A Travellerspoint blog

April 2008

Morocco to El Aaiuñ (Sub-Sahara) I

Camels and Cabarets

sunny 45 °C

I have lived in the Canary Islands for 25 years, the best time of my life, the happiest time of my life I had in these Fortunate Islands. I went there in 1963 and in 1988 I moved to Malaga. Before that I lived and worked in Gibraltar and went to Morocco often.

In the year 1966 I left my job in Las Palmas and started my own business. But the wanderlust in my veins was very strong and I traveled for some months in Europe, visiting France, Italy, Austria, Germany, Holland and the U.K. I can safely say, without any false vanity, that until now I have not found a refuge in my life.

Around 1966 I came to know a business man who had recently settled in Las Palmas. He came from a country neighboring Spain. He rented a shop in the main business center, paid a hefty premium in cash, thus spreading the rumor that he was loaded.

At that time there was not much business with El Aaiuñ, the Capital city of Sub-Sahara which was under
Spanish control. General Franco was still alive and Spanish foreign Legion was stationed there. But the trade was growing and it was not infrequent to see men in long robes, heads covered with turbans and indeed Tuareg with their blue and white gowns, heads and faces covered, drinking tea in the shops and doing large purchases. At that time if a businessman wanted to visit El Aaiuñ, which was seldom and required a good reason, needed a special permit from Madrid. There was only one flight a week, going and coming back the very same day.

This business man was the first to increase trade with sub-Saharan market and had, without the general knowledge of many, opened a Cabaret in El Aaiuñ. A very strange and puzzling prospect indeed. One day I was sitting with him in his office (my office was in front on the other side of the street) and he casually asked me if I knew some one who would be interested in making some money, transporting some stuff to the sub-Saharan Capital.

I told him that indeed I knew such a person, and if he could give me some more details about this deal, I will talk to that person. He however, asked me to bring that person along and he will tell us both about the trip. So I spoke with this man, who was a friend, unemployed, married with a small child and I thought reasonably that he would be indeed interested. So one day soon after that we gathered in my office and over whiskey & soda, the businessman unraveled his proposal.

He told us that he had charted a boat in Casablanca to transport camels to Al Aaiuñ and he needed some person whom he could trust, to go along with the cargo. That he had persons of confidence who will take delivery. That he will pay good lump sum money for the trip. Now this friend of mine did not know any body in Casablanca and nothing at all about buying camels in Morocco. So we all had a good laugh and had some more whiskey and asked him as to who was going to procure the camels and why go to such lengths when camels could be bought somewhere in the Canary Islands and it was just a hop from Las Palmas to El Aaiuñ. He told us that he needed 48 camels and such number was not readily available in the islands, moreover they would come from Morocco anyway. As to who was going to buy the camels, would I be interested to go along and find some one whom I knew well to buy the camels? So we had some more laughs and splashed some more whiskey & soda in the glasses. It is not every day that such an offer comes along. Had he asked me to ride a camel caravan laden with salt to sell in Timbuktu, I would have jumped at the very idea. My heart missed a few beats.

Posted by The Islander 07:00 Archived in Morocco Tagged air_travel Comments (0)

St. Blaise of Switzerland

sunny 34 °C

From Neuchátel to St. Blaise is as easy as finding your destination in the dark, if you are driving, following the white line on the road. By the time you have your morning fill of the Jura mountains, you go down the slope and turn left to the huge parking space and the lake.

St. Blaise, Biagio or San Blas (as he is known) was the physician Bishop of Sebaste in Armenia who lived (c316) in a cave on Mount Argeus. He was the healer of men and animals and according to legend, sick animals would come on their own to his cave, to be cured.

Armenians are Christians and were persecuted even in the Roman times. There is still a huge controversory in Turkey about the Ottomans' genocide of Armenian christians before and after the First World War. In Roman times, Gnaueus Julius agricola, the Roman General and politician, who was the governor of Cappadocia, came to Sebasste to persecute Christians.

Bishop Blaise was arrested and Agricola tried to force him to renouce his faith and accept Roman Gods. On his refusal, Bishop Blaise was thrown into a lake to drown but he survived, standing upon the surface of the water and challanged his Roman persecuters to do the same, to prove that their Gods were as powerful as his own. Naturally they drowned. So when he returned to the solid ground, he was arrested, tortured and his flesh beaten and torn with wool brushes, then beheaded. For this reason he is worshipped by the Wool Merchants in Italy and Dalmatia (Croatia) and there are churches to his name in many countries. His memorial is celebrated on 3rd of February.

