23 January 2013

Did we wake up in New Zealand?

Did we wake up in New Zealand?

Train to Tangier
Small walk

Big walk around Tangier

Another combined few days.  But seriously, how much can you write about towns in the rain?  On the 22nd, we took the train to Tangier.  This is quite a long ride, and again through lush farmland.  At times it looked similar to New Zealand, or east of the great divide.  Patchwork fields of lush green grass half turned into swamps.  The cows were sinking into the mud up to their knees.  The shepherds were not faring much better.  At least we had a nice humidity controlled carriage, and could look out at the miserable weather and be glad we were not in it.  There were only a few people on the train,, and we expected it to start to fill up at Meknes or some of the other towns we stopped at, but even by the end it was still fairly empty.

Rivers overflowing.  With what we didn't want to check.

Rivers overflowing. With what we didn’t want to check.

The train station is a few kilometres from down town,and there was no way we were lugging our bags around in the rain, so we ditched the touts (they were not that bad, and nothing on the scale that we had expected) and grabbed a taxi.  Picking a hotel out of our book for a change, we got the taxi to take us directly there.  This was extravagant for us, but worth it.  The hotel was fine, and if it wasn’t we would have been spoilt for choice, but it was not the time to be dragging our bags through the flowing streets from hotel to hotel looking to save a few dollars.


We were not staying here though

We were not staying here though

Checked in, the rain decided to ease up.  Taking advantage of this, we went for a look around town. Up the hill, where the road was more of a river, and into the fancy section of town.  We looked around for some food, and thought we may starve at the prices, but found a small hamburger shop that did a decent hamburger and chips for 20Dh.  A walk through town took us to an old cathedral, and from here we made it to the coast.  Walking past all the bars and nightclubs that would open up in the next few hours.  There were more than we could count.  The mix of architecture was a sight, from Colonial buildings done up superbly into elite hotels, or crumbling into ruins or 60’s style buildings.  Most needing a lick of paint at best and then “traditional” Moroccan buildings or a mix between them (an interesting look in one building!)



Hoping that the rain will eventually finish, we called it a night.  Tangier for us today has a bit of a dreary feel to it, but that is probably the weather, and the fact that everything we own is now slightly damp after more than a week of rain.

Tangiers.  Trying to be artsy

Tangiers. Trying to be artsy

The next morning on the 23rd, the sun was out!  we couldn’t believe our eyes.  This was great.  The rain had finally broken.  As it has basically been raining or overcast since Melillia, we were enjoying the sunshine.  Back up the hill and into the Medina.  The city today has a completely different feel to it, and although the streets are still wet, they are not overflowing.

Vaulted ceilings in a Medina.  Where have we seen this before?

Vaulted ceilings in a Medina. Where have we seen this before?

The Medina twists and winds around the old fort.  Eventually we make it up to the top, after we had tried a few of the coffee shops and patisseries.  The buildings up here are either national monuments or foreign owned hotels, but it is good to see they are being preserved.  On the far side, you are up above the ocean with a view out over the port and ocean, where you can see the container ships off in the distance, and the ferries loading/unloading.  If you look out over the water, Spain is clearly visible, and it does not look too far.  You can understand why so many people try to cross in small leaky dingies to get into Europe.

A good position to attack town

A good position to attack town

Winding back through, we pass the fortifications.  There are many cannons scattered about.  These come from various origins from Spanish and French to English howitzers on their own small railway tracks, although now days they are welded in place and corroding happily.  Following the fortifications, we still managed to wander into an area falling into ruin.  This has been surrounded by buildings, with new construction going on below.  With a bit of work it would be a perfect path up the hill from near the port.  It just needs a good clean!  Preferably with a flame thrower.

This is not the town we had been lead to expect, and town itself has a very pleasant feel to it, when not raining!



21 January 2013

Booking plane ticket

It's like a crumpet!

It’s like a crumpet!

It is a miserable day in Fes. It is wet, grey, drizzling..
We do venture out eventually for breakfast and a coffee.
The streets are slippery and mucky. All the shops and stalls are open, but most of the people are hiding under their umbrella’s. There is now an added danger in the narrow alleyways : getting your eye poked out by the umbrella’s or (accidentally) getting hit with them by the kids.

On making it back to the hotel, we go upstairs to book our tickets to Egypt.
Not a problem, as we researched all our options yesterday. We also book a hotel for the first days in Cairo.
We hang out a bit and chat with an Japanese guest travelling Morocco for a few weeks.

