Agadir and Hamman

Part 3 of our Moroccan Adventure; you can find Part One here: Morocco, Marrakech, Souks and Sunshine… and Part Two here: The Sahara.

The next morning we were again up at the crack of dawn, our time in Marrakech was over and we were going to catch the 8:30am bus to Agadir. We arrived at the bus station early to buy our tickets and waited. Finally our bus was loading, we went to put our bags on the bus and were advised that we needed to pay if we wanted to bring our luggage, So we walked back into the station to the desk we brought our tickets from and asked for the luggage tickets, thankfully they only cost about 3 euro each. Luggage on board we climbed onto the bus. The bus was only half full and most people had crammed themselves into the front of the bus, so Guada and I headed towards the back of the bus and stretched ourselves out across to rows of chairs and prepared for a relaxing 4 hour trip to Agadir.

Once we arrived in Agadir we headed straight to the hotel, it was Christmas day and I had not yet had the opportunity to call my parents and wish them Merry Christmas so was looking forward to the WiFi to make a quick call before they went to bed. We arrived at the hotel, wished my mum and dad a Merry Christmas, dumped our bags and headed to the beach. 

DSC_3281The weather was about 21 degrees, had I just come from Australia that would have been baltic, but after almost 2 years in Ireland it was ideal weather for sun bathing. For the next 2 days we strolled along the Agadir esplanade each morning, we would then break to lie on the hotels private beach for a little while before retiring to the hotel pool for the afternoon. Once the sun began to drop we would again venture out to walk along the esplanade and find somewhere to eat.

DSC_3285On the second day we had decided a little spa treatment would be the perfect way to end our trip, so we ventured out to a local spa to try Hamman, a spa treatment everyone was recommending. We arrived at the spa and were ushered into a massage room and given bathrobes and disposable underwear to change into. After a few minutes later a woman walked into the room and showed us to a bathing room, the woman proceeded to disrobed us and started to pour warm water over our heads. Once we were both drenched the woman lathered us in a wax, indicated we should sit back and relax then left us in the warm room to look at each other, shocked and in fits of giggles… this was not what we had expected!

After a few minutes the woman returned and using a body scrubber began vigorously scrubbing at our skin removing the dead skin cells on our arms, legs, tummy, boobs and bum. My poor bum, which was still suffering with the scars of the camel ride from the two days before, did not appreciate the scrubbing! Once we were scrubbed clean our bathing lady lathered us up again, this time in mud. Our bathing lady was very funny, she could not speak English so to try and make us feel comfortable she would use her hands and facial expressions to joke with us as she washed us. After covering us in mud we were again left to lay back and soak in the mud’s natural …exfoliates? dirtiness? honestly we have no idea…. Again our bathing lady returned, she shampooed our hair and washed the off the mud before towel drying us, and helping us back into our robes. We returned to the massage room to dress, and finished off our treatment with a massage / manicure. It was an unexpected but brilliant experience, and the woman who bathed us were such fun and gentle women. We returned to the hotel glowing from our experience.

DSC_3266Although we found a lot of unwanted attention from the men in Agadir which stopped us from spending more time on the beach or strolling the esplanade, the hotel pool side provided us with plenty of entertainment to stop us from really feeling like we were missing out on anything. Ultimately we were happy with our experiences and our tan lines from Morocco. Finally, almost a week after we arrived we reluctantly left the hotel pool and caught a taxi to the airport and back to Dublin.

A week in Morocco was definitely not enough, we didn’t get to visit Casablanca, Essaouira or Fes, and they are just the popular places that the tourists know about. It would have been great to learn more about Berber culture and spend more time in the desert. But ultimately we had an amazing trip and for two girls on a budget we had an amazing time.  

The Sahara

Part 2 of our Moroccan Adventure (part one here: Morocco, Marrakech, Souks and Sunshine…).

