Sometimes there’s no other way to get to those off-the-beaten-track places. Sometimes there’s just no substitute for sitting out under the stars, on a hand-made stool, by a wood fire, eating fresh-baked bread and listening to the muleteers or cameliers singing call and response songs accompanied by a motley assortment of improvised percussion instruments. (“Where did my big soup pot go?!”, shouts the cook, Samir – “and where’s the big washing up bowl and my best wooden spoon, for goodness sake?”
Yup, sometimes you’ve just got to let go of fear of insects, face your apparently dyspraxic inability to master tent pitching (or just let a crew member do it!) and take the plunge. It’ll be fine. Really. You’re not the first, or will be the last, to find the idea of a few nights under canvas daunting. But you’re about to join the club of I-didn’t-know-I’d-like-it-till-I-tried-it. Welcome! مرحبا Marhbaa! Think the sunniest Glastonbury you can imagine with far less people and no mud. Think Berber kilims and cushions, tajines and mint tea. Think of waking up to the sound of the sea, the chirruping call of the bulbul or goat bells tinkling on the hillside. Oh, alright, you might get woken by someone tripping over the end of your sleeping bag if you’re sleeping in the chaima, rather than tucked up in a one/two person tent – but then they may well fetch you a cup of coffee or tea to sip while you gather your thoughts ready for the day.
Our camps are managed with typical Berber panache – these people have been nomadic or semi-nomadic for millennia – and it’s an unbeatable experience of this ancient way of life, as well as a means of getting to those before mentioned off-the-beaten-track places.
If I’ve inspired you enough and you want to give it a go here’s some information on our easy Morocco trek (with some moderate bits). Quote Marhbaa (welcome in Moroccan arabic) and we’ll extend the early bird discount to you…. Go on! You know you want to!
Bismillah! – if you’ve trekked in Morocco you’ll have heard it – it’s used like bon appetit in French or ¡que aproveche! in Spanish. In reply people often say hamdullah or alhamdulillah. These are all terms expressing thanks and gratitude for what we’re about to receive. Bismillah, meaning “In the name of Allah” or “In the name of God” is the shortened form of the Basmalah. This is a full Arabic phrase: Bismillah ir-Rahman ir-Rahim meaning “In the name of God the Most Gracious the Most Merciful“. Alhamdulillah, translated as “All Praise and Thanks to God” is used so frequently in Arabic-speaking countries that it might better be understood as meaning “thankfully,” “thank goodness,” or “thank God” as used in English. Which is to say that not all Arabic speakers who use the phrase are consciously praising God when they say it. Hamdullah teams up so naturally with bismillah that it swings in like bitte after danke, and prego after grazie.
Cool or what: The Iranian authorities permitted an album of songs by the English rock band Queen to be released in Iran in August 2004, partly because the song Bohemian Rhapsody contained several exclamations of the word Bismillah. Freddie Mercury (known by the snappy moniker Farrokh Bulsara to his family) was born in Zanzibar to Indian Parsi parents and was proud of his Persian ancestry. Other rockers and rappers have also used the Basmala – from the Wu Tang Clan to Mos Def at the beginning of each of his albums, Lupe Fiasco in Food and Liquor and Rakim on his track from the 8 Mile soundtrack. On a more controversal and irreverent note Busta Rhyme sampled the Basmala in the chorus of his single release Arab Money.
Here’s another one for you – insha’Allah: “God willing”. Any European asking for specific weather prediction, precise times of departure, or just what might exactly be happening when we arrive at… will often be delivered an insha’Allah as part of the possibly hazy reply. We have a version in Spain – ¡ojala! – which paired with mañana gives you some idea of the relaxed cultural attitude you can expect both in the Iberian Peninsular and in the Maghreb.
¡Hasta luego! Ma’a salama!
