Moroccan Adventure Part IX: Desert tour days 2, 3 and 4

By dawn the next day, we had breakfast buffet at the common tent. It was time to say goodbye to the Sahara desert. The camel rides, sunset by the sand dunes and the bonfire that kept us warm at night in the desert were cherished memories that I definitely brought home with me.

A jeep took us back to the starting point where we arrived yesterday. I was already missing the sand dunes and the night spent in the desert. Seeing the stars, staying warm by the bonfire with all the other guests, and enjoying live berber music. It was such a carefree life. As soon as we reached the starting point, our driver and tour guide, Abdul was waiting for us. Where he slept for the night was a complete mystery. I just hope it wasn’t in the van.

The second, third and fourth day of the desert tour took us to places both man-made and natural. As we visited these places, we slowly made our way back to Marrakesh. I was particularly fascinated by the natural landscapes of morocco. The hills, mountains, ridges, cliffs, gorges and canyons. Not forgetting the oases and the beautifully tended green farmlands and plantations amidst the brutally dry and arid landscape. How such life can survive in such harsh environments is intensely fascinating. Somehow, despite all of that, where rural villages live nearby such oases that support their way of life, I rarely witness any form of environmental exploitation. It felt as if, nature and man lived in complete harmony. That was the impression I got in seeing such beautiful oases.

I remembered seeing a lot of fossil shops in Erfoud. We stopped at a particular shop that sells all kinds of ornaments big and small made from fossils. Apparently the place in and around Erfoud have so many fossils that you can easily find it on the ground. It is so abundant that it is known that the place used to be part of the seabed millions of years ago. Some of the ornaments were beautiful, huge slabs of rocks, carefully cut and sand down to make furniture pieces like dining tables and saucers to small necklaces and paperweights for collection. Although we didn’t buy anything, just seeing the process of making such pieces from stones and rocks containing fossils was fascinating.

Todra and Dades Gorge

I also remembered stopping by at Todra Gorge and Dades Gorge, with its stunning winding road. The Todra gorge is simply a series of limestone river canyon where millions of years of erosion by the river water carved out a steep and deep gorge that can be 160 meters high. Deep and narrow, it looked spectacular when you are at the bottom and narrow end of the gorge, looking up.

The Dades gorges on the other hand holds a small stream of water that cuts through the gorge. We saw many children playing in the water, and villages collecting water from the stream. Remarkably, the water from the stream sprouted out from small fissures at the bottom of the riverbed, most likely from an underground river that wound inside the limestone formations that are flanked on both sides of the gorge. The water is clean and drinkable from the source. No doubt in wetter seasons, the stream will turn into a raging river.

The famous winding road of Dades Gorges
A small stream that cuts through the gorge. The water is remarkably clean. Most of the water appeared from an underground river that sprouted out in between the fissures on the river bed.

Kasbahs

As we made our way to the beautiful gorges, we also stopped to admire and appreciate how Moroccans live in the olden days by visiting the Kasbahs. Simply put, Kasbah can mean a few things. It can mean a keep, an old city or a watchtower. In morocco, the Kasbah is referred to a group of buildings or structures built closely together to resemble a keep. The Kasbah has high walls, usually without windows. They are often easily defended, being built on a hill overlooking the large expanse of land below. Owning a Kasbah back in the old days is a sign of immense wealth for the family living in it and they usually have dominion over the surrounding lands and villages around the Kasbah. In return, the kasbah can serve as a protective fort for the villages living around the kasbah against invaders.

There are a large number of Kasbahs scattered throughout Morocco with varying degrees of upkeep. Some are abandoned and dilapidated, with no one and no money to maintain. Others are still in use, while others still have are still owned by the original families, but have converted their kasbah into a living museum.

We visited two different kasbah along the way back to Marrakesh, as part of the desert tour. Both have been converted into a museum and conserved to allow tourists to explore the compound within the kasbah and learn the way of live of these wealthy Moroccans families who once owned and lived in such buildings.

I learned a great deal about the kasbah. It truly felt like a fort, where you can easily defend against invaders, and when it is situated on top of the hill, you feel a sense of empowerment over the lands below. Though the ones we visited have been hollowed out, they are now simply empty shells, sparsely furnished with a sinking feeling of abandonment. Still, it must have looked and felt glorious back in the days, where the families lived in it with its multitude of servants and private soldiers manning the Kasbahs and protecting the villages nearby.

