A Travellerspoint blog

Morocco

sunny 38 °C
View Spain and Portugal & Morocco on archerjohn's travel map.

4 days was never going to be enough. Morocco has been in my dreams of adventure for sometime. A romantic outcrop of the ancient Arabic Moors; sense tickling spice markets, noisy and busy Bazaars, the mazes of souks, the wild Atlas Mountains and the epic Sahara, a traveller’s paradise. I have to admit to being a tad excited about the trip.

July had proven to be a quiet, long haul month in Palma. Few boats ventured into port and work has been as scarce as a never before. By the end of the month I was definitely in need of a break. Thankfully the European Union helped make the decision for me with my 3 month travel visa nearing its culmination. My good friend Dave Lunn and I therefore decided on Morocco; a short 4 day visa renewing, epic adventure to seek a bit of reality to my travel dreams.

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Intrepid Dave

One of my more unplanned trips, Dave and I landed in Marrakech with very little travel information (a consequence of taking up residence in a country where you can’t speak the language). 43 Celsius and we are scrambling off the plane, across sole melting tarmac and into the now impatient immigration line formed at the doors of the terminal. Stamp, check. At this point I could turn around straight away and head back to the safety of Spain. I can see in Dave’s eyes a momentary contemplation of doing this, but instead we are flying into town in the back of an old Mercedes taxi.

We spent our time in Marrakech staying in a Riad within the maze of souks in old town. It was a wonderful hideaway from the madness that greeted us outside the front door. Morocco instantly reminded me of India - the senses in overload, the noise of the market commerce and the intensity of people everywhere doing what they have been doing for thousands of years. I loved it. Within an hour of arriving I knew it was everything I thought it was going to be and more; rich colours, bold smells, rabbit warrens of alleyways, hassling hustlers, an air of mystery and the strange sense of tranquillity.

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After settling into the hostel Dave and I had a quick whiteboard session to try and work out what to do here. We ended up gambling on an overnight trip organised by the hostel across the Atlas Mountains, and into the desert. 50:50 whether it was going to be alright I figured. That left us two days to check out the delights of Marrakech.
And then Dave decided he was going to buy a bag. Morocco has always been known for its leather products, though not necessarily for their high quality. The search for the perfect weekender was on, intrepid Dave leading the way through the souks. A souk is the type of place you don’t take a shopaholic. Every trinket, handbag, necklace, lamp shade, smoking pipe, copper bath tub, chicken, peppermint leaf and rug that you don’t need is guaranteed to be offered at an amazing once in a lifetime, lucky day of the month, because you have the same name as my brother, New Zealand only price. The second issue with souks that must be managed closely is not getting lost. Think of the most difficult maze you have ever been in and then add a stadium full of people, animals, noise, an overload of smells, kids pointing every direction and a temperature to rival the surface of the sun.

Before we knew it we were hopelessly lost, on the verge of buying half a dozen items that we definitely did not need and slowly feeling the effects of sun stroke. Then we found ourselves on a quick tour out to the tanneries. The only place to get a genuine, ‘high quality’, Moroccan bag apparently. After almost throwing up during a proud showing of the local tannery, Dave did his best to keep some integrity and walked out with not one but two bags and no money. Well done son.

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While Marrakech hums with commerce and lost tourists during the day, by night the town really comes alive. Centred on the central plaza, it is the time when all good Marrakechan’s come out to join the social circuit of food stalls, markets, and street games in a fantastic and somewhat magical carnival atmosphere. This is when I think we both fell in love with Morocco. Sitting down at a food stall amongst the laughing and somewhat wrestling locals, eating plate after plate of beautiful food, taking a leaning position at the nearest juice stall, fresh orange juice squeezed in front of you. The flames of a barbecue, the smells of a spice stall. Fig, prune and date tapas at a dried fruit stall. Cake and spiced tea poured from brass vats. Love it.

