Thursday, January 6, 2011

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Across the Straits of Gibraltar, Ceuta Spain

Ceuta is one of two small spanish enclaves in Morocco and is situated on the opposite side of the Straits of Gibraltar from Aljaciras. The town sits on a peninsula with water on two sides. It has a couple of interesting sites like the Arabic baths and fortifications and some buildings with unique architecture, but it is the gardens and statues on the main promenade that makes Ceuta so charming. It is a great way to enter Africa and is convenient to move on from here to other destinations in Morocco. We crossed through the border here on route to the Rift Mountain town of Chefchouen about 1.5 hours away.

Around Morocco with Our Baby Girl, The How to Guide for Families

After traveling almost 2 years around the world visiting over 30 countries, Cara and I  considered ourselves proficient backpackers. So when our daughter, Abigail, came along there was no question that we would share our wanderlust with her. The first questions, when and where, came soon after her birth. We decided to wait until she was  a year old and to visit Morocco, a country we hadn’t explored but has a reputation of being “child-friendly”. More questions followed. Does she need special immunizations, how will she tolerate the flight, travel days, and heat, what equipment do we need, how are we going to carry everything (bottles, diapers, ...Abi), can we really pull this off?

Morocco has something for everyone from water sports to camel safaris, ancient roman ruins to medieval islamic cities, long beaches to long mountain trails.  With Abi, however we had cut back our normal adventurous inclinations and simplify things.  So our main goal was to enjoy the many ancient medinas across the country, soak up the culture, enjoy the beaches and find whatever adventure came our way.

Riads are traditional Moroccan houses with a central court yard.  They are life savers for families.  Spacious, comfortable, and quiet, riads are a retreat of relaxation from the hectic street just outside their walls.  Most are immensely accommodating to travelers with toddlers and provide cribs.  Breakfast is the best meal for children.  In the riads breakfast is complimentary and healthy with fruit, cereal, homemade yogurt, juice and pancakes.  We tried to maintain her routine as much as possible.  The chores also became routine, washing dishes and clothes.

As for food, Abi was still using formula which is available in pharmacies and larger supermarkets in the new parts of town.  Jars of baby food are also sold here but the selection is limited to Moroccan flavored beef or chicken with vegetables.  Much of Moroccan food is rather soft.  Tajines are basically stews of slowly cooked meat and vegetables easily chewed by those with little to no teeth.  Couscous is a common staple which is easily eaten by toddlers as well.  And the fruit shakes were marvelous for all.  

We really were not sure what to bring.  There is only a limited amount that we could carry.  We brought a two week supply of baby food and several sets of utensils.   We brought only three books and a few toys for Abi, including cups and some balls, these seemed sufficient.  All across Morocco diapers were in plentiful supply, wipes less so, bring your own and use sparingly.  Stick with the name brands.  Large strollers will not negotiate busy narrow streets or fit on trains and buses.  Use a small and light umbrella stroller.  Sometimes the streets are too bumpy or hilly and a small carrier, like a baby bjorn is useful and doesn’t take too much room in the pack.  The big backpack carrier wasn’t as useful to us although it was amazing how cool our carrier kept Abi in really hot conditions.  Bring a good hat and sunscreen for everyone. Binkies, snacks, and a small toy or book are indispensable for travel days. Diapers and wipes-available, recommend using name brands as the cheaper ones are of poor quality. Always use bottled water.
The temperature in the cities was not as hot as we had expected.  The compact medinas with their thick and tall mud-brick walls are incredible air-conditioners and trap the cool night air throughout the day.  Many streets are also covered.  We even had several thunderstorms to cool things off.  The coastal towns were actually cool, especially Essaouira which had a fierce wind for several days.  So bring layers.
Traveling around
Getting from point to point was the hardest part.  The Supratour buses are good and the trains are efficient and comfortable, except sometimes the air-conditioning doesn’t work.  If you are taking a small jaunt a grand taxi is better than a bus and is  a good deal.  Taxis are good in cities, just make sure you know the right price before agreeing.  We were traveling in Morocco for 7 weeks, but if you are traveling for only 3 weeks or less we would recommend renting a car.  Use a company that can provide child seats.

