A Travellerspoint blog

August 2016

The more you look, the more you see

Days 97, 98, 99 Fes

sunny 33 °C

The night we arrived in Fes was a whirl wind. Mohammed first dropped us at the bus station so we could pop in and buy our tickets for the remaining portions of our trip and then transported us to the the edge of the Medina.

We bid goodbye with heartfelt thanks and were immediately handed over to the custody our Riad host, also Mohammed, who met us at the car and guided us to our accommodation. Instantly, we are struck with how different Fes Medina is to Marrakesh.


We walk a mere 150 m of narrow lanes 2 m wide, through a crowded lane of shops 4 m wide and finally down a darker lane to Riad Taryana. Once inside its like stepping through a portal to an alternate reality. We take a moment to absorb the beautiful mosaic tiled courtyard, with three floors and with internal facing balconies. It's so quiet and we hear absolutely no noise of the bustling turmoil outside on the streets of the Medina.


Mohammed gave us the 10 minute briefing of all things Fes plus making arrangements for a one day walking tour with a guide from the Fes Tourist Board assuring us, because its endorsed by the Tourist Board, there's absolutely no obligation to buy anything...yeah right!


The next day, after a delicious breakfast, our guide, Fouad takes us for a walk around the Medina. We booked the 3 hour option (rather than the whole day) but very quickly realised 3 hours was an illusion and we weren't getting home until the end of the day.

The Medina is built on a hill and we are staying near the top at the famous Blue Gate.


Unlike Marrakesh, most of the restaurants are centred at the top of the Medina, near the Blue Gate. But, like Marrakesh, the spruckers are equally skilled at "encouraging" us to dine with them. One fellow feigned huge dishonour when we declined to dine with him, instead having tea at another restaurant, so we were "obliged" to dine with him on our final night.


It's a couple of kms to get to the other end. As it is Friday so a significant amount of shops are closed and it is easier for us to walk around. Some of the laneways are only shoulder width and we wander the quiet streets chatting with Fouad.


Whilst there are many wonderful things about Morocco, it is a developing nation, where poverty and social welfare are constant challenges. People with disabilities or those unable to work, are forced to beg, relying on Alms from good Muslims, as pensions or government help is minimal. What is most heartbreaking, especially for Jen, are the street cats. We know that they love cats and dogs, but unfortunately lack of desexing means there are way too many kittens and cats on the street. We regularly see dishes of water and food scraps left out, they are all too thin and likely need worming. Jen struggles to resist trying to feed them all as it only exacerbates the issue. We hope that, with time and development, the people will have enough for their own necessities and pet care should follow.


Fouad gives us a quick history lesson of Morocco and in particular its French history.

In the 19th Century the region fell under the control of the Ottoman Empire. As the world became more mobile, the Ottomans struggled to manage the area from Istanbul. Pirates roamed the coastline and with various European states holding small regions, English in Tangier, Spanish elsewhere and the French wanting a bit too, based on the strategic location of the Mediterranean but the Berber and Bedouin tribes still independent. After a number of conflicts with France (based on French occupation of Algeria), Spain and Germany, the Treaty of Fes was signed in 1912 making Morocco a Protectorate of France. Dissent grew until World War II with nationalist movement gaining momentum. They believed an Allied victory would pave the way for Moroccan Independence. In January 1944, the Istiqlal (Independence) Party released a manifesto demanding full independence, national reunification, and a democratic constitution. Unfortunately, the French refused to accept the manifesto and continued colonial rule. Nearly 9 years later, in December 1952, riots brought a watershed to tensions between Morocco and France. France exiled the Sultan to Madagascar and outlawed the political party. Active opposition to French control escalated and the French were forced to negotiate their exit from Morocco. So, whilst full independence wasn't achieved until 1956, the Manifeste De L'Independence, is still celebrated.


We walk to Al Quaraouiyino University, approximately a 1000 years old and the oldest continually operating University, the first to award educational degrees in the world. It was a university for the education of theology and philosophy (which in centuries past captured all doctrines of medicine, mathematics, astronomy etc). But now it is exclusively for the studies of Islamic religion. It is listed as a UNESCO site and currently being extensively restored. It also sits beside the main river to flow through the Medina.

The river retreated underground a long time ago, and is heavily polluted. As we learn throughout Morocco, there is considerable investment in infrastructure and improvements. The river has been reinstated above ground and the next step is to address the pollution to restore the glory of the river.


We take a walk through Bou Inania Medersa one of the oldest theological colleges in all of Morocco.


Like Ben Yousseff in Marrakesh, there is a quiet calmness and a respectful solitude to this place.


Next stop nestled in amongst the riads and shops is the leather tannery. This place is where the raw hides of sheep, cow, camel and goat come to be cleaned, washed, coloured and dried and then ready to be made into everything leather. The conditions for the workers are pretty bad as most of the process is manual and they have to step inside vats of tanning chemicals and colours to soak the leather with their feet. Today the smell is tolerable but they still give us some fresh mint leaves to mask the smell.


We are taken down from the roof top into 2 floors of leather goods ranging from jackets, bags, shoes, sandals, slippers, belts, all in numerous styles and colours. They do look beautiful but leather products are something we don't need to buy. We thank the guide there and we get away from the assistants very polite but still a sell job. Looking at an entire wall of every type of leather jacket imaginable, the guide assures us that if we can't find one we like, one can be custom made in three hours! As we have travelled now for about 8 days we have heard all the typical ways the locals try and entice you to buy something. It's very subtle and always starts off "Moroccans want to talk and just chat, please come in and have a mint tea...if you don't like then you don't buy....I will not pressure you!", "oh you are Australian, we love Australians". Its quite an art form.

We walk near the largest mosque in Fes, Kairouine, which holds about 22,000 people and has 14 exits. We take a peak inside the the beautiful archways, white and tiled walls, and rugs. The mosques are a haven for people to sit, wash and get out of the heat. As its Friday, 1 pm prayers are the main session of the week with the mosque filling almost to capacity.


After, we get caught at an exit as hundreds leave after prayers and its like being in a Beijing subway human traffic jam. The lanes have specific sections that they make and sell local products, e.g. Copper, timber furniture.

This is Place Seffarine, named for its coppersmith shops, now closed following Friday prayers, for the rest of the day.


Fountains are a lifeblood of the towns. The water is not safe for tourists but locals are accustomed to the mineral content. Many shops host a container of water out front for any local to pause and quench their thirst.


This place was a historic trading post and hostel where caravans could dock, tether their camels and refresh.


After managing to successfully evade buying leather goods earlier, we thought we had sussed out Moroccan shop keepers, but our next stop was the artisan co-op rug palace. The owner first takes us upstairs for a 360 degree view of the city, pointing out landmarks.


He draws our attention to the University and its tower which was used by philosophy students centuries ago to gaze to the heavens to try to figure out the world, much like Galileo did and diligently carry out their studies in the rooms below the green roofs.


We knew he was softening us up, but it was nice to talk to him about the history of Fes and also current issues - his sadness at the pain in the world wrongly committed in the name of Islam, experiencing the world through satellite dishes and modern day issues.


