Posts Tagged ‘ Africa ’

Journey to the Sahara Desert

This is my second trip to the beautiful country of Morocco. We didn’t have much time on our first visit there so the idea of going to the Sahara was moot. For this trip though, it’s our priority so we made sure we had enough time for it.

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My friend, Jess, booked a tour with Viaje en Marruecos for €220 pp. We’d be with them for 4 days and 3 nights. They’d pick us up from the airport and even bring us to the riad that we’ve booked at in Marrakech. So apart from having a jeep just for the 3 of us, the package included every breakfast and dinner during that time as well as the accommodation. Pretty great bargain me thinks!

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Arriving early in Menara airport, I told my friend to make sure that I get picked up. I have no intention of getting lost nor of being hassled looking for our riad. He (our guide/ driver) was there after a minute of waiting. He then proceeded to ask me where we’re staying. “Hotel Kenzo” I answered. “Where? Do you know the address?” Silence on my part with a simultaneous shrug of shoulders. “I dunno” I eventually blurted out. “My friend sorted everything… we should be able to check it in google” I added as an excuse.😅 He was incredulous that I’d go to a place with no idea as to where I’ll be staying. He eventually got me to my destination. hehe He said that he’d pick us up at 8 in the morning the next day.  I went to our room to catch up on much needed sleep while I waited for my other travel companions who’d be flying from Barcelona and Madrid.

Day 1

The next day, after a hurried breakfast – we just can’t bring ourselves to get out of bed any earlier. We are on vacation after all! – we met up with him at the car park. A quick stop to a cash point that we passed by and we were off!

It was sunny yet cold. I found the landscape totally captivating as it’s different from what I grew up in (more coast as well as mountains covered with trees – life in the tropics) and where I currently live (cloudy London). But once we got to the High Atlas Mountains, its zigzagging road was enough to remind me that as ironic as it sounds since I travel often, I get car sick easily, also I was seated behind the driver (yes, I’ll use that as an excuse and a valid one at that, I think!). To make sure that nothing comes out – and to hopefully get through this in a more dignified way… I slept! Having said that, every time we’d pull up so we can check out the views (and take pictures of course!) I’ll be up for sure!

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We went to see Ait Ben Haddou, an old moorish citadel. Now popular in Hollywood as on site location for many movies (Gladiator, Game of Thrones, etc). According to our guide, even from hundreds of years ago, traders from Mozambique (or it may have been another exotic sounding country) would travel for weeks til they get there. Trade. And then head back home. I was imagining caravans of camel traversing truly long distances, camping at night, moving at a pace that we’d consider slow now.

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We passed by the Valley of the Roses too! But since it was winter, it was endless shrub after shrub -all leafless. I’m certain it’s beautiful in spring! Wish I can go back and see that for myself. Eventually, we arrived in another beautiful valley – looks like I’ll be using this word often to describe the landscapes we’ve passed by in this trip. There was this red mountain, devoid of greeneries that looks liked it’s been carved to look like humongous fingers. Coz of that, they call it the monkey fingers mountain. I’ll have to google that bit if it’s true!

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Less than 5minutes drive away – still amazed by what I was seeing – our jeep pulled over a roadside hotel. Looks like we’d be staying the night here – woot! I made up my mind then to wake up early so that I can go out and take pics the next day. The sun had set on the last bend and was too dark now to explore the area.

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We were led to the receiving area were various biscuits,  nuts, and mint tea greeted us. I can’t get enough of Moroccan tea – I seriously love it! I was trying my best not to finish the ones in our teapot – alas, to no avail!😂

They then carried our bags to our room with us following behind. As is the case with us now, we drew lots to see who’d get to sleep on the big bed. Never had luck with any draw that I already put my bag in one of the single beds before even choosing one. As is the usual, it wasn’t me. 😐😭

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Dinner was kinda hit and miss. The entertainment was alright though – the local guys were playing instruments and singing songs that I have no idea what it was about but  interesting nonetheless

Day 2
Attempting to be up early again, we were still the late ones for breakfast. Looks like many of those who have arrived last night alongside us had gone up and left – or at least have already eaten. Even with my conviction to wake up early the night before…. nah.  It just felt so warm and snug that I just can’t bring myself to get out of bed any earlier! Anyway, I’m not so keen on sweet breakfast which is what French breakfast kinda reminds me of (bread, jams, butter, honey, coffee) only now, with Moroccan twist (pancake, eggs, fresh orange juice, sponge cakes for dessert).