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Bags packed, sleep wiped from the eyes, we are met at sparrows fart by a kind gentleman to take us on our overnighter to the desert. Apparently in a bit of a rush, we found ourselves bags and all jogging to keep up with him as he swept through the silent and empty morning alleyways. Packed, and seats found in the mini bus we scooted around town picking up a disturbing number of families from various locations. Things were looking a bit ominous. Maybe this wasn’t a good idea. Sipping away on a fresh coffee and tucking into a croissant, while waiting for our last 4 tour members things turned for the better. Out of the mass of people four beautiful Spanish girls walked up to the van. Things were going to be alright

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The Atlas Mountains are a vast range that cut the length of eastern Morocco, bearing north east into Algeria. During winter they are dusted with snow, during summer they are barren and rocky. Thankfully they are also though cooler than the plains below. Ahead of us we had two 8 hour bus trips. Plenty of time to practise our Spanish! The road was in surprisingly good condition and as we wound our way up the valleys and into the mountain passes, dramatic vistas passed by one after the other.

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We had a number of stops to make along our drive; box tickers I think is a good term. The not so famous Aït-Benhaddou was one of those. A traditional mud brick village in the upper Atlas, it is a UNESCO World Heritage site and an in situ Hollywood film set. Sadly although pretty, it has become a bit of a tourist trap to the extent that you have to pay at the gate to enter the old town. The town was used in Gladiator where old mate Russell was first thrown into the Gladiator ring.

After a long, but interesting bus trip we finally made it to the end of the road. A small oasis cradled in a valley between the mighty mountains and the wild desert, we definitely weren’t in Kansas anymore. You get the impression out here that there is a constant and epic battle of nature; a fight between the sands, the mountains, the vegetation and any waters daring enough to try and hold piece of the earth. The local people out here don’t even pretend that they have control of nature; instead they have a remarkable ability to understand and work within the forces and currents of it all.

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In the mist of a sand storm blowing through the small oasis township that we had arrived in, covering everything and everyone in a fine layer of dust is was time to mount our noble steads for the last leg of the day. Camels are not my favourite animal. They are dirty, smelly, spit, are not overly comfortable, but they are the only long haul transport that you could want over sand. Their grace over a sand dune is something we humans could only dream of.

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As the sun went down over another hot and wild day our caravan walked on. We entered camp in the dark, thankfully setup and ready to go, dinner on cooker. I took the opportunity to walk the sand dunes with my camera. Being out in the wild is always a great feeling for me. It always brings home the feeling of how big the universe is around you, the complexity, yet apparent simplicity of a living system that is constantly evolving around us and the fact that we are not at all in control of it. A bit of a reality check to what the important things in life are instead of the superficial that we somehow fill and clog our lives with!

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I decided to spend the night under the stars, a decision partially in reaction to the tropical tent temperature as well as a bit of a tribute to the living raw philosophy. It was a sandy night out. The next day we parted ways with our camp and in due course our desert caravan for the comforts of a jam packed mini van. We rolled back into Marrakesh that evening with wariness in our eyes but in good spirits of the adventure had. Our savior was the distraction and humour in trying to communicate to our Spanish girls for the 16 hours of driving that we managed to clock up. We continued the night in the same fashion, spending our last night in Morocco knocking back a couple of bottles of wine with the girls.

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Morocco. Epic.

Posted by archerjohn 11:27 Archived in Morocco Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

The July Blues

sunny 35 °C

I have now been in Palma for over two months. Charlie and Lachie left two weeks ago for the pastures of Portugal after giving up here.

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Charlie and Lachies last day. Celebratory cocktails

It has been really tough going. I managed to get 3 weeks work in June on two really great boats, however they have now taken off. So far, July has been really quiet. Yesterday I had my first days work of the month on an amazing 45m Palmer Johnson motor yacht.

Check it out - http://www.palmerjohnson.com/c_gallery.asp?cid=-1503386534

As predicted by some of the older hands here, all the girls get jobs and the guys don't. A statement which has pretty much come true. The stewardess position seem to turn over a lot quicker than the deckhands so there are more jobs going around. I guess cleaning toliets with cotton buds isn't what a lot of girls are expecting. On the other hand, the deckhand position is cherished and are hard to come by. All day in the sun, playing with all the toys like the jet skis and tenders is slightly more appealling I guess.