At the top of the kasbah, you can see the lands stretching out to the horizon. If I am not mistaken, the long empty patch of land you see beyond the kasbah is the river, now dry as the summer season begins.
This kasbah we visited was quite well preserved.
This kasbah is abandoned and dilapidated with no financial means to restore the kasbah to its former glory.
Abdul, far left, our driver and tour guide for the desert tour in Morocco.

Ait Benhaddou

Another highlight of the desert tour was visiting Ait Benhaddou, a UNESCO World Heritage Site an popular filming locations for films such as The Mummy, Gladiator, Alexander, Prince of Persia and Son of God to name a few.

As the the ancient fortified village came into view, I immediately recognised the place from all those films that I watched. It was absolutely gorgeous. Add to the fact that it was bright and sunny, just made the entire area shine.

Ait Benhaddou is basically a fortified town along a former caravan route between the Sahara and Marrakesh. It is a collection of ancient buildings and dwellings within a walled compound that makes up Ait Benhaddou. A few families still live within the confines of Ait Benhaddou.


Ait Benhaddou from a distance. We walked inside and all the way to the top.

Aside from the Kasbahs oases and Ait Benhaddou, we also visited a number of cooperatives or local industries such as the manufacturing of olive oil, rose oil, cosmetics, handwoven carpets of various materials, cotton, silk, wool. We learned how these things were made and how it supported the local industry. At no time at all, do we felt we were coerced in buying any of their products. These industries and the respective guides to these cooperatives were kind and friendly, taking time to explain how these things were made without being pushy. We appreciate them spending time with us to help us better understand the local Moroccan industry. Because of all these visits, we gained a deeper understanding and appreciation for the country. It all left us feeling hugely positive with great stories to tell back at home to our family and friends.

As we travelled closer and closer to Marrakesh, we stayed at a number of hotels along the way. One was built right at the edge of a cliff face. We had a open foyer right outside our hotel room on the second floor of the hotel and looking up, we saw nothing but a sheer cliffs right above us. I refused to think what would happened to us when there is a rockfall due to an earthquake. We would instantaneously be crushed as we slept in our hotel rooms!

I remember the road to Marrakesh was highly treacherous as we neared the city. I was glad that I wasn’t the one driving for this part of the trip. One main reason for the dangerous roads ahead of us was that the country is improving their major roadways, expanding the roads and making the roads safer. Thus, we could see major road works. We encountered detours, narrow and temporary lanes, some right by the edge of the cliff as well as newly unmarked roads. It was rough, but at the same time, I felt excited that the country is undergoing a renewal and the new roads would ultimately benefit the people.

Despite all of that, the landscape was just jaw dropping.

We stopped at a viewpoint while on our way to Marrakesh to enjoy this beautiful scenery.
Those guidebooks you read don’t usually mention how beautiful the Moroccan countryside can be.

As we arrive at Marrakesh on the final day of the desert tour, it was time to say goodbye to Abdul. Looking back, Abdul is a super generous and patient man. He took time to explain the culture of Morocco despite difficulties in translating certain concepts to us in English. He was inquisitive about our lives back at home and how we Singaporeans live our lives. We asked about his family and children and whether he enjoyed his job as a driver and tour guide, especially when he had to be away from his wife and children for a major part of his time. We encouraged him to visit Singapore and contact us if he ever made his way there. His reply was, “Inshallah”. He became more than friends at the end of the journey, we were part of his family.

He dropped us at the main train station before heading to our accommodation in Marrakesh. We wanted to buy train tickets for our trip back to Fez, where we would catch our flight back home the following day upon arrival in Fez. We were approaching the end of our adventure in morocco. With a couple of days left in Marrakesh and Fez, we needed to mentally prepare to say goodbye to Morocco.

However, as we stayed in Marrakesh, little did I expect that I would fall ill before our journey could properly end.

Moroccan Adventure Part VIII: Desert tour day 1.

It was time to say goodbye to our rental car. Good riddance! While I enjoyed driving for the most parts in Morocco, it was especially stressful when approaching a major city. The chaos, the hustle and bustle, the honking, coupled with the fact that I needed to drive a manual car, all added up to the pressure and stress of trying not to hit anything.

Today, we departed Fez to begin our desert tour. We no longer had to drive. We were being driven. We booked a guided tour from a tour company called Authentic Sahara Tours and booked the 3-day Fez to Marrakech via Merzouga tour. We modified the tour to add an additional night, so that we would have more time to explore the desert areas of Morocco.

It was a private tour with our own private van. Abdul, our tour guide and driver was waiting for us outside the main gate of the entrance to Fez Medina. He was punctual which we appreciate a lot, especially with all our luggage and bags.

