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Memories of my travels between 1972 and 1982

Thursday, 30 June 2011

June 30th: Interstate 80, USA

On June 30th 1975 I was hitching west on Interstate 80.  It took me four days and three nights to get from Northern New Hampshire to Denver, over two thousand miles.  I wrote some notes on the journey when I got to Denver and what follows is adapted from them.

28/6:  Walking out from the campsite I got my first lift over the Kancamagus Pass from a couple in an MG1100.  Then Pete, who had offered me company on the campground the night before, spotted me and took me just past his home and put me on the Mass Turnpike at Palmer, over 200 miles south.  The next lift was to Springfield from a guy in a Pinto.  Then came the long wait.  There were several other hitchers trying to get to the Tanglewood Festival at Lenox and for some reason I was the last to be picked up.  I even tried a motel which I could see from the freeway but was turned down.  Finally I got a lift from an engineer who was working on a computerised submarine (possibly Trident) going to the Lee turning.  I got off at the service area before Lee, quite close to where I had started hitching on my way north to New Hampshire.   Just before dark I found a lift going to Buffalo in Eric and Mike's converted mail van.

29/6:  I got some sleep on the back shelf of the van but not a lot and the van went fairly slowly.  Some time in the night the battery went flat and we stopped once more.   I looked up and a catholic priest was looking in at me, recognising my accent as British (just about the only person in the US who did.)  He put his shoulder to the rear end of the van and helped us get going again somewhere near Rochester.  We had breakfast around dawn and they dropped me in full daylight near a toll booth.  Another lift took me to another service area where I waited until 11.  While I was there, a man got off a tour bus, put up a tripod and started taking photographs of me; he asked me to put out my thumb to make his pictures more realistic.   Finally I got a long lift to Chicago from a young woman, and her two dogs, on their way to Montana.  We passed along Lake Erie; I did a lot of the driving through Ohio and Indiana and it went well.  When she dropped me off in the late afternoon I had a long wait at a Howard Johnson Oasis; there I met a fellow hitch-hiker, Ernie the Jesus preacher, short and long-bearded, a professional bum.  Together we had a bowl of chilli, the recommended cheap food, and together we accepted a lift for a few miles from a high school teacher.  The entrance ramp was hopeless so we went up in the darkness to the highway itself, but the huge roaring trucks just drove past.

30/6:  Some time in the night we were joined by another hitch-hiker, a younger drifter and a long wait ensued.  I realised I'd made mistakes accepting a short ride and trying to hitch with someone else, so I determined to go solo.  The new drifter certainly made things more difficult: he would veer out in front of the trucks so that they had to swerve mildly to avoid him, and when he couldn't get a ride our way he started hitching in the other direction.  I walked on a bit to get by myself and then slept a little beside the highway.  Sometime after 4am I got a lift from an early morning worker going to Seneca, Illinois.  I stood by the freeway at dawn in rural Illinois, with fields of corn and little towns as far as the eye can see and the mind can imagine, waiting for the sun to bring a little warmth and clear the dew.  A flock of red-winged blackbirds went up from the edge of a pond I hadn't noticed and there hadn't been a car or a truck going either way for half an hour.  Finally a high school student on his way to camp rescued me.  Another lift from a motorcycle dealer who had been in Europe took me to Quad Cities.  Then Tom and Annie, his lift-share, picked me up and they were going to Denver.  We decided to take a motel in Des Moines, Iowa, and they chose the Holiday Inn.  We drank coke and brandy and I slept for six hours through the afternoon.  We had some food in McDonalds started driving after about 11pm.

1/7:  After 1 in the morning I did most of the driving.  In the early hours we stopped for coffee and a stack at a truck stop.  It got light when Nebraska was very unpopulated and it was very pretty with the Platte River on our left among trees; to the right were fields of cattle or wheat.  Tom slept and Annie kept me awake.  We turned off for another truck stop at North Platte, a frontier town, all truckers and cowboy hats.  On I drove into Colorado, massive plains of tumbleweed and black-eyed Suzies; it felt like Western Asia, the cultivation depending on water sprayers.  There was very little else until the magic moment when we could make out the hint of the huge mountains across the skyline in front,  and then Denver was close.  Annie asked me to crash at her place and Tom drove on to Vail.  We went to buy steak and broccoli and a bottle of wine; we ate and drank.  I fell asleep at 5.30 and slept undisturbed until 8.30 the next morning.

