Tuesday, 2 August 2016

Moroccan memories

Finally back in the travelling world!

I started of my summer of 16 in Morocco, Africa.
As Africa was the last continent (besides Antarctica) for me to start exploring, I just finished my end of year exams and hadn't been out in the world for a while I was very keen on starting this adventure!

This is the story of another 'Tweenie and Lizzie in the world'- adventure.

By the end of June we hopped on a train, bus, plane and another bus to find ourselves in the cultural hart of Morocco; Marrakesh.

As we arrived in our hostel after a long travel day we got treated by a beautiful home made tajine (It may not look like much on the picture, but this was one of the best tajines we had in Morocco).

Our hostel was in Kasba (sort of fortress, citadel), just 10 min walk from the Medina (the old city centre). So after an early first night we got up for breakfast to explore the Saadian Tombs which was just around the corner from the hostel. These beautifully decorated tombs are a must see in Marrakesh, try to visit in the afternoon as a lot of guided tourist groups come by in the mornings.

Fun fact about these tombs; even though these tombs were built in the end of the 16th century they weren't discovered until 1917 (by mistake because there is a huge wall build around and nobody really wondered what was inside).

Either you know, or you don't but Marrakesh's world famous souks are notorious to get lost in.
And so, we got lost. Terribly lost.
It all started out great while wandering through the colourful allies and you don't really think about which direction you're going you just follow your feet, which we love to do. Until we found ourselves in the local souks where it is even harder to keep your bearings and finally in the local neighbourhood where it is close to impossible to get out without getting lost first.

As people don't stop harassing you, wanting to give you directions (which are 80% wrong, I might add) it could take you close to forever to get back to Jemaa el-Fnaa. Not hard to get back too, if you know that it is the most important square in Marrakesh and one of the bussiest of Africa, one would think until you get ever so lost in those narrow winding streets which all look the same but aren't.
By half past 4 (been in the souks for almost 2 hours) we met some other people, an English couple I think, who were lost too and needed to get back to the square as well so eventually we got our bearings right and got back to the square. 

By night fall we were so tired and fed up with all the hassling we settled down in Kasbah Café, just across the road from the tombs we had visited what seemed weeks ago.
We had a delicious dinner on the roof top watching the world go by down below.

Day 2 we walked over to the other side of the city across Ville nouvelle to Le Jardin Majorelle.

Yves Saint Laurent memorial

This beautiful 12-acre garden is the work of French artist, Jacques Majorelle. The vibrant blue, bleu Majorelle, which is all over the place is also named after the artist.
Since Yves Saint Laurent owned the place since 1980 and visited frequently, his ashes got scattered in the gardens after his death in 2008.

It was a wonderful, sweaty day strolling round these gardens before our 14 hour bus ride up north the same evening/night and morning.

Fun fact; the garden is host to more than 15 bird species that are endemic to North Africa

Welcome to Chefchaouen !
"The blue is said to symbolise the sky and heaven, and serve as a reminder to lead a spiritual life"

After having survived a 14 hour public double bus ride (Marrakesh to Fez & Fez to Chefchaouen) with very little sleep and walking through the blue washed medina we found the cutest little hostel/b&b, so we rang the bell, went inside and booked a room.
We had the cutest little room for just the two of us with a private shower, but forgot to take pictures. of course.

I absolutely adore this little town it was so good to get away from crowded Marrakesh to this charming place town huddled in the mountains.

The Spanish mosque from where we saw the sunset

even the murals are blue

We had a great and relaxing 3 days here in the sea of blue. We met up with some friends we made in Marrakesh, ate good food, bought pretty slippers, saw a charming sunset on the top of a hill overlooking the entire little town, had delicious sweet treats from the bakery, got to know wonderful people and wandered through these snazzy blue streets.

All the blue makes you feel like you're walking through an empty pool, quite a peculiar sensation.

Another 9 hour public bus ride, which should only have taken us 6 hours(!), later we found ourselves in the big city of Casablanca. We only stayed the night, as this was only a stopover to get to Esasouira. After having arrived about 3 hours late we found a reasonably priced cab to the medina and got to a hostel thanks to a very kind stranger. 

