Vancouver Adventure 2017 Part 2

Stawamus Chief

When I was planning my itinerary, one of the top things I wanted to do was to explore the beautiful nature on the outskirts of Vancouver. There were many many hiking trials in and around Vancouver while I was doing my research. In the end, one of the hiking trails that I chose to do, would take me to the summit of Stawamus Chief. Stawamus Chief is basically a 700m granite rock that jutted from the ground in the town of Squamish. There are several hiking trails that took me to the summit of Stawamus Chief. There are three summits that are accessible to visitors. However, I only visited the first two summits.

Up the gruelling trail. It was much steeper than I expected!

The hike was challenging. I severely underestimated the sheer degree of vertical climb I had to take in such a short distance. Immediately upon starting the hike up the trail, I was met with hundreds of stone steps, some so steep, that I had to be on all fours just to climb up on some of them. I went there early in the morning after renting a car in the city. About an hour later I reached the trail. I remembered the weather being cool and crisp. But within 30 minutes of hiking, I was sweating profusely and my legs were already aching badly. It took me more than 2 hours to reach the second summit.

Taking a break at the first summit.

At one point, I almost got lost, as the trail disappeared among the tangle of trees and dead-fall. I had to wait a round a little until a another fellow hiking came to point me in the right direction. Apparently I had missed a marker that pointed me to series of metal chains fixed along the base of a sheer cliff. The markers were sometimes had to spot, as it those are merely small colored pieces of metal nailed on the trees to indicate the path ahead. Miss them and you could potentially get lost.

I made a friend at the top!

The chains were there to aid hikers to pull themselves up along the cliff with a narrow footpath. And when I say narrow, it is extremely narrow, only wide enough for a single person to either go up, or go down, but never at the same time. Thus, there were moments of human traffic jams, as several hikers were trying to either go up or down the summit and had to wait their turn before they can grab the chains to hoist them up or down and walk along the narrow path. As I cleared the chains and made my way up, I reached the second summit of Stawamus Chief.

The view on top of Stawamus Chief is to die for!

Despite the difficulties and the challenges, I made it up to the second summit and I was greeted with an incredible view of the surrounding lands below. The view was worth the trip up and I was grateful to embark on this hiking trail. I will never forget the view. I sat right at the edge of the granite rock at the summit, dangling my foot over the ledge. It was dangerous, because there is literally nothing below to save you from falling, but it was exhilarating to be able to do that. The weather was great day, beautiful sunshine, clear blue skies and the occasional squirrel, approaching me begging for food, as I sat there munching on the energy bar to replenish all those calories lost climbing up the steep trail at the beginning of the hike.

All in all, it took me 4 hours to go up and then down to the base of Stawamus Chief.

The next day, I was met with a hell of a muscle ache from both my legs. I knew then and there that I got bit more than I could chew when I embarked on that hike.

Capilano Suspension Bridge

From then on, my legs were aching throughout the trip. I was completely unprepared for the Stawamus Chief hike. I was deterred in seeing other beautiful sights of Vancouver and beyond. One of them that was at the top of the list was the Capilano Suspension Bridge. A simple bridge, about 140 meters long suspended 70 meters above the river. The bridge was kinda wobbly, but the view was beautiful. I was one of the first few to arrive at the attraction and for a short moment I had the whole place to myself. I boarded the first bus of the day in the morning and arrived in time to enjoy the bridge without too many people on it as well as the beautiful greenery and nature around the area. It remembered the place as being serene, quiet with fresh frosty air of the morning still hung in the air. The attraction also had a tree top walk as well as a cliff edge trail was was thrilling to walk on. A trail that hung on the edge of a sheer cliff with nothing but the river below you, it was a walk to remember.

Amazing bridge above the river and into the forests beyond!
One of the many tree top walks.
The cliff-edge walk. Quite exhilarating!

Sea to Sky Gondola

The Sea to Sky Gondola was another attraction that I truly enjoyed. Located about 45 minutes outside of Vancouver, I took a 10-minute ride on a cable car or gondola to the top of the summit lodge. From there, I was greeted with spectacular views, even more spectacular than from the summit of Stawamus Chief, overlooking the blue waters of Howe Sound. The summit also offered awesome views of various mountain peaks nearby. My favourite part of this summit is that there were a lot of benches places along strategic vantage points throughout the trails all around the summit, allowing you to take in the breathtaking view. I love this place specifically because it was not very crowded when I was there. I was even able to admire Stawamus Chief and its three peaks in all its glory. I could barely make out the hikers at the top of the peaks, especially the second one, which was there hiking previously till make leg muscles ache badly.

