Thursday

I leave in the morning to start the Camino Portugues, a 12 day pilgrimage that ends in Santiago de Compostela (northern Spain).

I am very much treating this walk as a pilgrimage and plan to do a lot of spiritual and medatative work within myself during these next couple of weeks.

As a result I will not be accessing the internet much and will post some photos and thoughts when I finish after June 12th.

If you'd like to see descriptions of the route simply search 'Camino Portuges'.

Wish me enlightenment luck!

Wednesday

Since 1978, the Assilah medina hosts an annual street art festival where Moroccan and international artists, along with children, paint graffiti murals throughout the streets of the old town. They leave these murals up year round until the next festival, when they paint the walls white and do it all over again.
The style of graffiti and the playfulness involved is unlike any other street art I have seen. This just adds to the interesting contrast that already exist in the old medina of Assilah.

One. Two. Three. Fort


Assilah is the fourth walled city that I have been too, but defiantly the first Portuguese/Arabic hybrid.
It was first owned by Portugal in the 14th century. Then Morocco took it over in the 16th century, decided to leave the walls up, but change everything within. This makes for a really interesting contrast of visuals as you walk around the old medina. Mosques next to Latin arches, next to european cobble stone next to mosaics. It really is something to behold.

Assilah is next to the ocean, so naturally this made us want to go swimming. We trotted down to the beach and found that the main beach is not kept very clean during the off season.
Now, I am no diva, I swim in the James River, but there were just a few too many baby dipers and chemical puddes for both Liam and I.

We heard that there is a much nicer beach south of town, so we decided to give it a try. We walked, for what felt like a few kilometers, but had no luck. We saw in the distance what looked like a resort and decided to walk towards it. When we got there we found a resort complex and golf course that was completely empty. There appeared to be some construction that still needed to be done, but over all these HUGE buildings towering over us didn't seems to have a soul inside. The lawn sprinklers were spraying and it felt as if the world had ended while we were walking and everyone had disappeared. Had we found ourselves on the set of a bad armageddon movie?
We continued walking through the grounds, and then there in front of us, the holy grail, a boarder less swimming pool.

We ripped off our clothes and jumped into to the clear waters. A private pool surrounded by resort giants.
At one point a groundskeeper and a housekeeper walked by us, but didn't seem to mind that we were swimming away.
This is where they thought we should be, white tourist staying at a resort. We swam and laid poolside like millionaires for the afternoon, then found some towel on the ground, dried off and walked back to town.

Tuesday

Golden Tangerines


I have been really excited to see the Roman ruins in Lixus for awhile now, or at least since I first read about them, which granted was only a couple of days ago, but still the point is, I was stoked!

Liam and I caught a bus and figured out where to get off, we got pretty lucky with guessing the timing and direction.

The ruins are just off the main road to Tangier, siting there like a road side attraction (which they are), but in a very rustic sort of way.

The ancient Roman ruins date back to 1000 BC and was part of the Roman outspread and conquest of northern Africa.
The site is fairly massive and has ruins of government buildings, an amphitheater, public baths, garum (fish paste) factories, olive presses and temples.

It has been left to nature since it was first excavated and only a quarter of the ruins have even been unearthed. The ocean, which is now 4 kilometers away from the sight, was at one point right next to the town. This provided them easy access to the fish that were salted and turned to paste, an ancient Roman delicacy.

Insects and amphibians are everywhere. Thorny weeds and dry grass stretch between the massive stacked stones that were once walls. Ancient olive trees drop its fruit to the ground and ants carry their dried pits off into the hills and holes.

According to Roman mythology, this is where Hercules was thought to have picked his famous golden apples, which may have very well been Moroccan tangerines instead.

I had never been anywhere so ancient and so unpreserved, it was an amazing thing to experience. I felt as though I had just stumbled upon some secret historic sight for the first time and it was mine to explore.
There were no other guests there and apart from the security guard, who i guess is paid to follow at a great distance behind you, we had the place to ourselves.

