March 18, 2023

Those who know me or have read my previous travels know that I tend to avoid cities, especially large cities. I might be the only traveler that rode entirely across Colombia while intentionally bypassing Medellin, Bogota, and Cali. Lately I’ve taken to saying “Nothing good ever happens in big cities”. I’m just not a fan of hordes: people, traffic, and the fast-paced stress that comes with these places. I much prefer to take the unpaved, more scenic routes to small, and even tiny, villages. For me, that’s where the real people are, and where you can find the most genuine and authentic local experiences.

So when we began planning to visit Morocco, I was of course hesitant to put Marrakech on the list. I had heard the horror stories about the hassles from guys wanting to sell you “authentic hand made” Moroccan crafts — most often made in China — and the thieves and pickpockets in the medina. In the end, we decided we needed to “check the square” and see Djemaa el-fnaa. An added incentive was a night food tour that we had seen on the television show “Somebody Feed Phil”.

In order to make the experience a bit more bearable for a hermit/curmudgeon like myself, I booked an apartment a good twenty minutes’ drive away from the square. On the far east end of Marrakech, the Atlas Golf Club was a nice gated compound of mostly vacation homes. It’s surrounded by desert; I’m not sure if the “Golf” part was a pipe-dream, a sales promotion, or just a failed attempt, but there’s no golf course that I could see. However, the apartment turned out to be nice, and the parking area felt safe enough for the bike.

When it came time to figure out how to get to Djemaa el-Fnaa, we were nervous, as we had heard lots of stories about getting ripped off by taxi drivers, with everything from no meters, to intentionally going the wrong way, to just plain price gouging.

In this respect, I got extra lucky. A neighbor in a nearby apartment was out doing some work in his garden, and I stopped to ask if he spoke English.

“A little”, he said, with a French accent. Of course it turned out his English was quite good. He is from Switzerland (and coincidentally named Patrick), and his wife Algerian. This is their winter home. As they have no vehicle here in Morocco, they rely on the services of a particular taxi driver, and he was nice enough to hook us up. Zakariah, our cab driver, picked us up at the apartment, took us to the marketplace, and picked us up from the market six hours later for the return trip, all for about twenty bucks.

Jamaa el-Fnaa is not for the claustrophobic or people who hate crowds. The food experience made up for the stress I felt in the hordes of people. The food tour was supposed to last three and a half hours, but in fact was closer to four and a half. And it wasn’t small samples either. We had what seemed like several full meals in that time.

Djemaa el fnaa square, late afternoon. Not too crowded. Yet.

A bit later, but still before dark. The crowds are coming.

One of the stops on our food tour was this olive vendor. We sampled close to a dozen different types of olives, each one explained to us in detail by the seller as he handed them out. This is one of those times when I wished I was a typical tourist, and could buy a couple of large jars of olives to take home on the plane. But we’re packed to the gills already, which on a positive note, means we don’t spend money on kitsch. Or hand-woven Moroccan rugs.

Another stop on the tour was this “bakery”, which for the most part is a very large oven. For many years (centuries?), this oven was the community oven. Residents would buy their ingredients, make their bread products, then bring them here for the baker to cook for them. This has been a tradition throughout the small towns in this part of the world. Note the paddles on the right side, on poles that are probably fifteen feet long. An indication of how deep this oven is.

Hard to tell from this photo, but the oven can hold over 200 loaves of bread at once.

Diana with Chef Hadj Mustapha. Chef Mustapha appeared on the “Somebody Feed Phil” episode, but is more famous here for being the chef to the former King of Morocco. We enjoyed a meal of tangia here (as opposed to tagine, which we had almost everywhere else in Morocco, tangia is similar but prepared and served in a different type of earthenware pot).

The meat is cooked in this twelve foot deep hole in the ground, cooked in the ashes of the coals from the local bath house.

This couscous dinner was one of the final meals on our food tour.

Our food tour group, with Ismael (our guide) in the center.

On two of the nights in Marrakech, we ate dinner at a gas station. As unappealing as that may sound, this cafe at the gas station has been featured on a food show on BBC (we found out after we went there at the recommendation of another neighbor in our apartment complex). The place is called Al Baraka. It’s no Buc-ee’s, but in addition to gas and a mini-mart, it also has this great restaurant with local cuisine at reasonable prices, and a mosque.

Not a great photo, but this is Al Baraka, on the outskirts of Marrakech, and not far from where we stayed. The right side of the photo is the gas station and mini-mart. The left side is the indoor dining portion of the restaurant, and the center is the outdoor portion of the restaurant. Just to the right of the outdoor portion is the entrance to the mosque. We watched as dozens of worshippers entered during the evening call to prayer. It’s worth watching the BBC episode in the link above to get a real feel for this incredible gas station meal, said to be “The best chicken tagine in Marrakech”. I wouldn’t disagree.

Looking out from one of the terraces at our apartment at the Atlas “No-Golf” Club. Nice place. Just no golf.

We had intentionally diverted through Marrakech in order to say that we did…something I rarely ever do. The food tour made it worthwhile though, as we not only had the opportunity to learn about local food and food culture, but our tour guide did a nice job of weaving in some education about the Muslim culture in Morocco as well.

Speaking of which, we were two days away from the beginning of Ramadan, which we felt was a good time to head back north to Europe. Although we were told that there would still be plenty of places open during the day for us tourists to find meals, it was feeling a bit like we would be outsiders imposing on their religious traditions. So we once again loaded up, and headed for our last night in Morocco.

