Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

Morocco/Spain diary: Day 13

Monday, 22 December, 2014

Thursday, 25 September, 2014. 18:59

We are relaxing just before dinner with the group, our last dinner of the tour.

We woke up at 07:40 and got ready for breakfast at 08:00. It was a bit late being prepared, so we hung out on the roof terrace in the cool morning air for a bit until it was ready. The repast consisted of baguettes and roti with jams and butter, plus a selection of corn flakes or chocolate cereal, and yoghurt. I hadn’t had cereal for several days, so I had two bowls of the corn flakes, one with apricot yoghurt and one with strawberry yoghurt. A crunchy breakfast after so many days of bread and jam and boiled eggs was luxury.

00:04 (just after midnight)

We have just returned to our riad after the last dinner of the tour – a long and special event at a fancy hotel restaurant in the new town area of Marrakesh.

Winding back to breakfast, we assembled for the final walking tour of the voyage. We met the local guide, a man named Mustafa, wearing a light brown jellaba with the hood up, and short horizontal glasses. He led us out through the hectic streets to the prime ministerial palace Palais Bahia, which is the only palace in Morocco which visitors are allowed inside. He stopped on the street along the way to explain some of the history of the Berber kings and the palaces, including this one.

Entering the palace gates was an immediate breath of fresh air, as the traffic vanished, to be replaced by fruit trees and a peaceful courtyard. The only thing to dodge now were the hordes of tourists. There were dozens of huge tour groups of 40-50 people being led around by guides carrying flags and signs. I haven’t seen so many tourists in one place since… probably since the Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca, actually.

Palais Bahia courtyard
Palais Bahia courtyard.

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Morocco/Spain diary: Day 12

Sunday, 21 December, 2014

Wednesday, 24 September, 2014. 08:30

Aït Benhaddou is a popular tourist spot because it is a day trip from Marrakesh. Apparently the village here is swarming with tourists at lunch time, and becomes deserted overnight. Although the hotel we’re staying at seems to have hundreds of rooms, and a luxurious swimming pool, we seem to be the only people staying here.

We woke with the alarm at 07:15 after probably the best sleep of the trip so far. Breakfast from 07:30 was a familiar looking selection of bread, jam, honey, boiled eggs, and freshly curled butter in a dish. The fried bread here was small squares which looked different to the donut rings in other places, but tasted the same. The bowl of apricot jam was enormous, a huge salad bowl full of the stuff. We were the first there on the terrace, joined by Leanne and Michelle and Terry soon after. The view from the terrace was amazing, on to a sunlit slope of mud brick buildings. After packing the bus we are heading on an hour long walk through the village up that hill to see the view before driving to Marrakesh.

Ksar Aït Benhaddou in dawn light
View of Ksah Aït Benhaddou from breakfast.

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Morocco/Spain diary: Day 11

Thursday, 18 December, 2014

Tuesday, 23 September, 2014. 10:08

We have just hit the road out of the M’Goun Valley. I learnt a word of Berber this morning. I said “shukraan” to the owner of the gite where we stayed, and he said that was Arabic, in Berber it is “sahaa“.

I got up at 07:30 and went for a walk outside, a short way up the valley to get away from the buildings to take some photos. When I got back, we went into a room in the back of the gite where women were making bread in a wood fired oven. The room was smoky, and one woman was mixing some sort of watery sounding mixture in a plastic drum suspended by ropes on a wooden frame, while another was baking loaves, taking the prepared flat rounds of dough from a series of piles separated by damp cloths. The oven was small, just large enough to bake one of the pizza-sized loaves at a time, and the woman kept feeding in broken sticks to fuel the fire. The bread puffed up hugely with air inside as it cooked, then flattened out again as it cooled. Another woman observing the process saw Jill taking photos on her tablet and became interested in seeing the large, colourful shots. She scrolled through a couple she had taken in the baking room, and then more staff arrived and asked to see more photos. She ended up showing them several dozen photos, going all the way back to our camel ride in the desert, with a crowd of five people looking over her shoulders at them!

