I woke up at 6 am and got all ready in travel gear. And then we plowed through a foot and a half of snow with our luggage down 65 steps (well, we didn’t really step down it, we slid and tripped down it). It was snowing really hard while we walked to the train station. When we got there, we missed the train by 3 minutes (because of the snow). And so we had to get a taxi to the next train station. The taxi driver knew, I think, we needed to get there fast — it was AWESOME. He drove fast and we skidded a lot and some of the time it felt like we caught some air.
The first train ride was 30 minutes and we went from Bex to Sion, then we got on another train that went from Sion to Milan that took 2 hours, then finally we got on 1 more train that was 3 hours and we went from Milan to Rome!!!! It was raining, and if I was out in it for a minute without a rain jacket I’d be soaked and cold.
A few days into our trip to Morocco we booked a “Sahara Excursion” with our hostel. The plan was to take a three-day two-night trip to the Atlas Mountains and Sahara Desert. The first night we would stay in a hotel just after the Atlas Mountains, and the second night camp in the desert. We went with a group in a van that fit 17 passengers and a driver. We luckily only had 16 passengers unlike some other groups.
We ended up with a really great group that was made up of eight nationalities including Mohammed (a.k.a. “the Boss”) who is Moroccan. There were three Finnish women, two Australian women, a woman and her son from the Dominican Republic, two German guys, a South Korean guy, a Danish couple, and us from the USA. We mainly hung out with the Danish couple, Augusta and Andreas. But we also spent a lot of time with Rose and Claire from Australia and Young from South Korea. Rose became the DJ for our van but mostly played songs I had never heard of. On the trip back I became the DJ but I did not do a very good job. The people in the group were really nice and fun.
The first day was a lot of driving but with lots of stops. When we made it to the hotel every one was exhausted so we went to our room to get cleaned up for dinner. Dinner was chicken tagine, which is mostly what I ate in Morocco. The hotel was nice but a little chilly. The view from the window was very nice, looking out onto a river. In the morning we were all on the bus by 7:30.
It was a very long day of driving so we were all super excited to get out of the van and do what we had all come to do. CAMEL RIDING!!!!!!! We all rushed to go to the bathroom and get our belongings. Then we went to our camels — there were four tied together for our family. Mine, my dad’s and my brother’s all had complicated Arabic names that I can’t remember. There were three camels named Jimmy Hendrix (or was it just one that the camel men mixed up?) including Augusta’s and my mom’s.
I was on the camel in the very back. Sadly this was behind my brother’s camel whom we promptly nicknamed Farty. This name was very soon after updated to Farty the Pee Spraying Camel. The ride was going great; the red sand was completely unblemished and the camels feet left large circular prints on the sand. Tall dunes surrounded us and wind blew sand of the top of the dunes. It was perfect until we stopped for a picture. The camels all thought that it would be a great time to pee. They seemed to lack the knowledge of holding their tails out while they peed so their tails became soaked. They then shook their tails around vigorously and therefore soaked the entire family in pee. Especially me. I would just like to thank Farty the Pee Sprayer for that lovely wet gift!
You can read about the rest of our Sahara trip and more in my brother’s and mom’s awesome posts about the desert!
The main square of the old city of Marrakech (Jemaa el Fna) , Morocco is a pretty hectic place. Men, women and children approach you with their hands full of anything from cell phones to toys to cookies asking you to buy. They are quite persistent and will follow you around. Yesterday night in Marrakech two young children, a boy and a girl, came up too us trying to sell cookies. They would jump in front of us forcing us to stop and go around them and their cookies only to have them dash in front of us again. After dinner a teenage boy followed us trying to sell toys. My mom scared him away!
Today in the square I got a henna tattoo. It shows flowers and has my name written in Arabic. The thing is, we did not mean to buy the henna tattoos. A Muslim lady who introduced herself as Miriam approached us and asked if we would like henna. We told her that we might come back later. But Miriam would not take no for an answer. She said she would show us and that we could come back some other time. She grabbed my hand and began to squirt henna paste on my hand. The design is very beautiful and I love how my name looks in Arabic. Miriam then grabbed Ollie’s hand and drew flowers all over it. Poor Oliver. He had bright orange flowers all over his hand.
