The blue pearl, Chefchouen

Getting to Chefchouen was decently easy enough, though getting all my luggage to the bus proved to be a challenging start to the day. I hired a portman to come down to the riad and wheelbarrow my backpacks and suitcase up the long hill to the bus station. We had agreed upon a price, and in typical Moroccan fashion, at the end, he tried to guilt trip me into even more money. I stood my ground and paid him our price, and sat at the cafe waiting for the bus to arrive. Luckily, I started to see other foreigners show up, who had amazingly remained hidden during my time in Fez, because I rarely ever saw any foreigners and wondered where they all were.

While we waited, there was a small group of 3 Japanese that I noticed, who soon became my friends on the bus ride to Chefchouen. The group of foreigners soon started chatting it up, and at the bus stop, we all ate together and shared stories along with our grilled minced meat from the vendor outside. It was good, scary, but good :).

When we arrived in Chefchouen, I waited in line for my bus tickets and met Thom, a guy from the UK. We chatted for a while and ended up sharing a taxi and spending all our time together in Chefchouen with engaging conversation, exploring the town, and a hike the next morning. We had dinner in the main square and watched the lively hustle and bustle of tourists, dwellers, and the townspeople. We wandered throughout all the streets making our way through this little village and ended up along side a river where we sat and drank under a full moon. It was a great day!

The hike up to the Spanish monastery was ridiculously hot, and people warned us about making the hike up, but it wasn’t so bad. It was definitely hot, and we had our water, but found ourselves at the top talking to a countryman and his mother who was tending to the goats sitting on the hillside. She didn’t want her picture taken, but was just sitting there looking out and I wondered what kind of life she had had so far. The man was nice, and offered to show us around, not in any pushy fashion, and Thom and I thought it was the perfect way to solicit business–gently and kindly, and if we’d had more time, we would have gone.

We then went to lunch and had a great pizza at a posh little pizza joint. We kind of bullied our way into making them open early so I could still get the bus to Tangier that afternoon, and while we ate, Thom decided to join. He said, well what’s the use of traveling alone if you have no spontaneity in it? So he rushed out to get his stuff packed and we set to meet up at the bus station for the bus in just about 45 minutes.

I headed back to get my things and start heading to the bus station, but the taxi that was organized for me was taking a long time, so I started to get a little impatient and brought my stuff out to make the point of me getting going. I wanted to be at the bus station by 2:45 for my 3:15, and by 3:00, they still hadn’t shown. Finally, I got a cab and raced down to the bus station, keeping an eye out to see if I could pick Thom up on the way.

I got to the station, and started waiting in line to see if I could secure a ticket for Thom, but the 2 guys in front of me took the last two tickets on the bus. All of a sudden, Thom arrived, sweaty, out of breath, and with his huge backpack on his back and I was shocked that he made the effort to join. I was even more eager to ensure he got on the bus with me. After going back and forth with the ticket person, he said there’s no more tickets at all, absolutely nothing he can do, so we got his ticket for 8pm, which I was thinking was going to be very hard to coordinate since we only have contact in Wifi zones.

The bus pulled up, and I told him that I would do everything to get him on the bus, and to not leave. I went ahead and secured my baggage underneath, and went inside the bus to scope out the actual situation of seats being available. Amazingly, every seat was filled up…except for the one next to me. So while speaking Spanish, I pushed and forced and begged and pleaded our case for allowing Thom on board, and even after the bus started, stopped, and started back again, they stopped and let Thom on board after running him back to the office to pay for a ticket. It was such a rush, feeling amazingly accomplished for having gotten him on board.

We rode the 3 hours to Tangier, and arrived in the evening and got a taxi to the medina where the riad was for the night. Walking to the riad wasn’t the greatest looking pathway, as people, men, were just hanging around trying to get business from you one way or another. Hey you want a tour? Want a good restaurant? Blah blah blah.