Abdul was extremely friendly. Always smiling. Middle age man with a bald head. You can tell from his personality that he is a family person. He spoke a decent amount of English could easily be understood, which was a plus, because as the tour progressed, we were asking him about his life and his job and everything else under the sun. Abdul quickly became our friend and to him, his extended family. He no longer became a tour guide showing the country, but rather a friend showing his overseas friends his beautiful country and his way of life.

Our 4-day desert tour began early in the morning and as soon as we departed from Fez, we were driving past fields, and forests, over hills and rocky terrain. Soon, the famed Atlas Mountain was in full view. It was beautiful. It was spring going summer, and while we could see the mountains capped with snow, by the time we reached marrakech 4 days later, those were largely gone. The seasons were quickly changing.

The Atlas Mountains
We had lunch at a rest stop in full view of the Atlas Mountains. It was a clear sunny day and the mountain was very clear on the horizon.

I remember driving to a town called Ifrane. Touted as the little Switzerland, it is actually home to a ski resort. We were there during spring so there weren’t any snow. But it was strangely cold in Ifrane despite the spring-summer season. The town was beautiful and looked as if you could be in some town in Switzerland. However, we didn’t stay long and had to continue our way to the desert.

The town of Ifrane.

By late afternoon, we reached the dunes of Erg Chebbi. It was a long drive. The longest despite being only the first day. This is partly because our overnight desert stay was schedule on the first night of the tour and the drive from Fez to Merzouga was pretty far.

But nonetheless, despite the distance, I was awestruck by the changing landscape. It got drier as we drove deeper into the country. What started out as lush green fields and forests on the coastal areas of Morocco, made way to scraggly, dry, rocky terrain in the country’s interior. The color changes as well from forest green to beige, brown and red. The landscape became raw. But even then, we saw something spectacular. Oases. Oases of varying sizes. It was beautiful. Imagine looking over the horizon, seeing nothing but red, raw earth and suddenly you saw patches of green, filled with lush fields, plantations, and forests in the middle of nowhere. No, it was not an illusion. It was an actual oasis. I have never seen anything like it.

An oasis, filled with trees and green plantations supported by the town below.
The oasis as far as the eye could see. This one follows the river that runs through the oasis and provides crucial sustenance to the plants and trees that grow around it. Spectacular!

Erg Chebbi

Once we arrived on the sand dunes of Erg Chebbi, we were off-loaded including all our stuff on a 4×4 Jeep. We were taken deeper into the desert, where packs of camels roped in a line were waiting for us. I have never sat on a camel before. Everything was new to me. I now know that the camel had to sit before you can actually mount and sit on the camel. Once you are comfortably seated, the camel guide will make the camel stand, first on its hind legs, then on the front. As it attempts to stand up, you get lurched violently to the front, then to the back. I had to hold the handle secured in front of me to prevent myself from falling either to the front of back as the camel tries to stand up.

The hour-long camel ride was exhilarating! The sand dunes were spectacular and the camel ride was one of the most relaxing things I have ever done in Morocco.

Us on camels riding on the sand dunes!
Our camel guide stopped our ride for a short while to take photos of the dunes and the sunset.

During the hour-long ride into the desert on our camels, the Camel guide stopped for a short while to allow us to take photos of the desert, play on the sand dunes and just enjoy the sunset views. Watching the sunset in the desert was truly a magical experience, one that I will never forget.

Watching the sun set in the desert is something that you don’t see everyday.

At the end of the exhilarating camel ride, we reached our desert accommodation. It was a series of luxurious tents with its own bathroom attached to it and a bonfire in the middle of the encampment. We had a sumptuous dinner in the main tent, with about 10 other guests who were staying with us for the night.

Soon after that we sat around the bonfire enjoying the heat of the fire as the desert air grew colder all around us. The hosts of the encampment started playing traditional Berber music for us. We clapped and cheered with them as they played, soaking in the revelry as the night deepened.

Moroccan Adventure Part VII: Fes

If someone were to ask me where the cultural and spiritual capital of Morocco would be, it would be Fez.

The city of Fez is old. It is steeped in Moroccan culture and tradition. It’s Médina has a long and rich history and is doing a pretty good job in resisting the march of modernity. I hardly see any modern looking building or architecture within the Médina. Its never ending alleyways snaking through the Médina most probably looked the way it is today, as it was a hundred years ago.

We approached Fez, three or so hours later from Chefchaouen. Enroute to Fez, we were traveling to the deeper regions of Morocco. The lush green landscapes that we encountered near the coastal cities, were slowly giving way to less vegetation, more shrubs, and grassland. The overall landscape was definitely getting drier.

