A Travellerspoint blog

Morocco, Marrakech

Riad Massin ~ Atlas Mountains ~ Jardin Majorelle ~ Souks

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We arrived around 8pm and were dropped off infront a local restaurant full of people watching one single TV. Immediatly intrigued by our surroundings, we unloaded our bags from the 1985 mercedes diesel. I'm sure we looked like circus clowns to the locals... 5 girls spilling out of the car, several bags (sorry, I can vouch for that) and our main acessory, the American accent. Trying not to cause any attention to ourselves we organized our bags and were greeted by a man from our hostel, Yusuff the Riad Massin. Our future best friend, Yusif, led us through narrow, 3 story, moroccan style building corridors to our destination. A little castle/munchkin-like door was where we were brought to; as the door was answered, the last few glances to eachother were those of hesitation. I think we all stopped holding our breath once the door was answered by a woman in traditional moroccan style robes, and a genuine smile.

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The hospitality was absolutly wonderful. Upon our arrival, we were presented their traditional Mint Tea (Moroccan Wisky). The presentation of the mint tea is a large part of their culture, it may have been the best ethnic welcoming I've had. There's a specific process to make the tea which entails serveral steps of adding the sugar, tea and mint. They consider it an art form which is fixed and proured a specific way. Really interesting to watch, and the taste wasn't bad at all... minty tea with a ton of sugar, I'll take two please.

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After spending our first night at the Riad, we arranged to take a day trip to the Atlas Mountains. What we really wanted to do was take the 3 day excursion to the desert; with camels, sights, camping and 4x4's... but 3 days there limited us, and let's not complain, we are in Morocco. A beautiful view of the valleys consumed our attention on the way to the mountains, along with people riding donkeys, as often as cars on the road.
Our first stop was a family's house half way up the mountain. The house overlooked a valley where you could see a few small cities in the distance. The family was wonderful, extremely welcoming and generous. They had a 1 person "sauna", cows in their living room and 3 balconys. The women showed us how bread was cooked over an open fire and served us authentic honey, butter and olive oil. All three tasted very different from what I've had before... probably beacuse theirs no chemicals, pesticides, preservatives. Shocking on what food should really taste like. The family seemed to be close to Yusiff, our guide/parent for the week. He brings people there and they share their house and lifestyle with tourists. I thought it was perfect, how much closer can you get to authentic moroccan life? Exactly what I wanted to see.

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... What we've all been waiting for... the camels. After we thanked the family for their hospitality, we we're off to our next adventure. The party bus pulled off the side of the mountain road and there sat about 6 camels... and a baby one! No way, we we're all so pumped... 1 - Seeing a Camel, 2 - Seeing a BABY Camel. It was great. The camels marinate on the ground with their legs tucked underneath until it's time to go for a stroll. They were so sweet and never once did I see one spit! We took a little mountain ride on them, sat and basked in the sun, in all our glory. No complaints here.

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About 45 minutes up the mountain, we stopped and began our trek to the waterfall. It was about an hour hike to the top, only stopping for pictures and a few leaps over/in some streams. At some points throughout the climb, the path was so narrow that if you took a wrong step, the adventure could have quickly turned into base jumping rather then a hike.
We crossed paths with two Moroccan woman who had an enormous amount of mint leaves being carried on their backs. She said something to me as I was hiking up, I couldn't understand, but she had a smile on her face and seemed friendly. I had my camera in hand and held it up, gesturing for a picture?... our friendly relationship, only seconds old, was quickly terminated. She started yelling god knows what, at me, which I translated into "Don't take my picture you stupid American tourist bitch." Before I was pushed off the side of the Atlas'.. I put my camera away and somehow motioned "I'm Sorry"... is there a universal sign for "I'm Sorry"?. I need to find out before I have any more foreign encounters.
We reached the waterfall and it really was amazing... before you could see it, you could hear it. To stop, look around, and realize where I was.. was wierd. Knowing that you are standing on the top of the Atlas Mountains under a waterfall, with only mountains in view. I mean, if someone wants to go and find themselves, this would be the place to do it.

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Posted by eMaybeck 18.11.2008 08:52 Archived in Morocco Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Madrid

Plaza de Sol ~ Museo del Prado ~ Sol y Sombra

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We were only in Madrid for one night at the beginning of the week because our golden chariot didn't offer flights from Barcelona to Morocco. Testing the waters of Madrid on a Monday night was the general consensus. Our first new friend in Madrid, Eduardo, we met in one of the plazas. He was promoting a bar/club/lounge type scene called Sol y Sombra. We had not found a place to have a few cocktails yet, so once again we we’re convinced to go. Sexy Back was bumping and pina coladas were on the menu, seemed good enough. The only other people in there were a group of 5 guys from Liverpool, where we all took the initiative and sat down with them and became bff’s for the night. We also made friends with the manager who in turn, gave us free drinks. We had now found our destination for the following weekend when we return, well done.

