01/18/2012 Chefchaouen


Today I cycled from Tetouan to Chefchaouen. I can handle the narrow road with no shoulder, but it would not be good for an inexperienced cyclist. The cars and trucks smoke and growl up the 30km climb to 2000 feet.

I meet an evacuating solo touring cyclist from Canada. He has been cycling in Europe for four months and came down to Morocco. He was planning on spending two months here but was now hightailing it back to Spain. He couldn’t take the touts. He couldn’t take not knowing who to trust. He couldn’t take having to be on guard with everyone that you meet. He said he always felt uptight and anxious down here.

The tout will be friendly, try to get to know you, then drop the shoe. Today I was approached when I pulled over to drink some water and rest. The guy said he was interested in cycling, how far did I come, what kind of bike did I have, etc. Then he asked me if I would like to smoke some very good hash with him. I got out of there quick.

The second tout was in the medina in Chefchaouen, and approached me very cheerfully, just wanted to walk with me, etc. I told him I was not interested in having a guide. He said he just wanted to be friendly. I said I preferred to walk alone. And here is how you know if you have got a tout- they say something designed to upset you. This guy said “You are way too paranoid, man.” I just smiled. Bingo.

Now for the good guys, which far outnumber the bad. I need wifi to upload this journal. I went to all the internet cafes I could find but no wifi. I stopped in hotels. No wifi. I asked in cafes. No wifi. Frustrated I hung on the street just wondering what to do for five minutes, and I noticed a computer shop. I walked in, and the guy had wifi, gave me the password, and refused any payment. He told me that if I came back when he was closed, I had the password, and I could stand in front of the shop and use it. I thanked him heartily.

Next door I stopped in to get a fresh squeezed orange juice. Four, 30 something men were counting change and we began a discussion in english. They invited me to sit with them, and we talked for 15 minutes or so. Very nice.

When I ride into town I always ask for directions to the hotel. It is easier, and I meet people. I ask directions six times, and everyone is helpful and steers me right.

THe manager of the hotel seems concerned about my comfort. The waiter at the restaurant is genuinely nice. I have a 10 minute conversation that I initiate with a guy dressed in one of those hooded things. He speaks four languages and is proud and bright.

I get beeped and waved at every 15 minutes or so on the road, more if I am climbing a hill.

And last, but not certainly not least, a cat snuggles me during dinner.

Maybe I’ll do better than my Canadian counterpart, but I understand his emotions.

It’s rainy today, I get wet and dry out a number of times.

On the road to Chefchaouen. It’s surprisingly lush here!

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The clouds parted and Allah favored two shrubs.

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A cat with salad, olives, and hot mint tea. Two cats purr happily.

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Chicken and vegetable tanguene. Mmmm.

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My purring pawing inquisitive but well mannered dinner companion. He was there for the affection but grateful for the chicken skin.

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Chefchaouen is colorful, detailed, fascinating. Within 10 minutes of walking the medina I know I am going to stay here another day.

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Chefchaouen

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Chefchaouen

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Chefchaouen. Not my hotel, however.

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Chefchaouen

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Chefchaouen.

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Chefchaouen

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Chefchaouen. The creek that provides water for the town has a place to wash clothes.

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Chefchaouen

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Chefchaouen. This town has so many elevations, colors, it’s confusing at times.

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Chefchaouen. Little hinges swing big doors.

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More good. The hotel owner invites me to sit down and have a bite with him and two other Moroccans. We dip bread into a bean soup and chat.

01/17/2012 to Tetouan, Morocco


Please don’t laugh when I tell you how nervous I am to be here alone on a bicycle. I feel jittery, unsettled, can’t relax. I even meditated this morning trying to calm down.

Leaving Ceuta the traffic is light. I take the costal route.

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The border between Ceuta and Morocco is a minor free-for-all. I scoot past the chaotic lines of cars and almost ride right through. A portly elderly gentleman with bright pink cheeks and a sharp green suit warns me to stop. “You’d better get your passport stamped.” “Ok, here it starts” I think, “the touts.” But he filled out a form for me and saw that my passport was stamped properly. I tip him a Euro and am off. Well, that was easy. So I decide to use touts- but to control the situation.

The border crossing. The hill to the left is the

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alternate border crossing. Check out the guy bottom right standing on the “don’t do this” sign!

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Shortly after I cross the border a skinny guy with plastic bags on his arms sees me coming and tries to flag me down. “Stop, stop,” he cries, and seeing that I am not going to stop, tries to step in front of me. I yell “Lookout!” and plow through him. He dodges like a matador, butt out, belly tucked. My panniers hit him, the bike shimmies, he stumbles backwards, but I keep my momentum. I’m not scared, no time for that, only time to react. Afterwards I decide I did the right thing.