The next part of the journey is here.

Interstate 80 in Nebraska, 2008:  Picture by Spencer,  CC

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Tuesday, 28 June 2011

June 28th: Tafraoute in Southern Morocco

On June 28th 1977 I was in Tafraoute in Southern Morocco.

Tafraoute is a small market town which serves as a hub for the villages around.  The people live in the villages rather than the town.  Tafraoute is in the Anti-Atlas, which is the last range of mountains before the Sahara as you go south.  The area is dry and the people cultivate gardens in their terraces, designed to catch the rain when it falls, which is not often; in 1977 it had not rained significantly for seven years.

Ali in his house: My picture

I had met Ali in the souk one day, an old man with a sad lined faced who lived in the village with tower-houses you could see from town.  I was a bit suspicious at first, afraid of hustlers as always, but Ali was lonely and just wanted company.  I knewt a Swedish couple who were travelling in a VW camper and together we spent time with him.  I liked Ali's house which was one of the tower-houses, with a fine facade, a staircase which lead up to the cool rooms at the top and a terrace where life was lived.  Lower rooms were kept unrendered and only finished when the need arose.   I spent hours in the peacefulness of his terrace with just the noise of donkeys and the muezzin breaking in from outside, the endless mint tea, and the stories of his religion and his family, the 1933 pre-colonial history of Tafraoute and the marriage customs, all told between us to me in French and translated into English and Swedish.

On this day we drove Ali to visit relatives in the Valley of Ameln a few miles to the north.  We were made welcome outside in the garden, happy proud people, the children approaching us shyly, the wife unseen in the house.  I found the opportunity to write in my notebook:
The Valley of Ameln:  My picture
The valley of Ameln, sitting under the shade of argan tree by a little village where the asphalt road has ended.  Looking at the too sweet fruit and the smooth skins of the nuts and the frond patterns inside. There is a slightly cooler wind today which makes it a little more pleasant in the midday.  Only the sound of the wind, a few birds' noises, maybe a distant truck for the valley is quite well populated.  An argan fruit falls and a bee passes.

The valley is less uniform here: we have passed beyond the highest straight ridge, at the place where there was a hidden side valley higher up, and past a place where the palms were thicker - they also have palm-bushes in this place.  Red earth mixes with the white, and there is more "green " grass and green bushes on the hills.  The traditional stone walls covered with brushwood surrounding watered fields and stone or earth terraces for that elusive rain. Villages on the edge of the hills or more rambling in the valley, like this one, old houses of earth, newer ones of brick and painted pink, sometimes with walled gardens, plenty of money here.  The life is simple and timeless, the few animals in good shape.  A house with a metal windmill, the traditional baked earth circle for threshing.
I liked to walk along the valley which Tafraoute sits in.  It was good to sit on the rocks in the early morning or late afternoon and watch the goatherds and the lizards and the bulbuls and the shrikes, and the women going to a well or collecting brushwood and the men riding on the tail ends of their donkeys to and from town.  I wrote this one day:
Tafraoute Valley:  My picture
Have walked out a couple of miles on the Irghem road, which goes through dry mountains along a dry river-course marked by a sandy stony bed and frangipani.  Not much out here but flies and argan-trees, and a few desert plants, a many branched cactus and what looks like tumbleweed.  A few squirrels on the way and I can hear tweeting birds in the background.  A grey shrike came to stop in the tree I'm sitting under only 3 feet from me - birds are so tame here.  A breeze blowing up the valley makes it cooler, though I left too late today and am getting thirsty.  Otherwise there is a nice desert silence, and only one car has come along the road.

