Sunday, July 31, 2016

And Our Three Week African Camping Trip Begins


At seven in the morning we dragged our bags from our apartment to the Nomad Tours office. Thank goodness it was only a block and a half away because the bags ( especially mine) are really heavy.

I forgot to mention, our Cape Town apartment was lovely. We found it on Airbnb. It was right in the centre of things, two bedrooms, very clean, freshly renovated, well equipped and had a gorgeous view of Table Mountain. It was perfect for us.

There are 24 of us travelling on this part of the tour. Most people are from Holland but there are others from Whales, England, South Africa, Portugal, and Italy. People are a mix of late teens/ early twenties and fifties. Just perfect.

Our travelling vehicle is a hybrid of a bus and a jeep. The driver and guide are below and a huge box type enclosure is on top. There are lockers in the back, then 20 bus type seats with an aisle in between in the middle and there is a big chest like freezer in the front which can be used as a table for the four seats ( 2 on each side) around it.  There are also overhead luggage bins above the seats.

We are the virgin trip for this particular new vehicle. The vehicle is named Brenda.

Our guide( named Gift) is from Zimbabwe. Alfons our driver is from Namibia.

We had a quick stop to take a photo of Table Mountain ( which unfortunately was behind cloud) and then we stopped for an hour at a very well stocked, North American type mall to pick up any thing we may have forgotten and snacks. An outlet for Shawn's favourite store, Cape Union Mart, was there so he bought himself a polar fleece top, baseball cap ( to replace the one that blew into the penguin colony) and travel coffee mug. I got long johns and an undershirt.

It's overcast and the coldest day yet. We are now on our way to our campsite where we will have an orientation and wine tasting tour.

So far I have been very impressed with the cleanliness of the washrooms in both Morocco and South Africa... In many ways they are cleaner than ones in Toronto.

We have travelled through farmland and are now climbing into the mountains.

Our campground today is in an orange grove. It has warm showers and WIFI.

We arrived and I was in the first group who made lunch. We then went for a walk and set up our tents.

Tonight we went for wine tasting and then were served an amazing supper by the wine people. The chicken bbq ( African Bree) was to die for.

I am really enjoying the people we are travelling with. We have two honeymoon couples. So much fun!

It is nice and warm in the complex where we are having supper. Big crackling fireplace. It may be nippy tonight. Glad I bought the extra set of long johns.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Things almost got Ugly with an Ostrich on our Last Day in Cape Town

Our final day in Cape Town was fabulous.

The weather was clear and sunny as we wound our way through the wine area; Constantia.

We next checked out a really cute beach town called Muizenberg. There was a surfing competition going on and in other parts of the beach, people of all ages were having surfing lessons or perfecting their skills. Bright rows  of little wooden beach huts lined the white sands.

Further along we stopped at Kalk Bay Harbour which is an actual working Harbour with a Main Street of trendy boutiques and antique shops. Graham discovered a vintage book shop and found a history book that was given to someone in 1899 ( there was an inscription). The rest of us enjoyed the Olympia Bakery.

We drove through another seaside village called Fish Hoek before going to one of my highlights of the day; Simon' s Town.

Boulder Beach is in Simon's Town and it is home to a large colony of Jackass Penguins (also known as African Penguins).

When we first arrived, we went to a beach and found not a single penguin. I was crushed. Fortunately I noticed a number of people going in a different direction and then saw the sign pointing to the penguin beach.

There were literally hundreds (2200) Penguins in the colony. There were many young penguins and nesting penguins. It is illegal to touch or harass the penguins because the are endangered. People have to stay on the viewing Boardwalk.

I could have stayed and watched them all day. I got literally hundreds of pictures.
My husband's baseball cap blew off his head onto the penguins beach....I guess there is a very stylish penguin out there tonight.

We next headed to Table Mountain National Park. We first drove to Cape Point. There were many baboons wondering around the parking lot and area. There were all kinds of signs warning people not to feed them and some woman was excitedly telling someone about a baboon that stole something from her but her husband stood his ground and got it back....I think the stolen item was her back pack....either that or her underwear...no I'm pretty sure it was her back pack.

There was one baboon that was hanging around the Canadian flag ( there was an area that displayed many international flags).

I was careful to look where I put my hands after I noticed baboon poop on one of the hand railings. I wonder if that baboon did it deliberately...you know, like some kind of sick baboon joke.

I took the funicular to the top and the boys climbed. If I had known that it wasn't a long climb, I would have climbed it as well.

It was so windy at the top, it almost blew me over, but the views were amazing. Cape Point is very dramatic. Gorgeous in a rugged way.

We continued towards the Cape of Good Hope. My hubby was zipping along in the car when something to the side caught my eye and I said " watch out, somethings coming" and He braked just as a large ostrich tore out of the brush and ran across the road in front of us, suddenly stopping at the other side. This bird was huge. I could just imagine explaining things to the insurance company if we hit that thing.

