Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Morocco! (At least so far)

Sorry for this long post, and apologies to all of you who have already read most of it via email (there is some new stuff at the end, though!)

We finally got to Morocco a week ago Saturday, coming into Saidia. We left Almeria Friday night thinking it would take us about 16 hours, but because of the current (which we didn't know about) and a lack of wind it took about 24 hours. We think this will be the only overnight passage this summer and I am very glad about that; I don't like sailing overnight.

Isabelle came the other night. It was really sweet because Max was SO excited to see her. I wish I had videoed her arrival.

This summer has been more relaxed than last year in that we are not on a time schedule, but that has also meant a lot of waiting, which has been a bit frustrating. Now at least we will have a few busy weeks in Morocco and then Isabelle will head back to Germany for the year and we will go back to Lagos in time for school to start.

We are hoping to have the boat lifted out and cleaned tomorrow and once that's done we will head up the coast a little way. It's very hot here, as you might imagine. Yesterday was Sunday, so the beach looked like Coney Island gone wrong. The Moroccans seem to go to the beach like the Spaniards--i.e., they bring their tents, umbrellas, furniture, food, games, etc. and move in for the duration. We show up with our towels and paddleball and that's about it! We don't stay for the whole day, though, either!

There are also a lot of things being sold on the beach--corn on the cob, grilled right there on the cart that the seller pulls along with him, mint tea (made with fresh tea on a portable brazier), sunglasses, beach toys, candy, and these beautiful baskets. I may bring some money to the beach this afternoon and lie in wait for the basket guy. Next day: I did bring money, but he never showed.  Very sad...

It can't be fun for Muslim women to go to the beach, though, because they are covered and rarely get wet. Once they do, though, they must stay cool for a while, because all their layers would be wet. They tend to stay under umbrellas.

Max is currently obsessed with Pokémon and if I hear one more word about Pokémon I may go stark raving mad.

We are looking forward to getting out of here and doing a bit of exploring and photographing. I don't want to take my camera or phone to the beach.

Frank's ATM card got eaten for no reason yesterday, and when we went to the bank this morning to get it back he said there were about six others there too. We will not be going to that machine again!

My French is not great but it's proving useful--finally!

Part Two--
I'm writing this as we head towards Malilla, the Spanish enclave. We got to Saidia on Saturday and did all the customs formalities, got our passports stamped, etc. There wasn't anything to do there except go to the beach, but we had to stay there because we had arranged for the boat to be lifted out this morning and the bottom cleaned.

It took a while this morning for customs to clear us out, but they finally did and we went over to the boatyard, only to find the place pretty much deserted and another boat in the crane. We asked around and were told to wait. We had tied up at the fuel pontoon, so Frank went to buy bread and I kept watch in case anyone showed up planning to actually lift the boat. No one did, so we got fed up and left. I'm sure no one noticed, particularly not the guy whom we woke up.

We were planning to go to this little fishing village and spend the night, so we went there. As promised in the pilot book and online, the authorities were very friendly. We pulled up to the bird poop-encrusted pier and were met by customs, who looked at our passports and informed us that, in spite of Frank's insistence that we were NOT leaving Morocco yet, customs in Saidia had stamped us OUT of Morocco, so since they were not a point of entry we needed to go back to Saidia and get stamped back in. They were perfectly willing to acknowledge that it was Saidia's mistake but there was, alas, nothing they could do about it. I think the guard on the pontoon felt sorry for us, though, because after customs left he told us that if we wanted to stay and eat in the town we would be welcome.

We opted to go on to Malilla, one of the Spanish enclaves in Morocco, which was going to be our next stop anyway. So far, the dominant impression of a Morocco has been heat and bureaucracy. We are hoping to actually get to do a little sightseeing in Malilla.

The Continuing Story...

When we last left our heroes, they had inadvertently "left" Morocco, so rather than go back to the site of the bureaucratic error, they pushed on to Melilla.

On the way, the wind picked up. And picked up. And picked up. It picked up so much that it was 25 knots by the time they hauled the jib in. It picked up so much that the furler broke when they hauled the jib in (although I don't think the wind had anything to do with that, really). It picked up so much that first Helen and then Isabelle had to sit on the sail so it wouldn't flap. On the up side, though, even with a huge ferry not 15 minutes behind us as we came into the harbor, Frank made an absolutely masterful mooring. Since we hadn't been able to get anyone on the radio, a couple of other sailors caught our lines.

