Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Lisbon, Portugal

Lisbon, Portugal
Thursday, June 3, 2010

We had been told that the entry to Lisbon was beautiful, and it was. Lisbon and many of its suburbs are stretched along the wide Tagus River, and as the ship entered the river, we saw the white buildings of greater Lisbon for miles. As we passed under the 25th of April bridge (the longest suspension bridge in Europe), we were welcomed by the towering Christo Rei monument that stands facing Lisbon across the Tagus River. This monument, constructed in 1959, is a copy of the more famous monument in Rio de Janeiro, which was constructed in 1931. As we sailed a few miles up the river to the port, we passed other landmarks in Lisbon -- the Belem Tower, a former fortress, and the Monument of the Discoveries, to commemorate Portugal’s many discoverers in history -- as well as a skyline filled with churches and cathedrals.

The ship arrived in Lisbon on a national holiday, Corpus Santus, and stores and government buildings were closed. I had intended to mail some things home from the post office at the dock, but it was closed, as were UPS and Federal Express. I had planned to take the hop on/hop off bus to view the city; I enjoy these busses because they go to all the important places and they have audio commentary in English. When I went to breakfast, we saw Gilles and Denise, friends I had met from Montreal, and we spotted the red and yellow busses directly across the street from the port building. We decided to tour together, and after breakfast, we met at the gangway, and we were off.

As we exited the port building to cross the street, a taxi driver who spoke good English approached us and would not take no for an answer. His persistence paid off, and we decided to take his taxi, a Mercedes Benz, for the entire day for only 50 euros each. He promised to take us to far more places than the hop on/hop off bus would take us. He took us first through the old Moorish section of Lisbon, the Alfama, and stopped at the 12th century Se Cathedral, which survived the devastating earthquake of 1755, which destroyed most of Lisbon at that time and killed 30,000 people. We also stopped at the Santa Engracia church with its great dome, which serves as a pantheon for many of the great heroes of Portuguese history.

We then drove up the hill to the Castelo de Sao Jorge, but we did not pay the fee and enter as the most important thing in the Castle is the view of the city, and we chose instead the much better views from the Alto do Parque Belvedere, a beautiful panoramic overlook of the city. We drove through the Baixa section, or Lower Town, and stopped for photos at the “Black Horse” Praca do Commercio, or Commercial Square. We then stopped at the Rossio Square, the location of the National Theater of Dona Maria II as well as shops and outdoor restaurants. I quickly stepped nearby to the Rua August, the beautiful pedestrian street, for a photo. Leading North from the Rossio Square is the 1879-vintage Avenue of Liberty, a beautiful wide boulevard lined with shops and park benches and covered by a canopy of trees. The boulevard reminds one of the Champs Elyses in Paris. The boulevard leads up to the tall monument to the Marquis do Pombal.

From there, we headed out to the little mountainside town of Sintra, about 15 miles away. We wandered through the narrow streets filled with souvenir vendors and stopped at Piriquita, a local patisserie, for Travesseiros de Sintra, a wonderful local pastry. It was hot from the oven and was a perfect lunch, along with coffee. I took photos of the church, but did not pay the fee and enter. The principal visit of the day was just up the mountain from Sintra, the Palacio Nacional da Pena, an incredible mountaintop Moorish fortress that was later used by Spanish kings as a retreat. What an incredible place that was, similar to the Alcazar in Seville. No photos were permitted inside, so I had to buy a CD of photos from the gift shop.

From Sintra, we headed to the beach north of Lisbon from where we would drive along the beach back to Lisbon and the ship. We stopped for a photo at Guincho Beach, where we were almost blown away by the high winds. Because of the holiday and the warm day, the beach was very busy. We then drove through the beautiful beach town of Cascais, formerly a quiet fishing village and now a very upscale beach community of high rise apartments, outdoor restaurants and shops. From there we drove through Estoril, another beach town made famous as the scene of the first James Bond film. Portugal remained neutral during the cold war, and the Hotel Palacio in Estoril was a well-known vacation place for spies from both sides. Ian Fleming visited Estoril and wrote one of his books based on the site. We then drove past Carcavelos Beach, the largest of the public beaches, and it was packed with beachgoers. The traffic was very heavy and slow all through this drive.