Rabat, and Out.

March 20, 2023

The night before leaving Marrakech for Rabat, I received a message on my phone from the owner of the apartment that we had reserved for our last night in Morocco. The message said “Apartment is only for family and married couples with marriage papers.”

I was a bit confused at first. Then I realized he wanted to make sure we were married, as this is a traditional Muslim country, and they will not allow an unmarried couple to stay in a hotel room or apartment together.

So I responded: “Yes, thank you. it is just me and my wife. Our passports show that we are married (same surname).”

The response came immediately: “You told me you are two men. you are not family. I can’t accept you.”

Now I was really confused. “No. Perhaps you have me confused with someone else?”

Again, the response came quickly, this time with a photo attached of what appeared to be a “boudoir”-type photo of a man laying in what looked to be a bed of rose petals. “This is your photo.”

I would have been cracking up if I wasn’t so tired. Instead, I was getting irritated and about to tell the host to just forget it and we would get a place somewhere else.

There was a brief pause before the messages started flooding into my phone:
“My mistake”
“I’m very very very sorry.”

I chuckled a bit and shook my head. there wasn’t much more I could do. This is a very Muslim country and their religion definitely discriminates again gay men. That much was out of my control.

We eventually smoothed things out and agreed to accept an apartment from him, with a bit of an upgraded parking situation (an underground locked parking garage, which always makes me feel better about leaving the bike).

When we finally did arrive and check into the apartment, the owner was again very apologetic and very nice. He suggested a couple of options for dinner that night, and we chose the seafood place a few blocks down the street.

When we arrived at the restaurant, there was no English menu, and the staff spoke no English. So I took out my phone, opened the Google Translate app, and used the camera to translate the menu. It worked like a charm. We found a seafood plate that included fish, shrimp, mussels, fried calamari rings, salad, and french fries, and was offered for two people or three people. I told the waiter we wanted the seafood plate for two.

When the food came, they brought two huge plates of seafood. It was enough to feed four people easily. I began to get nervous. I was convinced that when I told the waiter we wanted the seafood plate for two, he must have misunderstood me and took it to mean that we wanted TWO seafood plates for two people. The quantity of food was overwhelming.

This was just half of the amount of seafood they brought to the table.

The bigger problem though was that we had a money problem. This being our last night in Morocco, I had intentionally spent all of our Moroccon Dirham except just enough for dinner. And this place didn’t take credit cards. Worse yet, my ATM card had expired just before we left the US, and I failed to notice (and the bank didn’t automatically send me a new card). On top of that, I was carrying two credit cards: one which I had no PIN for, so I couldn’t get cash from an ATM with it, and the other one had been declined by the last several ATM machines.

I was having visions of washing a LOT of dishes tonight.

The food was great, but I would have enjoyed it more if I hadn’t been so worried about how I was going to pay for it. So when we finished and I asked for the check, nervously, I was shocked when the waiter brought the bill and it turned out that, yes, all of that food was truly just one order for two people. We had enough money to pay for dinner after all.

We didn’t spend any time in Rabat, the capitol of Morocco. It was just a stopping point on our way back to the ferry at Tanger Med. I don’t feel like we really missed anything. As I said earlier, we’re not really city people. I’m sure there are some nice mosques and historic sites in Rabat, and some nice beaches. But we’re not really beach people either. So we left Rabat early the next day to make sure we arrived in plenty of time to catch our ferry back to Spain.

Morocco had been a great experience. Overall, Morocco is the friendliest and most welcoming country I’ve visited thus far, and the places we went varied widely and were so different than anywhere in Europe we had been in the past year.

It’s interesting to me that so many Europeans that we’ve met talk about wanting to come to the US to see the desert in the Southwest, and those that have made the trip talk about how beautiful it is. So much of Morocco looks a lot like Arizona, New Mexico, and parts of Utah, and is so much closer to home. And as a motorcyclist, they can ride there with just a brief ferry trip. I would highly recommend Morocco as a great desert destination to European motorcyclists looking to save a ton of money and experience the beauty of true desert scenery.

And if that isn’t enough, then head for Utah.

Spain, Part Four?: Ronda & Cádiz

March 21-29, 2023

Spain is a big country, at least by European standards. Spain is about 75% the size of Texas. And like Texas, it’s big enough that the landscape and the climate varies by region. This is at least our fourth time traveling through different parts of Spain, if we include the first couple of times fifteen or so years ago when we flew to Barcelona and rented a BMW GS to head through France and Italy. And it’s not the last.

Last September we rode across Spain from northwest to southeast, to store the bike in Malaga for a several months. We rode through some nice mountain passes and a lot of open plains before getting to the seashore in Malaga.

This year, after picking the bike up in Malaga, we headed a little further down the coast to catch the ferry to Morocco for a couple of weeks, and then returned to Spain with the plan to head west to Portugal.

After a day at Marcin and Ela’s place in Manilva, and a change of tires, it was time to head west toward Cádiz.

A Voice From The Past

A few weeks earlier, while relaxing in Malaga, my phone rang. I looked at the screen, and it was an unknown caller, so I did what I do 99% of the time with unknown callers: I ignored it. About twenty minutes later, it rang again. Same number — a European phone number — but not a number I recognized. Since it was a European number, I decided to take a chance and answer it.

