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Archive for the ‘travel writing’ Category

 

 

Maggie and the Ferrari

In case you are wondering where I’ve been for the last week it has been in the UK visiting Maggie’s relatives.

I took this picture in downtown London somewhere around Lester Square. Second hand a Ferrari is worth somewhere between $150,000 (Canadian) and $250,000. Over the last decade sales have risen from 4000 to 6500/year. I’d be scared to drive one – especially in London. Check out what they’re selling in Canada right now – used Ferraris. I think this particular Ferrari is of the 458 Italia Variety – top speed 325 km/hr.

It becomes increasingly apparent that there are two kinds of people in London – those that are incredibly rich and those that are struggling to survive. I suspect people stratify themselves in concentric rings outward from the city core, those with the largest disposable incomes live at the center of the city and then as you move outward a compromise between what you are willing to spend on lifestyle and what you are wanting to save or spend on others occurs. Some people, who are too young to have already made their fortune are obviously living on the earnings of someone else – how else could they live here?

As London was once the center of the British Empire I suspect that there is still a lot of residual cash that will likely last a couple more generations – each generation being less capable than the last. It is hunger that drives a person to be successful, not a lifestyle of ease, nightclubs, restaurants and cocktail parties.

Anyway, London was a fascinating place – more to follow (including the “cash crunch” as my next post. Who would ever have imagined that my VISA would not work over there?)

Bet the guy who owns this car (A Ferrari) never has a problem with his VISA.

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Canadian Grain, originally uploaded by Mic2006.

Here is an interesting little discovery in a market in Marrakesh some time in the early 1980s. Many of these sacks were labeled something to the effect, “Gift from Canada – Canadian grain for Ethiopia”. I cant remember the exact wording but it was something like that.

Any thoughts as to the confusion between Morocco and Ethiopia? Admittedly they are both in North Africa, but one was on the eastern edge of the continent in the midst of a terrible famine and the other is on the western edge with no such kind of problem. Do you suppose there is a deficiency in the geographical education of the pilots or ships captains who got the product here? Maybe in the interests of conservation the Ethiopians decided to send product from their own country to Morocco in those same sacks in which they’d received their aid supplies.

I had this picture taken as discretely as possible so as not to create a stir. As you can see nobody seems too bothered. If I could have got closer without a problem I would have.

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Cuban Farm – Beyond the Playa

This picture appeared in the July/August 2008 issue of “Atmosphere” – Air Transat’s inflight magazine. My article was “Beyond the Playa” though initially I had called it “Mario and the Crocodile”. Mario was not one of the fellows in this picture, he was our host and a very decent and generous Cuban at that! My visit with Mario was on the same trip that I visited the Cuevas de Bellamar with Jesus (pronounced hay-zeus).

Before dinner we went on a tour of Mario’s farm – he had an alligator on a chain that he goaded for our entertainment. It lived in a scum covered cement pool behind the shed where he kept his Lada. I wondered if I could keep a pet like that, but come to think of it, we have some kind of exotic pet law back in Guelph.

Here is a little bit of how the article had initially appeared (though in “Beyond the Playa”, the editor had coaxed it into something more about the dinner than the crocodile) …

““My he looks like a nasty fellow” I commented to my host. The creature eyed me coldly. “How long have you had him?” “9 years” “ And I suppose you are going to take his belly skin? Use it for handbags? Gangster shoes?” “Si, my pet, I feed”.  Still no reaction from the beast, it seemed indifferent to its fate. I doubt that it understood me, but then again, neither did my host.

Life never fails to amaze, I wondered at the bond that must have developed over those 9 years. Master gazing fondly over his ill-tempered charge; a rusty chain fastened around its armoured neck. Reaching over in provocation the farmer yanked it’s tether and the beast went absolutely beserk, snapping and thrashing it let loose a fetid hiss from its gaping mouth. Whereas a dog bites at 300 pounds per inch this killer pulverizes bone at a crushing 5000 pounds pressure.

I wondered what it was that had bought me here. My resort offered a perfectly suitable meal – rice and beans – typical Cuban fare, and chicken or some kind of fish. “What kind of fish?” I would ask. “Cuban fish” they would invariably reply.

Well here I was in the banana grove of a farm near Varedero; overlooked by the various creatures who lived there, my host’s Cocker Spaniel, Hootie, the hootia and of course the angry beast. “Nombre?” I asked my beaming host. “Crocodillo” he told me. The “Tinyosa” – great flapping black vultures watched from a tree nearby. I am sure they hoped that I might get to close.”

As for the piggies in the picture, sweet and snuffling as they were, I believe we derived a significant amount of guilt. I hadn’t realized that one of their brethren would serve as dinner until a part of him/her appeared with our meal. I believe we would have paid for his freedom if we’d realized the consequence of our visit, but then again, a wild pig soon grows ferule and even uglier, so freedom for these creatures might be good in theory, but in practicality Mario’s family would go hungry and so would we – “Circle of Life”.

