Suitcase and World: 2011

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Before night falls. Marrakesh.

After we bid Aaron and Mildred goodbye, Soon and I plunged ourselves into the chaos of Djemma el Fna. The place was already loud and noisy.....full of activity.

We wound our way past the various street performers and dodged people and small vehicles along the way.

Neither one of us had eaten since breakfast and after a good day of walking, we were ready for at least a nibble. Time for a Djemma el Fna delicacy - grilled sheep's head. Yep, you read that right. Sheep's head.

 Wasn't hard finding a stall that sold them. You just had to look for the display :-) Of course, we got lured in my a waiter dressed in a white lab coat.

We sat ourselves down at the counter and tried to decipher the menu. Had no idea what to get but with the help of the waiter, we each settled for the combo which, if it means what we think it means, should get us a bit of this and a bit of that.  A sheep's head sampler :-)  Two Cokes to wash the meal down with.

The garden that Jacques built. Majorelle.

Iit's New Year's Eve today but more important than that, it's the start of our second full day in Marrakesh. This time Soon and I arrived into the dining room at the right time for breakfast; there were already other guests waiting for their food to arrive. Mustafa was shuffling in and out room, carrying trays of hot drinks and food.

Mustafa is very serious and focused about his job.  He never smiles or talks to the guests but in slightly odd way, he's adorable especially in his uniform with the white gloves and fez.  Makes him look very Moroccan. I've been wanting to sneak in a photo of him but there's not been the right time.

Hassan was also mingling in the room. I decided to take the opportunity and have him follow up with the local tour company regarding our trip tomorrow to Essaouira. I really had no idea how we were going to get there. I gave Hassan my voucher that had the local contact information on it and he tried to call the number. No answer. He kept trying. Still no answer.

In the meantime, our breakfast had arrived and Soon and I dived in. Even though I didn't have dinner last night, I wasn't that hungry. But as usual, I still managed to stuff my face and I'm counting that walking about the town will burn off all the extra calories.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Hop on, hop off. Marrakesh.

Bab Agnaou
I don't know what it is about being on vacation but when I'm away from my regular routine at home, I can get up at the crack of dawn without an alarm clock.  So, I was up bright early, well before 8am which is when breakfast is served in the dining room or at least that was the time that I thought Hassan told us that breakfast would be served.

Never mind what time breakfast was, I was eager to get started on the day.  I've been looking forward to being in Marrakesh for years and now it's finally happening!  So excited as always!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Marhaban! Marrakesh.

Welcome to Marrakesh! Those were the words that Salah shouted out as he drove by the terracotta red walls that surround the medina.  It was just a few minutes earlier that we had been driving into the city.

It was evening rush hour when we arrived into Marrakesh and we inched along with the rest of the traffic.

Last night, I had pulled up the website of our riad, Amira Victoria, so that Salah could get driving directions on how to get us as close as he could to the place.  From reading all the reviews about the place, the two common comments were how nice it was and that it was very difficult to find.  I just hoped that Salah could drop us off at a place that we could ask for directions to get us there the rest of the way.  I told myself I would worry about that when the time came but in the meantime, I would enjoy the ride through the city.

The one and only Aït Benhaddou.

Without a shadow of a doubt, the highlight of today was our visit to Aït Benhaddou ("eight-ben-ha-do"), a fortified village. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site; inscribed in 1987.

Flash back to the morning. I woke up bright and early and headed down for breakfast. It was brisk, cold morning in the Todra Gorge; the sun was shining brightly. The dining room was crowded with the tour group from the day before.  They must have been a hungry lot because there was barely any food left Soon and I found a table and  waited a few minutes for the waiter to replenish the buffet plates. We then got our food. There was not a whole lot to choose from but as always, we each managed to cobble a plate of food together.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Where Berber nomads call home.

Ihad no idea what time Salah was expecting to leave but I figured it wouldn't be too early. I had already packed up my stuff so it was just a matter of getting myself ready for the day. Soon and I were down in the dining room where there was a buffet breakfast that had been set up. Moroccan breakfast is definitely nothing fancy. Some bread, cheese, jam, olives and tea. I wasn't hungry but still ate a good breakfast as lunch tends to be a late day affair in this part of the world.