The blue gate .. again.

The blue gate .. again.

Time to head out again for lunch. If you don’t want to eat the same thing every time, and you want to pay normal prices instead of the inflated tourist price, this is not the area to stay in. We wander down and up other lanes, trying to find some attractive food, but are not successful. If we wanted kif or “Moroccan Chocolate” it would have been far easier. We settle for a quick sandwich and head back to get out of the rain.

With the tickets booked, we still have about a week in Morocco and are planning to go north. Hopefully the weather will be getting better, but the forecasts are not good…


20 January 2013

Train from Taza to Fes
Hotel again

Today we woke up to the sound of the rain.. and the water coming in under the door..
We were planning on going further north to Tetouan, but this weather is depressing us. Traveling is just not much fun in the cold and wet.
We have had rain and wind for about a week now, and we are giving in. We have decided to get out of Morocco as soon as possible..
We therefore decide to just catch the train to Fes, with the plan of going online to find out our options for moving on.

The train trip itself was good. We even found two seats together to sit. No window seats though, so no photo’s. The countryside was mostly hills with little streams and rivers running through, flooding with the latest rainwater. At one point we went passed a big barrage. The centre was still clear blue water, but at all the points where to streams go in, the water was coloured brown, beige and red. The colours were actually quite beautiful.

Our hotel

Our hotel

Arriving in Fes was different from last time. For one, we were coming in by train  and the train station is in new town, kilometres away from the old Medina. We were thinking of staying in new town this time, but at seeing it we changed our minds. Fes new town is not any different from any other town in Morocco. and if you are in Fes, why not stay in the more atmospheric older quarters?

A quick trip with a petit taxi got us dropped of back at Bab Boujeloud, the blue gate. We stayed near here last time, but wanted to check out some other hotels. There is plenty on offer and the local people will make sure you know about all of them in about 2 minutes after getting out of the taxi!
Ok, so it was really not that bad. A few people hassling us, but we have been outside of the big tourist cities for a while, and it felt a bit overwhelming. We decided to just make our way back to the pension we stayed in before as we know it has wifi and is pretty cheap with good showers.

This time we took a pretty room

This time we took a pretty room

On getting there we found it was almost booked full. Only two rooms available. One big beautiful room downstairs or the same room we had last time. (The one room we were trying to avoid as it was really cramped.) After a bit of negotiation we got a good price on the good room and booked in for two nights. Moroccans are not shy about money, so after we moved our bags in, this was the first question/demand : Pay now. Unfortunately we did not have enough on us and had to go to a bank first. They were willing to wait, as long as we came back right away and pointed us to an ATM.

And these were the only photos we took :)

And these were the only photos we took 🙂

This ATM did not work, and on walking over to another, we ran into a guy we had met here before. He invited us over for tea and a chat. This shouldn’t take too long, so we agree. He leads us through alleyways, markets and gates and by now we are starting to wonder where we are going. We do arrive after a while at “his nice cafe” a tiny pool hall evidently full of kif suppliers with an average age of 15. Oh well, this is Morocco.. We found two seats in a corner and enjoyed watching the pool games. These guys were good and the tea wasn’t too bad either!

Back to the hotel to pay and go online.
We were/are planning to go into Africa proper, possibly Kenia and Uganda, but the flights are expensive. As most of the cheaper ones seem to go through Egypt, we decided that we might as well book a ticket there. They are willing to give us a visa for a month, and that will give us time to research Africa a bit better. Andrew has been to Egypt before, but as that is about 15 years ago, we are both looking forward to it!


19 January 2013

Train to Taza

More comfortable than the bus...

More comfortable than the bus…

We dragged ourselves out of bed and into the coffee shop next door. Maybe a bit of caffeine will get us going. The station was easy enough to get to, but on arrival we found out we had just missed a train. The next one is not for about 4 hours..
Not a problem. We pass the time in a cafe with a book. The weather is clearing up and the sun is trying to break through.
We go passed Guercif as we visited this town before and head on towards Taza. Some nice views of the Rif along the way.

Trying to outrun...

Trying to outrun…

... the grey clouds

… the grey clouds

We want to stop here for two reasons : First of all because we don’t want to sit on the train for all of the day, and second because there is a famous cave. With our experience is Taourirt, we do not have high hopes of being able to get out to it, but we have to give it a try.
The Friouato cave is about 20k out of town and is supposed to be the deepest cave in North Africa. A big pothole in the ground with about 500 steps to get back up..
Taza town is set up a bit differently. The old Medina is about 2k away from new town and the train station. We pick the one hotel right across from the station. Nothing special but convenient for when we want to move on. The rooms are all on the ground floor around an open courtyard with banana trees.
Again the weather is bad and there are not so many cafes around this area. We opt for take away from the big Marjane supermarket at the corner. This is our first big supermarket in Morocco.