Meteorological prediction is pretty important for us – whether walking in the heights or planning work on our land. We live at 850m/2788ft on the south side of the second highest mountain range in Europe and our walking routes take us right up to the peaks, with Mulhacen at 3482m/11,423ft crowning the top. An unexpected cold snap can shrivel newly planted seedlings, a dry hot summer means lots of extra irrigation in the heat and a sudden change from warm and still to windy and cold can mean (at the least) that you sincerely regret not packing that extra woolly in your back pack. Believe me, weather can change scarily fast at high altitides this far south! One minute, comfortably dressed in a vest and walking shorts, you’re staring at an approaching cloud, the next you’re diving for your waterproof, zip-on legs of your troos, gloves and snood while battling a wildly flapping pack in a white-out complemented by sideways icy rain.
Local Alpujarra folk often use a truly arcane method of weather prediction called the Cabañuelas, based on observation of daily conditions throughout August. This is then related to each month of the following year. I’ve had the system explained to me several times by my friend Ramon, the gardener at Cortijo Romero, who understandably puts great store in planting almanacs and such things. The cabañuelista predicts for his or her local area in a radius of up to 80km. Predictions are derived from assorted phenomena like types of clouds visible, wind direction, characteristics of the sun, moon, stars, or the appearance of mist and morning dew. Animal behaviour can also count as a sign of rain to come; for instance the appearance of flying ants or doves bathing. The rooster crowing during the day means a change of weather. while cats running and jumping are a sign of wind (or an invasion of field mice?). In a further attempt to hedge bets, other indications of rain include creaking of furniture, soot falling in the chimney, smelly drains, damp appearing on the flagstones and weeping grape vines. (They’ve been to my house!)
The Cabañuelas are cunningly designed to give several shots at predicting the hoped-for rainfall: weather for January 2015 is not only predicted by conditions on August 1, 2014, during the Cabañuelas de Ida from 1 – 12 August, but also on 24 August, during the Cabañuelas de Retorno in the next 12 days, when you count backwards through the months, according to my Alpujarran sources. And THEN the next 6 days count for two months each day – so the morning of 25 August also corresponds with January 2015, the afternoon to February 2015 and so on. The last chance for the agriculturalist to bolster his confidence in the security of favourable weather to come is on 31 August which… Yes! – you’ve guessed it, divides into 12 two-hour-long slots and counting backwards again, means that January 2015 is predicted by the last two hours of August 2014. Gottit?
Although there is a great deal of skepticism about this highly empirical system, most agree that it is ancient – some claiming that it dates from as far back as 35,000 years BC. More scholarly sources refer to an 11th century document which mentions the placing of 100 cabañuelas throughout a neighbourhood of Toledo during the festival of the Tabernacle. As prediction of weather has been traditionally associated with Jewish feasts, including this one, it’s a fairly safe assumption that the superstition comes via the Sephardic Jewish community in Spain.
I feel I need to put on record that this year the 1st of August in the Alpujarra dawned bright and clear, but surprisingly cooler than the last few weeks. There was a lot of wind late afternoon… and the kittens have been running about a bit.
For those who read Spanish: more confusing information including date charts at Cabañuelas es. Wikipedia
For those who read English: some confusing information not including date charts at Cabañuelas Wikipedia in English
Q. What do you call a person who speaks many languages? A. Polylingual
Q. What do you call a person who speaks two languages? A. Bilingual.
Q. What do you call a person who speaks one language? A. English.
“How’s your old jeep?”
“it’s a Land Rover”. I reply flatly. “And it’s only fiftee… um… nearly twenty (gosh!) years old. Well yes, alright, it’s old. But it’s not a jeep!”
Like calling a chocolate torte a ‘carob cake’, or referring to marmite as ‘vegemite’, or to a Dyson as a ‘hoover’ (for goodness sake!): a Land Rover is not a blinking jeep!!! (Or a bus or a truck, although I think I can accept these two as being more in the spirit of friendly ribaldry rather than blatant misrepresentation. Initially called the Land Rover Ninety and Land Rover One Ten (ie. short or long wheel-base) the Landy Defender was developed from the original Land Rover Series launched in 1948. Does this make it a Baby Boomer? With the aluminium body it was certainly born out of rationing .
