Feeds:
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘culture’

img_7398

Our riad in Marrakech- our little heaven

Flight: We flew in from the USA with Royal Maroc to Casablanca. Flight went smooth, new airplane, movies, and I even got my Gluten free meal ). Landing and checking out was good. Be prepared with an address in Morocco, as you will be asked to provide one at the immigration. We provided the name and town of our first Riad.

Money: Morocco is a cash based economy. Almost everywhere, they would prefer cash, even in some of the riads. The most popular currency are Moroccan Dirhams and Euros. They will also accept US Dollars. An easy calculation to make if you’re from the States, is to divide DH by 10, and that’ll roughly give you a general idea of the price in $. Be prepared with cash. We brought cash in $ and € and changed them into DH every once in a while. In the markets and local restaurants, museums and vendors- you definitely need local currency. They do not like credit cards, but some high end places would accept them- so ask in advance if you know you’re short on cash. Another option is to withdraw money from ATM machines in Morocco, but then you have to find out about the foreign transaction fees, and if it makes sense to you. 

img_7071

Munching Prickly Pears in Taroudant’s market. Prepare MD.

After passing airport immigration, after the baggage claim, right before stepping outside the building, we changed some $$ to local Dirhams, enough to get us started.

You’ll be reading a lot about haggling in Morocco, which is very true. Except in museums, restaurants, and riads, prices everywhere else is almost always negotiable (including taxis).

img_7313

Market day in the Berber town of Asni

We were welcomed by our driver who waited for us outside.

Car + driver: I was debating whether to rent a car or hire a driver, and I couldn’t be happier with my decision. While it maybe more expensive, given all the benefits, the difference in $ is so worth it.

  • We got a spacious car with enough room for all of us, a big trunk to our 5 trolleys and a few more bags, and even a place to charge the phone in the rear (on top of the charger in the front).
  • Landing in the morning after a long flight, and driving almost a whole day to our first destination, would have been hard. Having a driver allowed us to relax, get much needed rest as we were jet-lagged.  
  • We made sure to have an English speaking driver, so he explained stuff, pointed out interesting things along the way, and we were able to ask him questions about Morocco and his life.
  • Our driver communicated with locals when there was a need to find places. He also contacted our Riads ahead of time, letting them know when to expect us.
  • In some places, cars can’t enter the Medina, so the driver took care of dropping us off, parking outside, and of course, he always filled the car with gas (never with us, as to not waste any of our time). So we never paid for gas or parking.
  • It is unfortunate, but on and off the highways, there are lots of policemen, both for security reasons, but also for… money. We have been stopped a few times on different occasions. Our driver needed to produce some papers (I counted 5 different papers), and the officials took their time checking the papers very thoroughly. They also checked and open the emergency kit, checked dates on some of its content. Our driver was very organized and seemed like he knew it was coming, so he got a “pass”. We have met with other travelers, both independent drivers, and those who had a driver. They weren’t so lucky. Police would stop them, threaten to give them a ticket and a fine of 500 DH, or they could choose to give “baksheesh“. At any case, the tourists that had a driver (baksheesh paid by the driver), didn’t pay anything. So we had our peace of mind. Don’t want to scare anyone, and many do choose to rent a car, just reporting on our experience.
  • A driver allowed us flexibility, independence of when, and where to go and stop (to take pictures, for example), and to be spontaneous.

Our great driver was Loutfi, who worked for Jalil Benlabili from Morocco Unplugged. Best to get in touch with Jalil via Whatsapp:  +212 629809359, moroccounplugged@gmail.com.

img_6884

A spontaneous stop on the way to Taroudant

Having said all that, our driver was not an authorised tour guide. He may speak English and know things, but he wasn’t allowed to enter the Medina and show us around, but rather wait outside. Also, our driver was a Fez guy, he knew a lot about the northern part of morocco and the desert, and while he knew how to drive to some major places using the highways, it was his first time driving with us to other destinations.

Conclusion: do your homework: once you know your general itinerary, read TA forums, Lonely Planet, travel blogs, and be knowledgeable about your destinations. Also, on your way, interact with locals. Not only is it one of the best things about traveling: learning about the local culture, but also getting good tips about places worth visiting, eateries, etc. Read my posts to find out about the special places we visited, thanks to locals.