We passed through Belem and stopped at the Jeronimos Monastery for a photo; however, the monastery was closed because of the holiday. We were going to stop for a pastry at the famous Pasteis de Belem, but we did not have enough time, nor did we stop at the Belem Tower, a former fortress guarding the mouth of the river. From there, we drove directly to the port, arriving at 4:15, a few minutes of the “all aboard” time of 4:30. It was a great day, and we visited all of the sites that were on all of the ship tours for less than one third the cost. Lisbon is a very beautiful city. I felt that I only touched the surface of Lisbon in our one-day port stop. It would be great to return to Lisbon for a week or more sometime.

Seville, Spain

Seville, Spain
Wednesday, June 2, 2010

The ship offered a bus shuttle to Seville, and I took that, not wanting to go on an organized tour. This was a bus that simply dropped everyone off at a specific location and then took us back to the ship at the end of the day. Seville was about one and one-half hours from the ship, and the pick-up time was 3:00 p.m., so I had time to visit only the two most important sights -- the Alcazar and the Cathedral of Seville. These two sights are directly across from each other, and only a short walk from the bus stop.

The drive to Seville took us through rolling hills of dark, fertile farmland. The crops were still early in the season, and the young shoots were very pretty against the dark soil. The climate is dry, and the irrigation sprinklers filled the fields with little sprays of water. We also passed several other interesting sights -- a group of giant windmills generating electricity, a old Roman viaduct, a huge cathedral on a hill in a very small town. We also saw many stork nests; storks come to this area in the Spring to raise their young (as they also did along the road to Tetouan in Morocco). I tried to get photos out the bus window, but was not very successful.

Seville was controlled by the Moors of Spain for many centuries, and the Moorish influence is very clear in the buildings. The Alcazar was designed as a Moorish fortress in 913 and rebuilt as a palace much later after the Christians gained power. It is a huge building with endless rooms and gardens, each of which were more beautiful than the one before. One simply cannot describe the beauty of each room, courtyard, garden. The beauty is truly stunning. I was there almost two hours, but then had to leave in order to see the cathedral.

I paused for some ice cream at a sidewalk café on a very narrow, pretty street filled with sidewalk cafes and souvenir shops. In the shade, the temperature was very nice, although it was hot in the direct sun. I enjoyed the break, and then headed for the cathedral.

The Cathedral of Seville is 15th century Gothic, and Europe’s third largest cathedral. The guide on the bus said that it is the largest Gothic cathedral in the world. The cathedral was built on the site of a mosque, and the tall minaret is still used as the bell tower for the church. Many people climbed the tower and were shocked by the deafening noise when the dozens of huge bells rang. The cathedral is huge and ornate, and one can get a full description of it on the Internet. I was there the remainder of my time until the cathedral closed at 2:30, when I hurried back to the bus just before 3:00 for the uneventful ride back to the ship. When we arrived back in Cadiz, we were surprised by dense fog, producing eerie sights. Later, the ship faced almost complete loss of vision as it eased out of the port in the fog on its way to Lisbon.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

Tetouan, Morocco

Tetouan, Morocco
Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Another day, another souk! The old souk in Tetouan is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and it was truly great to visit it. I took the ship tour, and it went directly from the pier in Ceuta, Spanish Morocco, the short distance of 40 kilometers to Tetouan. As we left Ceuta, which is Spain, we had to go through the Spanish checkpoint at the border with Morocco, and to keep things simple, the procedure was to give the Spanish authorities our passports and then pick them back up as we reentered Spain. That procedure caused some apprehension, as we were reluctant to give our passports to anyone else; however, the tour guide assured us that the procedure had been used for years, and was okay. It worked out fine in the end.