“Is this Patrick Williams?”
“Yes, it is. Who is this?”
“This is the Adventure Authority. I’m afraid I have to advise you that you are in violation of the Adventure Authority Code which states that you must make your location known to all other adventure motorcyclists in the area while traveling in Europe.”

Silence while I tried to figure out who this might be.

Finally, he gave in.
“This is Daniel.”

I couldn’t believe it.

I had last talked to Daniel Rintz in Buenos Aires, Argentina in March of 2016, when I shared my apartment with Daniel and his girlfriend Joey while preparing to ship my bike to South Africa. They were nearly three years into their round-the-world ride on two BMWs, and were also shipping their bikes to Africa, though they would be quite a ways behind me, as I was on a little 250 and could afford to fly it to Cape Town, while their big BMWs (and their budget) meant that they would be putting them on a ship. Also, I was taking the easier eastern route north through Africa, while Daniel and Joey were taking the more challenging western route, eventually heading home to Germany.

That was the last time I had seen them.

“Where are you?” I asked.
“We’re in Spain, not far from you.” I was unaware that they were following our travels.

We talked briefly, and made plans to meet up after Diana and I returned from Morocco.

But first, we had one last trip to make with Marcin and Ela and their daughter Lilly. While Diana and I took the bike, Marcin and family drove their car to Ronda, an hour and a half from their home in Manilva. Ronda is a quaint little mountaintop town overlooking a deep gorge. It is famous for the stone bridge across the gorge that connects the old town and the new town. Oddly, we learned about it several months ago, while watching old episodes of The Amazing Race. In one episode, contestants had to cross a tightwire strung under the bridge. Because of this American television show, we immediately recognized the bridge in Ronda.

On the way to Ronda, we stopped in Gaucin for a coffee, and ran into these two Dutch guys. They run a tour company that does “self-guided” motorcycle tours in different parts of Europe. They were here scouting new off-road sections for one of their Spain tours.

The bridge in Ronda. If you look just below the arch section, you can see a doorway and a walkway with a railing. This is where the cable was strung across from one side to the other for the Amazing Race contestants to walk across to the other side.

This happens to us frequently, but Ela picked up on it in Ronda and took a photo to paste on her Instagram page. She referred to us as “celebrities” because people kept approaching us asking about the Texas license plate. It’s definitely a conversation starter, though it happens so often I’ve said I’m going to use a Sharpie and write “Yes, Really” on the back of the Rotopax water container above the license plate, in response to the common opening line: “Are you really from Texas?”

While enjoying churros with Marcin and Ela in Ronda, we mentioned that we were headed to Cádiz to meet up with Daniel & Joey. “I love Cádiz!”, Ela said. So a couple of days later, we met again in Cádiz.

We had a day in between Ronda and Cadiz, so we camped in Zahora, right across the road from the beach. Happy to be back in our tent (our “home away from home”). We haven’t camped as much as on past legs, mostly because we were staying with friends or it was cheap enough in Morocco to afford some decent lodging. We’ve got a few house sits coming up as well, which will reduce our average lodging expenses, but I really like the tent when we have a nice place to stay (ie, a table to cook and eat at, and decent showers/bathrooms are a requirement for Diana).

In Cadiz, Ela showed us around the seawall, with some beautiful parks to walk through, then took us to the local market, where we had an assortment of local delicacies, from sea urchin to chicharrones.

Cadiz is a beautiful city, with a large old section that is very walkable.

These trees near the seawall were massive.

Some of the branches on these trees were as much as five or six feet in diameter. This tree had a section that reminded me of a “waif” or a mummy or ghost, with his arms drooping down in tattered clothing.

Parques Genovés.

The lovely Ela and Lilly.

Looking across to Castillo de San Sebastian.

Ela led us to this open-air market where we had chicharrones (deep-fried pork rinds and pork belly). Healthy? Uh, nope. Delicious? Yes.

We also had fresh oysters and sea urchin. I don’t normally recommend consuming raw shellfish right off of a folding table on a sidewalk, but Ela had never tried either before, so why not?

Miraculously, we all survived.

That evening we met Daniel, Joey, and their 15-month old son Joshua at San Francisco Plaza. Over beers, we reminisced about our earlier travels, and talked about future plans. The conversation came easy and we enjoyed their company so much that we arranged to meet again for breakfast the next morning, and again later that afternoon. It was great to catch up with them, for Diana to finally meet them, and to meet Joshua. Although they’ve ticked the box for “Three Years Riding Around the World on Motorcycles”, they continue to live the life, now with a toddler, in a van pulling a trailer with a Suzuki DR400.

Joey, Joshua, and Daniel. Daniel and Joey made two movies about their motorcycle travels, the award-winning “Somewhere Else Tomorrow” and “Somewhere Else Together”. We hope to cross paths again, perhaps in Portugal, or maybe in Germany.

We were unaware until we walked into the lobby of our apartment in Cádiz that it had a “Round-the World” theme. This is the floor tile mosaic as you enter the lobby. The building was built in the 1700s, and recently remodeled into these beautiful apartments.

And this is just outside our apartment.

Our AirBnB in Cádiz wasn’t cheap, but it was extremely nice and comfortable. We saved enough by camping and staying with friends to afford to stay here for a couple of nights.

After a couple of nights in Cádiz, we were finally ready to head for a new country, but we had one more city in Spain to see first. We’ll be back through Spain again before long though, but it’ll be a different part, again.


