Sunday, October 10, 2010

Rock the Kasbah hits Morocco

Upon arising from a very special celebratory dinner in Tarifa the night before, we fare-welled the MacCormacks and the Stenings.

The group boarded the ferry for Tangier, the weather was once again a bit ordinary, with white caps across the ocean and winds building. We had been lucky the day before, and it was now another swimmers turn to wait out the conditions in Tarifa.

Our passports were stamped on the ferry for entry into Morocco, so only a cursory glance by an official as we walked up the gangplank into Tangier.
We were met by Mohammed our guide, Abdul our driver and Brahim the tour organiser.
We boarded our mini bus and off we went to see some of the amazing sights of Morocco.

 We detoured on our way to Fes to visit Meknes, Chechaouen then onto Volubilis, to see the best preserved  archeological site in Morocco. These Roman ruins were declared an Unesco World Heritage site and feature the most amazing mosaics preserved in situ from around the 3rd century BC.

We arrived early evening into Fes. We made a necessary ‘beverage’ stop at possibly the largest supermarket any of us had encountered. It was an introduction to the sensory overload that we were about to experience for the remainder of our trip.  

Our stay in Fes was in a traditional Riad on the northern side of the medina.  Our evening meal was served by the staff of the Riad. Sensing our groans at the never ending courses being served we were advised to eat sparingly of each dish. We all retreated to our beds to be woken in the early hours by the first of the many calls to prayer.

 The next day we took in some of the sights of Fes, and visited a ceramic and mosaic factory where some of Moroccos famous handcrafts are made. A tradition passed from generation to generation. 

Our afternoon was spent in a walking tour of the medina. It is the largest car-free urban environment on the planet. It is a total assault on the senses, a warren of narrow lanes and covered bazaars filled to bursting with aromatic spice stands, fruit and fish to sheep heads, craft workshops, mosques and an endless parade of people. 

Old and new constantly collide, with the main form of transport being donkeys and mules with the driver on his mobile phone. Then there is the leather district and the dye pits. Little has changed since medieval times, the donkeys labour through the alleyways laden with hides. Once again it is a family tradition with the workers born into the job. 

The processing  components of the hide are pigeon poo and cow urine with the colours added last. A sprig of mint held to the nose is very necessary when viewing this from above. That night we experienced a very interesting cultural evening, with some of the team getting quite involved in the performance.

We travelled [are we there yet] the next day through the Ziz Valley on our way to southern oasis of Erg Chebbi dunes in the Sahara. We rode camels in the setting sun to our Berber camp. By the time we arrived the almost full moon was rising over the sand dunes.  

Our camp consisted of 3 large Berber tents in a u shape with carpets in the centre, where we relaxed, ate dinner, drank some very smooth vintage Spanish sherry, enjoyed some French red wine and let reality sink in as to where we were and what we were experiencing. I think that we all had some very special moments. The next morning we were gently woken by softly beaten Berber drums in time to walk to the top of a dune [for some] to watch the sun rise over the Sahara. We traveled back by camel to the Auberge for a shower and breakfast.

Our journey today took us through the desert and into to the Todra Gorge. 
This is a massive fault dividing the High Atlas from the Jebel Sarho. It is only passable by vehicle for approx 15 kms where it narrows in some stages to just enough space for a person to squeeze through above the crystal clear water.

We arrived in Boumaine Dades and our hotel, where to the delight of all we enjoyed a swim in the pool. Such a contrast of settings to our previous nights accommodation.
Most of us enjoyed a hamman [Turkish style bathhouse, skin scrub and massage]

The next day we visited the stunning Dades Gorge.
Our journey took us past kilometers of adobe dwellings perched either side of oasis filled with date palms, fig and almond trees and  communal gardens. These are mostly worked by females and youths. The corn was being picked with the stalks cut and left to dry for building materials. We saw many laden donkeys and women carrying incredible loads. Most of the men are away working in the larger towns or in Spain. It is common for the men to only visit their families occasionally each year.
The road climbs and turns into some of the most amazing hairpin bends with wonderful views back down the Gorge. We all enjoyed walking back rather than traveling in the van.

Day six and we were on our way to Ait Benhaddou.
Along the way we had lunch and on exploration we discovered the only olympic pool [we think] in Morocco. Naturally some of the not so shy had to get in and test the water, so to speak.
We visited Ouarzazate the movie  capital of Morocco [Mollywood] where scenes from the films Gladiator, Jewel of the Nile and others have been shot.

