Archive for October, 2012

26 Oct 2012

The gorges of Cuenca

3 Comments Spain


I can't say I was too excited at the prospect of the Hanging Houses of Cuenca, but when we got there — our taxi weaving its way through the pleasant new city and slowly rattling over the cobblestones up to our Hostal in the old city — and I took one look out of our bedroom window at the sheer drop to the magnificent gorge below, I was hooked. For a moment, I thought I was back in Peru. It was breathtakingly beautiful, the valley a swath of autumnal colours. I half expected to see Alpacas grazing on the other side of the gorge, but alas no.

We walked around the old city. Stunning and clean, with many narrow streets, steps and passages, and viewpoints … and maybe just a little bit too quiet. Boo!!! We took a walk down and along the river, visited a ruined castle, and even contemplated crossing the gorge and walking along the ridge on the other side, but in the end the only gorging to be done was of the culinary kind.

We stumbled across El Secreto (of course you understand, I can't tell you where it is) and ate delicious local fare. The next day, thinking it couldn't get any better, we went for a long walk and discovered Manolo De La Osa high in a park overlooking the old city, and sat down for a five course mini-degustation. We were the first to arrive and for a while had the place to ourselves; the red carpet treatment. Even now as I write ensconced back in Madrid, I am salivating; Paul talks of nothing else and recounts the courses one by one, ad infinitum. Meanwhile Gillian has quietly slipped away on an airplane bound for Australia. Do you think he has noticed? Should I tell him?



23 Oct 2012

A sudden and inexplicable spike in the Spanish economy

1 Comment Spain

Jeanne, our headless friend and Gillian give Plaza Major the thumbs up


It bothers me to think that at some time in the future when I am just a scrap of my current self, tattered, frayed, faded and floppy, reminiscing about how I spent my life, I will look back on this last weekend where we flew from Marrakech and London converging on Madrid with disappointment. Disappointment at the sheer hedonism; the excess of food and wine, mingling with the street artists in Plaza Mayor, the mindless laughter among friends, the pleasures of the flesh (cow hide mainly, in the form of shoes and leather jackets). Still Paul seems happier, Gillian is smiling and Jeanne will be spending a small fortune in excess luggage. Why is it I always strive for loftier things, mountains mainly?


Leather Jackets at 20€ a piece


A new scarf perhaps


Paul, Blanca, Gillian, Carmen and Phil - pre lunch drinks


Post lunch, serious discussions on Spanish politics — no laughing matter

What's an Alpaca to do but dream?



20 Oct 2012

Follow your ass

1 Comment Morocco

You would think there is a limit to the number of rugs they could buy, but apparently not. All the ducks were in a row; they were quietly sipping mint tea in a nice cushioned corner of the Riad, admiring their latest rug purchase (eyes rolling), looking pretty relaxed with life, when I put it to them.

“You guys can stay here in Marrakech and purchase all the rugs you want, or you can hop in a taxi with me and head up to the mountains. I've got a great deal on a couple of places. I found a tame taxi driver, who promises to stay in his lane most of the time, and we can even (eyes rolling) stop and look at some rugs on the way. What do you say? Are you in or out?”


First stop was Chez Momo II a very nice country lodge in Ouirgane. We went for a walk, chatted with the locals, had some lunch and even found time for a swim.



Next stop, I pulled out all punches and booked us in at Kasbah Toubkal with stunning views of several mountainside Berber villages and the Toubkal Peak, the highest peak in Northern Africa. The only way into the Kasbah is to follow your ass, literally. We loaded her up with all our bags and walked several steps behind, puffing and wheezing the whole way up. They have given us a room in the tower. Even more steps.

Kasbah Toubkal is a special spot — you may well all know it from the Scorcese movie Kundun, where with a few flags, some costumes and a couple of imported Yaks it was stunningly transformed into a Tibetan mountaintop monastery.

