The Sahara Desert – Morocco

It’s time…….. to get on our bus again and start climbing the middle Atlas Mountain range- and what a view. Hills and fields all turning beautiful autumn shades. The French built the first town we come to after Fes – the little town is called Ifrane meaning cave to remind them of their European towns and yes there is are ski fields.

Road signs and autumn 🍂 leaves 🍁
How do you like them
Apples 🍏
Cute little
Town Ifrane

For us Australians on our little bespoke tour it’s just like a day trip to the Blue Mountains. In fact 3 days after we were here it snowed so much they had to close the road.

I’m usually first off the bus and busting for a wee (standard) so it’s a good excuse to have a yummy pastry and coffee in the apple town! We have never seen so many apple things for sale- cakes,cookies, jam, juice and the locals are such beautiful people selling their market wares in the middle of the town offering us to taste their products.

We think there is a festival on as there is drumming and performers doing their thing …… did I mention apples?

After our pit stop for morning tea we head further up and over the mountain range, through the Rif area, past large dams that supplies the area with drinking water and small towns that feel like they are an ancient village, with donkey carts and people carrying their crops, to the next town that appears quite modern, with stores and Riads.

Although we have done nothing but eat, drink a little or a lot, its lunch time again and we come into a town called Zaida another apple village that appears to be on fire, with smoke blowing everywhere…….

Nope the only fire is the BBQ grills and hot coals being blown by industrial size fans, and butchers with their sides of lamb or beef just hanging out on display waiting for you to buy a kilo or half a kilo of meat depending on the size of your family, before they throw it onto the hot coals and cook it to perfection fat and all……. lamb chops to die for and they mince the beef and make beef kofta which is then served with red onion and tomatoes on top.

There is always bread brought to the table (huge mistake) and with a French influence it is hard not to eat it ! To accompany the meat is often a the vegetable tagine they also have cooking outside the front of the restaurant over hot coals, and you won’t be believe we all stuff our faces. The veggie tagine is amazing eggplant, potato, carrot, tomato, onions, garlic all cooking it a little bit of water in its own little pot. Burnt on the bottom to create a crust.

We can’t eat it all, there is so much food left ~Sigal from our tour has told us she asked Hassan our guide about it and there is no food waste here, as they see food as a gift from Allah, so they treat all food with respect and either feed the animals or give it to the homeless. All the little towns are so clean, there is very little rubbish lying around and definitely no food scraps.

Dogs and cats roam everywhere, out in the middle of no where, near our Riads. The locals don’t encourage us to feed them but they obviously do and no animal appears to be starving.

Hassan fills our travel journey on our bus with information about the Military towns we are travelling through, as we are quite near the Algerian border ……. they aren’t at war but the relations have always been a bit tense.

The Sahara desert is the Hottest desert in the world. It it travels through 10 countries and is 9 million sq kilometres. The size of the whole of America! One third of the desert is in Morocco and its not just sand it’s rocks and plateaus of stone and pebbles.

It is a long long day and the landscape has changed as we pass mountains with snow on their peaks whilst down in the valleys we notice the ground becomes quite volcanic. One of the areas we were travelling through is filled with fossils as the flat plain was once a sea bed……

Another wee- I mean coffee stop, at a place that looks like it’s out of the TV series Breaking Bad, no drug deals were done just a great nous nous ( that’s what they call coffee here). The roads are fabulous and I’m already sure I will make this a destination for Steve and I to ride motorbikes.

The date palms at this time of that year are bursting with dates. We learn that there are 39 different varieties of dates and that in the palm oasis areas these dates feed from spring water under the ground, that the date trees are male and female and propagate in March and April with the Harvest in October and November. They manually propagate as well as the organic way by bees and the wind.

We arrive at our desert accommodation in time to watch the sun set over the sand dunes in the distance and enjoy a relaxing night at the RIAD Madu, just saying a week here would be perfect.

It’s out in the middle of no where in a village of local Berber people that all used to live out in the desert. More food and wine and it’s lights out for these little black ducks, who will be up early to see the sunrise and spoto camels in the dunes.

