Tim likes to travel. Follow his adventures as he explores the world.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Morocco: Imperial Cities Tour

Synopsis: Staša and I are heading to Zaventem airport at 4AM to catch our early morning flight to Marrakech, Morocco. We are doing a guided tour of the Imperial Cities of Morocco, includes: three meals a day, entrance fees, and all in French. Don't worry, we are fluent in Franglais/Frenglish. Minibus is the primary mode of transportation, aside from walking.


Trip Overview:
Day 1: Land in Marrakech and after checking in, go straight down to Place Jemaa El Fna. Someone is drawing henna on Staša, against her will. She concedes, since she wanted a henna tattoo anyway. Now we are walking around the souks... no thank you, I don't want to buy your stuff... where are we? how do we get out? we are in a labyrinth... finally, there's the exit, and we escape without having spent any money.

Night 1: The "tour" officially begins, which simply means we get dinner at the hotel. Head back out to Jemaa El Fna. Officially a billion people here. Restaurants that weren't there before have emerged everywhere. A lot to take in. We will be back in a few days to do it again in more depth.

Thoughts: Great introduction to Morocco, the culture and the people. Looking forward to this adventure!

Arriving first thing in the morning

My trademark (assisted) handstand next to Koutobia Mosque



Henna tattoo - and it lasted the whole trip!

Entering the souks

Nuts, dried fruit, and baskets for sale here

At night behind Koutoubia Mosque



Lanterns for sale (we didn't see him during the day)

This street was so crowded if you stopped walking, you would still be moving forward

The locals don't use crosswalks. You just go and hope for the best


Day 2: Head to Casablanca. The countryside is remarkably different from the city, lots of savannas and goats and rolling hills. Atlas mountains way off in the distance. Stop in a few small villages for breaks. Arrive in Casablanca and eat at a hotel with a beach view. Simply beautiful. Head over to Hassan II Mosque, largest mosque in Africa. My first time inside of a mosque. Oh, have to take my shoes off. French guided tour from an uptight, but informative, little man. No one tips him at the end.

Night 2: Arrive in Rabat at our hotel. Go out and check out Hassan Tower and Mohammed V Mausoleum.

Thoughts: Sitting next to a couple on the bus, Walter and Nora, and we are having so much fun learning french and "life skills" from them. Amazing, the contrasts between Marrakech, Casablanca, Rabat, and the villages in between. Marrakech was insistent on selling me something. Casablanca was but a blur, but the beaches looked nice and 6 million people there make it seem nice to live there. Rabat reminds me more of a European town, probably the design of the administrative buildings. The villages in between are full of modest people, farmers, and vendors.


video


Goat herder, herding a herd of goats

Beautiful Casablanca beach that we didn't get to go to

I'm doing a headstand in the bottom right corner. Oh yeah, behind me is the big famous mosque

Stasa is actually a really good photographer

Inside the mosque

In front of the Hassan Tower

What could this sign possibly mean?

Day 3: Still in Rabat. Head to the royal palace and administrative buildings for a short tour. The king was out of the office so we couldn't have mint tea with him. Maybe next time. Next we are at Chellah (Sala Colonia) which was abandoned by people in the 18th century. Since then, white storks have taken residence. We go back to Hassan Tower and Mohammed V Mausoleum, which is a great photo op location. So much easier to see in the daytime... Going through the Kasbah of the Udayas before heading to Meknes. In Meknes we only do the Moulay Ismail granaries. Very symmetric.  Now to our 5-star hotel in Fes :-D

Night 3: After dinner we go to a show with singing and dancing and live band. Somehow, we are volunteered to reenact a traditional Moroccan wedding ceremony. Words just don't suffice to describe the experience.

Thoughts: Today was a long day, traversing three major cities in one day. After the nighttime entertainment, we were exhausted, but that good kind of exhausted, like after you do a bunch of stuff that was fun but exhausting. I'm a poet, I know.

Royal Palace

Walter, me, and Nora walking about, talking administrative things

White Storks have taken over Chellah (Sala Colonia)

Coca Cola in Arabic. Still tastes good

With the horse guardsmen at Hassan Tower and Mohammed V Mausoleum


Guard at the mausoleum. I just liked his outfit.


Hassan Tower... right next to Tim Tower


In the Kasbah of the Udayas


Moulay Ismail granary


Walter dancing with a belly dancer


Stasa and I getting married in Morocco. My other two wives are to the right. They don't even call anymore. :-(


Ladies dancing around me. Yay!


Not sure what she ate for dinner, but it must have been spicy


Every one of these guys was 127 or older. And they were jammin'


Magician. He was pretty good


Day 4: In Fes, we have a substitute guide, as we experience all the different artisan cooperatives like ceramics, metalworking, tapestry, carpets, tanneries (which smells so bad they give you a mint plant to sniff as you walk through), and clothing. Fes is in a valley and we venture to the tops of the two hills on each side. Visiting the medina and souks, which are heavily populated with people and lightly populated with donkeys.

Night 4: Since we got back before dinner, we are walking through a really nice park, down to the shopping mall to see what they have. Just as I suspected, they have the same stuff every other mall in the world has: overpriced stuff you don't need.