Bread oven
Baking bread for our breakfast, in Gite d’&eacute’tape Tamaloute.

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Morocco/Spain diary: Day 10

Wednesday, 17 December, 2014

Monday, 22 September, 2014. 08:40

We are having breakfast in the hotel dining room, which is full of other travellers, many of whom seem to be Australians. The buzz we are overhearing is that the roads are still cut by the floodwater, as everyone is wondering what they’ll be doing today. I poked my head outside and overheard a guide saying something indistinguishable to a woman, who then answered, “So what do we do? Stay here another day?”

The breakfast room is packed to capacity. Another group is here with backpacks, obviously having checked out of their rooms, but they’re not going anywhere. One asked their guide if they should move to the second dining room downstairs to give everyone else more room to eat breakfast, which sounded like an extremely sensible idea, but their guide said no, just sit here! There are barely enough seats and tables for everyone packed in here at the moment, and more of our group will be arriving. Also, the WiFi is not working this morning, so we can’t even share our misery on Facebook!

Maison Kasbah Taborihte window view
View from our room at the Maison Kasbah Taborihte, Todra Gorge.

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Morocco/Spain diary: Day 9

Monday, 15 December, 2014

Sunday, 21 September, 2014. 09:04

We are packing into the bus for an early start on the road, since we have a six hour drive today. We got a wake up call at 06:10, to be up and on the camels in time for the sunrise. Unfortunately the cloud had not dispersed overnight – in fact it had been raining on and off through the night. But at least it wasn’t raining or windy, and the pre-dawn stillness in the desert was beautiful.

10:39

We are back on paved roads and threading through the town of Erfoud again to pick up our ongoing journey into the High Atlas today. After getting up and quickly using the toilets, we mounted the camels again for the walk back to the Kasbah Yasmina. We went a different route, doing an anticlockwise loop around one of the bigger sand dunes. The dawn was pleasantly mild and calm. The morning light filtered through haze and cloud on the horizon, though above us the clouds were broken up and would have looked beautiful if only the sun had peeked through as it came up.

Sahara sunrise
Dawn in the Sahara Desert.

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Morocco/Spain diary: Day 8

Saturday, 13 December, 2014

Saturday, 20 September, 2014. 08:26

We were woken this morning around 05:00 by a howling gale blowing outside. It was rattling the windows and doors throughout the hotel and whistling through all the cracks between the windows and their frames. Every so often there would be a huge bang from somewhere in the hotel as a huge gust caught something. As the dawn light rose, we could see the sky was overcast, with ominous looking grey swirling clouds, and the trees were being thrown about, threshing wildly in the wind.

We got up at 07:00 and dressed to go down for breakfast. Lahcen had mentioned the buffet began at 07:00, but we didn’t see any evidence of it, although we could smell cooking and hear coffee being made. Leanne joined us and I wandered over to see if there was anything happening near the kitchen, and spotted a corridor to a large room at the back of the hotel overlooking the pool courtyard, where the buffet was set up and some other people were already helping themselves. They turned out to be Spanish. Just as I’d gotten used to speaking French instead of Italian, one greeted me with a “buenos dias”, and without thinking I replied “bonjour”.

Midelt breakfast
Breakfast buffet at Hotel Kasbah Asmaa.

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Morocco/Spain diary: Day 7

Friday, 12 December, 2014

Friday, 19 September, 2014. 11:28

We just stopped in Ifrane for a drink and toilet break on the drive to Midelt. Lahcen was describing the toilets as flush toilets, and then said that Ifrane was the most beautiful town in Morocco. I misheard and thought he said they were the most beautiful toilets in Morocco! Ifrane looks very European, and where we stopped was like a Swiss ski resort with steep gabled hotels and cafes. We had a drink at the cafe of the Appart Hotel, orange juice for me, and a coffee for M. She said it was very sweet and must have already had sugar added.