Once back downstairs, the mint tea magically appears, we are invited to sit for a moment, and very quickly beautiful rugs are laid out, layer upon layer in front of us, we're happily caught in the Web. He is working on Jen and the "women always picks the colour" and " it's something for life", "she is a beautiful woman" "the woman is the head of the home, you can't be successful in the world if you don't have a happy home" . Quickly the carpets are being flung in front of us and Jen and I know we are in trouble. Fortunately the night before we agreed that we will buy a rug to complete our collection of rugs at home so we select two carpets and enter the game of bargaining. Fortunately these rugs are better quality than the ones in the Merzouga Coop.

The negotiations are fairly quick and we have our carpet rolled up, and money exchanged (including an escort to the ATM), and everyone is happy. The carpet we bought will go perfectly with the other Persian rugs we have at home and it's a great memory for us of our time in Morocco.


Lunch is down a small laneway that we would have never found ourselves and we enter a beautiful Riad style courtyard made into a restaurant. The decor is stunning, the tiles vibrant and food delicious, and plentiful - this was just one entree (we shared).

And every meal is followed with Moroccan Whiskey (Mint Tea) which is perfect.


We agreed with our guide to grab a petit taxi and go to sites outside the Medina. First stop is on top of the hill, with ancient Kasbah ruins, adjacent to the Medina to get a full view of the vastness of the Medina. We get an appreciation of how packed in are the buildings and how far the old city wall goes.


We drive to the Royal Palace and wander through the the main street of the Jewish quarter. Contrasting Moroccan Islamic architecture, the buildings here have the balcony on the outside. No Jewish people live here anymore, having moved to a new region of Fes. Unlike the Middle East and other parts of North Africa, Muslims, Jews and Christians are able to live in harmony and without conflict.


One thing the Moroccans we meet are very quick to emphasise on how tolerant they are of other religions especially Jewish and Christianity. They want us to know the ISIS Muslims and the ones in Nice and Paris are not real Muslims, they are just crazy people. From what we have seen to date and heard we believe this is the case. Jen and I think it is definitely not extremist and the current King Mohammed VI has made significant changes to the rights of women, education, dress codes, empowering women to positions in parliament and professional life. He is well educated and enlightened about the future - subsidising solar panel farms and investment in irrigation and water reticulation, and has even forced the closure of the manufacture of plastic bags to address rubbish.

It's back into the taxi and we take a ride up the hill to the co-op ceramic and tile factory. This place was amazing. It is where they make all the Moroccan style plates, bowls, cups, tiles, fountains, table etc.


First stop is the pottery wheel and Jen is asked to have a go. She jumps at the chance especially as a 6 ft young good looking Moroccan with strong hands was about to give her a lesson on how to use the wheel. I instantly think of Unchanged Melody, Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore in Ghost and roll my eyes. Jen is just grinning.....what!


We are taken to the kilns and learn the interesting fact the ovens are actually fuelled by burning olive pits and hay and get to required 1200 degrees C.


It's onto the painter who has numerous pieces in front of him. Everything is painted by hand with precision accuracy. We learn about the dyes and that this purple dye turns blue when fired.


The painter grabs Jen's hand and paints a henna style design and her name in Arabic. This guy probably does this to very pretty girl that comes by but it still has Jen grinning from ear to ear with her signature smile.


The assistant shows us where the workers chip all the tiles into pieces for all the mosaics for walls, fountains, tables and ponds.
These guys spend all day with a small pick and chip the tiles to various shapes and sizes, beside a guy assembling a mosaic fountain - all done in reverse and then grouted.


Its now into the show rooms and see all the various products and the fountains capture our eyes. The colours are so vibrant and we think how good would that look mounted some how on the wall next to our pool at home. Quickly reality kicks back, there is no hope we get in our backpack. The assistant assures us they can deliver!


We resist but take plenty of photos of the styles and make mental note of the idea for when we redo the tiles at home. We have to buy something - two little bowls carefully wrapped hopefully make it home in one piece.


On our way back, at this fountain in the roundabout, amongst peak hour traffic, this darling fellow was gleefully splashing about enjoying the cool water in the heat.


Well that was the a full day of great sites, loads of facts and something very unique. Jen and I loved the whole day, our guide Fouad was fantastic and we have fallen in love with Fes.

Unfortunately we've succumbed to gastro so we don't venture too far. We wandered nearby streets and look for some small souvenirs for home. My mate Mike has requested a Fes from Fes. We stroll down one of the two main lanes that have the general stuff you can buy but the thing that surprises us is that virtually nobody wears the fes and its hard to find a shop that even sells them. We find the things to buy and go have lunch to develop a shopping strategy. As most of you know I am the introvert and Jen is the extrovert but somehow I got to be the designated negotiator, even though Jen does this stuff for a living, go figure! We go back out for dinner and shopping and successfully mange to bargain on one set of gifts. However, we were up against a seasoned pro - a 12 year old boy and I knew I needed all my years of bargaining experience to say I got a good deal but he was highly accomplished and tried all his best tricks. I used the old method of leaving the shop as the price was too high. After about 30 minutes we beat him down from approximately $90 to a more realistic $28. Success!

We have finished with Fes and loved every minute of it. It is a fun place, few tourists, very traditional and again super friendly. Next morning we do some final photo shots from the roof of our Riad. Time to say goodbye.

The next day is a travel day by bus from Fes to Chefchaouen, a four hours trip. The trip was uneventful other than it was 45 minutes late leaving Fes and got later as we went due in part to a comfort stop right beside an open air BBQ. Tried as we could, we were bewildered as to how it worked. You buy a portion of mince or cuts of meat at the butcher, pay by weight, then hand it to the BBQ guys you press it into wire racks and cook it over hot coals, then proceeding to turn and shuffle through the cooking process, along with at least a dozen other racks, without tags or labels and then shoving them in loaves of bread and handing over to the owner. How on earth do they keep track of who's meat is whose. Minimal delays were encountered at the next comfort stop, again for reasons unknown, the bus driver refused to allow a grandmother board and ignoring her as she proceeded to follow the bus banging on the side as he eased out of the chaotic car park. We don't speak Arabic but it didn't take much to understand the abuse she was hurling at him.

As we come in the hot and windy bus station we realised the town is perched uphill and the Medina is straight up from the bus station and we need to walk up a road at 20% gradient.

Our Riad is above the square and we settle into our three days in Chefchaouen.

Posted by tszeitli 10:18 Archived in Morocco Tagged food culture history shopping friendly fes negotiations gastro Comments (1)

Thomas of Arabia

Days 93, 94, 95, 96 The Great Sahara, Gladiator, Game of Thrones and so much more

sunny 45 °C


With our journey through Morocco largely uncharted, we have freedom to choose our adventure. We want to get to Fes from Marrakesh which is going to be tricky using public transport. When we find a private tour that efficiently gets us to Fes via Ouarzazate and Merzouga, deep into the Western Sahara and close to the Algerian border – places we’d be nervous to venture on our own.

I must say, Tommy Trip Planner outdid himself! Our 4-day tour in a 4WD was incredible and took us to places never contemplated in our wildest dreams and truly a once in a lifetime opportunity.