The next morning we were off for our desert adventure. We were collected from the Riad at 7am and taken to a meeting point where an hour or so later we started our journey. We headed across the Atlas Mountains towards the Ksar of Aït-Ben-Haddou. The ksar is  mainly a collective grouping of dwellings. Inside the defensive walls which are reinforced by angle towers and pierced with a baffle gate, houses crowd together – some modest, others resembling small urban castles with their high angle towers and upper sections decorated with motifs in clay brick – but there are also buildings and community areas. It is an extraordinary ensemble of buildings offering a complete panorama of pre-Saharan earthen construction techniques. This world heritage listed village is also a Hollywood A lister, having appeared in (Brenden Frasers) The Mummy, Jewel of the Nile, Gladiator, Kingdom of Heaven, Prince of Persia, and most recently Game of Thrones just to name a few. As we were taken on a tour through the village, our guide proudly announced that last year running water had been connected to the village and next year they expected to get electricity. Sadly we were on a tight schedule and had little time to wander around the village and take in the eclectic scenery of donkeys, chickens, carpet makers, souks, children and women going about their daily lives as we were herded off to a restaurant in the new village for lunch.DSC_3039Our stomach’s full, we dozed on the bus as we continued to head west towards the Sahara. The landscape changed and we passed through mountains which reminded me of contour lines in geography class. We finally passed Zagora and found ourselves in a long valley of date palms, another hour and we were on the edge of the Sahara Desert. We said goodbye to our driver and hello to the camels. Most of our tour group stood around, obviously not wanting to be the first person to have to fumble their way onto a camel, but the moment the guide called for someone to be the first I was already standing next to my camel ready to jump on. Our journey was to take a bit over an hour, and I quickly fell into the rhythm of the camels movement… to be honest the movement kind of reminded me of being on top while having sex.

DSC_3141Half an hour in and my ass was killing me. I was wearing a tight pair of jeans that had rubbed against my skin along the stitching as I bobbed up and down. The older Danish woman bobbing up and down beside me quietly complained that her hips hurt and a women her age should not be in this position for so long. Finally the sun had set and we had arrived at our camp for the night, a ring of 12 sleeping tents and one food tent encircling a fire pit. Guada and I bunked up with a Columbian mother and daughter, we threw our bag into the tent and headed to the food tent for mint tea and to await our dinner.

Once our group had all settled into the food tent one of the guides joined us with a tray of glasses and a pot of mint tea. He poured us all glasses of tea and we went around the group introducing ourselves, our guide was genuinely interested in everyone and would try to say foreign phrases he had learnt from previous guests. After the tea was finished our guide cleared our glasses away and the men served us a communal dinner of soup, and chicken and vegetable tagine. We ate until we were full and then were served fresh fruit; the fruit was just delicious and we could not get enough of the oranges.

DSC_3090Finally the food was cleared away and we all moved outside to the fire pit. While some of our guides lit a small fire the others grabbed their drums and krakebs and started playing. After the first song was over some of the drums and krakebs where passed among us tourists as we attempted to keep in beat with our guides. After a while one of the older guides and an old eccentric Italian man jumped up and started dancing around the fire, they quickly encouraged others to join them and I found myself laughing and dancing as we circled the fire.  Eventually the many of the tourists started to disappear and head to bed, we sat for a while and talked to our desert guides about the stars and their lives. Our guide had grown up a Bedouin, travelling in caravans through the desert most of his life…. He said desert life had become much more difficult in recent years and so he and his family had settled in the village 6 years earlier. He missed the desert and they still went away for periods at a time, but it was better for them to be in the village.

Eventually we drifted off to bed, but we were not prepared for the cold desert night… Along with the 2 blankets each we found in our tent, Guada and I wore everything we had brought with us. For me that was a turtleneck sweater, t-shirt, and long sleeve shirt, with jeans and summer pants over the top; my winter jacket zipped up and hoodie pulled close around my head; shoes on and my bed socks on my hands like gloves. We were still freezing but somehow we survived the night. The next morning we had breakfast and mounted the camels just before sunrise for the trek back to our awaiting buses. Not everyone was keen to climb back on the camels, and for some of us it may have been smarter if we didn’t. However again I mounted my camel and we set off the way we came. Within 10 minutes I was regretting my decision. This time every time I bobbed up and down on the camel it felt like my ass was being smacked raw. But I refused to admit my defeat and battled on. As the sun rose over the mountains we stopped to admire the sunrise and to take selfies. Finally we arrived back at our bus, we dismounted our camels, bid our guides goodbye and loaded back onto the bus.

DSC_3201We left the desert and traveled back to the town of Oaurzazate which we had passed the day before. We were guided around the old city and the Taourirt Kasbah by a local guide enjoying an education in the the history and traditions of clay architecture before being deposited in a restaurant overlooking the old Kasbah to enjoy lunch.

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After lunch we leisurely made our way back to Marrakech, stopping here and there in the Atlas Mountains for photo opportunities or to stretch our legs. Finally just before 7pm we were dropped at the gateway to the Medina, grabbing some street food as we walked back to our Riad.