The Land Rover was designed to only be in production for two or three years to generate capital to bump-start (hmm) up-market Rover car production after the second World War. However, the off-road Land Rover just outsold all the other Rover vehicles and emerged as its own brand. In October 2013 Land Rover announced that production of the Defender would end in December 2015, after a continuous run of 67 years. (Nooooooo!) As Paul and I often tell people (and if you’re reading this, we may well have mentioned this to you personally, but forgive me for labouring the point) over 70% of all Land Rovers ever produced are still on the road, and, we add, the other 30% have no doubt been cannibalised into that 70%.
The Range Rover isn’t a jeep either, although some might be forgiven for thinking that neither is it really a land rover. First sold in 1970, this child of the Glam rock era gave birth in 1989 to the Discovery, aptly nick-named the Disco (teenage pregnancy?). Luckily the company decided not to include the Conran Design Group’s nifty custom sunglasses holder to be built into the middle of the steering wheel. They did include now collectable items such as the Land Rover-branded cloth fabric holdall in the front centre console which could be removed from the vehicle and worn over the shoulder – a landy handbag, Terence???
Our Land Rover Defender is called Evita. Our sunglasses sit firmly on our noses or pushed back on our heads when glaring at maps while bumping along dusty tracks. Our branded holdalls have Lidl or Carrefour printed on ’em. We hoped naming her Evita would mean less repairs, evitar in Spanish being to avoid (ho-ho….). Conforming to Spanish law she takes two MOT’s per year to make sure she’s fit for purpose. She’s stoutly borne us south to the Sahara and north to Galicia, speeding along motorways, tracks and mountain trails. She’s provided us with bedroom, kitchen and shelter from winds and rain (does leak a bit!). We love her –
AND SHE’S NOT A JEEP!
Growing up in Wales meant that for much of the year when venturing into the Great Outdoors I had my wellies firmly welded onto my feet. As a teenager, however, I scorned folk who wore their wellies into town to do their shopping!(How gauche!). It took me a while therefore to realise that the girls I saw stomping round shopping centres in the UK in multi-coloured, multi-patterned gumboots were actually making A Fashion Statement! I blame it on the proliferation of outdoor music festivals in Britain – Glasto Chic, indeed.
Last year someone posted The Hounds of Geevor on my facebook timeline and I had to look up David Kemp’s work. A master of the found object, he says :-
A friend, working on the maintenance staff at Geevor, watched a mechanical digger burying a pile of redundant miners boots, & gave me a shout, I drove over & filled my pickup with the discarded boots, not knowing what I might do with them. This discarded footwear was to become THE HOUNDS OF GEEVOR.
“Relics of a vast subterranean workforce that rarely saw the light of day, each of these Hounds fed up to three & a half families (seven boots per dog). Released from their underground labours, they now wander the clifftops, looking for a proper job”
I also found the picture below with a Boris lookee-likee giving the whole thing scale. Check out David Kemp’s clever pieces at:- http://www.davidkemp.uk.com/blog/tinners-hounds.html and http://www.davidkemp.uk.com/blog/well-heeled-bitches.html
Not a lot of people know this… One of my neighbours used an old wellie to repair the distinctive chevrons on the front of her Deux Cheveux citroen. Here in Spain the wellie is known as a bota de regar or bota de agua (I don’t think they’re very keen on the imperial war-leader, Wellington…) Commonly seen in these parts are elderly campesinos stumping about with azada in hand buscando la acequia. And the locals here still think it’s Not On to wear them in the supermarket.
I thought the welly was a truly egalitarian item of footwear (apart from the snooty Hunter range) but then I discovered Le Chameau, as modelled by certain recently married members of the Brit nobility, which are a snip! (a snip! I say) at £285. The cheapest wellies I’ve spotted are £5 a pair – but I can’t gettem up my steely muscled calves…. (top tip from your correspondent: always, but always, wear good quality wool socks in yer wellies to properly regulate the temperature of the tootsies – cotton? Oh no, no, no!).