Another ceramic capital, Fes

Fes was really interesting. After getting a taxi from the train station on a very comfortable ride through Rabat, Meknes and the countryside on a very comfortable and modern double decker train, I arrived at the parking lot of where I was to be met by the Riad owner. We called a few times, and I got a bit nervous as to why there was no answer. By the time we got to the parking lot, he answered and sent someone to come pick me up.

Driss walked out of the medina smiling and welcoming as he shook my hand and introduced himself and helped me with my luggage. He was a little chubby, and so so kind. His English was really impressive and fluid.

We made our way into the medina, and it instantly had a different feel from the madness of Marrakech. I was instantly more impressed and excited to explore the souks in a more relaxing environment. We made our way down the hill to F9, a sign that helped point out a point of interest but was our turn to the Riad. We weaved left then right then left and got to the front door where almost instantly Christian, the owner of the Riad opened the door quickly in a joking fashion.

Christian was a slick Frenchman tanned to the point of looking like leather, with hair slicked back in a tiny pony tail. He was a little guy about my size, and had a very suave French accent in his English that was charming. The riad was beautiful, and upon the entry, we sat and chatted a little bit before I got shown to my room.

My room had beautiful high ceilings, spacious with a couch and a place to easily spread out. The bed was a queen size and the toilet and shower room were both separate on either side of the bed. The air conditioning was welcomed from having lugged all my items around in the heat to the Riad. I relaxed a bit and then came back downstairs. Apparently I was the only visitor in the Riad, so it was very quiet and empty, and Christian seemed excited to have a guest. We chatted more and then I went out to find a place for dinner, and went to Café Clock which was both recommended by Driss and Christian to try the camel burger. Obviously my stomach had healed at this time, so I was already back to normal and ready to eat regular food again, although Camel burgers seemed a little bit risky, I went ahead and followed the recommendation.

After making my way into the café, a team of handsome servers greeted me in this modern yet hip and rustic old venue that opened up in the middle like a riad with several floors of seating around. It was not big, but narrow and tall, with just about 4 tables surrounding the opening to downstairs. I got myself a table on the 2nd floor and checked out the menu and there it was, the camel burger. The lamb burger sounded much better, and I almost went against the recommendation, but decided to stay true to why I was there—where else can you eat camel meat??

The burger was quite dry, and I wouldn’t really have known that it was camel. It was more like a mix of beef and bison with it feeling a little bit more lean, I was surprised at the middle being pink without being juicy.

After dinner I walked around the souk a bit and then headed back to the riad to relax. I’m really enjoying just being able to be somewhere and explore with no itineraries or anything. But I also needed to sort out the last few days of my trip, so I did spend some time doing that. It’s crazy to think that this trip is almost done, well at this point it really is.

The next day I did a ramparts tour where I was driven around the perimeter of the medina to have great lookouts of the city below. It was a rip off, and completely oversold as to what I would be doing, but alas, this is what you have to come to terms with for being on your own and viewed as a tourist.


Casablanca for a night

Leaving Safi was quite easy, as the bus system in Morocco is quite extensive through CTM. It’s a modern service while being surrounding by completely unmodern dirty bus terminals. Luckily, it was an easy trip to Casa. The previous night since I’d had a fish dinner, I think it got my stomach into a bad situation, so getting up early to get to the bus station, I was concerned for sitting in a bus for 4 hours. Luckily, Imodium did its job, and I was able to make it all the way to Casa with no problems. However, there was a split second where after getting on the bus, I had to get off because it was hot and I started having hot flashes of really questioning whether or not I could endure the four hour trek to Casa. I calmed down and decided that it would be the better decision to get on to a more modern city like Casa in case the problem with my stomach was anything requiring medicine. I tell you, Colombia really ruined me for feeling like an upset stomach is just an upset stomach.

