26 January 2013

Larache.  Town or sky?

Larache. Town or sky?

Asilah to Larache

Waking up in Asilah. As our room has no window, we have completely overslept. By the time we pack our bags in the dark and make in out of the house, it is almost 11.00. We drag our bags to the bus station, again through the rain.. Is this wet weather ever going to change?
Apparently there are no buses to Larache today, so we move down the street to the taxi stand. Larache is not far away, and after a quick price negotiation the taxi loads up and we are off. Not much to see along the way, but the raindrops on the window.

Its Pretty.

Its Pretty.  You just had to be there.

Arriving in Larache we stop in at the first hotel we see. The rooms are a bit pricier then we usually do, but with this weather we opt for a bit of extra luxury. (En suite and cable tellie.)
We don’t let the weather get in the way of exploring Larache though. Our shoes, socks and feet have been wet for three days straight anyway, so one more day is not going to make it worse.

Larache is again a seaside town built

Another Alleyway.  You can tell by now that we need to get out of Moroccco.

Another Alleyway. You can tell by now that we need to get out of Moroccco.

by the Spanish. There are quite a lot of old Spanish buildings around, but none are maintained very well. The town has a feel of faded glory about it, but even in the grey weather it does have a bit of charm. The Medina is off course the thing to see, and it has some nice entry gates. We head to the water to visit the Kebitat fortress. This was built by the Portuguese in the sixteenth century and the name means little domes. Unfortunately the domes are the only remaining thing of the fort. It is a ruin that is being propped up by ugly concrete beams.

Public Urinal.  Formally known as the fortress

Public Urinal. Formally known as the fortress

Nowadays it is used as a garbage dump and a place to hang out and get drunk. (Going of all the broken alcohol bottles around) This is a shame as it would have been a great fortress back in the days and even now could be a nice place in the summer sun. We can picture it with some cafes and the views over the ocean and the estuary. Little fishing boats and big trawlers go back and forth and across the river is a beautiful beach.

Church.  A fixer upper

Church. A fixer upper

Back into the Medina to get out of the rain with some lunch. The Medina here is just as beautiful as Asilah, just not as famous. Again the white washed houses with blue accents. It is Friday and a lot of the shops are closed, but even now the town is lively and busy. Along the way we come across an old Catholic church.

Sheep can be tourists too

Sheep can be tourists too

Unfortunately only part of the fasade is still standing, branches of fig trees sticking through the holes where stained glass windows used to be. It looks like it is all about to fall over. Too bad nobody has rescued this old lady..

On the other side of the old town is another fort, Chateau de la Cigogne, built by the Spanish. It is not far, as this is only a small town. We walk all around it, but cannot find a way in. On the side it is attached to the Medina, we cannot follow the old walls as houses and alleyways are built up against it.

Faded Glory.  Larache was once a great place.

Faded Glory. Larache was once a great place.

We lose track and end up wandering the back streets. Even in this weather, laundry is “drying” all over the place. Little splashes of colour in these white, blue and grey streets.
In the mean time the dark clouds have come back in and the skies are opening up.
We call it a day and return to our luxury room for hot showers and bad movies.

The next morning the sun was trying to break the cloud cover and we decided to enjoy another day in Larache.


In between a walk and exploring more of town, we hopped from terrace in the sun with coffee, to terrace in the sun for juice, to terrace in the sun for tea.. A lazy relaxing day 🙂



24 January 2013

Abdul’s house
White & Blue
Tower and Medina

The break in the weather only lasted the one day, and it was raining again this morning.  The up side of this is that I kinda like taking a taxi to where we are going rather than walking with our bags dragging along behind us!  I know, we still haven’t replaced the bag with no wheels, and there is now a hole in it, great in the rain and puddles! At the station, we were waved through to the buses,thinking there was a bus ready to go, we went over to the bus near where we were pointed.  Turned out not to be it.  We waited for a while under the shelter of the bus station, and eventually a group of us going to Asilah were told there was a minibus and to follow the guy.  This tuned out to be a few hundred meters away tucked behind a petrol station.  We were loaded in, and sat there.  Apparently we had to wait for more people.  Still, we were out of the rain.  A few more people appeared, and eventually we headed out.  Only half full, but this had changed by the time we left the city, and it was filled to the brim.

But her umbrella matches nicely!

But her umbrella matches nicely!

