2 July 2011

A Tale of Two Cities

I slept fitfully and spent my waking time falling in and out of love with Africa; in the last three days I had not been in a toilet that was more than a hole and without any sign of toilet paper and the romance of living like a local was wearing thin in that respect BUT the clouds of women in highly pattered floating mulafeh was like watching flocks of exotic birds preening themselves as they rearrange the material over their heads BUT there is a constant thought near the front of your mind that whatever is causing that fearful smell in the market might splatter up your feet BUT the night sky is stunning and you see so many more stars clearly etc...

Around 5, I was sleepily aware that the bus had stopped but not for a break. We had broken down and there was quite a delay. There had been a noticeable increase in light by the time I had properly woken up and we all had to get out, collect our luggage and fight for a place on one of the two other buses that had stopped to accommodate us. One benefit was that the seats seemed much more comfortable and we had more space to move about. We stopped a little while later at a regular spot, now fully light but cool with a low hanging mist. Assmae and I had coffee (small glass o fhot milk and a sachet of nescafe) and that delicious, oily, rectangular bread that looks like a pancake and tastes like a paratha. I'd been looking forward to that!

We travelled on, the countryside looking distinctly more like a desert but with lots of low scrub and mostly flat. We arrived at Laayoune and seeing things I recognised was surprisingly exciting. Assmae transferred to another bus to Boujdoour and Johanne arrived shortly after. It was great to see her and she launched straight into her usual chatter, telling me about all her visitors; I and her son J are leaving and B is staying and six men are coming from the UK next week. It's election day...

We got to her flat, I was introduced to her three guests and then we all went out to the dunes. This is one of my favourite things to do here. Where the sand had been blown hard it is easy to walk but where it is soft, the heat scalds your feet. I took lots of pictures and asked about scorpions! We then drove on to a section of the beach I hadn't been to before and enjoyed the spray and cool winds. The plan was to have a short rest when we got back then I passed out for six hours on the banquette and was woken to say goodbye to I and J. While Johanne was taking them to the bus stop, I showered - with running water! I shared potato sald adn tuna and talked for a couple of hours with Johanne about all the possible plans for the future.

Barnaby Grudge

Slept in the lounge on the floor just because it was cooler than lying on the cushions of the sofa/banquette which sink to nothing after a few minutes of sitting on them. I slept well and lay awake for quite a while before a call woke Assmae, enjoying the quite and time to myself. We got dressed and had a breakfast of sweet mint tea, poured from a great height into small glasses, returned to the pot and the same procedure repeated. More bread and chocolate spread and olives if you wanted them. We sat together for a while, Assmae and her grandfather and his wife talking and watching more Top Gear. Assmae then said she was going to leave me for a bit and she disappeared for maybe an hour. I read 'Nice Work' and got to within a page of finishing when she came back and we prepared to leave. We dropped in, unplanned, to someone else's house for a few minutes but involved ltos fo greetings and farewells and 'a la prochaine, inshallah'. At the same time I had a call about a job that later came to nothing. We left and took a taxi back tot he guys house and hung around drinking tea and discussing the state of British castles.

Abdullah had made us all a chicken tajine with onions, plums and boiled egg. The television, always on, was playing some very silly film about people stealing cars. After that, while I sat and watched most of another film, Entrapment, the others wandered off and did their own things and Assmae took 50dh from me to get a taxi to collect our bags from her flat and buy some things to eat for the journey. They called me through to the other room as the girls were dancing and I tried to join in but it's nothing like dancing back home.

When Assmae left to get the luggage, I started watching Fight Club above the deafening noise of someone taking, what sounded like a battering ram to the front door downstairs. I never really found out what was going on but they very soon cut through a wire and killed the television supply so I lay face down on a rug and slept soundly until Assmae to me we needed to head to the bus depot. Tyler was still on the screen so I can't have slept for more than an hour but I had been in a dead sleep and it felt like the middle of the night. We took a taxi and hung around waiting for our bus, taking photos of each other until it was time for us to leave. We said fond goodbyes and boarded seats 10 and 11. The evening's drive was uneventful, passing through towns and villages in the dark.

