Category Archives: Local culture

Las Cats – Gran Canaria

They should have call it “Las Buildings”, – dropped Crisa while arriving to Las Palmas.
Really, it didn’t look like the capital of famous resort islands. Blocks of flats along the coast and some “significant” pieces of somewhat called “modern architecture”.
As I wrote before, we stopped in the marina Las Palmas that’s now a record-holder as the cheapest price in the whole Crisa’s trip around-the-world (if to stay a week – 7 euros per day).  We made spare parts in industrial zone of La Isleta – ugly district of plants, services, autodealer’s boutiques. But this is not why I will remember Las Palmas.
I love to run. For me running is not just a physical excercise but perception of the world. And way to talk to myself. Hear my heart beating, feeling muscles moving under the skin, I skip fake thoughts, dust of everyday routine. And then I start to listen to the voice inside, one that knows answers to almost all questions.
For the first time of my more than 4 months’ journey I was “back to track” again. Endless quay of Las Palmas looked perfect for that.
It was already full of runners. I climbed narrow high edge of the promenade that goes above the wavecrush stones. While running on it I could feel the fresh breeze from Atlantic. It helped to forget about the busy road along the coastline, and keep away from me the smell of dead crabs on stones down near water.
I ran till the sculpture that, probably, simbolizes the yacht – a kind of tribute to free dwellers of seas. There I sat watching ships raiding near Gran Canaria.
On the wavecrash line a small bird was searching for food. She was so close to water that waves rolled over her feet, covering them till knees. Waves, fiercly trying to climb the shore, were 5 times bigger than a feathery hunter. But the bird didn’t fly away. Just feeling that the wave is big enough to capture her, she jumped to the higher stone – and in a moment went back. What a small creature and what a great courage she posseses!
– Don’t judge on appearence, told I to myself.
Before visiting Las Palmas I was sure that Rome is a city of cats. But the ancient Italian capital can’t be compared in that with the capital of Spanish islands! Cats are everywhere here, sitting on beances and resting in shadow of parked cars. Playing with their kittens on the promenade and hunting in coastal stones. Sleeping under bar tables and sunbathing on benches.
City that hosts so many wise creatures can’t be just a set of buildings. It has soul. Free spirit.

Second chance

«A writer for instance talks about India which I have seen, and gushes about dancing girls, tiger hunts, fakirs, betel nuts, serpents: the Glamour of the Mysterious East. But what does it amount to? Nothing. Instead of visualizing India I merely get a bad toothache from all these Eastern delights. Now, there’s the other way, as or instance, the fellow who writes: ‘Before turning in, I put out my wet boots to dry and in the morning I found that a thick forest had grown on them (“Fungi, Madam”, he explained)…’ and at once India becomes alive for me. The rest is shop”.

I want to apologize for my blog being so touristic: common see sights, brief hazy notes about atmosphere.  I do not try my best to give you smell, smile and taste – feeling of places I visit, and I’m sorry for that. Neither hectic schedule of my journey, nor bad internet connections or my laziness can be an excuse. Tho I do not pretend to call these brief notes a kind of literature. I just hope they are not too boring.

Nevertheless, I will continue.

I believe that everything that happens to us is necessary to happen for some reason. As Soviet poet Vladimir Mayakovsky wrote, “If stars are lit, that’s means, someone needs it”. Yes, a kind of fatalism. Still, life proves that sometimes the worst thing can be premise for the best one.

The last evening in Lanzarote we made a short test-drive to check autopilot. Chris spent a couple of days, fixing the capricious device.  And – hooray! – the yacht obediently makes 180 degrees to the right. I celebrate the victory of (the mind + golden hands) over circumstances with a naked dive from a board.

The next morning we leave to Cape Verde. But don’t have a chance to get far…

We heard it before, sailing along the Spanish coast – knock that the rudder made. The rudder is one of essential parts of the boat: loose a rudder – loose the control. Chris tried to fix it by himself, and we reached Morocco without worries.