Riads: Riads are traditional Moroccan houses with an interior garden or courtyard, that turned hotels. All of the riads we saw and visited (even if we didn’t stay over) were beautiful, and wonderfully designed. I would search on TA/Booking websites some riads, would then look on the map where they’re located, and finally contact the riad by email, to find out prices, and specifications (especially since we needed 2 rooms, was breakfast included, local taxes, do they accept a credit card. etc’).

pearle1

Our riad in Essaouira

Getting around: Before leaving to Morocco, I made my family download onto their cells two apps that were very handy: Maps.Me and Google Maps. They’re both a navigating platform that work offline as well. I downloaded maps of the areas where we were going, marked on the maps different points of interest (our Riads, potential restaurants, attractions), and very easily shared those points with my family, so it all transferred to their maps.

screen shot 2019-01-25 at 4.36.08 pm

Our driving itinerary

The apps were useful when we entered the Medina to navigate our way inside. Also marked where the driver was waiting for us outside, so it’ll be easy to find him. Finally, sometimes we would split, so we marked a place on the map where we could all meet later. That technology is great!

Also- Unless you speak Moroccan-   French is your next best thing. Almost everyone speaks French. But between a few words in Arabic, a few in French, Google translator, English and body language, we managed just fine. To bargain, you only need to write down numbers 🙂

img_7472

Navigating the narrow alleys of Marrakech

Cell Phones: Yeah, don’t forget those 🙂 but also, bring your chargers, and a portable battery. If you travel with a group (aka- 3 young adults), bring more than one battery. We didn’t purchase a sim, but used free WiFi. A good app for communication via wifi, very popular in Morocco, is Whatsapp. I contacted and talked with the riads, and driver, while still in the US, via Whatsapp. There was free WiFi in all of our Riads and many restaurants and cafes. Remember, our driver helped with his phone when there was a need to communicate over the phone

Weather: We visited Morocco during Christmas break, so along the coast it was wonderfully pleasant, and once we got up to the Atlas mountain it was cold. So depending on which area in Morocco you’ll be and the time of year- please check online, and bring suitable clothes. And… sunglasses. Lots of sun.

Responsible Tourism: Responsible tourism means, among other things, to be aware and have meaningful connections with local people, and a greater understanding of local cultural, social and environmental issues.  That’s the kind of travel we usually try to conduct. That is why we chose to experience a few activities that allowed us to be exposed to local traditions, away from the beaten path, while supporting locals by spending our $$ with them. This was a win-win.

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

I’m accumulator of photos. I’m interested in patterns, shapes, colors, history, and it’s change throughout time. Maybe that’s why I fixate on doors (and knobs, and windows, and floors/roofs, and…).

I’ll let my photos speak.

img_6668

img_6678

This is my favorite. Which one’s yours?

img_6682
img_6701
IMG_6669.JPG
img_6661
img_6696
img_6698

img_6680

Ok, not a door. Still love it.

 

Read Full Post »

We arrived in Essaouira at night. No cars are allowed in the medina, so the car stayed behind in the large parking lot, and we walked our way through the big gates of the old city, pulling our trolleys behind us. At this point, it was very helpful to have the cellphone GPS with us, as we navigated through the narrow alleys. Also- check out the map at the end of the post.

Finally- our beautiful Riad, that’s actually part of the old wall that surrounds the Medina. Our beautiful room had the most fabulous view. Through the window, part of the ancient wall, we had an amazing vista of the ocean. Waking up to THAT… Oh mine! Riad Perle d’Eau.  Breakfast was great- served on the rooftop, with (what would be a staple in Morocco for breakfast) M’semen (local crepe), eggs, fruit, and coffee/tea. The Riad owners were very friendly and helpful.

img_6646

This is what we saw from our room window, every morning

We stayed in Essaouira 2 nights. The small Medina is easy to navigate and is vibrant and much fun. SInce there’s so much to see, let yourself to be absorbed with this town, and here’s what NOT TO MISS:

Synagogue Slat Lkahal

A somewhat restored synagogue that served the Jewish community in Mogador- old Portuguese name for Essaouira, that was built in 1850. The synagogue was a center for many social and religious aspects of Jewish life, as witnessed by the photos on the walls. Morocco is known for its good Jewish-Muslim relationship and as we travelled we have witnessed respect, love and compassion to the Jewish minority in Morocco. Slat Lkahal is located in the northern end of the Medina, in the heart of the Mellah (the original jewish area), and is just one of other synagogues in Essaouira. Synagogue Slat Lkahal.

img_6676

Visit the old port

A mosaic of little fishing boats, fish stalls, ropes, nets, ships, seagulls, fishermen, and Moroccan mamas going out to purchase their fresh fish dinner. The sun is shining on it all, the sounds are taking over, as well as the smell, the wind, and sometimes the light spray of the sea, if you’re standing close to the water. Breath and feel alive. Charming.

img_6705

img_6721

Fresh fish anyone?

