Crossing the Straits
Even the cloudy day didn’t make leaving Portugal happier for Lisa and Dina. But on a lonely
road just short of the Spanish border, we passed two Canadian boys backpacking, and the day brightened.
We stopped for them, just a few feet into Spain.
While we were parked, eating oranges and tossing out peel, the Guardia Civil tapped on our window.
I didn’t want to mess with the Guardia Civil. But it turned out they weren’t arresting us for littering,
they only wanted to warn us to move farther onto the shoulder, for safety’s sake. Whew!
We (especially Lisa and Dina - fickle) were sorry to lose our hitchhikers but as we pondered finding
a place to stay in Seville we replaced them with an American couple, Helen and Burt, leading to
the best and worst of times. These two were living in Spain for a year and knew the city reasonably
well. Soon they talked us into going to Morocco with them.
We stashed Parnassus, boarded a ferry and headed
south, passing Gibraltar and landing in
Tangier two and a half hours later. The
girls were quiet, intimidated by the ragged,
dirty, begging children, the half starved,
tethered cattle, the veiled women and the
men in caftans or burnooses. Dirty, rutted
streets, strange smells, bustling crowds,
cries of, “Guide? Guide?” echoing in our ears, all contributed to the feeling of
landing somehow in a different world; in self defense we hired a guide who led
us to the sultan’s palace with its sunny courtyard and beautiful greenery, next to
old dilapidated walls by the souk.
Everywhere there was disease and poverty, men sleeping in
the streets, women, children, even a three year old, with infants slung
on their backs. All across Morocco were ruins: Roman, Carthaginian,
Phoenician - and in the distance the beautiful, snow tipped Atlas
mountains. In a place called Lixus, we were guided by an old man in
a caftan, tennis shoes and purple socks. Lisa and Dina climbed over
fallen columns and ancient rocks and rode a camel in the white city of
Our disillusion about our companions had begun as they bargained
noisily with vendors, a tendency that became overwhelmingly
distasteful as the trip progressed. Yes, I know one must haggle. But
this was beyond reason, extending to the hotels we chose and the
food we ate. I was certainly frugal but by the time we reached Marrakesh,
(a red city) in our rented car, we split with our companions,
stayed at a decent hotel for one night, and met up with them the following morning, to drive on to Fez.
We spent a week in Morocco, covering a great deal of territory,
seeing sights I will always remember. The greatest regret I have
of that whole experience was passing a Berber encampment
without stopping. Burt was driving and felt it was too dangerous.
(!) I couldn’t make him turn around. Black tents spread out
across the landscape; tall, strong men on Arabian horses carried
long, silver chased rifles, with curved daggers in their belts.
Women wore colorful, gilt embroidered skirts, coins jangling and
veils covering the lower half of their faces. It was like walking
onto an exotic movie set - but this was REAL!
Returning to Spain on the ferry, the only people not
sick were the three Fergusons. It was an unpleasant
crossing. But we were relieved to leave Helen and Burt
behind and spend three days on the Costa Del Sol, celebrating
Dina’s thirteenth birthday.
Now rushing on our way, past gypsy cave dwellings,
each with a painted door, all along the foothills of the beautiful
Sierra Nevadas, stopping in perhaps the most elegant
of Spanish cities, Granada, where my girls argued about who would be king, who queen, as they sat
in the actual thrones of Isabella and Ferdinand (or so we were told)and we wandered through the
Alhambra, the intricately carved Moorish palace, the famous Court of Lions. A brief stop in Barcelona,
then north to the border, leaving behind the castanet sound of Spanish, re-tuning our ears to
the lilt of French. In Monaco we hoped for a sight of Princess Grace - no luck - and spent a night on
the Grand Corniche. We drove back roads through the
Riviera, sang Sur le Pont d’Avignon at the appropriate
place and picnicked near an aqueduct before driving over
that incredible structure still in use as a bridge after 2000
years. It was Sunday when we arrived back in Paris, too
tired to do anything but sleep.
When I went to Parnassus on Monday to bring in
something we needed, I found everything stored there -
summer clothing, extra jackets, fins and snorkels (which
we hoped it would someday be warm enough to use) - strewn about the interior, and men’s gloves
and a screwdriver on the front seat. By luck of timing I had prevented theft of our belongings and
even, perhaps, of Parnassus, as well.
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