausoleum, which was both beautiful and interesting and the Medina (the city and market within the walls) within about a ten minute walk of the hotel.
King Mohammad’s Palace
We headed back for dinner, which was a little ho-hum, a glass of wine and spent a bit of time getting to know our travel companions. The hotel was clean and comfortable, and breakfast was very nice. We went touring the next day – back to the Mausoleum, the Royal Palace (which was basically corporate headquarters for the monarchy) and gardens, and walkabout down town. By noon we were on our way again – on the Road to Marrakesh.