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The following day we had some time in the morning/afternoon to do some more exploring. Madrid seemed more down to earth than Barcelona. The city is made up of long calles and many open plazas. The streets were nothing like my view of a city, but I need to stop comparing with NYC. They were small and naturally we got lost a few times. The city had good shopping that varied from the trendy chain stores to little stands set up in las plazas.

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The next 3 days were spent in Morocco, but that is a whole other story and I’m trying to stay organized here...
We didn’t arrive in Madrid until Friday at midnight. I fell asleep on the plane and woke up with a nice case of nausea. Not sure why, could have been the airborn foreign germs, or possibly the huge bag of peanut M&M's I ate an hour earlier. It was to the point where I was holding the "barf bag", honestly thinking that I was going to have to use it. I couldn't shake the nausea, so ended up passing out on the bottom bunk. Pickin, Mchugh and Kelly went out for a few sangria's, so mad I couldn't go. Health comes first, but I hate missing fun.

The next day we fully took on Madrid. We spent the day seeing the city, eating and shopping. There was the Rembrant and Goya exhibit at el Museo del Prado which we got the chance to see. All of the exhibits we're beautiful, their age and detail was unbelievable. Lots of life size sculptures, made from marble and stone, it's amazing to think that they created these all by hand.

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Posted by eMaybeck 18.11.2008 05:08 Archived in Spain Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

First Travels to Spain

Barcelona ~ Las Ramblas ~ La Sagrada Familia

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We simply could not wait for this trip... leading up to the day of departure, the 5 of us (Katie Mchugh, Rachael Pickin, Bethany Carey, Kelly Erisman and myself) must have had a facebook thread as long as California. Easy jet seemed to be our golden chariot and although we did take several flights, it was well worth the effort to see these cities in one week.

Our first stop on the itinerary was Barcelona. The legend says that Hercules founded it in the 3rd Century BC, 400 years before Rome.... almost as old as Huntington. Step one, transportation was fairly easy to get from A to B... Donde estan el Metro por favor?.. was asked a few times before we actually found it, but all ran smoothly from there. We found our first booked 4 star hotel on a little side street... Hello BCN Hostel, complementary champagne was offered on arrival (sarcasm). After we arrived and sat down for about 5 minutes we then decided that exploring the supermarket for snacks and cervesas was step two. After some decision making in the market, we walked out with 5 spanish 40's, a few no-name energy drinks, 2 boxes of sangria, bags of potato chips, crackers, a block of brie cheese and body wash (or what I hoped was body wash, the hygene unit in 8th grade spanish didn't quite come back to me)... our parents would have been proud on our dinner choices. When traveling, do as travelers do right?

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The night was unsure on which direction to go. Deciding on a late dinner (you will rarely find people out to dinner before 10:30pm), an Aussie had stopped us with a good sales pitch for a pub crawl... and being the collegiate grads that we are, we felt that it was almost sacrilegious to refuse. So we subsituted dinner for drinking. Once again, our parents would be proud. The pub crawl turned out to be a solid choice. Each place was really unique, and we seemed to make new best-friends-for-the-hour in each bar. A lot of fun and it was interesting to see where the people along the crawl were from. All over the world, some people were just on week holidays and others had been traveling for months. Overall, the night ended with our hair up from intense attempted spanish style dance and barefeet. I would classify it as a success.

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The following day the sun was shining just for us. I believe that if it was rainy, our hangovers could have been pushed to the max, which there was a possibility of sleeping all day. Close call. We explored Las Ramblas, which was similar to a central square. The atmosphere was a mix between locals and tourists, but it was a great combination. Light hearted, busy and happy. There were little stands set up selling hand-made crafts, jewelry, clothes and touristy items. An outdoor mall with original things? We could call it that.

After we had enough of Las Ramblas, the foreign 5 team hopped on el metro to see La Sagrada Familia. Designed by Antoni Gaudi in 1882, the unbelievably large Roman-Catholic church is still under construction. It seemed as though you could look at it for hours and get lost in the detail of each area. It gives you a headache to even think about how they began to build it in the 19th century. We took the "lift" to the top of one of the towers to see the view. It was a rather foggy day, but even without seeing clearly it truely was a "Woooow" moment. You could see mostly the entire city, with the main streets creating a patchwork-like scene. We managed to get an entire top deck of a tour bus waving to us.. Holaaaaa! or Hollllllla! Shouting, me encanta Barcelona! Felt like Rocky when he climbed those steps in Philly.... but what goes up, must come down and the only down was about a 3 foot wide, extremely declined, cement spiral staircase. After distracting our rapid heartbeats with a melody of "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" sung in three rounds, sea level came soon enough. With more than 100 years of construction, it still doesn't give it justice on how amazing it really is.

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Barcelona was busy, semi-clean, friendly and had a good sense of life in a Spanish city. If we had more time, we could have covered more areas, but moving on to our next endevor... Voy a Madrid...

Posted by eMaybeck 13.11.2008 06:23 Archived in Spain Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

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