We politely said thank you and proceeded to walk away. Miriam stopped us and demanded 100 dirhams. “My normal price is 200 but I like your daughter so 100.” She addressed my dad. He handed her ten dirhams which is equivalent to one euro. “No, it is only one dollar!” she cried. “Yes, because we did not ask you to do it.” Dad countered. A longish heated argument followed. We tried to walk away but she followed us around saying that she needed money to feed her children. She continued to demand money until my dad finally gave her 50 dirhams. She asked for more but Dad told her that he would only give her that much. I know that if you think about it 50 dirhams is only about five euros but in Marrakech a dish of chicken and couscous costs 35 dirhams which is about $3.50.
With the insanely low airfares around Europe, we decided to take a side trip to Morocco for a week. We packed ultra light, carrying only one backpack each. Unfortunately for us, Morocco had an unusual cold snap; so, we ended up being very cold most of the time.
Morocco is by far the most exotic place that we have visited. What we first noticed was that all of the buildings are red. The streets in the old part of the city are all narrow, one lane cobblestone and have pedestrians, horse-and-buggies, motorcycles, donkey-carts, bicycles, and vendors crowding them day and night. They are arranged like a maze with three-story buildings on both sides with no sidewalks. The main square is even more full of activity than the streets. There are rows and rows of artisans selling their wares along with street performers including snake charmers with cobras, singers and dancers, and monkeys dressed in tutus. Vendors can be desperately persistent and would follow us for uncomfortable distances trying to get us to buy something. Just after I had given the kids a talk about not taking anything that is handed to them, a woman in a burka approached us wanting to give us henna tattoos. Before any of us knew what was happening, Audrey’s hand was covered in a beautiful, but unwanted, tattoo. And then, the woman was on Oliver (thinking he was a girl because of his long hair). As I was trying to push her hand away from Oliver, she just scribbled the design all the more fast on his hand. When she was finished, she told us that we could pay whatever we thought it was worth. She ended up thinking it was worth more than we did and things got a little unpleasant. From then on, we all walked around with our hands in our pockets!
The highlight of our trip was a 3 day venture to the Sahara Desert that included taking a camel caravan into the desert for a night of camping. We had a couple of interesting stops before getting to the desert. Our first stop was to visit an old kasbah. You have seen it even though you don’t know it. Many movies have been filmed there including Lawrence of Arabia, Indiana Jones, Babel, the Bible, and Gladiator. Our guide was born there and is a horse handler. So, he has actually been an extra in several of the movies. The Kasbah is very old and does not have electricity or running water; but, people still live there.
We also stopped at a traditional Berber Kasbah and learned all about how they make Berber carpets: from shearing sheep and hand made yarn to using natural dyes and wooden looms.
When we arrived in the Sahara Desert, camels were saddled and waiting for us. I had no idea what camels sound like. They make sort of a groan or heavy sigh that sounds like air forcefully billowing out of something very big. They also make a noise that sounds like water suddenly going down a drain after a clog has been removed. Getting on a camel is interesting in itself. Its hind legs go up first, so you end up facing straight toward the ground until it brings its front legs up. Our four camels were linked together by a rope. A man dressed in a robe and turban led us into the desert.
We all wore turbans presumably to keep the sun and sand out of our hair and faces; but we really did it because it was so much fun. Oliver worked long and hard and can now whip up a turban like a pro. Wrapping a turban turned out to be quite useful as I ended up sleeping in one for the rest of our trip to help keep me warm.
We camped in permanent Berber tents (tents made out of Berber carpets). The handmade carpets are so durable, strong, and tight that no wind could penetrate the tent. While in Morocco, our best (and warmest) night’s rest was in that tent. As soon as we arrived at the camp, we took off to hike up the tallest sand dune in Morocco and watched the sun setting. Afterwards, we enjoyed mint tea by a campfire and then had a traditional Moroccan tagine dinner. After dinner, we enjoyed traditional Berber music and singing by the campfire. The singing inspired others to sing traditional songs from their homeland. It was simply magical!