The Cape of Good Hope was also windy and had a rugged beauty. People lined up to take their pictures with the Cape of Good Hope sign....except for one family who showed up last and tried to shove themselves in front of everyone else.

The ostrich was still hanging out at the side of the road when we returned down the road. We also passed some antelope/ deer type creatures.

We passed through Hout Bay.; a beautiful stretch of beach

On our way back, we drove through the absolutely gorgeous, and incredibly dramatic Chapman's Peak Drive. This road twisted and turned on the cliff side. Soaring mountains and cliffs plummeting into turbulent turquoise waters. There were many vistas you could stop at for pictures. Apparently you can often see whales in the water, but they must have been hiding.

We passed through the town of Noordhoek and Llandudno  Beach.

We stopped at the beautiful Camp's Bay Beach for our final Cape Town sunset. Just stunning.

We leave early tomorrow for our camping trip. I am not sure how often we will be able to get internet.

Two Days in Cape Town

Cape Town and I had a rough start our first night with the whole problem of finding medical help, traffic jams, and scary homeless people on the streets at night. It is truly sad. I am certain that some of these street people may be mentally disabled and left to fend for themselves. 
Crime rates are high  here. Private security guards are plentiful. Every decent restaurant has a strong security presence at their entrances. 
The streets feel so much safer in the light of day.
 On Thursday morning My medication had kicked in and I was feeling much better.
Our plan for the morning had been to climb up Table Mountain ( the cable car is closed for two weeks).  Unfortunately the top of Table Mountain was covered in cloud. But the sun was shining so we decided to visit downtown.
First we checked out The Company Gardens which had been created by the East India company. There were some neat birds in the garden including some incredibly loud geese. The squirrels are so tame that they come right onto your lap if you let them.
We saw the old tool house which had been extensively renovated by the Dutch and was later used as the president's residence. When Nelson Mandela  lived there, he would go to the gate and speak to people who were passing by.  
We walked into more gardens flanked by museums. By this time the top of Table Top Mountain was covered in clouds but the middle to bottom was clear. It was sunny out so I was optimistic that I might see the whole thing. 
We walked over to the parliament building. A huge square is in front of it. When Nelson Mandela was released from prison, he spoke from the balcony of the parliament building. The square was so packed with people wanting to hear him, that people had even climbed to the tops of the palm trees.
Our next stop was the castle of Good Hope ( which is really more of a fort). Parts of it are under reconstruction. As seems to be the situation around the world, there were crews of workmen; one to work and four to supervise. 
We toured the castle. During our tour the clouds rolled in and totally obscured Table Top Mountain. It was amazing how fast they moved.
During the tour, I walked over and put my arm through what I thought was John's arm. The man shook off my arm as if I had leperosy. I let out a squawk of surprise and then the family next to me started to giggle, as did I. I've been very careful as to who I am grabbing onto now.
After stopping at a grocery store, we went back to our apartment to get the car.  
The ramp to get into and out of our apartment parking lot is quite extreme. It has a steep entrance/exit followed by eight narrow spirals to get to our spot. By the time you get up to the top you are totally dizzy and discombobulated.
Did I mention that you drive on the wrong side of the road here? 
We drove to the Victoria and Albert Waterfront. A lovely area. They have an amazing food hall. It is similar to St Lawrence market or Quincy Market in Boston. Our meals were all delicious. I want to go back because after I had eaten, I found a stall that sold zebra and warthog kabobs.

After exploring the wharf more, we got into our car and headed to Camps Bay which has one of the most gorgeous beaches I have ever seen. The sands are white white white.

It was overcast but the weather was just perfect for exploring the big rocks that embraced the myriads of tidal pools. There were communities of all sorts of sea life in these pools. There is a certain peace in just standing still and observing the sealife in its own little worlds. I saw numerous little red starfish, crabs and fish but for me, the most wonderous was a large golden starfish which slowly spread its arms in perfect formation.

It was late afternoon and the seabirds were winding down their activities. One large Cormerant stood on top of a tall rock and spread his wings as if to feel a breeze in his wing pits.

The boys enjoyed jumping from rock to rock. John watched the sun as it made short appearances through the clouds. The beginning of drizzle was our cue that it was time to leave.

We picked up my second prescription on our way to the apartment. Traffic was bad.

We went out to a lovely Tapas restaurant for supper. The boys went back to the apartment earlier than John and I.

Cape Town is a cosmopolitan town with a North American feel. There are many wonderful restaurants. 

There are a lot of homeless people on the streets. One young woman seemed particularly sad to me. She kept saying she was hungry. We asked her to wait and ran into a convenience store where I tried to search for some healthy food ( which was not easy to find).  Luckily there were hard boiled eggs and bananas. It was hard to tell if she appreciated receiving them. I didn't want to chance giving her the money and having her buy booze and chocolate bars with it. At least she had some protein and potassium that night.

This morning (Friday), we got up early and went to the V&A Wharf where we caught the boat to Robben Island where Nelson Mandela and many other political prisoners were held. 