From that day on we decided to NOT take the public buses again, but rather pay a bit more for some working air conditioning, leg room, not smelly seats and a bus on a schedule.

Anyway, once settled we got out and about for dinner and thanks to Lonely Planet we found this (and many other things all over the world for that matter) very nice restaurant not to far from where we were staying. 
We had a great dinner at Ricks Café, with absolutely magnificent food accompanied by lovely live music, most definitely recommend if you're in Casa and feel like a more fancy dinner night!

The following day we did a little morning sightseeing to the grand Hassan II Mosque, the biggest mosque in Morocco!
It was quite a stunning sight to see. This is one of the few mosques in Morocco open to non-Muslims but because we were short in time (next bus to catch) we didn't get to exploring the inside. 

Hassan II Mosque

Fun fact; the minaret stands tall with it 210m as the tallest religious structure in the world!
Next stop; Essa-werraaaa

Welcome to the little windy yet charming fishing town of Essaouira. 

Not much to talk about, just a very relaxed sea side town where the wind blows horizontally in your face but the juices are fabulously and the people very goodhearted. Oh and sh*tloads of cats, but not the usual city/stray underfed, sick and poor little kitties. No. Most cats here we close to morbid obese if you ask me, from all the fish scraps we guessed. Quite nice to see some healthy, well fed (on the brink of over-fed) cats.

The cute little kitty on the left here, couscous (&tajine), is one of the two adorable babies at our hostel, Atlantic Hostel, a good recommendation if you're heading to Essaouira anytime! 

well hello there, Agadir beach resort!
As we decided we'd earned a bit of lazy vacay by the beach time by this time, so we found a great deal on and planted our behinds on the beach and pool for 2 days in Agadir just a 3 hour bus drive from Essaouira.

Shamelessly decadent resort days to rest our tired backpacking feet just over halfway through our trip.

Fun fact; after an earthquake in 1960 the city was rebuilt to be the largest seaside resort in Morocco as well as being the most important fishing port in the country.

Back in Marrakesh for Eid, the end of Ramadan.

As everyone was in with their families celebrating Eid the streets we rather eerie and empty. No shop was open, with the one or two exception of tourist shops so there was absolutely no way of finding food on this national holiday. 

Nonetheless we still strolled through the souks (making such not to get lost this time from the beginning) and around the medina, it was quite nice to be able to walk around without being hassled every few feet.

The picture on the right here was taken at the exact same spot as the colourful picture at the beginning of our adventure in the souks. What a strange site and vibe it was/had.

Moulay El Yazid Mosque
door to the Moulay El Yazid Mosque 
With Eid everything in Marrakesh would be closed the following few days too so we decided to do a day trip to Ouzoud falls, 150 northeast from the city.
Must do if you have a day to spare in Morocco but I would try doing it on my own next time in stead of doing it with a tour. I'm sure there are good ones out there but I haven't encountered one yet here in Morocco. 

Almost every step you take you have to pay more which is ridiculous, you get shoved on a little boat which takes you to the foot of the falls and when you get off you have to pay. I'm fine with the fact that there are such things to do because it was fun to do and people make their living out of it but I never asked nor really wanted to do this so to just usher people on without them telling what's going on and then to go and ask money for it afterwards isn't really right in my mind. 
I like to chose what and if I do stuff. The same thing happened when we were to have lunch, our guide sat us down in a restaurant-ish place after having passed about 10 perfectly fine and cheap looking food stalls. So someone comes up to our group gives us two options to choose from, counts who wants what disappears, comes back with food and water and then when you're all finished they make you pay a ridiculously overpriced price for what we got.  

Anyway, it was a nice trip nonetheless. The guide spoke decent English, we had an ice cold swim down stream and the scenery's where absolutely marvellous as you might gather from the pictures.

Fun fact; these falls are the second highest falls in Africa, with only the Victoria falls in Zimbabwe as competition in Africa. Total hight: 110m in 3 drops with 75m as the longest drop.