March 27-28, 2023

We have a house sit coming up in the Algarve region of Portugal, but with a few days yet before that starts we decided to take a slow journey in that direction. Just eighty miles or two hours up the road from Cádiz is Seville, or Sevilla. Since (once again) I’m not a city-tourist person, I assigned Diana the task of laying out a route of where she wanted to go in Sevilla. Based on that, I searched for a place to stay with the usual requirements:

1. Within our budget
2. Within walking distance of where we want to go.
3. Parking for the bike that looks/feels relatively safe, which usually means off-street and/or within view of the room we’re staying in, and/or secured.

In this case, we ended up in Central Sevilla, which is not the first time that the most exciting part of the ride involved trying to get to the place by going in decreasing concentric circles while maintaining awareness of the direction of the narrow, one-lane, one-way streets I was turning into. After a couple of landing attempts with a go-around, we managed to find the correct block of the correct street, but still hadn’t located the exact apartment building.

Look far enough down this row of scooters, and you’ll find the one open spot where we could temporarily park the bike while searching for the apartment. Hint: look for the yellow bag on the rear rack of the bike.

We decided to have a coffee at the sidewalk cafe (La Gorda) next to the bike, while I set off in search of the address. The apartment address was listed as Number 4. I walked one building to the left and saw Number 2. Then I walked one building to the right, and saw Number 6. So I asked the waiter where Number 4 was located, and he just shrugged. There was no number on the cafe, but of course it turned out to be Number 4. There also didn’t appear to be any other door to gain access to the upper floors aside from the entrance to the cafe. Eventually we wandered around the corner into the alleyway, and about half-way down the alley, out of sight from the street due to a bend in the alley, was a door. Bingo.

Hiding in plain sight. Across the street was the entrance to a large underground parking garage where we parked the bike. Parking here, like in Cádiz, does not come cheap. I could have parked the bike in this alleyway with the other local scooters for free, but I wasn’t comfortable with that. Just me being paranoid.

The architecture alone in Seville is worth the visit.

The Catedral de Sevilla.

Plaza de España, built for the Ibero-American Exposition in 1929. This panoramic photo flattens out the building; it’s actually built in a large half-circle, with a fountain in the center (just to the left and behind where the photo was taken).Tip: save your money and go here to see a free Flamenco dance presentation./em>

Parque de Maria Luisa. This 99 acre park sits on what was originally the gardens of the Palace of San Telmo. The park was built over a fifteen year period (1914-1929) in preparation for the Ibero-American Exposition of 1929 (which, sadly, took place just as the US stock market crashed). We could have wandered this park for hours.

We spent about half a day wandering central Seville, and saw many more historic sights in addition to the ones here. We chose not to enter several of them (such as La Giralda and the Catedral de Sevilla), due to either the entry fee, the large crowds and long lines, or both.

That evening, we attended a Flamenco presentation at the Teatro Flamenco, which was also just a five minute walk from where we were staying. It was interesting to watch this native gypsy dance, but we both found the guitar player to be even more impressive. As I said above, I would highly recommend a walk to the Plaza de España to watch the free Flamenco presentation on the steps at the center of the circle before spending the money on tickets to a theater show.

Sevilla is a beautiful city, if pricey, and if we were “tourists” in the normal sense (ie, spending a fortune on a two week trip), we could have stayed here for a few more days.

After bailing the bike out of parking prison ($20 a day), we somehow managed to easily find our way out of downtown and towards our last night in Spain.

Isla Cristina

March 29, 2023

Just another 137 kilometers or 85 miles from Sevilla, near the border with Portugal, is Isla Cristina. This small island is a popular tourist destination for Spanish tourists, and in particular those from Sevilla, who come here during July and August for the beautiful beaches.

We arrived at the end of March, long before tourist season begins, and it showed. We stayed in a campground that was primarily taken up by full-time trailers, or caravans, that are parked here year-round but used only for a short time each year. There were perhaps a dozen or so motorhomes, mostly from Germany and Netherlands, that were occupied. Even though it was off-season, the primitive camping spot that we were given was still $27 a night. On the positive side, the facilities were clean, and there was a small cafe that served breakfast on site.

Our home for a couple of nights in Isla Cristina.

We were just across the road from the beach, and a pathway led from the campground to the beach, which then turned into a boardwalk which led about a half mile to the town of Isla Cristina. We decided to walk to the edge of town for dinner at a restaurant that showed up on Google Maps. When we arrived, there was a private party going on there, and the other cafes across the parking lot were closed. So we decided to continue down the boardwalk into town.

This won’t be the last time I say this, but this is the perfect time of year for someone like me to visit Spain and Portugal. The weather is great (not too hot), and the crowds — outside of places like Sevilla — amount to a family or two.

It quickly became apparent that this is indeed a tourist town, and it was indeed not tourist season. This is a positive for me, as (have I mentioned this?) I hate crowds, and having the entire boardwalk and beach to ourselves was wonderful. However, it’s also a severe drawback when trying to find something to eat. The town looked deserted. There were a few locals milling about, but nearly every business was closed. We eventually discovered Telepizza, which is sort of Spain’s answer to Domino’s, but with a few tables so you can actually dine in. The normal Telepizza customer gets their pizza delivered by a guy on a red scooter. Not us.

We found this one bar that was open on the main street of town, and had a drink while waiting for Telepizza to open at 7:30pm.