Ait Benhaddou is a mud brick kasbah protected by Unesco, dating back from the 11th century. It has also featured in many films such as Lawrence of Arabia. It is largely uninhabited now, with the exception of a few locals

Our home for the night was a mystery to all as we travelled further on to a small village. The signs were very misleading with even the locals not able to give us proper directions.
Our frowns turned into smiles when we found our riad. It, like many in the larger cities have been taken over by foreigners and turned into splendid accommodation. This one was new, but still kept the Andalusian architecture and simpatico touches of traditional Morocco.
We dined on possibly our only taste of western style food from a Michelin rated restaurant.

Our drive today took us across the High Atlas Mountains, across the Tizi ‘n Tichka Pass and onto Marrakech. This is the highest point in Morocco at 2260m. It is a much travelled road as it is the only road from the desert to Marrakech. It would make for a very interesting drive in winter, where the pass can sometimes be closed due to adverse conditions and snow falls.
We were fortunate that it was early autumn and the only problem faced was wether to accept the offer of 8,000 camels for yours truly. Some people were heard to call ‘Sell Sell’
I have a long memory.....

Aahh Marrakech, we arrived at dusk to see the evening market being set up in the main square. Snake charmers with oboes serenading their cobras, chained monkeys and their handlers, henna artists touting their business. Orange juice sellers, magicians, balancing groups, belly dancers, healers, men sitting behind tables displaying jars of teeth.... and then the booths being set up for dinner.  Each displaying their wares of fresh vegetables, salads, meats, prawns, fish, sheep heads all clambering for your business.  Many Moroccan‘s speak quite a few languages, and they could easily pick up that we were Australians. We had many enjoyable encounters with them, they have a great sense of pride and personality. Our meal in the souk was an experience.
Marrakesh is a total assault to the senses, life in the square is frenetic with humanity at its most diverse.  An experience not to be missed.

The next morning we visited the peaceful and colorful oasis of Jardin Magorelle.
This is the garden given to the city by Yves Saint Laurent.  His ashes are scattered over the garden.  His instructions prior to his death, were that the gardens are
to be preserved and kept open to the public.

That afternoon we escorted 2 of our group safely to the train station for departure to Casablanca and their further adventures in Tunisia and Libya.
The next morning we all drove from Marrakech to Casablanca on the final leg of our journey. Some were homeward bound whilst others spent a very enjoyable few days in Amsterdam.

Our adventure and swim of a lifetime was a vision in the making for many years by Jon Attwater.  A few of us had heard him talk about swimming the Straits of Gibraltar over the last 5 years, so when he announced that it was on, early this year, very quickly ‘pick me , pick me’ was heard from a group of like minded adventurers.
Many hours of preparation and communication have gone into the swim, without even touching on the planning and coordination for our trip through Morocco. All this done with Jon’s unflappable calmness and dignity.

From all of us to you, Famous John The Legend, Thank you for letting us join you to Rock the Kasbah.

Friday, September 24, 2010

A Day of Reckoning - Jon's Big Day - Individual Accounts of The Swim

Jack Stening:
We were all anxious after 4 "no-swim days" because of too much wind, waves, rain or fog
The clock was ticking; only 3 days left.  Would conditions ever be right for us to attempt the swim ?
On Friday night the straits swim official, Rafael, confirmed for Satuday morning.... We'd already had some false starts so it was high anxiety....The thought of coming home to Sydney without having attempted the swim was very ugly
Saturday:  daylight at 7.30 and conditions look good
On the dock at 8.00, support boats and crew arrive
A rubber duckie wih 60hp outboard to escort the swimmers; a 25 foot pilot boat with 2 crew to travel 50 metres in front of the swimmers and guide them, and a 40 foot flybridge cruiser, 4 crew and a very barky dog, Pluto, to transport the swimmers and support crew of Rowan on camera and Ros on timing flags. 
8.45... We're off !  We motor out of the harbour around to the Tarifa lighthouse and in go the first 2 swimmers Peter Mac and Jimmy A.  They have to swim to the rocks and touch them, the whistle blows and they're off; the water is very choppy and little swell.  
The powerboat has GPS, AIS and communications with the Straits Maritime Authority.  After 10 minutes a large ferry travelling at 45 kph is on a collision course with us, suddenly it slows and steers a wide course around us;  the authorities are looking after us.
After 30 minutes Denise E and Jenny H take over from Jimmy and Peter,  the relay changeover touch is witnessed, photographed and GPS logged; the swim association is nothing if not thorough.  30 minutes later Jan D and Tony B take over, conditions are still very choppy, everyone is swimming well, no problems.

