Category Archives: Morocco

Hola Spain! (ES)

The train arrived in Tangier at 7.25 am and I was at the harbor just 10 minutes later. I wanted to buy a ticket for the ferry to Algeciras but it turned out that this ferry takes off from a different port 15 kilometers away. No website mentions this.
Instead I bought a ticket for the fast ferry to Tarifa. Supposedly it would leave at 8 am and arrive at 8.35 am. It left at 8.45 am and arrived an hour later. Although the Sea was calm the annoying kid in front of me threw up all over the seat. I escaped to the duty free shop to spend my remaining dirhams but they only accepted Euros. I didn’t once feel like I was actually leaving the continent of Africa. Even Morocco hadn’t really felt like Africa to me. Too many people spoke too many languages and as soon as hassling started (already in Egypt) I knew that the original experience I had expected was over.

Tarifa! The mother continent at last!

In Tarifa I discovered that I had lost an hour because of some undefined time zone change. So much for the early start. I took the complimentary bus to Algeciras, walked to the bus terminal and bought a ticket to Malaga on the direct bus which left later but arrived earlier than the next available bus. Then I learned another lesson in international traveling with big bags: reactivate your own phone! Mine is still out of service and Algeciras does not seem to have working public phones, which is probably the case in most cities around the world. I was glad that I had bought a ticket for the later bus now as it took me 45 minutes, 3 Euros, 5 different phones and three helpful people to inform my friends when to pick me up in Malaga. All of this at boiling heat with two heavy backpacks on me. I also couldn’t find an ATM so I was hoping the phones wouldn’t eat more of my last coins without acknowledging their presence.

My friend Ian picked me up in Malaga where I loaded up on Euros and immediately opted for the four cheese sandwich and a beer at a snack place in a mall next door. See how easy it can be?! I also got a kick out of the first clean toilet in months, paper and water in unlimited supply, a door that locked and even a mirror. The little things in life!

The train we took was scarily modern. I was suddenly glad that Europe had me back. The interesting dress code of the Spanish people (shirts too tight, skirts too short, hot pants, heels) was a welcome sight. I instantly felt less fat and more in touch with myself. After a long shower (hello water pressure and constant temperature!) I morphed into the Kraut you all know and love.

 

My friends Ian and Sarah live in Casarabonella, a sleepy mountain village about 40 minutes from Malaga. It was my second time visiting them there, the last time was five years ago and since they are planning to move to New Zealand soon it will also be the last time. They have a house with a holiday rental unit that I occupied for two nights while losing more brain cells trying to find a decent tv channel out of 600 – ideally one that didn’t talk about the horrible attacks in Norway or the death of Amy Winehouse.

Photo

 

After dropping a key for another rental unit off for two very grumpy French people we had a few beers and tapas at a local hangout that seemed to serve old men and young over- (well…under-) dressed people. The service wasn’t exceptional but far better than anything I experienced in Africa. And the beer didn’t run out right away. Later we moved on to a restaurant/bar that used to be a garage and had dinner and more drinks. It was light outside until almost 10pm. It was also still warm and a bit humid. And as weird as this may sound I finally felt like I was no longer traveling and that my adult life as I like it was continuing right here and there. I loved my long vacation but at the end of the day it’s nice to return and be among friends.

Goodbye Marrakech (MA)

We managed to spend exactly 20 minutes at the Jardin Mayorelle, a very beautiful but small private garden that was bought by Yves Saint Laurent at some point. Most flowers must have bloomed already so mostly we saw cacti and palm trees. There is a small museum of islamic art inside the garden, from further away it looks like an Ikea as it is painted in the blue/yellow pattern Ikea uses. The museum was closed for “repairs of renovation”. Guess the renovation work was done sloppily.

There was also a garden restaurant but the prices were outrageous. When enough kids and tourists in hot pants had gotten on our nerves we left.

 

For the next two hours I wandered around the new part of town as well as parts of the medina. Fridays most shops are closed and the vendors who are outside leave you alone.