Later the same day...

Jemaa el-Fna is a square that changes completely about 4 times a day (sunrise, morning, midday, afternoon & night) therefore we absolutely had to see it on more than one time of day. And that's how we ended up having a pancake and taboulé dinner and the best mint ice cream ever as dessert.

I must say it's absolute madness to try and walk through the square at this time of night, in the bottom of the picture you see it isn't too crowded but all the rest of the picture is covered with people and artist and vendors en food stalls and it's actually quite hard to even just walk around because of everything going on. A good experience, but certainly nothing to do every day of the week if you ask me, way too crowded. 

As a last major adventure within our adventure we booked a 3 day trip to the Sahara. Originally we wanted to the trip by ourselves, take a bus to all the 'must see' places in the Atlas and the Sahara to do a camel trek there but as we had limited time and thought that would bring up the costs as we don't speak Moroccan arabic nor berber and their French isn't always on point in smaller towns so we decided to take a tour. 

driving into the Atlas Mountains

We started early and stopped in various places along the road through the Atlas Mountains on day one to end up in Ouarzazate (elevation: 1.160m) which is noted for it's film-making location.

Aït Benhaddou

 Fun fact; Movies as the Gladiator were filmed here as well as part of Game of Thrones in Ouazazate and Aït Benhaddou. 

The Ksar of Aït-Ben-Haddou is also listed as UNESCO world heritage since 1987.

Kasbah Taourirt, Ouazazate

Day 2, Dades Gorge, berber village and dromedaries! 

Dadès Gorges, Anti-Atlas

an ancient Berber village we visited

So we ended day two in our stinking hot (44°C hot without aircon) tour bus to Merzouga the edge of Erg Chebbi, one of the two Moroccan Saharan ergs (large seas of dunes formed by wind-blown sand).
Even though we were all already practically melting in the bus, stepping outside on the very edge of the Sahara felt like stepping out of the bus right into a hot tajine.

This is where we mounted our dromedary and headed into the great Sahara, after about an hour and a half sunset ride we arrived at a berber camp where we would stay the night.

It was quite the experience to say the least. Riding through a sea of sand on a dromedary was something new for me and most other people in our group.

The dromedary wasn't as awkwardly uncomfortable as many had said it would be but an hour and half was just about enough for a first time for me.

words to live by

Such peculiar animals, these even-toed ungulate one-humped camels, when you start thinking about it...
How they evolved to survive the harsh winds and scorching temperatures in the desert. How they, seemingly effortlessly, make their way over and across those enormous sand dunes. Peculiar.

Fun fact: Asian camels have two humps, while African only have one.

After a good berber dinner and a night under the stars in the desert we were woken at about 4 AM to stumble back over to our camels in the dark and see the sunrise over the dunes whilst heading back to civilisation (in the end).

Now, as it was very dusty we didn't actually physically saw the sun rise, we just saw the world brighten up and the sand turn more red every minute which was cool nonetheless.

dunes to desert

I thought a quick selfie was in orde before mister grumpy pants almost bit off my ear, hence the surprised face.

Our last stop in the Atlas before heading back to Marrakesh.
Our fun little group on the left here after having survived 3 days together in a 40 degree non-airco bus with a tour guide who had no English, very little French and apparently a few words in Spanish (what we found out in the end).

In the end we all had a good time and made some memories to last a life time for sure.

Waking up back in a nice bed in Marrakesh I realised it was our last day. 
It was monday now, so life was back to how it would be the rest of the year as Ramadan and Eid had taken place I thought. 
So we topped off our moroccan memories by heading to Henna cafe for a late lunch, tea, henna and some last minute sight seeing before spending the night at Marrakesh airport awaiting our 6 AM flight back to reality.

this was undoubtedly thé best
(advocado) sandwich I had in Morocco!

Koutoubia Mosque

thus, ending our moroccan memories.

A country well worth visiting, but maybe with (more) inside connections to be able to see the "real" Moroccan life.

until next adventure!
xoxo Lizzie

Morocco, June 25 - July 12 2016

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