It would be easy to assume that an 800km Camino can fit within the 30 or 40 days that some of the guidebooks suggest. After all – some people do it in 20 or even less and quite a number of our friends certainly did it in those time limits. But, after reading a few accounts of the journey and recognising the endless possibillities for injury, illness, weather and fiestas, we decided to give ourselves a few spare weeks so that we could cope with these intangibles along the way – and visit a fiesta or two (provided they weren’t just rumours!)
As a result the 48 days we actually took included about 6 rest days that coincided with the odd fiesta and allowed me in particular to actually complete the walk. I am confident husband could have proven to be quite a speed demon had I not slowed him down – although he did suffer a few aches and pains, he never had a serious injury at all and not even one blister! Had my beloved husband not been by my side I am not sure how I would have finished either – remember the two backpacks he carried? – although I do think I may have taken it a little easier for the first week heading into Pamplona – you remember don’t you? In empathy with slaves….
Anyway whilst still feeling the glow of success, and knowing we now had a bit of time up our sleeves before our actual holiday in Malta began, we headed off to Portugal for a couple of days and selected Porto as our first stop. Sadly the hostel we picked was full when we arrived and we had to book into a more expensive hotel. Sad for a moment that is, the hotel was called the AS 1829 and just happened to be absolutely superb – claw foot bath in the corner of the living area, air con with soundproof windows that opened out to let us see the action, right on the main strip just up from the river. The girls at the hostel were so sorry for us because we had to pay double! Sad I was not! Claw foot bath, view of the action, 2 mins to the river front. Sometimes not planning has its benefits.
Porto was a lovely place to visit although it was very busy. Because we only had a short time we thought we’d do the tourist bus that came with a visit and tasting at a Port cave. Only trouble was we had one day and had to catch the train at 4.30 – the only English tour was at 3.30pm. The lovely lady at the front counter snuck us in to the port cave to tag along behind a private tour in Spanish. We felt a little out of place but trotted along behind pretending we were one of them. All was well until the tour guide wanted to take a group photo. One of the participants hid behind us – we thought she was a ring in too! Anyway there’s a whole bunch of Spanish people out there somewhere with a lovely group photo with two Port tasting Crashers smiling in the crowd!
We then hit a high speed train and headed to Lisbon or Lisboa for those in the know (Melissa) and spent two nights in the Heritage Hotel there. Lisbon again is a beautiful city with plenty of history. We only really had one full day so we headed straight for St Georges Castle and meandered back through the city catching a tram and a couple of taxis and walking of course! (What’s new?)
My plotting and scheming to get to Morocco was almost a failure until I realised we could fly direct from Lisbon and then head back to Spain from Morocco. We would have had two nights and two full days in Lisbon but the flight was early afternoon. Two nights isn’t too bad in this part of the world as the cities come alive at night because its so darn hot during the day. We headed to the airport at lunchtime and after checking in and clearing customs we relaxed in the coffee shop waiting for our flight. About half hour before the departure time we decided to head for the gate only to discover we hadn’t actually passed through passport clearance – even though we’d shown our passports to numerous important people. The line up was huge and we panicked that we would miss our flight. “Don’t worry” said the attendant “the flight to Marrakesh is delayed”. Well five hours later we finally boarded the flight! Would have been a nice day in Lisbon too.
I had booked a cheap Riad in Marrakesh (a sort of private home with a rooftop terrace and beautiful centre courtyard with spa pool and garden) and emailed them to arrange a pickup. I was glad I could contact them and rearrange a pickup time. Thank heavens for that as finding a Riad in the Medina was almost impossible. Even though someone was handing out sim cards at the airport with free calls and data for the first week. Google maps has no idea what’s going on in Marrakesh – and some of the streets must be 1000 years old. The Riad made me feel like I was in an episode of I dream of Jeanie – or in a harem in an old hollywood movie! A medina is actually an old city and includes hundreds of riads along with the souks, mosques and all sorts of businesses and homes for the locals. Its also where the Kasbah is – I understand it is the walled fortress that probably was home to someone important in years past. We didnt really want to go visiting all the old buildings as it was the people and the current way of life that was of more interest to us. As it turned out it was the end of Ramadan the day we arrived and the first two nights we were there was when they all came out to party and during the day many of the souks and shops were closed.
We managed to catch a few street performers which included snake charmers, local musicians, african dancers and general chaos. The constant “look here” “what price you want” etc etc was not overly relaxing but we did take a ride in a horse and cart around the old city wall and managed to eat some fantastic food.
Highlights for me would probably be the hammam and participating in the cooking class at the Maison Arabe cooking school – I couldnt take my sister Ellen whom I am sure would have felt right at home in the Masterchef setup, so my beloved husband agreed to participate and he excelled in Tagine of Chicken and Lemon (with extra chilli of course). Cant wait to try it again at home!
The hammam is an interesting concept. It is a traditional steam bath where you are heated and scrubbed to within a millimetre of the end of your skin! You actually come out feeling quite cool and relaxed. All when the temperature outside is in the high 40’s! In fact on our last day we were told it was over 50 degrees celcius! I felt somewhat unwell from the heat and husband was extremely tired. Lets just say we were a little hot. Thank heavens we didn’t have to walk 20kms and the lovely ladies in the Riad Zouini let us stay until we were ready to catch our train the last night.
In order to ensure the adventure continued we decided to catch the Marrakech express backwards to Tangier! Stay tuned for the next episode….
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