Aaron and Mildred eventually made their way down but one look at the breakfast offerings and they didn't look interested.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Into the heart of Morocco. Erfoud, Todra Gorge, and Tinerhir.

Tinerhir, Morocco
After hearing the sound of clapping hands outside my tent, I acknowledged I was awake by saying “yes”.  I was so comfortable in my bed/blanket combo that I lingered a bit longer. I could hear Soon rustling about on the other side of the partition. He too had heard the wake up call and was already preparing for the day.

Today, we had a long travel day in front of us and as always, I was excited to get going!

I eventually clamored out of my über comfortable bed and headed to use the bathroom. I had no idea what time it was but it was light outside though the sun had yet to rise. Last night, we had agreed, as a group, to get up before sunrise and ride the camels to a high point in the desert and watch the sunrise from there. Just as I am not a sunset person, I’m not a sunrise person either but I’m always willing to go with the flow.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Saharan Night. Erg Chebbi.

After Ifrane, we continued on our road trip towards the desert where we would be spending the night.   We had a long day's journey ahead of us.

I was excited and looking forward to seeing the sands of Sahara.  I've been to plenty of deserts but the Sahara is the grand daddy of them all and it's always been a dream of mine to see it.   I hope the other three enjoy the experience as well. :-)

A bit of Europe. Ifrane.

I sprung out of bed at 7:33am. Ack!! I was 3 minutes late in getting downstairs. Stupid me, I had set my alarm to go off at 6:15a but since I my Blackberry was still on DC time, the alarm would not go off until 11:15a Morocco time!

I jumped out of bed and scrambled to get dressed and cram what I needed to in my suitcase and backpack. I ran out of the room, grabbing a few items to bring down with me. As expected, the other three were already gathered around the coffee table eating breakfast. Their luggage was also all gathered and ready to go.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Christmas in Fez.

Merry Christmas! We’re still in Fez. I hadn’t planned on anything for today which was just as well since poor Mildred is still nursing a very, very sore ankle. She’s been resting in bed since she got back to the riad yesterday afternoon.

Being a  Muslim nation, they don't celebrate Christmas here, it's a day like any other. For us though, I wanted a special memory of this day.  I had brought along stockings, filled with chocolates, for my three travel mates so I handed those out.  Of course, there were extra chocolates so I gave those to Ahmed with instructions for him to share with Sayeed and Sabah.  I hope he follows through.

Call to Prayer.

One unique experience when traveling to a Muslim country is hearing the daily adhan otherwise referred to in English as "the call to prayer".  Even though I was born and grew up, at least for a few years of my life, in a Muslim country, I never paid the adhan much attention until my recent travels.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Ouch! Fez.

It’s Christmas Eve today and I awoke to an overcast day; our first since our arrival in Morocco.  Looking back, I should have taken that as a sign that today would not go smoothly.

Without the sun, it felt colder than it had previous mornings. Mildred was still lying asleep so I quietly snuck out and headed for the bathroom on the ground floor and took a quick shower. It was cold and the warm water felt so good that I didn’t want to get out but I have to leave some for the others or do I? ;-)

"Stuffing our faces.....again " Sabah and Sayeed had just arrived and were getting breakfast ready. I’m really curious what Moroccans usually have for breakfast because I’m not sure it’s the massive spread that they lay out for us each day. Look at it… ordinarily four human beings could eat all this. And with my Chinese upbringing where I’m suppose to eat everything put before me and not waste, I always feel a bit guilty leaving food behind. I hope that they take whatever is leftover and take it home for themselves. Food is something that we should all share.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Imperial Beauty. Meknes.

It wasn’t a long ride back from Moulay Idriss to Meknes. As we had agreed to when he picked us up, Kamal dropped us off in front of the Bab Mansour. After we all got out of the car, Kamal gave us a 20 second orientation tour – behind us was Bab Mansour and the entrance to the Moulay Ismail mosque and in front of us, the Place el Hedim.