As we left Ceuta, the guide pointed out a long line of people on foot entering Ceuta from Morocco. He said that these people have a job, and the line is related to their job. Ceuta is a free port, so there are no taxes on items bought there up to a certain value. These people were hired by merchants to go into Ceuta and purchase certain items -- shoes, dresses, luggage, everything -- and take it back across the border to be resold by the merchants in Morocco. They made trip after trip all day every day making purchases up to the value limit, and taking the items back across into Morocco, only to return again for another load. There were thousands of people performing this service, and it appeared that most of them were women. A very interesting sight; however, I was unable to photograph the sight as no photographs were permitted at the border.

Once we were inside Morocco, the entire distance of about 20 kilometers between Ceuta and Tetouan was one long -- very upscale -- beach resort area. Club Med has the largest building on this coast, and there are many other resorts and developments all catering to people on holiday. This area is the most well known, highly regarded coastal holiday area in Morocco, and perhaps on the entire North African coast. People from all over the Muslim world visit this area on holiday. The road seemed new, and extensive landscaping was underway in preparation for the upcoming summer holiday season. The guide said that the area would be packed with people within a couple more weeks. It was a truly beautiful area, especially with all the landscaping, including a beautiful, long promenade along the coast.

Once in Tetouan, we went directly to the souk, and we spent the remainder of our time there. We had just spent the previous day in the souk in Marrakech, so the comparison was inevitable. We found the souk in Marrakech more extensive and somehow “older”, but the people selling wares in the souk in Tetouan were friendlier and more willing to let us take their photo. People on the street were also friendly, and many of them permitted me to take a photo of them. I got much better photos in Tetouan than in Marrakech.

One other difference was that many of the people in Tetouan were Berbers; they wore distinctive clothing. We did not find Berbers in Marrakech, although some Berbers do live in Marakech; in fact, Berber is one of the principal languages in Marrakech. A word about clothing. Our guide told us that only in Morocco do people wear a “jelaba”, which is a robe that has a hood. He said that Romans wore these garments when Rome ruled what is now Morocco, and the Berbers started wearing the garment at that time. The jelaba is worn both by men and women, although mostly by men. The guide said that a man’s jelaba is inexpensive, but a woman’s jelaba is very expensive because of the difference in the fabric used. A man’s jelaba is functional, while a woman’s jelaba is stylish.

One other fact about Morocco -- it is a large country, larger than Spain and France combined. Morocco has a population of over 34 million, less than either Spain or France. The new king of Morocco, who is young and was educated in Britain and the U.S., is promoting economic growth in Morocco, and that economic growth is evident everywhere, with road and building construction going on at a very rapid pace. The king has a goal of greatly upgrading the highway system in Morocco, and the results are very evident.

As we left the port, our next port of call was Cadiz, which is in a westerly direction, back out of the mouth of the Mediterranean Sea. The Captain sailed the ship directly across the mouth of the Mediterranean close to Gibraltar so we could get a good look at Gibraltar as we sailed by. It was very nice to see it. However, Gibraltar sits at one end of a bay, and all the other territory around the bay is in Spain. We noticed a yellow cloud across the bay, and we noticed a dozen or more smoke stacks billowing yellow smoke, all coming from the Spanish part of the bay.

Marrakech, Morocco

Marrakech, Morocco
Monday, May 31, 2010

Salama sent an email message that our driver would pick us up at the pier at 7:00, and we were the first ones off the ship. We saw a line of cars and vans picking up passengers, but our driver was not there. Some other passengers were also missing their drivers and we learned that there was a hold-up for some reason, and some drivers were not getting through the gate to the pier. After 15 minutes, we saw a line of drivers coming to the pier, and our driver was the first one. His name was Yassin. We hopped in, and off we went to Marrakech.

The day was cool and clear, and the humidity was low. It was a perfect day. Bas had looked up the forecast temperature in Marrakech, and he reported a temperature of 100 F was forecast. We were dressed in cool clothes, ready for the day. We also knew that we would be inside the air conditioned van, so we were not concerned. It felt good to be in Casablanca again. We were in a hurry to get through the traffic and get on the road to Marrakech, but we faced morning rush hour traffic as people were on their way to work, and the going was slow. I enjoyed seeing the wide boulevards lined with palm trees, and I enjoyed seeing the different manner of dress of the women. We saw women completely covered except their eyes, and we saw women wearing jeans and tops, with no head scarves. Our driver, Yassin, proudly told us that Morocco is very tolerant of all manner of dress; he said that many women wear western-style of dress. We saw many women in slacks of one type or another (lots of jeans), but no dresses or skirts and blouses.

