Dear All (assorted family and friends)
Just thought I would send you a letter on "What we did on our Summer Vacation" in Spain and Morocco. No obligation to read it; you won't be
quizzed. The movie (video) version will be available for viewing on request. Feel free to send this on to any of your kids if I missed their E-mail
We went to Madrid via Luxembourg (a much cheaper flight). Our original idea had been to go to Greece and then Turkey. The only reason we
didn't was that it was impossible to get a flight booked ahead for under a thousand a person. If we had, we would have been in Istanbul exactly
during the earthquake.  We only spent a day in Madrid and then headed for Montefrio where we stayed for a week. Montefrio is a small town
centrally located in southern Spain about an hour NW from Granada. Its only tourist business is generated by one Englishman who rents out a ½
dozen local, very rustic houses. He also organizes a weekly gypsy flamenco show, a tour of the local castle and tours of local archaeological sites
for "his" tourists. The town is incredibly beautiful (we found it highlighted on the cover of a "coffee table" book on Spain) and totally unspoiled by
tourists or development. The local restaurant served a wonderful full meal (wine, tip, etc.) for $17 to $25.  This might not seem so surprising
except that was the total bill for the five of us.  We took day trips to Cordoba, Granada (Alhambra), Sierra Nevada's,  and the Costa del Sol
beaches.  One of the most interesting was a tour given by our English landlord of the remains of a city of about 500 people on a local Mesa like
citadel that was inhabited by Christians/pagans between 500-1000 AD. Along with  the local goat herder he had uncovered an amazing variety of
homes, walls, pulley systems, roads and paths cut through the rocks, religious and olive oil manufacturing areas. Over years of wandering this 15
acre site he had literally recreated the entire life and structure of this city in an incredibly convincing way. Of course no one was here and he only
succeeded in getting one archaeological group to do any work on the site which he would like to have developed as a tourist attraction.
(Christopher, you would have loved this, and if you are ever in this area again, you should make the trip here). On a late drive back we got to stop
the car miles from the nearest lights and in a clear, moonless sky in the mountains my kids got to see their first really good view of the milkyway
(which is impossible in NY).
We then went to Morocco where we had a ½ day in Tangier before our planned trip to Fez. The Hotel insisted we should hire a guide (for $10)
as we had only a few hours. We were assured by the hotel and the guide he would take us to the sites we wanted to see and not try to get us to
buy anything. He promptly got us into a carpet co-op where we get corralled into bargaining for a carpet. I offer what I was convinced was much
too low a price for the carpet. After a long process I was surprised that they actual agree to my price as I was leaving. But in the settlement we
discovered I had been  negotiating in local currency (10 dh = 1 dollar) and they in dollars and therefor I had offered only 1/10 of what they
thought.  This led to a rather unpleasant departure and we missed seeing what we wanted to see in Tangier.  Our guide, restaurant owner, taxi
driver and hotel manager all (independently) strongly advised us to rent a car or taxi to go to Fez (3-4 relaxed hours) and not take the train (7 - 10
hot crowded hours). With this consistent advise we ignored our plans and rented a car to discover they all (independently) had lied to us with the
hope of somehow getting a kick back from the taxi or rental agency. We had an exhausting drive that was much more expensive and probably
longer than the train. All of this did however give us the exposure to the Moroccan culture we were looking for. On the way to Fez we must have
passed 500 "vendors" sleeping by a pile of melons on the side of the road that they were hopping to sell. I am not sure we ever saw anyone buy
Fez is much more interesting then Tangier and a whole different world.  When I commented to our Fez guide (much nicer than the one in Tangier)
that it had not changed in the 28 years since I had been there he pointed out it had not changed since the 14th century.  Fez is an incredible maze
of streets (9000) with masses of people, donkeys, wares, foods, shops, mosques and activities. Everyone seems to be making, selling or buying
something. The working conditions of the people are horrific. From the large open dirty and stinking tanneries to those in tiny dark cubicles
working on tiles or carpets. Young children where working in all these areas with dangerous chemicals, sharp tools or carrying heavy loads. This
gave Natasha a view of what happens in a society with no labor laws and a different perspective on labor conditions here. Tamara (who seemed
to have seriously missed the point) wanted to know why she could only go around all day and watch while these other kids got to make or do "arts
and crafts" stuff.  I wonder how these children look at the tourists coming by?
As we now knew the approximate correct carpet price (confirmed in a guide book) we went through another endless carpet negotiation. We
settled on ¼ there asking price which I assumed was reasonable based on the salesman apparently  getting mad at the guide for having given away
the "right price". They were anxious to deliver it to our hotel in the evening which I though was a nice gesture. However the real reason was so he
could continue negotiation in the hotel lobby. But now he wasn't after more money but my pants. He told me how much he admired my pants and
wanted me to give them up as we had got such a good price on the carpet. I finally succeeded in keeping the carpet and my pants.  This seems a
common tactic as when we purchased pottery at a roadside stand they tried to get me to give up my shirt.
After this we went to Seville and Toledo and back home. The weather and temperature was surprisingly pleasant. Overall the trip was great
except for a few medical problems. Kyle spent most of a day in a Granada hospital with an asthma attack. As none of the doctors spoke English it
was critical to have Natasha to translate, which was a great help throughout the trip. Randye also had some serious stomach problems for over a
week and Natasha, Kyle and I lesser ones. And yes we are still all speaking to each other.
Best regards to all
Martin (Aug 1999)
Spain and Morocco - Aug 1999