We said farewell to the wonderful staff at our Riad and were collected by Mohammed, our tour leader and driver. We headed east towards Ouarzazate and quickly started to climb the magnificent Atlas Mountains, where centuries old Berber Villages are set into the rock, where not much changes – except for the advent of satellite dishes, which adorn the traditional mud and straw construction homes.


We drive through mountain passes and Passo di Tizi n'Tichka with an altitude of 2260m.


We continue through Villages, dry and dusty desert and stop off at look outs over vast canyons that open into brilliant green oases. We follow each oasis by road and pass numerous palm groves and farming. Our perception that the desert is devoid of water, but are astounded that rivers and water holes are bountiful. The rivers, a trickle now in late summer but in spring are raging torrents as the snow and ice in the Atlas melts, feeding the landscape and communities below.


We stop off at a co-op for widowed and divorced Berber women who show us the step by step process to make argon oil and argan nut butter. It's supposed to be the premier oil - Jen takes a fancy to the oil and I hoe into the nut butter. We buy a small jar of the oil and Jen assures me it’s great for keeping skin soft and the money goes to a good cause.


The roads are impressive and we pass many sections of roadworks, as part of a massive road project.


As we continue on, we take a dramatic turn, off road for about 6 km, through what can only be described as barren rocky desert with a mountainous backdrop.


It is a surreal and eerie experience, quiet and almost feels like a vacuum.


We continue on through salt flats and huge expanses.


We stop for lunch before heading up to the Kasbah "Ksar Ait Ben Haddou".


Our lunch was simple Moroccan meal in a traditional restaurant. What was most outstanding was the Waiter. He greeted our Guide in Berber and Arabic, took our order from the French menu in English and seamlessly switched to Spanish for the group of young ladies from Barcelona panicking that they didn’t speak French. He let them squirm a little and then eloquently explained the menu for them. We chatted with him and he also speaks Italian and German.


Ksar Ait Ben Haddou, Ksar meaning “Castle”, sits atop a hill overlooking a fertile valley and oasis. Kasbahs are traditionally a walled communal home occupied by a number of families as a cooperative in order to protect the inhabitants from invasion from other tribes.

In the famous lyrics of the Clash, this Kasbah most definitely rocked!


The “Granary” is the highest point and was used to store grain and supplies, as well as the families’ treasures as this was the most protected place. Some Kasbahs only had one door – aiding security and often had lookout towers around the perimeter to protect the heart.


So why does Ksar Ait Ben Haddou look familiar? It's famous for staging scenes in over 50 movies including Lawrence of Arabia, Gladiator, Jewel of the Nile and Kingdom of Heaven. Whilst the structures are gone, the Gladiator locale is still there.


More recently Game of Thrones has shot many scenes here.


Nobody puts Donkey in the corner...


The town Ouarzazate, "the Hollywood of Morocco", is nearby which is a huge movie set that first sprung up with the movie "The Mummy". It feels like we’re driving through an Indiana Jones movie!


We continue through a seemingly Martian Landscape.


Next stop the Rose Valley,


A rock formation Mohammed calls Monkey Fingers,

Magnificent rock gorges and scenery


and a valley oasis of over 200,000 palms creating a fertile green ribbon through the desert expanse.


Best let the photos speak for themselves.


We ended the night in the Dardes Gorge in a hotel built into the rock face. This was the view from our room.


The next day we take in the look out at the top of the Dardes Gorge before continuing on "the Road of 1000 kasbahs". When Rockfalls occur they are devastating, taking the road with it. Here the team are repairing a recent fall.

The scenery out the window is always changing and also hypnotic as the landscape of the Atlas Ranges is so vast and unending.


Mohammed drops us off at start of Todra Gorge allowing us to walk along and have the magnitude of this Gorge reveal itself to us.


The sheer walls rise up about 400m from a fresh water river fed by natural springs and water seeping down from winter snow.

The continual flow of cold water is a great way to cool drinks.


It is a divine cool place where locals come to relax,

have picnics,




kids play in the water


and the donkeys have a drink and a good ol’ dust bath!

It's noticeably cooler in the Gorge, with temperatures out in the open now risen into the high 30's. There’s a wonderful atmosphere. The hotel at the base has been closed due to a rock land slide that took out the restaurant of the hotel. Thank fully no one was there at the time!


Again, there is a local natural spring that the locals prefer to collect water from


We drive for a few hours with the scenery always changing from the rocky Middle Atlas ranges to flat barren rocky expanse, broken up a village built around an oasis with palm groves and paddocks.

We stop for lunch and get our bearings


As the rocky landscape gradually gives way to Sahara Sand, we notice a series of mounds in parallel rows at regular intervals along the highway. Mohammed obliges and drops us off at a solitary tent in the parched landscape.


Stepping out of the car, the heat envelopes us, now in the low 40's. We are welcomed by a lovely fellow who lives out here and shows us the mounds. They are wells, since dried up but the past times, were wells connecting aquaducts conveying water from the oasis outwards to supply life giving water.


We go underground and the temperature drops 20 degrees.


It is like Coober Pedy. The Guide tells us we could walk all the way to the village underground, about 7 kms away. During Ramadan, locals often hang out in the tunnels to conserve energy and escape the heat during the day’s fasting.

The area we’ve been exploring is also ancient and was once under water as a great ocean existed. There are many diggings for trilobites, ammonites and other geode fossils. We are warned not to buy the brilliantly coloured geodes as they are artificially coloured by the locals who try to sell them at every lookout stop along the road. As is customary, we are offered and grateful accept mint tea and we rest awhile in his canvas tent. We enjoy the cool breeze under the canvas of the tent and the absence of noise, we could have sat for longer in the peace. We are amazed this man and his brother live out here in the desert and survive.

We continue on and catch our first glimpses of the golden colours of the Sahara desert and the Erg Chebbi dunes which are one of Morocco's two Saharan ergs – large seas of dunes formed by wind-blown sand. Locals have woven palm fronds into a grid as dune preservation measures to stop the sand blowing over the road and eroding.


In the heat haze and barren landscape the desert towers above everything else. This is Dakar Rally country. The massive dunes rise up on the horizon and eventually we are driving along the edge of the Sahara, about 2 kms from the dunes arriving at Merzouga in the afternoon, on the western edge of the Sahara and a couple hundred kms west of the Algerian border.

It is now 5.30 pm and the heat of the day has gone, cooling to low 30's.

We dump our bags at the hotel, pack an overnight bag, ready to take a camel ride to camp a night in the dunes. Exiting a side access from our hotel, Jen and I are looking at each in amazement as we wait to climb on the camels to head into the Desert with the Sahara as far as our eyes can see.


We both feel as far away from home as possible.


Our camels take a slow meandering pace in an orderly procession.


It takes over an hour going deeper into the dunes and go deeper into the desert, enjoying sunset along the way.


We arrive at camp, about a dozen round tents, surrounding a collage of berber rugs on the sand, snuggled into a valley between the dunes.


We have a full moon so Jen and I quickly climb up a nearby dune to look out easterly and gaze across the Sahara.


We sit there in silence and all we hear is a soft wind and the occasional growl from a camel bedding down for the night.


The atmosphere is great, with our fellow campers from all around the world – Spain, Argentina, Italy, UK, striking up conversations, sharing wonderful stories or just sitting with a wide eyed look of amazement.