Salut Maroc- Riad and restaurant

You absolutely have to visit this place, and especially before sunset. Grab a table on the rooftop, order some light food and mint tea, and get ready for the most stunning sunset. They usually have live music as well. Get there an hour before that, and just tour around the Riad, all the way up to the rooftop, to discover the gems of dazzlingly intricate tilework and splashes of color (stairways, ceilings, floors, walls, tables, heck- even the restroom). I couldn’t stop taking photos. It’s definitely psychedelic. Salut Maroc.

img_6742

lobby from above

img_6821

Salut Maroc rooftop

img_6737

psychedelic corner on the rooftop

img_6729

Even the toilet are mind boggling

img_6842

Epic sunset

Climb up to see the city line from above

Climb the old Portuguese ramparts, enter hotels and climb up to their rooftops (I recommend the views from Riad Mimouna, Skip the rest of the hotel, go straight to the roof).

img_6776

Old cannons, cobbled stone and the ocean

img_6807-collage

From the rooftop of Riad Mimouna- 360° views

Wonder the local quarter (both morning and night market)

Lose yourself by strolling around the non touristic areas of Essaouira within the Medina, and out. Observe the bustling life of the locals, buy and eat authentic food at the night market. Try the Harira soup from the vendor, or local moroccan crepes served with honey, nutella, or Amlou (almond spread mixed with honey and argan oil). Go for the spicy olives!

img_6687-collage

Local

img_6691

img_6851-collage

Local night market. Of course we filled our bellies with these goodies.

What else do I recommend?

-Chill with tea at African Roots cafe. Great vibes, great music, friendly staff.

-Share a lamb tagine, Moroccan tomato salad, or Pastilla (traditional chicken filo pastry pie). With so many eateries, it’s hard to decide where to eat, and you’d wish you had more time to try them all. I advocate for the ones that look the most humble, and unassuming.

img_6754

The son of the owner is watching the tagines. Can’t get more authentic than that.

-Adore the doors and entryways. I’ll have a whole post just for that. I’m obsessive.

map

Read Full Post »

Winter break is the perfect time to leave the East Coast chill and visit warm, golden Morocco. We landed in Casablanca airport, peeled off our layers, and set out to the sun, where Loutfi, our driver, waited for us.

We were off to Essaouira, and though according to Google maps the ride would take about 4.5 hours, in reality, like driving elsewhere in Morocco, it takes more time, especially if you like to stop enroute.

So stop we did. We first freshened up in the old portuguese town of El Jadida where we found a cool rooftop with ocean view and good mint tea and pastries. Le Lokal

Le Lokal

Le Lokal, cute rooftop

img_6600

At Le Lokal, mint tea, small pastries, and well… coffee, to handle the jet lag

img_6643

img_6615

Colors of El Jadida

img_6604

We stumbled upon the community bakery where  women deliver bread to be cooked in the wood-fired oven

When it was time for lunch, and after some more driving, we arrived in the city of Oualidia, located beside a natural lagoon. There, we had the freshest seafood with a tranquil seaview backdrop. Ostrea 2.

collage

This small town boasts the freshest mussels

oualidia6 (1)

Serenity at Ostrea 2

collage 2

Ostrea 2, Oualidia

oualidia

Leaving Oualidia, to Essaouira

Read Full Post »

Peru – part IV

Part V- Machu Picchu

Day 7

We woke up real early in the morning, in hope to see the sun rise from the top of Machu Picchu, the “Lost City of the Incas”, one of the new 7 wonders of the world. We made sure our backpacks for the day were ready (aka: water bottle, rain poncho, sun screen, snacks, hat, chocolate, tickets, and… passport!).

Some of us took the zigzaging bus up to the top (including yours truly), while others, braver, and better knee equipped, hiked up the steep steps.

Needless to say, at the top we discovered the many clouds that blocked the sunrise.

Good morning clouds of Machu Picchu

Good morning clouds of Machu Picchu

So, traveling with my son, until the rest of the family comes, we made our way on the trail that led up to the Sungate, on the western side.

Hello Alpaca

Hello Alpaca

With the thin air, and the narrow road at times, it took us a while to get to the Sungate, but the view was incredible.

The sun rising behind the clouds at the Sungate

The sun rising behind the clouds at the Sungate

MP5
At the Sungate one always meets people that have just hiked up the Inca Trail for 4-5 days to get to Machu Picchu. This is where we sat and rested, waited for the clouds to disperse and reveal MP with all its splendor, and waited for our food 🙂

meeting a group that just hiked for 5 days us the Inca Trail

meeting a group that just hiked for 5 days up the Inca Trail

After a little food (and energy). Lior and I started to climb down.

gotta be careful on the narrow road

gotta be careful on the narrow road

Can you spot the ruins of Machu Picchu ?