After half an hour, we exited Casablanca and entered a toll road to Marrakech. It was smooth sailing from then on; there was little traffic on the road that was completed only seven years ago, in 2003. The scenery was very flat farmland; rolling hills and dark, rich soil. The scene was very pretty, and it was unchanged for almost two hours until we reached the river; after that, the land was quite different -- very arid and rocky and not used much for farming. We saw many small herds of sheep, goats, and some milk cows. With each herd, one or two herders were present watching over them. We never see herders with herds of animals in America, so the sight was interesting. After the river, we also came upon very small walled towns, and Yassin said that the towns were inhabited by poor farmers and sheep herders. Every one of the towns or buildings had electricity, and many buildings had a TV dish on its roof.

After three hours, we reached Marrakech, and it was very different from what I had imagined. Marrakech is a very flat town, and it is very modern and very prosperous. As we entered the city of one million, we saw many new apartment buildings and many new homes. I was expecting the city to be a “red” city, with buildings the color of the “red” soil; however, the soil is not as red as I expected, and the buildings are a reddish tan color, rather than the deeper red color I had expected. Marrakech seemed very French to me with its wide boulevards and many buildings with balconies. The city feels very modern, and Yassin proudly boasted that Marrakech is the most modern city in Morocco; “Until you have seen Marrakech, you have not seen Morocco,” he said. Although most women wore head scarves, few of them wore abayas, and almost none had their faces covered. Motor bikes were everywhere, and were a menace in traffic, but cars were also everywhere.

We picked up Salama at a hotel, and we went directly to the medina. We entered through the Bab el Jdid gate and walked to the Koutoubia Mosque, which dates from the early 12th century. Yassin then drove us to the “back” side of the souk area, where we visited the intricately ornate Ali ben Youssef Medersa, the former Islamic school. What a beautiful marvel that building is. We then entered the souks, where we spent most of our time in Marrakech. Salama led us through one area after another, and we took as many photos as we could take. Salama had told us that if we wanted to take photos of people, we should ask them first; some would permit photos and others would not. Some would ask for a small amount of money for a photo, and Salama agreed to give them a coin each time we asked him to. We also gave coins to some of the ones who agreed to let us photograph them. We got dozens of photos of the souk and of people in the souk. We hope some of the photos will be good.

After a time, Salama took us to a Berber rug weaving store, and we looked at many beautiful rugs as we drank soft drinks. After a time, we worked our way through the souks to the great square in the medina, Djemaa el Fna, where we bought some dates, which were incredibly delicious. We then sat on an upstairs outdoor balcony restaurant and drank soft drinks as we watched the scene below. Snake charmers, fortune tellers, monkey trainers, and all sorts of people selling all sorts of items. It was truly a carnival. Many people said that the square is far busier and more interesting in the evenings. Our time was drawing short and we had to leave much too soon. As we exited the medina to join the van, we looked down many streets to see one incredible view after another, and we knew that we must go back to Marrakech to absorb the city more fully. Salama took us to one last gate, the beautiful Bab Agnanou, for a photo, and we had to leave the medina to head back to Casablanca. We dropped Salama back at the hotel, and we were off.

The drive back did not seem as long as the drive over, but it lasted more than three hours. When we got back to Casablanca, we had time to drive by the great Hassan II mosque for a photo, and then Yassin returned us to the ship. The day was truly great, and we must return to Marrakech some day.