Cock a doodle doo and the call to prayer can be heard as we all emerge from our rooms sleepy eyed with excitement (ok maybe that was just me) to watch the sunrise. Click click go our cameras and iPhones along with other guest staying at the Riad. It is photo heaven and I can just imagine the photo shoots that could be created here as every inch of this Riad is photo worthy. It’s a cool brisk morning and it’s puffer jackets over pj’s to get the golden hour of sunrise.

I grab a coffee from the kitchen and blog a little in the internal courtyard when Lisa M call out from her camel watching roof position- ‘Camel train’ ! As they are in the distance we decided to go for a walk along dusty roads, find a friendly puppy who trots along with us until we realise we don’t have time for this, plus the camel train is too far away, so we just hang out with some other camels we found at a camel parking station, eating their breakfast before we decide we are all hungry too and stroll back to the Riad.

There are sweet little donkeys near our hotel with their front legs loosely tied together and it seems cruel, although Hassan tells us locals use these donkeys to make a living and trade their crops to survive so they tie them like this so they can’t get too far away. They sort of hop and gallop along and look like they are doing a wonky donkey dance.

Another quick half an hour blogging and it’s back on the bus, and lucky for us we are only travelling locally today.

Thanks for pic Karen

First up 5 minutes from where the Riad is we go to a little preschool where around 16 of the sweetest children are sitting in a small room all waiting for us to arrive. They all recite the first verse of the Karan to us a bit like we do when we thank our traditional land owners in Australia with our preschoolers.

We share a few little treats with the children like little balls and bubble wands and we give the teacher a bag of stickers, paints, pens etc. along with some flash cards with English words. The children learn Arabic, French, Spanish and a little English and attend school for 9-11am and then again from 3-5.30pm, we actually end up singing “The wheels on the bus” as it’s about the only song we all know together as a group! Not a high point but they clapped because they have manners and are polite.

It’s back on the bus and off to drumming school. Where we watch the local musicians drum and percussion and then we are invited to join in their desert dancing !

From there we head to an Aladdin’s cave, where 3 of us buy magic carpets and a few trinkets.

We learn all about the blue nomadic Berber tribes and their desert lifestyle. It was very interesting with their slightly French accent I could listen all day……

These are outside the tents and sparkle
In the lights

Tents are made from goat and camel skin, their warm blankets are made of animal wool which contains lanolin on the weave, so when it rains their blanket/coats then become waterproof.

Their big desert tents get divided into rooms, just like a normal house, they are cool in summer and warm in winter. Cooking is always outside on a wood fire.

They have these strips of fabric that hang out the front of their tents that move in the wind or a sand storm. These strips of material hang down on the front of the tent are covered in sequins, so that during a sand storm or at night, the sequins flicker light as the sequins shimmer in the candle light to help guide the nomads, the sequins on wedding blankets and candles inside the tent also reflect the light from the candles so they can find their way!

They use wooden bowls for food and dates and a mortar and pestles for grain etc.

Massive hope chests filled with treasure from days gone by are on display that were used as a wedding dowery, these days they no longer need to be so large- our desert friend tells us just a small chest and a Visa card is required these days!

Currency was salt and gold and traded for animals or grain, and the nomads moved through the desert at night, because it was cooler they suede less water and they used the dunes to guide them, they travelled in a zig zag formation following the water lines so they didn’t get lost and go around in circles.

There are 4 main Berber tribes as well as Berber sub tribes. This area has tribes from the Rif Mountains and also Amazair from the Middle Atlas Mountains. They call themselves the Touraeg tribes like the VW car……

Like the rest of the world, there is a drought in the desert and the Sahara is getting bigger and further north. Insects destroy the crops and the life cycle goes on.

It was fascinating listening to all their stories about how they carried their tribe documents, recorded family heritage in the weave of the carpets, and how they join a welcoming carpet at a wedding to blend the two families tents.

They dyed their skin in indigo to protect them from the sun, mosquitos and keep them cool. Traditional rugs have 2 sides. A fluffy one for winter and a smooth one for summer !

How clever – they also always have a small fringe left on one end of the carpet, in the hope that they will continue on……

It really is fascinating and now it’s time for a traditional desert lunch-Medfouna bread its like a calzone- filled with meat, herbs, nuts and put into the dough, which is then cooked in special woven pans in the hot sand !

