Tag Archives: birds

Morocco – the country of contrasts

I spent an incredible few weeks travelling around Morocco in North Africa. This country wasn’t originally on my list of places to visit when I decided to go travelling, but I picked the trip because the duration, budget and distance all fit my criteria when looking for a small adventure to fill the gap between other travels… and I also wanted to fulfill my dream of sleeping under the stars in the Sahara desert! Having said that, I’m really glad I went… I came across some beautiful and historical places, had some fun and amazing adventures, made some great (hopefully lasting) friendships, got acquainted with Arabic music (Zina!) and some useful phrases… I’ll never forget ‘Yallah, Yallah’!

Morocco is a beautiful country and full of contrasts… you could be standing in the arid desert while at the same time being able to see snow capped mountains in the distance; there are large malls and western shops with fixed prices and a few kilometers away there are old bazaars and markets where bargaining is a huge part of the experience; there are centuries-old kasbahs and a short distance away modern cafes and satellite dishes everywhere; there is poverty on the one hand with people (including children) begging for money on the streets and nice buildings and expensive cars across town; and there’s a huge diversity of languages…. Berber, Arabic, French, Spanish.

We travelled around the country starting from Casablanca in the west and heading north to the city of Tangier. Unfortunately it was a cloudy and rainy day so we were unable to see Spain in the distance. However, I do remember the walk through the colourful streets of the medina, stepping in puddles, watching locals run their businesses and kids paint football badges onto walls, and smelling the scent of freshly baked bread.

Following Tangier, we headed south to the beautiful blue city of Chefchaouen. This was one of my favourite towns in Morocco… full of charming streets and spectacular landscapes! I really enjoyed walking through the winding and seemingly never-ending streets of the medina… a lot of the walls were painted in varying shades of blue and had splashes of other colours added to the mix. There were locals running their businesses inviting you in to check out their wares, kids playing in the streets and stray cats trying to keep out of the sun. The market in Chefchaouen was also very vibrant… I ate some of the best strawberries there that I’ve had in my entire life!

Panoramic view of the city of Chefchaouen

ChefChaouen2

The medina of Chefchaouen

ChefChaouenSquare

ChefChaouen3

ChefChaouen6

Leaving the blue of Chefchaouen behind, we visited the stunning ancient roman ruins of Volubilis, the imperial city of Meknes and the medina of Fes. The trip was very educational and I also learnt about different marriage ceremonies in Morocco… but don’t worry I didn’t get married while out there!

Ancient Roman ruins of Volubilis

Volubilis

Tannery in the medina of Fes

FesTannery2

FesTannery

The journey then went further south to Merzouga and the Sahara desert after which we ventured back west across Morocco to the incredibly scenic UNESCO world heritage site of Ait Ben Haddou and then headed into the High Atlas Mountains.

Ait Ben Haddou

AitBenHaddou1

AitBenHaddou4

Some of my highlights were riding out into the heart of the desert on the back of a camel, singing and dancing with new friends at the Sahara Bedouin camp and sleeping outside under the stars and the light of the near full moon. I hardly slept because of the cold, mosquitoes and fear of desert creepy crawlies but it didn’t matter because I was completely mesmerised by the sky filled with stars… another one of those ‘I can’t believe I’m here’ moments!

Camel ride into the Sahara desert

SaharaCamelSafari

Nomad family and their camp in the Sahara desert

SaharaNomads

Sunrise in the Sahara desert

SaharaSunrise

Another highlight was hiking up to and around the village of Aremd in the High Atlas Mountains and getting to spend the night with a local family there. It was such a beautiful place… we hiked around the valley, crossed streams and took in the beautiful views and fresh mountain air! It was also refreshing to have no wifi!

Aremd village in the High Atlas Mountains

HighAtlasMountains1

HighAtlasMountains2

As we travelled from North to South, the landscape changed dramatically from lush green vegetation to barren desert landscapes to snow peaked mountains. At points in the North, it was hard to believe we were actually in Morocco… I didn’t expect to see so much green! Leaving the Atlas Mountains behind, we went off to the coastal town of Essaouira and then ended in the bustling city of Marrakech. The sights, smells and sounds of Djemaa El-Fna put me into sensory overload! I also managed to visit Jardin Majorelle… the beautiful botanical gardens created by Jacques Majorelle and owned by Yves Saint Laurent and his partner. The garden contains hundreds of exotic plant species and trees as well as several ponds and streams. You can hear the sound of birds chirping around, see turtles swimming in the pond or just sit on one of the shaded benches and take some time out of the hustle and bustle of daily life.