After dinner, the crew take up traditional Berber instruments and encourage us all in a sing along and dancing.

We are given the option to sleep in our tents, or drag our mattresses out to sleep al fresco. As the night is so hot we don’t hesitate to have the crew haul our bed out on to the rugs on the sand. After dinner we climb up another dune taking in the silence and the knowledge that we’re sitting on a dune in the Sahara – so far away from our life at home. We don't get to bed until after midnight. A few hours later woken up by the brightness of the full moon, with gentle cloud cover gone, its like a torch shining directly over us. The wind has whipped up a little and blowing sand across our beds and filling open mouths with sand. We don't care, we are in the Sahara desert!


We get up before sunrise and the whole camp climbs the nearest dune to get a complete view east and the sun rising.


Jen and I sit on the edge of the dune for about an hour while the others just drift back to sleep. It is one of those scenes where you sit quietly and enjoy the moment and pinch yourself. No photo does any justice to the beauty and how the colours change as the sun rises.


We ride our camels back to the hotel again taking photos and videos to make sure we don't miss anything.


As soon as we disembark, the saddles are removed and the camels have a glorious roll in the sand and trot straight into the yard where their morning hay awaits.

With bewildered looks on our faces, and bleary eyes, not quite believing what we actually experienced we are greeted by friendly smiling faces of the hotel staff and the glorious spread of breakfast!


After breakfast and a very necessary shower – there is sand everywhere – it’s time for a snooze. A few hours later, Mohammed takes us to a few Merzouga attractions.


This included the well where locals like to collect water. Whilst municipal water is available, they prefer the spring water that flows constantly, filtered through the sand into the well where women gather to fill plastic bottles. The women come from traditional families and are wary of tourists, especially prefer not to have their photo taken.

We then enter the oasis and learn about the organisation of the gardens.


There is an aqueduct flowing through the centre with side channels branching off every 10 metres, but dammed with earth. Mohammed explains that each plot along the aqueduct has an entitlement to about 6 hours of water in order.

When a farmer’s turn comes, the earthen dam is unplugged and downstream blocked so the water flows along the irrigation branch, allowing the farmer to water crops of peppers, carrots, onions and other crops amongst the date palms. If the full allocation is not required, the farmer can sell the entitlement to another. There are no signs, no timetables, no officials moderating the arrangement but it works – an honour system that is likely unchanged for centuries.

We are in medjool country – where the finest dates are grown. There are thousands of date palms, seemingly randomly growing from the side of the road into the oasis but every one is owned by a family. Sometimes the land and the date palm is owned by different parties. Again, there are no signs or assertions of ownership but there is order and honour.

We are offered dates straight from the tree – a sweet sticky treat and not grainy, so much more amazing than what we get at home.


We then visit local nomad co-op shop where we were enticed to buy some carpets but were able to resist. We also enjoyed a concert from Gideons des Sabre (Pigeons of the Desert). Originally slaves brought from Mali and Senegal, and then abandoned to a semi nomadic life in the Sahara. They sing and dance to celebrate their history and liberation. A statesman of the tribe is building a life for young men and saving the traditional music by recording the music and selling CDs.

Being on the edge of the Sahara, Merzouga is a town at the centre of trading routes with caravans of Africans, Moroccans, Andalusians and the Middle East passing through for centuries.

Now, time for lunch at a local family restaurant, Cafe Nora, where there is only one menu item - Berber pizza.

This pizza was OUT OF THIS WORLD! It has to be included in one of our top 10 meals of the trip.


We tried to verify the ingredients with the waiter. Whilst he was happy to confirm eggs, beef, onion, carrot but would not reveal any of the spices. We later found out it contain a special mix of 44 spices that are a trade secret. We could barely walk out of the restaurant but couldn’t possibly leave one bite behind. Don't be surprised if this ends up on a dinner party menu at our house as Jen is determined to try to recreate the spice mix!

The afternoon comprised sleep and a welcome dip in the pool.


The temperature has climbed to plus 45 degrees which instantly drains your energy and slows you to a lethargic pace. It is the hottest day of our travels and the locals tell us in peak summer it gets to 55 degrees plus.

Once the sun starts going down we again go back out to the dunes to take further photos. The dunes have a mesmerising hypnotic effect and we can’t get enough.


Jen's Keens are on their last legs, having hiked her around the world many many times, its time to retire them when we get home.


Experience everything and leave only footprints



Our Riad is wonderfully Moroccan and, even though we're still digesting the Berber Pizza and request small portions, a sumptuous 4 course meal is unleashed upon us.


After breakfast the next day we head out for a few more photos, to be sure we have enough.

Today is a long haul to Fes, around 500 km's through the middle Atlas Mountains. First stop is a local traditional market in a town nearby Mohammed's home town.

This market happens twice a week and many people come from nearby villages to buy and sell their wares. People come by donkey, push bike or a van and there are only 3 other foreign travellers in the market.


Henna powder

We are now amongst clothes shops, vegetables, spices, nuts, olives, dates, chemists shops, house wares, open air butchers with hanging meat, furniture being made, basket weaving, welding gates, shoes made from leather and tyre rubber for soles and repairs for bicycles.

There is even a donkey parking lot. If it has a saddle it’s there for parking, if it's has no saddle it there to be sold!


There is also sheep, cows and goats up for sale. I was told early in our travels that I could sell Jen in exchange for a few camels. Talking jokingly to hosts in our riads, they opined I could fetch a price of a few thousand camels. I resist, to me she is priceless!

We go through the middle Atlas Mountains and the scenery is forever changing and spectacular. We drive along a 100 km oasis valley that sits in a massive canyon.


Again, we come to appreciate that water is not that scarce in the desert, with dams being built to supply a massive underground network. Everywhere we drive we can see the manhole/vent for the pipeline at intervals.

Moroccans love Football (the round ball variety) and I have to tip my hat to them as this is their typical playing field, two goals and a whole lot of rock.

We are reunited with the Atlas Mountains which are magnificent and massive.


Crossing over to reveal rich pastures in the plains below.

Many many thanks to our amazing driver and guide, Mohammed.

We have lunch in a town where the main street is BBQ alley with smoke billowing out of every other shop. Most BBQ joints are a butcher and BBQ – select your cut of meat from that hanging out front and they’ll cook it then and there. We look down the street and the air is filled with BBQ smoke and the chaos of parking attendants wrangling cars in exchange for a few dirhams, vendors with carts and people going about their daily life.


Note the guy photobombing our picture is the Providore of this fine establishment who happened to be missing all but thumb and pinkie on one hand - best he be the host than the butcher behind the counter.

We are grateful for Mohammed navigating the busy restaurant for us and we devour our plate of mixed meat cooked over hot coals.

As we drive out of the town we notice there are wild dogs at regular intervals sitting along the road. This goes on for about 10 km and our guide explains the locals throw scraps out of the car for the dogs to eat. It is hard to see these dogs trying to survive in this harsh environment surviving on scraps. There are very few true nomadic tribes left but there are still a number of families who live in tents, tending to livestock, moving on when new pastures are required. Donkeys are the main mode of transport and, like the dogs, it is hard to see some small donkeys seemingly overloaded and carrying their owners. Donkeys are also often tethered to the side of the road to graze.