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Later in the day, we’d be at the Sahara desert so Jess and I decided to dress “appropriately”- flowy trousers as well as light coloured tops. I wore sandals too. First destination was a panoramic view of the valley we were in. It was a short drive there but the view, I found, stunning! We were pretty high up and you can see the road snaking along the edge of the mountains – and to think we were down there just a few minutes back! I noticed two things simultaneously, first was the view and second was the fact that it was soooo effing cold – and to think I only had sandals on! As soon as our driver thought we’ve spent enough time there, the other people we’ve caught up with have already gone again, I ran to the jeep… rummaged through my bag which was at the back… and put on my (warm) socks and changed to my sneakers. Thought I’d have frostbite!😱

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Next destination was this gorgeous gorge. We were instructed to get off the jeep, walk towards the end of the gorge and that he’d meet up with us there. They’ve made it so that we can appreciate the view/ experience. I felt so minuscule walking between towering mountains! And because of this, we were walking in a very windy path! I was torn between walking quickly to reach the warmth at the end of the pass and taking my time to take pics and to gawk at the view! I was pretty sure I did lots of gawking! Haha

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It was then quite a drive after that. Punctuated by lunch in a local cafeteria/ eatery. Jess was insisting that we eat at places were only locals would go to. Food served was fast, cheap, and huge in size. Toilet was like the ones I’ve encountered in China – ones on the ground and you’d have to squat (if you’re a woman). To dry hands after hand washing is with a literal paper! After a satisfying meal (I love their bread!), it was time for us to get back on to the road.

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We stopped for a while in a shop where we bought some scarf to use as head wrap. While there, the girl behind the cashier asked for our names and quickly fashioned henna tattoo design around it. As touristy as it looks, she then kept putting clothes on us – matched haphazardly at that – and voila! We’re dressed locally of sorts. Hehe a few souvenir pictures in them and then we took them off and went on our way – that last stretch of drive before the Sahara!

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Our driver/guide then proceeded to ask whether we’d like to go swim in the lake. A question I found a bit odd since we’re headed to the desert but I saw in front of me a vast expanse of lake. I said I’d have loved to but didn’t think to bring a swimsuit with me.  Then he chuckled. The lake I had in view was gone! They then pointed out at the one on the right – the one I saw was at the left. I blurted, “is that what they call a mirage? Are we seeing one now? Awesome!!!” Though what instantly came to mind were scenes in movies where people would race towards an imagined oasis to quench their dying thirst away only to find that isn’t the case. I would be filled with despair if that ever happens to me *knocks on wood* it was then explained to us that this naturally occurring phenomenon is caused when light is refracted through air at different temperatures.

DCIM101GOPROGOPR5669.After we made a turn away from the paved road, the jeep pulled over. We were then told to go on top of the jeep for the last bit of travel before we get on the camels. It was so fun!!!! I mean, we were screaming kinda non stop (I was taking pics and my friends would suddenly put their weight on me scaring the wits out of me coz I’m on the edge!) but it was interlaced with laughter and excitement too!

Desert camp experience to follow here.

Heading back seemed anticlimactic now that we’ve seen what we came to see 😐 the drive back was long yet beautiful! Our guide asked if we were happy, an emphatic yes from everyone! Then he turned to me specifically and told me that he’d make me happier… he drove off road, pulled over, then asked us to follow him. He poured some water over a big rock and I saw them more clearly – fossils!!!!😱😆

Before heading out of the town and starting off the long drive back, our guide made true his promise to Jess the day before. He got us a “traditional” pizza so we can have a picnic. A couple of hours down the road, a lone tree here and there breaks the monotony of the barren desert landscape. He parked the car beneath one and got our food and some drinks out.

