Category Archives: Walking

Bismillah! Increase your word-power!


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.


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!


Camel caravan near M’Hamid, Morocco



Cabañuelas – Andalucian weather prediction?

Delicate cloud in the Alpujarra

Cloud gazing during walking excursion siesta time…

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.

Unexpected snow, Sierra Nevada

Unexpected snow in the Alpujarra, Sierra Nevada.

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!)

Walking in the Alpujarra Granada

Walking in the Sierra Nevada at 1500m

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.


Cloud inversion below the GR240, Sulayr Long Distance Path.  Above Niguelas, Sierra Nevada, Granada

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

And finally:-

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.


Primarolo of Morocco


Resting by the mule-track down from Mount Amlal, Jebel Saghro

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.”


Lighting-up time in the chaima – all-purpose dining/sitting/sleeping tent

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

Autumn Walks and a Good Read

A ‘maestra’ practising her siesta – Ruth on Strolls September 2013

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?

Pico Alegas, Sierra Nevada

Autumn 2012 – picnic time at Pico Alegas 2700m

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!

More on Autumn excursions – Autumn walking from Cortijo Romero and Autumn in the Heights.

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 Stretching-Ithypochondriac 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 isn’t the only one stretching the truth….

Stretching It is available now at all good bookshops and on Amazon and Kindle at


Maroc through my Little Black Box


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 –


Sunday footie, on the way to Ait Ben Haddou