I am guessing now for me that a permanent position is not going to come up until the end of the season, hopefully on a boat acrossing the Atlantic for the Carribbean season. In the next week I am also finding myself in the position where I need to leave the EU to reissue my 3 month tourist card. So a short trip to Morocco might not be far away. Mum and Dad are now also only three weeks away from arriving in Barcelona. So I am going to take a holiday from job hunting for a month and come back in September. Hopefully to a much busier job market.

Some photos of Palma yet to be posted -

Out sailing a J80 with some mates
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Palma City
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Posted by archerjohn 05:38 Archived in Spain Tagged living_abroad Comments (0)

Going local

Road Tripping Mallorca

sunny 35 °C

We have now a couple of times rented a car to check out some of the sites around the island. Mallorca is quite big, taking about an hour to cross on the motorway. The western side of the island is dominated by a mountain range from north to south, while the east coast is rolling farmland and beaches.

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One of the most spectacular drives I have ever done is along the west coast of the island. Driving from south to north it takes about 6 hours to navigate along the mountain range. The road hugs the mountain sides for the first half of the trip. You wind up and down and around the ridges and bays. Massive cliffs and dramatic views of the ocean the whole way.

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Half way north you head inland to the small old town of Valldemossa, with cobble stoned streets, old churches and wonderful cafes it is a great place to stretch the legs. Catherine Zeta Jones and Michael Douglas have a house in the town, so we popped in quick drink. unfortunately they weren't home.

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From there the road heads down to the seaside town of Sollier, before winding up into the mountains. The northern end of the drive is amongst mountain lakes and winding down through the valleys until you reach the plains again. What a great drive.

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I have to say it was my first proper experience of driving on the other side of the road. A very interesting endeavour that takes a while to get the hang of! I made sure Charlie was my co-pilot double checking all the intersections with me.

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We have done that drive a couple of times now. A really great day away from the city.

Posted by archerjohn 05:30 Archived in Spain Tagged living_abroad Comments (0)

The Social Pages

Palma

sunny 35 °C

Well we might all be unemployed, broke and being constantly rejected, but we sure are having a good time. That is the most important thing. A week after we arrived in Palma, Charlies mate Lachie arrived. Lachie has since become a very good mate of mine, the three of us becoming a little family unit.

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Lachie and I

Friends are never far away in Palma. During our first three weeks living in the hostel, Charlie, Lachie and I soon knew almost everyone in the place, plus half the locals at the yachtie pubs. This island has a completely unporportional amount of South Aricans, Australians and Kiwis stuck on it. The Southern Hemisphere certainly does seem to dominate the industry. Therefore as you can imagine the yachtie bars were always busy and conversation going hundred miles an hour about the cricket or rugby. Saturday mornings at the pub have become a regular start to the day with the Super 14, Lions, Aussies and All Blacks being shown. Pretty tough start to a Saturday, especially when you haven't been home yet!

After three weeks of being here we moved out of the hostel and into an apartment in the old town of Palma. The first time Charlie and I have had a home in 5 months. 5 of us packed into the pad, a small but modern two bedroom studio. Charlie and I took one room, Lachie and our new Australian mate Reidy another, with our last team member Monique taking up temporary residence on the couch. A bit crowded, but it was home and at 45 Euro each a week, we were loving it.

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After signing up with all the recruiters and dock walking every morning we still found ourselves with a lot of time on our hands. We were now also on a very tight budget. We therefore spent a lot of time at the beach. Within 30mins on the bus there are 3 really great beaches to hang out on. Unfortunately no waves, but still very nice beaches. We have had some massive days out. The sun doesn't go down at the moment until 9pm, so we are quite often there until 7pm relaxing the evening away.

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The local beach - Cala Major
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Having a night out in German town....

