Amusingly we took on an Escape The Room challenge inside the park for 180 MAD per person . . . which we failed miserably.
Leaving the park, we then went straight for lunch at the streetfood alley of Agadir where they serve delicious grilled seafood and fish.
Afterwards we drove up the hill and took in the breathtaking panorama views from the Kasbah fortress.
Although the fortress is currently closed for entry, murals outside depict how the beachside city of Agadir was destroyed in 1960 by an earthquake that registered a 5.7 on the Richter Scale, killing 15,000 people in less than 20 seconds.
This city was later rebuilt with wide avenues lined with low rise futuristic 1960’s design.
After only a few minutes at the fortress, we drove down back to the city and retired at our resort lodgings of Al Moggar, which is so oversized that it was the first time on this trip WiFi didn’t even bother to reach our rooms.
We’re now relaxing by the pool catching up on our tan, while waiting to head out for dinner at a traditional restaurant and say our goodbyes to both WiFi and Crystal by celebrating at Agadir’s seedy nightclubs.
Yes and Agadir does sunsets well here::
Update: I guess our night was a success?
Tomorrow we head even further south to the Western Sahara area of Laayoune!
- At time of posting in Agadir, it was 19 °C -
Humidity: 32% | Wind Speed: 27km/hr | Cloud Cover: partly cloudy and chilly
From Casablanca, we arrived into Marrakesh, Morocco’s third largest city that continues to teem with sights and sounds that emanate from its historical medina.
Although a frustrating place to explore for many travelers as if the rest of the country learned its manners and Marrakech continues to be the bad boy of Morocco, for me it feels good to be back after celebrating New Year’s here 9 years ago!
The only thing missing this time around is Gerard Butler running into us here in the souqs not once . . .
Alas, the company I have today is still more than enough! And besides, they say if something happens twice, it’s bound to happen a third time. . . .
After our uneventful 3 hour drive, we stopped at Koutoubia Mosque on the way into the city.
Koustobia Mosque just got served, 9 years ago.
Then after checking into our lodgings in the Gueliz neighborhood, we went nearly all out with a swanky night at nearby Azar:
The next morning we began our day with a drive to the 16th century Menara gardens and its famed pavilion which was used as a summer residence by Sultan Abderrarhmane and later renovated in 1869.
We then visited the tombs of the Saadian Dynasty. Only discovered in the 20th century, they were left untouched and blocked off for centuries.
Our next stop was the Bahia Palace, a 19th century masterpiece that captures essence of Islamic and Morroccan style.
Although Madrassa Ben Youssef is currently closed for renovations right now, I remember visiting it as a “must see” 9 years ago:
Just south of here you can walk around the Royal Palace and historic Medina, taking in the Marrakech city walls and its most famous gate at Bab Khemis.
And obviously although it can be an irritating experience if you’re not comfortable with pushy and touchy shopkeepers, a walk through the maze-like souqs are otherwise a must:
We then concluded our day at the exquisite Majorelle Gardens which was laid out by the French expat Louis Maforelle and later restored by Yves Saint Laurent. It now has become a breeding ground for aspiring instagram stars.
After a break at the hotel, we returned to Djema El Fna Square:
Musicians, dancers, snake charmers and storytellers mix in with aggressive food stall “greeters”, all packing the square and creating this unique atmosphere late into the evening.
We first parked up at a rooftop for an hour watching the sunset before heading downstairs for food. Then recalling my experience here 9 years ago, I braced myself for the worst …and boy did Djema el Fna not let me down: We barely stepped foot into the square before being immediately harassed left and right, called “ugly face” and “bitch” repeatedly by various food stall workers for walking past and not choosing them. Some strong armed us and pushed us into a stall, others grabbed our hands and began designing henna tattoos against our will and then demanding money afterwards, many yelled, one spat.
More specifically, while Stall #14 for example has remained to this day the most popular for fried fish, workers at Stall #5 next door will brazenly lie to your face by claiming their food will come from Stall #14 if you sit in theirs and order from them. It’s shameless.
Finally to add insult to injury, many of the stalls will also fleece you further by adding a number of extra dishes to your bill that you never asked for. If you’re okay with spending a few extra dollars just for that experience, then go for it with that expectation. You can’t win them all: Welcome to Marrakech.
However Marrakech later made up for it to us after an impressive redemption meal and drinks at MY Kechmara back in the Gueliz district. That was much much better.
Tomorrow we head onwards for fresher pastures south to Agadir!