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Cubans

I went for a walk along the beach front one morning. it was kind of a run down place and eventually I reached a settlement of some kind that had served as a holiday resort for Russians. On the way back these two characters emerged from the trees and followed close behind me making conversation.

Well one thing led to another and before I knew it I was getting a guided tour of their world. I saw the swimming pool – Olympic size but empty, the disco (a concrete pad beside the ocean with a barbecue) and the inlet from where a nearby oil rig was drawing water. A security guard was stationed there but these two guys were his friends so hung out a while and they chatted with him in Spanish.

I also met the community dog, a little runt that they seemed to love. Sadly it was almost hairless and covered in big pink welts and scabs.

If nothing, Cubans are happy, smiling and very generous. They don’t have much, and crime seems almost non existent. I get the feeling that these people are kind of innocent. There is no doubt in my mind that their poverty would be hard to take, but I also think that as a society they are in many ways better than us. Check out this site (Child of the Revolution), this person thinks otherwise.

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Essouria1 – Morocco

So much has been said of Hendrix’s song “Castles in the Sand” – undoubtably one of the more lyrical of pieces ever written.

In the ocean not far from here there is an island that had an ancient fort of some type on it. As you could see it some 15 years after Hendrix’s visit, it is crumbling into the ocean, its foundations eaten away by the waves. Behind Bev and I are the more sturdy walls of Essaouira – a nearby town.

Well several relevant thoughts can evolve from the appearance of the crumbling structure in the ocean, but none that might be all that applicable to Hendrix as his song was supposedly written 2 years prior to his visit to Essaouira.

Hendrix was hesitant to speak of his past and his difficult upbringing. The common interpretation of “Castles in the Sand is that nothing lasts forever and in his song most speculate that he is applying the impermanence to his family. If you were to hear the song/verse and look around the town you would certainly be tempted to suggest that he was here when he wrote it.

There are verses like, “Drew her wheel chair to the edge of shore” and “A golden winged ship is passing my way” which are seen quite vividly as images, though undoubtedly interpreted together in the context of the song as a young girl, bound to her wheel chair drowning herself. There is some talk of the golden winged ship being inspired by Moroccan sunsets. And a sun-set at the edge of the Atlas Range, looking out across the ocean is an unforgettable thing. It is as though you are transported away from that Aladdin’s land into somewhere else even more mysterious and exotic. And as night comes on there is the cry from the Mosque, the groaning of a camel and the burnt-tire smell of red Moroccan hash that is transported shore-ward from the mountains.

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Essaouria – Morocco

Bought the hat from a herder somewhere between Marrakesh and Essaouira – check out the tassel hanging down the back. As far as hats go Moroccans take the prize. How could you compare a John Deere baseball cap or a jays cap – I defy you with a fez; attire of extroverts like Oscar Wilde and any number of barons, princes, knights and eccentric English gentlemen.

You’d never recognize me without the beard. I’m just chillin at a cafe somewhere along the shoreline. There is some association between this place with its medieval appearance, city wall and defenses and Jimmy Hendix’s song “Castles in the sand”.

Though it seemed a quiet and somewhat unassuming backwater, a place where Moroccans come for honeymoon, Essaouria has quite a feisty history.

Mohammad III chose Essaouria as his port city, like many before him for its sheltered anchorage, but also because he wanted to cut off trade from Agadir, a rival city to the south. This was also the closest spot between Marrakesh and the sea.

In the past the waters offshore were harvested for Murex shells. It was from these thatpurple dye was extracted to mark the line in Roman senator’s togas. Today the Canaries Current makes the water off-shore particularly well suited to the swarming of large schools of sardines and super-size Conger Eels.

As I later learned, It’s not considered good manners to go shirtless in public. Normal attire was flip-flops and shorts and a hat of some unusual variety.

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The blogging bunker

The excitement of having my blog up and running again just got a bit much. So in explanation for some of those funky posts last night I would like to say that Monkey Jim (on my lap) and the Rockhound aka. cave dog(floor) had led me astray.

No problem Monkey Jim, your come-uppance will be later this week. The vet will be taking the knife to you and you’ll be barking an octave higher after that.

Strangely the ‘Glen Rothes’ got empty, ‘Tamdhu’ took quite a hit and by about 11:30 I was so desensitized that I even had some ‘Laphroaig’. I usually call this “La Frog”, it has an intense peaty/ iodine impression and I would not knowingly have agreed to purchase it except it was the first bottle I ever bought and now I gotta drink it (just a sip once a year until its gone and then maybe another bottle to punish unruly guests).

It is from this little corner of my house (the blogging Bunker) that I do all my caving posts and also where I have written my soon to be released book – “Tamarindo”.

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