Finally I was able to peel away the jeans I had worn for the last 2 days and enjoy a long, hot shower. On peeling away the jeans however I discovered that my desert adventure had left its mark, the rubbing of my tight jeans as I bounced up and down on the back of the camel had left a 2 ½ inch cut on my my ass….DSC_2823

The adventures continue in ‘Agadir and Hamman’.

Morocco, Marrakech, Souks and Sunshine…

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Morocco, the land of the Sahara desert, Atlas Mountains, Casablanca, Marrakech, souks and sunshine… For Christmas 2017 my friend, Guada, and I decided to escape the dreary cold and wet winter of Ireland and head south in search of sunshine and tan lines. Being both from the southern hemisphere (Guada from Argentina and I from Australia) the idea of a hot Christmas was a welcome and totally normal idea. So we packed our carry-ons full of summer gear and headed off to Agadir.

We reached Agadir at  2.30am and slowly made our way through customs. A few hours earlier we had organised for a chauffeur company to drive us the 2 ½ hours to Marrakech. As we walked out of the airport we were meet by 2 men; one dressed in modern western attire, the second in a full length cloak and pointed hood…. To our ignorant relief our driver was the one in modern western attire. But as we soon learned the full length cloak and pointed hood is a traditional outfit in Berber culture, and after a few days, as we became accustomed to seeing them everywhere, my friend and I both wanted one for ourselves…. but at 2.30am in a new country, with no other people around, it just kind of freaked us out.

blue houseWe jumped in the car with our driver and head off in the middle of the night along the road we hoped was for Marrakech. I had popped a sleeping pill as we left Dublin and had fallen asleep almost the moment I had sat down on the plane, so I quickly fell back asleep on leaving Agadir, while my friend desperately tried to stay awake in case we were being kidnapped. We speed along the blacktop and arrived in Marrakesh at about 6am. We had booked to stay in a traditional Riad in Marrakech’s Medina, but at 6am when we rocked up on the doorstep bags in hand the night-man refused to let us in telling us we could not check in until later. Thankfully after some words from our driver, the night-man let us leave our bags and our driver took us for breakfast at one of his local haunts. Our driver treated us to Harcha and Msemen, typical moroccan flat breads served with honey, cheese or eggs, and our first of many proper mint teas. After breakfast our driver dropped us off at the train station where he promised we would find somewhere to sit for a few hours and use the free WiFi while we waited for the banks to open up to exchange our money. I have to say, he was a pretty amazing driver, and we looked forward to more of this open and genuine hospitality.

DSC_2856We spent our first day in Marrakech visiting the Majorelle Garden ( Yves Saint Laurent), Jemaa el-Fnaa (square) and Marrakech’s famed souks. We looked, we shopped, we ate and we drunk mint tea. Completely exhausted we were back at the Riad and passed out by 8pm that night.

The next morning we were up early and on a mission. We had decided to go to the desert for 2 days the next day meaning that we only had one more full day left in Marrakech and we were determined to make the most of it. We started the day at Saadian Tombs, it was a peaceful and in the far corner there was a local man creating new mosaics for the tombs. From the Saadian Tombs we headed to the vastly different but impressive El Badi and Bahia Palaces. Before accidently finding ourselves on an impromptu tour of Marrakech tanneries while in search for the Ben Youssef Mosque. After lunch we leisurely made our way through the souks again before strolling through the gardens surrounding Koutoubia Mosque and ending the day in Jemaa el-Fnaa square.

 

Morocco continues in ‘The Sahara’….

Happy Birthday Me

The other week was my birthday, and as a sort of birthday present to myself I decided to go away. I had been thinking over a few different ideas; Disneyland Paris… Amsterdam dressed as a Disney Princess… Ibiza… Tayto park… in the end I went  hiking in County Kerry. Although it may not sound like the big party weekend that a birthday weekend should be, it was still a great weekend away.

Due to indecisiveness the booking of my four day mini holiday only happened on the Monday / Tuesday before my birthday. I rented a car and then jumped on bookings.ie to find cheap accommodation. I was determined to spend my first 2 days (one night) hiking part of the Kerry Way in the Black Valley, but the other two nights I was open to wherever the cheapest accommodation would be.

