There is so much more to Morocco

this post is originally from May 28, 2011
As I create my blog and go over all my old emails from past trips I am a bit disappointed with my posts from Morocco. There was so much more to this amazing country and I didn’t even touch on so many places that I got to see. Unfortunately by me posting old emails from 5 years ago the stories are not as fresh in my memory bank and I can’t give you as much information as I would like.258233_10150654715830434_5257011_o
So with lack of interesting stories I will attempt to fill in the blanks…
From Casablanca we traveled to Morocco’s capital city, Rabat. We toured a beautiful mausoleum which happens to be the final resting place of the current King’s father and grandfather. We then ventured uphill to enjoy the impressive architecture of Kasbah des Oudaies, an ancient fort with magnificent views. I remember sipping Morocco’s famous mint tea while looking over the water. It was truly picturesque. protestP1000238morocco.JPG I also remember that when we were near the parliament building there were massive protests going on. But you wouldn’t believe what happened when the ‘call to prayer’ sounded on the intercom…all the protesters got down on their knees to pray!257508_10150652882320434_5850234_o
Meknes was the next town on our tour. The first night was spent in the colourful souq where many Moroccan families come to be entertained by story-tellers, snake charmers, horse rides and medicine men. The imperial city of Meknes was flattened by an earthquake in 1755, but what was left was incredibly impressive. We visited the Mausoleum of Moulay Ismail as well as the massive ornamental 18th century gate.
Next we made our way through the rolling hills to the impressive Roman ruins of Volubilis.259248_10150652872825434_5813395_o This is the best preserved Roman ruins in this part of northern Africa. It was once a Roman Empire, but now is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Fes was the next stop. The  Fes Palace is not only the most historically and culturally important palace, but it is home of Morocco’s most impressive Royal Palace. The Fes medina is the word’s largest living medieval medina and is also a UNESCO Heritage Site. The medina is a completely chaotic and confusing melee. We explored the artisans quarters; such as the brass and copper souqs,  and the wedding souq.  There were also corners of the medina that specialized in  carpenters, bakers, butchers and spice sellers. What truly impressed me was climbing to the top of one of the buildings and looking down at Fes’ famous tannery. 258040_10150652907260434_2834347_oThey die the leather in this massive area where there are pools of coloured water. One day all the pools with be in blues and the next, reds…depending on the colour that they are dying all the leathers. It was actually pretty beautiful! I also remember one night we went to a little restaurant where we met the owner. This old, tiny little man had the biggest grin. He used to be a circus performer and we ended up having handstand contests right there in the restaurant!

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Traditional Berber Drawings

During the full day’s drive to the Sahara Desert and the town of Merzouga  we passed such diverse landscapes. We passed through cedar and pine forests, over the Middle Atlas Mountains, and finally through the pre-desert countryside full of deep gorges and many palm groves. 253822_morocco685663853206_122504188_36979373_933130_nThe town of Merzouga was like a fairy tale. All the houses looked like they were made of clay and there were no roads. It was all sand. This is nothing like I have ever seen before!
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Ait Ben Haddou is another stop that was a wonderful example of a collection of kasbahs – a type of fortress. It has been restored over the years and now is classified as a UNESCO Heritage Site, being considered one of the best preserved Kasbah villages in all of Morocco.I think this is where they filmed one of Russel Crowe’s movies … Gladiator??242098_10150652953000434_3765766_o
Leaving the desert we headed for the High Atlas Mountains where we crossed the Tizi n’ Tichka Pass.  The roads through these mountains were extremely windy and a tad treacherous.  At one point traffic came to a stand still and we sat there for quite some time while a crew fixed the roads. Only when we finally moved did we realize what just happened. There had just been a rock slide and the crew were trying to get the rocks off the road. In the midst of waiting in the blistering heat we had great entertainment. As we sat there we had front row seats!  Fights were breaking out and people were literally punching each other. Now that is road rage!259284_10150652961200434_669236_o
The village that we hiked to the homestay Berber house was called Imlil. Because of the higher altitudes it felt a lot colder. The Berber people were so welcoming, and entertained us with their traditional music.
Morocco is famous for its argon oil.  The Argon tree, that is only found in southern Morocco produces these seeds that fall to the ground.255103_10150654653480434_1999172_n People grind these seeds down to an oil, which is now found in so many beauty products. We got to visit a Women’s Cooperative where we got to see how the oil is made and meet the incredible women who live off this industry. What was really cool was seeing the goats that hang out up in the tree branches. The goats also like the argon seed and you would drive past a tree with 10-15 goats perched in the branches like birds. So bizarre!
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Then there was the beautiful Atlantic coastal town of Essaouira. There was so much to do and see here. I wish we had more time in this lovely town.
And finally…Marrakech. The heart of Marrakech is El Fna Square, which happened to be the place that a bomb went off in Café Argana  just a week before I left for the trip. 16 people were killed – mostly all were tourists.  250521_685656747446_6712820_n The markets of Marrakech were quite a sight. Only after talking to our guide did we realize why there were so many turtles being sold. Many stalls in the markets sold random shit for black magic to cast spells. Apparently there is a lot of black magic in Morocco. Also there were skins from many African wildlife you could buy. Zebra, Leopards, Lions just to name a few. It was pretty horrendous but eye opening!
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Anyway, I know this is just a jumble of information, but I thought I had to fill in the blanks a little as my previous posts were sub-par!