Walking back now, getting thirsty, sitting on a water-chute by a dry well, just by the village of Donar Aguerd-ou-Dad, one of the Berber villages of Tafraoute.  All the women and children have gone up a little way in the rocks to pass the hot morning; maybe there's a well and they are washing.  Here there are tilled fields with nut trees, almonds I think, and date-palms and perhaps they grow a grain in the short fertile period.  More life here, but less than in the early morning.  Blackbirds and bulbuls and pigeons cooing.  The dusty incomplete rows of terraces which may be green in the rainy season but now just have a few palms and almonds. Where there are more crops the fileds are carefully fenced in with stone and adobe walls and brushwood on top, while inside they're green, with maize and squash, melons, palms and fruit-trees, and a little gate with a door and a lock.
Market at Tafraoute:  My Picture
There was a new concrete souk in the town with a weekly market.  Then it was full of white turbans and the men's heads turning to money as the animals changed hands.  They bought fruit and staples and luxuries for the coming week and had a good chinwag with people they hadn't seen since the last souk or maybe the one before, and then sat down for a tea and a 
soup├žis to feel better about the world.  An old man who came up to me in the souk.  "De quel pays vous etes, Monsieur?"  He was very old with horn-rimmed glasses, a grizzled grey beard and a white turban.  "Do you know Southampton?" he continued in French.   "And Earls Court, big exhibition, nineteen hundred twelve."  "I have been there, and in Germany, with the circus.  We were acrobats, one year.  Very long time ago.  This is the first time you come here?"  "Yes."   "And you like our country?  Ah, good, I am glad.  Monsieur, I wish you good luck.  Goodbye."

I left with the Swedes on the direct route to Agadir, enjoying the opportunity to stop where we pleased as we drove along, something I could not do on public transport.  It was a beautiful semi-desert drive and we passed several of the kasbahs, fortified towns or villages, on the hills and ridges near the road.

 Ali outside his house:  My picture

Kasbah on road to Agadir: My picture

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Saturday, 25 June 2011

June 25th: Mount Paugus in Northern New Hampshire

On June 25th 1975 I was on Mount Paugus in the White Mountains of New Hampshire.  I had hitched north from Massachusetts a couple of days previously, going further north through the mountains as far as Littleton and then back down to Intervale, where I was put up by a student doing temporary work with the National Forest. 

I had determined that I was going to get out into some of this country, so in the morning I went shopping in North Conway and bought a pair of cheap hiking boots, a plastic poncho and a Eureka nylon tent, total cost perhaps $50.  The camping shop also had a simple trail map of the area.  Then I bought some trail groceries, granola and raisins, chocolate and so on and hitched down on to the Kancamagus Highway to the west.  I found the beginning of the Bolles Trail and walked up past pretty brooks.  Then I had a long climb and a sharp descent to a crossroads where I camped.  I had seen no one else since leaving the highway.  I was tired which was not surprising as I was carrying my full rucksack with necessities for a year away.  I was also learning that I'd have to put up with black flies as well as mosquitoes. In the night I was disturbed by some animals - racoons possibly, though I was concerned about bears.

The next day I was on trails all day:  I didn't cover so much ground but it was pretty tiring.  First I went up the Beeline Trail, away from the brooks and thicker forest now that I was getting higher.  I went up Mount Paugus  by the steep Old Paugus Trail, a very beautiful climb through pines with a pretty view from a bluff.  I had a lunch break at the Old Shag Camp and and then walked up to the summit at 3200 feet.  There I enjoyed the view and met my first human being of the day, a hiker from Massachusetts.  I went back a different way, firstly down the steep Lawrence Trail where I met the only other people of the hike, a bearded man with four or five school children.  Now I had to get along a difficult ledge, where my pack seemed very much in the way, before a steep descent to easier lower ground.  I camped right on the trail at a good point, where I was back in the thicker broadleaved forest and running streams.  Again I was woken in the night, perhaps by deer this time. 

In the morning it was an easy walk along the Oliverian Brook back to the highway.  I stopped at a place where there were big boulders on the stream.  A short walk and a short lift took me to the Passaconaway Campground.  There I talked with the Chief Ranger, the boss of my host in Intervale.    I pitched my tent, gratefully putting my pack inside, and left to hitch into Conway.  A hamburger filled my stomach, I bought some groceries and hitched back to the campsite.  In the evening I wrote my brief notes surrounded by squirrels and chipmunks, and lots of birds,  which fascinated me at the time as they were all different species to what I'd seen before in Europe and Asia.  The mosquitoes and black flies had made my back a mess.

Next day I took an afternoon stroll up Mount Potash: it was lower, closer to the road and I didn't have my pack and I found the walk easy.  In the evening I was asked to join the family who were my neighbours for their evening meal of fresh fish.  We drank coffee and talked into the night over the campfire.

The next day I started hitching west to California, but first I had to get back south.