Upon settling it on the bonnet of the jeep, he sliced it with a dull knife and gave us a big slice each. We then sat around in a loose circle atop a few piles of rocks and ate heartily. It’s a Moroccan Berber flatbread stuffed with onions, olives, and herbs and meat. I found it gorgeous and ate 3 slices! I was really hungry!😍 while we were munching away, a few cars passed us by with their passengers waving at us. Another vehicle even pulled over right next to us. The other driver seemed to know our guide and they chatted a bit. We offered him food and he happily took one and wrapped it away ready to eat later on. His passengers however politely declined saying they’ve already eaten at one of the restaurants back from the town we came from. After some time, we got back on to our jeep and we were off! Passing by a landscape that’s starting to become familiar but never tiring to look at and kept leaving me in awe! <3

 

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Traditional Hammam in Marrakech

These past few months, my approach to travelling had been kinda lax. I’d think of a place where I want to go to, when I want to go to, if I want to go with others, and some general idea of things I wanna do and that’s that! So for this trip to Morocco, I’d let my travel buddy, Jessica, do the planning. I’ve looked into everything before as I was planning to do this trip with another but it fell through. So I wasn’t really keen to plan for it (again).

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Inside the Marrakech souk

My must do for this leg of our trip was to try a local hammam. Hammam is a steam room where people routinely go to cleanse themselves. We asked a lady working in one of the spice shops about any she’d recommend for us – basically, a place she’d even go to herself. She pointed us to one a few streets down from theirs. When we got there, we asked for the price etc (120 dirhams for a wash with massage each). We walked some more and found another one. There’s a discreet sign on the outside –  only a marker. We went in and asked too (70 dirhams for a wash with massage). We resolved to come back the next night then we headed back to the big plaza.

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Jemaa El Fna at night

The next night, armed with our gloves and mint soap/ gel, towel, and a fresh set of undies (knickers, pants, however you want to call them) and 150 dirhams for the two of us, we then set off for our night’s adventure. First, we had to drop off another friend of ours at Jemaa El Fna so she can spend time with her friends while we do our thing – she’s not really a fan of super local stuff (*think: maybe unhygienic, probably not the safest nor the most relaxing thing to do).

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At the plaza, I told Jess that I think we should be turning right. She was absolutely certain that it was on the left though so to the left we went. A minute in to the walk, I told her I’m hungry/ dizzy. She knows me well so she agreed that we have to get something that we can share. We then stopped by a patisserie and got a slice of a moist sponge cake (5 dirhams) to share between us. We had to be conscious of the price as we’re on a tight budget – the rest of our money were with Raquel.

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I was happily munching away, letting Jess lead the way while I followed closely behind her. Keeping an eye out for the hammam signage, we ended up walking at least 15mins and no luck. We found ourselves in the “heart” of the medina. Purely locals, dead end tiny square and it looked like it may be surrounded by houses – but it was already dark – and the place looked relatively rough.  We looked at each other. Turned around without saying a word and started walking back – all the while projecting a look of, of-course-I-know-where-we-are-and-where-we’re-headed-to-and-nope,-we-are-totally-not-lost-and-f*cked-up,-and-besides,-how-can-one-be-lost-when-they-don’t-know-where-to-go-in-the-first-place? look! 😂

Speed walking our way back to the square since we told Raquel we’d take around maybe an hour only, we then agreed to take that right turn that I originally suggested. I was pretty certain now, Jess was doubtful. Either way, we were prepared to be lost again, I was getting more sure that I even jokingly told her that if I’m right, she has to pay for my hammam! It was probably only a mere 20 metre walk from our turn when lo and behold – le bains pour femme! Tadah!!!