Cheese, Glorious Cheese!If you want the processed stuff.

Cheese, Glorious Cheese!
If you want the processed stuff.

We have been buying our supplies from the little corner shops that are everywhere. We have seen the big chain supermarkets around, but as they are almost always on the outskirts of town, we have not had the opportunity before to explore them.
Amazingly, they sell just about the same as all the small shops, but with more brand options. Big displays of processed meat and processed cheese. We couldn’t possibly imagine there were so many different flavours in Laughing Cow Cheese!
We “settle” for salmon and Camembert for dinner.

plan for cave

Alleyways are good to hide from the wind and rain.  Just not the rivers of water

Alleyways are good to hide from the wind and rain. Just not the rivers of water

So plan for today is to see the cave! We ask at the hotel and the manager knows about the cave and does not look surprised that we want to go there. We just have to take a petit taxi to the taxi stand in the Medina to catch a grand taxi to the cave. We have our morning coffee across the street first, and ask about the cave again to double check. Again everybody seems to understand what we want to do!! (Sorry, after Taourirt this just seems to be too easy.) The cafe manager even offers his cousin with car to take us out and back, but the price is too steep for us and we pass on his kind offer. A petit taxi up hill to the Medina is easy enough to find and winding up the streets we get great views of the old walls. On arriving at the grand taxi stand though, the universe takes it out on us once again.

Just because we can...

Just because we can…

Don’t know what we did to pee off the weather gods, but they don’t like us at the moment. The sky has turned black within one minute. Literally black! We look up and think about possibly changing our plans for the day as we cannot do the cave in the rain, when the skies open up! We hide out under cover for the worst too ease up, and decide to hang out in the Medina for a few hours, till it clears up further. The Medina of Taza is very old, but we don’t get to see much of it. In stead of the weather easing up, the wind picks up and the raindrops get heavier. We duck into a cafe and spend the next hour over one coffee watching the horizontal rains outside and a Dutch soccer match inside. (Zwolle against PSV, but they changed the channel before the match was over, so we don’t know who won. The referee seemed partial to Zwolle.)
As we can’t do the cave in this weather, we head back to the hotel and drown our sorrows in cheap Spanish vodka..


17 January 2013

Back to Morocco!
Border? What Border?

Sorry for the Photos in advance!

Sorry for the Photos in advance!

Walk & Beach

Bus to Taourirt
Taxi to waterfall, cascade?  L’Eau and Whoosh!
Friendly Police & Germans

Taxi to Gorge?
Another walk

We have to leave dreary old Spain today as we cannot afford the prices over here (well, we could if we stayed off the grog!) so it was with a light step that we made our way back to the central round about where we could catch a bus back to the border.  We are hoping that the weather will improve in Morocco, as there is nothing as dreary as a coastal town in the wind and rain.  So where are we going?  Another coastal town!  Having passed through Nador twice, we thought we had better check it out properly.

Tall and skinny Minarets in Nador

Tall and skinny Minarets in Nador

Friendly people pointed us to the right bus stop (there are two side by side, and we picked the one with the most Moroccans.  Turned out to be the other one!).  On the bus, and back to the border.  At least it is easily recognised.  There was a stream of people flowing in both directions.  Going to the right, where people were heading to the post, we past a few policemen, and made it to the Spanish immigration point.  Here we were both ignored, and we were not sure when we left Spain.  There were no stamps, or checks.  Walking back to find out, we were told to proceed to the Moroccan side.  There were people here with wheelbarrows wanting to take our luggage, and others wanting to give us forms to fill out.  Not falling for that one twice!  The booth was for entry into Morocco.  A casual glance at our passports, and asking if we were just popping over the border to see friends, we explained that we still had a fair bit of the country to explore, and would need another month or two.  This was not a problem, and we were passed through into Morocco.  It was as easy as walking across the park.  The only surprising thing was the amount of Moroccans walking back carrying their shopping.  Most people had blankets and others clothing.  Leaving, we had seen people going into Spain with food.

Its the Med!

Its the Med!

It is surprising, as we thought things would be cheaper in Morocco than Spain.  Especially as we had seen 75Euro baby shoes, that the baby would probably grow out of by the time they got home in the evening (Long, late nights…).