Brook in White Mountains:  Picture by Sean Munson, CC

White Mountains View:  Picture by LucienTj, CC

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Friday, 24 June 2011

June 24th: Cuzco

On June 24th 1976 I was in Cuzco.  This was the day of the winter solstice, the day of the great festival of Inti Raymi, maybe the biggest festival  in the Andes.  Inti Raymi had been the most important festival for the Incas, the day the Inca called the sun back to Earth.  A reconstruction of the Inca religious festival had taken place for a few years in the terraces of Sacsayhuaman above the city.  The party had been going on for several days already.

Cuzco was full, the hotels were overflowing and I had been lucky to find a single room.  Hundreds of people had come from Lima and other cities and a huge range of foreigners had come, as I had, for the fun.  On 22nd June there was a small parade in the evening, with costumed dancers and big crowds.  With friends I gate-crashed the opening of a new restaurant.  When the food and drink finished the party-goers were left frustrated (everyone was a party-goer now in Cuzco).  Two Brazilians I knew started playing blues harp and sambaing and nobody wanted to leave.  Eventually the samba left the restaurant and we all sambaed up the hill and in the Plaza de Armas until well into the night.  I'd had enough by 12.30.

Inti Raymi, 2007:  Picture by Al Lemos, CC
The town was lively very early the next day, and they were taking the saints out of the cathedral and around the Plaza de Armas in mid-morning.  The parade began in late afternoon and I roamed the streets with everyone else.  The parade went on and on, sometimes with good costumes, but more often it was more just men and women walking in ponchos, some fancy dress, like the birds, some fine native costumes.  As the crowds grew the streets became crowded and it was very difficult to walk about, or get to the hotels and so on.  The best thing, however, was to keep moving, pushing through the bottlenecks with everyone else, just getting into it.  I ate anticuchos and drank ponche from the stalls, fiesta food.  In a cafe in the late evening I met an English guy and we thought we recognised each other; he turned out to be an old friend from University now married to a Peruvian with 2 kids.  I found my way to John's, an American owned bar, where there was a party and loads of friends.  John's shut well after midnight so I went to the square which was still hugely crowded.  I watched some singing, joined in some dancing, and ended with an hour or so of samba and ponche until about 4 when I went cold and exhausted to bed.

Inti Raymi, 2008, Picture by Cyntia Motta, CC
On this day, the day of the festival proper, I was woken up in my room by friends in mid-morning.  After a quick breakfast we walked up the hill to Sacsayhuaman, the Inca ceremonial site on the hills above the city .  There were crowds of people spreading through the terraces and a sunny atmosphere; it felt rather like a small rock festival.  We sat and drank a couple of beers in the sun, but when the ceremony began we had difficulty to find somewhere where we could see, so I ran about during the introductory music and entrance, and came back to stand near where I had been.  The ceremony was slow and stately, with fine costumes, a chicha ceremony and a llama sacrifice, not very long, but dignified, pure theatre of course, spoken in Quechua with a Castellano commentary, but it satisfied the crowd and left people in a good mood.  Down in the Plaza there were strange ceremonies with saints outside the Cathedral, but not many onlookers now.  The evening was quieter, an animated paseo going on past midnight but the fiesta energy had largely passed.

My time in Cuzco stayed sociable rather than anything else.  Three days after Inti Raymi, wanting some solitude, I went back up to Sacsahuayman, and sat a while on the rocks.  It was quiet that day, not many tourists, they were all passing to and from Pisac in minibuses.  The site however was strewn with rubbish, still in the aftermath of the rock festival feeling.  I walked on to Qenqo, the huge carved Inca rock; I admired the stones, looked down over the town and sat for a long time on top of the rock.  I looked at how the streets on this edge of the town seemed to be Inca in origin.   After this I began more and more to wander around the back streets of Cuzco, understanding a little more how the colonial town sat on top of the Inca town and how the modern town sat on top of the colonial town.

Sacsayhuaman:  My picture taken in 1986
In Cuzco: My picture taken in 1986

Monday, 20 June 2011

June 20th: Tiznit in South-West Morocco

On June 20th 1977 I was in Tiznit in southern Morocco.  I was just passing through, glad to have left the more northern regions.  Some Moroccans in Fez and Marrakech had told me that I would find things more easy and relaxed down south in the Souss and amongst the Chleuh Berber people.

