Wednesday 13 July 2016

Sweet And Essaouira

From Armed, the penultimate stop on the tour was the seaside town is Essaouira. Essaouria was under Portuguese control for a long time and that influence is still quite obvious in the style and layout of the town. Essaouira isn't a big town and there wasn't much to do by way sights or touristy things. Essaouira was just nice to relax and catch my breath on the beach after a whirlwind two weeks around a pretty hectic country. On top of that, I knew I'd be coming back shortly after, so the pressure was off to some extent, but I'll come back to that.


The final stop was Marrakech. Marrakech is easily the tourism capital of Morocco and the souks (markets) are the stuff of legend, and rightly so. Marrakech is pretty insane but in a much more open and friendly way that the sprawling labyrinths of Tangiers and Fes. As with Essaouira, the two weeks of fast paced travel had left me feeling pretty slow so my time in Marrakech was pretty relaxed. It was also the final stop with everyone on the tour so it was a little bittersweet.


If I'm being honest, this happened in May and I'm writing about it in July so the details are a bit hazy. We did go check out the local palace and wander through the markets but I don't think I really did too much.


After leaving everyone from the tour in our final hotel in Marrakech, I caught a bus back to Essaouira. I had a good friend in high school called Nicola who is also an experienced traveller in her own right (this is her travel blog). Some time ago, she visited Morocco and met a lovely Moroccan guy named Ibrahim and, long story short, moved to Morocco herself. The town where Nicola and Ibrahim live is called Sidi Kaouki. It's a tiny beachside surf village about 45 minutes south of Essaouira. Although I got to sleep in the desert, Abdellahs family home and have tea with nomads by the side of the road, my time in Sidi Kaouki with Nicola, Ibrahim and their friends was the most genuine experience of the whole trip.

Half of Sidi Kaouki

Ibrahim and all his friends were warm and friendly. The town itself is tiny. Although the surrounding villages inland have a total of around 3,000 people, the main area of Sidi Kaouki is not much more than a few restaurants, hotels, surf shops and houses along a beach. The pace is slow and peaceful but the surf tourism means there's a perpetual cycle of new faces. Nicola herself is happy, well adjusted into her totally new home and focused opening a new hotel in town which will be awesome when it's finished. I hope I get to go back and stay in it.

Coming soon: best hotel in Morocco


Morocco as a whole surprised me. I thought of myself as quite open minded and I was expecting great things about Morocco, especially after the glowing reviews from friends who had been there before me. Honestly though, I was totally blown away by the entire country. Morocco is equal parts beach, desert and majestic mountain ranges. The people are warm and friendly, the food is delicious and it's just an all round great place to visit. I don't really have the words to sum up such an amazing and varied country (and it doesn't help I'm writing so long after). All I can say is Morocco comes with my absolute highest recommendation of places you should visit, but don't confine yourself to just the big cities. Morocco is a land of desert, mountains and beaches and you won't get the full experience from just Marrakech and Casablanca.

Also this



Monday 27 June 2016

Armed And Dangerous

The next few stops were only for one night each which meant a lot of traveling each day in the morning and an afternoon exploring the local attraction. After the Sahara, the first stop was Todra Gorge. Todra is a small town located right next to an enormous canyon with a river and a lush green oasis running through the centre of it. I'm not entirely su what the difference is between a canyon and a gorge. I'm sure I could google it and find out but there are some things that man was never meant to know, ya feel?


Anyway, there isn't much to really say about Todra beside saying the pictures I got of the actual gorge itself were mostly pretty blurry for some reason and the ones that aren't, totally fail to capture the size and grandeur of the place. Very humbling experience walking through it.



The night in Todra was also the night the champions league (soccer) final was played in Milan. By a total fluke, the two teams playing in the final were Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid. Atletico week the underdogs, I'd gone to see them play a few months earlier and I already had an Atletico scarf on me so picking a team was a no brainier. Also, FC Barcelona is super popular in Morocco so when I watched the game in the hotel, I was with 12 loud Moroccan men supporting anyone who wasn't Real Madrid. I wish I could have been in Madrid that night to watch the city tear itself apart in mourning/celebration but it was still a fun atmosphere.

Real Madrid won, btw


On a scale of 1-10 of road coolness, this one is a yes.

The next stop was Ait Ben Haddou. Air Ben Haddou is a (now mostly empty) town that doesn't really have too much of a story behind it except that it's very old and looks cool. Also, it's the setting of Yunkai'i in Game of Thrones and the opening fight sequence of Gladiator.

Oh, we also stopped I'm a well preserved riad building to get an insight into how they were built, how people used to live in them, etc... The overly enthusiastic guide giving us a lecturing his conspiracy theory about how Islam, all religions, world events and everything in the world is connected to the number 5. #islaminatticonfirmed


That night in Ait Ben Haddou, we had a cooking class on how to make Moroccan tagine. It might be presumptuous to say my tagine was the best but it would also be incorrect to say otherwise.


The next stop was the small village of Armed (or Armad, Armd, Aamed, Amed, Amad or Amd, depending on which map you look at). Although Armed is a picturesque village high in the Atlas Mountains (looking up at the second highest peak in Africa), the most interesting thing about Armed is that it was the village of Abdellah, our guide. The only way to get to the village is to climb up on foot or on a donkey and when we got to the village, Abdellah took us all to his family home for tea. Although Armed didn't really have an 'attraction', it was a great insight into the way a normal Moroccan family might live.

Not like this




You know how some families live? Very badly. Millions of families living in refugee camps across the world have to make do with barely enough food to survive. Children go to sleep hungry simply because the UN and charity organisations don't have the money to adequately feed them. That's why from August 1 I'm doing the Act for Peace Ration challenge to live off the rations of a Syrian refugee for one week. It will be hard and godawful and if anyone wanted to sponsor me, feed some hungry refugees and get a warm fuzzy feeling twice (once when you donate, a second time when you get your money back at tax time) I would be incredibly grateful.


Donations can be made here but they close very soon