I didn’t get blown up!

 

this post is originally from May 26, 2011

Wow!!! My time in Morocco has come to an end. I can’t believe how fast the time has flown and how much ground we’ve covered. It was amazing to travel by car throughout the country because we were able to see so much of the country and experience the real Morocco.288597_10150744747340434_436075_o
Another of our stops was a few days ago where we stayed high in the Atlas Mountains. We had to have asses/donkeys carry our bags up the mountains while we hiked using those poles. Of course, just as we began our hike a storm appeared, and by the time we reached the top we were all soaked! There wasn’t much of a reprieve because instead of a hotel we were staying in a Homestay house. It was a traditional Berber home with stone walls and no heat. The views were absolutely unreal and although it was not the most comfortable of nights, this is something that I know is a once in a life time opportunity and I will never forget!

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Since the last post I have also taken a cooking class. As those who know me know, I am not the best cook , so don’t get yourself too excited! We cooked a tagine –  this is a dish that is cooked in these ceramic pots with funnel like lids that boil the food inside. Not rocket science but I will not be carrying a tagine pot home, so no replicating this dish once I return home!258573_10150654700665434_650287_o

One of our last stops was Essouera, which was a beautiful coastal town. We were finally able to find pizza (the food I have been craving most) and the shopping was fun. It is a shame because I so wanted to lay on the beach and go swimming but it just wouldn’t be cool to be in a bikini here in Morocco. That is definitely one thing that I look forward to in Spain…being able to wear whatever I want in the heat. Being fairly covered can be difficult when it is over 30 degrees!!! I guess this is what you call ‘first world problems’!254147_10150654715845434_574262_n

The last few days have been in the bustling city of  Marrakech. It is a big city…definitely a bit more dirty and a place where i am happy to leave. Tomorrow we are off to Saville, Spain which is exciting.

 

In the Mighty Desert

 

this post is originally from May 21, 2011

Since the last email, we have covered a lot of ground…

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On one of the days we had a ten hour drive. It started out with heavy rains, which wreaked some havoc on the roads. Some were being literally washed out! At one point we came across a bridge that was completely submerged by the river. The river was moving really fast and all the cars were stopped on either side…there was nowhere to go. After sitting at a standstill for quite some time one van decided to plow through. We held our breath because it seriously looked like the van was going to be swept away. Alas, it made it across the bridge. Seeing this, our driver inched forward…as we crept forward one of the Aussie’s were screaming from the back that we couldn’t cross because this is how people died in the Queensland floods. Clearly our driver didn’t listen to her as he just drove on through. We made it safely and I think everyone was thanking their lucky stars. Another near road accident was when we driving through a heard of sheep.  This one poor sheep almost became a kebab that night!desertman

After all that stress and commotion we found ourselves in the middle of the desert. At around 6 pm we packed ourselves up and mounted our trusty camels. My camel seemed a bit clumsy right from the very beginning.  I am not sure if any of you have been on the back of camel, but it’s a long way down to the ground. Camel’s are tall. Very tall! My camel kept tripping so I knew that I had to hold on tight! The Sahara Desert is exactly what you see on your Windows screen saver – gorgeous!! There are massive sand dunes which makes it steep and difficult to cross. At one point my clumsy camel named Gunther almost made me a Sahara statistic. You see I was carrying a 1L water bottle in my cheap fabric bag and my  bag was tied on to the handle of the saddle. We were walking walking along and I was just thinking how amazing it was that I was riding on the back of a camel in the Sahara Desert when my stupid bag strap broke, which dropped the water bottle, and at that point caused poor Gunther to trip over it! In an instant the next thing I knew I was being thrown over the camel’s shoulder.

262342_1918746377468_1025221_n I envisioned me getting stepped on by Gunther and I really didn’t feel like a Moroccan hospital stay so instead I hung on to his neck with my super strong thighs. I wrapped my arms and thighs around Gunther’s neck and was hanging there like a puppet. I guess all that gymnastics training did come in handy as I can perform camel circus tricks now! I didn’t walk away completely unscathed – I cut my hand up pretty bad. But don’t worry, I am traveling with the right friend on this trip. Heather is a physiotherapist, and she has come stock piled with all sorts of medical supplies.