But here it is again… The tubes, through which the rudder infuses the hull, get loose with the time, and now they need to be changed. The whole Atlantic lays in front of us. And thought of unfixed rudder doesn’t make us feel more convenient. So Chris turns the yacht to the west: we go to Las Palmas  – the capital of Canaries.

The sea rocks: waves grow, wind gasps. Not fun at all. The air is cold and numb. Going south to relaxed Brazil – could never imagine that it will be colder and colder. Damn Atlantic.

We’re going round the island Puertoventura and awaiting the moment, when we will leave its shelter.  There the wind will, probably, become stronger: in straights between islands it accelerates like in a tube. That doesn’t happen after we pass the corner tho. But happens before and after it: Chris “was lucky” to catch 30-knot gasps from north. Where are you, calm and hospitable Las Palmas?

Before the sunrise I see the light) Numerous dots – it’s a coast of Gran Canaria. Soon the sky gets lighter, but I can’t see the sun. Clouds lost me a chance to admire the beauty of its the first beams.

And – ta-dam!  – we’re in safety of marina. I feel exhausted after 24 hours without sleep. Sometimes I have this problem – can’t sleep in a bumpy sea. But for crossing Canaries – Cape Verde I come prepared:  in local shop I bought herbal tea with Melissa, Mint and Valeriana. Valeriana smells strongly – hope the effect on my sleep will be equal.

We stay here for 8 days. Marina – Muelle Deportivo – is all right – and even more all right ‘coz they charge the less the longer you stay. For example, being here for 8 days we pay about 7 euros per day. It’s nothing! But to get here was a story.

ARC – Atlantic Rally Cup – is coming, and most of places in marina are booked. But we pointed out the urgency of stop (unfixed rudder), and they allowed us to stay near the ‘reception’ peer for a day. So – here we are for already eight…

Now rudder is fixed, and we’re ready to go to Cabo Verde.

Before we made a drive around the island, along the coastal road GC-1. Trivial statement, but Canaries are beautiful!!! Trust me. We made a way to Maspalomas – I’ve heard this name before and suggested that it was connected with surfing. So we took boards and went to Playa del Ingles. Unfortunately, Chris pointed that waves are not great. Well, will wait for another chance to start my surfing education.

Back we went through another road, GC-60, in direction of Fataga and San Bartolome. We went up to the mountains. Between rocks that reminded me Grand Canyon we made numerous twists and turns. Stopped in picturesque Mirador to give a last glance to the sea – and went further, higher and higher. Mountains of Canaries are low, all between 1000-1500 meters. But how free we breath there! We passed several towns-oasis – palm parks with water pools that were surrounded by white neat houses. In calm evening children played on streets, and senior citizens discussed rumors sitting in chairs outdoors (nice tradition of Southern countries). Tourists love these routs, so in every town you will find “table and shelter”.

At the end, tired of waving through mountainous roads, we rushed to the coast. On a narrow path we followed 4х4, and a small caravan tailed us. The road wasn’t easy, and the first jeep wasn’t in a hurry.  Those at the back of a line started to beep impatiently. These were definitely locals that make this way from time to time. They outraced us in rage and went ahead.

We were back on board late after dark. The whole trip, the whole stay was worth it.

Embrace of a volcano

In my journeys I like to take photos. They do not pretend to be exclusive, and I do not pretend to be a Photographer tho.

With the time I’ve been pleased to discover that some of natural views… can’t be fixed by camera. It’s excessive to mention that nature can never be “copied” by technologies: it’s always a moment, stuck in eternity, while life is always changing, and transforming, and moving forward.

This is what I felt in Timanfaya National park on Lanzarote, Canaries.

Lava fields cover one quarter of the island. Numerous volcanos tower above the gloomy landscape. They formed in 18-19th centuries and from the last explosion in 1824 keep silence.

Now Mountains of Fire (how Timanfaya is also called) is a territory of the national park. Visitors are welcome there but only by touristic bus (8 euros) or by camel caravan. I’ve made a 40-minutes ride around.