Telepizza. Sort of a Domino’s/Pizza Hut/Little Caesar’s kind of pizza delivery, but with a few tables for people like us.

The pizza turned out to be quite good, and the walk back to the campground at sunset was great.

Sunset from the boardwalk. There are vacation homes and hotels all along here, and not a single one of them open or occupied.

We slept well, had a nice “tostada” (toast) breakfast in the morning with cafe con leche, and made our way to Portugal.

Algarve, Portugal: 55 Countries and Counting

March 30, 2023

Portugal marks fifty five countries for me, and thirty six that Diana has been along for the ride. That leaves a lot of the world still remaining, but hey, If Not Now, Soon?

We only had eighty miles to ride today to get to our house sit outside of Silves, Portugal. I’m not a fan of riding toll roads or motorways any more than we have to, and in much of Portugal the toll roads don’t have toll booths; you have to pay electronically. Either you have a transponder, or they debit the account you create online each time the toll reader scans your license plate. This all sounded like more hassle than we needed, so we chose to take the MUCH more scenic backroads to Silves.

It’s easy for an American, and especially for someone from a state as large as Texas, to forget how relatively small countries can be here. This was the first time I realized how close together many of the world championship Formula One and Moto GP race tracks are. For example, it’s only about 200 miles from the Circuito de Jerez in Spain to the Algarve International Circuit in Portimao, Portugal. That would be like having a world championship motorsports race at Circuit of the Americas in Austin, and another in Dallas or Houston. Not only that, but there are multiple wold-class tracks just in Spain and Italy alone. America struggles just to keep one round in a huge country.

The Algarve is a popular tourist destination, and also a large attraction for ex-pats. Over the years, many Brits and Americans have moved here. Portugal has made it easy for foreigners to buy land and obtain residency (that is changing as I write this, as the floodgates seem to have been opened a bit too wide as far as locals are concerned). The beaches and the weather here are prime attractions, as is the lower cost of living.

As usual, we aren’t here for the beaches, and in fact we are skipping the towns most well-known to tourists in the Algarve. Instead, we are riding through beautiful, twisty, mountain roads, past incredibly fragrant orange groves as the blooms erupt this time of year, and through large stands of eucalyptus trees. The road and the area reminds me of riding through Southern California in the 1960s and 1970s, before so much of the land was bulldozed and turned into sprawling subdivisions. Back then, you could ride a dirt bike almost anywhere outside of town, and go for miles through the hills of Southern California. In places, it feels like riding through Griffith Park, the landscape and the trees looking more like there than any other place I’ve been as of yet.

Our destination for the next five days is just outside of Silves, a town with a population of about 11,000 people that was once the ancient capitol of the Algarve.

Silves Castle. Originally built as a Lusitanian Castro around 201 BC, between the 8th and 13th centuries, the Moors occupied and expanded it. Today, the restored outer walls remain, but little of the interior exists.

The Silves Cathedral, built in the second half of the 13th century.

The cathedral and castle are lit at night, providing an imposing sight over the city of Silves.

Our home for the next five days is this one hundred acre estate in the countryside. We’ll be caring for these three great dogs, along with a bunch of chickens, some doves, and of course the home.

Each day we take the dogs walking on the trails around this large property. Good exercise for all and great views.

Gum rock-rose.

Lotus Berthelotti. From a distance these flowers look like tiny flames.

These loquat fruit have a sweet taste when picked at the right time.

Home made breakfast, including eggs from the chickens, and fresh picked oranges and tomatoes.

During our stay outside Silves, we received a message from Paula, the niece of my good friend Tom. She and her husband, who are from Louisville, Kentucky, were in Albufeira, about forty minutes away. We made plans to meet for lunch.

Paula and her husband Anoosh (on the left) along with Anoosh’s niece and her husband, met us for lunch in Albufeira. We had never met before today, although it felt like we already knew each other fairly well through Tom. We had a great time in the couple of hours we spent together, and are already discussing plans to go see them again when we’re back in the States.

Tomar, via Evora: Knights (Templar) to the Rescue?

April 4, 2023

On the way towards Evora this morning, we rode past another motorcyclist on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere. It looked like he may be in need of help, so I turned around to go back and check on him.

He was indeed broken down. He was from France, and had been traveling this part of Europe for three years, essentially on no money. He was riding what looked to be a mid-2000s Kawasaki 500 cruiser. As I pulled up behind him, he walked up and asked, “Do you speak any English?”

“English is pretty much ALL I speak”, I replied with a grin.

“Dude!” Not exactly the French response I was expecting.

It turns out his throttle cable had snapped at the lower connector to the carburetors, and he had no spare cable, few tools, and little mechanical experience, as best as I could tell. After some discussion, we decided to try to use the return cable in place of the “pull” cable to get him down the road to a place that might be able to repair or replace the cable for him. However, upon opening the throttle housing, we quickly saw that the return cable was broken off at the throttle tube, and had apparently been in that condition since he purchased the bike, as the end of the cable was nowhere to be found.

Not my favorite place to disassemble a motorcycle, but as Judith would say, “It could be worse…it could be snowing.”

This left him with few options, and without any money for a tow truck. We had a lengthy discussion about how he could move forward, and after exhausting other options, we agreed that I would install the remnants of the return cable on the carburetors, routing the other end near the throttle. I then attached a small pair of Vise Grips to the frayed end of the cable, creating a handle that he could pull to open the throttle. After testing it a few times to ensure it returned properly on its’ own, we left him to (hopefully slowly) maneuver to somewhere that could do more for him.