One of my favourites spots. It has an amazing view of the mountains as well as the lands below.
Sea to sky highway down below, the direct link to Vancouver beyond.
I spotted a bunch of kids and their teacher, showing the mountains beyond and the name of the mountain. I can no longer remember the name of that mountain.

Stanley Park

I cycled around Stanley park twice on rented bicycle. Twice because I was gobsmacked by how beautiful and big the park was. It borders the Vancouver downtown proper and mostly surrounded by water. It was easy getting to the park as it is just located north and west of Vancouver downtown. There were numerous rental bike shops nearby and I just went to the first one that I saw. I rented the bike for about 3 hours, which was more than sufficient time to circumnavigate the park at least once, stopping numerous times along the way, admiring the beautiful waters, passing underneath the Lion’s Gate Bridge as well as seeing other locals and tourists alike walking, running or cycling like me around the park. I was lucky because I went to Vancouver in late spring and the outside temperatures were perfect for outdoor activities like cycling. After cycling, I remembered returning the bike and then setting off on foot to explore the various forest trails that the park had to offer. It was peaceful walking on one of those trails, seeing the pristine forests well preserved even after marking the spot as a city park.

Resting underneath the Lion’s Gate bridge at Stanley Park.

Granville Island

I remember taking one of the shuttle ferry boats to Granville Island. The island is basically a small peninsula and shopping district. Yaletown had a stop for one of the shuttle ferry boats and I boarded one before stopping at Granville Island. It was an interested ride. Like taking the subway with its various stops, but instead, you take a ferry boat that takes you to places along the shores of False Creek, one of them happens to be Granville Island. I cannot remember the price of the ferry ride, but I remembered it was pretty decent, and most of all super convenient, especially when there is a ferry stop close to where I was staying in Yaletown.

The old industrial area in Granville Island.
Lots of food, farmer’s market, and more.
Just by the waters, the ferry I took to reach Granville.

Granville Island was an interesting place. It used to be an industrial manufacturing area. But now, the place has been transformed to be a premier destination for tourists looking for food and entertainment. The place is packed full of cafes, restaurants, breweries, and shops selling all kinds of Knick knacks, like a carnival market made permanent. The history of the place is not lost. You can still see evidence of the island as being a former industrial area. Warehouses with zinc roofs, cement factories and silos still stand and dotted all over the island. The Granville Island Public Market is to me, the most interesting part of the island. It is where local farmers and other food vendors sell their fresh produce such as vegetables, meat, seafood, cheese and many many other products. It was a feast for my senses. The food vendors especially, I was so spoiled for choice, I had difficulty choosing what I wanted to eat. And the coffee. So many coffee shops and cafes to try and experience. In the end, I could only truly experience just a tiny fraction of what the island had to offer me. But I was glad that I spent the entire day without any regrets.

Downtown

Downtown Vancouver has lots of other interesting locations that I visited, like the Coal Harbour, Port of Vancouver (which had a gigantic cruise ship docked while I was there), the famous Gastown with little cafes, rustic looking restaurants and pubs, as well as West End, Davie Village, Robson Square and others. I like the fact that the downtown core is small enough that you can practically explore the city just by walking. Sure there is a lot of walking to do, but with such amazing weather and loads of cafes that you can just stop by to rest and have a great cup of coffee, walking is the way to go in exploring Vancouver.

The public library.
The Olympic Cauldron.
Vancouver Harbour Flight Center.
The science center.
Gastown.

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 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 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.

Moroccan Adventure Part II: Onward to Rabat

Our next destination was Rabat, about 90km north of Casablanca. We rented a car but as soon as I got into the car, I immediately regretted my decision to drive in Morocco. The traffic was devilishly chaotic. It seemed that no one was following traffic rules in this country. Only those with the heart of steel would be able to attempt to drive on the Moroccan roads.

Originally, while planning our itinerary, we were a little bit too ambitious. We wanted an all-out road trip, driving around the country from the very first day to the very last. But as we did our research, we discovered that it might be a tad too challenging organising all the logistics involved, including accommodations in such a foreign country like Morocco. It can definitely be done. But we had to balance what was adventurous and fun for us against the potential tediousness of the planning involved as well as the mental and physical toll driving would impose on us. So we decided to do a half road trip, half guided tour.