There are also wild donkeys picking amongst the sparse rocky countryside.

We pass through the mountain ranges and the temperature starts to drop. We start passing through forests, colours reappear and a green haze materialises. We pass through Ilfrane, the Switzerland of Morocco. It’s a mountainous high altitude region with access to water, perfect for ski resorts. It is an affluent community. We then enter a forest with the same breed of monkeys as we saw in Gibraltar.


Finally we drop down into the Apple Valley with orchards of apples and olives. The King of Morocco is subsiding farming and development in the desert, including solar panels to pump irrigation, enabling farmers to create huge plantings of fruit trees. Our tour is drawing to an end as we sight Fes.

It has been a special experience to see the Sahara desert along with the spectacular rugged Atlas mountain ranges, canyons, kasbahs, palm groves, many oases and traditional villages.

We have loved Morocco and would encourage everyone, if planning a trip to Europe, allow time for a visit to Morocco and this tour has to be on your "must do" list.

Posted by tszeitli 04:22 Archived in Morocco Tagged landscapes mountains scenery sahara outstanding opportunity_of_alifetime Comments (5)

Marrakesh Express

Day 89 August 11 Casabermeja to Casablanca Day 90 August 12 Casablanca to Marrakesh Day 91 August 13 and Day 92 August 14 Marrakesh

sunny 35 °C

In the famous lyrics of Crosby, Stills and Nash, "Would you know we're riding on the Marrakesh Express ... all on board that train!"

In a dramatic change of scenery and culture, we head to Morocco.

All we had planned before we left is: fly to Casablanca and fly out of Tangier 14 days later. Morocco was on Jen's Bucket List, and perfectly fitted into the Tommy Trip Planning Extravaganza. We had some tips from my great friend, Fly, a true Hitchhiker of the Galaxy (but when in mere mortal form, goes by the name, Pete Miers) and a colleague of Jen's who gave us some town names and that's about it.

We are about to be taken well outside our comfort zone.

But first, we have to leave España, we farewell our host Luis in Casabermeja, and head into Malaga for one last expedition to try to buy a Spanish Cycling Shirt - Jen has patiently endured me searching every bike shop could find in Spain for a souvenir cycling shirt...but we're out of luck. So its on to the airport. Missed our exit by 1 second, have flashbacks of Zagreb as we end up on gravel roads trying to get back to the freeway. Thirty minutes later than we expected, we dropped our buzz box off with no scratches and checked in. We gave ourselves plenty of time as we've found Spain's infrastructure and services are "variable". ¡Nos vemos España!

It was cool to see Gibraltar from the air, with the clouds materialising above. The Pilot's directions seemed to be, follow Costa del Sol and make a hard left at Gibraltar, 'cause that's exactly what he did and we press our faces to the window to catch our first glimpses of Africa.

We are relieved to touch down in Casablanca Airport following our 13th flight of the trip. We navigate the chaos of Immigration where there is little organisation and a sea of nationalities merging and pushing their way through the queue. We haggle a vintage Mercedes Über style taxi and had quite a respectable taxi ride through peak hour traffic to our hotel getting our first glimpses of Morocco. I fully expected it to be mad dash. Russians still have our vote as being the craziest and most dangerous drivers on the road. Sadly, we did see Scooter vs Car en route. But help and emergency services were quickly in attendance.

Our plan is to only spend one night in Casablanca then the train to Marrakesh as the song goes. First priority was buy the train tickets which was a breeze. Now, for dinner.

We had seen a local market near our hotel so why not plunge in, immerse in the culture, live like locals. Talk about being immersed!

This market was as big and confusing as I have ever seen. Narrow lanes, full of stalls selling clothing, shoes, home wares, food, butchers, fishmongers, souvenirs, glasses, handbags, leather etc and thousands of people squeezed into the crowded area.

We are instantly amazed, our eyes were not wide enough to absorb what we were seeing. Within 10 minutes we are utterly bewildered and we were lost (although we didn't know it yet). After 20 minutes it dawns on us we are well and truly lost. I'm a person who needs to know where he is at all times and I'm usually very good at directions. I thought I had kept a heading that would bring us out of the maze roughly where we went in. Somewhere in the sensory overload, I had lost all sense of direction. Trying not to panic, with Jen nervously joking that we best be careful we don't miss our train tomorrow morning, with the aid of Maps.Me, we emerge onto a main road about 30 minutes later. Once we get our bearings again, I realise we are 180 degrees in the opposite direction where I thought and 2 kms up the road. I am even now still trying to figure out how on earth we got there!

First time on this whole trip that I had a little nervous twitch of what I might have gotten ourselves into. Saying that, we never felt in danger or threatened and, as we have found throughout, Morocco is a quite safe place for travellers.

After escaping the market we eventually found a place for dinner. We are welcomed into a traditional restaurant, furnished with Berber couches and low tables, by a charming young man with a degree in American Culture / Literature and Masters in Cinematography. We slump into the cushions and were quickly drinking sweet mint tea to calm our frazzled nerves. Our new friend with impeccable English is keen to welcome us to his country, telling about his hopes to join the movie industry, but for now he works in this restaurant. As its getting late, we are the only diners and he takes great care of us (apologising profusely that there is only one menu item left). Within moments, two sizzling steaming tagines of chicken, raisins and almonds are presented before us. Delicious! With our tea finished and our bellies full, our friend loved to chat. He was so glad to have westerners in the restaurant and wanting to travel in Morocco. He also wants to learn as much as he can so he can follow his dreams. He emphasised how safe Morocco is and it is nothing like the rest of Africa or Middle East - keen to distance themselves from the terror and fear hurting the World.

We didn't know it yet, but this wonderful hospitality would not be a one off occasion and we are about to be amazed by the finest Moroccan Hospitality.

The next morning, after haggling over a $3 or $4 Petit Taxi - a tiny car with nearly 600,000 kms on the Odometer - and even though the price changed somewhere between embarkation and disembarkation - it took us 4 km to the train station for our trip to Marrakesh.

We happily pass the time on the platform, people watching and soaking up the atmosphere.


Today's Quiz - how many Safety Hazards can you spot?? [Construction side immediately opposite the rail platforms]


Then, as a local businessman with a warm smile and kind eyes nearby explains, our train is delayed by 45 minutes. He introduces himself and we strike up a conversation with our new friend, Jamal. He is friendly and worldly and keen to talk to us. He proudly shows us photos of his Japanese wife and 4-year old daughter who speaks 4 languages. We will later discover that it is not unusual for Moroccans 6-8 languages or more: Arabic, Berber, French (a legacy from French control), Spanish, English, Italian, Portuguese and German. Everywhere we go, waiters, guides, merchants, and spruckers speak every language - switching from one to the other with ease, depending on what nationality they think the potential "target" is. Jen delights in being mistaken for a Spanish Senorita. It makes sense though. For centuries, Morocco has been a trading route for caravans and travellers passing between Africa, Middle East and Europe. Being able to communicate and sell their wares to any and all travellers has been a necessity for generations. Languages are in their DNA.