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notes - we had a little to drink that night, nothing over the top. Happy hour in German town consists of Stiens of Sangria for 2 Euro with 1 metre long straws

Posted by archerjohn 05:22 Archived in Spain Tagged living_abroad Comments (0)

Job hunting

sunny 30 °C

Every May the SuperYachts come alive in the Mediterranean. In packs like migrational birds they cross the Atlantic from the Carribean to the now warmer waters of the Mediterranean. While others after hibernating like bears over winter in the marinas of southern France and Palma, slowly awake and come live.

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After seeking advice from friends in the industry Charlie and I decided to attack Palma over the South of France. While there might not be as many boats, it is more relaxed here and cheaper to live. I was quite excited about coming out here and giving this a go. It is something I have been wanting to do for a few years now. Game on.

I think the whole SuperYacht industry is quite unknown to the outside world and I have been quite surprised how big it is. From crew employment, boat maintenance and building, conceriege, etc, the industry must be worth a billion plus annually around the world. For Charlie and I, we were seeking crew employment as respectable deckhands.

It is quite a lucrative job as a crew member on a SuperYacht and every year I think more and more young people are attracted to the Mediterranean to have a go. Starting wage for a deckhand position is from about 2000 Euro. On a charter boat you also stand to earn really good tips. While this might not be amazing pay, what makes it really good is that being offshore you are not tax liable and all your food and living costs are covered. Captains and Chief Engineers on big yachts earn 10-15,000 Euro monthly. Not bad.

And then there are the yachts. Floating palaces. Starting from 30m plus the current largest is the Motor Yacht 'Dubai' at 166m. Massive. Some of the boats are private and some are for charter.

When we arrived there were a number of private vessels in the vicinty of 50m and the 6th largest SuperYacht in the world, the privately owned Ali Mirqab which is 133m. Charlie and I were down at the docks the morning it came in, she is massive.

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Ali Mirqab arriving

More so than the private boats, the charter boats have really staggered me. To get an idea of the type industry it is, a mid range 50-60m charter boat bare, i.e. not including fuel or food, might charter at $350,000 US a week. Big money. A boat that size has approximately 15 crew. Even smaller boats around 35m, might charter for $50,000 US a week with around 5 crew.

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Charter boat Galaxy

Our goal was to get ourselves onboard as deckhand crew. A fair challenge. The job entails a number of different tasks including fully maintaining the exterior of the boat, basic maintenance like vanishing, mooring and anchorage, and managing watersports for the guests amongst other things.

Finding a job was going to be the hard part. We were not so confidently told when we arrived that it was going to be one of the toughest seasons to start in the industry and that it was going to start late. Although there are a multitude of crew agents to help you find work, this year they had nothing to offer. In addition entry level positions like deckhands are mostly picked up off the docks. Hence a new phrase has entered my life, dock walking. This is the tedious and most hated part of looking for a job for everyone in the industry it seems. I have yet to meet someone who has enjoyed it.

Every morning starts with the same ceremony of walking the docks. Dressed up, cv's in hand it is as simple as asking boat after boat whether they have any work available. It has become one of my most hated activities.

However the longer I have been here the more it is coming down to contacts. Unlike any other industry I have come across, news of a job spreads like wild fire in the SuperYacht world. Thus the more people you know the better your luck is going to be. And you need a lot of luck!

Thankfully to help grow contacts and mates in the industry, there is a very well established process, which Charlie and I are pretty well practised at. The pub. I have meet so many great people at the pub over these last few months. I have picked up quite a few opportunities and day work from the local.

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MY Sanora and MY Vava (next to it) I worked on these two boats for 3 weeks in June
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In the engine room working hard!
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MY Enigma, a 75m private boat which I had an interview on... didn´t get that job unfortunately
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Enigma from the stern

If I were to say anything about being out here, it is that it is mentally challenging. Everyday you are turned down, said no to, boats leave, people around you get jobs and you don't. I have found it really tough sticking it out. Thankfully I have some great mates here to pick me up. You need them.

Posted by archerjohn 05:15 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

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