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Mike's Around-The-World Trip Update #3 - 4.22.2004
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i planned on starting this update with something
attention-grabbing, like the story of scalping
bullfight tickets in sevilla or running away from a
persistent guide (a black & white spaniel) in the
ruins of the alcazaba (fortress) in antequera, spain,
however something much more "oh my god" has happened
since then and that is: tangier, morocco.

oh. my. god.

folks, technically i am about 4000 miles from most of
you but it might as well be 4 million; i simply cannot
believe i am still on planet earth - wait, let me
check my ferry ticket - yep, i am but i do not believe
it.

i arrived yesterday (wednesday) on the ferry from
algeciras, spain at night. do not do that. the tales
of the touts, or unofficial guides, "greeting" you at
the port as soon as you step off the ship are not
exaggerated and at night it is even more unsettling.
plus i had to bag up my bike for the ride over so i
was weighed down with two panniers (bike bags), my
guitar & a bike in a bag. i felt crippled & nervous.
the moroccans noticed it and were all over me. i was
rattled. eventually i shed my new friends and asked a
cop where the taxis were. she pointed to a pack of
roaming hoodlums. i walked into the crowd like
aragorn into a swarm of orcs and tried to figure out
who was a cabbie and who wanted my wallet. i finally
got it and dove into a cab. he drove me to the cash
station and i nervously withdrew money as potential
themes buzzed around my cab. i started adding up the
replacement cost of all my shit as the dirhhams spit
out of the machine. i extracted 1000 dirhhams, or 100
bucks. we argued over the fare, he wanted 50 dirhams
while some guy on the ferry over GAVE me 20 dirhams
saying this is all it would cost...nice dude. i ended
up giving him 100; i was grateful to make it through
the medina (old city) to the hotel continental. so
glad the damn place had rooms. winging it can be
stressful at times.

as we rode up into the medina which stood on a hill
southwest of the port i was shocked by what i saw:
seemingly bombed out buildings, broken walls,
dilapidated staircases going nowhere, people playing
football (soccer) in the streets, piles of trash,
cafes in abandoned buildings full of enthusiastic old
men drinking tea, loads of people sitting in
doorways... we wound up an impossibly narrow street
clearly not designed for car travel and i felt for
sure he was driving me to a dead-end to kill me. to
me the hotel looked like a vegas buffet to a starving
man. then as i heaved my bags up the stairs to my
oasis the haunting islamic chants imploring the
faithful to prayer started spewing forth over the
loudspeaker from the central mosque. it was all in
emphatic arabic and is startling to a newbie like me.


anyway, it was the biggest culture-shock of my life
but a 57 year old english woman named roslyn who has
been here for 6 months took me around that night and
made all the bad-scaries go away....so here now i sit
slowly typing out an update on an arabic keyboard to
you from tangier, morroco, africa; i give you now an
update on my spanish adventures before i go out to
rock the kasbah:

last i left you i was in bordeaux, france boarding a
train to madrid, spain to rendezvous with stephanie.
a long, uneventful train ride (except for some 10,000
year old woman yelling at me) landed me in madrid on
tuesday, may 6th. i threw my bike back together and
rode to the hotel to meet steph. we stayed 3 nights
in madrid. the highlights were hanging out in the "el
retiro" (a park on the east side) drinking a bottle of
vino, touring the prado museum (loving goya & el
bosco), and listening to a flamenco guitarist in the
plaza mayor. my favorite night was the second night
when we went out for some sangria to a lonely-planet
recommended bar called espana cani. we were both
getted schnockered off our pitcher and decided to call
it quits after we finished it. however, 4 people sat
down next to us speaking heavily accented english to
one another and if there is one thing i am all about
overseas it is meeting new people so i dove in. turns
out they were danish and the next thing i knew we were
all sitting together and the serious sangria started
flowing. i looked down for a second and when i looked
up again 3 spanish women had joined us and were
filling our glasses with sangria. i had about 400
glasses at last count. i took a moment to reflect on
what was happening a little later in the evening and i
was overwhelmed; the girls spoke russian so i was
using a little of what i learned in college, plus
throwing out the occasional spanish phrase. when i
got up to use the john i bumped into a dane and said
"excuse me" in danish. someone poured me another
glass of sangria and i said "thanks" in french
(automatically) since i had just come from france and
was used to it. i mentioned i was of a finnish
background and so we bounced some finnish words off
each other.....it was all so amazing.