A sleepy little town. Moulay Idriss.

Moulay Idriss is named after Idriss I who was the first ruler of the Idrissid Dynasty and is for all intents and purposes, considered to be the founder of Morocco. So, you would think that the town named after him would be anything but the assuming, sleepy place that it is.

From Volubilis, we piled back into Kamal’s Mercedes and made our way to Moulay Idriss. As agreed upon, Kamal took us along the scenic route which would its way from one mountainside to the next. More views of the town. Kamal did point out the town’s Bab.

Jackie Chan goes to ruins. Volubilis.

I woke to the sound of my alarm going off at 7:15a. No one had gone into the shower yet so I decided to be the first and enjoy warm water in case it ran out. I was dressed and downstairs by 8:00a. We had agreed to leave the house at 8:30a and were pretty much out the door then.

The first night that we were in Fez, Ahmed told us that the medina would be closed for a good part of the day as today is Friday. So we decided to do the day trip to Meknes and Volubilis today. No point staying in Fez when everything is closed.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Exploring Fez.

Today was our first full day in Fez. Last night, Ahmed told us that breakfast starts at 9a but Sabah would hang around until whenever we were ready for breakfast. We were too eager to get started on the day so the night before, we decided we would be up by 8:30a.

"The day begins
The alarm on my Blackberry went off at 7:15a and I rolled around in bed until about 7:30a. We had turned the space heater on last night and the room was toasty warm. I had a nice down comforter on top of me. I would have loved to have stayed in bed longer but with only three bathrooms and four people, it could take a while to get everyone cleaned so I decided to make an early go of it. Besides, that might guarantee a better shot at hot water!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Destination Fez!

Today, I found out that the proper (i.e., Moroccan) way to spell the name of this ancient city is Fez and not Fes as I have been doing so I will now correct myself.

This morning, we begin our road trip through Morocco.  Before the day is over, we'll be in Fez.

Last night we agreed to meet in the lobby at 8am. The plan was to take the taxi to the Casa Voyageurs train station to catch the ONCF train to Fez.

Excited about going to Fez, I was up early and in the lobby by 7:30am. The other three made it down early as well. I took all our room key cards and headed up to the receptionist desk. I was ready for the fight that I knew would be coming my way.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

A bit of new, a bit of old. Casablanca.

Soon and I agreed that whoever woke up first this morning would email the other.  By 11pm last night, I was ready to hit the sack. Though I had set the alarm to go off at 7am, I was up well before then. Even though my room was on the 15th floor, the sounds of the drivers honking their horns like mad woke me up before sunrise. A few minutes after I sent my email, Soon replied. He was up as well. We both needed to get ready for the day so I replied back to him to just come by and knock on my door when he was ready to go. He takes his time! I was in and out of the bathroom and finishing up on the blog post for yesterday before I heard the double tap on the door.

Monday, December 19, 2011

First taste of Morocco. Rabat.

We may have just arrived into Casablanca but there's no rest for the travel weary! The itinerary for the day was to do a trip to Rabat and so we headed back to the train station and bought two 2nd class tickets for 35 dirhams each. We had about 40 minutes to wait and again, headed outdoors.

The train pulled into the station on time and we clamored on board, found two seats and settled back. Rabat lies north of Casablanca so pretty much all along the way, the train was running alongside the Atlantic Ocean. Inland was arid desert landscape.

Up, up in the air. To Casablanca we fly.

Back at Terminal 1 in JFK, we decided to find where the check in counter was for Royal Air Maroc before heading down one flight to get our luggage. We found the counter and there was already a good long line of people waiting to get checked in. We decided that since we didn’t have an luggage to check in, that we would just go ahead and get our seating assignments and boarding passes. We made it to the counter quickly but surprisingly, the agent said she could not issue our boarding passes without seeing our carry on luggage. So, back to the luggage storage location we went and with luggage in hand, we headed back to the counter and got our boarding passes. Turns out, they have to weigh the carry on luggage. Mine was a teeny weeny overweight but the agent let me go anyway. Nice woman.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

And away we go! First stop. NYC!