Ships are all around us and all are travelling at 20+ knots (30kph approx), then the bows of a 'Big' ship loom, heading for us, they rapidly get larger and larger, we think it must be an aircraft carrier as we look up at these massive bows; we wait anxiously to see if our swimmers will get pulled out of the water.....then the ship changes course and passes safely in front of us.  Actually its a huge container ship travelling at 35knots.  Thanks again to the Maritime Authorities, they don't just warn the ships of our presence, they instruct them on what course to steer.
30 minutes later John A (Swampy) and Jack take over .  After 2 hours the GPS indicates that we're halfway there, but thats not how it turned out.

We all have a second swim of 30 minutes each and when thats done we've been swimming for 4 hours (we are 2 teams of 4 swimmers each and we're doing 2 crossings simultaneously)
Morocco is tantalisingly close... but we find we still need Pete and Jimmy to swim another 30 minutes and the Denise and Jenny swimm for another 21 minutes to reach Morocco.  We all jumped in, including support crew to swim the last 100 metres...... Phew   4 hours and 51 minutes.
The coast of Morocco is a series of headlands so each one that we miss, as we're swept into the Med by the current, adds an extra 3 or 4 k to the swim

There is a constant current of 2 to 4 knots (3 to 5 kph) in the Strait from the Atlantic into the Mediterranean.  The tide determines the current speed so it is critical that the time of the swim is when the current is  slowest or swimmers can miss the land and get swept into the Mediterranean.  
We had a total of 9 boat crew on 3 support boats assisting us, they are all very experienced and competent, one, our deckhand Fernando, has swum the straits 5 times.  We all consider that this was the best organised and managed water event that we have experienced.
All swimmers swam well, the crossing was achieved in choppy water and it was never in doubt, there were no incidents or problems, it was a 'swiss watch' operation.  Our greatest concerns were that we might not get a day to swim or that the conditions could have been too severe for us to complete
This is a good way to bond a team, some may think there are other ways
Our special thanks to team leader and event organiser extra-ordinaire John Swampy Attwater
James Arnold:
The sun rose over the hills of Tarifa and the wind had dissipated. Today was to be the day the team became a part of Australian History, the first teams to cross the Strait of Gibraltar.
As we travelled out of the port to the most southern part of Spain we looked across the vast Mediterranean Sea to the coastal cliffs of Morocco.