It was experience one of a kind, and even tourists, trying to fell out of windows in obsession to make a photo, couldn’t spoil my impressions.

This inhospitable land look lifeless on the first glance. And it’s true, not so many creatures can survive in endless fields of black sponge stones. But if to have a more thorough look… between rocks that are covered with thick layer of linens green bushes make their way to sun beams.  Rabbits and shrews, lizards and gekkons inhabit narrow passes between stones.

This inhospitable land possesses unexpected charm and beauty. Dark slopes reflect the sun, host the shadows of clouds – and change their color. This painting is not bright and racy but noble, full of hints.

This earth still preserves power of volcano: the local restaurant “El Diablo” cooks its dishes on the natural heat, placing them above a deep bell.

Neither on exhibition, nor in card shops we couldn’t find decent photos of Timanfaya, that would be able to transmit a certain percent of its beauty. That couldn’t make me sad – my memory will preserve these landscapes better than any paper.

We made a tour around Lanzarote. Suddenly a place that I expected nothing from turned to be one of the most stunning impressions of the journey.

Arrecife - near our lovely anchorage. Castillo San Gabriel.

The journey started in Arrecife. The anchorage there was really great, with lovely neighbors from all over the world – couple who live on board for 15-30 years.

Anchorage in Arrecife

28°57.2051 N, 013°42.5172 W

Another point that made my heart sing is a view on the Isla Graciosa – Mirador del Rio. This small island lays to the north-west of Lanzarote. It’s a national park but it has a marina, burdened with formalities like registration tho.

Mirador del Rio

Unfortunately, Canaries are so touristic that every lovely view is charged. To climb the top of the mountain in Mirador del Rio cost 4.5 euros. We’re budget travelers so simply climbed a fence. We didn’t get all the splendid view but it’s biggest part for sure : )

Marina of Isla Graciosa

After leaving Arrecife – the capital of Lanzarote we passed endless fields… of cactus. Guessing about use of this plants, our suggestions didn’t go further than alcohol.

Aloe Vera museum let us into the secret: cactus is used perfumes, cosmetics, medicine, liquids and many other useful things.

We were almost to visit Jardin de Cactus – a park, where flowerbeds can be undoubtfully called “cactusbeds”. Unfortunately, it wasn’t for free again… I suppose, this place would be more interesting for families than to vagabond travelers like us.

Jardin de Cactus from outside

Another coast – western – another stunning. From main salt mines of Lanzarote – Salinas del Janubio – through amazing underwater caves Los Hervidros – to volcano ash beaches of El Golfo.

Salinos del Janubio
Caves of Los Hervideros
El Golfo on the western coast of Lanzarote

Lanzarote has some surfing spots. We checked one on the northern coast, several steps from Orzola. Cris approved it as a spot for those who just start. Another spot is on Playa de Famara, also on the northern side of the island.

Wierd sculpture park of an unknown "artist"... reminded me of "outdoor" houses that I built being a child : )

Inside the Orient painting

Color. Yellow color of the walls, blue – of houses in Medina. White, in the sun sometimes blinding, – of mosques. Modest brown and mournful black – of older people dress. Bright and tempting pink and violet – of young. Incredible and numerous colors of bazaars, of mosaics that’ve been here for centuries.

Palitra of colors – this is Moroccan painting. An artist from Rue des Consules (where the craftmarket is) draw it and sells to us in his gallery. His small shop belongs to a cat family. Actually, all Morocco belongs to cats. It’s the biggest and the most desperate clun. Its members are everywhere: hiding fearfully under cars, messy and dirty, wandering between tables in street cafes, examining pedestrians from windows and roofs.

An another Moroccan “tribe” looks happier –  street artists  sing on streets of the ancient fortress-town Kasbah des Oudaias, which walls face the ocean. They play traditional instruments and entertain people, spinning the long brush on their heavy round hats. Local busketers look like those in Paris, Moscow, Koln, Cape town and all over the world: cheerful, relaxed, talkative.  And sharing: their art, good mood and happiness. Simple and beautiful.