I had come up with a grand plan for the day before I would leave for Morocco. I would try and go to bed at about 9pm and wake up at 3am. That way I would get at least 6 hours of sleep. But as usual, I was too excited to sleep. I kept waking up every hour or so. Not surprisingly, when the alarm went off at 3:15a, I was feeling tired. Instead of getting up, I cat napped till about 5:30a and then it was rush to get ready. For some reason, I always manage to find a bunch of little things to do in the last few minutes before I leave.
 "The Anxious Passenger"
SuperShuttle had called the day before and left a message telling me that the driver would be there to pick me up at 5:57a. I don’t know why they ever bother being so precise. But, lo and behold, the driver showed up at 6a. I was feeling good since my flight wasn’t leaving til 9:05a. I had told Soon that I would meet him at the airport at 7a. Luggage stowed in the back and me in the front passenger bench seat, we headed out of my neighborhood.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Marrakesh. مراكش

Bab Agnaou is one of the nineteen gates in Marrakesh.
It was built in the 12th century by the Almohads.
Ahhh.....Marraskesh. I think this the city that most people think of when they think of Morocco.  It is the city that evokes all the exotic images that people most often associated with Morocco

Marrakesh (or Marrakech), nicknamed the Ochre City because of the red Kasbah wall surrounding the medina, was founded in 1062.

The city has had a tumultuous history since its founding as a desert encampment.

Although it was the Almoravid leader, Abu Bakr ibn Umar who first designated Marrakesh as a regional capital city, it wasn't until his successor, Yusuf ibn Tashfin, came along that the desert encampment was transformed into medieval urban center, complete with stone buildings and a mosque.  The city had a style evocative of desert life, with planted palm trees and an oasis-like feel.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Casablanca. الدار البيضاء

Forever immortalized in the Hollywood classic of the same name, Casablanca is Morocco's largest city and its industrial and economic heart. It also boasts the world's largest artificial port but no ferry service of any kind.

The modern city of Casablanca was founded by Berber fishermen in the 10th century BC and was subsequently used by the Phoenicians, Romans, and the Merenids as a strategic port called Anfa.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Essaouira. الصويرة

Essaouira ("ess-ah-weer-ah") is a walled city located on the Atlantic coast.  Since New Year's Day is a holiday in Morocco and establishments in Marrakesh might be closed that day, I decided to sign us up for a day tour.....a long day tour, to Essaouira. I think it will be a nice break from the hustle and bustle of Marrakesh.

Essaouira was settled by Phoenician and Carthaginian traders around the 7th century BC.  In Roman times, it became an important source Tyrian purple dye which is made from grinding up the shells of sea snails. It was the dye that was used to color the clothes of wealthy Roman emperors and aristocrats.

Friday, December 2, 2011

MAD man.

Soon holding up our stash of 100 and 200 dirham banknotes.  What a handful!
The dirham is the currency of Morocco.  Its ISO 4217 code is "MAD" and the common abbreviation is "dh".

The dirham is subdivided into 100 santimat (singular: santim). The currently used Moroccan coins are:

5 santimat (rarely used)
10 santimat
20 santimat
50 santimat
1 dirham
2 dirhams
5 dirhams
10 dirhams

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Rabat. الرباط

I had not planned on visiting Rabat on this trip, dismissing because I thought it would be another boring capital city, full of government buildings and not much else.  Boring.  Then, as fate would have it, our original flight from JFK to Morocco got cancelled and now Soon and I are leaving one day earlier which gives us an extra day to explore Morocco. Since we don't want to explore Casablanca without Aaron and Mildred, I had to come up with another plan for spending our first day. After finding out that Rabat is only short one hour train ride away, it made sense to go there.