It wasn’t the best solution (two new cables magically appearing would have been nice), but it still felt like the right thing to do, and a fresh injection of karma that we might need to call on some day.

An hour or so later, I stood and read a sonnet written by Antonio Ascensão Teles, the parish priest of the village of São Pedro from 1845 to 1848. The poem was written to encourage people to reflect on their existence in general, but it also struck me as specifically appropriate to those who travel as we do. In reflecting on our travels, it’s more important to us to experience the people and the cultures than the tourist stops along the way, and to reflect on why we travel (ironic, since I was reading this in what had become a tourist stop). I realize that seems a bit odd, considering how much I’ve reiterated that I’m more of a hermit than most and dislike crowds, but I’ve come to enjoy the company of very small crowds, especially those who may not even share a common language but share a common curiosity about people from distant lands. The more we’ve traveled, the more we’ve learned about people from all over the world. Mostly, we’ve learned that regardless of what you may read or hear in the media, people everywhere tend to be the same. They want to be happy and to live their lives with as little stress as possible (hint: if that doesn’t describe you, you may want to reconsider your priorities). To that end, we’ve seen that those with the least — possessions, money, obligations, stress — tend to be the happiest, and they also tend to be the people who are the first to offer to do anything for you, including offering meals, places to stay, and assistance. They may have very little, but they are happy to share whatever they have.

So, having reflected on our travels, here’s the sonnet I read, translated from Portuguese to English:

Where are you going in such a hurry, traveller?
Stop…do not proceed any further;
You have no greater concern,
Than this one: that on which you focus your sight.

Recall how many have passed from this world,
Reflect on your similar end,
There is good reason to reflect
If only all did the same.

Ponder, you so influenced by fate,
Among the many concerns of the world,
So little do you reflect on death;

If by chance you glance at this place,
Stop…For the sake of your journey,
The more you pause, the more you will progress.

Father Teles’ sonnet hangs in the Capela dos Ossos in the Church of St. Francis in Evora, Portugal. When read while standing where it hangs, in the Chapel of Bones, it has an even stronger message.

We continued to ponder that while heading further north to Tomar, the seat of the Knights Templar. The castle in Tomar was built beginning in 1118, and the Convent of Christ was constructed through the end of the 12th century. The Templar Order was dissolved in the early 1300s and in 1319 the Order of Christ was established. This massive monastery is still undergoing restoration.

The sidewalks in the city leading toward the Convent of Christ have the Knights Templar cross inlaid in them.

Having done our best at a good deed for the day, and pondering the fate of travelers like us, we continued on towards Arouca, where we were looking forward to a bit of present-day experience and adventure.

516 Arouca

April 6, 2023

We based in Arouca for two nights so that we could leave all of our “stuff” behind for a day while doing some hiking. Arouca is a beautiful town of around 20,000 people in a valley, surrounded by hills mostly covered in pines. As usual, we took the “back road” into Arouca, and the twisty, lightly-traveled road itself made for a beautiful and fun introduction to Arouca. Time Magazine called Arouca “One of the World’s Greatest Places” in 2021. The town has a nice, relaxing feel to it, although to be fair we were there before tourist season starts, which I’m sure creates a whole different level of chaos.

Besides the town itself, there are two main attractions in the area: The first is the Arouca Geopark, which has a 5.1 mile long mostly elevated, plank-covered walkway along the Paiva River. Called the Passadiços de Paiva, the walkway includes a climb of over five hundred steps up (and then down again).

These stairs (over 500 of them) are at the south end of the walkway. Once you’ve climbed them, it’s pretty much all downhill for the next four and a half miles, following the Paiva River.

The downhill side of the steps.

The Paiva River is a popular rafting and kayaking spot.

Once you reach the end of the five mile walk, there are taxis and shuttle vehicles that will take you back to the start.

Within the Arouca Geopark is the second and newest attraction, called 516 Arouca. The “516” refers to 516 meters (1693 feet), the length of the bridge, which when it opened in April 2021 was the longest pedestrian suspension bridge in the world.

The bridge is 175 meters, or 574 feet, above the Paiva River.

Yep. Crossed it. Yep, it bounces when people walk on it.

In the US, if you built a multi-million dollar bridge as a tourist attraction, you’d build a Disney-like theme park in front of it, with rides, souvenir shops, restaurants, maybe a big parking lot with a tram that takes you to the front gate… Here, it’s a twenty minute walk down this 1.5 meter wide, mostly unmarked stone and dirt path to get to the bridge. Once you’re there, it’s just the bridge; no souvenir t-shirts, no “516” souvenir $20 plastic cups with watered down soft drinks. In fact, there are only restrooms on one end of the bridge. It may be a tourist attraction, but it’s surrounded by authenticity.

We enjoyed our relaxing stay in Arouca, and we again took the back way out of Arouca towards our next destination: The Douro Valley.

The Douro Valley

April 7-9, 2023

Before ever leaving home, back in 2020, I had already made a list of my “must-see” places in Portugal. They included the Algarve, but not the beaches and beach towns that most people long for; Nazare, particularly in November, for the big wave surfing, and Lisbon, because, well, in all honesty, there was a place to store the bike there if needed while we flew home. Aside from that, I didn’t have a real “need” to see Lisbon. However, always at the top of my list for Portugal was the Douro Valley.