Pete and I were feeling nervous as we were advised it was time to dive in and swim to the rocks.. One hand on the barnacles the other raised to indicate touchdown..a whistle signalled from the captain and we were off.. currents tossing us about.  We got into rhythm and before we knew Jenny and Den had taken over from us – with Olympic pace..the girls were loving it. Jan and Tony were next and of course the legends of the sea Jon and Jack were in sync and powering through the chop.
During each stage we all had various obstacles to deal with, Pete and I were followed by whales, Jenny and Den forced a super tanker to change direction, Jan and Tony played with dolphins and Jon and Jack swear they fought off a great white shark
So we swam and swam and swam some more, until finally reaching the end, a huge cliff face that was begging for us to touch it..and so that’s where the sprint began, and let’s just say it was fitting that the boys who started the to finish the race by touching first...though we all wish it had been Jon..this was his dream and we were just along for the adventure..thank you Jon for the thrill of a lifetime that you gave us all !!!!!!..
Denise Elder:
This blog continued from James..The swim had been delayed by 4 days due to poor weather conditions, strong winds and rain squalls.  The swim itself was a bit choppy, some of us finding it easier than others.  Fortunately I had Jenny to swim with, although wise lady left the sighting of our lead boat to me, which was about  50-100m ahead with a large zodiac motoring about 5m to our left. Very safe and secure.  The “mother” boat which held the other 6 swimmers, Rowan, our paparazzo, Rosslyn, our timekeeper (with count-down flags), 3 Spaniards navigating and smoking and last and most entertaining of all was Pluto the Pup. A wire haired terrier that insisted on barking its silly head off every time the zodiac ventured near.
James and Peter managed the first leg extremely well, quite often with James waving, smiling and pushing Peter back to the pilot ship..he really does need a GPS in his speedo’s.  We have decided to buy Peter either a GPS or a pair of blinkers for Christmas.
Jenny and I took over next leg, both us were pleasantly surprised at the water temp, about 20c. A bath compared to Balmoral. About 10 minutes into our swim, we looked up and saw the outline of our guide boat silhouetted against this enormous super tanker that was powering across our swim line.  Looking up and watching whilst we were swimming was an amazing feeling. It very quickly moved along and left a clear path.
Tony and Jan took over with both keeping a fairly even pace, a fairly uneventful leg, no dramas, no sharks, no tankers but with lots of cheering and shouting from us.  Next up were Jon and Jack, happy to finally hit the water.  Watching the “boys” together was a great sight, Charm Frend had obviously been giving them coaching in synchronised swimming without the makeup and hair nets.
The Spaniards on board the “mother” ship were keeping current, time, temperature and distance records. Peter was very disappointed to discover that of the 4 relay legs, Jenny and I had swum the furthest.  Probably due to the fact that James was continually herding him back on course.
Rotation of the 4 teams got us about 2/3 way across with James/Peter and Jenny/Denise finishing the last couple of kms. The time was 4 hours 51 minutes. About 100m out, the remainder of the group jumped in and swam to touch a rock jutting from the coast of Morocco.  A bit hairy with the swell pushing and pulling us onto the rock. The temperature had dropped to about 17c by this stage.
The biggest disappointment of the day was felt by Peter.  He was mortified when he discovered that over the entire swim 18.3kms Jenny and Denise had actually swum the furthest distance.  Amazing what swimming in a straight line can do.
Great swim, wonderful adventure, about $15,000.00 raised for Melanoma Institute of Australia.
Celebrations.....another story........ Great camaraderie and a great sport.
Peter Maccormick:
At last after a 5 day wait we have got the red light to start the relay swim across the Gibraltar Straits. The two teams arrived at the Tarifa Harbour at 7.30 am to welcome the sun raising behind the old fort  Denise Jack Tony  and myself in one team and Jan Jimmy Jenny and John in the the other team. On board we had the Team Flag controller Ros who was responsible for making sure the teams knew when their allotted time was up to exchange swimmers with a ten minute and then five minute warning flag overseen by the official time keeper from the Straits of Gibraltar swimming Associations. The Average age of the team was over 60 even though we managed to have a younger member Jimmy as our mascot who we used for all the official Photos !! 
The start was delayed as Jenny and Jimmy decided to return to the official Hotel for what ever reason and had to run to the boat as we started to move out of the harbour. We had three boats as our escort the lead boat who was in touch with the maritime authority who controls the shipping through the straits to warn them of our location and to avoid us. Generally in any one day there is usually about three hundred ships a day past through straits of various sizes from tankers Cargo and Containers ships. The other two escort ships were a rubber ducky with an out board as the safely boat to pick us up quickly if we needed to be and the other boat a large cabin cruiser which the swimmers travelled on. 
All swimmers where instructed to follow the lead boat at all time which was positioned about 100 yards in front followed by the rubber ducky which was positioned next to the swimmers followed by the cabin cruiser. 
Once we left the protected harbour we proceeded to the light house point and the first two swimmers entered the water jimmy and peter who swam over to the rocks and touched it and the official time watcher started the event. 
Jimmy lead the way with peter following the water was about 18 degrees and we had a chop but was very enjoyable with clean water and great view of Morocco in the distance.At this stage the ferry from Tarifa to Morocco decide to leave the harbour and was on a direct course to run into us but at the last minute changed course thanks to our lead boat radioing the Ferry. The first change over was after 30 minutes with Dennis and Jenny going strong with a drop in the wind and chop managed to out do the boys on their leg. The next change over the old men of the sea John and Jack took up the challenge and kept up the pace. We where all hoping we could do the swim under 5 hours so at this point things were looking good and we were not far from the half way point. The teams changed again and over the next two hours  the whole four teams continued to keep the pace up. 
Jimmy and myself went in for the third time and we were hopefully we would complete the landing on the rocks at Morocco but as we approached the current increased and it seemed that we would never get there. On exchange Denise and Jenny went in for the final leg and after 25 minutes were about 100 metres off the Morocco rocks and Jimmy and the rest of the team and Roz dived in to join them. What a race it was to touch the rocks and Jimmy managed to be the first to touch just beating Denise out for the honours but what a team effort it was in four hours and 51 minutes. 
At the completion of the crossing we motored back to Tarifa a very happy crew and what a wonderful team experience 
Peter Maccormick   “Official Stirrer”

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Build Up To The Grand Finale

It's amazing what happens to a group of people when they arrive at the time of the "GRAND FINALE" of an event such as a swim across the Gibraltar Strait (ie Spain to Morocco).

Everyone has just received word that the whole group is to meet at Tarifa Harbour, at 8.00am tomorrow morning (Saturday, 18th September 2010) to embark on what will be one of the adventures of their lifetime, swimming across the Gibratar Strait, from Spain to Morocco.

As a result of this announcement the tensions build with all full of this amazing nervous energy. The amazing part of receiving such an announcement is that all of a sudden everyone starts to act really strange as you will see from some of the obvious actions taken by some of the group, as follows:

Peter McCormack feeling as though he has to bare his behind at every possible moment.