I took some pictures of “fuck the police” graffiti that was partially covered by anti-King slogans in Arabic, a happy teenager translated that for me. It was pretty hot and I got a final African sunburn.

 

Sadly I then spent the next three hours in Joel’s room getting sucked into the Real Housewives of Orange County and a Turkish horror movie dubbed in Arabic that we guessed the plot to. Our group had shrunk to three people and everyone was ready to go home so the energy level was below zero. I actually felt dumber when I left that room.

Joel and I celebrated our last night in Morocco – with pasta and pizza, as one would.

 

Finally at 9 pm I boarded the night train to Tangier. I shared the sleeper compartment with three Moroccan ladies who went to bed early. The ride was fast and smooth and I even slept a bit. Luckily we had air conditioning so the temperature was good for sleeping. I had a dream that a spaceship landed nearby and after a very old boss of mine told me that the main alien was the ‘ambassador of the internet’ I was very glad that my parents and I were selected to get onboard. Time to wake up.

Retail therapy and alcohol tolerance (MA)

I was in a better mood today but still not willing to take on the medina again. After I sufficiently carbed up at breakfast (not one healthy thing on display, apart from the daily yogurt I bring to the table) I set out to walk along the main road towards the medina and/or the famous garden with a potential to go shopping for either clothes or groceries if I find the supermarket again instead. And if not there are palaces and tombs to see as well.
Right away I got pulled into a modern fashion store at the Plaza de la Liberte where I spent not a lot of money for a bunch of tshirts. I continued the cheap shirt spree for a few more hours around the plaza. The tshirts are of the kind ‘wear this summer, then discard’, I’m neither particularly fond of them nor do they fit me perfectly. I just needed new things, and ideally I should get some loose fitting skirts with them. Unfortunately my belly is too big right now to fit properly into anything.
It was great not to be bothered at all while shopping. I probably bought more because of that. Only when I left the store I got all kinds of comments again. I’m so done with that.

On the way back I found the supermarkets and even met the others there. It was a real supermarket, a big one, with a beer aisle! I had to have it, along with real cheese and some chocolate. What a glorious day.

The afternoon we spent drinking poolside. I seem to have lost my beer tolerance on this trip, I was out cold for two hours after two cans of the light Moroccoan brew ‘Flag’. Sad.

All our great plans to go out for dinner later didn’t kick into effect either and I didn’t even care.

Marrakech, our last stop (MA)

A local bus took us to Marrakech today. I immediately went to the train station to buy my overnight train ticket to Tangier on Friday. If I hadn’t gotten one today I would have had to buy a flight ticket and they were really expensive. Unfortunately single compartments do not exist on this train so I will share with three others and hope they are not annoying. It was cheaper this way…more money for ice cream, yay.

My subsequent ice cream cost three times as much as previous ones and twice as much as my cheapest dinner in a restaurant.

It’s hot and a bit humid here again, and Marrakech is big. We are a 25 minute walk away from the medina. On the way there we passed plenty of pizzerias and night clubs, even two huge supermarkets. There are many tourists and the city looks just like that: a city.

The medina is huge. Just huge. We got lost instantly but found the big plaza Djemma El Fna by coincidence. It has over a hundred food stands and more fresh orange juice vendors than I’ve ever seen. Unfortunately it is not possible to navigate the place without getting hassled to death. Everyone thinks you need to eat at their stand and people will grab your arm to pull you over.

We went for a walk through the souq instead and I even split from the group in a stupid moment of thinking that I would finally do some shopping. Bad mistake. I got hassled so aggressively that I decided I had enough for good. When we met at the plaza again for dinner I was ready to kill someone.

The food we had was completely underwhelming. I ordered the national dish; cous cous, and it arrived undercooked and flavorless, with a dry piece of chicken. The little sausages we had as a side were slightly better.

On the way home I wanted to swing by the supermarket for water but we didn’t find it anymore. It was already 10pm and it would have probably been closed anyway. However there wasn’t a single cornerstore anywhere either. I ended up walking an extra 30 minutes from the hotel and getting somewhat lost in the process.