The ferry ride there was rocky. A girl near us was really chucking her cookies.

The island has a long history. It had been a leper colony before the prison. 

After a bus ride around the island, we were given a tour of the maximum security prison by a past inmate. He really brought it to life. What was truly inspiring was that those political inmates created some good out of the horror of that time. They gave all the other inmates an education...university level. Many of the inmates were illiterate when they arrived and most of them, including many of the guards had more than one university degree when they left.

There were also some really horrid stories.

After returning on the ferry, we had lunch again at the food hall. This time I had the zebra and warthog skewer. It was good...tasted like beef and pork.

We then drove to the beautiful Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens. It had a bridge walkway through the treetops which offered spectacular views. There were all kinds of neat gardens including medicinal and a garden of almost extinct plants. A definate must see. 

By this time the clouds had cleared from table top mountain.

Our last stop of the day was to Signal Hill where the views of Table Top Mountain and Cape Town below were truly spectacular. We watched the paragliders take off into the late afternoon sun and chuckled over the rotund chicken/ pheasant type birds that roamed around the area.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Goodbye Morrocco, Hello Portugal and Cape Town


Ten pm came quickly. Our riad staff came out with  mint tea and almond cookies. We toasted the fact that we had an awesome vacation in Morocco. The riad staff went over and above for our whole stay with them...so friendly and accommodating.

The luggage guy with no teeth was right on time to collect our baggage into the cart. He made sure we carried our purses in front the whole time. Really considerate.

Abdul's cousin drove us the three hour trip to the airport. I slept the whole way.

Our tour was organized and booked through Destination Morocco. I would definately go with this company again. They were reasonably priced and they delivered on everything they said they would.

Our driver, Abdul was personable and friendly. He was also a very skilled and safe driver.

Our accommodations were all outstanding. I was wowed every time, and not just with the beauty of the properties but the warmth of the staff.

Restaurants- these were a bit hit and miss. Most of them were fine except for the one in Meknes that said they were Moroccan food and then didn't offer antything on the menu they gave us. Their food was disappointing and way overpriced.

If you go to Morocco, no matter who you book through, let them know you want good, safe food at a reasonable and fair price or you may end up going to over- priced restaurants all the time.

We advised the company of my sons peanut/ tree nut anaphylactic food allergy. Some of our accommodations seemed aware of it and others totally surprised by it. We were greeted in the desert with Moroccan tea and a bowl of peanuts.

Despite the peanuts, the desert camp was a not to be missed experience.

Overall, Destination Morrocco was great to work with. They were flexible and patient in fine tuning our itinerary. They are definately good value for the money. I would travel with them again.

We slept through our flight from Casablanca to Lisbon.

When we were landing in Lisbon, I couldn't get over how clearly I could see Belem Tower, the Henry the Navigator monument and St Geronimo Monastery.

Lisbon has a very well organized airport. After going through immigration, we checked our bags and took the subway from the airport to St Jorge's Castelo. It was so easy.

The weather was perfect...sunny and warm but not too hot. I am still a bit under the weather but much improved over yesterday. I think it was a bit of heat stroke.

Lisbon is a gorgeous city. We walked uphill and toured the Castello. What awesome views we had from the ramparts.

We then walked downhill and visited the beautiful, old church of Santa Maria Major Lisbon Patriarcal cathedral from the 12th century.

From there we walked over the lovely pedestrian street ( Rua Augusta) where I had grilled sardines and sipped on port while Graham had a burger at a sidewalk cafe. This was a touristy restaurant and I still prefer the grilled sardines that you get from the sidewalk vendors ( like our hot dog vendors), but I still enjoyed my meal.

We checked out the beautiful square with statue and arch at the beginning of the Rua Augusta before we headed back to the subway

We are both really tired. Graham fell asleep in the waiting lounge and started snoring. Then we got on our flight to Madrid and both of us fell asleep before the plane even took off. I came to for a minute and couldn't figure out which flight I was on and where we were going. Yikes!

Our next leg was from Madrid to Addis Ababa, which is in Ethiopia. I was rather disturbed to find that we were seated in the very back of the plane. It ended up being ok because I was asleep in an instant and only woke up to eat my meals. We stopped but didn't get out in Malta. The guy on the outside of my row disappeared for hours from his seat, however his flip flops remained on the floor. Where does one go for a number of hours on a plane?

As we were being bused from our plane to the terminal in Addis Ababar, I noticed that there appeared to be an abandoned and destroyed looking plane at the side of one of the runways. Hmmmm.

Our 1 1/2hour layover in Ethiopia was interesting. We are definitely in a different part of the world. I had to walk a long distance in the airport to find a washroom and of course there was a huge line snaking out of the women's washroom... there was no lineup at the men's which only goes to prove that some things are the same all over.

The airport here is very low tech and confusing at times.