The gate Bab Chellah – a magic access to the old town Medina. If we turn to the left, we would find ourselves in the mess of Chinese market, run by Arabs and spread for not less than a mile. If we turn to the right, we would enjoy traditional craft of Morocco, whatever your soul desires, from brasses, carpets and Oriental caftans to musical instruments, lanterns and pottery. Make your choice, take your time.

Venders kindly greet and offer their goods. Venders know what is hospitality very well here. Real hospitality, with a genuine smile and welcome.

I met hospitality from everyone except guards of Palais Royal. I was politely expropriated from all three gates I tried to enter. Later Kamil – my volunteer guide and new friend in Rabat, whom I met on a street,  – explained me that only Moroccans have right to enter the palace. The amount of national flags – red canvas with a star in the middle – near it made me suggest it’s still a residence –not a king, but a president nowadays.

Kamil took me to the Maussoleo de Mohammed V, which tower teased us right across the river from our yacht-club. Mohammed had taste: his last shelter looks subtle and nice, reminding more a palace than a death chamber. Guards in traditional clothes on the entrance were busy, making photos with tourists. I felt myself almost like in Agra (probably, I would feel : )

Kasbah des Oudaias is a fortress of ancient times, infused by artistic spirit of times contemporary. Not only musicians and cats feel themselves at home here. Tourists stare on beautifully decorated doors and walls, painted in bright colors. Shadow of exotic gardens – pride of Rabat.

In the narrow passage of the fortress my arm was caught by a woman. She wanted to make me… an injection. In fear I ran away: I thought she will inject me a drug. That was just henna, that is used to paint on surface of hands.

The garden of Kasbah

Hm… and another disappointment: cards that we bought on market for 10 Dh (about 90 cents) in the fortress cost 2 Dh… To be a customer in Morocco is a skill that demands knowledge and character. You won’t be “robbed” by vendors – but being self-confident and eloquent can save 50% of price.  It’s a game – not for victory tho, but for pleasure. And some profit could be.

The ancient walls of Medina that "host" a big open-air market

For 100 Dh we bought spices and mint tea – traditional drink of Morocco. Now we have enough tea and spices till Brazil.

In the restaurant of Kasbah the waitor served another traditional dish – bakery. It deserved the best mark from us, sweet-eaters. 10 from 10 in the rating of “Vagabond”.

The kitten relaxing in a restaurant of Kasbah

We go to Casablanca. Noone of us watched the movie. We have no idea what is it famous for.

We went along the coast, enjoying view of resort towns full of summer houses. Looked similar to Costa del Sol. Or Cote d’Azur. Some poor clue houses were also around. Horses and donkeys grassed nearby. Rural scenes of Marocco made me remember Namibia. We stopped on the road to buy some fruits.

Casablanca, probably, is famous for its industrial zone. It’s huge, dirty and overpolluted.

We wandered on the market of Casablanca. This time we made a brief inspection. Local market is bigger than Rabat’s. But the most famous city for shopping is Marrakesh – 150 miles from Rabat.

Probably, Casablanca is also famous for traffic jams. We were lucky to get out of the city before being completely stuck. By the way, to be a driver or pedestrian in Morocco you needn’t know anything about rules. Just pray for good luck and go. Because no one cares. If the rules exist here, no one uses them. Including road police, who deserve a medal, trying to organize this mess somehow.

Welcome! Bienvenue! Marhaban! مرحبا

Back to the darkness, humid and chilly.

That’s not a warm wrap of Mediterranean, but cold squeeze of Northern Atlantic ocean. I do not complain: this night is summer vacations if to compare with Baltic or Northern seas in autumn. We’re in 12 hours till Rabat, the capital of Marocco. This country has been luring me for a long time.

My history of getting to Marocco:

Plan A: This spring I was planning a trip to Marocco but, due to financial situation and upcoming long-lasting journey, cancelled it.