I’m not a wine snob; in fact, I probably know less than 99% of people about wines. I rarely even drink wine. But I’ve always been attracted to vineyards. The growing process, and the look and feel of a vineyard, have always given me a peaceful feeling. I felt the same way when I stepped into my grove of six hundred navel orange trees in southern California. There’s just something about helping nature to produce a beautiful product, and the feeling of walking among it, that speaks to me.

So even though the home of Port wine was calling me, it was the vineyards more than the wineries that I wanted to see. And the Douro River Valley teased me with that promise.

More than a year ago, while doing a little research on the area, I stumbled on an AirBnB that also spoke to me. It was a converted old mill house, on the edge of the Varosa River upstream from the Douro. There was nothing nearby. Surrounded by vineyards, olive groves and open land, it looked like a peaceful little house in a peaceful spead of countryside. I made a note to book it when we finally got to Portugal.

One thing that happens when you travel for extended periods is that you lose track of what day it is, and what date it is. So when we arrived in Vila Real, north of the Douro River, on Good Friday, nearly everything in town was closed. We walked the town, and while walking past the one restaurant that appeared to be open, a gentleman who was likely the owner ran out the door and asked if we wanted to eat dinner. He spoke only Portuguese, and when he realized that we spoke only English, he asked us to wait while he ran back inside and brought a waiter back out who spoke English. It was the only place in town that we could find that was open, and they were really wanting our business. So we said “Okay”, and they seated us at a table and brought us a menu. The first thing I saw was the prices, starting at over $100. I was about to get up, when I realized that I was looking at assorted seafood plates for large groups. The next page had individual items, and was closer to our budget. I ended up ordering a seafood tagliatelle, which turned out to be one of, if not the best meal I’ve had in the past two months.

If you enjoy seafood, this was a delicious meal, for about $14.

Diana ordered a traditional Portuguese “sandwich”, a Francesinha, which translates to “Little French”, and is based on the croque monsieur. It’s made with bread, ham, steak, linguica sausage and covered in melted cheese, then topped with a fried egg and covered in a spiced tomato and beer sauce.

Not the kind of sandwich you eat with your bare hands.

And as usual, we ordered a bottle of wine with dinner, which with the exorbitant restaurant markup, came to about $8 for the bottle.

We spent the night at the Mira Corgo hotel in Vila Real (underground parking garage and reasonably priced, including breakfast buffet), and started our loop of the Douro Valley and points beyond the next morning.

Vineyards as far as the eye can see.

There are a lot of day cruises up the Douro River. Many stop at a couple of wineries for tastings, and for lunch at Pinhao. They have to go through this lock on the river.

Considerably smaller than the Panama Canal locks, but same concept.

Up to the height of the eastern side of the river, and on to Pinhao.

We’re not using a GPS for navigation this year; instead I’m using an old iPhone 8 and the app, and it has worked great, up until now. But for some reason this morning, I made a monumental error and didn’t realize it. I had punched in multiple waypoints to form a one hundred mile loop. After watching the boat come through the lock, we continued east to Pinhao, but there were so many tourists there on this holiday weekend that we turned around and headed back the way we came to a small roadside restaurant we had passed earlier. Finding it full as well, we got back on the bike, and that’s when I noticed the app was telling me to go nearly all the way back to the dam/lock, and take a small road south. I wasn’t sure how I had missed this turn, but I did as instructed, and we rode another ten miles back and turned up a tiny side road. After two miles, it came to a dead end at St. Eufemia Vineyards, which I then remembered that I had plotted into the phone as our first stop. The vineyard was closed (Easter weekend), and that’s when I realized that, unlike the Garmin GPS, or Google Maps, does not “assume” that you want to skip a waypoint and reconfigures your route. No, it insists that you go all the way back to the point you put in, before allowing you to continue on. So now we were again heading east, past the same roadside restaurant, past Pinhao and finally south on a new road.

The lushness of the Douro Valley vineyards fades quickly once you climb out of the valley, and the terrain changed to plains, then occasional forest, as we continued south then west again.

At a gas station near the direct center of absolutely nowhere, we stopped, not for gas, but for something to drink and an ice cream. While sitting at a small table enjoying our break, a woman in an Audi sedan pulled in. I thought I smelled burning brakes, but then noticed the smoke coming from the grille of the car. She got out and walked over to the couple sitting at the next table, which was also the cashier of the gas station and her husband/boyfriend, I think. They spoke briefly in Portuguese. The man never bothered to take his feet off of the chair across from him, and made it obvious that he had no intention of getting up to look at her car. Eventually, he relented and told her to pull the car around to the side of the building. As she started the car again, black smoke belched from the tailpipe, and the transmission made a terrible sound while the engine rpms increased but the car resisted forward movement. Eventually there was a loud “BANG!”, the car leapt forward, and died. She managed to get it restarted, and again it strained to move, but eventually crept toward the side of the building with a horrible metallic grinding noise. We quickly put our helmets on and got back on the road. Karma be damned, this was one ugly episode that was not going to end well for the woman or the Audi.

We continued past Vila da Ponte and on to Varzea de Abrunhais, to the little AirBnB that I was excited to finally meet.

The bridge over the Varosa River. This photo is taken from the path to our little house on the river.