- At time of posting in Marrakesh, it was 22 °C -
Humidity: 47% | Wind Speed: 3km/hr | Cloud Cover: clear
After 10 days in Algeria, we headed to Oran airport for the 2:20pm Air Algiers flight to Casablanca . . .
. . . arriving at 3:40pm on an otherwise uneventful 1 hour and 20 minute flight.
But just as a reminder as how Morocco had been a frustrating place to travel for me back in 2011, the passport control officer at Casablanca airport would rudely scoff at me and stamped one of my last few blank pages of my passport when I pleaded for him not to (I now only have 2 blank pages left!).
I may have had a first world problem, sure, but gee thanks sir for a great first impression of my attempt to give this country a second chance.
We soon made our way downtown to our centrally located Hotel Diwan where we quickly dropped off our bags, rendezvous’ing with a new traveler Peter from Australia, before going out for a splendid welcome dinner in the Corniche area!
After dinner we headed out into the surrounding area to experience some of Casablanca’s nightlife that included copious amounts of wine, whiskey, and shisha, finishing with an obligatory visit to Rick’s Café of Casablanca fame right before it closed at 1am:
And I’m ashamed to admit this, but I did drop $22 USD (220 MAD) for a glass of Johnny Walker Blue Label on the rocks.
No, I don’t drink much, but when I do it would be at a well-done replica of Rick’s Bar Americain.
Casablanca just got served.
The next morning we grabbed some breakfast in the hotel before checking out at 8:30am and spending the morning sightseeing around the economic capital of Morocco.
While not aesthetically beautiful, the city remains Morocco’s most progressive, liberal and culturally diverse.
And no trip to Casablanca would be complete without a visit to the Hassan II Mosque, which claims a bunch of superlatives: the largest in Africa, the largest outside of the Middle East, arguably the 3rd largest in the world, and tallest minaret in the world.
This mosque is a photographer’s dream in the morning light.
Try to get in as early as 9am to beat the horde of other tourists.
To visit downstairs and the absolution room, you unfortunately have to swallow your pride and hop on one of the larger scheduled free group tours that form at around 9:15/9:30am.
We then parked near the Corniche Boulevard for a quick classic postcard shot.
From there we strolled back along the Corniche but this time during the day: A once thriving resort area, it has lost its once glorious image now that it is filled with plastic surgery clinics and nightclubs.
We then returned back for a cup of coffee in the old city and medina area.
Finally, we went for one more quick walk around United Nations Square by the Habous district and Mohammed V Boulevard before heading onwards for our 3 hour drive to Marrakech!
- At time of posting in Casablanca, it was 15 °C -
Humidity: 63% | Wind Speed: 8km/hr | Cloud Cover: clear
You’re going to crave slow roasted chicken, beef, or lamb tajines on the rooftops overlooking Morocco, the fresh and perfectly seasoned roasted vegetables, and the happiness of knowing that while Calvin is blogging, he’s not eating, so there’s more to go around…
The warm, fresh bread that came out with every meal, the crisp glass bottle refreshments that felt so novel and for some reason, more delicious than fountain or plastic, and the unspoken permission the paper table “cloth” afforded you to get messy while you eat…
You’re going to crave this couscous: the meal made by our own group under the guidance of our gracious hosts, and the generous portions allowed to all.
You probably won’t crave french fries, but you’ll crave the various skewered meat pictured next to it.
You will definitely crave slow cooked tajines.
You’ll double crave this couscous skewered meat combination. At a certain point I had no idea what kind of meat I was eating, but it was so good, even if I was eating the pigeons I saw some kids outside clutching in their hands, I really wouldn’t have cared. I will crave pigeons if pigeons is what I ate. And you will too.
You already started craving the eggplant dish that comes in the Moroccan 6 dish appetizer at Cafe Souk 20 minutes after we finished eating it, so you’ll crave it again. Next time, we’ll order a 12 dish appetizer.
You’ll miss the fresh squeezed natural fruit juices; not too sweet, not too sour, but just right. And paired with smoking shisha on yet another rooftop watching the sunset to the sounds of the adhan. Yea, you’ll definitely crave it.
Is anyone even reading my captions? Or are you just looking at the food pictures?
You will crave all the food that we didn’t order on the menu because we only had 8 people to feed, and the idea of not knowing what you were gonna get or maybe what anything on the menu meant, but trusting that it would be an experience itself, whether it was delicious or not (mostly delicious, though).