Next up we leave Abdul and our bus in a small town and hop into 3 -4WD vehicles and go sand bashing on our way to our luxury desert camp! Toyota advertising in Australia has got nothing these vehicles as they churn up the sand, and sand hills. We eat nougat on the way into camp and listen to some local music.

There is a bit of a sand storm, so we find our tents and then wrap up in our head scarves. I have never been a fan of a head scarf but today, it will come in mighty handy and the gorgeous Sally helps us style our scarves in a slightly more fashionable way than the guys in the Medina at Fez did! Thanks Sally!

Hassan suggests we pack a back pack with our cameras as sand is still blowing around and he is concerned it will get into our camera lenses.

I leave the big camera in my back pack the whole trip, and on reflection now, I’m actually glad it was a little windy, as just taking my iPhone like everyone else and it was the best thing! I wasn’t totally distracted by camera settings etc and just had a ball.

So armed with my trusty iPhone I’m the first on my camel. They load you from the back forward, and as I have ridden camels a couple of times I am not worried frightened or concerned!

Selfie bombing Great pic Emma ❤️

These camels are the cutest little camels (with only 1 hump) I have ever seen, so well behaved no moaning and groaning, about us riding them, just happy to be sitting at the camel parking station chewing their regurgitated food!

The rest of the gang get on board and we are off on our very own desert camel train, zig zagging just like the old days, except were are only travelling for 60 minutes not 60 days.

Sally is with us and as we zig zag along sand dunes, no its not a mirage, she has a surprise it is an esky with champagne sun downers!

I cant believe we are here in the Sahara Desert of Morocco with new friends drinking champagne….. OK we better take a photo or a 1000 so we remember this day!

As the sun sets and the wind drops a little we all get back on our camels, Emma has named her camel Fletcher much to Lisa M’s protests as this is her middle sons name……. anyways we all laugh and giggle on our way back to camp richer for this experience and ready for some dancing!

Too funny not to share both mine and Lisa’s Apple Watch ⌚️ thought we were on a walk an exercising and wanted to know if we wanted to record our activity…. of course we both said yes as it’s the most exercise we have done all week !

Dinner is served in this massive marque tent, adorned with curtains and comfy furniture, our food and wine arrives and we enjoy another great meal together, only tonight there is french fries or chips depending on which part of the hemisphere you live, so a loud discussion about ketchup vs tomato sauce you say tomato I say potato is had. We laugh and laugh.

As the wind is still a little too strong for dancing outside by the fire, we dance inside the big tent to the beat of drums, drink too much Rosé, and just have a great night, before we know it the sun is up and so are we on our way to Skoura, the door to the desert! But more about that next time

It’s fair to say we all have a little camel butt today! Muscles we didn’t know we owned……. on the road again.

All the colours of the Rainbow- Morocco

Riad Salam and all its glory~ Feś

If all the world were lemon drops and gum drops – oh what a world it would be ……. Our journey through Morocco is like an ancient rainbow, around every magical corner is a laneway that leads to a souk with walls that have so much character they are aged to perfection and alive with colours of yesteryear, just from being painted and painted. The result is art that is just incredible.

In Chefchaouen the town is painted all the blue shades while in the sacred town of Moulay Idriss the colours are like pickle, pistachio, fern, mint…… all the shades of green you can possibly think of.

Choose your colour ~Pigment for sale 💛💙💚🧡❤️

Paint pigment is sold throughout the cute little towns, colour choice is sometimes a personal thing, and sometimes you are told what colour to paint your home, creating so much character and charm and a patina of colours ~ just stunning.

Sim rocking her outfit in FeŚ

In the ancient medieval town of Feś there is lot’s of pink, red and purple – along with water fountains called Seqqaya meaning public fountain.

I want to photograph it all. I keep asking Hassan…… what some of the writing says, as some of it looks like graffiti and I don’t want to display or post photos of something in appropriate………

If only these coloured walls could talk

This beautiful pink door/wall below, was outside an ancient 17th century Jewish Synagogue, we were being sheep and waiting our turn to go inside. I just loved it.

It actually says -do not put rubbish here. Thank goodness it’s not something naughty as this is one of my favourite walls so far!

The locals drink the water from these fountains below, however tourists are encouraged to use bottled water.

A water fountain found all through Europe

We are staying on the outskirts of the ancient town of Feś, which has 3 parts and is so spread out. The old town, the new and of course the ancient Medina and souks, dating back to the 9th century.