I still wasn't convinced about going until I started to read up on the dynastic history of Morocco.  As I quickly learned, Rabat along with Fes, Meknes, and Marrakesh make up Morocco's four imperial cities.  So, I now stand corrected.  It is an interesting city and I am now very much looking forward to spending time, albeit not much, in Rabat.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Fes. فاس

When I mentioned to my friends that I was planning to Morocco, all of them replied that I had to go Marrakesh. I think that's because it's the city that most people would associate with Morocco but for me, my eyes could not get over the images I had seen of Fes. The medina with its alleyways so narrow that donkeys are the main form of transportation, souks overflowing with all sorts of ware from colorful leather babouches to canisters topped high with spices, men hunching over vats of dies in the tanneries that Fes is famous for, and the beautiful Moroccan tiles which seem to be used to adorn every surface. Fes has been that magical place that I associate with Morocco. So no surprise that we'll be spending time here.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Dynasty. سلالة حاكمة

Coat of Arms of the Alaouite Dynasty
It goes without saying that the cultural heritage of a place is rooted in its past so for me, it's important to understand a bit of the history of the country that I'm visiting.  I don't think that you need to have an encyclopedic knowledge but at least some understanding so you can better appreciate even the snippets of culture that you experience when visiting a country.

Morocco has quite a history - shaped by a succession of Arab and Berber dynasties.

"In the very, very beginning "
From what is known, the Phoenicians were the first to establish trading posts in Morocco around 1100 BC. By 200 BC, the Phoenician empire slowly ended. Around 0 BC, a Berber kingdom was established in the northwestern part of Morocco. Half a century later, the Roman empire imposed direct rule over the region which was then called Mauretania Tingitana. After two centuries of hard resistance from local rulers, the Romans were forced to withdraw. By 429 AD, Mauretania Tingitana was occupied by the Germanic tribe of Vandals, and by 533 AD, Byzantine rule was established in the coastal north and northwest. In 681 AD, Islam was first introduced with the arrival of Ugba Ibn Nafi with a 5000km trek around the country. He was defeated two years later by a chieftain, and his Muslim forces were forced to leave the country.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Ifrane. إفران/يفرن

On our way from Fes to Marrakesh, we'll be passing through the Atlas Mountains and one of the towns we'll pass along the way is Ifrane ("e-frahn"). I had never heard of the place before so I Googled "ifrane" and was surprised by the images I first saw. The town didn't look remotely either Moroccan or African; the buildings were distinctly European in style and there was snow on the ground! Thinking I had made a mistake, I redid my search but this time adding the word "morocco" to the search query. The same images came back. Now I was getting really curious.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Volubilis. وليلي

Ilove going to visit Roman ruins. To some people, they're nothing more than  rubble that used be a place where people once lived but to me, they are amazing places.

Every Roman ruin is different, just like every city and town is different.  Seeing the ruins gives me a small glimpse into ancient Roman culture which I have long felt was an incredibly advanced culture for its time.  For one thing, I have long marveled at Roman engineering skills.  Whereas other cultures built their towns and villages next to rivers and lake so that they could have easy access to a supply of water, the Romans hand built aqueducts and reservoirs to bring the water to their towns!  At Ephesus, they even had a toilet system!

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Zillij. الزليج

Zillij (("zuh-leej") is the geometric tile mosaic work that is characteristic of Morocco.
Though zillij can be found in the art traditions of other North African and Middle East countries, Moroccan zillij is unique in the Muslim world. The lines in Moroccan geometry are straight as opposed to the curved lines used everywhere else.

"The beauty of Islamic art "  Zillij is an artform that reflects Islamic belief and tradition which believes that depictions of living things lead to the misguided worship of idols.  So, zillij design is typically a series of abstract  patterns utilizing colorful geometric shapes.  Zillij reflects a disciplined approach to space, line, and color and is intended to encourage the observer to reflect on the perfection of God’s creation. I'm not a Muslim so I can't appreciate the religious perspective but I can admire the art.  In my eyes, zillij is just simply beautiful.

Packing list. Morocco.

