5/16/15

Lisboa
After our time in Morocco, we needed to head back to Canada. One way flights back to Winnipeg were atrociously expensive, but we managed to find a $600 one way from Lisbon to Winnipeg (almost half the price of other flights we were finding) and it's only a quick 1.5 hour flight from Marrakesh to Lisbon. Since Mike and I haven't spent any time in Europe together, we decided to add on two nights in Lisbon to the end of our trip. It wasn't nearly enough time, but any longer would've really cut into our time in Canada with family and friends.

Needless to say, Lisbon whet our appetites in a big way. It's such a beautiful, colourful, and CLEAN city. We had the best time and can't wait to go back to Europe one day when we have more money. :)

We stayed near Baixa/Chiado metro station. We went up the Santa Justa elevator, rode the old fashioned street car, Tram 28, checked out the area Alfama (had a great slice of pizza here!), and had a great dinner at A Camponesa. On our second night, we went to Miradouro da Senhora do Monte to see the sunset over the city. It was so beautiful and a wonderful way to end our summer travels.

After traveling for the last two summers, we're shaking things up this year! Right after school ends, we're going to Mongolia for a week. Our summer travels will end there as we need to make some money before our big move to Vancouver. Mike will be heading back to Winnipeg to work as an electrician. I'm going to be spending the summer in Seoul, working at a summer camp. We're not looking forward to the summer apart, but the silver lining is that my mom is coming out to Seoul to work at the same summer camp! So it will be a totally different summer than usual, but still memorable!

5/4/15

EssaouiraEssaouira was the perfect way to end our time in Morocco. It's a beautiful, breezy, sea-side town with a manageable medina and dozens of restaurants. We walked around and hit all the usual haunts - the harbour, the medina, the Portuguese Fortress, and the beach. One of our favourite memories of Essaouira is watching a beach soccer game go down at sunset.

We had to find a place to stay rather last minute since we had changed up our itinerary a bit (ditching a night at Dad├Ęs Gorge). We got a room at Riad El Mess which had such a beautiful roof top terrace! It was the perfect spot for a cup of tea & a book. 

To be clear - Essaouira is a very touristy town. I know that an ultra touristy place is often undesirable to travellers who want to get off the beaten path, but in this case it was really nice. It was just so easy! Restaurants were open even though it was Ramadan and we felt totally safe and comfortable walking around everywhere. After some uncomfortable situations in Marrakesh, we felt like we could let our guards down and just soak in our last few days.

After our time in Essaouira, we hopped on a quick flight to Lisbon! Photos of that STUNNING city coming up next. xx

5/2/15

marrakesh
We dropped off our car in Marrakesh which was a stressful little adventure. We were racing through the streets of downtown Marrakesh, trying to find the car rental place before it closed. That was the only moment of our road trip that we REALLY could've used that dang GPS. But we eventually found it with just a few minutes to spare.

We then headed to our guesthouse in the Marrakesh medina. We stayed at Sindi Sud. It was very cheap and very basic. But we were totally happy with it our first few nights there. After we were in Essaouira, we stayed there one more night and had an unpleasant encounter with the owner (read my trip advisor review here for full details).

We had some delicious meals in Marrakesh and enjoyed wandering the alleys. We also loved checking out Maison de la Photographie & having lunch on their beautiful patio. 

However, both on the way to the museum and back we had sketchy experiences with "faux guides" who wanted to show us the way. Both times we were adamant that we didn't want a guide but the guys kept lingering ahead of us and then forced us to pay them. On our way back, the guy took us to totally the wrong area and then kept pressuring us to give him more & more money (his buddy also showed up so we really didn't have a choice but to hand over the money!)

It left such a bad taste in my mouth and those guys are unfortunately the first thing I think of when I reflect on our time in Marrakesh. By the end of our time in Marrakesh, we were pros at making ZERO eye contact with anyone who was offering to give us directions or calling out to us. I hate that because I want to be friendly and talk to people who initiate conversation. 

It's also left me really suspicious of anyone who now offers to help us with directions. In Sri Lanka in December, we were trying to find a bus station and some guy offered to bring us to it. I didn't want to follow him but Mike said we should give him a chance. Mike was right to trust him because he was so helpful and brought us right to where we needed to be. And in that case, I absolutely wanted to give him some money for being so kind and helpful - but he refused to take it! I don't want to be jaded, so I really need to shake off these bad experiences in Morocco.

On to Essaouira next (our last stop in Morocco!)

4/24/15

todraanddades
Well, let's continue on, shall we? After we left the desert, we drove to Todra Gorge. We stayed at Palmeraie Guesthouse which is located in the surprisingly lush valley of Todra Gorge. The three brothers that own the guesthouse were really helpful and hospitable. They also have a cute donkey hanging around!

The next day, we headed into Todra Gorge for our hike. A friend of the owners of the guesthouse had offered to do a guided hike with us, but we declined. There was an appealing route described in Lonely Planet and we felt optimistic about doing it ourselves. Bad idea! We missed the main lookout point and then had trouble actually finding the start of the path. So we just wandered along for a few hours. It was beautiful but we probably would've seen better stuff on an actual  hike. And was it ever hot!