Lisa giving herself whip lash whilst creating a dramatic scarf display

Our Riad – Salam Fes is just next level.

The days on the bus are long, and when we arrive into these incredible Riads it becomes – what bus trip?

At breakfast we were having so
much fun and laughing someone offered to take this pic! Plus they thought I was Judy Dench!
The foyer
Looking down onto the internal courtyard

I have a new appreciation for tiles, and the artisans that sit and create the Moroccan style of tiles, where they hand cut the pieces, form a creation and glue it all together before sealing it with clay to create stunning pieces that are mind blowing.

They use horse hair brushes to create the pretty designs before they go in the kiln for 8 hours then get glazed and shipped to customers all over the world.

Grey clay comes from the north of Morocco and is more expensive, and watching the artisans create these bowls that someone in San Diego has ordered is mesmerising . We were told this guy makes 100 bowls a week, and the order is for 600 !! There were a few orders for Australia and 1 for San Francisco from our group at the Zellige- meaning ceramic factory!

Feś is the worlds largest living medieval town, it is also an intellectual town, filled with Universities and scholars.

Imagine standing here and listening to a lecture…..

Fez is an imperial city…… remember I said previously it was once a capital city.

UNESCO is spending thousands of dollars to help keep this city historical with it’s current crazy wonky lanes, some of the areas quite dark and dilapidated, but also interesting and you just wonder what has been before us.

Our walking tour takes us to the Kings Palace – built back in 14th century (I think he has a palace everywhere we go). The walled city has huge archways and all the buildings have amazing tiled exteriors and doors- of course we take loads of photos and Sydney Lisa has caved in and been in more group photos than she has her whole life!!!

It rained overnight and I said a little prayer that the sun would shine and it did, which created this warm colour through the walls.

We’re all in this together
Hassan demonstrating the talking wall

There are so many areas to this town, that I have already mixed up my Jewish Quarters and my Kings bloody palaces……. thank goodness Lisa M is actually writing a diary.

We went to this university dating back to the 14th century, and it was a courtyard…… they all stood around and learnt ! I was too busy taking photos for all the details but I do remember there is a prayer room, where someone stands facing a Mecca wall and then it echoes so everyone can hear!

It’s just lights action and cameras at the ready. As we wander through the Souk’s and in particular the food court where we discovered fruits, herb meat stands……. camel anyone ?

None of the locals like having their photos taken, so I have been trying to teach the gals on tour how to take sneaky hand held iphone pics! So many feet and accidentally turning the phone off! It does take practice!

Berries from the strawberry family
A family lighting candles at a Mosque

Feś with an S is the city and Fez with a Z is the hat!!!! Lonely Planet eat your heart out. We have the best guide in Hassan…. who loves nothing better than correcting their dialog.

The Kasbah on the hill ( Ed Sheehan should write a song) over looking Feś, is spectacular beautiful and cold! We are heading into their winter here and there is snow further south on the Mountains.

Can you see our Riad it’s just near the 3 pine trees in the middle

We also visit a stinky tannery creating leather, where they give you a fresh piece of mint to hold under your nose, as it absolutely reeks. Animals skins get washed, dyed and washed again and then softened in pigeon poop! All here right in the middle of this crazy Unesco town.

It’s almost gag worthy
Green moustache required

It’s jam packed and bat shit crazy what we cover off in a day and we only scratch the surface.

On our second night in Feś we have dinner just out of town at a private home, they welcome us all for the evening meal, before we watch 2 DVD’s of family weddings to give us an insight, before we all dress up in the gowns that guests wear to the wedding where the bride changes her out for 7 times in 1 day!!

I can’t even type right now I’m so overwhelmed – in fact we all are … as we also visited a loom store, a stitching hand craft store and generally had a blast.

Look at this light and the shadows

Thanks to Hassan our beautiful guide for waiting for us at the next corner, before turning so we don’t get lost, finding us clean toilets and ordering our coffee or tea just they way we individually like it.

Karen is the teachers pet, well actually so am I and Emma well -we all are!