The cycling is lovely, though the vehicles don’t seem to have pollution controls.

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There are a lot of very nice homes along the coast here, and beautiful beaches. Cabo Negro.

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Beach in Cabo Negro.

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I find an ATM and it whirs out 2000 Durhams for me. Well, that was easy.

The next tout finds me as I am cycling into Tetouan, my destination. He yells to me from the roadside. I smile and wave and ride past. He starts his scooter and catches up to me, riding alongside me. He starts a conversation in English. I tell him the name of the hotel I am going to, and offer him a euro if he guides me there. He says he knows a better, cheaper hotel. I lie and tell him I have a reservation at Hotel Regina. So he agrees to take me there, for “free.” I say, no, one euro. I follow him for a mile and a half and we end up at the hotel. I offer him the euro, outside. I don’t want the hotel manager to see him and think he has to raise my price to cover his commission. The tout goes inside with me “to help.”

The hotel manager says I can’t stay there because I have a large bicycle. I say, OK, lets get another hotel. The manager changes his mind. I pay my guy 2 euros, and he won’t leave, wants to show me the town, the market, etc.

He really gets hard-nosed about taking me to buy a carpet, but I am gesturing at my bicycle and laughing so hard that he gets flustered.

The hotel room is less than $9, and is deteriorating, spacious, with hot water, though no wifi. I lock my bike to the desk.

I shower and head for the medina. A tout is waiting for me at the hotel door, says he is the brother of the motorcycle guy, and wants to show me the medina. I say No, I don’t want to pay someone to show me the medina. He insists there is no charge, and just wants to be friendly. Ok. We walk a few blocks, but he is in a hurry, wants to talk about Chicago, and wants a cup of mint tea. He has seen it a million times, and is crowding my style, demanding my attention. I tell him I want to see the medina at my own pace. He asks “Why are you afraid of Morocco?” I tell him I am not afraid of Morocco and want to explore the market in my own way. He asks me “What will you do when someone else finds you?” I say, “tell him to go away.” He is angry but leaves.

The feeling in the medina is gentle, slow, relaxed. I like it here. It’s ok to pick a spot and stand for minutes observing, nobody notices.

The call to prayer breaks the calm with a wild shrieking yell. Nobody blinks so neither do I.

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The medina.

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The medina.

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The medina.

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The medina.

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The medina.

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The medina.

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The medina.

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No luck finding wifi. I find three internet cafes but they don’t have it. I can’t upload my journal unless I have it.

So how do I feel? More secure than this morning. Several Moroccan citizens have talked to me and told me I am most welcome here, and that they like cyclists, or admire my cycling Morocco. Then we shake hands and touch our hearts in the Moroccan way.

I’m thinking I’ll be fine. I might as well be on another planet though. Guess I’ll head out and see what I can find for dinner. Think I’ll create an imaginary friend to go with me.

01/13,14,15/2012 Onto the African Continent

I am on the African Continent. I took the ferry over this afternoon from Algeciras. Several people advised me to go to Ceuta, a Spanish colony, and not Tangiers, so here I am.

Tomorrow I enter Morocco proper, a few km away when I cycle to Tetouan. I am aprehensive. What will people drive like? Will I be safe on a bicycle? What are the roads like? How will I find my way with just a large scale road map? How will I communicate, ask for directions? Arabic and French spoken here.

I have taken pics of google maps with the routes drawn out. I can look at them on my camera in zoom mode. That’ll get me past the first two days.

The Arabic couple in the room next door have been quarreling loudly for hours. He is busy making drama, she is placating. He spent half an hour negotiating the price of the
hotel room, with me behind him. I went out to a recommended restaurant, the chicken dinner was bland and uninspired, 4 slabs of chicken with the mandatory french fries. The waiter exclaimed as he presented it; “Isn’t it lovely?” I think that was the extent of his English. About nine dollars. Sigh. I am so looking forward to eating Moroccon.

Barbate, Spain

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At last, I get to camp in Spain, and what a lovely place it is. I was told there is a 100 Euro fine if you are caught stealth camping. My new air mattress is very comfortable.

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I was planning on spending the night in Algeciras before crossing the Strait of Gibraltar into Africa, but rode right to the ferry and got brave. Gribouli secured inside on the car deck. Look, even the rear wheel is chocked!

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The south of Spain was having some weather and I was cold and wet from the rain. Looking back at Algeciras from the ferry.