It is much cooler here (jacket weather) and raining. We are now onto the last 7 hour leg of this flight journey. I fear that after almost 48 hours of travel, I stink and look like hell warmed over. I

It was during this last part of the trip that I had a bladder infection on the plane , ( which in my estimation is worse than " Snakes on a Plane"). The flight couldn't end quick enough for me.

John and Cameron were stuck in traffic so they were late in picking us up, I was put on hold with our travel insurance company for 7 minutes and the 24 hour medical help centre at the airport didn't have a doctor there till the next day. We finally found out where our closest hospital was and went there. John dropped me off and took the guys to the condo.

I was seen fairly quickly. The hospital was not as well equipped as ours. John was going to walk over and pick me up ( our condo is just around the corner) but the staff said it is not safe at night so he and Cameron picked me up in the car. After filling my prescription, we went out for supper, had showers and we are off to bed.

Monday, July 25, 2016

A Day in Marrakesch

I woke up feeling weak and out of it. Also had some tummy upset and a head ache. I think it's the 43 degree weather.

I hadn't gotten to sleep till well after 1am because I was waiting up for Brian and Graham. It turned out it wasn't them at the door because when I called out Grahams name, an Arabic male voice answered, " yes it's Graham", then went on to calling out "Graham!" And owing bird whistles for quite a long time.

It turns out that Graham and Brian only went a few doors down and hung out at a nearby riad owned by the same people who own our riad with our hotelier, Taj.

In the morning, After breakfast at our Riad ( by the way, I found out that a riad is a noble's mansion that has a garden in the courtyard.), our Marakesh guide met us and took us on a tour of the city.

We have enjoyed our time at Riad 49. The staff is so warm and helpful...it is a home away from home and it is right in the centre of things. Www.samirariads.com .

It was hot out...another 43 degree day. I was just dying.

Brian is wearing his galabaya and head scarf again. Everywhere we go, guys are calling him Ali Baba. He seems to be a real favourite with the locals.

We first went to the Koutoubia mosque. We couldn't go in because we are non- Muslims.

Our next visit was to the mausoleum of the kings, royal children and the women. I was really dragging my butt at that point.

Our next stop was at the palace. Totally gorgeous but at that point I just wanted to be shot and put out of my misery.

We made our way to the Jemma el Fna square/ market. There was all kind of action going on there. We watched the snake charmers for awhile and Carol and I had our pictures taken with snakes around our necks. There were also lots of monkeys in diapers around ( with their handlers) and guys playing their drums as they swing the tassels on their hats around.

I was beyond feeling sick so I told the gang that I was going to head back to the riad while they finished the tour. The guide said it was easy to get back, just go straight down this one street and turn right, then right, then left and left. Graham seemed concerned about my abilities to get back on my own but I said "not to worry"

Well the guides version of go straight had lots of turns and I took the wrong one. I was really sick and shopkeepers were calling me into their shops. They were very quick to try and help me find my way when I let them know that my stomach was upset. I guess they didn't want me up -chucking in their shops. Finally I found some very concerned police men who looked at the card with my Riad's address and they pointed the way. I then got back no problem and slept.

When the rest of the gang came back, we quickly freshened up and went for lunch in a restaurant rooftop overlooking the Jemma el Fna square. We people watched and since we were the only ones there, I lay down on a bench and dozed a bit.

Carol went down to the bathroom and as she was coming up, one of the male waiters informed her that her skirt was tucked in her underwear...oops.  Note from Carol - I've been so respectful wearing full body attire this entire trip and dripping in sweat every waking moment - and now I've just flashed my butt to a bunch of Moroccan waiters.

We then walked around the market and made some purchases.

We are now resting up at the riad before Carol, Graham and I drive for 3.5 hours to the Casablanca airport. Grahams and my flight leaves at 5:35am for Lisbon, Portugal and Carols flight leaves at 9am for Montreal. Cheryl and Brian are staying for a few more days.

Feeling Hot Hot Hot

After a delicious breakfast by the pool, we left the beautiful Ksar el Kabbaba hotel and drove to ouarzazate. Many movies have been shot there including Lawrence of Arabia, Jewel of the Nile, Cleopatra, prince of Persia, game of thrones, kingdom of heaven, gladiator, four feathers, legionnaire, and more.

We passed the studios and went into .the town of Ait Ben Haddou, the best preserved fortified kasbah in Morocco. It dates from about the 15th century

We took a tour with a local guide. It was really hot. Beautiful views. Carol and I plan a Morrocan film fest when we get back. Graham was feeling really sick through the whole tour because of his stomach and the heat.

Up to this point I have usually been wearing my money belt under my clothes. Today I was wearing a dress so I put the money belt in my purse. I tried on a galabaya that was a bit more fitted in one of the shops. Cheryl said it was the best one I had tried so far. Carol said that it would be good once I got rid of the bulge on my stomach, and she pointed to where my money belt would have been...if I had been wearing it. Yep, time to start working out again when I get back. By the way, I did not buy the galabaya.