Ahhh Feś you have been amazing and we have only scratched the surface, I’m sure one day we will return, to amble through laneways and take more photos even though the locals don’t like us to, eat your nougat and sample some more of the most amazing food I’ve ever eaten. I’m just still not sure about the camel head hanging in the market place ……

Our Jewish gals on tour with us Lisa Amit and Sigall in the posh stands at the synagogue

Anyway I’m off to find my camera charger because we are off to the Sahara Desert next and I can’t wait 🙏🏼

Mrs W xx

Ps here is a photo of me doing what I do….. taking multiple photos on multiple cameras and how I got my wonky name.

Rocking the Kasbah

Hello from Chefchaouen the magical blue city in Northern Africa – 9 woman on tour all with iPhones and at least half of us also with cameras, it’s fair to say there have been a few group photo shoots. We are the bestest bunch of gals ever! We turn up on time, we have shared photos and stories and are just in heaven !

Can you see the kitty cat

I have been known to ‘direct’ my travel buddies of other tours into having a photo taken just here…….. and the ancient Kasbah in Chefchaouen is no different, let’s all climb up those stairs, and get Hassan to take our photo. Of course we rock it ! These gals are so gorgeous, I think we all bring something to the group …… More Rosé !

Sally said today there is never too much Rosé and of course it is a Muslim country so we have to ‘sneak the wine (cases) off the bus and into the Riads ! Anyway back to the story.

Great pic Hassan
Work it work it !

We have kind of stuck together as we are travelling big distances and when we get into the ancient towns and wander, Hassan has us all time managed …… if only our partners and husbands could do this? Kidding ! Some want to stop and shop and I do too, but right now we are embracing the culture and learning about the towns and not getting lost.

Our morning s go something like this . We have breakfast and make sure no bag gets left behind and hit the road in our Mercedes Benz….. Abdul drives us out of the city of Rabat today heading north and a little inland. Our girl gang had already been told that it was a long and winding road, so we settled back with iPods and podcasts or some of just chatted – yep I was a chatter gal with San Fran Lisa, as we didn’t want to be on the sicky vom vom train, or bus in this case, so we chose no devices or reading. The bus is wifi so we can all do our thing and the seats are so comfortable. Would be the perfect time to blog if the bus wasn’t moving !

Sally snapping a pic through the windscreen

We crossed the middle Atlas Mountains taking photos out the windows of the bus along the way. Women picking the last of the seasons olives from the groves, both on the side of steep hills and down by the river. Men sitting at coffee shops drinking and smoking, butchers with their meat hung waiting for the locals to either walk, hitch hike or catch the local bus into town for their produce.

The farmers we passed have these cute little carts, mostly pulled along by donkeys. I’m determined to sweet talk Abdul and Hassan into letting us stop the bus to get a couple of photos. Stay tuned……

The farms are quaint and the mountains are high, so there is always something to see. There are fences created by prickly pair bushes, sheep and goats roaming with their shepherds, who seem to just sit or lay in the sun and watch their flocks and herds graze.

The locals are currently wearing winter coats that have these pointy hoods……

They look a bit like gnomes with the long hooded coats have these slide on leather slippers. The coats are called a Djellabar and Hassan tells us that they are a traditional Berber style coat that keeps them warm and dry from the elements of the weather including the rain. The locals aren’t too keen on having a camera shoved in their face (not by me) but clearly others over the years.

They look a bit like the surfer style towel coat that some people wear back home in Oz, my surfer mates have a brand called the Amigo towel and it’s perfect for wind chill on the beach, but these are thick woven cotton.

We stop for coffee and toilet breaks where you can buy the most amazing Kofftas and Tangienes to eat …… oh the smell it’s divine. Remember the winding road Lynda- just eat your crisps and Coke Zero!

The closer we get the Chefchauen, the more winding the road gets. The local police set up areas to check licences and registration, plus all transport vehicles are fitted with a device similar to a CD player, like we all used to own that records your speeds, how far you have travelled and it is illegal to not have one recording.

We haven’t been stopped however we have been through a fair few check points.

The road is not all freeway although as we fly along the country roads reminds us all of winding through some European towns like Positano or Ravello in Italy, or travelling up to Santorini in Greece, you need to pay attention and can get caught behind donkey carts, other slower buses etc. Abdul our driver is awesome patient and gets us there on time.