Their Mutual Friends

I slept very well on a bed made up for me and woke a couple of times during the morning before getting up around midday, thirsty but reliant on someone buying me bottled water before I can drink. Sat listening to and watching a channel of men singing from various Arab countries but all in long, white robes and head scarves. All five of us went out to buy our tickets for tomorrow; another long walk with sweat pouring off my brow al the time. En route we saw the usual donkeys and carts laden with fruit standing at the side of the road, scarlet hibiscus and purple and white bougainvillia pouring over walls and gates and the endless Yamaha Citizens laden with passengers and goods. We got back, drank water and rested. My ticket to Laayoune was 22o dhirams. We packed up half an hour or so later and took a taxi to Assmae's flat. She changed while I sat in the little room in the courtyard again. We crossed over the main road opposite the compound and found a place to eat. I generously stood a meal of a large salad and a baguette and fries each. I think it came to nearly £4! We had to return to the compound for something Assmae had forgotten, then we caught a taxi to near where her grandparents live.

They live in an area of Agadir that Assmae tells me is very popular. The roads are in a bad state and there are pedestrians everywhere and piles of stray kittens in raggledy mounds. We arrived at the house and as usual, a very humble looking entrance belies a well kept interior. We sat and were offered very sweet mint tea, small biscuits, bread and chocolate spread, olives, oil, sugared palmieres and pains au chocolat. I sat for a long time not understanding anything but quite content not to be doing much. Assmae then said we would go out and have a walk. We went round streets of souks and saw carts of fruit, mountains of watermelon, goats heads and hooves fronting butcher's stalls, shops with chillers full of improbably red sausages and mince, toys laid out on the floor and an assault of smells; bread, raw meat, body odours and a general stench from detritus on the street. It was very colourful and heaving with people. After walking the length of the souk area, Assmae suggested we stop and sit and pointed to a grassy area that was essentially a large central reservation between two main roads, one of them a dual carriageway. We made our way across and joined a few hundred other people who were sitting on the grass. Assmae shouted over the traffic that it was a beautiful spot. Oddly enough the cool grass under my feet and a holiday feeling with kids running round made it a welcome stop. We walked back and just before getting to the flat, Assmae spotted someone she knew and we called in and sat for an hour and a half with various friends, drinking fizzy apple and eating watermelon. People were friendly and spoke the few words of French or English that they knew but I pretty much just sat there.
Back at the flat I was introduced to the uncle Assmae had told me about earlier. We all shared a lamb tajine and then melon and watermelon.
I later took a shower and was just as hot and sticky as I had been before. Sent some texts and caught up on my journal.

Great unexpectations

Twenty four hours ago I had no plans for today. Now I am on the train to Gatwick to attend a wedding in the desert and reconnect with Assmae and Johanne.

Seven days ago I was in my overdraft with no income. Now I have experienced the lavish generosity of God who cares for more than just my needs and whose timing is perfect.

'All change' in some respects but true to form, I threw coffee down my white shirt before the train even pulled out of Bedford station.

Yesterday was stifling and close, today its throwing it down with rain. Tonight in Agadir, the temperatures are due to be in the high 90s. Thunder and lightning at Gatwick meant a delayed flight. We were in the air for about 3.5 hours - enough time for me to read 3/4 of a David Lodge novel; 'Nice Work'.

Met Assmae very easily and texted Wes to let him know I had arrived and quickly changed my FB status to let friends know I'd made contact and was safe. Assmae came with three friends and we started to walk from the airport. After a few minutes we stopped and talked to a taxi for several minutes then stood around for several more before getting in; three girls in the back and two guys sharing the front seat. We arrived at an apartment complex, Assmae tells me, just for girls where I waited downstairs while she went up to change. I took off my silk scarf from round my shoulders and savoured the few, occasional seconds of breeze while watching other girls covered in hijab, western clothes and Moroccan tunics. Assmae's girl friend is wearing mulafeh and I've used a few Hassaniya phrases already. I was mostly laughed at!

We then got into another taxi and my case was thrown on top of the car in a shallow kind of crate and held down by gravity. We came to another flat where my case was carried up and I think is the home of Assmae's two male friends. Assmae holds my hand when we walk and even though I can only understand when someone speaks French, I'm not disposed to ask to many questions about where I'm spending the night or what is happening or where we are headed as we jump into various taxis. It's fun to live totally in the moment and just see what happens. I've been promised a henna tattoo later and a trip into town.