Interests for Children
There were plenty of interests for Abi in Mororcco.  The beach was a big hit, it gave her confidence to walk.  She was endlessly fascinated by the multicolored lanterns and lights; and the call to prayer.  Horse rides received lots of clapping.  She loved watching the cats, which out number dogs considerably;  birds intrigued her, and well she didn’t know what to think about the poisonous snakes.  Neither did we.
The best part about the journey were the people.  Moroccans are very family oriented and love children.  People of all ages and genders were eager to meet Abi and wiggle her feet or kiss her.  In any one day in Morocco, Abi had been kissed by more people than her first year of life in the States.  It was very sweet and genuine.

Our time in Morocco was exhausting with little Abi, however, our experience was overwhelmingly positive and our first of many memorable family trips.

What's to come
We will post our journey which can already be viewed on YouTube but we will also include writing and photos of the trip in the blog.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Around the World in 700 Days Teaser, Debut in Summer 2010

John and Cara spent 35 bucks on their wedding and 700 days traveling the world on their honeymoon. This is a teaser of the movie about their journey to East Africa, India, South East Asia, China, South America, Central America, and Mexico. On their channel, Cvillemac, check out over 100 videos of the honeymoon adventures as well their trip with their little baby girl Abi to Morocco and Spain. “Around the World in 700 Days” debuts in late August.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Oh my poor stomach, Cara

After traveling for over a month through all of Bolivia and Northern Chile, and some of Peru with persistent gastrointestinal problems, my condition worsened. I couldn’t even get out of bed for the terrible stomach cramps and my whole body ached. I thought for sure I had a temperature and asked John to find a doctor for me. John returned with the news that a doctor would be here (in my hotel room) within an hour. I peeled myself off of the sweaty sheets, shivering, to at least brush the morning breath from my dry mouth. The doctor arrived at my door with the owner of the hotel, Juan Carlos, who would serve as a translator (hey, give me a break, it’s hard enough to think in your own language when you’re sick let alone another language).
The doctor sat on John’s bed and listened to my complaints as John and Juan Carlos listened and helped as needed. When the doctor started the exam, Juan Carlos slipped out of the room. The doctor did all the normal exam things, including taking my temperature which was ‘bastante alta’ at 40oC (104 oF) and decided to give me a shot. I watched him prepare the syringe which contained a liquid that I couldn’t help but compare to the SamSong Rum John and I drank in Thailand. I held out my arm for him to give me the cocktail but he just smiled and said, ‘en la nalga’. In the buttock! Oh good grief. So there I was, with my bare butt to the doctor, John (who is probably getting used to me embarrassing him like this), and Juan Carlos who just happened to check in on us at the exact same moment that the doctor inserted the needle. So much for modesty, but I didn’t quite care at that moment because the shot took a lot longer and was a lot more painful that I had expected that I had to fully concentrate on not passing out or vomiting. But, for as much pain in the butt the shot was, I felt the heat leave my body and my temperature went down almost instantly. The doctor explained that he was 98% sure that I had typhoid (for which I had been vaccinated) and he wrote out a list of meds and dosages for me to take. Juan Carlos offered to go pick up all of the meds and cook all of my meals according to the doctor’s orders. We thanked and paid the doctor ($30) and Juan Carlos for the meds and I fell right to sleep. It wasn’t long before there was a knock on the door and Juan Carlos entered with all my meds and some cherry gelatin. Later on in the evening, again there was a knock, this time with a tray with the Peruvian form of chicken noodle soup, then again with mint tea. The next morning I was awakened with a tray of dry toast, anis tea, and gelatin. This continued for every meal around the clock for three days during which I developed a love-hate relationship with the toilet. I couldn’t believe how kind the hotel staff was to me and I was definitely lucky to be in such a nice place with our own bathroom (thank God) and cable TV.

Isla del Sol, "Island of the Sun", Bolivia

Lake Titicaca is on of South Americas most beautiful natural wonders. Here there are several idyllic islands where one can catch a glimpse of local life untainted from mass tourism. On the Bolivian side of the lake there is the quaint Isla del Sol. Here there are plenty of small villages with simple but adequate accommodation where the visitor can take a break for a few days from the travel on the road and watch life slowly pass by. You can spend time walking on the quaint cobbled stone pathways that meander around to different parts of the island.