Pulling into Casa’s bustling city of dirty white buildings, it was like a scene from an old black and white movie, because all the buildings seemed to just have that white/black coloring, so the entire city seemed so dull. When we got to the CTM terminal, we passed by a Sheraton, and I thought oh this is perfect, I don’t care how much it is, it’s an American brand, and I’ll be ensured a level of quality with the room, restaurant, and bed.

Checking into the hotel, I was amazed that they were quoting a Sheraton as a 5-star hotel for over $200 for a room for one person. Again, I was in a desperate situation (or so I thought) and didn’t want to worry about being in a dirty place while getting over a stomach bug. So I bit the bullet, since I was at the end of my trip, and shockingly, when getting into my room, I entered the dingiest, old fashioned, worn out excuse for a Sheraton hotel. It was the most expensive stay in my entire 23 week journey around the world, and while I can’t say it was the worst (because I spent many a nights in shared facilities with questionable beds), it was by far the worst hotel. I was frustrated because I wanted to just go downstairs to the restauarant and have a simple soup or something. Nope. Closed. Both of the restaurants. I checked out the pool. Nasty, AND closed. At 5pm. So I had to leave the hotel to find a place for dinner, which I found a great little Spanish/Mexican type place just around the block. It was exactly what I wanted.

That evening, I kept it low key and caught up on some emails, CNN, and photo organization.

The next morning, I decided before checking out that I would check out Africa’s largest mosque, the Hassan II Mosque. I took a petit taxi over to the coast just about 15 minutes from the hotel, and once we got to the marina, you could see this impressive building perched right next to the seaside. It was truly beautiful.

The huge square that opened up in front of the building was impressive as well, and you felt so tiny being in the plaza, that the building almost looked like a backdrop to a set.

When I got to the entrance, I saw that they were giving tours at 9am in English, so I thought what perfect timing. I’ll check out the mosque and get a tour with it. I waited down in the corridor, and two other English girls showed up and we chatted a bit before our tour guide began showing us the various places in the mosque.

Walking into the main prayer area was truly awe inspiring. The height of the ceiling, the grandeur décor of such incredibly detailed and intricate work surrounding curved archways coming to a point in true Islamic flair.

Another interesting thing was the balcony. It was this hovering piece of real estate that had wooden carved walls that was basically like a really intricately designed cage. Alas, it was where the women could come in to pray as well, and they even had a covered separate entrance. It was really bizarre, as with other mosques, women always had their separate place in the mosque, however, this one was completely with an entrance that led to a curved stairway that led up to their area. It would be interesting to see what it looked like inside. According to our tour guide, they must stay separate so as to not ‘distract the male prayers’, which goes hand in hand with how I saw women looked at throughout the society as well. I don’t think I’ll ever understand the mindset for many reasons, but even the logical one of simply thinking, can you not just control yourself?

Anyhow, after the main prayer area, we continued on to other areas of the mosque and ended up in the ablution room, where they go to wash their hands and feet 3 times before being able to pray. It’s quite a process, and truly impressive that several worshippers have not only the dedication to do this 5 times a day, but also the time to do this every day. Through my travels, I have decided that Islam has got to be the most powerful religion of them all to be able to entice worshippers to do what they do to pray. I can’t imagine living in an environment where ‘God is Great’ is shouted out of loud speakers in a long karaoke like version from every mosque in the city, 5 times a day, including one as early as 4am.

After my educational trip to the mosque, I headed to the train station to get the train all the way to Fes. I decided to knock out Meknes and Rabat as I was ready to stay put for a few days, and the riad I’d found for Fes seemed quite nice.



Safi, the ceramic capital of Africa

After my full day at the Atlas Mountains, the worker at my riad said getting to Sadi is simple, just go out to the taxi stand and they have share taxis going to safi. You share with 6 people so I thought a minivan of sorts, but all there is are the biggest beat up pieces of crap you’d ever see for an excuse of a car, much less a mercedes. No one was going to safi. They said only from the main terminal can you do this.

Since I didn’t want to arrive late at night I was hurrying to get out of Marrakech at a decent time so I’d be able to just get to the hotel and go to bed.

