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Self Guided Walking in the Alpujarra

Here’s a piece written by a satisfied walker, Caroline, who (with a little help from Bootlace) explored the Alpujarra solo during a happy  self-guided week this year in May.

Going on holiday alone really can be great given the right circumstances – but what’s out there for a solo woman who loves walking?  Not a lot it would seem.  I could have joined a group, and probably would have done but my dates did not fit.  Then I spotted that Bootlace accommodated  ‘lone walkers’.  I went for it!   Pre-planning was effortless – I was confident Fiona knew the mountains really well and that she would plan a lovely week’s walking.   She provided me with really detailed routes and maps which I found easy to follow, and best of all was having her friendly face each morning bring me my delicious packed lunch of vegetarian and local goodies, and to chat about the previous day and the one coming.  Everything was arranged for me, transporting my overnight bag, accommodation, breakfast and lunch.  All I had to do was… walk.

Doing it with Bootlace was perfect: independence and freedom, combined with being looked after 100%.

It felt that I was a special guest of the area, having it all to myself.  Walking alone is something very special, you quickly get absorbed into the local environment and notice far more than if chatting to others.  Following your route requires really looking around you to get a feel of the landscape.  It feels really good to be out there.  You can choose your pace, stop whenever you like and just generally relax into it all.  Most days I did not pass another person, and it felt that I was a special guest of the area, having it all to myself.  Ok, evenings were a bit strained, sitting in bars trying to look content and relaxed, or stuck into a good book for more than an hour while having your meal is all fine for a night or two, but a whole week….. although I did get chatting with far more people than had I been with company.  But early nights were good, accommodation was generally very cosy, and always by the next morning was the excitement of where to go next.  It never disappointed.  
A great holiday with precious memories
The spring flowers were at their best, the water was flowing quickly through the amazing irrigation systems, and the weather just perfect for walking. Moving from one village to another felt like a very satisfying achievement. Exploring hidden treasures of paths I would have never found without my guide, was genuinely delightful. On the last day I could look back down the valley and see all the places I had stayed and enjoy a real sense of knowing it well.  A great holiday with precious memories.

If you’d like to know more about self-guided breaks go here and for getting your teeth into planning just for yourself, or with your favourite walking buddies, just email!

The Joys of Camping

Delicate cloud in the Alpujarra

The Chaima – Big Tent

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! Increase your word-power!

Anna_Sirwa

Taking a draught of water in the Jebel Siroua – bismillah!

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.

Basmalah

The Basmalah rendered into arabic script

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.

Here’s some information about the next Siroua Trek 2018 and the easy Atlantic Coast Trek 2018 from Essaouira

¡Hasta luego!  Ma’a salama!

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Camel caravan near M’Hamid, Morocco

 

 

It’s Not A Jeep

Landy_in_Maroc

On the way to Midelt, Morocco. Land Rover Defender Tdi.

“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 .

Seen in a Welsh wood. Off road? Mud? Dim problem, bach!

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%.

Range Rover, Child of the Seventies...

Range Rover, Child of the Seventies…

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!

I love Wellies!

Hounds of Geevor - David Kemp

Hounds of Geevor – David Kemp

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-Boris and Wellie Dogs

Not-Boris and Wellie Dogs

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

Man On Beach M.E.

Man On Beach – Martin Elliot photos

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!

 

Ukulele Ladies and the Silent Environmentalist

ukie_peanutsIt 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).

John_francisNow 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

http://www.ted.com/talks/john_francis_walks_the_earth.html

 

Maroc through my Little Black Box

AsilahHands

One of the Asilah murals 2013

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 Time for tea - Fatima's Fingers and other almond and honey delightshorizon 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.

Berber farmyard gate - Alpujarra or Morocco

Berber farmyard gate – Alpujarra or Morocco

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.

If you’re inspired to explore Morocco with us, with or without a black box of your own, here’s some information about the next Siroua Trek 2018 and the easy Atlantic Coast Trek 2018 from Essaouira.

Photos from the Exhibition Afrika Afrikana –

Football

Sunday footie, on the way to Ait Ben Haddou