Thoughts: Lots of walking today and our substitute guide basically took us to all of his friends' shops, though they were all nice, you can tell they work together to make this happen. Also, I thought it was a fluke when it happened in Marrakech, and then again in Casablanca, and then a third time in Rabat, and yet a fourth time in Fes, but a fifth time cant be a coincidence, when, in Meknes, the locals think I'm Moroccan and speak to me in arabic. A salami on a bacon...no thats wrong! He's a westerner! Quick, sell him something. I kid. They were nice to me and just spoke french.

A room full of carpets... for sale

Excited about buying her Hands of Fatima charms in the metal craft shop

Walter demonstrating how to wrap a turban

Good philosophy

The city of Fes behind us
Really? At Pizza Hut they have burgers

Clay turns into this!

Walking through the souks

I would say "random donkey", but its more like "another donkey"

The tanneries 

I was a bit hungry so I just started eating from the main dish

Looking at Fes from a different angle

Tapestry and embroidery. They made all the men stand far away and the women close. I am serious. 

In the hotel room... guess which direction Mecca is


Day 5: Head down to Volubilis, the ancient Roman ruins. It reminds me quite a bit of Rome... I'll let that sink in. Go back up to Meknes for Moulay Ismail Tomb.

Night 5: Arrive at the hotel in Beni Mallal. Eat dinner and watch the Brazil vs. Croatia game in the lobby. Storming a bit outside...and the signal is lost. Back on, who scored? Signal lost. Back on, Brazil scored... but for Croatia. Signal lost again. Halftime, I'm going to bed.

Thoughts: In Volubilis you have to be like Spongebob and use your imagination to recreate the city. If not, it will look like a bunch of pillars and gates in the middle of nowhere. Thank you Spongebob. At this point, for me, tombs and mausoleum are becoming like churches in Europe: you've seen one, you've seen em all. I think it was something served at the hotel, because the next few days everybody was sick.

Selfie, Roman-style

Where they used to hold the parties and festivals

Climbing the gate

I believe they used their butts to stop water flow, which she is demonstrating

Moulay Ismail Tomb in Meknes

Watching the Brazil v. Croatia game during dessert


Day 6: Long bus ride back to Marrakesh. We get the afternoon free to do handstands and cartwheels by the pool.

Night 6: Head back down to Jemaa El Fna to buy some spices and then enjoy the nighttime spectacles. During dinner we are entertained by live music and singing. I am enlisted as the honorary tambourine player. I only get to sign autographs for a few minutes.

Thoughts: So glad we came and did Jemaa El Fna on our own. We didn't feel rushed in the 30 minutes they gave us to see the enormous square with thousands of people standing shoulder to shoulder. Also very glad to not be riding on that bus anymore. It made my back sore and my butt fall asleep way too many times for my liking.


The police must be fundraising because these radar guys were everywhere

Cartwheel fail

Spices, herbs, creams, and oils

Buying some Aragon oil

Ladies making nut butters the old school way

Enjoying fresh squeezed orange juice from a glass that 40 other people probably used

Monkey man at Jemaa El Fna

Snake charmers

Henna tattoo artists

Singers during dinner

Live entertainment while we eat

My 15 minutes of tambourine fame

Heading back to the hotel


Day 7: Head out in the 43C/109F degree weather to walk through Menara Gardens and look at the Saadian tombs and Bahia Palace. We are down from 15 to 11 people, as the heat and the stomach sickness has claimed four of our brave companions. The tour ends at noon so we have the rest of the day to do whatever. To the pool!

Night 7: Just left the pool and head to dinner. Have to hang out in the lobby just to get wifi. 1000 missed messages...is what I was hoping for, but there were only 2.

Thoughts: Pretty much at the end of our rope, as far as sucking in information and history. Any longer and we would have been down to even less people. I feel almost like a local in Marrakech, recognizing sites and roads and signs.
Watching the man-eating carp in the Menara Gardens

Saadian Tombs

Chill with the camels

Bahia Palace

Inside the palace

Best to see things from different points of view

Final dinner with the group


Day 8: Spent most of the day at the pool, sunbathing and swimming. When our shuttle arrives, we get on it and head to the next hotel to pick up more people. They overbooked. Suddenly, our names aren't on the list. We are booted and have to catch the next shuttle. This is some BS. We get to the airport in time, so i don't have to hurt anyone, but Thomas Cook will be receiving an angrygram from me.

Night 8: On our flight to Zaventem, that will now be arriving 35 minutes late at five past midnight. An hour between customs and baggage...getting home late.

Thoughts: I have to work tomorrow at 730AM...

The whole group posing for our final shot together

Final thoughts:
I don't care what anyone says, old people know how to have fun! The group we were with were so nice and interactive and supportive of our hopes to improve our french. It is true that when you are good company, it can make things seem better and the experience is more fun and memorable.

Every country has poor people, so its not a shock to see them in Morocco. However, the beggars are a bit aggressive, as one lady grabbed my arm and demanded I pay for her son to get an orange juice. I yelled some insults at her inside my head after I ran far enough away where she couldn't hear my thoughts. I kind of assumed that since Islam directs its followers to give to the poor, there wouldn't be as many beggars around; or maybe thats why there are so many?

In a country like Morocco, where neither of the main languages I've mastered, I think it was best to do and see it on a fully guided tour. Not having to map out your day when there is so much to see, is convenient. I felt I got to stay and look at everything with sufficient time. I met new and interesting people, some of whom have already invited me to dinner back in Belgium. I got to work extensively on my french listening skills, which is right up there with my english listening skills, but below my mandarin and klingon. Overall, great trip.



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