Friday, June 04, 2010

Funchal, Madeira Island

Funchal, Madeira Island, Portugal
Saturday, May 29, 2010

What a great city Funchal is. The weather was perfect -- sunny and cool with low humidity. It was a perfect day. I took the shuttle into the city where I spotted the red hop on/hop off bus, and boarded with no delay. I made the complete circle of the bus route without getting off; I just sat on the upper deck and enjoyed the views of the city as we listened to the English description on the bus audio. Funchal is built on the side of a steep hill, like Positano, Italy, and so many other cities, and the bus wound its way along narrow streets up the side of the hill until it reached Pico dos Barcelos at 355 meters, or about 1100 feet in altitude. The bus paused for photos of the great views of the city and the port below.

Funchal is a very modern city and a very prosperous one. The houses are all white with orange tile roofs. The city is very clean, with no litter, and it is quite upscale. Funchal feels good. It is easy to see why Funchal has been welcoming tourists for more than 100 years, and many Europeans have apartments in Funchal as so many Americans have apartments in Florida. A forest of high rise apartment buildings looks out on the ocean, and dozens of new ones are under construction. The sidewalk cafes, the mosaic tiled sidewalks, the pedestrian streets throughout the “downtown” area -- all these things make visitors feel good about being in Funchal, along with the beautiful weather, of course. The one drawback to tourism is the lack of beaches. While Tenerife has numerous beautiful beaches, Madeira has none. Therefore, far more tourists, particularly young people, go to Tenerife than to Madeira. On the other hand, I feel better in Madeira than in Tenerife. The main source of income in Madeira is tourism, and it is evident that tourism is adequate to support a prosperous economy.

Along the hop on/hop off route, the bus passed many monuments; Funchal seems to love monuments and has many at traffic circles throughout the city. These monuments are great sculptures, great works of art, rather than simply statues honoring dignitaries of the past. One exception is the statue of “Cici” of Austria, one of the many dignitaries who have visited Funchal. Like many others, she visited Funchal as a way of treating a respiratory ailment in the days before antibiotics. I tried to take photos of some of the monuments as the bus passed, but was not very successful. Similarly, I tried to take photos of some of the churches and other beautiful buildings, but was not very successful. One of the common sights in Funchal is elderly people sitting outdoors in the beautiful weather drinking coffee and reading a newspaper. Funchal invites leisure activities and peaceful strolls.

After completing the hop on/hop off bus route, I walked nearby to the base station of the cable car that leads to the top of the hill. I learned that I needed cash, and I was told that I could find an ATM machine at the food market, so I walked there, a few blocks away. While there, I wandered through the market, which was extremely busy on a Saturday. The market is a separate two-story building, with a separate area for the fish market. I looked at fruits and vegetables and beautiful flowers, taking photos all along. We sampled sweet juicy fruit, and enjoyed the scene at the fish market. It was a happy scene, and a busy one, like all markets, and I got a few photos.

After leaving the food market, I walked along a main shopping street for a short distance, but found that I was not interested in seeing the store fronts. As I walked back toward the cable car station, I passed through a flea market, which is set up in a pretty square and is open only on Saturdays. This market turned out to be a craft market of hand crafted jewelry, and I was not interested, although I did take a few photos.

Next I took the cable car, which climbs 550 meters (almost 1900 feet) up the mountain, and the views were spectacular. I took many photos of the city from the vantage point of the cable car as it made its way up. When I exited, I walked a short distance to the church of Nossa Senhora do Monte and climbed the steep staircase to take a photo inside the church. Then I got to the highlight of the day -- the basket toboggan ride down the mountain. Wow! Basket sleds guided by two drivers on the rear slide people down a steep paved path half way down the mountain. It is quite a thrill to sit in a basket sled and glide along a slick, narrow, paved path at a very fast rate, sometimes seemingly out of control. The basketeers turn the basket sideways to increase the friction of the sleds and slow the basket to keep it from gaining too much speed, and sliding sideways only adds to the thrill of the slide. The ride last about 15 minutes, and it was great! They have been doing that sled ride for more than 100 years -- one of Funchal’s most famous attractions.