Towns were smaller, making way for remote villages. Farmlands were less plentiful, as were the people we encountered. It was definitely more rural. The road, less well maintained and at times treacherous. On one long stretch of a road towards Fez, the road was riddled with potholes filled with water and mud, most probably from yesterday’s downpour.

The Medina of Fez was founded in the 9th century. It is walled in and is home to the oldest university in the world, the University of Al Quaraouiyine. The Medina is also a UNESCO, World Heritage Site and used to be the capital of Morocco before transferring to Rabat in the early 20th century.

The walled exterior was obvious the moment we reached the periphery of the Medina. The Medina is home to numerous craftsmen and that have been plying their trade for generations and now consists of thousands if not tens of thousands of stalls selling all manner of things the traditional moroccan way, anything from woodworking, to textiles, carpets, metalworking, tanneries and many more.

So old. So historical. So beautiful.

We entered Fez by the southern part of the city. Our hotel accommodation was Riad Fez Aicha, near Place R’cif, one of the main entrances to the Medina with a large public square. The riad that we stayed had a beautiful interior courtyard, traditionally designed and preserved. The owner of the hotel spoke really good English and was extremely friendly. As soon as we were shown to our room, he suggested a guided tour of the Medina the following day.

I had been contemplating of such a tour of the Medina. So far, our exploration in the various Medina of various cities in Morocco were unguided. So while we may appreciate the beauty of the place, we were still largely ignorant of the historical aspects of the Medina. Since Fez is such an ancient city, I decided to go ahead and hire a local guide to show us around the Medina and hopefully learn more about the history behind it. I was pretty confident that we would appreciate a lot more about the Medina if we understand its history.

We were right. It was one of the best decision I have made on this trip. The Medina had in fact a really a rich history. A middle age woman was waiting for us at the hotel the following morning and introduced to us as the local guide for the day. For more than four hours, we walked inside the Medina, marveling at the history behind Fez. Our local guide was very thorough in explaining the history, its previous inhabitants and important historical buildings and places that make Fez Medina unique. Throughout the walk, we learnt about how the Medina was founded, how it grew, important people and places in the Medina, including places of worship, even the architecture of certain buildings and its defining features. It was literally Medina 101.

The narrow alleyways of Fez.
Fez, with various craftsmen selling all kinds of things.

Chouara Tannery

My favorite part of the Medina, and widely reported online as the must-see places, is of course, the Chouara Tannery. It’s extremely smelly. You know you have reached the tannery if you start to pick up the pungent smell in the air. It is where animal skins are processed, dyed, and dried in the sun before using it to make various leather products the traditional way. We saw large vats of murky, water, the colour of mud and of other hues in gray, red, and orange. Several dyes of various colours with the leather being soaked as part of the dyeing process were done by so many laborers. It was the first time I ever witness people working in the tannery and it was really a backbreaking form of labor. While tourists are not allowed on the actual grounds of the tannery, we get to see the whole thing in action up on the balconies of various buildings surrounding the tannery. These buildings also serve as stalls selling various kinds of leather and leather products from wallets to bags to shoes.

The Tannery.
Vats filled with dyes and other kinds pungent liquids needed to process leather.

University of Al Quaraouiyine and various madrasahs

The Madrasah. Beautiful tile works on the floors.

The tannery was an eye opening experience for me. Another attraction in the Medina that I was really interested in was definitely the University of Al Quaraouiyine. It is the world’s oldest university, having founded in 859. The university is attached to a mosque and most of the compound is off limits to non-Muslims. However, as a Muslim, I was able to enter and admire the intricate architecture, tile works on the walls of the compound and various artworks throughout the area. I felt really privileged to be given the opportunity to explore and witness such a deeply historical place.

Even the roof is worth marveling at. It’s actually made of wood and still stands today.
Beautiful tile works.

Marinid Tombs

The Marinid Tombs is another part of Fez that I will remember dearly. At first glance, it doesn’t look much. Just a single dilapidated monumental tomb that has been in ruins in the middle of an open field. But once you walk there, you will immediately understand why this place is such a popular tourist attraction.

The Marinid Tombs. Such an insignificant building, built on a significant lookout point overlooking Fez.

Set outside the walls of the Fez Medina, on top of a hill, this place serves as a popular lookout point over the historic city of Fez. I was immediately stunned by the significance of this place. When we reached the place, we were rewarded with an amazing view of the entire city of Fez. You can clearly make out the various gates and main entrances of the Medina, the Minarets of various mosques and the unique and historic architecture that is housed from within.