Sunset in Essaouira

EssaouiraSunset

The medina of Marrakech

MarrakechMedina1

MarrakechMedina2

MarrakechMedina3

As with most trips, the food and drink is always memorable and I believe it’s a big part of the travel experience. Over the weeks I spent in Morocco, I became reacquainted with mint tea and probably consumed gallons of it! It was interesting to also learn about the process of making mint tea… it was more involved than I thought! Food-wise I really enjoyed sampling the different types of tagines… my favourites were kafta and egg tagine and lemon chicken tagine. I also came across Msemen, which is a Moroccan square shaped fried pancake (delicious for breakfast!), Harissa (a hot chili paste) and Lemon Fanta (so refreshing on a hot 39 degrees day!).

Mint tea making ceremony

TeaCeremony

Kafta and egg tagine

Tagine1

So with a week to go until the next adventure begins… you may ask ‘where to next?’… wait and see!

Antarctica – the white wilderness!

“If Antarctica were music it would be Mozart.
Art, and it would be Michelangelo.
Literature, and it would be Shakespeare.
And yet it is something even greater; the only place on earth that is still as it should be. May we never tame it.”
~ Andrew Denton

I started writing this blog post a few times and kept deleting what I had… I’m not sure I have the appropriate words to describe this last part of my trip… an 11 day expedition cruise to Antarctica… the white wilderness! I think the saying ‘save the best to last’ is very fitting in this case. To say it was a truly amazing experience is an understatement… it was completely out of this world… better than anything I had imagined and definitely the trip of a lifetime!

MV Ushuaia out in Antarctica

MVUshuaiaAntarcticPeninsula

ShipInAntarcticPeninsula

I think it only really hit home on about day 7 of the trip… when I was out in the freezing cold all alone on the outer deck of the ship, surrounded by snow covered mountains, glaciers and icebergs as far as the eye could see… and I suddenly was overcome with excitement… I was in Antarctica!! I couldn’t stop smiling and shivering at the same time… I was listening to my music at the time and started dancing around on the deck all by myself… hope they don’t have CCTV footage of that!

The whole 11 days weren’t all pleasant… the days on the Drake passage were a little challenging… according to the crew we had amazing sea conditions and they referred to it as Lake Drake… but it didn’t stop me feeling sick every time the ship swayed! It was all totally worth it for the amazing wilderness that awaited me on the other side… our first sight of land was really exciting… the South Shetland Islands and small icebergs floating around… the best bit was that the views only got better as the days went by!

We were lucky to be able to make 10 landings/outings across the South Shetland Islands and the Western Antarctic Peninsula, including 2 continental landings and visiting the old British base at Port Lockroy, where I sent a postcard to myself from Antarctica with advice for future me!

Port Lockroy in the snow

PortLokroy3

Zodiac cruise

Zodiac2

During our days in Antarctica, we saw huge icebergs and the most amazing glaciers, some with huge crevasses in them… we had sunshine, wind and snow… sometimes all three in the same day… and we saw some breathtaking sunsets. We also had the chance to see some amazing wildlife… Chinstrap, Gentoo and Adélie penguins, a variety of different seals, orcas and humpback whales and birds galore! We even managed to have a BBQ out in vast wilderness of Antarctica!

Landscape of Antarctica – mountains, glaciers, icebergs and snow

AntarcticPeninsula3

CuvervilleIsland2

AntarcticPeninsulaIceberg

Icebergs_CuvervilleIsland

AntarcticPeninsula

CuvervilleIsland

Gentoo penguin climbing and sliding in the snow

PenguinClimbing_CuvervilleIsland

PenguinSliding_CuvervilleIsland

Chinstrap and Gentoo penguins diving and swimming

PenguinsDivingHydrurgaRocks

PenguinSwimming_CuvervilleIsland

Baby Elephant seal

BabyElephantSeal_AitchoIsland

Antarctic sunsets

Sunset1

Sunset2

The highlight for me was the final day at Deception Island, where I got to swim in Antarctic waters in the caldera of an active volcano… it was surreal!

Deception Island

DeceptionIslandMe

DeceptionIsland1

DeceptionIsland2

This trip has been one of the most amazing 11 days of my life. I also made some really great new friends from around the world that inspire me to continue to travel and have more adventures.

Oh and you’re probably all going to ask me whether I figured out how to greet a penguin 🙂 Well… I wanted to go and hug a Chinstrap penguin because they are the cutest… but I kinda wasn’t allowed (they have rules in Antarctica too!)… so instead I just admired them from afar… sat and watched the cute little creatures and their habits and every so often one of the curious ones just waddled over to see what the humans were up to! I know I’ve said it before… but I’ll say it again… it was just out of this world!