A plate piled with pastries arrived on the table and what looked like a bowl of milk. Top Gear is on the television with Arabic subs! The large mixing bowl was indeed milk, as I later discovered. It was mixed with sugar and apparently it's something they do when they have a visitor or someone new with them so I was invited to start and then it was passed around the circle. After a while we all went out and walked through town. We walked past an enclosed park that had dozens of animals that were like mountain goats and some with very cute babies. Assmae said there were monkeys in there too - neither native to Morocco. There was also a loud chattering of birds I couldn't see or recognise from the noise. We caught a taxi part of the way to the beach and walked down the really touristy area and walked the length of the prom past clubs and restaurants. At the far end we got onto the beach and began to walk back. It was lovely to have cold sand under my feet after such a hot day. We walked in the surf and the water was really warm - cooling but no jolt of cold that you expect even after hours of sunlight. WE came across this enormous oddity that Assmae could only describe as sea butter but it looked just like an enormous, white jellyfish to me but she laughed when I asked if it was alive. She pushed a bit off the top with her fingers and it looked as though it had a jelly-like consistency. It was the shape of a big-domed fried egg and about the size of a car wheel. We sat down on the sand and sat quietly for at least half an hour until I was just beginning to get really chilly and then we walked for about 45-50 minutes then took a taxi the rest of the way back to the guys flat. I had lost all track of time but knew I was really exhausted. Before passing out I checked my watch - 3:30 a.m.

Sardinia: Day 8

In the morning we said various goodbyes and Sonia went to look around the Botanical gardens and amphitheatre area as she hadn't explored this before. I just walked to a local cafe for coffee and to catch up with my journal, partly because my leg would prevent me from walking without pain.

I wrote in the visitor's book at the hostel and was equally amused and ashamed by the previous comment of an Englishman who accused the hostel of infringing human rights by playing music later than midnight!

Sardinia: Day 7

Sonia and I took the bus to Baia Chia together. She has not already been to this beach. The sky was more cloudy but still warm. We laughed about how we crept in last night and then the moment we got to bed the two German girls came crashing in and turned the lights on and how Francesco had made signs from paper plates with numbers to grade 'Miss Hostel' in an event that never took place. We laughed about the woman we'd seen at the traffic lights with long tapered toe nails and how I'd said she looked like Wolverine!

The sea was quite a bit colder than yesterday at Villasimius so after sunbathing for quite a while, we went and sat under the palm leaf parasols by the cafe shack, had lunch and talked more and watched the spotted flycatchers going to and from their nest in the top of the umbrella we were sat beneath. I swam once more before leaving, knowing that in all likelihood I wouldn't return to that particular spot again. My leg was still giving me considerable grief walking back to the bus then hostel.

We stopped for fried potatoes and mixed vegetables in the place opposite and returned to the hsostel with them. There was already quite a lot of people in the outside bar area and we were soon a group of about half a dozen - two portugese girls who are now in our room, who Sonia made particularly good friends with as she is of Portugese descent. Bart joined us and a new guy called Joel who is Lebanese, living in the States, speaks four languages and is here to humour himself with an 8 day stay on his tour of the Mediterranean, studying the remnants of Phoenician history and language. He is 21. In late autumn he is going to Chennai to work for an NGO promoting the rights of women. It is a delightful reprimand to meet people who are really pursuing what they want to do, learning multiple languages, studying somewhat niche areas of interest and being so open, friendly and driven by a love for life. We stayed up 'til 2, talking ancient history, etymology and travel.

Sardinia: Day 6

After breakfast we headed to the bus station and bought tickets for Villasimius. It's a longer ride that to Chia but the views are stunning - no flamingoes but a coast like Cornwall with translucent, aquamarine blues. We passed beach after beach, little coves with boats and almost unpeopled stretches of sand. It was a 15-20 minute walk to the beach but i started to have really painful shin splints in my left leg and I was soon limping. We stoped at a little mini-mart for bread, cheese, fruit and water. The beach was equally beautiful to Baia Chia - the water as transparent with the same fish swimming at our feet. I didn't get to read as Sonia and I talked lots and I had a doze too. I just loved getting to practice my French so much. There was a constant wind and the sand was deep in my ears, covering my eyelashes and I had a whole other beach on my scalp. After eating our flatbread and emmental, there was sand between our teeth also! We were there for about five hours. The walk back was really painful for me but once I was on the buse and stopped weight-bearing the pain went.

Back at the hostel it was so good shower out the sand and wash off the white, salt residue from my legs. We went out for dinner at Restaurant Olympic. I had a really god spaghetti carbonara. We spent the rest of the evening, 'til about half 12, sat in the 'outside-inside' bar talking with Simon, the English guy from York who is teaching English, Hisham, the Moroccan who claims to speak French but clearly cannot, Simone the Italian guy who works in the bar and Bart, the Pole with excellent English accent who is studying interior architecture in Holland and has come for a 2 or 3 day workshop. A really great melange of cultures and languages which is what I so love about travelling and hostelling.