The hassling and inconveniences (no water, expensive beer) is getting to me today. I’m ready to go home.

Essaouira day 2 (MA)

With a full day in Essaouira and not knowing exactly what to do with it naturally we went shopping. We had seen the entire medina already and there is really not much else here but the weather is great and the place is stress-free so walking around some more was fun. I bought nothing. The only things of interest I found were in actual non-touristy clothes shops but the stuff I tried on didn’t fit properly and was too expensive for what it was.

 

What surprises me is how much fabric is used even for very fashionable clothes. We found two boutiques that were catering to affluent stylish women but the shirts could also be worn as mumus. They were of thin delicate material but so much of it! I could have wrapped them around me three times and would have still had room for another person.

 

In the afternoon I rearranged my ever shrinking bag. I was determined to get rid of most of my clothes for my trip back – so I could buy new ones and also because it’s getting old wearing the same thing over and over. I actually have plenty of t-shirts because I bought a bunch in South Africa and I also tend to forget about the ones I brought for specific reasons (I sleep in one, wear another for running only, wear a third on flights etc). They are all still fine but once I have binned them I forget about them anyway so the guilty conscience factor only comes in when I think about the fact that I spent good money for them not too long ago… the winning argument is that many of them I didn’t even wear for a while knowing fully well that they’re not my favorites. This will most likely not change. So what’s the point of holding onto them? The same goes for two pairs of zipper-leg hiking pants… away with them!
I have also decided to leave the gray backpack behind that I left in the van a couple of days ago. I’m getting it back today and I will only take its contents out and then trash it. I hadn’t used it once during the entire trip. It was meant to be my daybag but it never left my bigger daypack which had more room for snacks and water and wet wipes. The bigger daypack was also only used occasionally because I just hate walking with a bag when I don’t need 99% of its contents. I usually left it on the truck and once I got to Morocco my valuables were all kept in the hotel. I figured there’s a risk in that, but it’s still better than potentially getting mugged in the medinas.

 

We had dinner at a nearby fish restaurant that ran out of fish after four of us had ordered it – the place was otherwise empty and the people who came after us were sent away. The service in African countries will forever be a mystery to me. We didn’t see our waiter for ages after we had ordered. The drinks that are usually simply taken out of a closeby fridge always take forever and will not be refilled even if you down them right in front of the waiter. A Nicoise salad looked suspiciously like the classic Moroccan salad (canned carrots, rice, potatoes, tomatoes, onion) with the addition of an egg. My buttered fish with herbs looked and tasted exactly like the fried fish the others got sans herbs. All our first selections didn’t exist that day. You learn quickly to pick at least three dishes before you order. Many times the first choice goes through only to be denied a few minutes later when a feeling of triumph and success has settled in and you can already taste the dish on your tongue.

One of the American ladies from the other GAP group joined us for dinner. She had left her trip early to stay behind in Essaouira and do her own thing and also to lose the group as they had been as exhausting as they had appeared to us. We learned that her tour leader had similar maturity and temper tantrum issues as ours. Must be a control thing for Moroccan men maybe? There were some good stories in her nonstop monologue.

This dog has more eyebrows than I do

 

Essaouira (MA)

We had a new van for our drive to Essaouira and I promptly forgot that I had left a small bag on my seat in the old van. That’s exactly why I like to pack small with as few bags as possible. Luckily I’m getting the bag back in Marrakech.

 

The drive took about four hours and we stopped somewhere on the road in a village that had a huge if somewhat random fair going on. Mostly it looked like a fleamarket for household items but there was also a tent with live music (the audience seemed to have been separated by gender?), really basic amusement rides for kids and candy. From speakers someone was talking nonstop, not sure if he was praying, calling out the latest on sale offers or looking for missing kids.

 

 

Morocco’s answer to the Cyclone

 

Essaouira is a city by the coast of the Atlantic Ocean. Our hotel is by the beach. It is almost cold here compared to other places so far, that’s due to the constant wind. The beach is well populated but the only people in swimsuits are kids, some guys playing soccer and tourists. The local women are covered head to toe, even in the water.