I sat with a few other Europeans in the square late in the evening waiting for a bus on to Tafraoute which was due to leave at 2 in the morning.  The television in the cafe had been showing BBC footage of the Queen's recent jubilee, but nobody was watching and they hadn't bothered to dub the English commentary.  A man with a French registered Peugeot was trying to sell me a seat for 80 dirhams.  Another man was curled up asleep near my feet, waiting for the bus.  I watched young Moroccans stroll around this modernised town, a girl in modern clothes following her boyfriend/husband and his friends at a distance of a few paces.  I was reading George Eliot and beginning to get homesick.  I reflected on the previous few days.

I had left Marrakech with a friend on an afternoon bus which drove along the edge of the hills to the west of the city.  We got out at the little town of Ijoukak, which was probably not the best idea, as there was no later bus out, and no particular reason for us to be there.  I am sure tourists sometimes looked in, but it soon became clear that there was no hotel for us to stay in and the people were accordingly, understandably, suspicious of why we might have come.  We found a Berber restaurant for food while people said their prayers in a corner, and later a different place to sleep, a cafe where we had a room to sleep on the floor while men said their prayers outside the door; the patron had tea and soup and a few general goods on sale; everything was at very low cost. 

Tizi N'Test Pass in 2006:  Picture by Britrob,  CC
From there it took us a day and a half to reach Tiznit, a series of slow lifts over the Tizi N'Test pass and down into the valley past Taroudant.  I don't remember all the details.  The road through the mountains was just fine, beautiful and quite unspoilt, the local people so friendly, proud, sticking to their way.  We travelled in quite a good fashion, with little steps and a variety of ways; there was a lovely ride on the top of a truck, the villages in adobe looking old and turreted across the green strip of a river, different colours in the sandstone of the mountains, greenish through to purple and plenty of flowers; even higher up there were cypress and little thorny oaks; down below there were goats climbing the argan trees in the Souss valley.  Somewhere in the mountains we had a long wait:  we stashed our packs under a bush and set off for an hour's walk across the dry stony hillside, with just little bushes and herbs at our feet.  Later near the valley a man gave us a short lift in his van and then provided shelter for the night in his petrol station.

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Friday, 17 June 2011

June 17th: Lake Titicaca

On July 17th 1976 I was travelling around Lake Titicaca.  I was leaving La Paz where I had seen the Gran Poder parades and making my way to Cuzco where I would be for Inti Raymi.  The two days spent travelling by the lake were wonderful.

The bus journey from La Paz to Copacabana was straightforward, starting at dawn and climbing onto the Altiplano through a grove of eucalyptus.  The margins of the road were still icy and I tried to sleep.  At Tiquina there is a short strait between two large peninsulas and then we drove along the lakeside and the little hills that border it.  Copacabana, felt like a village as much as a town, quiet and spread out, the banks of the lake along one side.  I allowed myself to be led to a hotel in a back street along a cobbled street with a central sewer but my room had views over country and hills.  In town I watched a procession just like the ones that had been going on for days in La Paz after the main Gran Poder parade.  I walked to the church on the hill where the dancers were, then took a long walk along the shore, listening to the peace and the water.  I returned to town only at sunset, admiring the deepening green and red of the eucalyptus, and the pastel colours on the lakes and in the trees immediately after sundown. 

At midday the following day they were processing again in the main square over a bed of flowers,  prayers were being said and the priests were out.  I could see some of the day before's dancers more sober now, and quena (flute) players in butterfly costumes.  Many people were watching but I felt the urge to move on.  I got on a truck for what turned out to be a roundabout route to Yunguyo, the border, which should have been just a mile or two.  Across the border I had to wait for immigration to open, but I met friends and looked around for another ride.  Finally we took a fairly empty truck to Juli.  This was beautiful lakeside scenery, one or two little villages away from the lake where the margins were wide, and past  the town of Pomata.  I sat on top a while and this was a wonderful, bumpy, dusty, merry trip.  The lake and its deep blue water were almost always in sight and, as so often, a truck was the best way to appreciate it.  There was plenty of wildlife, birds mainly, plovers, duck, gulls, grebes, ibis and herons .  We arrived in Juli as it got dark and found a bare, earthy, collectivo room in a simple inn, which had a simple restaurant.