After spending two nights at Todra Gorge, we planned on spending the night in Dades Gorge as well. However, we were feeling pretty defeated by the heat and one of the owners of the guesthouse urged us just to stop in Dades Gorge and then keep driving. This meant we would end up having an extra night by the ocean which sounded pretty ideal at the time. 

So we passed through Dades Gorge and made a brief stop at Ait Benhaddou, an ancient fortified city. When I was researching it before the trip, some people highly recommended the spot and others said to skip it. It's been fixed up quite a bit so it doesn't feel very authentic. We decided to stop by anyways since it was sort of on the way. When we got there, it was totally deserted. There were some random Moroccan guys hanging out by one of the entrances and charged us some money to get in. They didn't seem legitimate at all (especially for a Unesco Heritage Site!) but we didn't really want to argue with them, so we dolled out the cash. We wandered around for maybe half an hour and then left. Not a trip highlight, that's for sure.

We carried on to Telouet. We stayed at Maison D'Hotes Dar Aissa. It seemed over-priced for what it was and we got kind of weird vibes from the owner. However, he brought us by a nearby kasbah which was actually quite neat.

Next up: Marrakesh!




Ps. As some of you may have seen on instagram, Mike and I are moving to Vancouver at the end of the summer! As Vancouver is hailed as the most expensive city to live in North America (gulp!), our overseas travels will likely come to a grinding halt. On the upside, this will allow to finally get caught up with this blog. We still have photos from Lisbon, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Taiwan, and Nepal coming up!

2/8/15

sahara
At the end of our time in Fez, we picked up a rental car. I was scoping out options online before we left and booked a little Hyundai for $250 for 8 days. Awesome! However, picking up the car was not so awesome. They didn't have any GPS units even though we had booked one and they wanted us to take a car that had the ominous "check engine" light blinking. We were not keen about taking said car into the desert so we asked for a different one. They kept saying they didn't have another one and we kept saying we didn't want to take this one. Then suddenly another one drove up that was in perfect working order so crisis averted! And we bought a map.

We drove to Midelt, stayed overnight, and then took off for the desert the next morning. There was a bit of a sand storm the afternoon of our arrival so the overall vibe was super creepy. It's such a desolate landscape! We checked into Hotel Kasbah Mohayut and hung out by the pool a bit before the  blowing sand forced us into our room for awhile. Desert treks were cancelled that night due to the sand storm. Thankfully we were staying more than one night so it didn't affect us. I was just praying that the wind would stop blowing so we could head out in the desert the following day!

The next morning we woke up for sunrise... and totally missed it. We were misinformed of the time, but it didn't really matter as we just amused ourselves by scampering around the dunes right behind the hotel. The rest of the day was spent lounging by the pool. I cannot recommend enough booking a place with a pool! It was insanely hot (low 40s!) and pretty unbearable to sit in the shade for more than 20 minutes or so.

That evening, we headed out into the desert on camels! It was the perfect evening to do so. It was a bearable temperature once the sun went down and there was no wind! We were on the camels for about an hour before arriving at our camp. We had an awesome meal under the stars and then we all lugged our beds out of the tents so we could sleep outside. This sounded quite romantic but in reality it got quite windy so it was a fitful night of sleep. But the morning! Waking up in the desert was just unreal. The light was so soft and the dunes seemed to go on forever. I can't even describe it. This absolutely stands out as one of the most phenomenal things we've done in our travels.

Eventually we had to bid the dunes adieu. We had some mint tea and then hopped back on the camels. The hotel was awesome and let us keep in our stuff in our room during the camel trek and use it the next morning to shower/clean up. We packed up our car and then headed towards Todra Gorge. Coming up next!

1/25/15

fezpost
Mark down Fez's medina as one of those places that I'm glad to have visited, but not sure if I'll return to.  On one hand it's colourful, energetic, and exotic. On the other hand it's chaotic, overwhelming, and claustrophobic. We spent a few days wandering (and sleeping) in the medina. I guess I had a bit of a romanticized idea of the busy markets and leather tanneries. The reality was harsh. "Guides" were constantly popping up, trying to lead us to places we didn't even know if we wanted to go to. Likely due to Ramadan, many people seemed on edge. The medina's walls were high and the passageways were narrow. I kept waiting for it to open up into a main square (like in Chefchauoen) but we didn't find one. Also, people (as we found everywhere in Morocco) were very resistant to having their photos taken, hence the lack of portraits in this post.

However, I would still recommend it on anyone's Moroccan itinerary. Fez seems like a key piece of Morocco's puzzle and I'm glad we got to spend a bit of time with it. We stayed at Riad Mikou - a really beautiful spot in the medina owned by twin brothers. They were so kind to us and frequently offered to share meals with us. One of the brothers picked us up from the medina's main entrance on our first day and also helped us catch a bus on our way out. It was so nice to come back dirty and dusty from the medina to their beautiful guesthouse. I also want to give Cafe Clock a little shout-out. It is another oasis in the medina. Their servers are laid back and really open to chatting. The food was delicious and the whole vibe was just awesome. Lastly, they serve camel burgers so you can cross that off your bucket list!

Coming up next: the Sahara desert!

1/16/15

maroc2

Here are a few more snaps of Chefchaouen. Favourite food & drinks in Morocco (some pictured above): mint tea, chicken tajine, harira soup, and banana shakes for breakfast. So good!