Jamal is keen to share great tips for a successful trip in Morocco and made us feel so welcome. He gave us his phone number, encouraging us to contact him if we needed any help during our stay and eager to meet again in Marrakesh. Unfortunately we weren't able to coordinate a time with him but will keep in touch.

The train arrived (over an hour late) and we were on our way. Following the chaos on the platform, we scramble aboard. We establish that we are in the correct carriage as the train trundles out of the station, but our seats are occupied. It seems that even though tickets have seat allocations, this is only a guide. As we were unlikely to supplant a large family who wished to sit together, we set off in search of seats for the 4 hour trip. Again, this is a happy disposition as it turns out the seats we find are opposite a Moroccan born man who lives in Florida, travelling with his Moroccan Fiancé. We have a great chat. He is charming and expresses gratitude for our tourism and for visiting his nation. We have giant grins on our faces at the series of lovely interactions, and it fells like we've chatted with more locals in the last 24 hours than almost our whole trip.

Right - now for our greatest challenge to date - getting to our Riad through the Medina. We are met at the Marrakesh train station by a driver (who patiently waited for our very late train). He takes us to the edge the Main Square of the Medina, Jemaa El Fna.

Fortunately, a host from the Riad comes to greet us and guides us through the Square and through a myriad of tiny laneways and alleys we would have no hope of navigating to Raid Ilayka.

It's as if we've entered a portal to an alternate universe as we step through the tiny door into a cool courtyard filled with trees, cool tiles, water fountains and roses everywhere.


The warmest of welcomes from the friendly smiles of the staff and a pot of Moroccan Tea - aka Moroccan Whiskey. A fiercely hot tea of dried mint, ginseng and other ingredients (which are probably a Moroccan secret) poured over fresh mint and super sweetened with about 3 teaspoons of sugar. We develop a liking for the tea and it is surprisingly refreshing on a stiflingly hot day.


We can't quite believe we get to stay here for the next 3 nights!

The view from the top is also spectacular with its view of all the roof tops, mosques, minarets and thousands of satellite dishes.

As there is know way we'd be able to find our way out again, one of the staff escorts us back to the Square, giving us bearing points as we go. We wander getting a feel for the place, the sights, sounds and smells assaulting every sense. The Medina has both a large outdoor square as well as catacombs of stalls and residences.


The large square features hundreds of raucous food stalls in an outdoor BBQ that pops up every night all selling something different.


Each stall has a couple of guys shouting for your attention, - "Hello, Hello, Hello, where you from?" "Australia?" "Aussie Aussie Aussie, Oi, Oi, Oi" "I love Australia" "You from Sydney?" "Ah Brisbane, beautiful City!" - all trying to entice you to eat at their restaurant. It is pot luck regardless. With salesmanship in their DNA, they are sharp as a tack. They aren't easily fobbed of with a platitude like, "Not right now, maybe later" or "Next time" because for sure, they remember every face and will call you on why you did not honour your promise when they see you again. We were hooked by a funny fellow, "Okay, see you later Alligator", causing us to chuckle and pause for long enough to get a menu in our hands. Okay, why not, this place is as good as any. The wonderful part though is that the transaction doesn't end there. It isn't just about getting you to sit down - its a whole interaction. As we were leaving, after enjoying a a lovely meal in the crazy chaos, he sought us out of the crowd, to thank us and chat some more. "Hamish & Andy...do you know them? I love Hamish & Andy, they are funny guys. In a while, crocodile!" We left with full bellies and smiles on our dials!

We are quickly discovering Moroccans are hugely social and amazing communicators. They talk to each other genuinely and intently, often with an arm around a shoulder or a hand placed gently on a forearm, with eye contact, communication is real and from the heart.

We also experience, the call for prayer. It happens 5 times a day and devotees can go to the mosque, but don't have to, but ideally, if you can, you do. Otherwise, pray at home or wherever you are. We learn much about Islam during the next two weeks. About being a practical Muslim and discover that it is not imperative to pray five times every day - although you should aspire. You pray if you can, but if have commitments then pray as often as you can. The five times also equates the to the Five Pillars of Islam to be a good Muslim:

The Five Pillars consist of:

  • Shahadah: sincerely reciting the Muslim profession of faith, ie believing in God.
  • Salat: performing ritual prayers in the proper way five times each day.
  • Zakat: paying an alms (or charity) tax to benefit the poor and the needy.
  • Sawm: fasting during the month of Ramadan.
  • Hajj: pilgrimage to Mecca.

We learn that Moroccans are moderates, and their hearts are pained by the extremes in other parts of the world. They recognise other religions - Christian and Jewish especially, acknowledging that all recognise a God, however, each learns of that God through a different Prophet. Their religion also specially forbids the killing of children, woman and old people - again, we feel their genuine pain at what they see happening in the World masquerading in the name of Islam. Morocco doesn't have a great social welfare system so Zakat is taken seriously, with a coin or food often given to a disabled or poor person on the street.


Medina is a walled city and contains the old part of the town. In centuries past, towns needed to build protection from invaders and maintain borders.
Riad is a guest house. Formerly it would have been the home of an entire family. Upon marriage a son and his wife live with his parents. Parents become grandparents, and the circle of life repeats in one house for generations. The distinguishing architecture is to have the balcony on the inside and a court yard in the middle.
Kasbah is a small castle that housed and protected a collective / cooperative of Families, living together. A mini-Medina of sorts to keep the families secure from marauding tribes and nomads. Given that everyone knows that Kasbahs rock, everything is called a kasbah - restaurants, hotels, buildings, cafes and so on.
Hamman is a traditional Arab bathhouse involving a sauna, lathering with black soap (an oil based thick paste), scrubbed like there's no tomorrow then covered in a coating of oil to protect from the harsh outdoors. Hammams are hugely popular. Each medina is full of them and now have all the usual day spa treatments like massage, pedicure, manicures.
Berber one of three historical Arab tribes. Berber means "desert dwellers" in the Arabic language and said to be how the term Barbarian was coined by the Romans when the Empire sought to conquer them but, being semi nomadic, were unsuccessful. Hence, the original meaning didn't suggest they were barbaric as we understand the term but more akin to a foreigner, outsider or uncivilised in the sense of being outside the Roman Empire.
insha'Allah an Arabic term meaning "if God wills". Moroccans are genuine and spiritual people. They have faith in the good in people and the world. We have many wonderful interactions and in saying farewell, there is a heartfelt "insha'Allah", wish that our travels continue well, that our paths cross again and we stay safe.

The next day, we seek out a Hamman for a little pampering. TripAdvisor lists hundreds of places and thousands of reviews. The "Excellent" ones over the top and the "Poor" to "Terrible" are frightening (one which involved the police, and another with CCTV privacy breaches as well as mention of cockroaches). Armed with a recommendation from Jamal, we thought it best to book in person to check out a place first.

Three months on the road and sleeping in a lot of crappy beds with lumpy pillows has taken its toll and we are in need of some body work!

Walking the streets we are transfixed absorbing the scenes we encounter.

We come across the taxi rank - a place, it seems, where old Mercedes come to die


Its stepping into another era.


We go into the Saadian Tombs for a quiet wander. Sultan Ahmed el Mansour constructed the Saadian Tombs in Marrakech during his rule of Morocco in the sixteenth century as a burial ground for himself and his descendants. This led to approximately two hundred members of the Saadian dynasty being buried here, including Sultan Ahmed el Mansour who was laid to rest in 1603.