On the west side of Isla del Sol are some interesting Inca temples. Here begins the creation story in Incan mythology.

Leaves find unfriendly Bush - John

The Coca museum in La Paz is considered by some to be the truest representation of Bolivian culture. Much of the statistics in the article below came from the museum.

After the Spanish conquered its half of South America and all the spoils of gold were hauled off from the Incas, the subjugated indigenous populations were turned into slaves under religious pretenses in order to further extract wealth out of the land to fuel the economies of Spain and Europe. The Spanish neither understood nor cared about the cultures, religions, or foundational myths that defined the people they had enslaved. For the Altiplano communities, which run from Colombia to Northern Chile and Argentina, the coca leaf has been fundamental for over 4000 years.
Although intensive manual labor is required to plant and harvest coca on the precarious slopes of the Andes; it is a sturdy plant that can grow in sterile earth, withstand drought, can be easily transported and stored, and can yield three or four crops a year. Even though each family has its own plots of land to cultivate, the community comes together to help each individual family sow and harvest the crop. The men sow and women harvest. All families cultivate at the same pace neither over nor under producing their neighbors creating a rhythm synonymous with Andean culture. Coca is used like alcohol as a “social lubricant” to facilitate exchange and strengthen rites, without having any of the dangerous and addictive qualities of alcohol

La leyenda de coca - “Cuando el conquistador blanco tocara la hoja de coca solo encontrará en ella veneno para su cuerpo y locura para su mente y cuando la coca intente ablandar su corazón solo lograra romperlo como los cristales de hielo demuelen las montañas.”

The coca legend – “When the white conqueror touched the coca leaf all he found was venom for his body and madness for his mind, and when the coca tried to appease his heart, it only served to break it like ice crystals destroy mountains.”

In fact, chewing the leaves provides an increase tolerance for work, stimulates the respiratory centers, regulates the metabolism of glucose, and reduces risk of thrombosis. It is used to celebrate health, to congratulate achievement, mark rites of passage, and to greet guests. Coca leaves have even been found in mummies in Northern Peru that date 2500BC. So when the Ecclesiastic Council in Lima banned coca leaves in 1551 claiming it “diabolical” the Andean cultures lost the foundation that bounded and defined them. It didn’t take long for the Council to reverse their decision because once discovered that chewing coca leaves gave slaves more energy the Spanish made chewing obligatory. The indigenous population could work in the mines 48 continuous hours without adequate breaks or any food when they chewed. The Conquistadores completely took control of coca production putting a 10% tax on the leaves. The indigenous people had to sell themselves in order to buy enough coca to survive the mines and coca became worth its weight in gold. Many things have not changed since the days of the Conquistadores. The current US administration seems to think that in order to fight the war on drugs in the United States they must make a battle field of the very foundation of a culture they know absolutely nothing about. This isn’t new. Western countries completely control the drug trade. Western manufactures make the chemicals used to transform and refine the harmless leaf into deadly drugs and the cleaning of drug money takes place in banks and businesses in Western countries. Even though the United States constitutes only 5% of the world population it consumes 50% of all cocaine and crack produced. So why make the poor Bolivian or Peruvian farmer pay for Western vices? The US sponsors programs to eradicate the plant by offering subsidies and incentives to governments for growing other crops have largely failed. The US essentially blackmails South American governments to fall inline with its anti-coca growing policy by threatening to withhold millions of dollars in aid that goes to building infrastructure, education programs, and health care. The local governments then force farmers to grow fruits or vegetables. These crops are susceptible to drought, do not store well, cannot be easily transported, and fetch a tenth of the price. By preventing the growth of coca local communities are forced to leave their homes in the country as immigrants to find work in the cities, a cultural sink. In the past when farmers refused to stop growing coca, governments sent their army to bully local communities by burning villages and killing resistant farmers which serves only to further disenfranchise the poor of countryside with its own government. Things may be changing. Evo Morialis, Bolivia’s first indigenous president and former coca farmer, is saying no to the United States, at least for now. No matter what policies are enforced, taking the coca leaf away from the communities of the altiplano is like taking away Coca Cola from the Americans. Now isn’t that a contradiction?