After returning to the base of the mountain, I wandered along back streets enjoying the beautiful mosaic sidewalk patterns and beautiful decorations in the narrow pedestrian streets until I came to one of the main squares with numerous sidewalk cafes. I saw an open table at one of the most attractive restaurants and decided to stop for a snack and watch the people in the square. Some of the ship personnel were also at other tables, and I enjoyed chatting with them and taking a few photos of them before going on.

I then stopped in a shop selling lace and bought a beautiful lace tablecloth with yellow and green embroidery patterns as a gift for Bas and Monique. I hope it will fit in one of their houses. As I was leaving the shop, I spotted Gilles and Denise, a couple I met on the ship from Montreal, and walked with them along the waterfront promenade until we hopped into a taxi to return to the ship. What a wonderful day I had in Funchal, where I could happily return for a peaceful vacation someday.

Tenerife, Canary Islands

Tenerife, Canary Islands
Friday, May 28, 2010

What a beautiful island Tenerife is. It is like a European Hawaii. Tenerife is a volcanic island, dominated by the dormant volcano, Mount Teide, which soars 12, 300 feet high. Mount Teide is Spain’s highest peak, and has been designated a World Heritage Site. Tenerife seems to be an older island than the Canary Islands because it has topsoil and it is very green. The high peak also results in abundant rainfall on the north slopes.

Although Tenerife has natural beauty, its beauty is mostly man made. Beautiful, well-kept roads; well planned landscaping and beautiful plants everywhere; beautiful, colorful houses; almost manicured fields of banana plants and vineyards; everywhere one looks, one sees a beautiful scene, and the scenes were created because people created them. And never an electric line. Tenerife shows that beauty is a choice, and it is so nice to be in such a beautiful place. Tenerife is completely modern and upscale. Tourism is the principal economic activity; over five million tourists visit the island each year, mostly from Europe.

Bas has had a home in Alfaz del Pi, Spain, for the past 30 years, and he has lived there part time during that time. He was “home” in Spain in Tenerife, and he wanted to drive. Monique had arranged for a rental car to be picked up at the airport in La Laguna -- the north Tenerife airport. We met for breakfast, and then were the first passengers to leave the ship after clearance at 8:00 a.m. The drive to the airport in a taxi was only a few minutes, and we were off for the day. We first traveled to Puerta de la Cruz, a beautiful seaside town on the north shore of the island that has been Tenerife‘s premier resort since the 19th century. After parking the car, we went for a walk in the cool, sunny early morning, and stopped for coffee at a beautiful seaside outdoor restaurant. What a great feeling to sit outside in beautiful surroundings and chat and have coffee. We then went for a walk through the narrow, pedestrian streets. Photos were everywhere.

Monique had read that another town on the coast, Garachica, had recently designated a World Heritage Site, so we drove there next. Garachica is also a very beautiful little town, much smaller than Puerta de la Cruz. We walked through the town and visited the two very old churches, and then we stopped for lunch at an outdoor restaurant directly beside the sea. It was beautiful.

We then had only enough time left to drive back for a walk through La Laguna, also a World Heritage Site, before returning the rental car and returning to the ship. La Laguna is a larger, working town, and quite busy, and the World Heritage Site is the “old town”. We enjoyed our walk through, and then hurried back to the airport to return the car. A quick taxi ride took us back to the ship just in time, and we enjoyed taking photos of the sail-away along the coast.

Tenerife is a very beautiful island, and it is easy to understand why Europeans go there for a restful holiday. It really does remind one of Hawaii.

Mindelo, Cape Verde Islands

Mindelo, Sao Vicente, Cape Verde Islands
Tuesday, May 25, 2010

What a misnomer! A black rock jutting out of the ocean with virtually no green anywhere is called “Verde”! I will have to check Wikipedia when we get home to learn the history of naming a black rock “Green”; perhaps other islands in the chain are green. As we entered the harbor, I was reminded very strongly of Oman; there is a striking similarity between the two places. Mindelo is situated on a bay, with hills all around. Black hills. The volcanic island is “new” geologically, with little top soil on the black volcanic rock.