Driving on, We entered the High Atlas Mountains where  we went through the Tizi and Tichka pass. The roads are really windey with lots of switch backs.

We stopped near the summit at Tichka and toured a women's coop where they make Argon oil. We then went for a Moroccan lunch.

It is soooo hot here. 43+...I'm melting....

We said goodbye to our driver, Abdul in Marrakesh. An older man with no teeth but incredibly friendly, brought all our bags to our riad.

We are now at our riad ( Riad 49) in Marrakesh. It is lovely and the hoteliers are so willing to help in every way. Our rooms our gorgeous.

We went for supper at a cute cafe type restaurant. The owner was so friendly. He stayed and talked to us for a long time. He also gave Brian some cumin for his upset stomach.

We find generally that Morroccan people are very friendly and willing to help. Also they are very considerate and polite. Lovely people.

We got a little lost going through all the alleyways but eventually made our way back to the riad.

 Brian and Graham snuck out to go to some place for drinks.

A little while ago, I heard knocking on the outside door of our riad. I called down Grahams name from our bathroom window. The voice of one of the British guests called up and asked if I would let them in. I put on my skirt and ran down. They were standing there with the luggage guy with no teeth ( I guess he had to show them the way back from wherever they went).

I think Brian and Graham  are now locked out of our riad. Cheryl and I figure that we will let them knock a bit before we let them in.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Sunrise over Sahara

Sunrise over the Sahara- blog version

We continued on after lunch passing through high mountains with narrow switchback roads. It rained for a short time...the first rain that we've seen since we got here.

We gradually descended into the Ziz valley with its green oasis and lush palm trees. The oasis runs for miles and miles and the buildings are only built on the edge where the greenery stops..The vegetation is a rich and vibrant emerald colour. This is everything I imagined an oasis to be.

We saw the first hint of sand dunes a while after the oasis and shortly afterwards stopped at a fossil shop. This area is known for its fossils. So many beautiful fossil products to buy but they are heavy so I didn't.

We stopped at a shop where Brian got a galabaya (hooded pullover men's robe) and both Brian and Graham got head scarves which we all learned to tie. I tried on a number of women's robes ( none of which looked attractive on me).

Abdul's been playing a mix of wild Arabic tunes, Michael Jackson, Eric Clapton, Britney Speers and a monotone desert country piece that doesn't seem to have an end. Up to this point we were all slightly drowsy, but as the Sahara came into view, Abdul put on the 1980s version of JLo's "Dance the Night Away" and we went wild. Our van sped over the desert road at 130+ per hour as we wooped and ululated. Woo Hoo! This is living!!!

The camels were waiting for us. Another couple, Ali and James from Britain, who were  driven by Abdul's cousin, joined us. Carol's camel was named Jimmy Hendrix and Cheryl's was Bubbly Bubbly. We couldn't pronounce any of the other camels Arabic names so they said it was Berber tradition that we rename our camels. Brown Finger seemed like a good one.

Graham wore his pith helmet.

We could only bring a few things for our night in the desert. Fortunately, I had packed an overnight bag. Brown Finger seemed to groan when he saw it...or maybe it was just some indigestion. I swear his heavily lashed eyes bulged out of his head when they attached the two 5 liter bottles of water to his saddle. Then I got on top.

If a camel could drop the F bomb, I'm sure he would have.

Till this moment, Carol was a camel ride virgin. She hadn't even ridden a horse. The camels lie down when you get in the saddle. You are told to hang on tight and you are suddenly pitched backwards as the camel gets up on his front legs, then quickly dumped forward as he straightens his back legs. It's quite the shock for a first timer. Carol's mouth opened in a wide O and my sister let out a shriek ( and it was her third time). The guys and I took it in stride. And then in the evening dusk, we headed out into the apricot colored dunes.

All went well until Cheryl's camel, Bubbly Bubbly, who was directly behind me, bit Brown Finger in the butt causing him to skitter around. I screeched and the camel handlers quickly calmed him.

An uproar rose from the back when Ali's camel bit James in the leg. James later said it really hurt. After seeing the camels teeth, I could understand why.

Soon after one water bottle, then the second water bottle fell off and were promptly reattached.

After the initial adjustments, the sun had set and the sand muffled our camels steps.

Nothing prepares you for how quiet the desert is when everyone stops talking. A warm wind caresses us, and outlines of the dunes with their regular undulations are like giant  waves in a never ending ocean...motion captured in the stillness.

About half an hour into it, my bum hurt like hell. It took about 40 minutes before we arrived to our tents.  After descending from our camels, we were ushered to a table and served peanuts and Moroccan tea. ( I guess they weren't given the memo about Graham's anaphylactic peanut and nut allergy).

We watched the dark silhouettes of the camels as they were lead through the dunes to an evening resting place.

We were shown to our tents which were surprisingly well equipped; real beds, luxurious linens, a sitting area, and a tented off area with a sink of polished fossilized stone, a flush toilet and shower...who'd have thought?

