Casablanca to Rhabat to Meknes to Volubilis to Fes, Morocco
Now, off to Morocco, Africa! During my long work/vacation trip overseas, Bonnie contacted me while I was in Brazil about traveling during her transition time off between her old and new job. Yay! Congrats Bonnie! I have always wanted to go to Africa, especially Morocco since riding a camel through the Sahara Desert was another To Do to check off my life bucket list and there are so many UNESCO preserved areas of Morocco... so Morocco it was! I usually like to plan everything myself on all my trips, but especially with two girls, I wanted to take caution when traveling in Africa. So this time I decided to hire a private tour guide to arrange things to see, and all our hotels and transport. Researching online for a tour guide was rough since many websites looked super shady. For me bad website = bad company. Plus these shady website companies had very expensive touristy packages. I found a pretty legit website with the most reasonable price for a customized 7 day Imperial Cities Morocco tour with an added camel trek in the Sahara Desert from Marvelous Morocco Tours, so we booked it!
Bonnie was flying in from Houston to Casablanca and actually arrived at 11AM, but I did not get into Casablanca until about 6:30PM since it was the only flight available through easyjet (about $400 round trip including baggage)... Sorry Bonnie :\. I realized when I stepped onto Moroccan land, I didn't even check to see if I needed a Visa to get into the country... Seriously, the more I travel, the lazier I get in preparing for a trip. I am not sure why... maybe I am becoming jaded to the thought of traveling. Luckily, when I got to customs, Americans do not need a visa to get in, so I was sure Bonnie was somewhere in the airport. Please keep in mind that everything will be in Arabic and French, so learn some if you want to be able to communicate! I had no idea how I was going to get a hold of Bonnie or where she was at the airport. But as I was descending the escalator after customs, there was she smiling and waving enthusiastically. When I saw her, I was doing the exact same thing! I was so worried, so just to see her alive and well, I was extremely relieved. I'm sure we looked retarded, two asian girls psycho smiling and waving at each other haha! We walked out thinking, how the hell will we find our tour guide? But we quickly learned that we were the only Asian girls in all of Morocco, basically. So our tour guide from Marvelous Morocco Tours, Iddir, came up and said "Hello Ladies! Welcome to Morocco!" and that is where our adventure started.
Iddir took our luggage into his black on black Toyota 4Runner equipped even with a scuba! Because the day was almost over, we drove straight from Casablanca to Rabat bombarding Iddir with questions on words in Moroccan French, about his life, and the plan for our trip. We had a pitstop at Oasis Cafe, a little gas station restaurant. Initial look was pretty clean for Africa, but when I went into the bathroom.......... Almost as scary as the floor toilets in the Bruneian Jungle. Good thing I always practice Hover & Kick method when I use public restrooms, hover and never sit on the toilet, pee, then kick the handle to flush. Very easy! Anyway can do it! There was no toilet seat on this toilet anyway, so hover was a must. But when I turned around to kick the handle, there was a cockroach trying to go up my butthole. It was literally on its hind legs reaching out for my hovered butt... first off, WHY WOULD YOU WANT TO GO IN THERE. Second, OMFGGGG GROSSSsssss. :( Scarred for life, especially since I have an extreme fear and hate for roaches. But this little roach will not ruin my time here. Honestly, I never lose my appetite, so we had our first meal of tuna Moroccan salad and a questionable roasted chicken sandwich at Oasis Cafe. I didn't get the runs afterwards, so the chicken was safe! haha
From Oasis Cafe, we headed onward to Rabat. Rabat is the capital and residence of the king and located right along the Atlantic Ocean. We drove along the coastline of Rabat soaking in the sea air. Once we checked into Hotel Darna, we went out to explore the medina, which is the old city district.
We were soon to find out that these medina's were filled with maze like narrow streets with hidden gems of amazing fountains, palaces, and mosques. But tonight, Iddir just took us on a light walk through the medina to get a feel of the night market. Crowded, trash everywhere, street food on wheeled carts, strange smells, but the liveliness and vibrancy of the old medina brought a great energy through me and Bonnie. We were so pumped up to start our journey! PUMPED UP *insert Arnold Schwarzenegger voice here*. We decided to go with a "safer" street food option of garbanzo beans roasted to perfection and sprinkled with cumin and salt. YUM, a great midnight snack! Also walking in the medina, we came to the strong realization that we were literally, the only Asians probably in the whole city and all of Morocco. Boy did we stand out... and get the attention! The minute we stepped out of Iddir's car, people were trying to holler and talk to us with "KONICHIWAHHHH" and other phrases they know in whatever random Asian language. Some even went all out in full sentences of Japanese. Pretty impressive!