Plan B: Another chance had appeared, when we arrived to Tarife this September. It takes 35 minutes from this Spanish town to get to Maroccan Tangier. But boycott of our freezer closed this way for me too – we went to the north, to Cadiz.

Plan C: Chris got an idea to avoid Canaries and go along the coast of Eastern Africa. I was excited. But reports of Noonsite brought me back to Earth: Marocco – dirty towns, no facilities, bribes, long-lasting bureaucracy procedures, possibility to be robbed, no anchorage… what else… So we returned to the first suggested route of “Vagabond”: Canaries – Capo Verde – Brazil..

A sailor suggests, but the last word is by weather. And it promised to be tough in two days. We didn’t have chance to reach islands before strong wind will come. We needed a break in the middle of the distance. And the only option was… Marocco.

…Far in the fog – shores of my dear dear Africa! We’re in 16 miles from the land of Marocco! 13 miles of sea from a shore belong to the country. But here they are already, the police of Marocco – military, pretty scary ship. Polite “hello” and the question that made us suspicious about the reason of their visit: “Any problems?” Potential reasons of problems were already overboard, so we didn’t have anything that could interest them. ..did I say anything? : )

Chris explained them that we’re going to Rabat for a couple of days. They welcomed and left. Looks like they just ordered their assistance. Or prevent us from entering inner waters if we are not “all right”, not to cause problems to both sides.

The hospitable shore of Maroccan capital

I expected much from Marocco. I’ve never been to Arabic countries before. Still, I kept in mind, that Marocco is much more touristic (read: tolerant) than, for example, Oman, where Chris had not the best experience of his journey.

We expected much… and our expectations were generously regarded with kind welcome we met.

Gulls sailing a boat. Behind the feathery "fishermen" there're buidings of a new fashionable district in construction.

Rabat has a new channel and a marina that are not displayed on old Crisa’s version of MaxSea. Was thrilling to watch how “Vagabond” first reached the riffs, and soon ‘turned” into vehicle, passing through the space, pointed by MaxSea as a land. We called the marina Bouregreg and asked for assistance. Soon the pilot arrived and led us through a narrow channel to the entrance.

First that you notice – friendly interest of locals. In the estuary two men – one swimming, one sailing – pointed us the right direction, before we asked. Fishermen from their picturesque boats were waving us welcome.

Colours of fishermen' boats create cheerful mood

Guys in the marina spoke English, along with local Arabic and French. They smiled and were extremely helpful. So were migration officials! The procedure took less than an hour. Moreover, we were told all – pass (that substitute visa for sailors) and check-it – check- out – are free of charge!

The marina is well-equipped, with clean showers and WiFi (not very fast, tho). Guys in Capitanerie do their best to help us with all formalities, point all important see-sights and facilities and answer all questions. Guards are neat, friendly and talkative. There’re plenty of them on the quay and near the gate – looks like this place is really safe to stay.

There’re plenty of shops not far from the marina. Prices made a pleasant surprise: twice lower than in Spain. For example, full cake cost 6 euros. Another nice invention was the price of diesel: 70 cents per liter.

Tram station to the Old town Medina is right in front of the marina.

In several hours before departure to Rabat I started to try different ways of wrapping myself. Being guests, we were going to show respect to local religion and traditions, covering our arms and legs. But locals appeared much more tolerant and relaxed than I expected. At least at their attitude to travelers. Moreover, many of local women (especially young) are dressed in very European style: jeans, T-shirts, leather coats, even summer dresses. Hair is loose or in pony tail, without any cover. Probably, women start to dress more modest traditional way after marriage. Anyway, I saw many Arabic couples, dressed very casual way.

Young people having fun in Mausolee de Mohammed V

Men are very nice, helpful and even gallant. When me and Aimee went for a walk together, we didn’t feel any inconvenience at all.

Soon departing to the Old town Medina – and craft market of crs! Can’t wait : )

The wall of the Old town - Medina