We learned that this is what a pomegranate tree looks like.


We then continued our stroll around the Medina and got dragged into a spice/perfume/tea shop. Again, consummate salesmanship The shop assistant saw us coming and knew he had some prime tourists ready for the easy picking! These shops are scattered throughout the Medina and the colours plus smells of the spices and natural perfumes are very enticing to sample.


They start with an offer of directions, then ask you where you want to go, where are you from, okay, then come over, let me show you some things. The problem is once you have stopped to talk and entered the shop then you are well and truly in their clutches but in super friendly way. It is a well oiled machine, suddenly there is a tray with some hot sweet mint tea. A silent team of assistants support the main salesman as he performs his magic. "Please, have some tea, it is our hospitality". As each potion, tea, perfume is brought out, we feel more obligated to buy something. Moroccans also communicate with all senses, especially touch - gentle and kind. Quickly our hands and arms are massaged with oils and perfumes. A clay mask is applied to Jen's hand and after a few minutes, wiped clean with rosewater. Now compare, see how smooth and soft and clear! Jen keeps whispering to me, "you know we are gonna have to buy something". This something turns out to be $60 of tea, block of cedar wood and the clay for face masks. The shop assistant basically cleaned out my wallet. I naively opened it, to check how much currency I actually had and whether we had enough I was about 20 dirhams short, but, before I had a chance to suggest putting something back, happily he took it all. Our mistake was that, whilst items were priced it was not each but per gram! We walked out with a smile on our faces, a great experience, some nice products we like, chatted with really friendly locals and that feeling of "I think I paid too much, but I'm not sure". As we left, the shop team were already going to work on a bunch of Chinese tourists they'd snagged. We're sure they would have slugged them big time - the poor suckers already had the clay masks all over their faces, had accepted tea and were now making a rookie error of sitting on a row of stools which magically appeared....big mistake!


We love wandering around. Stalls selling bounties of dried fruits and nuts are everywhere. We bought some amazing almonds and dried figs that we happily munched our way through.


Orange Juice stalls are everywhere and their attendants yell at you to entice you over. A fresh glass of 100% orange juice is 7 dirhams - about $1 and a nice treat.


Some can be a bit sneaky with the change if you don't have your wits about you.

We returned to the square for dinner and take in the atmosphere. During the day the square is relatively quiet but as night time falls the number of people treble and the square comes alive. At any time you have people selling balloons, watches, mobile phones, oils, paintings, cigarettes, perfumes and drinks. At the same time there are bikes, cars, donkeys, motor bikes all weaving between the people.


[The smoke you can see are the BBQs getting set up for dinner]

Bands are playing, monkeys doing tricks and snake charmers playing with Cobras. On principle, we did not photograph or give any attention or money to snake charmers, monkey tamers or ride the horse carriages. We are not fans of animal tourism for entertainment.

We visit Medesa Ben Yousef which is a school for the Islam studies - like a monastery. It is very simple but the tiles, colour and building architecture is very unique. We get a sense of Islam which is very different from what is presented in the media and what we see in Australia.


Unfortunately on the way back we got lost, again. My phone lost connection but quickly a local grabs us and shows us out of the maze of streets. It does cost a few dollars but this is a usual occurrence with travellers. Locals are always eager to help a traveller to their destination and then there is a request for money. Usually a few coins does the trick.

After a hectic morning, its time for our Hammam - Les Bains de L'Alhambra. We have no idea what to expect but know that we will need to leave dignity at the door. We are ushered through the process by quietly spoken women. The first part in a sauna/steam room where the ladies wash us, lather us in black soap, leave us to cook a little on the benches in the steam room then we're scrubbed from head to toe with an exfoliating mitt - 3 months of travel is sloughed off. More steaming, then wash down. What follows is a wonderful parade of foot rubs, eye masks, orange and rose petal baths in candlelit grotto, head massages and then an hour full body massage with Argan oil. Definitely what the Travel Doctor ordered. Our skin shines!

Dinner again was in the square and again we sit in amazement and watch all the going on of the Medina.
[The smoke you can see amongst the crowd on the left are the BBQs we saw earlier being set up for dinner]



A dust storm was rolling in. It was amazing to watch.


This little fellow was using all his best skills trying to negotiate a cookie from the vendor, but she wouldn't budge.


The Henna Ladies are positioned around the Square, encouraging you to get a tattoo done. We were warned against this as they use chemicals which are bad for skin.


Call for evening prayers.

And of course, when you drive a Ferrari you think you can park anywhere, including in the Square.

The Band got the whole place pumping

With locals going about their evening

It is truly an amazing place.
Well our time has finished in Marrakesh and we have had a fantastic time.


The food was delicious, the Riad with its Moroccan architecture was beautiful and we were treated like royalty - especially at breakfast.


The people are friendly and the whole place full of excitement.

We pack and prepare for our next 4 days of something we never expected to do and probably once in life opportunity.

Morocco - a country full of surprises.

Posted by tszeitli 14:23 Archived in Morocco Tagged market train casablanca marrakesh culture_shock Comments (4)

The Final Leg of España

Days 87 and 88 Seville, Antequerra and Ronda

sunny 45 °C


We left La Linea early and headed north towards Seville to see the Royal Palace, Real Alcazar.

The journey took about 2 hours by car but we stopped off for a typical Spanish road side breakfast. The place was lively with people coming and going. We both fitted in, order our ham, cheese sandwiches and coffee in Spanish and started to watch the Olympics with a couple of Australians winning their heats in swimming. The waiter joined in as we cheered. It is a great community atmosphere that is wonderful and genuinely lovely social interaction to start the morning. The waiters are the heart of the place and the customers are like family.


Real Alcazar is still an operational palace for the royal family. It is unique as from its initial existence in XI century AD its been a capital for numerous tribes and different religions over the centuries. The buildings and associated gardens are a combination of Christian, Jewish and Islam cultures.


The Royal Bedroom


Inside the building with all its open areas and tiled walls and floor makes a great place to get away from the out side heat. We spend the first hour (no photos allowed) in the upper palace which is still the functioning area for the King of Spain. It was simply decorated and lovely to walk through and steeped with history of past royal families. We continued our walk around including the gardens. The architecture, with ceramics being the defining theme for everything - the colour of the floor and wall tiles, the way the sun comes into areas and the ability to look into 4 rooms at one time make the whole walk quite surreal. It's a place you have to walk around very slowly to make sure you see all the detail.


The Queen's private swimming baths.


We get a great feeling from Seville. Its a wonderful city with beautiful parks where the shade is cool and great boulevards. Lots of history and very green with all its parks, and it is cool to see Australian gum trees which have been exported to Spain (as well as other countries).


We enjoyed exploring this city, taking a long lunch between 3 and 5 as its simply too hot. Yes, that really says 45 degrees at 5:30pm!


I'm not sure if it was the heat but we had fun exploring this town.