Brian and Graham had the most adorable blonde mouse with huge dark eyes in their tent. It quickly ran off.

We sat out with our new British friends under a huge expanse of sky, scattered with glittering stars. Without light pollution, and with the help of Brian's star chart app, we could easily make out the constellations. Carol saw three separate falling stars!

We were served supper at 11pm in the dining tent; Moroccan salad ( which is served as separate mounds of vegetables, tuna, cucumber salad, rice and potatoes) in one large family sized bowl.. Next course was a delicious beef and egg tangine and we finished with slices of some of the tastiest melon ever ( and chocolate pudding).

We notice that the Moroccans seem to be on a different eating schedule than us. Lunch is usually around 2:30pm and dinner late, often after 9pm.

At about midnight we joined our drivers and five Berbers around a big fire. They brought out their drums which they started to play and sing along to. They got us all up and dancing. Then they made the mistake of handing the drums to the Canadians and said it was our turn to play and sing. We attempted to sing the Ontario song ( despite not knowing all the words). Two of the Berbers quickly disappeared. Then they said it was the Brits turn. We tried to help them out by singing  Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" ( also forgetting half the words and using unintentional seven part harmony). The rest of the Berbers except for one disappeared. (I guess he drew the short straw).

We turned in shortly after 1am. I was out before my head hit the pillow.

We were woken at 5:30. I guess that guy also got a short straw cause we sighted the other Berbers sleeping in the sand dunes.

We climbed a steep dune, ( which wasn't easy, I had to finish getting to the top on all fours), to watch the sun rise over the Sahara. The moon was just setting. The light comes first and then a sliver which rises to become a glowing ball; beautiful and so peaceful. We could hear a rooster crowing miles away.

With the sun came the heat. We saw many tiny animal tracks in the sand; mice, lizards, a large beetle and a fox. We descended the dune, showered and made our way to breakfast.

Graham was feeling queasy and ran a bit into the desert where he threw up. He returned feeling much better. I fear he hasn't been drinking enough water. He felt well enough after that to join Brian, Ali, James and our Berber friends in some sand surfing which is done on snow boards.

Soon it was time to get on our camels and head back to civilization. My sit bones are really sore.

Our camel handler found a sand fish. A little gold creature that moves through the sand like a fish through water. We each held the probably traumatized animal before he returned to the desert.

We were sad to say goodbye to our camels. They were good camels; not stinky,fairly friendly (tolerant) and attractive.

We are now racing down the highway to our next destination.




Fes to Medilt



Now back to our last evening in Fes.

After resting up ( the high 43+ heat really zaps it out of you), we had a phenomenal meal at our raid. It was our best meal here so far. So moist and tasty. We ended the evening with Moroccan mint tea on our roof terrace.idir ((our hotelier) chatted with us for awhile as we looked at the ancient medina from our high vantage point.

After another delicious breakfast at our riad, the  guy dragged our bags down the steep stairs, loaded it onto the cart and heaved it through the sometimes hilly and narrow alleyways until we reached the car park just outside of the medina walls.

Our driver, Abdul is dressed today in desert garb, galabaya and head scarf.

Leaving Fes, the landscape changed as we drove into the Middle Atlas. Kind of like the foothills except we pass lots of donkeys and herds of sheep.

We stopped in the beautiful Swiss inspired town of Ifrane. Ifrane is a ski resort in the winter. Like Switzerland, it has chalet type buildings and is very clean, orderly and expensive. It has a very exclusive university. This is obviously a very expensive area. We took our picture with the lion limestone statue which was placed their to commemorate the last lion that was shot in Ifrane in the 1920s.

Continuing on we next stopped in Azrou where we hung out with the wild Barbary Apes/monkeys. I use the term wild loosely. They show no fear of humans, coming very close in order to be fed nuts, fruit and chocolate bars. I wonder if they even know how to get their own food anymore. It was quite fun to watch their antics.

The rolling hills are slowly turning to a more desert-like terrains. We pass Barbary nomad huts from time to time. There are still some plants and trees because this area gets some snow in the winter and some rain in the spring.

We have now just stopped for lunch at a lovely kasbah resort in Medilt.

Friday, July 22, 2016

In and Around Fes

This morning we had a lovely breakfast served in a sma
ll dining room off the courtyard; Morrocan tea, hand squeezed orange juice, cakes, olives, cheeses, bread, Moroccan pancakes, honeys and jams. Yum.. This riad and it's wonderful staff (Idir) is wonderful. It is called Riad Tafilalet www.riadtafilalet.com 

The streets were all cleaned up in the morning, most donkey pooped cleaned up ( or sawdust put over) and garbage mostly gone.

We had a guide for our full day in Fes. 

We first started out in the New City. The new city was built in the 14th century. It is called the new city because the old city where we are staying dates back to the 8th century. It's all relevant, really.

We visited the main gates of the royal Palace. There seems to be a lot of royal palaces in Morocco.