Next morning, Bonnie and I were so of the architecture of our hotel, we had a hotel photoshoot before breakfast haha. What we didn't know was that this hotel was merely a pebble in comparison to the other gems we were headed to the rest of the trip.
From the hotel, we went to Kasbah des Oudaidas which is famous for the blue and white washed buildings similar to that of Bibinequer, Spain and Santorini, Greece (definitely not as sanitary or clean as these two places though... mysterious stinky dirty water on the ground that we tried to avoid like hot lava). It was really fun getting lost around the narrow, windy streets of this kasbah. Kasbahs are old medinas that hold homes where about 40+ families live as a community. Just like a medina, kasbah's have high walls like a fortress protecting the homes inside. This kasbah had beautiful ornate wood door carvings and colorful tiles contrasting with the white and blue walls. What impressed me most was the juxtaposition of the "new" and the "old" between the kahbah walls which were hundreds of years old and the main entrance gate that was over thousands of years! Bonnie and I had a nice walk along the beach (beautiful, but unkept) until we jumped back into the car towards Hassan Tower and Mausolée Mohammed V (or in simple English, the mausoleum).
This was the first taste of real Moroccan architecture. This was where the King and his two sons King Hassan II and Prince Abdallah were buried. WOW. Seriously speechless by the amount of detail that went into the mausoleum. Intricate hand cut tiles, gold galore, beautiful arches and textures, not a single detail was missed when making this monument... Bonnie and I literally spent HOURS just exploring the old mosque ruins, through the mausoleum, the courtyard, and all the surrounding buildings. Even playing hide & seek and taking jumping photos... is that disrespectful? Jumping photos at a burial site...? :roll: Oopsie, sorry that I'm not sorry. During our photoshoot, we met sweet Ikramita and her sister, who both joined into the photo shoot! haha Although there was definitely a language barrier, we still managed to make new friends :).
From the mausoleum, we were on the direction to Meknes, a UNESCO world heritage site! We stopped at a gas station for some on the road snacks (I gotta have them!). Whenever we go visit a country, Bonnie and I always like to try the local snacks so we got some strange exotic fruit ice cream, Nutro hazelnut wafer cookies, and CrunChips Red Chili potato chips. This is where we were introduced to our obsession of CrunChips. The bag was gone in literally 10 minutes. SO. GOOD. There were people selling Indian figs and other strange fruits, so Iddir let us try some. It was arguable sanitary, but... When in Africa! haha They were very tasty!
Once we arrived in Meknes, we were met up by our local tour guide, Alssam Fahid. When you book a private tour around Morocco, you have to keep in mind that the price you pay the Morocco tour guide, in our case Iddir, does not include entrance fees and tips for the local tour guides. Iddir was our driver, but the actual local tour guides are hired by your driver and paid by YOU when you get there. Please be aware when budgeting for your trip.
We stopped right in front of the titled "most beautiful gate in Morocco," Bab Mansour gate, built by sultan Moulay Ismail. Visiting Meknes will allow you to see Moulay Ismail's architectural legacy. To be honest, the description of the gate in travel books are not how I viewed it. I was not impressed. Maybe the locals agree as well. It was funny to see how locals just walk by as if it is just a part of normal day life. Moroccans are lucky to be living in art, history, and beauty on their everyday lives, but I guess there is beauty in everything, no matter where you are. I hope I can appreciate the beautiful things in life not only in my home, but where ever I go. Alsamm took us from Place el-Hadim (the main square in front of the Bab Mansour gate) through the medina and souq where we first encountered a Moroccan market filled with saw spice pyramids, olives of every color, and really unsanitary ways to store meat, and.... CAMEL HEAD....THE SMELL. DEAR GOD. I rarely get grossed out by things, but my nose needed a lot of time to get used to the smell without the urge to gag. In the sweet pastries stall, the food and even the man was literally COVERED from head to toe in bees, like bees chillin' all over his body, all up in his mouth, swarming around his head... I guess if you can't fight 'em, gotta live with 'em! haha
We all hopped back into Iddir's black on black pimpin' 4Runner to the Bab al Khamis gate, the main entrance to the city walls, then to Sahrij Souani, which is used for irrigation and plantation for the medina, and then headed straight into the Les Greniers de Moulay Ismail. Built in the 17th century, this is where Moulay Ismail used as a granary, where he stored feed, and used as stables. I was impressed by the structural engineering to support these immensely tall ceilings and it was just fun running around playing hide and seek with Bonnie. Maybe me and Bonnie were just a bit rude because we would go out on our own taking photos while the tour guide was talking but seriously, dude, let us take our photos! haha Afterwards, our tour guide also took us to Pavilion des Ambassadeurs and the jail next door. Again, beautiful tiles, but the jail was a bit eerie... imagining prisoners, shackled by the ankle chillin' in the darkness. All three of these public places cost 10DH (less than 3USD) per person to get in, so it is very affordable. In my opinion the only place worth actually seeing would be the grenier. If there is limited time on your trip, I recommend taking the jail and main city entrance out of your itinerary.