Peter comparing who has the best behind
Peter feeling he has the best behind on the beach

The Team feeling as though they can circle and take on a beast of sea
Is that a Shark
I am sure It Is, don't let It go!!! 
James Arnold feeling in need of what could be a last hug!!!
James gains courage from a last hug

Part of the team feel as though they have already completed the swim
No time for celebration the swim is tomorrow!!!

As you can see excitment has taken over the senses but the real test comes tomorrow from 8.00am, Saturday, 18th September 2010, when a courageous group of swimmers will cross the Gibraltar Strait, battlling against all odds including weather, super tankers and fast running currents> Stay tuned for further reports as the swim concludes around 5 - 6 hours from the 8.00am start time.   

Friday, September 17, 2010

Sam The Slipper - Crema Catalana's Desert

Sam's spy's are every where and here is the evidence!

A Crema Catalana


Jan & Jenny Enjoy Their Crema Catalana


Summary of the trip to date.
Friday 17th September 11.20am
Originally the swim was scheduled for Tuesday 14th September but due to strong winds and now rain it has been deffered.  We are playing the waiting game having exhausted the local restaurants, pastry shops, clothing shops, churches (for sight seeing only) and villages within driving distance. The mob in various modes of transport ventured to Gibraltar, the English colony which was founded in the early 18th century.  Tony Bostock felt as if he was back home.  Rumour had it he found the only fish and chip shop in the town.

Why There Is No Swim Today

Our day starts with a 1200m swim, run along the beach and exercises.  Rapidly followed by breakfast which invariably includes coffee, museli, fresh fruit--stone fruit is still prevalent in the shops. Rosslyn had the good sense to bring her own home made muesli for breakfast. The next hour or so is a flurry of activity, ringing home to check and see that the dog has been walked, the mail cleared and that the stock exchange is still moving.

Rowan, our own special paparazzo has been following the group around busy clicking and catching various members of the group.  Found after a swim were Peter and James practising the full monty and frightening the locals, whilst the BBC boys merely looked on in amusement... seen it all before.  The BBC ladies demureley turned away and were heard to snigger. Jan had missed her husband's, Rowan, half monty efforts. 

Jack after apparently many successful driving forays has mastered the art of left hand driving on the right side of the road.  Kate scores the most points for back seat navigating.

Peter Mac has become an expert in the location of the little pastry shops and can identify them blindfolded by taste and smell.  Sandy attempts to lead him away from their true locations but he is elusive. However, he was heard this morning to say " I am over the restaurants and eating too much."  You can see the arm bent, hopefully not permanently.

Sandy, Anni and Kate are desperately waiting for the swimmers to go so that they have a totally unrestricted day for shopping.  They are no more desperate than us.  Awards will eventually be handed out to the most user of credit cards, this award is endorsed and subsided by the Westpac Bank.   The waiting game, whilst Morocco beckons,  is becoming more frustrating and tedious.  Bananas, powerade, health food bars are packed and ready for the WORD.

James and Jenny are leading the fashion stakes with personally embellished BBC tshirts, two off only. Next day they both turned up in pristine clean, brand new ESPANA tshirts.  We are envious, the rest of us only have the Team shirt.

Jon, our Number 1 leader is a true inspiration, he is constantly meditating and can be found in his room most hours of the day after checking out the local walking tracks.  This morning at 1100, whilst waiting for the CALL to swim, he was again in meditative mode.  He keeps chocolate by his bed, no doubt the gate way to Nirvana (and safe swimming).

It is has just been established, NO SWIM today. Hopefully Saturday.  Time is running out as is our patience. However we are resilient and keen so will fill the day in with more eating, walking, swimming and the inevitable laughter that accompanies the group.

The weather is warm and balmy and at least the water is good to swim in.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Team Training Swim

Prior to Swim Team Training Gathering

The team gather for training yet again, another swim while waiting for the weather to Improve to enable the swim to take place. Over night we had a change with rain with wind direction, which we are all hoping will be favorable to a change across the Gibraltar Strait.

All are now ready to go and do the swim as are all getting a bit tired of sitting around the township of Tarifa, bring on the swim ! !

Word has it the swim That Will take place on Friday , 17th September.

All The Team Reday to GO !!!!!!!!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010


Denise  tried hard but was out swum by the team again !!!  and while coming out of the water managed to trip over her self and graze her knee poor dear !!  To top off this morning while we were showering on the beach we where all exposed to Rowan doing the full monty !!!!! Weather was still windy and choppy so no swim tomorrow