Another trip, another packing list. This has become old hat for me by now. In fact, when I come back from a trip, the clothes go into the washer and when they come out of the dryer, they're folded and put in plastic containers that hold just my travel clothes. So, when I pack, I just have to sift through the contents of the containers and pick out what I need. I have gotten this down to a fine art :-)

Since this is a winter trip, I will definitely need a warm jacket.  I have a feeling it will come into handy for our overnight trip in the desert.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Four. ٤

Ihave been thinking of going to Morocco for many years now and always thought that it was the kind of place that would be fun to travel to with a group versus going by myself. At first, I was going to sign up with a tour company but after both my brother and my friend and colleague, Soon, indicated they were interested in going with me, I decided to make this a group trip.

Djemaa El Fna. ساحة جامع الفناء

Djemma el-Fna ("jemma-el-fahnah") is the main square in Marrakesh.

The origin of the square's name is still debated today, centuries after the square was built.  I have seen it commonly translated as "Gathering Place of the Dead".  I've also read an interpretation based on breaking down the words into their Arabic origins -  "djemma"  being related to the Arabic jami which is the word for mosque and either fana which means annihilation or extinction or fina which means courtyard or open space.  Put together, the name of the square translates to "The Mosque of Death," or "The Mosque at the End of the World".  However the name is translated, it doesn't sound like a place that any tourist would want to go to but it nothing could be further from the truth.  UNESCO recognized the uniqueness of Djemma el-Fna by inscribing it on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2008.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Berber. ⵉⵎⴰⵣⵉⵖⴻⵏ

Berbers are the indigenous peoples of North Africa west of the Nile Valley They are continuously distributed from the Atlantic to the Siwa oasis, in Egypt, and from the Mediterranean to the Niger River.

The Berbers have lived in North Africa for thousands of years and their presence has been recorded as early as 3000 BC. Greeks, Romans, and ancient Egyptians have indicated the presence of Berbers in their records.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Aït Benhaddou. آيت بن حدّو

Aït Benhaddou is a ksar  (fortified city) which is a group of earthen buildings surrounded by high defensive walls, is a traditional pre-Saharan habitat.

As described on the UNESCO website,

" Inside the defensive walls which are reinforced by angle towers and pierced with a baffle gate, houses crowd together - some modest, others resembling small urban castles with their high angle towers and upper sections decorated with motifs in clay brick - but there are also buildings and community areas. It is an extraordinary ensemble of buildings offering a complete panorama of pre-Saharan earthen construction techniques. The oldest constructions do not appear to be earlier than the 17th century, although their structure and technique were propagated from a very early period in the valleys of southern Morocco. 

Architecturally, the living quarters form a compact grouping, closed and suspended. The community areas of the ksar include a mosque, a public square, grain threshing areas outside the ramparts, a fortification and a loft at the top of the village, an caravanserai, two cemeteries (Muslim and Jewish) and the Sanctuary of the Saint Sidi Ali or Amer."

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Meknes. مكناس

Founded in the 11th century by the Almoravids as a military settlement, Meknes became a capital of Morocco under Sultan Moulay Ismaïl (1672–1727).

The sultan turned it into a impressive city in Spanish-Moorish style, surrounded by high walls with great doors, where the harmonious blending of the Islamic and European styles of the time are still evident today.

Chefchaouen. شفشاون

Chefchaouen ("chef-show-un") is situated in the heart of Morocco's Rif Mountains.

The name Chefchaouen comes from “chauen”, which is Spanish for horns, and refers to the shape of the twin peaks overlooking the settlement.

Chefchaouen or Chaouen as it's commonly called, was founded in 1471 by Moorish exiles from Spain as a small fortress to fend off the attacks of invading Portuguese forces in northern Morocco. After the Spanish Reconquista, the town became one of the largest Moriscos and Jewish refuge sites.

In 1920, the Spaniards seized Chefchaouen to form part of Spanish Morocco and returned the city after Morocco declared its independence in 1956.

Morocco. Itinerary.

Generally speaking, I adjust my travel style according to what makes the most sense given where I'm going. In some places, independent travel is the best whereas in other places, a conducted tour is the wiser option. In most cases, a mix of travel styles works best. For Morocco, the majority of the trip will be independent travel.