In Wales the gumboot as well as being essential survival kit is also used as an exhortation to have a go, as in “give it welly, bach!” Often heard off-pitch while a scrum is under way. Hwyl!!! http://www.worldwidewords.org/weirdwords/ww-hui1.htm
I recently had a tour around walking mate Martin Elliot’s website – he’s another keen photographer – so here’s a wee link- Martin Elliot photos. No photos of wellies yet dispite the evil storms which have menaced The Beach Hut over the last month.
Last thoughts on Giving It Welly –A quote from Autumn Walking 2013 – “If I had known how steep the first walk was – I wouldn’t have done it! If I had known how difficult the concrete path (down to Soportujar) was – I wouldn’t have done it! If I had known how hot it was going to be – I wouldn’t have done it! Then I might not have done the last walk which was superb. But I did do it all and I survived and am really happy with myself!” Result!
Hmm, thinking about Morocco – here’s an interestin’ article that a friend sent – Morocco: Lost in the Atlas. The Ait Atta tribes mentioned here are the folk of the Saghro region who we’ll be meeting and walking with in Feb/March this year on our trek with Mohamed Yaacoub of N’Kob and his team. Last year we were fortunate to be invited for tea at one of their nomad camps near the impressive cirque of pinnacle rocks which feature in the FB album of that trek (see Dreams of Morocco).
……unlike Lawrence of Morocco, we won’t be charging over £2400 for our Saghro excursion, but then you won’t get an ensuite tent, beaten brass bowls (unless you pick up one of your own in the souk before we leave Marrakech), or white linen table-clothes and I note it’s still a bucket wash, however much you pay – ooooo, how delicious that first post-trek shower! Still, I second the last line of the article:- “the real privilege of this journey is not the luxurious linen, but the sense of complete escape.”
As for meeting the Ait Atta with Bootlace and Mohamed Yaacoub: the camp is run with Berber panache and is an experience of the semi-nomadic life of the region as well as a means of getting to places where the indoor accommodation, to be frank, makes a tent look very attractive! You do get your tent put up for you, unlike many other treks. The crew are lovely: kind, friendly and helpful in a genuinely heart-felt way – the best we’ve worked with in terms of authenticity and natural organisation. (Oh, and musical – there was singing and dancing most nights, singing on the march with the mules – they love to sing!). Here’s some information about the up-coming Siroua Trek 2018 and the easy Atlantic Coast Trek 2018 from Essaouira
It is a truth universally acknowledged that a woman in possession of a ukulele is a joyful being. Look at Marilyn Munroe… well maybe not. The combination of piano accordion with ukulele is not traditional but seems to work for Sorrel and me. It also lends itself to the quirky songs which amuse both of us enough to bother learning – Ukulele Lady is one of our favourites and we’ve recently got under our belt(s) Add Me by Chumbawumba. Soon to be launched on the terrified public is People are Strange by the Doors and Shine on Crazy Diamond by the Floyd. Nuff said. If you’re fancy hearing a sample we’re up on the soundcloud as Las Favoritas (and we hope we’ll be amongst yours).
Now here’s a man who promotes walking and plays a mean banjo. And I mean MEAN. His philosophy is impressive his talks are illuminating and funny: one day in 1983, John Francis stepped out on a walk. For the next 22 years, he trekked and sailed around North and South America, carrying a message of respect for the Earth – for 17 of those years, without speaking. During his monumental, silent trek, he earned an MA in environmental studies and a PhD in land resources. Watch this on TED
I love the Autumn. For one thing my birthday falls right in the middle of this time of mists and mellow fruitfulness and all that. Then the light (the light!) of the autumnal Mediterranean sun on mountain hillsides and tiny whitewashed hamlets is a gift to the photographer. Another plus to this time of year is the shift from the hot and dusty summer to Andalucian autumn and the arrival of a spot of rain and cooler breezes to freshen up the countryside…. and so…. it’s time to start walking again! Last week we hosted Strolls and Siestas based at the character-full Casa de La Luz in Pitres. I’ve said lots about this week and venue elsewhere (see Autumn Walks) so I’ll just share this photo up on the left which I think sums the week up nicely… and a comment which gives us a wee glow – “a great week which was throughly enjoyable. I loved the location and the food was as good as ever” (A.D. Strolls and Siestas 2013) Was it the tajine cooked over charcoal in the roof garden or the chocolate torte that did it, I wonder?