After driving to the terminal, I was trying to find this share taxi stand and in true Arab fashion everyone you ask help from wants to take you somewhere else and sell you something, or take you and expect payment. No one can give a simple answer, plus you question everyone’s answer anyway. Luckily I found an old man manning a gate and he sent me in the right direction.

I then saw all the stands and another old man helped me get to the safi stand. My plan was to buy the two front seats so I’d have a comfortable ride, but when I arrived I was #6…which means shoved in the back with 4 others.

Luckily no one smelled bad, but it was slammed full with a window that wouldn’t roll down in the back, a driver that would always pull out a water sprayer and spray is face completely drenched with water. It wasn’t even that hot at that point, so it was weird.

The faster we went the more the car started smelling like fumes and I went back and forth of feeling like I was going to have a panic attack from being suffocated by fumes. Amazingly, we made it safely to safi, and I was dropped right at my hotel where I quickly checked in and got a banana with peanut butter as a snack before bed.

I was exhausted and decided I’ll never ever do a share taxi again–ever.

The next morning I had breakfast and started out towards the water where the medina and souks were. As I made my way down, I instantly saw the differences of the intensity of morrocco as people here were polite, nice, but didn’t speak English much. My French is poor, but sometimes I luck out with a Spanish speaker where I can get by.

I finally happened upon the souks that started selling the ceramics. They had really great things for ridiculously cheap prices. So I did my look before committing and determined which items I was going to want. I found some plates that I thought were really beautiful as decorative pieces, then a couple of tanjines as serving dishes and then a painting. I decided to have lunch so I could make sure I felt like I could carry everything.

Lunch was odd. I went to a cafe nearby that I saw a midget coming out of, and then my server was dwarfed, but ridiculously sweet and nice and excited to be serving a foreigner, as there’s maybe 3 of us in town!

I ordered what I though was safest which was the skewer brochette tanjine, but when it came out it was an egg omelet of sorts with rooster meat. It was ok, but I really didn’t want eggs, and there was a ton of oil. So I picked at my food until I felt full enough to go back into shopping mode.

That afternoon I got the whole Arab salesmanship again but i did get to go see where these pots and plates were all being made. I met the one man whose family owns all of these. Yeah right. I saw someone else walking a Spanish couple around the same ‘family’ factories probably proclaiming his life story as a potters son to them too.

Anyhow, I narrowed down what I wanted and was at this point on a mission to get what I was looking for. After negotiating and getting good deals, it was already near evening so I went back to the hotel to shower and put my stuff down. I’d gotten a duffel bag as well to put my new items in. The plates just barely fit in there, so it will be interesting how the rest of my
Morrocan shopping goes.

That evening I went to a riad for dinner. They specialize in fish being a seaport town so I had seabass with vegetables. I then went back home and woke up in the middle of the night with my body rejecting one of the two meals, so I’m not sure what was the culprit. I’m hoping it’s a quick one as I have my bus journey to Casablanca the next morning and the last thing I want is to not feel good with my stomach on the bus.


Intensive Marrakech

Arriving at the airport, I was to have someone come meet me from the riad I was staying at. After customs is a group of people just waiting and holding signs of people they’re waiting for. My name nor the name of the road ever showed up and I went to information to call and see what happened. Apparently there had been a mixup on my flight number and they thought I was coming later.

The guy showed up quickly after and during my wait I continued talking to the young girl at the desk. She was really good in English and had even been to Chicago.

Finally a tall skinny Moroccan man showed up and took me to a really nice SUV where we started our drive into town.

The desert nation of morocco has a red tinge to everything it seems. The sun was starting to set which heightened the coloring of the sand and dirt if the sides of the road. Palm trees stood still in the background as cars and people on motos filled the streets as we came closer to the old town.

This town too had a wall that surrounded it’s perimeter and as we drove through the Arab style gate, the type that curves to a point, we were in the medina.

