Tuesday, April 04, 2017

Morocco February 2017

When we moved back to Europe I had three countries on my "must visit" list...Jordan √...Morocco √ and South Africa...soon to be a √. As we're getting ready to leave this week for South Africa I remembered I'd never done a blog post for Morocco. I realize blogging might be old school these days but it's amazing how often I look back to see where we've been or try and figure out when we were there or jog my memory about a photo that comes across our screen saver. So I will hopefully keep up the blogging although I must admit it has become very tedious compared to all of the other online platforms out there.

We had no idea what to expect from Morocco and it ended up being a very pleasant surprise. The people were amazing, the food was good, the shopping was AWESOME (thank you Visa and FedEx for taking care of all of my purchases), and the landscape was unbelievably beautiful and surprising. Who knew Morocco was a snow skiing destination??

On to the photos, and as usual I had a hard time paring them down. Oh, and this was the big boys' 70th country visited! Quite the milestone for a 12 and 14-year-old.

We started off with half a day in Marrakech where we wandered the alleys, souks, and markets. It's a crazy show with snake charmers, monkeys, birds, and people hawking all types of souvenirs.

Snake charmer

Fresh juice with our brood helping. The people were incredibly nice.

 After that we headed off toward the desert through the High Atlas mountains. AMAZING views everywhere with such a diverse landscape. We did not envision Morocco like this at all.

After driving about 5 hours with a few sightseeing stops, we were off to the desert to camp for the night.
Our ride into the Sahara

Our camel guide

Such cool animals
Below two pictures are our camp. It surprisingly ranged from chilly to downright cold in the desert at this time of year. Each tent seemed to hold between 4-6 people. We split up between two tents. The tents were outfitted with one lightbulb and some very hard, sandy beds with about 5 blankets which we were very grateful for during the cold night.

The sand was unlike any we've ever seen. It was fine like powder and didn't seem to stick to you...well, unless you're a boy who rolls in it multiple times. We were cleaning out the boys' ears for days afterwards. 

Dinner was served in a larger tent, family style and was really good. Most meals we had a tangine (a stew of meat and veggies slow cooked in an earthenware type pot shaped like a conical pyramid), couscous, rice, and bread. As per usual, we brought along our own beer and wine given this wasn't our first rodeo in a Muslim country. Although we learned this is one of the more relaxed countries as far as religion. Our guide said he drank alcohol and regularly flew to Spain to "party."

After dinner the staff played traditional Moroccan music and Dominic and Jack helped. The man on the far left owned the camp and tour company we used.

Nothing like the stars in the desert. We all decided this was amazing but it was brighter in the Jordanian desert.
Something else we learned is that Morocco is famous for fossils. When our boys heard this they got very excited so our guide made a detour for some fossil hunting. Millions of years ago this area was under water so the area is littered with trilobites and ammonites, and other fossils I'd never heard of. Many, many people make their living hunting them and then turning them into furniture and souvenirs. Cue Visa and FedEx...two Moroccan tables are currently making their way to Switzerland.

A table like the two we're having made and shipped

From the desert it was back on the road again through the Dades valley toward Marrakech. Along the way we saw and stopped at multiple amazing kasbahs, which are the citadels of North African countries.

Oh, and an opportunity for Visa and FedEx to brighten the day. This bad boy Moroccan door has already shown up on my Swiss doorstep. And there may be a rug and a few other incidentals that left this showroom to find a new home with me.

And then back to Marrakech for some more sightseeing (this is their largest mosque) and shopping.

Moroccan breakfast

I think we bought all three of these scarves

The people were so photogenic but it was harder to capture it because they either didn't really like having their picture taken or they wanted money for the privilege.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

October 2016 Break - Jordan

I wasn't sure I'd be able to pull off a trip this October since we'd just arrived in Switzerland, didn't have a kennel space for Indy, were still unpacking...oh, and just received a letter saying we needed to find a new house and move...the owners were moving back from Singapore and want their house back. A bit of a stressful time. But after I found a kennel for Indy I decided to see how hard it would be to go to Jordan. Turns out not hard at all and there was even a direct flight AND my mom was visiting and would be able to go along. A perfect (positive) storm. I have been wanting to go to Jordan and see Petra for a long time so in 4 days I put together an itinerary and off we went. When the planning started I obviously was clueless about the geography of the area because I wasn't aware we could also do some scuba diving and float in the Dead Sea again. We started up north with Amman, Umm Quais, Jerash and then started working south to the Dead Sea, Petra, the Wadi Rum desert, and finally Aqaba and some amazing scuba diving. Two nights ago we sat at dinner trying to name our "favorite" from the trip and for sure the top four (couldn't narrow it down to one for any of us) were Petra, floating in the Dead Sea, camping in Wadi Rum and diving in the Red Sea.

Our first stop was Umm Qais in the northern part of Jordan. Wikipedia explains this location best:

Many visitors come to Umm Qais on day trips from the capital, Amman, roughly 110 kilometres (68 mi) to the south, to see its extensive ruins and enjoy its panoramic views. The Sea of Galilee and TiberiasIsrael, are visible, and just across the valley of the Yarmouk River is the southern end of the Golan HeightsSyria,[15] under Israeli occupation since the Six-Day War in 1967. Mount Hermon bordering Lebanon is visible in the distance on clear days.

 Kenny took a screen shot of our location when we were there. We are the blue dot to the east of Hafa, Israel.
The photo below is looking at the Sea of Galilee in Israel. Going up the plateau to the right is Golan Heights, technically in Syria but occupied by Israel. Our guide said not that long ago if you came here at night, way to the right, you could see the sky lit up by the bombs and rockets in Syria. He said this area has been quiet of late. Straight down from us is Israel and when we asked where you cross the border he pointed down and said you can just walk across, "But you'd be shot." Alrighty then...on to the next place.

On to Jerash and its Roman ruins built in 63BC

After that we were off to float in the Dead Sea, the lowest elevation on Earth

Seeing the salt lining the shores and taking a mud bath were both pretty incredible

On the drive to the Dead Sea we stopped off at some natural hot springs

And finally...Petra. I have been wanting to travel here for a long time and it didn't disappoint.

The natural color of the rock was pretty incredible.

Little Petra - definitely worth the stop and we had the place to ourselves, well except for the two Bedouin people in the bottom two photos. Jordan's tourism industry has been devastated by all of the turmoil in the middle east.

After Little Petra we headed into the desert for some fun in the sand, beautiful scenery and star gazing. We weren't sure what to expect, but Wadi Rum didn't disappoint. 

Dinner tents

Not sure I've ever seen the Milky Way so clearly

Our tents in the morning light

Camels at the entrance to the desert

From the desert we continued south to Aqaba and the Red Sea. We dove in the Red Sea years ago when we were in Egypt and were excited to do it again with the big boys. 

We've never dove geographically somewhere like this...in Jordanian waters within a few miles of Saudi Arabia, Israel, and Egypt.