In the morning everyone woke early after a poor night's sleep.  I had breakfast sitting on the pavement of the square on eggs and coffee, and there was time for a quick look in one of the restored churches which Juli is famous for - the outside was finely decorated but it was plain inside.  We got a truck to Puno about 9.  This time we drove more inland by villages which were off the main road past interesting rock formations.  After another couple of small towns nearer the lake we got stopped for roadworks at Chicuito, where they were building a new road, and I wandered around the town.  With the new road development it seemed that the journey I had just done would never be the same but the lakeside was still beautiful despite the disturbance.  In one village under smooth rocks before Puno they were working on the reeds to make the grassy thatch which would go on the houses.

Lake Titicaca, 2006:  Picture by Adam Jones, CC

Church near Juli, 2009:  Picture by Ivo van Herp, CC

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Thursday, 16 June 2011

June 16th: Marrakech

On June 16th 1977 I was in Marrakech.  It was hot, it was the beginning of the European holiday season, and I was beginning to find that although Marrakech seemed more open than Fes it was no easier to access.

The Djemaa El Fna was the centre of activity and there were even one or two spots where you could sit at the edge and watch the action albeit at a distance: acrobats, story-tellers, sooth-sayers, magicians, musicians, snake charmers, a strange act with pigeons I could never follow.  None of this had anything to do with the tourism industry, it was purely Moroccan.  Some fancy cafes overlooked the square on the first floor.  Behind the square were the souks, attractive and possible to find your way around, and the streets of the old town, alleyways that you knew would lead to houses beautiful on the inside only, sudden glimpses into courtyards full of goods being stored or traded.  I wrote this in my notebook in the square one day trying to sum my experience up: 
Hot midday in Djemaa El Fna, for yoghurt in the hustlers' cafe, everything really quiet, no entertainers in this section now; the souvenir sellers under parasols on the ground, the boutiques open as always, some hustlers look hungry but they know me now, leave me alone.  Not even many beggars now, kids hanging around, older men walking singly, and tourists.

Picturesque it is, Marrakech, the world of the Medina, the clothes of the Berber women and their independent smiles, the men sitting in the shade of a wall with their djellabahs pulled around them and their pipes.  Hard, dry country.  And interesting it remains.  The closed in, intense way of life turns tourists into an outcast caste.  To be treated as a tourist always, that is hard, to be an object of derision for teenagers, to be treated as a friend only for the money, to be pestered and hustled at every step.

Marrakech Medina: My picture
A city of pink washed walls, fortified, standing on the edge of the desert, like the meeting point of mountain and Sahara culture, a huge square as the centre of entertainment and all the life of the city, the focus of it all, a paradise for eccentrics and hustlers.  Seven blind beggars and a lady from the Club Med in a see-through saffron djellabah, who strolls across the square as all eyes follow her.  A snake charmer and a mixed-up boy with four golden teeth.  Beyond  are rich souks and dusty living blocks, the Mellah, the Kasbah, the different districts around the gates, I've had happy times wandering in these areas, finding my way through the labyrinths. A peaceful afternoon in a French garden, a drive to a watery valley in the mountains.  I sat this morning in the animal market watching the camels, men practising trying out a donkey, seeing if they want to buy, putting a horse through its paces.  Hours of sitting in this cafe or another.  Talking, sitting, watching.  Crowds of people passing, sometimes as dense as I've seen anywhere, India included, sometimes escaping the heat of the sun, bikes and mopeds, pushing, pushing, airless, the heat pushing these people into the hard surface of the Djemaa El Fna.
And some weeks later, returning to the city from the south and west:
Djemma El Fna:  My picture
Having an evening theiere with dates at the cafe by the date stalls.  There's a little clothes market going on, of the impromptu  kind I've seen all over Morocco, but they must have fixed days of the sort I don't know.  Mostly men selling clothes exclusively for men, they don't look like the poorest people either.  I can see smart Berber clothes and some of the slick kids, they have motos or bicycles and a briefcase or suitcase laid across the handlebars to hold the jeans or trousers or djellabahs or track-suit bottoms.  Now I've seen a woman selling a djellabah, she's with a guy perhaps they're regulars.  The tourist season is at its height which means the square is very busy, particularly the food stalls and the clothes booths and all the kids and beggars and touts and vendors, all the people who live off the vitality of the square.
Animal Market in Marrakech:  My picture
The hotel I stayed in was near the square; an old house down a brown anonymous alley, the ground floor tiled in blue and green and white.  You could go up to the roof and look over the city across other roofs where the local people also came up to hang out their washing or to relax or to look out over the roofs.  But the hotel, like most of the cheap ones, also had its resident hustlers.  I remember one here, who liked to be called Le Chef, in his twenties, partly educated.  We played cards and talked.  As I got to know him I asked him why he hustled, and he gradually explained; he resented the foreigners for their money, for their opportunities, and he was very happy to take anything away from them that he could, feeling no guilt for that.