We next toured the old Jewish area. Quite pretty in many parts. The tile work, balconies, and intricate doorways are ancient but still swarm with everyday life. Much of it needs to be restored but it is still quite lovely. 

We then checked out another intricately tiled gate...blue on one side, green on the other.

Our guide is excellent...a wealth of information and very proud of his beautiful and exotic city.

We got back into the minivan. Because the guide is with us today, they had to pull out the middle seat which I ended up sitting in. It was kind of wobbly and at times made me feel like I was on a Disney ride. Fortunately, that was just for this one portion of the day.

We drove up to a high vantage point where we had an amazing view of the city with its ancient walls, miniarets and medinas.

We next toured a tile/pottery factory.  Really informative and of course I bought some pottery....couldn't resist.

We left our van back at the ancient medina and continued our tour on foot. We went through many souks (markets) including the leather and tannery souks. As we entered the tannery, they gave us mint to counteract the smell of the dyes. We also food markets, meat market (we saw camel meat...I wouldn't mind trying some), cloth market, copper market, knife sharpening area and more. We saw Morocco's oldest university which was ironically started by a female in 859 and many mosques, tiled fountains, beautiful gates and doorways. All this while snaking our way through the complicated alleyways.

Carol and Cheryl both noted that these narrow alleyways were crowded by people coming and going but everyone was quite respectful; no pushing and shoving. The only time when we felt pushed and shoved was when a large group of tourists came through. The other thing we noticed was that we were not hassled much to buy stuff.

By 4:00pm we were ready to rest up at the riad. We ate at the riad. It was delicious, our best Moroccan meal so far. We ended our evening admiring the city and drinking mint tea on the rooftop terrace.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

From Rabat to Fes

This morning we had a delicious traditional Moroccan breakfast served in the dining area beside the pool. It consisted of Moroccan baked goods, mint tea, hand squeezed orange juice, a Moroccan type pancake and a mushroom cheese omelet. Yum.

I would very happily return to this wonderful Riad in Rabat. The place is lovely, a cool, calm refuge in the centre of everything. The place was pretty, clean and most of all, the owner and staff were warm, welcoming and anticipated all our needs. It is called Riad Zyo at www.riad-zoo.com

 Our driver dropped us off so that we could visit the Kasbah. Very pretty. Great views of the city from the wall.

After driving a few hours, we arrived into the city of Meknes which is known as the the Versailles of Morocco. We first went to the Granary and Haras de Meknes.

Carol and I had to go to the washroom. We started to go across the street to a public toilet, but the driver and person from the Granary, quickly herded us towards some washrooms deep inside the ancient site.... I'm not sure what we would have seen in the public washroom but from the reaction of the driver, I'm sure it wouldn't have been pretty.

It was cool inside the granary. We had an amazing guide who really knew his stuff and took pride in the heritage.  The architecture was well advanced of the time it was built. As was the attached Haras de Meknes which used to be a huge stable complex.

We then went for a rather disappointing ( but expensive) lunch at a supposedly Moroccan Restaurant called Daffir ( or something like that). They gave us menus and then said we couldn't order from them. They verbally gave us a choice of two overpriced items.

After lunch we went to see Bab Mansour which is one of the finest and most ornamented gates in Morocco.

We next visited Habs Qara, the underground cells that were allegedly used to house the sultans army of slaves. We paid an entrance fee but The guide there was not very good and rushed through the tour which lasted under 10 minutes, then complained that his tip wasn't enough. Really.

We didn't get to see the Mausoleum of Moulay Ismail because it was closed for construction.

On our way to Volubis we passed Moulay Idriss, which is a sacred site for Muslims. We would have visited but the temperature was over 42 degrees and it was high on a hill in full sun.

Our highlight of the day was Volubis; a well preserved and extensive Roman ruin. It was well worth the money to hire the guide who made the ruins come alive for us. Despite the heat, it was an enjoyable way to end the afternoon.

On our arrival to Fes we parked just outside of the walls of the ancient medina where our riad is located. Since there are over 9000 alleyways, many of them narrow, there is no car traffic in the ancient city. We were much relieved when a guy with a cart met us and rolled all our luggage to the riad.

We are staying at the Riad Tafilalet right in the old Medina. We were immediately surrounded by a calmness as we walked into the lovely traditional courtyard with a star-shaped tiled fountain trickling in the middle. We were immediately seated at a table and served Moroccan mint tea and home made almond biscuits as the guy dragged all our luggage up the steep and narrow stairs...( remember, I had to pack for seven weeks).

Our spacious suits are cool and traditionally decorated with curled grillwork, ornately tiled floors, metal cut-work lamps and stained glass. I definately feel like I'm in Morocco.

Our hotelier took us up more narrow stairs to the rooftop patio. From its heights, the whole ancient medina with its intricate mazes of alleyways was laid out below us.