Last year the snow arrived early, so by the end of October there was more than dusting on the peaks. We’ll be here at the end of the month – can’t wait!
If you’re looking for an Autumn holiday read here’s something to check out – long time Cortijo Romero and Bootlace visitor Mandy Sutter published her debut comedy novel, Stretching It, this summer. In true CR spirit, the story has a personal journey element, as its heroine, plump PA Jennifer Spendlove, no longer wants to put her life on hold to care for her hypochondriac Mum, Alicia. A habit of telling white lies to keep the peace contributes to her sense of stuckness. But when she embarks on a quest to change her life beginning with a series of lonely hearts dates it becomes obvious that this is a very difficult thing to do. It becomes almost impossible when a sex-crazed Italian hairdresser enters the frame and her new boss offers her an opportunity that might be either a blessing or a curse. To add to the complications, Jennifer isnt the only one stretching the truth….
Stretching It is available now at all good bookshops and on Amazon and Kindle at http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/
I’ve been walking and exploring Morocco at least once a year since 2006. As a good friend observed, it’s the nearest place to be somewhere else. It’s clearly Not Europe: don’t drive at night! see camels used for ploughing, flash past unfeasibly large-looking men on unfeasibly small-looking donkeys, dice with death contra-flowing behind a charioteer/baggagiste in Marrakech Sunday evening rush-hour. All the thrills of another continent. As a Muslim country it’s got to be the most liberal, with sufi-accented Marabout Shrines dotting the countryside and cascades of the call to prayer enchanting this jaded Euro in small cities like Taroudant. I’ve seen stars right down to the horizon in the desert near M’Hamid and wandered many a happy hour with my little black box through the delightfully delapidated alleys of Essaouira and the mural encrusted streets of Asilah. I’ve shooed wild tortoises off the flat place where I want to pitch my tent and had hysterics trying to buy a magenta pouf in Tangier. I’ve discovered scorpions in the Wrong Place and tried to make Berber bread be round, thin and flat, causing merriment to the trek cook.
The Berber connection with the Alpujarra intrigues me – so many words, so much architecture and agriculture in common. The heart of the Berber Moroccan like that of Alpujarra friends is generous and wide: share food, water, music, visual humour and Jenga. They’ve got us out of many a pinch – fixed my landy gear box, bargained down the tow-truck man, dispensed tea, sympathy and local-knowledge-based solutions. It’s not home but it feels like somewhere very familiar and loved. I’ve been liberated in the use of colour in my life by my travels in Maroc: absorbing the feel, the taste, the style and textures of Morocco from chic boutique hotels, opulent fabrics, blue neela, stained and polished plaster tadelac, to cruddy municipal campsites, fabulous wild camping in desert, mountain and coast, to medersas hidden at the centre of mazes of alleys, fishermen’s nets on wide sandy beaches, wooden boat houses, mosque towers, etched pise mud walls…
You’ve probably guessed by now – c’est vrai, j’aime Maroc! Here’s a link to just a sample of the images of Morocco which emerged from the eye of The Little Black Box more-or-less as my eye saw them (!) and found their way into an exhibition in Orgiva from 13 – 20 September 2013. I’m proud of my first public photo outing, but best of all for me it warms me with memories of time spent close to that great and generous Berber heart.
Photos from the Exhibition Afrika Afrikana –