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Freighters being loaded.

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A little dredging going on with an underwater back hoe.

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Tugs playing tag.

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The Rock of Gibraltar.

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The Rock of Gibraltar.

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Goodbye Rock!

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Approaching the African continent.

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The harbor at Ceuta.

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01/12/2012


There is so much to see here in Spain!

I am a little too relaxed and leave my front set of panniers at the hotel I stayed at last night. I cycle 11 km before realizing it! But when I return they are behind the bar. That’a an extra 22km today, making it a 94.7km day. But the wind is at my back and the terrain is gently rolling, making it a pretty easy if long day.

The rolling countryside here in southern Spain.

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New high speed rail being built.

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Cadiz is a very quaint peninsula beach town.

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Cadiz main plaza.

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You walk through a narrow street that opens into a plaza with this cathedral.

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For me cathedrals are the physical representation of man’s highest and nobelest ideals. I am inspired by their beauty.

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Altar

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This is the flower plaza.

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Cadiz waterfront.

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Freighters steaming past the castle at Cadiz to El Puerto.

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Art contemplating art. Understanding yourself by understanding others.

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Cadiz waterfront.

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I am not out of the woods with my knee. It was acting up a little today, and I rode further than I intended to. We’ll see how it is on tomorrow’s ride…

12/10/2012 Passion and Seville


I return from a Flamenco performance and Sean my Korean roommate asks “How was it?” I answer “I feel like I have just returned from watching someone make love, I feel like someone has just pulled open their heart and proudly displayed their soul. The performance was so intimate and proud that at times I was blushing.”

The Flamenco originated as gypsy music and was rhymnetic clapping, singing and dancing. The guitar is a relatively recent addition, and is not the central idea as I had previously thought. Now I see how integral the art form is.

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One last look at the Muslim Minaret built on a Roman foundation now part of the third largest cathedral in the world.

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Sean and I make a 12 egg omelet with cheese, onions, and mushrooms. We wash it down with peach nectar and mop it up with a roll. Afterwards Sean said he was still hungry!

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The city is growing.

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01/09/2012 Seville in a dream


My dreaming and waking has become inverted. At night I dream of working, of making domestic repairs, of settling little family issues. In the day, as I walk around Seville, it occurs to me that this is all a dream and I am going to wake up soon. I immediately look at my hands as I have trained myself to do when lucid dreaming to stay in the dream. And it works, I don’t wake up.

So I spend my waking hours in a dream, and my dreaming hours in real life.

Other signs of mental slippage include talking to Lisa my mascot out loud, cutting her bangs as she requested, and propping her up so she can see better.

I like going insane. Think I’ll let go a little more.

Lisbon intoxicates me, takes me on crooked wanderings, keeps my head turning with improbabilities.

Horse taxis. Their clopping footsteps echo trots or walks.

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A Muslim minaret that was the tallest structure in the world at the time of its completion. A major earthquake did not destroy it, because it sits on a Roman built foundation, which rocked with the quake!

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Two hundered years later the largest Christian Gothic Cathedral in the world ws built around it.

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Round window over entry typical of Gothic cathedrals.

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Coloumbus set sail from Lisbon. These are the old shipyards.

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All the ships bringing back goods from the new world had to unload at Lisbon. They unloaded here at the “tower of gold,” which is right next to the river. They had to pay one fifth of their cargo in taxes and a fee in gold. All the goods were sorted in this building. At one time a couple ships a day were coming and going from the Americas, making Lisbon one of the worlds wealthiest cities.

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The Plaza Espana.

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The Plaza Espana

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When it was completed in the 1930’s it was an exposistion of all of Spain. These niches each represented one province and had a tout inside talking of wonders and promoting tourism.

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Nowdays they find other uses.

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01/07/2011 into Seville


I’ve had a day of rest in Aracena because my left knee was hurting. I start off the day feeling fine but by the time I have gone 50KM it is hurting again. By the time I have gone 80Km I am having sharp pains. I walk the bike the last 5KM into Seville. My knee only hurts when I am cycling.

Check out the view from my de-luxe hostel. Umm, what is that thing?

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Here’s what it looks like from the street.

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Are they finished building it?

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It has an elevated plaza underneath it.

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The long view.

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I’m walking around on the top of it. And you know what? Directly underneath this entire structure are carefully excavated and displayed Roman ruins. Talk about the old and the new! Oh, and see that small light to the right of the the middle of the picture under the purple bar? That’s the light on in my room!

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There are so many beautiful surprises in this city.