It was quite late (9:15pm) when a guide showed up to walk us to a traditional Moroccan restaurant. We needed to be guided their because of the above mentioned alleyways. Some of these alleyways were so narrow that both shoulders practically touched when you walked through the narrowest ones....I can't imagine how a larger person would get through. Maybe slathered in olive oil and pushed through.

As I also mentioned earlier. There are no cars in the medina so any heavy type transport is done by donkeys. Henceforth, there is always a slight smell of donkey poop in the air and you have to watch where you step.

By nighttime, there is also a lot of garbage left in the streets, much of it clawed apart with choice tidbits eaten by the many stray cats.

We had a lovely meal at the restaurant before being escorted home by our guide.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Off to Morocco- Casablanca to Rabat


As usual, preceding a long trip, the past few weeks of preparation were crazy busy. I hadn't slept much. I dressed for the flight in my usual travel fashion, I prefer to refer to it as "Airport bag lady chic". The look is accomplished by layering as much as possible in order to save space in your luggage...you won't be far off if you visualize the Michelin man...which is quite the feat when the thermometer in Toronto is hovering at 32 degrees. I changed before meeting up with my sister in Morocco since she is extremely verbal regarding her opinion of my travel garb fashion statement.

The flight was uneventful, I took a sleeping pill and slept all the way to Morocco...I even slept through supper!

Morocco is hot. After literally being the last to get through the very long and slow moving security line, it took forever to get our luggage. Our driver/guide from Destination Morocco met us outside the airport.

We stopped at my sister's hotel, brushed our teeth and headed into Casablanca.

Casablanca is a large, busy, and crowded port city. We stopped at Hassan II mosque which is the  third largest mosque in the world; surpassed only by the mosques in Mecca and Medina.

The mosque is beautiful and classic. At only 22 years old, it only took six years to build. It is built at the edge of the water and its roof can open in three minutes and close in two....kind of like the sky dome.

After touring the mosque, we were all famished because we hadn't eaten since supper. Our driver, Abdul, said that if we could wait, we should eat at a lovely fish restaurant in Rabat. When asked, he said it was 40 minutes away. ...it was the longest 40 minutes I ever experienced. I think Abdul runs on Caribbean time.

Rabat is a lovely city. The restaurant was fine dining with a beachfront view. The food was delicious. After eating, we all felt much better.

Our next stop was the Mausoleum of Mohamed V and Hassan Tower. The entrances were flanked by majestic looking guards on horses. The entrances to the tombs were also flanked by guards on foot....one of them was the spitting image of Grey Worm from "Game of Thrones".

Our final stop was by far my favourite of the day; the Chellah Necropolis (1300's I think) which also had ruins from Roman times. You could walk freely through the ruins and the gardens were shaded and beautiful. There were many families of large Storks nesting in the highest parts of the ruins. They made loud clicking noises in the backs of their throats.

Every corner turned offered something new and wonderful to see. A fabulous must see site.

Our driver Abdul then dropped us off at our beautiful,squeaky clean accommodations, the Riad Zyo (a riad is a traditional Moroccan mansion/now boutique type small hotel) in the old town. You walk into an open air courtyard with a small pool bordered by metal frogs with jeweled eyes. We were seated on couches in a relaxing living room near the pool where we were served traditional Morrocan mint tea ( delicious), mouth watering salted shortbread cookies, hand squeezed orange juice and water....perfect after our busy day.

After showering ( and the guys had a beer and a dip in the pool), we went out to find some supper. Suddenly a large fire erupted in the crowded street. People reacted immediately and a panicked crowd scattered in all directions. It's a sad state how everyone's initial thoughts run to terrorism. In reality, someone's grilled cooking top/BBQ/whatever, caught fire and they threw it out into the street.

Although exhausted, we still tried to find the kashah, but got all confused with the map so we went back to our area, had some of the yuckiest tasting shawarmas ever and us girls headed back to our traditional riad while the guys headed out.

Before going to bed, we headed upstairs to check our rooftop terrace garden. There as a full moon over Rabat. Gorgeous.

This morning we had a delicious traditional Moroccan breakfast served in the dining area beside the pool. It consisted of Moroccan baked goods, mint tea, hand squeezed orange juice, a Moroccan type pancake and a mushroom cheese omelet. Yum.

I would very happily return to this wonderful Riad in Rabat. The place is lovely, a cool, calm refuge in the centre of everything. The place is  pretty, clean and most of all, the owner and staff are warm, welcoming and anticipated all our needs. It is called Riad Zyo

After breakfast, our driver dropped us off so that we could visit the Kasbah. Very pretty. Great views of the city from the walls.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Getting Ready for the Big Day

My bags are packed (well mostly) and I am in the midst of the last minute trip preparation panic. I also have bed and breakfast guests arriving tomorrow and other friends are moving into my house while we are away. Yes, tonight I will be house cleaning.

However, I have taken an hour now to breathe and relax with a pedicure.

Monday is the beginning of our seven week African adventure. You are welcome to join me as I blog from Morocco, Portugal, South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Tanzania and United Arab Emirates.