I wanted to spend more time there and had even packed a lunch to eat in the ruins of the temple, but the bugs were relentless. I have red bites all over the exposed parts of my skin, and most of those came from the 5 minutes I tried to sit down and meditate next to the temple to see what the roman gods felt like through ancient stone.
In a way it was nice that these bugs were doing their best to protect the ruins, so I respected their wishes and we left, after spending only a few hours there.

As we walked to the main road to catch the bus a car pulled over and offered us a ride. We hopped in, not completely sure yet if it was just a taxi that pulled a fast one on us, seeing as it was a 70's model Mercedes and was blasting female sung love ballads, but it just turned out to be a free ride.
We gave him a few dirham anyway as a thank you.

He dropped us off by the port, which was still full of empty, tiny fishing boats that were covered with seagulls looking for scraps.
Larache defiantly has a way of growing on you.
We sat and ate olive bread in the plaza in honor of the roman ruins, olives for us and fish guts for the birds.




Monday

Rocky Beach and the Smell of Fish


After being jet propelled by taxi we arrived safety in the town of Larache, which is actually larger than I was lead to believe and seems to sprawl pretty far beyond the bus station.

This town has a long history, but the forts left by the 16th century Portuguese and the old barrio left by the 17th century Spanish are crumbling into the ocean or being swallowed by the dirt and trash.
So it feels more modern than historic, with current Arab architecture resting against the plazas, which rest against the ocean, which rest against the sky.

It is a quiet town, and there is much less aggressive street hustling. Everyone seems friendly, not being too pushy about what they are selling (of course they are selling something, a mans got to eat). They don't get upset if you don't want to buy it. Still smiling they invite you to their table to drink some tea. It is a nice change of pace.
I had tea twice today.

The ocean against the town is rocky and doesn't really have a swim able beach. The town shows it's discontent for this inconvenience by cascading trash down the hill towards the rocks, as if the ocean was a famous soccer player who just missed the winning goal.
The closest sandy beach can seen from the plazas above and requires a short fishing boat ride across the port.

There are many open air markets in Larache. We were told that some of the best fish in Morocco is from this town.
The smell can be overwhelming for the weak stomached, which I still was, so the open air market was not well explored.

Larache is on the Atlantic ocean, so the westward facing sunsets are something to behold, and though it was cloudy, the brilliant colors of red and pink poured from behind giving the clouds plenty of stage to make elaborate colorful shadow puppets.

As I sat and watched the colors blend from dull to pastel, I felt Laney's spirit beside me, drinking an entire bottle of malbec wine and smiling wide, with extra red lips.

Sunday

I've been sick for the past three days in Morocco.
Stomach bug, nothing serious, just enough to keep me inside and follow a pattern that went something like this:
Bed. Toilet. Bed. Bed. Toilet. Bed. Toilet. Couch.

I needed a change of scenery. I had become too familiar with the hanging lamp above my bed (which was made from plastic shopping bags). So as soon as I started to show improvement and could hold down some food I decided to leave Chefchaouen and head for the coast.

I was telling the other roof top occupants about my plans and a rather nice Aussie (whom I've been hanging out with a bunch) named Liam sparked with interest.
He was more than welcome to join me, and I was happy to have someone to travel with.

Name: Liam
Age: 20
Hair: Light Brown Dreads (hints of red)
Sign: Libra

We left Chaouen just as a series of storms started to desend from the mountains onto the village. We dodged the rain and saw it swirling behind our bus as it roared out of the mountains.

We connected in one town and then took a taxi the remaining 90 kilometers to the coast.
Almost all of the taxis in Morocco are very well used Mercedes from the late 1970's or early 80's.
They are missing hood ornaments, most of the handles don't work, the dash is ripped open, the window don't go up or down, the windshields are cracked and they smell slightly dead (or at least dying). But they are well loved are painted bright colors to indicate what regions they service.

We raced down the mountain with four of us crammed into the back of the three seater bright blue Mercedes. The sounds were astonishing, love ballads sung by a powerful woman's voice blared from the crackeling speakers, while an Arab man who was convinced we were from England wanted nothing more than to talk to us (in arabic) about the Chelsea Soccer team and the mofia.
The cab swerved in and out of our lane, sometimes towards on coming traffic, passing busses and multiple mopeds carrying anything from chickens in cages to small children clinging tightly to the cyclist.