Paul Bowles describes Djemaa El Fna in an essay published recently in Travels.  Elias Canetti's The Voices of Marrakesh is also good, especially at the animal market.  Both predate my visit.
Workshop in Medina:  My picture

Marrakech Medina:  My Picture

Sunday, 12 June 2011

June 12th: La Paz

On June 12th 1976 I was in La Paz. 

This was the day of the festival de Nuestro Senor del Gran Poder, which is probably La Paz's greatest festival.  I was downtown early and saw all the people waiting.  Later I found a spot near the Plaza Lima where the atmosphere was expectant and everyone was throwing confetti around.  The festival was largely a parade, endless groups of people in costume or in their best ponchos and suits or dresses, with musical bands from time to time.  The first group was led by a huge Indian giant who kept a serious demeanour.  Each group did a little dance, all essentially the same and then moved on.  The first paraders were fascinating, but in the end it became too much the same and I fought my way through the crowds to leave.  The fiesta seemed to go on for days:  anywhere in the Indian town you might come across a little group marching round, especially in the area of the Gran Poder church.

In La Paz the Indian town was the place to be, the area above Calle Murillo.  Market stalls were out every day lining the streets selling everyday items, guarded by their cholo owners.  There was one street that sold drinks, fruit juices mainly, carrot or banana and so on, and at night they did api, the flavoured corn drink found all over the country which makes the cold evenings easier to take.  At the foot of this area, near the San Francisco Church, was the area selling magical items, such as llama foetuses.  If you spent your time along Avenida Buenos Aires you seemed to be in some huge perpetual market, from before daybreak up until nearly midnight.  You'd forget the more modern city a few blocks away down the slope.  In the middle of all this was the Alojamiento Buenos Aires, just off the Avenida, which was one of the more characterful cheap hotels I've stayed in.  There were rooms off long balconies above a courtyard used for storing market goods.  One side of the courtyard was for Indians and one for foreigners, and the two sides didn't mix; the foreigners' rooms were marginally better presented and a lot cleaner than the Indians' ones, and there were even one or two rooms overlooking the street with windows.

There are plenty of YouTube videos showing recent Gran Poder parades, such as this and this.

La Paz Market Area in 2009:  Picture by Szymon Kochanski, CC

Gran Poder Parade, 2007:  Picture by BrianWoychuk, CC

June 12th: New York City

On June 12th 1975 I was in New York City. 

I flew into Kennedy in the rain, on a British Airways flight from London.  I had arranged to stay with friends of a friend on the Upper West Side.  I stood in line outside the airport trying to get on the crowded buses going downtown.  I did something against etiquette, perhaps moving my pack, and the driver told me "I don't do your job, why don't you let me do mine?"   The bus put me down outside Grand Central Station and I stood in the early evening light trying to flag down a yellow cab.  Many were empty but they paid no attention to me with my pack, though they stopped for others.  This, I thought, was the time to tackle the subway, even though I'd been travelling for twelve hours.  I got out at Broadway and 96th and was amazed at all the colourful characters hanging out on the street.  I was made welcome in the apartment and ate and drank and talked long into the night.