Finally I was let out at a dead end where another tall skinny Moroccan man greeted me and introduced himself as youssef. Youssef had big features and a gaunt face, but very kind and welcoming

I followed him down and alley that literally was two people wide, and lined by tall buildings. It made a corridor of what you would see in the movies where after every turn, you’d see a door shut or a scurry of a foot just passing the next corner. While it was very safe, the whole prejudice of these environments did have me a little on edge–more so just heightened awareness of surroundings rather.

After about 9 turns we arrived at Riad Chalymar which as riads go, they had a nice open foyer all the way to the top with a foot pool in the middle. It was blue and tiled and offered a fresh coolness to the air after having walked just for a few minutes in the piercing sun earlier.

They showed me to my room and I had a beautiful big bed, nice private shower and toilet and no windows which made the room peacefully dark. I was excited for a good nights sleep to go exploring the next day, but first up was getting dinner.

After a quick refreshing shower I was out to explore the square and surrounding souks. I found an easy dinner of rotisserie chicken that was so so, and then continued on to the main square that opens to the grab souk behind.

Immediately the sea of people, the flutelike snake charming music, clam morning of bangles, drums, hawkers selling their goods , conversations in French Arabic Spanish English all around. It was intense. Then enter into the souks where you found store after store of crafts from all over morrocco. Masks, tanjines, jewelry, paintings, lanterns, silver work and almost anything imagine able was available.

After a couple hours exploring here I made my way back to the riad to recoup.

The next morning. I went down to the palaces Bahia and X. Things aren’t so well labeled in English so while I saw some fascinating places wasn’t entirely too sure as to what I was seeing.

I then had a magnificent lunch at kasbeh cafe and had a great brochette with chicken and meat with hummus. During lunch, I met a great English couple that we enjoyed conversation together so much that we continued the afternoon together to see the tombs saddiens. After this we went home to nap and recoup from the exhausting heat.

That evening I went back to the square to check out the souks again. I ate at a restaurant overlooking the marketplace and had another decent meal with a stunning view. Facing one of the mosques, a call to prayer happened which instantly reminds you as to what part of the world you’re in.

After dinner I then explored the souks more to get an idea of the things that I would be ready to buy at the end of the trip.

The next day I went out to the spice market and then met the English couple again for lunch. We went back to the main square and had lunch at a different terrace. Afterwards they left to go to essiueria, and I continued to stay another day in Marrakech. That afternoon I went to madersa Ben youssef which was a university for studying the Koran. It was interesting to see the prison like cells that would be used for prayer and studying and the architecture was absolutely incredible.

After the university I looked at some rug shops and then made my way back to make my plan for the next few days. I decided to stay with my easier plan rather than venture into the dessert as it’s August and if Marrakech is hot, I wasn’t too stoked about being in the desert. I also arranged for the excursion to the Atlas Mountains the next day.

The tour to the mountains was a bit touristy and cheesy but was refreshing to get out of the heat if the city. We took a van with about 15 of us and stopped at the obligatory spice market where a ‘spice technician’ as I call him (because he wore a lab coat when yelling us about all the different spices) let us smell and taste all these different things. We then went to the mountain where we spent the next few hours climbing what was supposed to be an easy hike, quite a treacherous climb up the hill. While the mountain itself didn’t prove to be too intimidating, the sea of people kids and tourists all trying to funnel through is what was scary.

Women in their full Muslim clothing were trying to climb up this thing–was quite funny to see.

The mountains were really beautiful and the waterfalls were nice too. We then finished our descent down back to the valley where we had a tourist lunch. Everything is quite similar with the restaurants so it does get old.

What made the trip so fun is meeting the pair of Canadians from the first minute if being dropped off at the meeting point and we quickly became friends. We spent the whole afternoon together and enjoyed each other’s stories.

After getting back to Marrakech I hurried to get dinner quickly so I could find a share taxi to my next destination: Safi.

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