The Sahara is unbelievably beautiful! The red sand-dunes go on forever. But, what I will remember most happened when I was all alone. I got up in the middle of the night to answer the call of nature. The moon was what I call “an eye-lash moon” with only a sliver visible. But, oh the stars! I have never seen anything like it! Nothing I can think of even comes close. The sky looked like someone had spilled sugar on a swath of black velvet. The stars alone were bright enough to light my way. It seemed like a full moon was out even though there really wasn’t much in the way of a moon at all.
The next morning, we got to see the sun rise over the Sahara while we were riding camels back from our night of camping. It was very, very cold. But, it was also splendid!
On our way from South America to Europe, we took the opportunity to stay with Corey’s brother (Andy), his wife (Valerie), and their 3 year old son on a catamaran in the Caribbean. We met up with them for almost two weeks while in Martinique.
Embarrassing, but true; I thought Martinique was one of the countries in the Caribbean. But, it is part of France. It is sort of like Hawaii is to the US. It is an island thousands of miles away from the larger part of the country.
Staying long-term on a boat is quite an adventure! Of course, it is close quarters, especially with seven of us. We were lucky to have very good weather and could spend most of our time “on deck”. The cabin was mostly used for sleeping and preparing food. Although, there were a couple of rain showers that sent us all inside for a short while.
We have always been amazed with Valerie’s cooking. But, even in the teeny, tiny cooking area of the boat, with limited tools and very limited work-space, she still presented beautiful meals. Particularly memorable was the day she went snorkeling and dove for sea urchins which she elegantly prepared to be eaten with bread. It was a little unsettling though, to see the urchin’s spikes continue wiggling long after the urchins had been eaten.
We all snorkeled pretty much every day. The water in Martinique is crystal clear and the vibrant marine life is abundant. Valerie taught us to snorkle-fish. We baited a fishing-line attached to a spool. While snorkeling, we would lower the bait in front of a fish we wanted to catch. We found ourselves trying to keep from catching squirrelfish. These fish are very aggressive and would scoot in and grab the bait really fast; when we tried to jerk it away from them, they would chase it down. They looked like red-snapper, but after being caught, a gigantic dorsal fin would flair out. Audrey even got a small cut on her leg from a fin. Squirrelfish are very difficult to clean and their bone to meat ratio is not worth the trouble. But, they were everywhere and they really wanted our bait. I can tell you it is somewhat hysterical to be fishing and trying not to catch a (certain) fish at the same time.
The island of Martinique is a lively place indeed. I hope I never forget going to a little grocery store where everyone in the place, including me and the cashier, was dancing to the rhythm of Caribbean music. The markets are full of color, sound, and smells! The towns were quaint and picturesque. It is the perfect island vacation spot.
On the ride to the desert in a van, it took two days to get there (we took a couple of stops). Once we got there, we had a ten minute bathroom break before we got on the camels!! At first, I was scared. But after a while it was awesome!!!!!!!!!!!!!! But then after a while it hurt your butt, because it was an hour and a half ride to our camp. The camels made groaning noises. When they peed they soaked their tails and then they whacked their tails and we got wet!!
When we got there, we hiked up a sand dune. It was the tallest in Morocco, a little over 1,000 feet tall, I was the first person to get up!! And your foot slid on every step. I sprinted down and rolled down; it was lots of fun. But I got sand all up my clothes. And then we sat by the campfire and had some mint tea. And when I went to bed the sand from my clothes got all in my bed; it was horrible. We woke up at 6:30Am and got on the camels. I have two words: it was cold. Wait! that’s three words. Then we had breakfast at 7:30Am. Then we had a long one day trip back, stopping only for bathroom breaks and for lunch. When we got back everyone rushed out of the van!!