The next day, still spaced out from the flight, I walked through Central Park where I looked at the blue jays and the cops cruising.  I made my way down to Washington Square, where people talked to you like you actually existed, so different from stony London.  I ran into someone who had been on my flight.  I took a meal at Horne and Hardart.  In the following days I walked a lot, and saw some sights, Grant's Tomb, The Natural History Museum, The Staten Island Ferry.  I went to lots of art with my hostess who was an artist, in SoHo and at the museums.  I went with my hosts round Brooklyn and ate clams and steamers and mussels with beer around Sheepshead Bay and Manhattan Beach.  We went to visit friends in huge loft apartments and drove around the city streets which were in a deadly state of repair.  I saw Altman's Nashville in its opening week (it didn't open in London until September).  We went to a black middle-class jazz bar in mid-town.  I felt like I was in the centre of everything, everybody was interested in anything and everything, and they even listened to what I had to say as I listened to them.

In my mind this was to be the beginning of a grand journey.  I'd had difficulty filling in the forms on the flight because they asked about where I was going and which flight I was going to take back to the UK.  But I wasn't going to use my return ticket.  I was going to hitchhike across to California and I was going to go to Cuzco and La Paz which sounded so high and far away when I read my Latin American Handbook (my only preparation), and most of the bus journeys appeared to take twenty-four hours.

By Central Park, 1976:  Picture by Paul W, CC

Thursday, 2 June 2011

June 2nd: Coroico in Northern Bolivia

On June 2nd 1976 I was in Coroico in Bolivia.  Coroico is a little town to the northeast of La Paz; it lies in a deep valley towards the jungle at much lower altitude than the capital and so was a popular holiday spot for people from La Paz.

I found Coroico a good place for walking.  The countryside was warm and peaceful, both tropical and alpine.  On this day I walked out towards a hill I'd seen on the horizon but it wasn't easy to access so contented myself with walking round the villages.  I recorded this in my notebook:
I've come to a little village, the one more or less on the pass, a collection of houses with little plots, rectangular adobe places with little light and bolted doors, a larger two-storey building with windows and piles of bottles inside, a little school with a demonstrative teacher.  Yards and the road itself full of drying coffee.  Coffee and mandarins and bananas and oranges.  Insects galore and humming-birds, martins and buzzards flying over.  A large house across the valley, two storeys, red roof, outbuildings and probably a garden, down below more or less in the jungle.  Cleared patches on the hills opposite with terraces cut for agriculture.  And beyond virgin hills, bush and pasture stretching up into the clouds.  A group of kids goes by, 3 boys and 3 girls with milk and coke bottles, shyly saying "buenos tardes."
I was directed back to Coroico by a group of black children sitting outside the village.  I saw a number of black people in the area, the women wearing the same sort of clothes that mestizo women wore.

Another good walk was up the hill directly behind the town.  You walked up a great steep street with uneven cobbles, a gutter in the middle and carpenters shops, and then you were on the trails.  It was a steep, sweaty scramble to the top.  I recorded this in my notebook:
Can see for miles, green mountains rising in folds and white tops on the La Paz side, one fine peak with snow over to the right of the La Cumbre area.  Roads twisting around the hillsides, and the different villages situated in different valleys, all far beneath me now.  The river curling right down at the bottom, one bit where it goes through various stony channels.  Hills away on the other side are barer but you cannot see so well because of the vegetation up here.  Smoke rising from the hills to the immediate right from where there is bare grass.  Can see the little chapel above Coroico very small now and the shapes of the cows in the pastures nearby.  And all between is the green of the shrubs, with lighter patches where the cover breaks.  Beautiful flowers, the universal purple flowered bushy big leaved plants which turn red, yellow bushes, smaller red and white flowers, all sorts of ferns.

Mainly insects is the noise now, of all sizes, an occasional humming-bird.  Below there are the big bees in black and yellow, deep purple martins hunting them.  And humming-birds galore.   Lower flies a red winged sparrow-hawk and lower still the vultures.  The wind is changing carrying the smoke my way, fewer noises now from below, occasional dogs or kids from the school, today's trucks and buses from La Paz.

Behind me the summit, a little altar with bottles and candles under a shelter, cairns all over, rotting orange-peel.  A mauve butterfly fluttering past.  The village to the right with big irregular space between two lines of brown houses.  Further down a flight of little parrots with red in their tails.
The culture of Bolivia's Afro-Bolivians has become better known over the years.  Michael Jacobs has a relevant section in his travel book Andes.  It seems they are descendants from slaves at the mines at Potosi, who fled to these Yungas valleys and have stayed there.

Coroico in 2008:  Picture by Kristin Miranda, CC
Coroico in 2004:  Picture by Scott Henderson, CC