wow. this thing is getting long but i have to catch
you up so i am going anyway.... please read on if you
are not asleep:

we went out the next night for a big meal but wound up
eating tapas anyway since tapas is all they serve in
madrid. we were hungover. we went to atocha, the
train station the recent terrorist bombing occured at,
and rented a car for the next day. there are
heartbreaking personal memorials hanging all over
atocha, mostly created by the children who lost
mothers/fathers in the attack. sobering stuff.

we drove our berlingo el comby (a diesel van) toward
sevilla via toledo, the old medieval capital of spain.
toledo was great; winding old streets, sword-makers,
squares choked with tables....the tajo river
surrounded it on the 3 sides and we could see the
mountains beckoning in the distance.

we took the long road to sevilla in order to see the
country and small towns. we drove through spectacular
mountains, past groves of olive trees line-dancing up
the slopes, around herds of goats on the road and over
twisting, gentle rivers. i was awestruck by the
scenery of rural spain.

sevilla was incredible. at that point my favorite
town in spain, maybe in all of europe. the city is
full of ancient buildings, narrow streets,
cobblestones sidewalks, hidden squares around every
corner, beautifully tiled bars and restaurants. i
loved it. we were there during semana santa (holy
week) so the easter celebrations were in full swing.
they have these somber parades with floats of jesus
and the virgin mary during which the massive crowd is
dead-quiet. the spanish are so catholic i think j.c.
on his last summer vacation to spain said "yo dudes,
you gotta take it a bit easy." anyway it was nice.
we went to a bullfight easter sunday. that was an
experience. not sure if i liked it or not. it was
fun scalping tickets in spanish. anyone read the da
vinci code? i think all the poolhalls and bars in
vatican city have pictures of dan brown pinned to
their dartboards. i loved the book but i am sure his
papacy did not. i always try to read books that take
place in the countries i am visiting - i am knee-deep
in ernest hemingway right now.

i dropped steph off at the metro the next day and
returned the car. i got on my bike and tried to
figure out where i would go. i bought a ticket to
granada, spain but was thrown off the train for having
a bike; i was pissed. i was told i needed a bikebag
which i had but did not realize i needed to use in
spain. i spent the night in madrid and was successul
the next morning.

granada, spain is magnificent. i highly recommend a
visit there. i was out one night and was chatting
with a group of students when a friend of theirs
walked in and said "wait, i know you, right?" i said
"holy shit." it was a girl i met in a youth hostel in
madrid two days earlier; i was in this bar talking
with all her classmates.

hey, have you lost a cat? it is in granada if you did.
i do not know how many times i ran away from some
beast in a bush only to have it be a cat... they are
all over the place.

a tortilla in spain is an omelet; i ordered 20 of them
before i figured it out.

people in small spanish towns will drive down anything
that looks like it might be a road. i was in el
burgo, spain admiring a beautiful set of stairs at the
end of the street when a fucking car came rumbling
down them. i even got into the act myself when
driving the rental in madrid: i saw no other way to
leave the train station other than the sidewalk so i
drove on it. i was driving on a crosswalk and
actually honked at the people waiting there to cross
the street - they even got out of my way...i am
telling you, its the way it is.

i biked for 5 days from granada, spain to algeciras,
spain (where i caught the ferry to morroco) over some
stunning mountain scenery. i swallowed a bug between
el burgo and ronda that turned out to be my second
best meal in spain. the french authorites are still
after me for being the biggest insect-poacher they
have had in years; i single-handedly reduced the
insect population by 50% while there. i was going
about 40 miles an hour down a mountain when a
grasshopper the size of a helicopter hit me in the
right leg...almost knocked me off my ride; at least
now i know i can take a shotgun blast and live to talk
about it.

i spent two nights in ronda, spain and had a great
time. the city ends abruptly at its western boarder
where it plunges off into the valley 1000 feet below.
i met some americans one night and 3 greek chicks the
other night. the highlight there was playing guitar
for the 3 girls on the new bridge over the gorge in
ronda at 3am while drinking beer. quote from weird
science for you: whats a pretty girl like you doing
with a malaka like this? she is into malakas, dino.
malaka means "asshole" in greek.

i have logged 725 kilometers (about 430 miles) on my
bike so far...it wonderful to see the countries this
way.

i have a lot more to say but i will stop here.
someday we will sit down and i will tell you every
detail. this is an incredible gift, i am so happy. i
leave you now to dive deeper into the mysterious
unknown they call morrocco.

by the way, i now speak some sort of hybrid of
spanish, english, french and arabic...pretty soon you
probably will not be able to read these updates so
enjoy them while you can.

hasta leugo mi amigos,
(and of course), keep on keepin on,
mike

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