Sojourn in Ifrane
Ifrane.

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Morocco/Spain diary: Day 6

Tuesday, 9 December, 2014

Thursday, 18 September, 2014. 16:11

We are sitting in the courtyard of our riad and having a mint tea to relax on our afternoon off. Leanne is here writing postcards and Jill is doing something on her tablet.

We had breakfast at 08:00 again, with the same set of yoghurt, boiled eggs, bread, and pastries. This time I had a second egg and stirred some honey into the plain yoghurt to sweeten it up a little. We then assembled at 09:00 for today’s excursion. This was a bus trip to Sefrou, a small town about an hour and a half away on the bus, and famed for its cherries. The harvest is in May, however, so we didn’t get to see any fresh cherries there. The first stop was a bank and water stop for people who needed money and bottled water. I withdrew a bunch of cash to refill our wallets. Then it was a drive through mostly flattish country planted thickly with olive trees in neat rows. We didn’t see any cherry trees, but Karen and Heather said they were lurking a few rows back behind the olives. On the way out of Fes we saw our first camels of the trip, a half dozen or so in a small fenced field on the outskirts of town.

Streets of Sefrou
Streets of Sefrou.

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Morocco/Spain diary: Day 5

Sunday, 7 December, 2014

Wednesday, 17 September, 2014. 20:05

We are sitting down to dinner with Maria, Terry, Zi, Jay, Jill, and Leanne, in the hotel restaurant. They have a limited choice of dishes, which changes each night. We can have pastillas like last night, or tajines with either chicken, meat (lamb or beef – it’s not clear), or vegetable. They come in a fixed menu with Moroccan soup and a dessert, or separately. We asked what the soup was, and the waiter said it contained tomato, rice, and “chicken pieces”. We asked if they had a vegetarian soup, and he said it only contained vegetables. We were all confused as he rattled of the ingredients again: tomato, rice, chicken pieces… We stopped him and said chicken isn’t a vegetable, and he said it, “Not chicken, chicken pieces…” Then he gestured that it was small balls, a type of vegetable, and we realised it was chick peas!

We got up this morning and had a leisurely preparation for breakfast, doing some stretching exercises to get the knots out of our muscles. The breakfast downstairs in the courtyard included yoghurt, freshly squeezed orange juice, boiled eggs, and a selection of breads and pastries. The eggs were so hot it was difficult to peel them, but they went well with the bread. There was a warm flatbread which was like a roti, and delicious. The “pepper” in the pinch tray with the salt turned out to be some sort of curry powder, not pepper. The breakfast service was leisurely, and we only had about ten minutes afterwards before the tour meeting at 09:00.

Palace gates
Gates of the Royal Palace of Fes.

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Morocco/Spain diary: Day 4

Sunday, 30 November, 2014

Tuesday, 16 September, 2014. 15:03

We are in the bus heading out to the Roman ruins of Volubilis, from our morning spent in Meknes.

We woke up a bit early again, but both slept soundly until then. I heard the call to prayer from a nearby muezzin this morning at about 06:00. We dressed and went down to breakfast just after 07:00. This morning there was no buffet, but a waiter brought a continental breakfast of freshly squeezed orange juice, croissants, baguettes, pastries, and yoghurt to our table. Leanne was next down to the breakfast room and sat with us.

After eating, we packed our bags and cleaned up before heading out for the morning meeting at 09:00. The first stop was at a lookout on the hillside overlooking a valley which cut through the town. There we met our local guide for the day, a woman named Atimadh. She was very knowledgeable and told us a lot about the history of Meknes and the Berber people who settled in the area, as well as the Moorish and Jewish history of the area. We got underway, stopping in a couple of places outside the old walls of the ancient medina and saw some of the decorated gates, including the Bab Lakhmis Gate.

Donkey rider
View of Meknes.

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