At one moment, as we all reached for something solid to hold our weight down, I drifted away from the ride. The song carried my memory elsewhere, "You were my strength when I was weak, you were my voice when I couldn't speak."
I remembered my mother, playing this song for my father. The song came from our old boom box in the kitchen that was no more. They danced a slow circle on the chipped, earth tone vinyl tile right there in the kitchen, and I watched them, from the corner closest to the stairs.
I was filled with a joy, to be living right then, as mules, marijuana fields and motor scooters became blurs in the window of the speeding taxi to the coast.


Tuesday

It takes some getting used to



I was not prepared for my first day in Morocco. The hustling, wheeling and dealing threw me for a loop in a giant way. This was emotionally furthered by the fact that this was my first trip without my dear Laney.

I got hassled, I am pretty sure I over paid for something, it all made for a very overwhelming day.

I slept it off.
I awoke early in the morning and tried to navigate the city again, this time with a fresh mind.
The streets were empty except for market merchants and women with covered heads selling vegetables from blankets.
It was quiet, and I could focus.
The women here are wonderful to buy things from. It is sad to know that this is the case because I am a man and she is culturally limited with her interactions towards me, but a gentle kind interaction is still gentle and kind.

























I walked, sat alone for awhile and gathered my thoughts, which had been scattered throughout the streets from the day before. Morocco gushes with religious culture, and much like Catholicism, it is sometimes culture and nothing more. Spiritual imagery and customs do not always lead to spiritual interactions.

I acknowledged the differences between the culturally religious and the devoted or mystics.
One worried with the wealth of this world the other trusting god or good fortune to provide.
To bow your head out of habit or out of love. This difference is in every culture, but none quite as glaring as here.

























I have figured out the rhythm.
I am starting to understand.

I came to Chefchaouen because many friends recommended it. The energy is very powerful. It seems that the Moorish empire found a way to leave its impression long after it fell, because it has a similar vibe to Granada, only much much stronger.

Chefchaouen is beautiful and heavily painted blue. There are people everywhere and children playing futball in the streets. This whole trip from the beginning has been following a theme, finding the silence within the storm.
It seems to be an inevitable lesson to learn.

Thursday

Native Building

We said goodbye to the Mediterranean Sea and headed back to the Sierra Nevada mountains. While living in Granada we saw a poster for an eco farm outside of Orgiva (small town in the mountains).
We contacted the farm about doing a work exchange and the English lady who owns the land said we could stay for free if we helped her put up her tipi. How could we say no to that?
Here is the process in photo form:

We left Granada for the coast to get some traveling done before Laney's return to the States.
We stayed two days in the city of Nerja and one in a tiny town called Maro.
They were both cute, though completely overtaken by English tourism, less so in Maro.
It was sort of sad to see people not even try to say a word in Spanish. We witnessed only one girl try and she made the waitress stand by her table for 15 minutes while she tried to remember the spanish word for 'the check'.

























The beaches were beautiful, giant rocks washed into smooth shapes by the waves, with strange paths carved into the cliff sides.
The water was cold, by United States standards, but we did manage to get in and dunk ourselves a couple of times.

Saturday

The road goes.

