For the guided tour, we hired a private guide with transport to take us to the interior locations of Morocco. These places are more rural, closer to the desert and road conditions pretty much unknown to us. To save us the trouble of organising our own accommodation, the local tour guide set up an itinerary for us, complete with food and lodging arrangements. That made the entire planning process much easier. I believe the guided tour was a 5-day package, including a night’s stay in the desert. But the guided tour would not begin until we reached the city of Fez. Until then, we relied on the car that we rented in Casablanca to take us to Rabat, Tangier, Chaoueun, and finally Fez. The guided tour would be then in Marrakech.

The car we rented was a Dacia Duster, a manual SUV. I have never driven a manual civilian car in my entire life. The only times I had driven a manual vehicle was during my national service days as a transport supervisor. But on civilian roads, I had zero experience driving such a car. Coupled with the fact that the Moroccan roads are complete opposite to Singapore, it was a recipe for disaster. It took me a while to get used to the manual driving and the only time I could get used to it was on the chaotic roads itself. I was literally putting my life on the line and learning as I go. I essence, I could not afford any mistakes. I almost knocked down an elderly man on a bicycle while trying to make a right turn at a junction. I think, of all the things I experienced in Morocco, driving was something that I definitely do not want to experience again. On the flip side, I gained a lot of experience driving on such roads, and not many people could safely say that we survived such an ordeal and came back unscathed.

Me driving on the highway and my colleague with Google Maps active. We make a fine team.

Fortunately, throughout the trip, nothing unfortunate happened. We did not get into any accidents at all. My driving was quite rough sometimes, but I improved over the time. Still, it was extremely stressful whenever I had to drive to our next destination, especially when we arrive in the city, where traffic density increases dramatically. But out on the countryside and on major highways, the drive was surprisingly relaxing and fun.

Mohammedia

The drive to Rabat was about an hour, but we stopped at a number of places along the way. Mohammedia was one such town. Situated on the outskirts of Casablanca, we had to go through some traffic jam before finally exiting the city. By the time we arrived at Mohammedia, it was already lunch time. So we used this opportunity to explore this large town and have lunch there as well. It’s a coastal town, so naturally we walked along the coast. We soon realised that it this town is a fast growing town as it contains an important oil refinery facility nearby. The beach wasn’t fantastic to marvel at but the buildings located along the coasts were filled with restaurants and cafes which made for a nice little walk.

We had coffee and mint tea, as usual (which was rapidly becoming a habit and lifestyle that we could quickly get used to) and just enjoyed the beachfront view. We encountered pony rides just for kids on the beach and a pony started coming toward us without anyone to guide or corral back to the beach. It was a cute pony.

A pony, with no owner in sight.

Once we had lunch, we explored the town center, in which we discovered a beautiful garden square meticulously maintained and free or litter. I truly enjoyed the walk and was fascinated that for such a small and unimposing town, the community still managed to keep it clean and immaculate.

Beautiful square, with fresh flowers and tendered grass.
This part of Mohammedia is very quant and peaceful.

Once we had lunch, we continued our drive and to our next accommodation. We were looking forward to this because we booked our accommodation in a traditional riad.

Smartphone pictures deserve some Lightroom treatment too

I was browsing through my trove of photos I have accumulated in my iPhone and I realised that there were pictures from two recent vacations that I didn’t really find the time to review them and select the best for further editing. I did edit some of them for Instagram and Facebook, but a vast majority simply didn’t see the light of day and remained buried in the photos app in my iPhone.

They were photos taken from my solo trips to Sydney, Australia and Vancouver, Canada. Granted most of the photos were taken using my iPhone, namely the iPhone X while I was in Sydney and the iPhone 7 Plus while I was in Vancouver. That was quite a while back.

I created an album on Lightroom and uploaded the pictures inside and I realised that there some really good ones among the sea of pictures I took while I was there. And they deserve to be showcased online. I have selected the best and hopefully soon with the help of Lightroom, I can spruce them up to look great on a bigger screen and write my travel experiences in both countries together with pictures.

And the motherlode of all, pictures that I took while I was in Tunisia back in 2012! Back then I didn’t have Lightroom, so I basically took photos that I shot from my Canon 550D (my first ever DSLR) which were saved in jpeg and simply dumped almost everything on Facebook without edits. Now looking back those photos again, there were some really good ones (and lots and lots of really bad ones, since I was still learning the ropes about photography) which deserves the Lightroom treatment. I blogged about my experiences in Tunisia back in 2012, if anyone cared to look at my archive, but never really had any photos to pair my experiences with.

That is about to change. I am reviewing every single photo that I took during my time in Tunisia and I am going to pick the best of the best and try to bring these pictures back to life. This is going to be a project worth doing.