We set off early one morning for a six-hour mountain hike. What bliss. There is snow on the Toubkal peak. There was a lot of groaning and grumbling from the rear … My legs hurt. My feet ache. Are we there yet? And what about the rugs Al? Yeah Al, you promised us rugs.

Because it was cute


15 Oct 2012

Take me back

Comments Off on Take me back Morocco

I am still finding sand everywhere, remnants of the Sahara. The shock of big city Marrakech, after timeless mountain top Berber villages, is all too much for this poor Alpaca. Roads too narrow to share with donkeys, people and bicycles, now have to be shared with motorbikes as well. The touts are more aggressive than Fez, Rabat or Casablanca and resort to swearing when you ignore their requests to come and eat or buy yet another rug.



Despite this Marrakech still has a certain dusty smelly charm about it: freshly squeezed glasses of orange juice for four dirham, about forty cents; sitting, sipping and watching the world go by, Cobras hypnotically swaying nearby (be careful where you step); the call to prayer; street performers …. noise. We make it back to the tranquil courtyard sanctuary of our Riad (Riad Hidden), which despite its name we always manage to find.




Take me back to the Atlas mountains where a Berber salt miner leads a donkey laden heavily with sacks of salt, hard earned salt, after a morning toiling deep underground with nothing but a hand-made pickaxe. He touchingly hands us a chunk of bread to share and insists we take some of his salt. The going rate for a kilo of salt at the markets is half a dirham or about five cents. A full donkey load, a days work, about 100 dirham. Hard work — do the maths.



Take me back to the Kasbah's … wandering through the once magnificent ruins; that look like something from a fairy tale, resembling giant sandcastles. Take me back to the smiling Berbers at work in fields, shepherding goats, or sitting on the roadside chatting. Take me back into a Berber shop, an Aladdin's cave of dusty treasures, ancient brass astrolabes, giant wooden carved doors twenty foot high, silver trinkets, genie lamps and faded Berber rugs.

Take me back to verdant valleys, the clear mountain air and those magnificent mountain roads, and the sheer look of terror on Paul's face the whole way down.

Take me back, but whatever you do don't feed me another Tagine.


13 Oct 2012

Sand in my shoes

2 Comments Morocco

The route to Merzouga was no magic carpet ride. Try seven hours in a dusty grey landcruiser, with Abdul (guide) and Abdil (driver), Bill and Sharon from Alaska. Bill is a token West Aussie having spent a great chunk of his time in WA so we have adopted them both as new friends.

Merzouga is on the edge of the Sahara. Looking east as far as they eye can see are dunes, dunes and more dunes, then about 50kms east, across the dunes is Algeria.

The world is a small place, or as they say in Spain, el Mundo es un panuelo (the world is a handkerchief!!! Whatever). So here we are in middle of nowhere — edge of Sahara, Morocco — and who do we see; Mary, Derry, Kerry & Cherry, the Dromedaries, Alice's second cousins on her father's side. Man did they get a touch of the ugly stick! But we got to know them and they were cool. They even offered us a ride into the desert and we accepted.

Next thing you know it is late afternoon and we are trekking off into the desert camel-back … and it is beautiful, surreal like a lunar landscape. They dunes have taken on an amazing range of hues; multiple shades of pinks and oranges, beiges and browns. Long deep shadows. We stop and listen, a whisper of a breeze, the gentle plop plop of dromedary droppings dropping and then silence, total silence. In every direction all we can see is sand, endless sand. It would be easy to become lost. We crest a final dune. The sun has set and we are riding in the vestiges of light, and there it is like a mirage, a Berber village in the dunes. We dismount. Mary, Derry, Kerry and Cherry groan and moan us goodnight. We sit and eat under the stars and retire to our Berber rug tents shaking the sand from every crevice.




In the morning we wake before sunrise and half attempt a climb of a mammoth dune. Clouds spoil the sunrise and sadly we have to make our way back to civilisation. Mary, Derry, Kerry and Cherry welcome us with weary grumbles and mumbles, raising awkwardly off their knees and lead us back along the dunes.