We had lunch in the medina right away, at a place that was very laid back and not expensive either. Turns out that most of the city is like this; affordable and with a quiet vibe. No stupid comments from guys and only a handful of overly welcoming vendors.

The medina is small, it seems to consist of four main shopping streets and a few interesting side alleys. We were on a quest for finding more happy pants but although we came across a few none of them were really what we were looking for. It’s hard to find a pair that doesn’t make you look like a clown or that has much too much fabric.
You can get henna tattoes here, slippers in all varieties and leather bags but nothing tickled my fancy.

 

On the way back to the hotel we stopped for a coffee and beer at a beachfront cafe that also had wifi. They let me take two unopened bottles of beer with me which was nice. Unfortunately there was only one bottle opener in the hotel and it had already been given to someone else. My bed frame now shows signs of attempted violence.

There was a bottle shop indicated in the Lonely Planet but as it turns out it was closed because…it will be Ramadan in two weeks. This is not the first time we heard this, though it seems to make no sense. Surely the people who follow Ramadan don’t drink alcohol anyway, so why lock it up weeks in advance?

My dinner was a still warm boiled egg that I had grabbed from a corner store. It hit the spot.

High Atlas Mountains (MA)

We drove up long and winding mountain roads for hours to get to tiny Imlil, a classic backpackers last shopping stop before a big hiking trip and the chance to rent a donkey that carries up your stuff. Our driver is a grumpy mute it seems, and like so many others he considers himself a race car driver. He overtakes everyone and ideally in blind spots or narrow curves. Even a puking passenger couldn’t slow him down on the way here. Nobody was sad when Rachid told us that tomorrow we will have a new driver.
In Imlil we had a questionable pizza for lunch that my body is still trying to break down a day and a half later. I will be glad when I can eat less bread (but real cheese) and not feel like a bloated whale all day. I certainly look the part.

From Imlil we walked up the hill for 45 minutes (the donkey with our stuff had already left) to a sleepy town called Aremd. There is nothing going on here, a small water stream flows by but other than that it’s just a hostel town for hikers. Everyone who goes hiking in the High Atlas Mountains will ultimately pass through here.

Where it’s at in Aremd. Our hostel is in the top right corner

We are staying at a family run hostel which serves fantastic food but isn’t too generous with toilet paper. Nice people though.

 

On Sunday we set out for a hike. Our leader, Rachid, is not the clearest when it comes to communication, so we may have mortally offended him when some of us decided to stay behind past a spot he had determined to be a good rest stop for anyone who didn’t want to climb up all the way to basecamp. We made it worse by proclaiming that we would probably not wait in the sun for five hours until the rest of the group returns. It was a bizarre situation about absolutely nothing, one of many that has triggered somewhat childish behavior on his part.
We did have a good rest in the sun for two hours and a somewhat strenuous hike back for a couple of hours through a beautiful though not too interesting landscape. The High Atlas Mountains are nice to look at but at the end of the day they do not look much different than other mountains, I wouldn’t come here because Tobkal is a must-see (it is however the third biggest mountain in Africa).

 

The evening ended weirdly as well because nobody had served Rachid his dinner… I asked him if he didn’t want to eat and he launched into a speech about how he had filled all our plates last night and that was the nice thing to do and how today nobody had done this for him. And he was dead serious!
We have had a bunch more of these situations with him and it floors us every time as it is so ridiculous. It’s an endless source of fun in the end as we cannot pinpoint at any given time what exactly it is we did wrong now.

 

I have once again started to shed clothes. Today it was my beloved red pants and the blue Icebreaker tshirt. Both highly functional, expensive and far from dirty/unusable but definitely not flattering. I am dying to buy new clothes, I’m just sick of them. I will keep the two pairs of beige trekking pants though, they can sit in the closet for years although I’m not a fan…but they are useful to have (though I didn’t wear one pair of them much because they are so ugly. Come to think of it, I may dump them as well).
My green Smurfette tshirt will be binned tomorrow, other stuff will follow shortly. Sadly my bag is not getting significantly lighter though.