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Many plazas.

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Grand Cathedrals.

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At night.

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I am thrilled to be here. If I have to rest a while because of my knee, this is the place.

01/06/2012 into Aracena


The Saga of the Pigs continues:

The pigs keep getting bolder. It’s dark. I go outside with my pepper spray. I hit the trigger. Nothing. It’s dead. I throw rocks, then go back inside and think about all the miles I’ve carried the can. I have told myself so many times, “Hey, don’t worry, you’ve got the pepper spray.”

I decide to leave at the crack of dawn, and start packing with a flashlight. he pigs know something is up, and get bolder. I stuff the sleeping bag, then go scare the pigs. I load the food panniers, then go scare the pigs. I pack my lucky pajamas, then go scare the pigs. I don’t dare eat, I dont want food-smell induced pig insanity.

Finally I am ready to pack the tent. Like I always do, I unzip it, and with the poles still keeping it in a tent shape, shake it overhead to empty out crumbs and bugs. I hear a chorus of terrified snorting and oinking. In surprise, I put the tent down and turn to catch sight of a dozen rubbery pig butts bouncing over the hill as fast as their little peglegs could carry them.

So there you have it: When you want to scare off pigs, shake your tent over your head.
Now I ask you, where else can you get this kind of useful info?

The morning was frozen as I rode away into the first light.

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I could hardly see them.

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Light and trees and frost.

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Soon this field will be green.

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“I think half a house is better than a whole barn. And I don’t have any neigh-bors.” (Yes, it’s a pun)

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My left leg has muscle issues, it is quite painful after only 35km, so I decide to check into the next hotel in the next town and end up here in Aracena. Just a small city on a big map, and it turns out to be lovely. It is hard to go wrong in Spain and Portugal.

I have been pushing it for three days, riding 106km, 86km, and 78km through mountainous terrain, when I usually would ride maybe 65km, and now I pay the price. I must think long term and underride underdistances.

01/05/2012 into southern Spain


This Mediterranean climate makes up for all the rain in Ireland. I am fully dried out. Today I crossed into Southern Spain as I make my way south into Sevilla then Algeciras, to cross into Morocco.

Typical olive groves in Portugal.

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Wonderful gently rolling country.

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As I was cycling past Serpa, Portugal, I saw an old aqueduct in the distance and decided to check it out. It is hard to go wrong in Portugal. Serpa is off the tourist radar and is a gem.

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Serpa turned out to be yet another walled city with a castle.

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Living in Serpa.

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Serpa, like many Portuguese cities has orange trees along the roads. Hungry cyclists have been tempted, but found the oranges quite sour!

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Cemetery in Serpa.

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About 10 KM into Spain I decided to camp. I am 50 miles from a hotel. I timidly open a ‘no passage without permission” gate and hustle the bike up over a hill, where I can’t be seen from the road.

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It is lovely back here in the oaks, and I have a great view.

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My right to be here is soon challenged by a herd of about a dozen pigs. They trot right up to the tent, snuffing, and fortunately bolt if I do something threatening. They are more massive than I am but timid. They are intelligent, staring right at me trying to figure me out. Three of them approach as a team. You might laugh, but I am thinking Jurrasic Pig. The one on the left grabs that piece of wood and crushes it with his jaws. I get the message.

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A few hefted rocks causes them to retreat. They regroup in a loose circle around my tent out of the range of thrown rocks.

I sleep fitfully, waking to chase them off when I hear them snuffing just outside my tent.

It’s cold, there is ice on my tent and bicycle. My new quarter inch thick foam pad is a quarter inch better than nothing. I put everything fabric underneath it and keep turning.

Phew. I’ve had better nights sleep!

1/04/2012


I have a treat for you today. We’ll get to it;) Today was a roll down the road day, I am putting on the kilometers as I am working my way towards Morocco.

Shot from my dorm window funky hostel in Evora. This place was old and in original condition. The stairs were stone, steep, and wide enough for only one person. You had to duck to go through the doors and there were no windows, just wooden shutters.

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“It’s been in the family for generations”

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The cathedral’s pipe organ in Evora. The sun was shining through the stained glass windows.

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Ok, here it is. This “bone cathedral” was an annex to the convent in Evora and was built in the first half of the 17th century. They used folks from the town cemetery. The inscription above the door reads “We bones here for yours await.”

Overview.

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Detail

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Detail

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Detail

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Detail

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Detail

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Detail

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The place was intense and sobering. It was good to step outdoors afterwards into the sunshine and bird song.

Ok, so who gives you stuff you’ve never seen before?