At least here, we can afford the coffee, and I was going through withdrawals after almost 48 hours without.  Then it was off to catch a grand taxi.  It was fairly easy to explain we wanted a collective one, after they worked out we knew roughly the right price.  Then we were crammed in, and off to Nador.

At Nador we were dropped at the main square, rather than the grand taxi station.  This was not a big problem, as there was a selection of Hotels nearby.  The first proved to be ok, so we dumped our bags and went out to explore town.

The indoor market.  A haven in the rain

The indoor market. A haven in the rain

Down to the water front.  There was no beach as such here, but a nice walking boulevard on the ocean front.  It was still inclement weather, with a light drizzle.  nothing enough to worry about, but enough to be annoying, and make everything damp. Looking back at the Garbage in Melillia, it was not a patch on seeing a computer monitor resting just under the surface of the water in the seaweed.

From the water, we wandered around the town, out past the bus station and into the suburbs.  The rain picked up occasionally, but we were able to hide out in coffee shops and miss the worst of it.  Walking through the covered market, past all the clothing shops, and generally around the town.


Get us out of the rain!

Get us out of the rain!

We needed to escape from the rain, and though that if we headed inland we could get away from it.  This meant a walk out to the bus station, which was not too bad, and we easily found a bus to take us to Taourirt.  The trip out was through a few hills trailing off the end of the Rif Mountains.  Rolling hills, green grass and flocks of sheep and goats.

On arriving at Taourirt, we were not sure if we had the right place or not.  It was supposed to be a moderate city, and it seemed to be a small town with not much around.  Turns out that we were dropped off out of town.  Luckily we chose the right direction when we went looking for a hotel, and ended up coming to one of the main squares.

Here we found a cheap hotel.  However there was no one there.  The guy from the shop next door showed us a room, which was acceptable, but we couldn’t get a price.  He tried to find the manager without luck, and then pointed us in the direction of another hotel.  This one had somebody there, and we checked in.  It was a bit difficult, and the guy was intent on explaining things in Arabic that we had no idea about.  It should not be that hard to fill out the form, show our passports and pick up the key.  Normally this is over in a few minutes, rather than the 45min it took…

Taourirt pops up out of nowhere

Taourirt pops up out of nowhere

The reason for going to Taourirt was two fold, there is a cascade here and a gorge.  Both should be interesting.  The sky was still overcast, but there was no rain at the moment and we decided there was enough time to try for the waterfall.  Finding the grand taxi station, we tried to make our intentions clear to no avail.  We think they eventually understood what we were after, and they sent us to another taxi station on the other side of town.  Finding this one, we repeated the pantomime.  Waterfall didn’t work.  Cascade turned into cash card and then we started charades, with water flowing over a cliff.  “L’Eau, Whoosh” with hand gestures.  This got a round of laughs but no understanding.  Someone that spoke English came forward to try and help, but thought waterfall was a German word, or was it Spanish?  Hindu?  But we got there in the end.  Someone offered to take us, and we were to follow him.  This took us back to the first taxi station.  Here we go again….

Waterfall?  Gorge?  ANYTHING?!?

Waterfall? Gorge? ANYTHING?!?

After a while, we were told to get in a taxi.  We assumed they knew by now where we wanted to go.  It filled up and we set off.  Back out the way the bus had come in.  This was the wrong way, and when the taxi driver pulled over to work out where we wanted to go, we got a bit worried.  A bit further on, and it was confirmed we were going the wrong way, we wanted to stop and get out.  He realised we were not going where we wanted, and said not to worry, he would take us back to town after he had done his run.  At one of the police checkpoints he found someone that spoke English, and had the officer explain to us that we would have to pay double for the return trip.  Thanking Officer, we decided to walk.  We were only about 20km from town, and sure we would be able to hitch when we got out of sight from the police checkpoint (not sure how legal it is to hitch).  This caused a bit of a stir, and after the taxi had left, we were called back by the police.  They had organised a lift for us to get closer to town with a truck they had been inspecting.  Apparently it was not a problem, and the driver was happy to take us in the right direction.  The truck was a bit run down and had a top speed of 50km/h on the flat, and a lot less up hill.  Still, it was good to be able to watch the countryside.  Unfortunately our driver only spoke Arabic, but we still tried to chat as we travelled.