243555_10150652939940434_6228209_oWe made our way to the heart of the desert where a Bedouin camp awaited us. By this time it was getting really windy and sand had basically entered every orifice.  Question…have you ever tried pissing in the desert? It truly is a feat! Sleeping through the night was also quite the experience! The wind picked up and eventually this lead to rain, and then an extreme downpour. The Sahara rarely sees rain, but we obviously got to experience this rarity! The tents we were sleeping in can withstand the wind but apparently rain is not something it can fight: As I slept one drip turned into two…which then became a constant pour and soon my bedding was drenched! After moving to a relatively dry part of the tent I finally fell fast asleep.259177_10150652921835434_6828438_o

Yesterday we drove from the Sahara Desert to the Todgha Gorge. The Todgha Gorge is a canyon in the eastern part of the High Atlas Mountains. Both the Todgha and neighboring Dades Rivers have carved out canyons. The last 600 metress of the gorge are the most spectacular. The canyon narrows to sheer flat rock walls that stand up to 160 metres tall on either side! The hotel that we stayed in was situated right in between the gorge! It was incredible!

Morocco is absolutely stunning. By driving I am able to see the countryside and it truly is remarkable how quickly the topography changes from lush green, to desert, to mountain ranges…unbelievable!

 

 

Casablanca, Rabat and Meknes

260090_10150652841670434_1839987_nthis post is originally from May 15, 2011
Like I said in the last post we started out the trip in the famous city of Casablanca. Situated in a beautiful spot overlooking the ocean it wasn’t difficult to get adjusted to our new environment. I totally should have brushed up on my French because Casablanca is almost completely french speaking. There isn’t a lot to do as it is mainly the economic hub of Morocco, but it was a great place to get adjusted to the time. We ventured into the town and went to the Hassan Mosque which is the 3rd largest mosque in the world. It is built over the ocean and the ceiling actually retracts!  It is so large that it can house the Notre Dame. It was pretty unbelievable. But just steps away we found ourselves lost in the Old Medina which is basically a residential area for the locals. We stood out even more than we usually do and had to find our way past chickens (both live and dead ones) to get to the main road. We made our way to Ricks Cafe which is where the movie Casablanca was filmed, but as I am no old school movie buff, I haven´t watched Casablanca before.258557_10150652855970434_2006449_o
The weather is HOT and beautiful. We walked the main strip a few times over the past few days and I guess we made quite an impression on some of the waiters.  They knew exactly what we had done the day before and also knew where we are staying. HMMMMM??? A tad creepy!!251752_10150652848610434_2890792_n
Our hotel door didn’t lock either so Heather has this alarm that she boobie trapped the door with. At 8 am on the morning there the maid came waltzing in only to have this screeching  alarm go off! I  think we scared the shit out of her…and I might have also peed the bed a little too(kidding)! Oh, and get this…at one point during our walks on the streets this made called out to us ‘lesbiaannnnnnnn’!!!!!  Really????
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Last night we met up with our G Adventures tour group and they all seem great. This morning we were off together as we headed to Rabat. This is the parliamentary capital. We saw mausoleums and interesting architecture…but somehow only got as far as a gelato shop because protests were going on. 257617_10150652848605434_4586719_o

We then drove another couple of hours to the city of Meknes. Here in the main square they have snake charmers, medicine men and many other sights that were all new to me. We made our way through a market which was full of winding streets in an old Medina … and yes we surprisingly enough did get lost!  257617_10150652848625434_6921399_oI made my first purchase. A pair of hand made leather sandals. I love shopping…my shopping addiction will be well fed in this country I am thinking!
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Things seem very safe here and it looks like they caught the 3 men who set off the bomb in Marrakech. The country so far has been extremely clean and beautiful and I cant wait to see what is next.

Take me to Casablanca…

this post is originally from May 14, 2011

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This adventure takes me to two very different countries. My friend Heather and I will join a G Adventures Tour for the Morocco leg of the trip and when we go to Spain we are meeting up with my friend Kris. In Spain we will navigate the country on our own. We arrived here in Casablanca two days ago and it is simply beautiful! The city is fairly clean…especially where we are staying.  Our hotel is right near the beach and you can see the beach right from our balcony! The area that we are staying looks more like Miami than Morocco, with the expensive Mercedes and BMW’s driving by. However if you venture a little further away you definitely see the poverty. Today we walked in the Old Medina where we certainly stood out among the dead chickens. 260057_10150652828280434_7334445_nI think we were the only tourists that had been around in a while, because the stares we got made me feel a tad uncomfortable!  Morocco is a Muslim country and we definitely have to be aware of how we dress in public.  We have to cover our shoulders and legs which makes the heat a bit hard to take when you can’t take any clothes off. We are told that we don’t have to cover our heads, but many lady do wear the hijab and burka.

I look forward to see what lies ahead on this adventure and I hope that I can bring this piece of the world to you as well…

The G Adventures Tour I took which has changed a little since but is quite similar is – The Highlights of Morocco

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They start the parking attendants working at a young age! hahaha