With furrowed brows and heavy eye lids Seb and I raced the sun to the port, but by the time we had arrived, it had comfortably beaten us and was smugly illuminating a tense part of Morocco. Tangier acts as a gateway to Europe and a heavy police presence does little to deter pickpockets and smugglers looking for financial shortcuts amongst the swarm of travellers, vehicles and seagulls.
Now fading behind the ferry’s wake, the hour’s journey across the Straight of Gibraltar was a much appreciated breather from this transitionary town. The refreshing breeze blew away the last remnants of sleep out of our systems and the clouds out of the sky, leaving an uninterrupted view of Spain’s coastline.
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Algeciras awaited us on the other side, but our goal was to reach Valencia, the home of paella, 750 kilometres north east.
Instead of doing the full, and tiring, seven hours in one go we decided to stop along the way in Murcia, a city with a wonderfully slow pace to it. An outside table was soon found in the Old Town and the warm, October evening was spent sipping on Sangrías with the locals as the world and its issues gently passed us by.
Having extensively studied The Old Man And The Sea at school, I had a rocky relationship with Ernest Hemingway. His writing had inflicted many stressful hours of symbolism searching during exams when in his own words:
“There isn't any symbolism. The sea is the sea. The old man is an old man. The boy is a boy and the fish is a fish.”
However, time and distance are two magnificently healing properties and I had grown a new found respect for his adventurous lifestyle. So much so, that when we arrived in Valencia we chose to eat its specialty food in La Pepica, a favourite Hemingway hideout back in the 1930s.
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This city was founded in 138 BC by the Romans, who brought over pans and structured irrigation and then it was invaded by the Muslim army of Moors in 714 AD who planted the abundant rice fields. The belief is that this mix of cultures kickstarted the creation of paella.
The adjacent Balearic Sea did its best to distract us by throwing little waves our way, but the rich smell of saffron-infused rice fuelled an insatiable hunger... so we thought. Soon a huge platter, greeted us overflowing with the traditional ingredients of rabbit, chicken, snails and vegetables. Our big eyes had defeated our stomachs once again.
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As with most dishes, the best way to infuse saffron is to grind it and let it bleed out in a tiny bit of hot water, which is not boiling, for 20 minutes before blending it into the mix. Extremely high quality saffron from Morocco can seep into alcohol or liquid for up to 20 hours, but although commercially much more successful, Spain’s saffron is not as potent. One of the main reasons for this is the farming methods used in the county’s Castile-La Mancha region. This manganese-packed antioxidant sucks up every drop of nutrients from the soil, so in Taliouine the land is recycled and only used once every five years. Having a much larger stake in the market, the emphasis is on yearly mass production in Spain.
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Like oxygen to dying embers, a pair of double espressos fired Seb and I back into gear and towards Central Market before it shut for the day. Stained glass windows, ceramic tiles and a majestic dome formed a biblical backdrop to the 300 traders selling all manner of fresh produce.
We were of course keen to check out the saffron on offer and how it was presented. Market places are a common scene for shady saffron dealings and people have been known to colour bark with additives. Although a deep red, the colour that comes off on your hands when you rub it should be golden. You also want to avoid buying the spice powdered as that can be cut with anything. However, if that is your only option just remember that good saffron smells sweet but tastes a little bitter and if the price seems too good to be true, it is.
You can read the first part of Saff Tali's journey here.
For more from Jake and Saff Tali, visit our People pages.