Mindelo, or as locals say, “Windelo”, is a very small town on a very small island, and what a difference from the places we had just visited in Africa. The air was cool -- about 75 degrees -- and the humidity was very low, and the wind was blowing at gale force. We were told that the winds blow strongly almost all of the time. I was reminded of Aruba. Cape Verde is a territory of Portugal, and Portuguese is the language spoken.

Cape Verde is middle class modern; people have homes and cars and dress well. It is 21st century. Children attend school, and there are colleges and a university for students, as well. No more abject poverty; our cruise has now exited the past and returned to the present, with some loss of “difference” and interest. One often finds “different” to be more interesting than the images one sees at home. Mindelo is a small town with a small town feeling. The principal activity of the island seems to be fishing and daily food shopping, although with modern electricity, there is little need for women to shop daily for food.

I went with Bas and Monique as usual, and we all decided to take a taxi. We walked off the pier and were immediately approached by a horde of taxi drivers. Bas and I had previously agreed to try to find one with a good car and one who spoke English well. The first one who approached us was about the same size as Bas, and both had premature bald heads; they were very similar, and amusingly so. Joseph spoke English well, and he offered a taxi that would hold seven people -- five hours for 50 Euros. We agreed, and we were off. Bas made sure that Joseph understood that we wanted to see “the people” and not buildings. Joseph sat in back and was our tour guide, and another person whose name I never got was the driver. He spoke no English, but was very friendly.

First we stopped at a vegetable market; it was small and lacked activity and interest of markets in previous stops, but it was colorful. Bas climbed up on a table to take a photo, and the table almost fell, to everyone’s delight. Because he had entertained the people, he was then permitted to take any photo he wanted. In general, he gains permission to take photos of people by being such a friendly, entertaining fellow; he gets people smiling and laughing with him.

We walked a half-block to the fish market, and Joseph said that because of high winds, the catch had been light. There was little activity, but we did take a few photos. We then walked along the waterfront of the marina to another food market, the main municipal food market. The building was a pretty two-story building, but it had little activity. In general, few people were on the streets, and we saw few people all day in Mindelo. When I asked Joseph the reason, he said that most people were at work, and inside. We took a few photos at the market, and then took off on our driving tour of the island.

The town was colorful; buildings were painted in bright colors, rather than being all white, and we stopped the taxi to try to take photos of the colorful buildings. We then drove to the top of one of the surrounding hills to take photos overlooking the town. Later, we drove to the top of another hill for more “overlook” photos. The photos were okay, but not spectacular, and we were already getting the impression that good photos would be difficult to find on the island.

Next, Joseph took us out of the town toward Monte Verde, the dark volcanic mountain that has no green but is named “Verde” and rises 750 meters (about 2500 feet) into the sky. We noticed immediately that the roads were made of the black volcanic rock, and they were like driving on cobble stones; the ride was very rough both in town and on the road out of town. We also noticed the bleakness of the landscape, with no trees or vegetation anywhere. Joseph told us that the island is very arid; there are two “rainy months”, July and August, but little rain falls even during those months.

We zig-zagged our way up the side of the mountain to a very high level and took photos back down toward the town; we were able to see the ship well, but the day was hazy, and the photos from that distance did not work. As we drove, we saw nothing but hard, black volcanic rock everywhere. Houses were built sporadically, and stood out in stark contrast to their black, bleak surroundings. There were virtually no plants, even near the houses. The wind was blowing very hard; when we got out of the car to take photos, the wind was difficult to deal with.

After descending the mountain, we drove to the opposite side of the island to an even smaller village on “Catfish Bay”. One of the ship’s tour busses was there, and a buffet lunch had been set up on the wide, flat strip of land. A jetty had been built far out into the bay, and some of the passengers had walked out to the end. We decided not to stay, and continued our drive. We passed a group of colorful fishing boats, and we stopped and walked out a distance of perhaps 100 yards to get some close-up photos of the only color we had seen, and virtually the only activity we had seen.