Antequerra and Ronda

Our final day with the car and staying in Caserbemeja is a road trip to Antequerra. Antequerra is only 20 km's north and 10 times bigger than Caserbemeja and also contains an old part of the town with a old church and castle, an Alcazar, on top of the hill. We managed to manoeuvre the car up a bunch of narrow windy streets and did a quick photo stop. Initially we wanted to spend our time here but never really found accommodation that ticked off the specification like Casabermeja.

Still it was nice to see and maybe I would have spent all my time playing golf if we had stayed here.


Next stop a further 1 1/2 hours away is the ancient town of Ronda. We walked into town and through a park and came to a spot overlooking the valley. Ronda is famous for a bridge that spans a gorge in the heart of the town and the numerous building that precariously have been built on the edge of the gorge.


With various literature luminaries spending time here.

Hemmingway famously wrote about bull fights and there is a bull fighting museum which Jen and I avoided.

The trail to the bridge is lovely to walk along with its outlook and 10 minutes later we arrive at the bridge. Scattered on both sides of the bridge and both sides of the river are numerous restaurants that seem to be hanging on the edge.


The drive back was a big loop to the coastline through the Andalusian mountain range. Coming down from the range I now understand why they call the coastline Costa Del Golf. Tucked away in the valleys are carved out lush green golf courses and resorts. Again I fought off temptation and drove past all of them. Jen just smiled as I caught a glimpse of each one.

Back home and our Spain travels are now complete. It's gather our things, pack our bags, final dinner in town, adios to the locals and switch back to travel mode. We are now entering our final 3 weeks of travel, leaving Europe for now and looking forward to our next adventure.

Posted by tszeitli 13:29 Archived in Spain Tagged architecture alcazar scenery hot graffiti islam roman_ruins ceramics christianity muslin sevillia Comments (2)

Little Britain

Day 85 Gibraltar and the Rock

overcast 25 °C

With the freedom of a car for 4 days, we have the ability to choose our own adventure. As Gibraltar is only 159 km away - why not?


We headed down the highway in our little Ford Fiesta towards Gibraltar. It was also a chance to see what the Costa Del Sol is all about with the idea of perhaps coming back one day. In simple terms, its 150 km of hotels, resorts, golf courses, apartments and shops on one side of the freeway and grey sand, ordinary surf, no parking and very crowded beaches on the other. The golf courses do look tempting but I made up my mind this holiday was not about playing golf. The thought of coming back to this coastline is not appealing though and we decided not to investigate further. We'll leave the Costa del Sol to the thousands of English tourists who flock here.

The town on the Spanish side is called La Linea De Concepcion and we booked ourselves in for the night. After we checked into our hotel we walked to the border crossing and got through Passport Control. I use the term Passport Control very loosely as all it is is a short walk through two rooms, flash your passport, get a nod from Immigration / Customs Officers and suddenly you are in England.


The Rock is unmistakable. A giant monolith dominating the entire town. We could clearly see the strange phenomenon of the clouds forming as the air condenses up the south face of the Rock. These clouds then sit on north side of the Rock directly over the main streets of Gibraltar and eventually form into other clouds in the area.

Gibraltar is an Overseas Territory of the United Kingdom. It was captured by a group of Dutch and British marines during the War of Spanish Succession in 1704. As the story goes, the War was triggered by the death in 1700 of the last Habsburg King of Spain, the infirm and childless Charles II. Without an heir, he nominated the entire Spanish inheritance to go to Philip, Duke of Anjou, the second-eldest grandson of King Louis XIV of France. In 1701, concerned that this would create a "super country", a threat to European stability and the balance of power, the English, Dutch and Austria (Rome joined in as well) formed the Grand Alliance to thwart the French-Spanish plan and reduce the power of France, and off to war they went. It ended in 1715. However, to this day, the Spanish truly believe that Gibraltar is rightfully Spanish and it should be returned as such. Politics and claims of sovereignty are still active and every now and then there is a border skirmish which involves the Spanish border control checking every passport, and taking their sweet time, creating gridlock.

The UK however seems to hold onto this tiny chunk of Europe almost to spite the Spanish so instantly you get this feeling of ol' London Town. It has been a strategic military position for hundreds of years in particular the Second World War and the Rock rises straight up with the Straits of Gibraltar on one side and a shipping bay on the other.

We catch the shuttle and 100m later we come to halt at a traffic light - why, because a plane is taking off, of course!


The road crosses the runway of the airport and traffic. Air Traffic Control needs to stop cars, bikes and people crossing as we wait for the plane to take off.

Next we were dropped off at the bottom of the cable car and we enjoy 6 minutes of beautiful scenery as we rise up to the top of the Rock.

It happens to be 414 m high and at times on clear days you can see the coastlines of Morocco and Algiers. Instantly we meet the resident Barbary Apes climbing all over the buildings.

The second thing that captures our attention is almost like a smoke stack of clouds rising up the ocean side of the rock and billowing over the top and back towards the bay. As the warm air hits the Rock it rises and cools and then forms clouds right before you - the convection is awesome.

Standing on the platform all is calm and comfortable but stick your head over the edge and it's a roaring gale. This phenomena happens all along the edge of the rock face and we we wander around for the next hour. Jen has gone nuts with the camera in taking photos of the "cute" monkeys.
Every one is different and for the most part they are unimpressed by humans. Until of course, someone leaves a bag unattended or takes their eye off a bag of lollies and they pounce. They seem to have discovered that unoccupied prams are a good target, easily tipped over while parents are distracted.


Great Selfie opportunity, we were just waiting for the Monkey to poop all down his back.


They can be a little vicious if crowded or feel threatened, as one small girl found out after being bitten. The monkeys jump onto the approved taxis that drive up to the top to get a free ride along the top.


We climb around old war gun stations and take in the scenery over the straits of Gibraltar. For the most part the monkeys go about their day ignoring us, going for a stroll.

"Can we have a bit of privacy please?"

"Oh I know Mildred. Kids these days."

"Hmmm, I'm a bit bored.
Maybe I should flash my fearsome teeth and give a bit of a roar.
How was that? Scary?"


This fellow reminded us of one of Los Abuelos in Casabermeja on a hot afternoon.

Each monkey has their own unique expressions.


Universal tender moment between mother and baby

"Do you mind?"

I think we've all felt like this some days...

And who can resist the cheeky babies.

Rather than take the cable car back down the hill we decided to walk down and enjoy the scenery over the top of Gibraltar. Tip for travellers, maps of Gibraltar are crap! Hard to get lost but the map was all out of scale and many paths not shown and we eventually get down to Main Street.

We walk down a lane way and step into a typical street scene in London. English accents abound, pubs, Pounds Sterling is the currency, street signs, red telephone boxes, British post boxes and even a grey drab skyline hanging exactly over the town casting a nice grey hue over everything - just as the Poms like it. The clouds that form from the Rock hover over the town and block the sun to make the English tourists feel at home.

On our walk back to Spain, we walk to the airport crossing. Yes, you walk back over the runway and we could not resist a photo in the middle of the runway.

Back through the so called border crossing and our journey into Little Britain was over. We could see back and watch in amazement as blue sky changes into the clouds at the top edge of the rock face and float over the town. We have gone from Spain to the United Kingdom and back again in a day but sadly no stamp in our passport!

Posted by tszeitli 23:08 Archived in Gibraltar Comments (2)

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