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We entered the place, headed for this really tiny window to ask but the man behind it was still busy with his prayers – we can see him bowing, plus the call to prayer was being sounded when we started to turn back from our previous turn. After a few minutes of waiting, he finished and was ready to listen to us. He basically confirmed that it’s 10 dirhams to go in, 70 if we’re going to get scrubbed and massaged too. We were a bit hesitant on what to do next (note: we were hesitating all throughout this experience 😅). Then a kind looking lady came out of an inside door and signalled for us to follow her. Also, the man behind the window, urged us to follow her.

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As soon as the door opened, Jess took a step back “oooh, lots of naked women” she uttered. I tried not to burst out laughing from her reaction. It was a rectangular room with lockers and seats lining its walls. I saw a few tourists putting their clothes back on. We went in, then the lady told signalled us to leave our stuff on the seats. They were asking for money to keep an eye out for them, by this point we only had 5 dirhams left as we’ve given them the 140 already. We think that it may be 5 dirhams per person but when Jess showed them our totally empty coin purse, they let it be. She also signed for us to get undressed. We took off our clothes til we were down only to knickers and wrapped with our towel (that we took from the riad 😅). Another lady, she’s quite robust, came out and told us to follow her – we had our kit with us (gloves and the mint gel). We were led to another set of chambers. This was a dark room, marble and tiles all around, with several faucets strategically placed and lots of pails/ buckets, with a few dippers. The water faucets were always paired – one boiling hot, the other cold water. The entire room was covered in steam from it. This time around, a few semi naked women were seating on tiny plastic stools and/or mats. Some were shampooing their hair, others were covered in soap lather, scrubbing themselves. Others just seemed so chill, chatting away but in hushed tones.

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*This hammam place is not a local one. It caters to travellers so expect to pay (relatively) more for this. Also, taking pics isn’t allowed inside the hammam.

The 2 of us kinda just stood in a corner. Another lady, she’s a bit tiny and looked elderly, told us to come closer to her. She got out a mat, had us sit there and she proceeded to pour (hot) water over the 2 of us then walked off. We weren’t so sure what to do next but I’ve been to a hammam before (one that caters to tourists and another one in Istanbul) so I told Jess that we should apply the mint over ourselves. Several minutes later she came back. She told Jessica to refill the bucket then signalled for me to lie on my front and scrubbed away my skin with the gloves we brought along. A few minutes later, told me to face her and scrubbed away my skin again. Then instructed me to sit down while facing her then scrubbed my face and arms all the while pouring water every now and then on me. When she was satisfied, she told me to go to the other lady (the robust one) who signalled told me to sit on the mat she prepared in front of her. She then proceeded to shampoo my (really long) hair then massaged my head. Rinsing off soap suds all over me, she patted my shoulder to signal that I’m done. I came back to see that Jess was being scrubbed by the old lady so in return for her filling the buckets earlier, I filled up 2 empty ones. Not wanting to just stand idly by, I then washed my hair again as it didn’t feel like it was washed enough. We dried ourselves off then went back to the first room to get changed.

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*This hammam place is not a local one. It caters to travellers so expect to pay (relatively) more for this

Before even getting there though, Jess whispered to me that they told her that she has to give a tip later. The thing is, we have absolutely no more money with us (in case our stuff gets stolen while in the midst of the wash). She was jokingly – though in a serious voice – told me that we have to bolt as soon as we’re dressed. I was being careful when dressing coz I didn’t want any of my clothes to get wet and with quite a handful of hair to dry, and coz of that, I was too slow for her liking. By this time, the elderly lady came out – dressed in a bath robe – asking Jess for tips (hmm.. did it look like I had no money so they kept going straight for her??? Hehe). We apologised and tried to explain in broken French that we didn’t bring extra money with us. She looked quite upset. She sat on a corner seat and was grumpily talking away to the kind looking lady who would signal us to not mind the elderly one. However, when I was beside Jess sorting out our stuff, the elderly lady came up to me – I was holding a plastic bag of toiletries – and she rifled through it “looking” for something. I wasn’t minding it really – well, I don’t understand neither French nor Arabic so I was kinda alright with it. But they all got my friend on edge that when I asked for my comb, she looked like she was ready to kill me for dilly dallying instead of just heading straight for the exit. Eventually eventhough my  head was still wrapped in a towel, she pulled me out with with urgency that I just had to follow suit since the third lady was starting to get all worked up. Again, we apologised before bolting!😂