You will crave this. Even though it looks like a sausage egg Mcmuffin without the egg and cheese, trust me. It’s not. And going to McDonald’s will not satiate your craving for this street vendor lamb wrapped in bread. Not by a long shot. On the other hand, there is a Moroccan food truck that I’ve been stalking in L.A, if you want to visit…
You will crave alternating biting out of the above mentioned lamb, and drinking this soup. (But you will not miss having to share it with 7 other people).
You will crave rice pudding, cheesecake, mango ice cream, and other desserts from the world’s oldest restaurant. You will definitely crave the rice pudding since I stole it and ate most of it. Sorry. ^_^;;
You will crave the slow roast pig from the world’s oldest restaurant, even though I was disappointed it didn’t come out a full pig with an apple in its mouth.
You will crave beer with Hemingway.
I don’t remember what this is but you will crave dipping bread in it.
I have been craving this meal in Barcelona since the minute it ended, and not just because of the stuffed sweet peppers and “what-dreams-are-made-of” champagne, but because the combination of new friends and new food at the beginning of a new adventure is a dish like none other (zing). Nope, sorry. I tried really hard to make this post about more than just food, but the reality is, I had a life changing experience on this trip, and it had a lot to do with cuisine.
I have an interesting relationship with food at home; its not that I’m picky about food, but I really don’t care to try new things at new restaurants because it’s mostly just expensive for the kind of taste I could guess at. Eating at a fancy schmancy restaurant and considering the “light hint” of anything or “subtle texture” of my food has never been my thing. I eat food that will nourish me, and that means I’m a meat and potatoes and bread and salad kinda girl. But hot damn.
I don’t know if I will carry this desire to try new foods back to the U.S, but this trip has definitely made me somewhat of a “foodie” (shudder). I feel like I will be that snob that goes to a “Spanish cuisine” restaurant and the person across from me will be all “I love tapas” and I’ll be all, “You’ve never had real tapas. I’ve been to Spain, I miss REAL Spanish food.” Sorry in advance.
They say that 1st time is happenstance, 2nd time is coincidence…
Let it be known that after our first run-in — and now definitely after this second coincidental run-in, Gerard Butler now reads this blog, and I quote from June (left in photo):
“It was funny how he mentioned he had read The Monsoon Diaries, because he kept saying how he usually doesn’t look into these things that mention him. I also mentioned your North Korea trip to him, and he seemed interested [in following up]. Maybe you’ll have another famous follower? He also complimented you…something along the lines of you seem to be very confident.”
Melissa (right in photo):
“Gerard said that you’re very charismatic.”
So the Spartan King from 300 who took on Xerxes and his one million Persian soldiers with a battalion of 300 Spartans, just complimented me on my confidence and charisma…I think I might work up some of both to make a visit to Scotland and ask him to monsoon with me. Perhaps Gerard could be the next travel partner on my 2nd trip to North Korea?
The full account, through June’s words:
“I thought saying good bye to Marrakesh, Morocco, was when my noteworthy adventure would end. Stepping out of the taxi and taking in the beautiful entrance of the Menara Airport in Marrakesh, I was preparing for the long flights ahead. No more breathtaking sites, no more freedom to stroll around winding streets, and no more interacting with locals. After a long arduous wait for our boarding passes, Melissa and I finally made it to our gate. As we were waiting we noticed a familiar face trying to board our flight. It was Gerard Butler! I looked to Melissa for confirmation as I stared at her in disbelief. It was amazing enough that the first time we ran into him was just a couple of days earlier, but this was unreal.
We struggled to muster up the courage to talk to Gerard and to make sure we don’t make a spectacle. I debated within myself if it would have been an intrusion of his privacy, but reasoned that if it were any other person I had happened to met earlier, I would have said hi again at the very least. I turned to say hi. It was possibly one of the most awkward greetings I have ever done, but at least I was able to mention how I thought it was such a coincidence that we ran into each other again. After the awkward start of the conversation, he was kind enough to mention that he had remembered our group, particularly because of the post on The Monsoon Diaries. He divulged the fact that he indeed did manage to look at that entry personally. His manager had done the search and shared the link to him. Gerard mentioned that he usually doesn’t look into these things, but he had scrolled through that entry and had seen the activities our group was doing such as cooking and site-seeing. It is difficult to imagine a busy man like him taking time to do that, but I was glad to hear that he was impressed by it.