Our own little vineyard. There are more vines, and olive trees, on the terraces above us that also belong to Quinta de Reciao, the owners of this little piece of heaven.

Looking back to the house from the vineyard. The vines won’t be full of green leaves and grapes for several months yet.

If you arrive on foot or by car, this little wagon awaits about two hundred yards up the path at the road. By motorcycle, with some care, we can ride right up to the door.

Across the river sits the remains of an old convent. This land once was covered in vineyards also, but now sits abandoned. If I was rich, I’d seriously entertain buying the land and moving in. It just needs a little fixing up.

We spent a couple of days just relaxing here. I had intended to do another loop through the Douro Valley, but the peacefulness of this place took over, and aside from a ride into Lamego for dinner one night, we never left. We enjoyed it so much that before we left, we booked another three night stay here coming up in a couple of weeks.

I can’t wait to return.

Dealing with “All Those Languages”

April 23, 2023

The more we travel, and the more countries we travel through, the more we try to learn, both about the culture and the languages. We feel lucky that we grew up in an English-speaking country, since our native language tends to be a second or third language in most other countries. This helps considerably, but doesn’t always save us.

We often get the question from people who approach us about “how do you deal with all of the different languages?” These days, there are definitely shortcuts. The obvious “easy way out” is to just say “We only speak English”, and force the other person to switch to whatever level of English they may know (our local guide on a Douro River tour the other day uttered a line to this effect. He said “Bad English is what keeps Europe together”.) Sometimes this works, and sometimes it doesn’t, either because the person actually doesn’t know any English, or because (and rightly so), you’re in their country, dammit, speak their language! Which is always the best approach as far as I’m concerned.

We try to learn the very basics in each country: “Hello”, “Good afternoon” (or evening), “Thank you”, “Where is…”, “toilet”, etc. By the way, of all the words, across all the countries, “toilet” has been the most universal. “Bathroom” or “restroom” is not a term used in most countries; “toilet” either is used, or translates well, or simply has been adopted to address the tourists. In fact, “WC” is also used universally on signage to indicate toilets, even though if you asked for the “water closet”, they often wouldn’t understand.

Recently, going from Morocco, to Spain, to Portugal, in a matter of a week or so, we had the chance to switch between languages quickly. I found myself spitting out words in the wrong language often, but the longer we’re in Portugal, the easier it gets. While many Spanish words sound somewhat similar in Portuguese, the spelling can be completely different. For example “playa” (beach) in Spanish is “praia” in Portugese. Likewise, “buenos dias” (commonly spoken as “buen dia”) becomes “bom dia”. Other words are completely different; “gracias” (which comes out of my mouth faster than any other language), is “obrigado” in Portugal.

Just a few minutes ago, as I was typing this post, there was a knock at the door. I answered it, and there stood two ladies from the quinta’s cleaning crew (fyi, “quinta” means estate; we are staying on a vineyard at the moment in northern Portugal). One of the ladies quickly asked something in Portuguese, to which I responded, “Sorry, I only speak English.”

So the other lady asked in French if we needed the room cleaned (I understand enough French to understand this).

“Non. C’est bon”, I replied.
“Merci”, she said.
“Gracias”, I told her. As I said, I may know “thank you” in several languages, but “gracias” always comes out first.

Which leads me to another “shortcut”.

Several years ago, our daughter Kayla would use the Spanish word “vámonos” (“let’s go”) when telling her young kids to get in the car to go somewhere. At some point, “vámonos” sounded like “Bubba Knows”, and the kids started saying “Bubba Knows” instead.

When I worked with a lot of Japanese nationals, they taught me similar interpretations of some Japanese words, like “see my sand” as a way of learning “sumimasen” (“excuse me”) or “matinee” to remember “mata ne” (“see you later”). Similarly, saying the word for “sky” in Japanese (“ten kyu”) is an easy way for a Japanese speaker to remember “thank you” in English.

For Diana, “obrigado” here in Portugal sounded like “avocado”, and if you say it fast enough, nobody notices the difference.

And then there’s Google Translate. We used it a lot in Vietnam to have complete conversations at the dinner table with locals who knew as much English as we knew Vietnamese, which is to say, zero. I also used it here in Portugal at one point to have a conversation with a woman who spoke fluent Portuguese and French, but no English. It worked very well. Until she told me she also spoke Spanish. Problem solved, put the phone away.

We’ve also used the camera function on Google Translate to read menus and historical signs on buildings and in museums. In most cases, it works very well, with a few exceptions. For example, in Malaga, Spain, Google Translate offered up that one of the desserts on a tapas menu came with a “side of lawyers”.

Here in Portugal, we ate at a small café located above the Mercado de Livramento, a large indoor produce, meat, and seafood market in Setubal. The waitress brought us menus, apologized that they were only in Portuguese, and offered to translate the items to English. Feeling a bit cocky, I told her that wouldn’t be necessary, and I whipped out my phone and opened Google Translate. Which promptly displayed these tasty items:

This is when the photo menu comes in handy.

At which point I swallowed my tiny pride and asked her to tell us what was on the menu. Which she did. And, after reading the menu to us in English, and observing that we were Americans, she took the next logical step in dealing with Americans: she told us that the fish plate was the quickest thing on the menu to prepare, and that we should order that (a lifetime of dealing with typical American tourists that don’t understand the pace of meals in Europe).

Diana just pointed to the fish plate on the menu, and said “Two, please. Avocado.”