Moral of the story: always bring a little extra! :D

Back in our beautiful (and stress free) riad! :D

Back in our beautiful (and stress free) riad! :D

 

Bucketlist 101

We all have a travel bucketlist – a list of places we’d love to go to and visit at one point in our lifetime.

I realized that the more I go out there to see more of the world, the longer my list becomes instead!

This travelbug, once you get it… it’s hard to get it out of your system!

Where to next??? :D

Where to next??? :D

I’ve tried making a list of dream destinations. It’s actually hard as I didn’t want to be biased on any one continent.

One almost always has a map in their room if they're crazy about travels - almost! ;)

One almost always has a map in their room if they’re crazy about travels – almost! ;)

 

Do I write the name of the city or of a specific building or monument in there? Rome vs. Trevi Fountain, Colosseo, Pantheon, etc.

Do I specify any activity or just the name of the place? Ride a gondola in Venice vs. (just) Venice

Anyways, I sort of made it! Yay! Haha Have a look and tell how many you’ve places you’ve visited in this list! Just click on any of the pictures in this post. ;)

Going crazy over tomatoes in Spain!

Going crazy over tomatoes in Spain!

 

Sunset over Portugal :)

Sunset over Portugal :)

 

Where is your next destination?
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Gorgeous Gambia

If you’re looking for a holiday destination with a touch of the exotic, where the sands shimmer under the blazing sun, the beaches are fringed with lush greenery and the shores sparkle like scattered diamonds, look no further than the Gambia.

Pic courtesy of thomascook.com

Holidays in Gambia are a little bit unusual, and that’s exactly why they’re so special. They also tick plenty of holiday boxes. If you’re after lashings of sun, sea and sand, you’ll find that in abundance in this beautiful corner of West Africa. It’s got vibrant beach resorts, lovely sunbathing spots, welcoming hotels and an attentive service that’s cheery and personable.

The Gambia has a fascinating heritage too, which you can explore through numerous tours and museums. On the subject of tours, you can’t beat a boat trip along the Gambian River. Kick back and relax as you drift leisurely along the country’s namesake, looking out for amazing animals like monkeys, crocodiles and exotic birds.

Pic courtesy of thomascook.com

The culture here is a blend of various influences, given its diverse history. There are various throw-backs to the British, following their occupation in the 18th and 19th centuries, along with various other cultures that are evident in the cuisine as well as the local architecture, adding an intriguing blend to this culturally diverse and heritage-rich country.

If you’re after a holiday with a difference, which comes with plenty of traditional beach necessities yet offers plenty of fascinating sites and sounds to explore, a holiday in the Gambia could be just the ticket.

Pic courtesy of thomascook.com

Find out more about holidays in Gambia online at thomascook.com, the world’s best-known name in travel, to search for the latest deals and to gain inspiration on various travel factors including the best time to visit, where to stay, and what to do when you get there. The Gambia is a beautiful holiday destination that’s well worth a visit – when will you tick Gambia off your ‘must-go’ list? ;)

*sponsored post*

Morocco in Pictures

For my first travel for the year 2013, I was able to visit my 3rd continent, AFRICA! Woohoo!

And to where did I go? Morocco!