Sardinia: Day 5

Bad idea!Last night I smothered myself in, newly purchased, after sun. This morning I look like a bullfrog. My eyes are bloated and nearly shut with swelling from having put some of the cream near my eyes. I went down to breakfast late with a peaked cap and a sullen air. The guy who runs the bar asked how I was and took my 'so-so' as an indication that I was hung over - an honourable excuse here! I went out to find Saturnino church which was (one of?) the first locations of the early church. Its plain, rough interior and restoration work going on outside was, for me, a lot more attractive than the more ornate churches full of marble and gilded shrines. I went on to where I expected to see art (Exma) but found it was shut, despite what the guide book suggested so I just sat for a while with a cappuccino. Next, I walked round an area I hadn't looked at before. There were no particular attractions but the narrow, pedestrianised streets were very pretty and many of the inhabitants had made lush gardens along their outside walls with potted plants, most of which would only grow in a conservatory in England. Today has been roasting again with occasional patches of cloud.

I stopped at an outside cafe in front of Bastione St Remy and ordered a meat-stuffed aubergine which was delicious, covered in toasted breadcrumbs and served with a small helping of warm, oily salsa. Very good. An entertaining, the increasingly aggravating elderly man who worked at the cafe stood at the doorway shouting offers, greetings and directions to all passers by. I finished my insalata mista and ordered a cupuccino. He enthusiastically shouted to someone inside to bring coffee with 'dolce' for the lady and out came my drink and a plate with two cakes, neither of which looked very appetising nor was I prepared to pay for. I didn't pay for the sweets but a bill of over £18 was a rip-off whichever way you look at it.

Went back to the hostel to charge camera batteries. Bought a two-scoop cone on the way; Ferrero Rocher and Raffaelo. Went out and spent quite a while at the internet cafe replying to job agencies that had called and mailed me in the last day or two. Found another cafe and drank a Pilsner. Felt a bit bad about not doing much today but I finished 'Grimus' and reading was one of my main priorities of holiday plans. Returned to hostel to get the next book! Sat and decided what to do tomorrow, checked cash flow and caught up on journal.

A new girl arrived in the room - Sonia, une francaise et voila pourquoi je n'ai pas ecrit mon journal depuis deux jours! We hung out together and decided to go to the beach together the next day.

(At this point my journal simply reads '*This was the evening of Luca & Francesco' and that is how I shall leave it!)

Sardinia: Day 4

Made it to breakfast this morning for about half nine as I had to catch the bus at 11. Said goodbye to Giuseppe and walked to the bus station. Loved the adventure of catching a bus out somewhere I'd never been before. Arrived in Baia Chia and was settled on the beach by 12:30. It's a really gorgeous location. Sparsely populated, found down a long sandy path before arriving at a large expanse of sand with a tower at one end, up on a hill, lakes surrounded by tall reddes behind the beach and a small cafe with tables and palm leaf parasols. Rocky hills in the background and altogether a perfect place to spend the day. The beach drops into a shelf a few steps into the water. It is like glass in clarity and even when you are nearly neck deep, you can look down and see sandy white fish with black stripes swimming around your feet. I stayed 'til 6:45 when the last bus arrived back. It was overcast and a little too cool for a lot of the day but the last hour or two were very hot with blue skies. I dipped, dozed and carried on reading 'Grimus'.

I went back to the hostel and showered. Shortly after, I went out to get something to eat and ate close by in the Marina quarter. I had a small, watery spaghetti bolognese that I made palatable with a heavy-handed helping of parmesan. I had a bargain basement carafe of chilled house red. Quite dreadful. I decided to try a Sardinian cake - sebadas - to drag a memorable meal out of something bland and forgettable. What was put in front of me looked like a round, possibly deep-fried popadum but with some depth and drenched in hot honey. The outside crispy pastry and honey was quite pleasant and inside there was something that looked like melted mozzarella but tasted of almost nothing - if pushed I might concede uncooked pastry. The customers were serenaded with unsolicited music from a gentleman and his accordion who demonstrated no discernable talent for playing his instrument or when to stop asking for money. I returned to the hostel and decided to get an early night. I was in bed by 11.