Melilla has the strange distinction of having almost no restaurants, which is really annoying when it's 9:00 at night and you are hungry. However, we did manage to find one near the walls of the old city. It was excellent--and cheap! It was so good that we decided to eat there the next night too, it being too hot to cook and impossible to cook the meal ourselves for as little as we paid for it (plus, since we found ourselves 1.5 euroes short in a place that didn't take cards and with no ATMs anywhere, we thought it would be a nice touch to pay the rest of our bill!). The service was quite good, too.

Wednesday morning Frank and Max went to see what they could find out about the furler and Isabelle and I went grocery shopping. Our news was better--a good grocery store. So far, all the Spanish grocery stores have been excellent, although there does not appear to be any logic to the way they arrange their products. It was going to take two weeks to get the part for the furler, so we folded up the sail and are doing without a jib.

We couldn't leave Melilla until the wind shifted to the east, which, according to all predictions, was supposed to happen Thursday. Thursday duly arrived and the wind dithered. We ate lunch. The wind waffled but finally decided to shift, so off we went to the anchorage. We had a bit of a scare on the way there when the wind changed its mind, but it was apparently only kidding with us. We did not end up going to our originally planned anchorage, but another one not quite as far.

The anchorage was very pretty, right near a beach. The water was very very clear, Frank and Max checked the anchor, we all swam, etc.

This boat is very weird in that regardless of what the wind does, the boat goes broadside to the waves, so as soon as it got dark the pitching started. No one--not even Max--could sleep and then Frank discovered that the anchor had not held after all, so at midnight we hauled it up and headed out.

As soon as we got around the cape the fog and the cold set in. The current too--we were making barely 4 knots with the wind in our faces. I speculated that perhaps this is why people don't seem to take their own boats to Morocco; they take ferries instead. Thank goodness for AIS and radar!

Now it's 9:00AM and the sun is burning off the fog. We are going to Al-Haceima, a little fishing village which apparently has all the officials you could possibly need waiting to tramp all over your boat looking for smuggled goods and stowaways. We've got nothing to hide, but I don't want anyone trekking mud on board. Once that is over, we will officially be back in Morocco.

Everyone we have met so far has been very friendly and helpful, and I don't honestly expect the people here to be any different. The book that earlier information came from is outdated and apparently things have improved since then.

Your faithful scribe is very much hoping for a decent shower and perhaps some sleep before waking the camera up and doing some exploring, as she is sitting here offending herself. Tune in again next time for the continuing adventures of Americans Abroad, in which they try and avoid getting dive-bombed by pooping seabirds...

Al-Haceima and After

I know you are all dying to know this, but I am still offending myself. Not only were there no showers in Al-Haceima, there was no power and no water either, so we could not even shower on the boat because we have to preserve water, since we do not know when we will be able to refill it. At least we are all equally offensive!

There was, in fact, a lot of bureaucracy involved once we got there, but the bureaucrats were friendly and spoke more English than the vast majority of Spaniards we've met. The port is really not set up for private boats at all, and since we were not allowed in the military section or at the ferry dock, we had to raft onto some sort of industrial-type boat which was in turn rafted onto another industrial-type boat. We had to pay 25€ for the privilege. A rip-off.

While Frank and I were off doing paperwork, Isabelle and Max stayed here and hosted the on-board search.  That, too, was apparently conducted by friendly bureaucrats who seemed more curious than anything. We had to check Max's room thoroughly afterward to make sure that no one had gotten sucked into the mess and was unable to get out. I would hate to think there was someone starving in there!

Al-Haceima is hardly a fishing village. Rather, it's a pretty good-sized town, but you have to climb probably 200 meters up the mountain to get to it. Fortunately there were stairs, but when it's 90 degrees outside, you are pretty hot and tired by the time you get to the top!

There was nothing in particular to see, but we walked through the maze of the market. If you judge by the goods being sold there, Moroccans LOVE shoes. I think just about every stall--and many stores--sold shoes. Moroccans must have the best-dressed feet on the planet. Frank and Isabelle both got some. We also bought some vegetables and stopped at a café for thé á la menthe. I like it, but this one was overly sweet. I felt like my teeth were wearing socks by the time I finished it. Isabelle and I are trying to buy long skirts, as we don't have any, but we must be much shorter than your average Moroccan woman, since they all seem to drag on the ground. Without regular laundry facilities, I don't want to be walking around with a dirty hem! Meanwhile, we are dressing as conservatively as possible.

