Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Morocco


First trip to Africa! And if you don’t count the four separate cases of food poisoning between the two of us, it was pretty damn awesome. We flew into Casablanca and took a train to the center of town. Our poor language skills were apparent immediately. It took way too long to find our hotel, which ended up being what should have been a five minute walk from the train station. Central Hotel welcomed us to a nice small room overlooking the town square. Casablanca was less than desirable, except for the super impressive Hassan II Mosque which was grand in scale and extremely beautiful. A true example of the powerful faith of the Muslim world.  Casablanca was also my first taste of what Morocco had to offer as far as markets and souks, endless mazes of awesomeness and photo ops.  
            We took a train to Marrakesh, which is where the fun really began. We paid a young kid to take us to the Riad we had chosen through the labyrinth that is the old town. Lucky for us, it was full and we ended up stumbling onto a hidden gem called Riad Al Nour. The place was absolutely gorgeous. We started to get to know the owners of the riad, which turned into an experience of its own. We ended up staying there for the rest of our time in Morocco. These fantastic people turned into good friends and the riad a home away from home. The markets, souks, people, and the beautiful city drove us to cancel our plans to visit the north of the country as we had already found everything that we were looking for.
            It is a very real fact that knowing someone local in the place that you are visiting opens lots of doors. And I think that especially Lindsey found a lifelong friend on this particular trip. They took us out to dinner, taught us how to cook in a tagine and helped us to visit some of the surrounding cities.
            We took a trip to Essaouira, a beachside town several hours away that is famous for its relentless wind and beautiful coastline. We met up with a Spanish ex-pat whom had been living in Essaouira for several years. He eagerly showed us around his beautiful town and spent several hours as a tour guide. We went to a fantastic street side seafood restaurant and ate to our hearts content. Apparently portions of Game of Thrones have been filmed there, much to Lindsey enjoyment. It was an amazing day.
            We also visited Siti Fatima, a city high in the mountains that is home to the owners of Riad al Nour. We were introduced to some of their friends and family, and took a beautiful hike to a waterfall, and then through the hand built homes of our new friends.
            Morocco has a very special place in my heart now. A country of immense religious faith and a strong cultural identity I was enthralled with every step. This is the world of snake charmers, tree-climbing goats, and surprises at every turn. What an amazing place to visit. Just be careful what you eat…

Monday, November 18, 2013

Tunisia

            Not too long ago, Tunisia was a complete mess. In 2011, it looked a lot more like the current state of Egypt than a thriving and developing small country. Following long protests, a revolution overthrew the president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali from power. Police still line the streets; razor wire and tank-like trucks remind everyone of the past. An unstable feeling sets in right away and only leaves when your plane takes off at the end. A somewhat expensive country, money centered, fashion trended, but a certain charm is still there. Tunisia still has a long way to go as it tries to define itself.
Certainly worth visiting, but it was far from my favorite place in the world. Tunis, a big ugly concrete block of a city, was easy to leave. However, we stayed several nights in Sidi Bou Said. It’s a beautiful blue-roofed city on the side of a cliff overlooking the Mediterranean.  Great seafood and shawarma filled our tummies and the beautiful hotel didn’t hurt. We visited Carthage and the fantastic ruins of the city. A couple of days in Tunisia can serve any trip just right.