There is a legend that under the Alhambra there is buried a giant magnetic stone. This stone is said to attract some people and repel others. It's as though it effects the mood of the city dwellers. Vibrant artistic inspiration of the people here can be overwhelming as well as the heaviness of oppression.
I think that most people who come to Granada experience the city's very strong energy. The story of the stone may not be true but the existence of this magnetism is very real. A guest from Kuwait once warned me that you can get pulled here, spend years floating around in happiness and poverty and one day you wake up to realize that five years have passed.
My question is; how is it that the same person can feel both pulled toward the city and repelled? Is it something about Granada that changed or is it the individuals who have changed? I feel that in my case both instances have occurred. I have returned to the city as a more worldly person. I understand the language more deeply and I am no longer at awe at the foreignness or ancient feel of the place. The magic of traveling right now to me only feels like buses and itineraries.
I think that Granada has changed too. I've talked to many people about it and there seems to be a consensus that the financial crisis of the EU has hit people hard. Many government projects have stopped, the young are out of work, and there is more pressure on the police and governing officials to control the populace. Six years ago I set off fireworks from my rooftop and when the police came I told them that we were celebrating te day of Mary acending into heaven and they said "fine" and left me alone. Now a days the police go in parks and make musician stop playing music even is the musicians are not asking for money. If people protest and continue to play the police will confiscate their instruments. This is not the Granada I knew before where everyone was free to smoke hash in the streets, make bonfires on their roofs, and play music in the streets all day.
Last weekI was meditating at an old monestary in the hills. The ceiling of half of the building had caved in. I saw a man come out of one of the side doors with a backpack and a spray bottle. He began to spray weed killer all over the grounds. I looked and him and the caved in roof next to him and thought about what a perfect example this is of how the inhabitants are dealing with Granada at this moment in time. While the beautiful ancient buildings are crumbling into ruins all the money is being spent to spray poison on the poor street musicians and vendors (the very types of people who make Granada the magical bohemian city that tourists come to see.)
All these realizations, and feeling pushed away by the magnetic stone under the Alhambra, has left me a bit traumatized. I am grateful that the spell was broken but the journey has made me weary.
I was hit with a bad case of homesickness last week. I thought about it and thought about it and I finally decided to go back to Virginia early to spend a healing month with my family. Jameson feels called to finish out our journey and he will be traveling to morroco and walking the camino de Santiago de compostela on his own. I fully support him in his decision to continue on, he will have an amazing adventure. So you all know, May 22nd I will fly back to the states and Jameson will continue blogging about his adventure. Heck, I might even blog a bit about my return home. We will reunite mid June and continue on the journey of life together.
-Laney

Festival de Las Cruzes
























(Cross at the Museum of the Mujer Gitana)

Last week people all over town built alters in the street with giant red crosses as the centerpiece. I asked several people what holy day they were celebrating and an eight year old girl in a flamenco dress told me that it was celebrating the day that Saint Helena found Jesus's cross.
I had no idea who saint Helena was so I looked her up on wikipedia. She was the faithful Christian mother of Constantine.

The story goes like this, Emperor Constantine was confronted by the barbarians who had a much larger and more powerful army everyone thought it would be impossible for Constantine to win.   He had a vision a a cross in the sky and under it the words ¨with this sign you shall be victorious¨.  He followed his vision and raised the cross in front of his army and they won the battle with miraculous ease. In response to this miracle  Constantine was baptised and constructed churches all across his empire.
He sent his beloved mother, Saint Helena, to Jerusalem to find Christ's "true cross". She summoned the wisest priests she could find and went to Calvary hill where she found three planks of bloody wood all claiming to be the true cross. She tested the wood by placing it over the bodies of the sick and dead. Legend has it the she had found the true cross of Christ and it healed the sick and resurrected the dead. The Spanish festival of Las Cruzes on May 3rd and 4th is celebrating this miracle.

 
(Cross outside one old man´s house in the Albyzine)

Wednesday

Laneys 27th Birthday

We just got back from the Sierra Nevada mountains on a weekend get away from Granada for Laney's birthday. It was awesome, up in the Appujarras (the region) there are tons of these little Bedouin style villages, nomadic construction made of adobe and all painted white.



They are all connected by short caminos (pathways) that take you through the mountains to the next town.



It is very powerful, you disappear into the mountainside, surrounded by cliffsides and livestock, you walk for a while, feel like you are in the middle of nowhere then, BOoM, there is little town in front of you.



The architecture is rolling, little paths made out of painted wood and stucco. The doors have little dangling beads in front of them that sound like chimes when the wind blows. There are many little plazas with modest fountains that flow with drinkable river water from the mountain.

 


Our gift from Laney's mom was a few nights stay in a little bed and breakfast which also doubled as a vegetarian restaurant. We ate local food and were gifted carafes of wine and marmalade. It was very healing to be up in the mountains and it has been difficult to come back to the city and all of its chaos.