Can you spot the ruins of Machu Picchu ?

Short clip HERE

Glory Glory Hallelujah!

Glory Glory Hallelujah!

new friends

new friends

a must photo- unavoidable. Wayna Picchu in the background

a must photo- unavoidable. Wayna Picchu in the background

After we have hiked the trail to/from the Sun Gate, we joined an English speaking tour guide. Recommended!
From here on, I’ll let the photos speak for themselves. There are many (but many more were left behind)…

overall look of the village

Overall look. Close by is the religious center, behind are the residential and industrial sectors

the agricultural terraces

the agricultural terraces

MP20

Quechua Peruvians tour their ancestor's landmark

Quechua Peruvians tour their ancestors’ landmark

an ancient view

an ancient view

terraces

terraces

who spots

who spots Alpacas?

heading back to the bus, down to Aguas Calientes

heading back to the bus, down to Aguas Calientes

After we made sure that our passports were stamped with the Machu Picchu mark, we took the bus back down. We were so tired after a long and interesting day, and went straight to the local market, where the cheapest and best homemade food is found (not to mix with the touristic craft market).

The local food market for great cheap meals and fruit juice

The local food market for great cheap meals and fruit juice

We filled our bellies, and now we had to kill time until our train ride, back to Ollantaytambo, and from there, a bus ride to Cusco. The boys went their way (to the hot springs), and us girls spend the best time ever, at the Vida Spa on Yahuar Huaca street, with an hour long hot stone massage. What a great way to end this day. A word from my daughter:

Lior: If you decide to hike up Machu Picchu, like I did, make sure you are physically capable! I thought it would be no big deal because it is ‘just’ one hour, all stairs hike. On the contrary, it was one of the hardest hikes of my life because it was one hour, all stairs! The steps are made of huge slabs of rock, so are not all even, and are mostly very big. So if you still want to hike up, make sure to time your wake up accordingly to how long it takes you to hike!

Since we woke up at 5 am, we did not get the chance to see the sunrise. Still, the view is beautiful, and it is more appreciable on foot. When the clouds are blocking the sun, it is a bit chilly (think sweater weather), but when the sun comes out, it is in FULL FORCE! The Incas built Machu Picchu in accordance with the sun, so it gets the maximum amount of light possible, so it gets hot quickly; make sure to bring sunscreen and a hat! After finally reaching the historic site, we hiked about another hour up to the sun gate (easy compared to the initial hike), to see the famous views, and the sun. Just our luck, as we got there, the clouds came in and blocked the view. We ate lunch there, and after walking a bit down the path back to the main site, the sun came back out…

After the tour, which is really good because I learned some history (!), take some time to just explore on your own. Machu Picchu is huge, and it is fun to explore all the nooks and crannies of the place, and get to know the alpacas! By the end of the day, you will have been able to say: “I’ve been to Machu Picchu, one of the seven wonders of the world!” , and realize the enormity of the statement.

Read Full Post »

Peru- Part III beginning

Yap, this post is long, as was our day spent in the Sacred Valley. I should mention that El Valle Sagrado is full of pretty little towns, Inca sites, and markets (such as Chinchero). After visiting Chinchero, we slowly made our way to Moray. Here are some scenes from our drive to Moray.

surrounded by majestic mountains is the Sacred Valley

surrounded by majestic mountains lies the Sacred Valley

We went to take or photo, and cute Quechua kids joined us

We went to take or photo, and cute Quechua kids joined us

on our way, farmers with oxen are plowing. The old way

on our way, farmers with oxen are plowing. The old way

I had to stop our driver, as I wanted to see the oxen at close range, and the smiley young farmer

I had to stop our driver, as I wanted to see the oxen at close range, and the smiley young farmer

Moray is an impressive look-alike huge amphitheater. Different levels of terraces are carved into earth, each layer is at a different depth. The theory is that the Incas used the terraces as a big experiment for crop growing- each crop would be planed at a different level, as some researchers have established that there is a variation of about 4 degree C between each of the terrace levels. Don’t forget the Tourist Ticket bought in Cusco, to enter this site.

Moray from up above. Can you spot the people in the distance?

Moray from up above. Can you spot the people in the distance?

starting to climb down the concentric levels

starting to climb down the concentric levels

Once in Moray, you’ll sometimes notice small groups of people performing some “earthing” or “grounding” in the very center of bottom circle, as a ritual. It’s a religious Incan ritual “El pago a la Pacha Mama” (the retribution to mother earth), an Andean ritual where one thanks the earth for its gifts and asks for fortune.

and climbing down from one level to the other on special "stairs" carved by the Incas into the walls

and climbing down from one level to the other on special “stairs” placed by the Incas into the walls

And now, back on the winding road through the Sacred Valley, towards the Salinas.