Fez.

I remembered walking quite a distance from our hotel, navigating through the Medina to find the appropriate exit to reach the Marinid Tombs. We got lost many times within the Medina, often encountering dead ends. We had to backtrack many times and navigating the alleyways is not easy, especially when data connection needed for Google Maps navigation is spotty.

But the trip was worth it. We managed to reach just in time with a couple hours of daylight to spare to soak in the atmosphere and the beautiful city before us. Just like Chefchaouen, Fez has an incredible lookout point that is the Marinid Tombs. This is one place that everyone must at least visit when anyone visits Fez.

Moroccan Adventure Part VI: Chefchaouen

The drive to Chefchaouen from Tangier was the a journey I was most looking forward to. It was the first time where we were no longer following the coast up north, but instead, we were driving east and south to the country’s interior. We now had the chance to admire the beautiful landscape of what Morocco had to offer. Much to our surprise, the landscape was indeed jaw-dropping gorgeous, more gorgeous than we were anticipating.

As we drove, we were met with lush green hills, with small towns and farmlands dotted throughout the country side. The journey was a bit hilly, but not too difficult with very light traffic. Road conditions were pretty good and the drive was enjoyable. It took us about 3 hours of driving before reaching Chefchaouen. We weren’t that far south and east yet, so the landscape was still pretty much green and lush.

I’d never imagine Morocco’s landscape could look like this.

Along the way, we stopped at a restaurant for lunch called Restaurant Sed Nakhla which I suspect was a popular rest area because it sits on top of a hill overlooking a beautiful lake. The landscape could be mistaken for any iconic landscape commonly found in Scandinavia. The blue lake and its surrounding green hills was just beautiful, something that I wasn’t expecting in Morocco. It totally shifted my view of the country. Morocco has so much more to offer than just Medinas, Kasbas, and old ruins. Its natural landscape is probably the most underrated feature of the country.

Is this Switzerland? No it’s Morocco!

Chefchaouen

Chefchaouen is nestled on the foot of a series of hills and we were pleasantly surprised when we reached the town. It just appeared out of a sudden as we made our way down around the edge of the hill. Our Google Maps informed us that we were fast approaching the town but we couldn’t spot it visually until we made a bend around the hill. Then it appeared in all its glory. As soon as we saw the town beautifully painted in various shades of blue, we knew that we had arrived.

Despite the rain, my friend still had the time to pose for a picture with a mountain hovering above Chefchaouen.

It was drizzling as we approached Chefchaouen. Dark clouds hung over us as we neared the town. The town would have looked a lot more beautiful, if the skies were clear on that day. But nonetheless, it still looked striking from a distance. This was a town unlike any other. It did not just look special, it felt special too.

We approached the town and made our way to Hotel Parador, uphill of the town. We weren’t staying in Hotel Parador, rather, we were staying at an Airbnb close to Hotel Parador. As with our Airbnb host in Tangier, our Airbnb host in Chefchaouen eagerly met us when we called him telling him that we have arrived.

At this point in time, as we were making our way through the narrow blue alleyways, meandering left and right, sidestepping locals and tourists alike, what began as a drizzle, turned into a downpour. We were soaking wet when we arrived at his house. But we were relieved at the same time as we entered his home. It was beautiful, clean and cosy. Again the narrow staircase, which is rapidly becoming a hallmark feature in Moroccan homes, not very luggage friendly. We were thankful that we are still young and strong enough to carry our bags and luggage up several flight of stairs to our own bedrooms.

Everywhere you go it’s blue in Chefchaouen.

We took a short break in the house, waiting for the pouring rain to subside a little. Once the rain became a drizzle, we ventured outside and started exploring the place.

We had to remember where our accommodation was. There were no street signs, or distinguishing landmarks to mark our accommodation. Every corner you turn to, every alleyway you walk in, is blue, in various shades. It was truly a blue city that has made Chefchaouen so iconic. It was the most enjoyable city to simply get lost in. We encountered so many shops, cafes, restaurants, people’s homes and everything else in between at every corner and at every turn that we made.

The Spanish Mosque

We slowly made our way to the Spanish Mosque by simply heading to the general direction. We passed by a chinese restaurant and made a mental note on where it was on the map, for we decided to have some Asian cuisine for dinner later in the evening for a change.