When we arrived at Asilah, the rain was bucketing down.  We grabbed our bags and ran to the nearest shelter.  Here we were picked up by a tout, and as we were not interested in looking all over town for a hotel, we heard him out.  There is a nice place just outside the Medina walls on the ocean that sounded good, but too far away in the rain.  Otherwise there was a house of his family.  Knowing this would be hit or miss, we thought we would still try it, as it is much closer, and just around the corner.

Taking a back street we set out to see it.  Going through a few twists and turns, we were at the stage of giving up and dumping him to find one for ourselves, when we arrived at an unmarked door.  Yelling up to the window, he had a lady come down and open it for us.  The building is two families, one on the ground floor, and the people we could be staying with on the other two.  Going up to the first floor, we were offered a room that was ok.  No power point, but we would be able to share the large living area with his father.  Not a problem for us, but he also wanted to show us the other room.  This was on the roof, and right next to their kitchen.  Not wanting to impact on the family too much, we took the downstairs one.  This is how I rationalised it anyway.  I just didn’t want to carry the bags up two more flights of stairs!  Moving in, we found the light didn’t work.  No worries, we will change the globe, and off he went to get a new one.  Changing it over, it still didn’t work.  As there is no outside light in the room, it does need to work.  We tried the other lights, and only one of them worked as well.  I asked if it was the fuse, but told it wasn’t.  Oh well, we can do it for one night.  We have done worse.

Great views on a summer day.

Great views on a summer day.

With this all sorted, we went out to explore wet Asilah.  Stopping to set our bearings so we had a hope of finding the place again (Next to a hairdressers and at the end of a small street.  How hard can it be?  There are thousands of small streets and even more hairdressers…)  It was fairly close to where we were dropped off if you take the nearest main road, and we are not sure why we had to wade through floating streams in the back streets to get here.  Make it feel more homely?  Still, we should be able to find our way back.  We walked down to the Medina, and sheltered in a coffee shop for the worst of the rain to go overhead, then passed through the tall walls into the Medina.  This section is just a long fairly wide walking street.  Although with a car coming the other way, and the guards just moved the barricade to let the tourists from France through (We looked at the numberplate, one of our small pastimes).

Can you tell that it is Portuguese and not Spanish?

Can you tell that it is Portuguese and not Spanish?

There is a mosque taking up one side, and the other is a few government buildings.  At the end of the Street, the Medina starts properly.  There is Porterhouse architecture (Thank you book, I thought it was Spanish) and a large square tower.  Similar to an English Folly.  It was impressive.  There is another gate behind this, so we went out to have a look at the ocean.  Walking down to the beach, there is a large breakwater sheltering the Marina, with a small beach on the other side.  The ocean was being whipped into a frenzy.  While in summer it would be good for a swim, now it would be easier to swim in a washing machine.  Anything exposed to the air here is sandblasted into non existence in a matter of seconds.  With this in mind we retreated to the safety of the walls.  Here the worst that could happen is that we get wet, and we were already soaked.

The art makes the town even more colourful.

The art makes the town even more colourful.

Asilah is famous for a festival each year where people gather and paint murals on the walls.  Even though this was some months ago, there are still plenty to be seen.  We have seen murals all over Morocco, and they depict the area and people in traditional dress (Berber, Arab, etc).  Here they ranged from Landscapes to Abstract cubist.  Most were well done, and colourful.  This combined with the whitewashed houses with a blue base, doors and windows gave the Medina a friendly open feel to it.  Even in the wind and rain.  Following the battlements around the ocean front, we came to the far end.  Here we could climb up and look out over the ocean and walls.  Unfortunately this is the only place you can, but it was still impressive watching the white capped waves strike relentlessly against the rocks and walls.
From here we walked all through the small but impressive Medina, and came out at its main gates leading to new town.  There are a few enterprising people here trying to sell some things, but more likely holding onto their stock, so it doesn’t blow away.  We went for a walk around the new town, and popped up near the highway.  Here there was a weird concrete monument.  A big rectangular pillar broken by a wavy line down the middle.  This was set up in remembrance of a visit of Mohammed V visiting the town.  Here we sat looking out over town on one side and fields the other.
Back to the house, and the lights were working, but not in our room.  The fuse had been turned off, and now it was on.  However we didn’t have a bulb for the room.  Why did we say yes to this?  We didn’t want to offend? We couldn’t be bothered explaining why it was not good enough for us, but is for the family?  Whatever way, we should have.  Still we got to meet the father.  He turned out to be the same age, and must be the father of the family rather than our touts father.  He was a nice guy, and we stayed up talking, with another Arabic lesson thrown in for good measure.


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..