A river view in the Sacred Valley

A river view in the Sacred Valley

gettin' close to the Salinas

gettin’ close to the Salinas. Wes started noticing those curvy cactus everywhere

wow, breathtaking view of the Salinas, from high above

wow, a surreal view of the Salinas, from high above. better click to see the large version

One of the most astonishing places to see, both from above- high in the mountain, and from ground level, are the Salinas. Thousands of salt pans that have been used to extract salt since Inca times. The pools are fed by a saltwater hot spring, which has been diverted into the salt beds where the water evaporates and leaves crystallized salt to be harvested.

beautiful Salinas

beautiful Salinas

Carlos, our driver, is trying to balance the path between the Salinas

Carlos, our driver, is trying to balance the path between the Salinas

a lump of dried salt at the Salinas

a lump of dried salt at the Salinas

kids near a stand selling salt from the Salinas

kids near a stand selling salt from the Salinas, and other chachkes

After lunch in the village of Urubamba, we headed to the village of Pisac, our final destination for the day. Many people arrive to Pisac on Sunday, for its BIG market. We went there for the spectacular views. After crossing town, we start climbing up hill with our car, up and up and up. As if we didn’t see amazing panoramas until now, the ones from the Pisac Inca ruins were wonderful. Temples, Inca tombs, stone ruins, and terraces sprawl on top of the mountain.

climbing to Pisac behind this truck

climbing to Pisac behind this truck

from 3353 meters (11,000 feet) the eyes can see far far away

from 3353 meters (11,000 feet) the eyes can see far far away

terraces of Pisac. One has to imagine, how did the Inca managed plants at this heights and in such a neat order

terraces of Pisac. One has to imagine, how did the Inca managed plants at this heights and in such a neat order

cute Quechua girls are playing in the ruins

cute Quechua girls are playing in the ruins

Pisac ruins

Pisac ruins

it's easy to get lost in Pisac

it’s easy to get lost up there (or down there)

at these altitudes it's getting pretty cold. Alpaca wool helps

at these altitudes it’s getting pretty cold. Alpaca wool helps

We got home (our hostel) quite late and tired, but it was a great day. The next day, we just took a break, and went… rafting.

Lior: Moray is supercool. Apparently, if you got to the center of the very last circle, it is really warm! There were some people crowding around the bottom, trying to catch its heat like a firepit. A lot of people really like the Salineras, but I thought they were just OK. One good thing about them is they show up really nice in pictures (“omg, not even edited!”)

The best thing, by far, was Pisac. I love love love climbing about and just exploring on my own. Unfortunately, we saved it for last, so we didn’t have too much time there. Also, a lot of people get altitude sickness there (like my brothers, I didn’t!), because it’s even higher up than Cusco! Anyway, the ancient ruins of Pisac are stunning, and overall so much fun! We met some kids there, whom I played with, and we traded bracelets. Overall, successful!

Day 5

A day of fun!! Woke up early to join a group led by a cute guy, Noel, from Mayuc. It was cool, we all had great fun. Afterwards, we spent some time in a Peruvian style sauna, and got to eat warm lunch. Everybody later got their hands up on the zip-lines, and I got to take the pictures. We got home late, tired, and once again- very happy.

We all just seem to be paying attention before the rafting. We're actually very cold

We all just seem to be paying attention before the rafting. We’re actually very cold

Let the fun begin...

Let the fun begin…

we named ourselves "La Cucaracha" team, and we were very successful

we named ourselves “La Cucaracha” team, and we were very successful

viva la cucaracha !

viva la cucaracha !

and a glimpse of zip-lining

and a glimpse of zip-lining

Lior: Doesn’t matter how old you are~ GO RAFTING! This was just one of the most fun days, mainly because the adrenaline rush. Being in a river, you are at the bottom of a valley, and the view is simply amazing! It kind of compares to the Colorado River (what I’ve seen in pictures, never actually been there). After, when everyone went to the sauna, I skipped and went straight to the shower. Having gone to sleepaway camp for 5 years, I know that when it comes to hot showers, it is actually war. After, we went ziplining over a “raging river” (definitely a river, not so much the raging). Ziplining is so liberating, and everyone should do it, no matter how scared they are!

This day was so much fun, but also very energy draining. Make sure to get a good night’s sleep before, and make sure you have a bed to collapse on after!

Peru- Aguas Calientes

Read Full Post »