Joseph then took us along the coast line on a new road that was very pretty. This road was paved and smooth, and was a welcome change from the rough, rocky roads everywhere else. We noticed large sand dunes, and Joseph told us that the dunes were sand from the Sahara Desert, blown there by the wind. The sand was light in color, and stood starkly against the black rock of the island. We speculated that eventually the sand would cover the island, making it resemble the sand dunes of Namibia. We stopped at a small restaurant called “Hamburg”, and had soft drinks. A lunch had been set up for a ship tour, and we departed just as they were arriving.

Our route back to Mindelo took us through one of the valleys, and we noticed that this valley seemed to be the only place on the island where a little top soil had accumulated. Small garden plots had been laid out by many people, each with its own small windmill to draw up water for irrigation. Palm trees had been planted near the water reminding us of photos of oases in the desert. We took a few photos as we drove along.

Joseph returned us to the pier about 1:00 p.m., after only four hours, but we felt that we had seen everything that the island had to offer. The town was closing for its afternoon “siesta” until 3:00, and we decided to return to the ship and take the ship’s shuttle back to town later for a last walk before departing. Later, I took the shuttle back into the town for a walk, but felt that there really was nothing more to see of this little place. Like small towns in America, many of the children leave the island to attend school elsewhere and never return, or they leave for other places seeking work. The town seems stable, but will remain small as there is little to attract either visitors or permanent residents.

Dakar, Senegal

Dakar, Senegal
Sunday, May 23, 2010

At 6:00 a.m., I looked out the balcony door to see that we were entering the port of Dakar; it was a large port, like entering the mouth of a river. The world had changed; suddenly, we were back in civilization again. As the light of dawn slowly emerged, I could see that we were in a real city, with real buildings, high rise buildings. Cars were passing on the streets. I felt excited to be in Dakar, the destination of many European tourists. As I stood on the balcony, I could also feel the cool, dry air, and it felt good to have left the heat and humidity behind.

Monique had arranged a tour guide for Dakar, and when she called him on her cell phone, he was already at the pier waiting for us. She called to say that we would exit the ship as soon as we were given clearance, so we hurried through breakfast to be ready to go as soon after 7:00 a.m. as possible. Jerome would not be our guide himself; he had a van and driver, and he introduced us to Oussey, who would be our guide. Monique gave him half the agreed upon price of 300 euros, and we were off.

Bas explained to Oussey that we were not interested in buildings, but people. Take us to where the people are. Well, that turned out to be somewhat difficult because we were in Dakar on Sunday, and most of the city was closed. The streets were almost empty, and Oussey explained that we were lucky because we would not normally be able to get through the traffic congestion. We stopped first at the beautiful train station, located next to the port. The station was closed on Sunday, but we took photos of the elegant façade and we peeked through the fence to see the old trains still in service.

Next, Oussey took us past the Place de L’Independence, the center of Dakar, to the President’s house for photos, and I was struck at how much like the White House it looked. We had fun taking photos of the guard at the gate, who was dressed like the guards in London. We also took photos of some of the girls selling souvenirs nearby.

After leaving the President’s house, Oussey took us on a drive along the coast through a very wealthy area with beautiful large homes, including some of the homes of high-ranking government officials and homes of ambassadors to Senegal from other countries. We stopped on an overlook for several photos looking back toward the city. France controlled Senegal for more than 100 years. Dakar did not exist until the French decided to develop a port at this site, and built Dakar on undeveloped land. Thus, France was able to plan the city in their own style, and the French influence is everywhere. The streets were wide and beautiful, with large trees forming a shady canopy across them. I was reminded of Paris, and Senegal has adopted the French attitude toward beauty, promoting art and culture. How wonderful it is to be in a place that values beauty.

Next stop, Dakar’s central cathedral. It was confirmation Sunday, and many, many girls were outside the church in their white dresses looking very pretty. Bas waded in and began to take dozens of photos, laughing and playing to get them to smile. I was much more shy about taking photos of girls outside the church. We walked into the entrance of the church, but a service was underway, and I was quiet. Oussey told us “no photos in the church”, so Bas was the only one who got a good photo inside.

Oussey then took us along Route de la Corniche Est, the beautiful street along the eastern corniche or cliffs.

To be completed later.