The Spanish Mosque, according to several travel websites was one of the must visit places in Chefchaouen, supposedly for its breathtaking panaromic views of the entire town. Having read that, we simply cannot miss this place. In fact, looking back, my biggest regret of this entire trip was that we only had a night in Chefchaouen. I immediately fell in love with this place and I would love to spend at least a couple more days here.

We were losing daylight. It was drizzling incessantly. Low clouds were hanging over the town. It doesn’t have the greatest light of the golden hour moment to paint the entire town in flattering colours and take gorgeous pictures of it. But nonetheless, we still made our way to the Spanish Mosque.

I remembered we had to cross a river that made its way downstream on the edge of the town. The water was remarkably clean, probably it was near a source up some mountain nearby. Add to the fact that it was probably raining the entire day, the river swelled somewhat.

The path to the Spanish mosque was more like a hiking trail. Just a trail with rocks and stones littering the place at the foot of a hill and a nearby cliff. It’s a short, but beautiful trail, because as soon as we walk on it, we could see most of the town on the other side of the river.

On our way to the Spanish Mosque and already we were treated to a beautiful view of the town.
I will never ever, forget this place.

As we approached the mosque, we could see the entire town. The vantage point where the mosque was, offered an unfiltered, uninterrupted view of the entire town of Chefchaouen. It was simply amazing. I will never forget the feeling of looking at the town in all its glory. I was so glad that we made the trip to the Spanish Mosque.

Us, walking on a trail that led us to the Spanish Mosque. The mountains surrounding this place is just gorgeous!
Weather improved and it soon stopped raining when we arrived at the Spanish Mosque. Soon afterwards, the clouds started to break apart, letting in rays of sunshine and for the town to bask in all its glory. Most magical moment I had in Morocco.

Moroccan Adventure Part V: Tangier

Me at the rooftop of our Airbnb, overlooking the Medina.

We arrived Tangier sometime in the evening. We had great difficulty reaching our Airbnb accommodation. It’s located in the Medina, particular on top of the hill. Traffic was atrocious. Of all the cities that I have visited by car, Tangier was probably the worst. The difficulty lies in understanding local road signs and determining whether the road can be accessed or not. This is particularly difficult in the Medina. The streets inside were narrow, full of pedestrians and road signs highly vague. What seemed like a road for motorists to enter, turned out to be a road blocked and just for pedestrians instead. There did not seem to be any rules on whether the road was closed or open. Often times, we had to find alternative routes by circling to the same spot again and again, only to find our journey thwarted.

In the end, we managed to drive onto a narrow uphill road that led to a carpark close to our accommodation. It was hell. Pedestrians everywhere and the uphill slope did not make driving any smoother for a manually driven car. The only way for me was to go slow and steady, which I did, which led to us reaching our accommodation much later than usual.

Port Mosque, close to the marina. A very elegant mosque that we passed by as we walked toward the marina.

Our accommodation was an Airbnb apartment. Owned by a European, he dropped by upon our arrival to show us the place and to teach us how to lock our doors and where things generally are. It was a nice cosy home. Three floors with a roof, and an incredibly narrow staircase connecting all the floors. The living room is on the second floor. There are bedrooms on the second and third. There were no doors to the toilets, just a curtain, which made showering incredibly uncomfortable. But overall, it was a unique experience. The only thing I didn’t like about the house was the narrow staircase. Carrying the luggage up those flights of stairs was extremely difficult. The staircase was so narrow that you have room for a unidirectional flow, meaning only on may climb up or down the stairs, but not at the same time.

I like the roof, because it overlooks an entire section of the Medina with sweeping views of the Straits of Gibraltar. On a good day, you can see neighbouring Spain.

Because it was already evening, we walked downhill and to the marina, seeking food to eat. The marina, newly constructed, hosted a number of upscale restaurants, bars and cafes. We entered one that was pretty quiet, since it sold alcohol. Alcohol is frowned upon in Morocco, since its citizens are mostly Muslims. You can still find alcohol, but in more discreet places and in places where tourists like us like to hangout. This means hotel lounges and bars, upscale restaurants and places like the Marina, where tourists like to hangout after dark.

Tangier in the evening. Enjoying the sunset while drinking beer.

We had dinner, as well as several rounds of beers and shisha. Shisha is banned in Singapore. So the last time I did it, was when I was in Tunisia. To shisha once again, was an amazing experience. It reminded me of the good old days. With shisha and beer, we stayed for hours in the restaurant. I believe this was the first time we had beer and alcohol since the start of the trip (apart from arrival to London). We had a great evening. As for me, all the day’s stresses from driving slowly went away as the night grew deeper.