We chatted with Gerard until we were the last people to board our flight. He was kind enough to even talk to others who had approached him. As we were about to board the plane, Melissa and I asked if we could take another photo to document this coincidence. And voila. I was glad that we had the time to chat. To Gerard, good luck with your premier for Coriolanus and hope your endeavors with surfing remain accident free!
The next part of the never-ending trip: the flight from Marrakesh to Madrid was delayed by about 40 minutes, which caused Melissa and me to miss our connecting flight to JFK. As an inexperienced flyer, I worried about missing the flight. Were we going to be stranded? Did I need to buy another plane ticket? Thankfully, other passengers aboard reassured me that the flight company would arrange a hotel for me to stay in overnight to catch the next flight out without any cost. As we landed, Melissa and I had parted ways. I had to go to the customer service desk to get my other boarding pass as well as figure out what my options to get home were. The wait was over one hour long, but the service to get me a place to stay and food to eat was quick. I was a bit worried that my lack of the Spanish language would get me lost, but many of the people I stopped for help were able to show me the way despite the language barrier.”
And so I spent the night in my own room in a nice hotel before having to go home for no additional cost. Privacy at last. Not a bad way to spend my last night abroad.
- At time of posting in New York City, Central Park, it was -2 °C -
Humidity: 44% | Wind Speed: 10km/hr | Cloud Cover: broken clouds
You’re going to miss the freedom of wandering, the days that begun with nothing to expect, the trust in what’s around the corner, the feeling of wanderlust, the time when you were free to do anything that you wanted.
You’re going to miss rambling about the traffic-free streets of Las Ramblas, the unexpected good company of native Barcelonians, eating the jamóns of jamóns.
You’re going to miss scrambling for food at the market, the taste of sharing, the company of a new kind of family on Christmas Day.
You’re going to miss the endless series of plazas, the breakdancing lesson by sunset, the illusion of pregaming with Hemingway, the dinner at the oldest restaurant in the world.
You’re going to miss the thrill of making it to an overnight bus, meeting new friends who were willing to meet you at 6am in the morning, discovering entire neighborhoods to yourself in the middle of the night, the taste of melted chocolate con churros for breakfast.
You’re going to miss the lazy exploration of a long lost Arabian castle, the long climb up a neverending hill, the subsequent views that were worth every calorie burnt, the free tapas with every vino tinto.
You’re going to miss listening to the epic stories of La Mezquita with your backpacks on, the slow cooked pork shoulder, the mere 5 hours we spent in a hostel when we arrived after everyone else was asleep and left before everyone was awake.
You’re going to miss the fresh city feel of Sevillan streets, the games of vacation! with new friends who shared a love for internet meme references, the comparisons of Alhambra to Sevilla Cathedral, the lazy gardens and labyrinths of Alcázar, the realization of seeing a live flamenco show at its very origin.
You’re going to miss the hills of Andalucía, the easy entrance into Gibraltar, the feeling of walking through an entire country in 30 minutes, the monkeys trying to steal your bags, the overwhelming immensity of seeing 2 bodies of water at the same time, the breathlessness of being high in the sky.
You’re going to miss ferrying over into another continent, the sunsets over a country you’re saying goodbye to, the arrival into a strange new land, the fear of finding something that wasn’t on the map.
You’re going to miss the inevitable feeling of missing a train, the overnight in a city no tourists ever visit, the train station café that has no idea why you’re there, the relief of getting back on the right train.
You’re going to miss the taste of your first Moroccan whiskey, the lecture on Islam from a stranger you just met, the winding alleyways of the largest medina in the world, the cheaply delicious food stalls, the 4 hours lazy shisha session in a hidden café, the rooftop dinner while listening to the adhan, the argument over money, the epic bromancing over coma-inducing ice cream.
You’re going to miss the overnight train into Marrakech, the street theater of Djemaa El Fna, the inevitable comparisons of souks, the New Year’s Eve celebrations that worked out in the end.
You’re going to miss the haggling over taxi fares, the endless rounds of tasty tagines, smoking shisha over the adhan, the off-the-bone lamb, and running into Gerard Butler not once…
You’re going to miss most of all, each other; the company of different personalities searching for different things, doing something epic with your life, and yet still united by an inexplicable curiosity of wanderlust. You’ll look back and ask yourself: “how the hell did we do that?”
You’re going to miss it long after when we say goodbye…
…because I already was missing it when we said hello.
- At time of posting in NYC, it was -11 °C -
Humidity: 62% | Wind Speed: 8km/hr | Cloud Cover: clear