Tipping rule of thumb: Once Bonnie and I found out that we had hired local tour guides, we knew we had to tip our guide. What we used as a rule of thumb was about 5USD/hr or 40-50 Moroccan DH/hr. Because this tour guide was with us all morning, we tipped him 200 MDH.
Right outside the jail, there are really great stores filled with Berber merchandise like rugs, jewelry, and ceramics. Berbers are the indigenous people of Northern Africa west of the Nile Valley. Iddir, our tour guide, is actually a Berber as well! How cool is that! We were taken to a restaurant that was very beautiful, but it screamed touristy. It was very colorful with intricate details on the ceilings, but they only had set menus of 150DH (which is about 18USD/person). THAT is an expensive lunch, even for Americans (again, touristy). But we didn't care because it was our first taste of real Moroccan couscous and chicken tagine. The couscous was actually a letdown. It is not as flavorful as couscous in the US. It is more a "side" than the main meal. The tagine on the other hand... DAMN.. Succulent chicken with a savory curry like sauce. Moroccan desserts.. not as good or exotic as it sounds. Bonnie and I were not a fan, especially after eating all those delicious French pastries just the day before.
With full happy stomachs, we drove to Volubilis which was about 33 km north of Meknes. Bonnie and I had food coma and PFTO in the car. I woke up in the middle of desert like, "uh where the fuck are we?" We pulled up to Volubilis (or also known as Oualili) and honestly did not want to go out or even see the place. It was hot, we were groggy from a food coma nap, and we were exhausted from our full morning. But we were so glad that we forced ourselves to wake up, go out, and explore! Volubilis is the best preserved archeological site in Morocco and is declared a UNESCO World Heritage site. It was built in 225 BC and annexed in 40AC.... HOLY F. 225 BC!!!!!!!! B... fucking... C!!!! I could not believe how old this place was. Although it's age, this place supposedly has some of the best maintained mosaics in the world.
After you pay the 20DH entrance fee, there are a group of Berber men at the gate that basically harass you to hire them as your tour guide. Bonnie and I really just wanted to go in quickly, take pretty photos, and go back into the car to sleep (we were cranky after our nap haha), but I don't regret hiring Abdul as our tour guide (for 150 DH) as he was very knowledgable of the history and mosaics of these ruins... and he was a great photographer for our pretty photos haha! Not going to lie, pretty photos were honestly all Bonnie and I cared about at the moment. Abdul was very energetic and a pretty funny guy calling us Aisha and Fatima, giving us a history lesson while guiding us the impressive mosaics, showing where the Romans used to throw up and poop after indulging in all the food (hard life the Romans had), and even taking us to the brothel area... Apparently, the city was built with penis sculptures on the walls through the main streets, with the head of the penis pointing in the direction of the brothel! HAHAHA Maybe I am immature, but that is pretty damn hilarious. Wanna show your penis a good time? Follow the happy brick penis road! I honestly did not believe him until I actually saw the brick with the a giant penis carving on it... Abdul made us both caress "it", and not just a gentle caress, a caress that we would "to move our boyfriends"... OMG 8O. He made us really rub the shit out of that penis until the sculpture became squeaky shinny. He also gave both me and Bonnie a "massage" touching all over our bodies in the Roman "relax" rooms... but it was like "Bro... don't know where your hands were been. Please don't touch me." My penis touching hands and basically my whole body felt dirty, but because of Abdul's service with the addition "something something," we tipped him a little extra ;) just kidding! GROSS.
If you are in Meknes, take the time to drive and go to Volubilis. It is a must see! Probably one of the best ruins I have been to and I have been to most of them in Athens, Greece and Italy. What was different about these ruins was that there were no tourists whatsoever (or people..), so you have the whole place to yourself, the scenery of the mountains surrounding the land, wild wheat growing through the cracks of the ruin floors, olive trees lining the unpaved roads... it's the real thing with no bells and whistles added for tourists.
From here, we continued our journey to Fes through the remote villages of Zgouta along the foothills of the Rif Mountains.... I just slept in the back like a baby haha. It was an exhausting, but eventful day full of Moroccan awesomeness. I can't wait to see what Fes has to offer!