The wool trade in Italy was centered in Florence (Fiorenza! the City of Flowers) which was the capital of Tuscany) and employed thousands of workers. Although other industries like making of wine etc developed later, wool trade was the main industry. Merino sheep was imported from scotland and Merino wool even today is world famous for its purity.

St. Blaise in switzerland, named in honour of martyred Bishop, has a special charm. We parked our car in the almost empty parking area, there were three or four caravans standing on their parking lot and when I went to use the toilet, a man standing outside kindly told me that I could drink the water from the tap. Water was cool and refreshing.

Thus refreshed, we turned towards the lake, on our right a small semi-circle of a sandy beach, the beautiful mountains hovering overhead, beautiful houses perched on its slopes. The place had an atmosphere of complete calm and romance, which immediately put an spell on us. The morning was hot and we took off our clothes and dipped in the water with total abandon. Although we stayed on the beach for quite some time, only one solitary woman came to swim. No other bathers.

Straight ahead is the landing for boats and as we were gazing at the lake,a big boat/ferry came to the pier and some passangers got off. It was apparent that you could travel by boat to other destinations around the lake. Go visiting your friends and relatives, do some shopping.

On our left was a small harbour for boats, there were many boats berthed and people on board, some having breakfast. Every body greeted us and we returned their greetings. As if we were not visitors but well known acquintances. Where ever we went in switzerland, people in a friendly manner. Another nice and surprising thing was that we saw no nudity on the beaches, no scanty clad youngsters on any camp sites. In fact we saw no girls with a short short top or a mini skirt.

We were so enchanted with the beach, the lake and the mountains that we stayed there until late in the afternoon, and missed going up to the town center. So later we took to the road again.

But even now when I am writing about st. Blaise and remeber the mismerising effect of Bernese mountain range and the perfect soothing calm of St. Blaise, right now, I would rather be there than here in Germany.


Posted by The Islander 13:05 Archived in Switzerland Tagged automotive Comments (0)

Neuchátel and Chaumont. Switzerland

Lakes And Mountains

Neuchátel is barely 15 kms from Biel, driving was easy and we did not lose the view of mountain ranges on one side and the lakes on the other. The population is about 34,000 and the town is sitting comfortably between the mountains and the lakes, which, as is mentioned by people there, promoted Alexander Dumas to describe it as a "Toy Town carved out of butter". I do not know if it was Dumas pere, the great French historian and writer of classics "Count of Monte Cristo" and "Three Musketeers" etc., or was it Dumas fils, who wrote "Lady of Camelias" and "La Traviata", on whose theme the world famous Opera by Giuseppe Verdi was written. I could not find out about this in the town. But to us Neuchátel also reminded us of Sibenik and Split in Crotia, its main street full of shops and cafes, the region dotted with waterfalls, snowy mountains and wide lakes.

The lingua franca in Nauchátel is French, its architecture is French and many of its mid 17-18th century buildings are painted yellow. As are many buildings painted in Andalusia (Spain) and in some Mediterranean towns and sea side villages in Italy. The ambiance is also Gallic, the place was full of street life, crowded pavement cafes and restaurants serving good tasty food and fine French and Swiss wine. The day being hot, we sat down on the terrace of a corner cafe, had toasted sandwiches and a chilled Chateaubriand (Réserve) from Beaujolais. Then we went and had Crépe Suzette (Pan cakes to common folks) with banana and marmalade. As we would eat in Montmartre in Paris. Trés Chic.

In the after- noon I wanted to visit the Museum of Art, which I was told, has a fine collection of Mechanical Figurines. But I do not now remember, how or why, we chose to visit the mountainous town of Chaumont, which is set amongst the high peaks on an elevated area of Bernese Alps. From there we had a fantastic view of the three lakes of Switzerland, Lake Nauchátel, Murten and Lake Biel. The harbor was full of boats coming and going and the snowy edge of Bernese Alps hovering over it. A very enchanting sight it was.

Posted by The Islander 10:05 Archived in Switzerland Tagged automotive Comments (0)

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