We only had an overnight stay in Tangier before we needed to drive to Chefchaouen, and so, we did not have time to explore Tangier. We did walked around the Medina, which was interesting. And before departing, we chilled at a coffee shop to have breakfast and coffee and so we observed the daily life of the residents of Tangier in the morning. We left for Chefchaouen just before noon, which gave us the better part of the morning to soak up the Medina atmosphere in Tangier before departing.

And old cinema in Tangier. Just chilling and observing daily life in Tangier.
Like most medinas, we often times encounter interesting alleyways in the Medina.

Moroccan Adventure Part IV: Onward to Tangier

Our next destination was Tangier. From Rabat, it was a 3 hours leisurely drive. Along the way, we made a stop to the Lixus ruins.

Lixus was once an ancient roman city that sits atop of the hill, overlooking a town called Larache. I remembered having lunch in Larache. If I was not mistaken we had a sumptuous seafood lunch that day. It was a hearty meal of various kinds of fresh fish and crustaceans.

Lixus

Lixus is one of the bigger Roman ruins I have visited so far. The view at the top of the hill was beautiful, overlooking a river and the nearby town of Larache. I could probably understand why roman settlers would choose this hill, most likely as a strategic location as an easily defensible position as well as its close proximity to the river and its downright gorgeous view of the lands below.

Atop the hill of Lixus.

According to Greek legend, Lixus was where the mythological garden of Hesperides is situated, the fabled keepers of the golden apples, where Hercules once gathered them. Lixus flourished during the height of the Roman Empire and was one of the few Roman Cities in Berber Africa that has an amphitheater for its citizens to enjoy. Interestingly, the amphitheater is still preserve to a certain degree, and it was larger than I was expecting. My friend re-enacted the scene from Gladiator, taunting the spectators sitting on the steps of the amphitheater, arms raised, asking them if there are not entertained by the bloody spectacle.

The remains of the Amphitheatre in Lixus. My friend re-enacting the scene from The Gladiator.

As we walked the ruins, we saw ancient bath houses, walls that were once residential houses, mosaic floors, and some rather interesting pits dug from the earth, which to me remained a mystery as to its purpose.

Cave of Hercules

Outside the cave of Hercules, the rocky shore overlooking the Atlantic.
This opening in the cave facing the sea was suppose to resemble the silhouette of the African continent. But you need to get the angle of your shot right when taking a picture of it. Very difficult with lots of tourists around.

The cave of Hercules wasn’t very far from Tangier. As soon as we explored the cave, we headed to Tangier, where we settled in our Airbnb accommodation for the night.

Moroccan Adventure Part III: In and Around Rabat

We had a couple of days in Rabat. After driving from Casablanca, we arrived in Rabat sometime in the mid-afternoon. Our riad was in the medina. We had two problems. First, was to find a suitable parking lot to park our rented car that was not too far off from our accommodation. This is because we had luggage to lug around and we did not want to lug our luggage at great distances over unfamiliar territory. Second, we had to navigate through the bustling medina to our riad, hoping not to get hopelessly lost along the way.

I remembered having to circle around the medina several times because I kept missing the turn that led to a potential parking area to park our car. I kept driving the same coastal road again and again, which I did not mind actually since the coastal road was beautiful, overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. The weather was bright and sunny with almost no clouds in the sky. It was a beautiful day.

When we finally found a parking lot, we made our way on foot. We only had a vague address and the GPS coordinates on Google Maps showed the way on foot to our riad. The riad is unlike any hotel that we have ever stayed, not the ones where they prominently display the name of the hotel in big letters outside the buildings. The riad, like a traditional house, can resemble many riads in the surround areas in the medina. So finding them can be quite a challenge.

In the end, after about navigating for the better part of the hour, we finally made it. It was beautiful. Upon entering the Riad and into the inner courtyard, we were treated to a nice little fountain in the middle of a courtyard and a small reception off to the side for guests to check in. I remember the welcome reception, warm and friendly. Free wifi and beverages were served upon entering and after filling out a form for guests to check in, we were shown to our rooms. Madu the resident cat, simply looked at us in disdain. In her eyes, we were just another guest.

My friend on the second floor of the riad that we were staying in Rabat.
The fountain in the middle of the inner courtyard with the small reception area for guests to check in.

Our rooms were on the first floor. It was actually two rooms, one on the left and one on the right with a shared main door. directly in front of the main door was another door containing the shared bathroom. The bedrooms were on the mezzanine level, not quite second floor but there is a staircase in the room leading up to the bedrooms.