At least there was some wildlife

At least there was some wildlife

We were dropped at the next police checkpoint, and started walking the last 6km to town, before we had gone far, another car stopped and waved us over.  It turned out to be a brother & sister that had lived in Germany for the last 25 years, and they were happy to give us a lift back to town.  To cut a short ride and long story short, he had been smoking heavily and she was definitely on something, and just past the last police checkpoint he proudly pulled out his pipe…  Still they were a very nice couple, and if we had not been wet and miserable, we probably would have spent some more time with them, as we had good conversation on the way back.  We just wanted to hit the hotel and not have anything to do with anyone by now.


We thought we would try for the gorge today.  At the cafe and taxi rank, we tried to explain what we wanted, but soon gave up and just decided to take a walk out of town. It is amazing how little some people know about their own region.  We can understand that a minor waterfall can be lost due to construction, dams or similar, but a gorge just doesn’t decide one morning to get up and walk away.  Moroccan towns are very compact, and it does not take long before you pass the last building and enter the countryside.

The Zaa

The Zaa

Following the train back to town.  No free lift this time

Following the train back to town. No free lift this time


Following the mighty Zaa river,

we passed through the next town, and then the wind and rain got the better of us.

We finally found the Cascades! Well, something similar anyway.

We finally found the Cascades! Well, something similar anyway.

There was a rail bridge about half way back to the only other bridge across the river, and we managed to make it across it.  This took a while, as there was a train pulled up there, and we had to wait for it to go past.  Turns out the bridge was under repairs, but the men had no problems with us crossing it, even if they were somewhat surprised.
Not much written for today, but we were well walked, and foot sore by the end.


14 January 2013

Old Fortress
More Wind
Searching for Supermarkets
Even More Wind
Hideout with Wine
Still Even More Wind

A good view with Breakfast

A good view with Breakfast

O.K.  It rained fairly heavily last night, but at least it was not raining today.  Being Monday, things should be open today, and it is our only chance to check out the city.  We started our walk well.  Finding a coffee shop that did bacon and eggs.  It is amazing how you can have a craving for something, and this one has been with me for a few weeks by now.  Finally I got to fill it.  It was worth every cent!  The cafe was next to the bottom walls of the old fortress, and we decided to go have a look at it.  On arriving, we found out that most of it is now taken up by two museums.  Both of which are open on Sunday, but not Monday!  Typical.  Still, we were able to wander around parts of the walls, see a few cannons, and admire the different architecture of the four periods over which it was built.

Out of the wind

Out of the wind

With the overcast weather, everything looked grey, but the rain was holding off.  Walking around to the main entrance, we proceeded up the ancient steps and through into the fortress.  Here we were sheltered from the wind a little, but as we worked our way out to the battlements we bore the full brunt of it.  The view more than made up for the fact that we were walking at a forty five degree angle.  The city has done well with the place though.  The repair work has been done in style, and throughout the different sections they have things set up explaining what you are looking at, what period it was created, and what daily life was at the time.  In English!


Very Old, New, and just old.

Very Old, New, and just old.

The different sections have been built up over the hill, and the modern city is around and through the fort.  There is one section that is separated by 1960’s holiday apartments, and although it is a different look, it shows that the place is still constantly evolving.  Having almost been blown off the ramparts a few times, we thought we had done enough of the fortress, exploring the different sides, seeing the sheltered cove that it was protecting, and an underground parking lot where the storage areas under the hill were.


Looks good, but I don't think they use it any more

Looks good, but I don’t think they use it any more

Walking around the docks, we made our way back to the supermarket we had seen yesterday.  Hoping that it would be open today.  It was.  Going in, we were kids in a well, supermarket.  All the chocolate we couldn’t get, real cheese, alcohol and a variety of other foods and essentials.  As we started browsing the shelves, there was an announcement over the P.A system.  The shop was closing.  We had forgotten about Siesta.  The shop is only open a few hours, before it closes for a three hour lunch break.  While I enjoy the idea of Siesta, when you have just started shopping, you don’t want to have to stop.  Still, we got enough to last us until it reopened in the evening.  Back outside, we walked through a different section of the city to get back to the hostel.  Our meagre bag of food trailing along behind us like a balloon on a string.


It was overcast.  I swear!

It was overcast. I swear!

Having enough sand and other miscellaneous small bits being blown into our eyes, we returned to the hostel, where we made a really nice picnic lunch of salmon and brie, washed down with a fairly decent wine.  Luxury.

Now the clouds came back in, rain started, and we decided against hitting the nightclubs for a liquid dinner.  All in all, without the wind, Melillia would be a nice place.