In the end my accommodation bookings looked like this Thursday night – Black Valley, co. Kerry, Friday Night – Cork City, co. Cork, and Saturday night Ballinskelligs, Ring of Kerry, co. Kerry.  That might sound like I was tramping from one side of the country to the other and then back again but it turned out to work really well. The Wild Atlantic Way a costal scenic route which starts in Kinsale co. Cork and makes its way all along the south and West Coast to Derry in Northern Ireland. I had already completed part of the Wild Atlantic Way from Tralee almost all the way to Galway back in October so decided that for the second 2 days of my trip I would complete the Kinsale to Tralee part of the route including the Ring of Kerry.

So with a sort of plan in hand 6am Thursday morning I set off to Killarney co. Kerry to start my mini adventure. After my Canadian Tim Hortons breakfast, in the Obama Plaza in County Offlay I arrived in Killarney about 10.30am and went in search of the Tourist Information Centre for a map of the area I wanted to hike. It turned out the Tourist Information Centre didn’t really have any proper hiking maps of the area, but I had read and been advised that the trail was well marked so wasn’t too worried and after parking my car at the Lake House Hotel headed off on my overnight hike.

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The Kerry Way – Killarney to Black Valley

With the exception of the area around Torc Waterfalls (a main tourist attraction for Killarney) the path was very well signposted and I had no troubles finding my way.  My only beef would be that the signposts didn’t indicate how far it was to your next destination which would have helped gauge whether I needed to hurry up or could slow my pace and enjoy the scenery.

In total the hike into my B&B in the Black Valley was about 20km ascending about 350m as you walk over the mountain range into the valley. use7I was especially taken by the views shortly after I passed between Torc Waterfall and headed over the top of the range before I headed back into the valley towards Galway’s Bridge. Up here you could see down into the valley below but were not quite at the peak of the range, you had a mix of jaggered rocky mountain sides and open fields with little running streams and wild deer grazing, which eventually lead to one particular field with a small waterfall with a pebble shoreline where you could sit and enjoy a break. It was all starting to make me think of the Jane Austin tv movies I had seen over the years and it was easy to imagine this landscape hadn’t changed much in the last 200 years, especially when there was not a power pole or any other sign of industrialisation in sight.

After 5 ½ hours of walking I finally reached the Shamrock Bed & Breakfast. The B&B was the last B&B in the Black Valley before you reached Bridia Valley, and my feet were well tired by the time I reached my destination. The B&B is run by Sheila, who I would consider a typical country Irish grandmother; tough as old boots, says her prayers 3 times a day, is always well stocked on scones and soda bread, and told it as it was. When I arrived she quickly settled me in, started a fire in the dining room and set me up with tea, scones and a WiFi password. I had pre-arranged dinner to be included with my stay however as it was a Thursday and the parish priest only gave Mass on a Thursday evening I would have to wait until after the service finished at 8pm for my dinner, but as I had just been filled up on scones I wasn’t fussed. Sheila returned from Mass and quickly began to dish out a 3 course meal of Potato and Leak Soup (my favourite), Beef and Vegetable Stew, and Apple Pie and ice-cream all homemade and all so delicious. With a full stomach I soon headed to bed for an early night.

use5The next day I was up and out of bed by 7.30am, where I was again greeted by an array of food from my host. I had told Sheila the night before I didn’t want too much for breakfast, a little bacon and maybe some eggs would be fine but in traditional grandmotherly style a plate piled high with bacon, scrambled eggs, fried tomatoes, toast, fruit, orange juice, tea, jam and butter sat on the table waiting for me. I ate heartily knowing the 20km journey I had to make back to Killarney would be exhausting and knowing I would probably only stop to eat a banana on the trail. After breakfast I profoundly thanked Sheila and headed back the way I came.

This time round I stopped to have a look around the ruins of an old abandoned house probably not more than 100 years old, which stood next to the ruins of another much older structure. The house was already being reclaimed by nature; the roof had long since disappeared, ferns covered the floor and there creepers all over the walls. It was humbling to see how quickly nature had reclaimed these buildings.

use4I finally arrived back at the Lake House Hotel (as planned) in time for lunch. I had previously visited the Lake House Hotel with some of my extended Irish relations and had really enjoyed the food here as well as the view out across the lake so it was a no brainer to finish my journey here. I was able to get a window seat and celebrated the completion of my 40+km hike (and my birthday) with a glass of red wine and an amazing leg of roast lamb.

After a very long lunch break I jumped back into the car and headed off to Cork to start Part 2 of my weekend journey…

Keep an eye out, I will be adding Part 2 of my Birthday weekend mini adventure over the coming days!

For more information on the Kerry Way, Shamrock B&B, or the Lake House Hotel  click on the hyperlinks!