The rooms were cosy, if not a little bit spartan. Everything was new to us so we were not complaining. After putting our luggage down, we explored the riad. We had access to the roof and it was gorgeous, with plush cushions and chairs to lounge around in the evening and night. The rooftop also offered great views and the sounds from the hustle and bustle of the Rabat Medina can be heard.

Rabat Medina and The Bou Rougreg river.

We had a few of daylight and made this opportunity to explore the Medina. By now, we were familiar to the sights and sounds of the medina. The crowd, the shops, the street food. It was a feast for the senses.

We made our way to the Bou Rougreg river, just outside the Medina. The river overlooks the Kasbah of the Udayas. A kasbah is essentially a fort, or a keep or a walled old city. There are numerous kasbahs all over Morocco. Some well-preserved, like the Kasbah of the Udayas. Others in the more rural parts of the country, are largely abandoned and in disrepair, when the family that owned the land and the structure for generations, could either no longer pay of the upkeep of such a sprawling building or no one within the family has offered to stay in such a building and left for the cities.

Bou Rougreg river.
Fishing boats along the river.

Along the river, we saw locals fishing and fishermen repairing their nets, locals and tourists alike strolling and just enjoying the sunset, taking picture sand selfies. There were also makeshift food stalls dotted all over the place, selling roasted peanuts and cotton candy, popular among the kids.

We got hungry and started looking for a good restaurant to eat.

We came across Dar El Medina Restaurant that Google Maps recommended to us. Its inside the Medina, but we did not know how to get there. Upon reaching the general area of the restaurant, we were met with various dead ends. We simply couldn’t find the entrance to the restaurant. I remember a random boy approaching us and asking us if we were finding Dar El Medina. We told him yes, and he simply led us to the restaurants.

Tasty! The vegetables are to die for!

One of the most fascinating things about the Medina and the locals living inside one is that they seem to know where they are going. As far as I could recall, there were hardly any formal signs and street names for the numerous alleyways inside the medina. It’s just one gigantic labyrinth. I guess you need to live your whole life in the medina, just like the locals do to really know your way around the medina.

Andalusian Garden and The Kasbah of the Udayas.

We made our way to the Kasbah of Udayas, but not before checking out the Andalusian Garden. Its a well tended garden at the foot of the Kasbah. We were there in the morning and the ait was clean and fresh. There were a lot of cats around the gardens, a number of them kittens and they did not seem to mind humans. We headed to Cafe Maure, a gorgeous cafe situated on the cliff side on the river’s edge and overlooking the Kasbah of the Udayas situated at the top of the hill. It was a gorgeous place to chill and have coffee. We had some sweet treats and interesting pastries along with our coffee and played with a couple of cats that sauntered past us from time to time.

Mint Tea in the morning. Superb start to the day.

The Kasbah of the Udayas is a World Heritage Site. The oldest structure in the kasbah is a mosque, dating back to the 10th century. In the alleyways, the buildings in the kasbah were primarily painted blue, great for selfies and Instagram worthy shots. Souvenir and artisanal shops including art galleries dotted the place. At the top of the kasbah, we were treated to scenic views of the river and the ocean. The place had this Dubrovnik vibe to it. For a moment it felt like you were in King’s Landing from The Game of Thrones.

Strong Game of Thrones vibe.
The Kasbah of the Udayas in the background.

Hassan Tower and Chellah

Hassan Tower and Chellah were two other popular tourist attractions in Rabat that we checked out. Hassan Tower is particularly interesting for me because it was supposed to be a mosque but it was never completed. Therefore, all you see are the half-built minaret, which was supposed to be the largest minaret if completed and the 384 columns that were left behind in different states of completion.

Hassan Tower.

Despite it being half built and abandoned, it is a very interesting site. I could appreciate the potential for this place to house the world’s largest mosque if it had been completed in the 12 century. It could have been majestic in its own right. But alas, it the project was never completed. The site also housed the modern Mausoleum of Mohammed V, on the opposite end of Hassan Tower. It contains the tombs of the Moroccan king and his two sons. It is a beautiful white building featuring architectural features of the Alaouite dynasty with green tiled roof, representing the color of Islam.

Chellah is a Muslim necropolis, which was previously occupied by Roman settlers. The influences of Muslim occupation and Roman settlers made this site really unique. You can see ruined mosques with minarets erected on the site, and royal tombs now no longer occupied. On top of it all, you can ancient Roman architecture among the ruins. I have seen such Roman ruins while I was travelling to Turkey, Tunisia and I have always loved such sites. It is full of history.

Chellah with the minaret, now home to a number of storks’ nest.