I booked a flight here thinking that I’ll be needing a quick escape from London’s winter and because I’d love to eat more Moroccan dishes! hehehe I was able to buy a discount voucher online that allowed me to scoop up bargain steals for accommodations there. So I invited (girl) friends to tag along with me. It was a trip that was full of laughter, endless stories, yummy foods and memorable time! :D

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The seven of us playing with our shadows! :D

Marrakech International Airport

Day 1. I love this intricate architecture of Marrakech-Menara Airport. It’s so beautiful!

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Day 1. Things we needed for this travel: Money. Smartphones. Travel guide – although Morocco is part of Africa, it’s also included in LP’s Europe on a shoestring guide. Shades. And ah.. uhm.. cigarettes for others -_-

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Day 1. A local hauling woods onto the back of his cart

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Day 1. First meal in Marrakech: tagines – a method of cooking dishes in a clay pot – and pizzas!

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Day 1. Walking around sunny Morocco is such a refreshing change coming from snowy UK!

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Day 1. One of the many alleys inside the medina (old city). This one in particular reminds me of the “Where The Hell Is Matt?” video!

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Day 2. One of our must do here was to ride a camel. My companions were scared to ride the camels. It was too funny we even took a video of them! Another must do is to visit the Sahara but that would require an overnight stay in the desert which would have been perfect were it not for the lack of time. *sigh*

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Day 2. They started enjoying our ride once we got going. :)

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Day 2. Lambs sent out to graze by their shepherds.

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Day 2. Enroute to Ourika Valley, I would just be mesmerized by the view in front of us that I repeatedly asked our driver to pull over so I could take pictures such as this!

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Day 2. Moroccan ladies making argan oil the traditional way.

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Day 2. Again, we had to stop because it’s just too beautiful not to admire! haha

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Day 2. JUMP!!! -thanks for the picture Anne!

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Day 2. An elderly lady leading her lambs up into the mountains

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Day 2. I was disappointed when I saw the small waterfall pictured in the background coz I know that our destination is the waterfalls and this one is too small. Turns out, we were just halfway there! Whew!

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Day 2. Distracted with the unfamiliar terrain and busy making sure I don’t fall on our way up, I didn’t notice that we were really high up in the mountains already! I loved it!

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Day 2. Our guide asked me whether I wanted to take the same route back or whether we’d be willing to climb more but the first part would be a “bit more difficult” but easy thereafter -our guide’s words, not mine. Of course I chose the latter as it pleases me to keep trying new things. I was happy with my choice because despite the fact that it wasn’t really easier, the view more than made up for it!

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Day 3. Back on the road again! This time, we’re headed west to visit Essaouira, the coast!

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Day 3. I was informed that this is a forest. And I thought to myself, if this is a forest, what would they say to our forest back in the Philippines? hehehe

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Day 3. Essaouira is also known for their craftwork. I bought a beautiful box that they call “magic box” since one can’t open it unless shown how to. :D

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Day 3. It’s pretty cool how we were up in the mountains the day before and by the beach the next! Lots of kids were practicing football when we got there. :)

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Day 3. Would have wanted to swim but forgot my swimwear -and I’m guessing the water would be quite cold seeing as it’s winter time. hehe

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Day 3. Having a relaxing day for a change.

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Day 3. Our friend, Ava, had her birthday that day and the thoughtful people in our accommodation, Riad Zayane Atlas, made note of it when they served us delicious dinner that night!

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Day 4. Time for some pampering. We booked ourselves some traditional Moroccan scrub – hammam, and the others went on to have massage. I’ll definitely have another hammam if given the chance!

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Day 4. Checking out Moroccan goods and souvenirs.

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Day 4. The Djemaa El-Fna at dusk is starting to come alive!

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Day 4. Everywhere in the medina is full of hustle and bustle. It’s so alive! I love it! Just remember to be careful of pickpockets and some would try to make you pay for huge amount. Enjoy yourself but always be vigilant.

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Day 4. Marrakech’s medina

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Day 4. Savouring my last afternoon in sunny Morocco!

Africa is beautiful in its own rugged way. Anyone up for cheap Egypt holidays? :D

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