After we came down from town we went to the beach with Max but we did not swim because we were not brave enough to be the only ones in bikinis. Fortunately it had cooled off some by then, and the water was COLD!

Frank has caught a cold (probably from Max, who is largely over it after one day of the sniffly-snurfflies), but it will probably be better in the next couple days. In my considered medical opinion, I don't think it's life-threatening. After all, I did grow up with a doctor, so I know these things. The fact that he is an orthopod is an irrelevant detail, it seems to me. 

Last night when we were eating the fog set in again, but it has largely burned off by now.

After much waiting for our passports to be stamped and our ship's papers to be returned from the bureaucratic hole that is the port office, we left Al-Haceima around 8:30.  The sea is calm, we've got a headwind, and the outside speakers have stopped working. Frank has looked at the wiring but cannot find the answer. I have done everything I know how to do with the radio, but to no avail. We may have to sail in silence until we can have that looked at too.

To El-Jebha

Now we are off to El-Jebha (spelling?), where Frank is convinced that they will tell us that we have once again been stamped OUT of Morocco, in spite of his informing the officials in Al-Haceima many times that we are not leaving the country yet. They ignored him and just kept happily stamping. Should we be no longer officially in Morocco, we can look forward to a long trip overnight to Smir or to Ceuta, the other Spanish enclave.

What we want to do is go to Smir and rent a car and explore the interior of the country for a day, but it is not a port of entry, so if we have to go get stamped again I guess we will have to skip that. We will not be pleased...

For those of you keeping track at home, so far we have been able to avoid being dive bombed by pooping seabirds.

Tune in next time when you will find out the state of our passports: stamps or no stamps? Have the Moroccan authorities in fact understood that we still want to explore their country? Where did we end up--Morocco or the Spanish enclave? And has our luck in finding English-speaking bureaucrats continued (the ones in Al-Haceima actually preferred to speak English rather than French) or has it run out?

All these questions and more will be answered in the next installment of Schicketanzes Abroad, in which perhaps we might find a tiny breeze with which to sail…


Well, they wouldn't let us into El-Jabha, in spite of what the pilot book says. Apparently it's only for fishermen. The group of pre-teen boys who were swimming off the rocks were happy to see us:  "Hello! Hello! How are you?" A man made it clear that we were welcome to anchor around the corner, however, in this beautiful sheltered cove. Unfortunately, the beautiful sheltered cove was mostly too deep for us to anchor in and the shallow part seemed to have a rocky bottom. So it was off to the beach--again--to anchor. 

On the upside, the anchor held. On the down side, it was incredibly rocky. Frank's cold (a real one, not a Man-Cold) hit its worst point, so he was sniffling and snurffling all night. Neither of us slept and Isabelle didn't either. Max, however, slept like a log. 

We left this morning very early when we discovered that we were almost out of power, so we had to put the motor on to charge the batteries. Unfortunately, the same rocky waves are following us all the way to Smir, it appears. At least we are not fighting them, and even though there isn't enough wind to put the sail up, it is not in our faces.

The sun doesn't seem to be in the mood to show itself at all, although it did come out for just a little bit. It is a bit hazy, but not foggy, which is good because we don't want to deal with that too. Frank spent most of the trip on the bench trying to sleep and the autopilot did the work. The rest of us watched for boats. Isabelle got knocked off the bench by a wave and whacked her head and bruised her hip, but ultimately is all in one piece.

It was very exciting to arrive in Smir and to realise that it did not matter at all that it is a point of entry. Even if there had been a problem, we would have been OK. In spite of the marina's brochure informing us of the friendly and un-stressful welcome we would receive at this most modern of marinas, the woman in the office clearly hates her job and the customs/police did not say one work to me while they were filling out papers and stamping passports. It might be too much to hope for friendly bureaucrats everywhere, though.

Smir has absolutely nothing to see and little to recommend it, since it seems to be simply an outgrowth of the marina. The pilot book says "some provisions" are available, but all we've found is toast bread, sliced cheese, and water, so we've been eating out. We did manage to find a car to rent, though, so we will go off and do some exploring. Yippee!

The internet is quirky here, so no pictures. I will do it as soon as I can, though, I promise!

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