To make it a bit easier on us, I will arrange for tour to take us from Fes to Marrakesh as we'll be traveling through the Sahara Desert and the High Atlas Mountains and I want to have someone sweat over the transportation and accommodation details in these remote areas. Planning the itinerary has been pretty easy overall because we're not going to be going to that many places. Instead, we'll be spending more in Fes and Marrakesh - taking a more relaxed approach to the trip than I have done on previous travels.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Another dream comes true.

Photo by neiljs
Morocco has always, always been a place that I dreamed of going to and now, after years of dreaming, I'm finally going to do it!  And, I hope to be going with my brother and a couple of friends.  A nice foursome!

As usual, I'm excited beyond words to be going.  Morocco has always seemed like such an exotic place despite the fact that I really know very little about it.   Of course, names of places like Marrakesh and Fes are familiar but Chefchaouen??  Never heard of the place.  I know that Morocco is a land of desert and sea but I had no idea there were mountains as well...very tall mountains at that.

For some reason, when I think of Morocco, I think of the color blue.  Turns out blue is a very popular color in Morocco and so I decided to name this blog after it.   I also decided to pay a bit of homage to the French influence in Morocco.  After all,  a good part of what is geographically Morocco today was a French protectorate from 1912-1956.  Bleu is the French word for "blue" and Maroc is the French word for "Morocco".

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Memories of Mexico.

Ayşe, Juan Jose, Julee, Francisco, Mark

Yes, Mexico is more than Cancun, Playa, Cabo, Acapulco, Puerto Vallarta and Chichén-Itzá....and it's not like all violent, ugly place like Tijuana and Juarez. There are Spanish colonial towns and cities like Puebla, Oaxaca, San Cristóbal de las Casas, Campeche and Mérida - colorful, vibrant, full of history, culture and some of the friendliest people you'll ever meet.


Friday, July 29, 2011

Adiós México.

After we took quick showers and changed out of our bathing suits into our street clothes, we headed out of the Akumal Dive shop and walked out to the town entrance where we had agreed to meet up with Artenio. Deep down inside, I was quietly hoping he would remember to show up since he was bringing our luggage with us. One taxi after another came by. No Artenio. My brother went off to check a nearby parking lot to see if maybe he was there waiting for us and no luck. Then, in the distance, I saw another taxi approaching. It pulled off into side parking area. I decided to check it out. It was Artenio!! I've never been so happy to see a taxi driver and he was happy to see me because I had fish in hand for him. I waved to my brother to come over. We piled into the cab and headed down the road towards Cancun airport. Of course, the conversation was mainly about the fishing trip we had just been on.

Akumal is about an hour's drive from the airport and along the way, we pass Playa del Carmen and Cancun. I can't believe how both places have changed since I was last here....starting with the fact that there's now a highway connecting Akumal to Cancun. Back then, we had to rent a Jeep to get around because the roads were not so good.

Bahía de Akumal.

When we got to Akumal Bay, from Yal-ku Lagoon, the first thing I wanted to do was find the CEA office. I wanted to book our spots on tonight's turtle watch because you have to make the reservations in purpose - they won't take requests over the phone.  The office was marked on our Akumal map.  We just had to find it.   Obviously, I had forgotten just how small a place Akumal is because well, there it was, smack dab in the center of the small clump of buildings that sit along the beachfront.

Vamos a pescar. Barracuda!

For as long as I can remember, my brother and I have been fishing. We learned the sport from my father and our uncles. We have fishing in our blood.

Today was our last day in Tulum.  We would both be flying home later on in the day.  How did we spend our last morning in Mexico?  Going deep sea fishing, of course!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Creaciones de Gabi y Posada Luna del Sur.

My brother thinks it's a Hispanic/Latin thing because our chamber maid in Flores, Guatemala was also a whiz with towel creations.  Izabel was her name and she rolled our bath towels into what we thought was an armadillo and our face towels into a duck.

Of course, I'm a sucker for these sorts of things, more so cause I'm just curious how the towel is actually folded into the shape.

Reserva de la Biosfera Sian Ka'an.

We hadn't planned on going to Sian Ka'an. In fact today, we were suppose to have gone snorkeling with whale sharks but that got cancelled due to bad weather. So we started the day with no plan.