As we are almost at Chefchaouen, we stop the bus for a few photos of this almost European town that has become quite the tourist destination, and since 1972 the town has had to be painted blue in some shade. The real estate is expensive and the old town with its Medina, Kasbahs, Riads it is wonderful to be see.

A medina is a city found in a number of North African cities it is typically walled, with many narrow and maze-like lanes and streets. Don’t forget the bread crumbs!

So beautiful some of the older generation here.

Morocco has many amazing historical Kasbahs that are not only beautiful in appearance, they have ancient history and character, in days gone by, these parts of the old towns were fortified castles that protected the village from enemies, they are world heritage sites and attract travelers and tourists from all over the world. And the Kasbah here in Chefchauen is stunning.

We get dropped off and head up into the old part of the town. Our heavy luggage is taken out of our big van and put into small vans that can fit in some lanes and carted manually to our Riads.

Hassan becomes the smaller bag carrier as we had tog eat all the bags off the bus and sprints to our secret Riad, and we head off to lunch at a traditional restaurant where we enjoy Harira soup and some yummy traditional Moroccan food. Lisa and I share so do Sim and Lisa so we don’t get FOMO! Then we are off the Kasbah!

It so amazing laneways that lead to streets, that lead to more nooks and crannies all in varying shades of blue, and we cant stop smiling. Hassan takes us through the old town to the Kasbah fortification. We climb up the tower and we all feel it’s a little Mediterranean with views to die for.

We sample cookies and wander to the natural water spring up the mountain that feeds through the town supplying their water. Along the way we meet an lady selling her wares, I’m pretty sure Hassan pays her to dress me up in traditional betrothed clothes. No one would get married if they wore these now or maybe they would because they hang in your face…. luckily Emma also takes one for our team and joins me. If you can’t laugh at yourself who can you laugh at ?

You are a trouper Emma x

As the sun sets over Chefchauen, we arrive at our secret Riad for the night and OMG we are all blown away. The rooms are all different as these Riads are small boutique hotels were once family homes. There are trinkets and treasures and mint tea and cookies, followed by Rosé and supper…….. insert big sigh. Life is pretty damn good!

Anyway old mate outside has just started the call to prayer …….. did you know it’s actually live and not recorded ?

Must be wine time x

The Magical Moroccan tour has commenced !

Pool side at Le Casablanca

After just over 28 hours of flying from Sydney Australia, we arrived into CASABLANCA …… one of the Imperial cities of Morocco. The Imperial cities are those that have previously been a capital city at some stage of this North African country.

In 1912, the French arrived and made Casablanca the capital, as it was coastal and therefore easy to fortify for military use, had great agricultural land and also phosphate mines, this made export via the sea a winner!

It is still the largest Moroccan city and their main business area and over 5 million people live here. The city has expanded and as we travelled the 30 minutes or so from the airport we could see how far it had spread.

We have arrived a day before the tour starts (so has everyone else) and our home for the night is the stunning Le Casablanca Hotel. ‘Of all the gin joints around in the world she walks into mine’ and what a hotel!

Very French, with beautiful gardens and terraces, music playing (picture Bublé singing Sinatra) and some of the cutest little treats of chocolate brownie and tiny Madeline cakes that you could just pop in your mouth to go with your welcome drink on the terrace and then more little pastry treats when we arrived a little later into our room. They were almost too pretty to eat. ‘Here’s looking at you kid’.

I didn’t realise how French speaking everyone is until I waltzed up to reception and said “bonsoir” and the swift reply in fluid French started, and I had to pop my hand up and say “ ah sorry I’m Australian and that is only 1 of 3 French words I can say very well – the other 2 being Creme Brûlée! There is something wonderful about the word Bonsoir or good evening- I just love it, but really I need to just say it in my head!

Anyway after the terrace ambience we made it to our room, with Romeo and Juliet style Balconette, Lisa and I made short work of trashing the treats (and our room) in our haste to have a shower and meet some of our other weary travellers from Australia.

We grabbed our cameras and headed back down to meet the other gals who had flown via Doha to have our first night together.

I actually can’t remember a lot about the conversation, Sally had organised a dinner on another terrace and there was so much to see…… incredible ceramics, candles lit everywhere, black and white photos walls, a caviar private dining room, some yummy food and I was D. U.N. done …….. good night sweet world.

Thank you universe for the opportunity to be in this a amazing country that I have been wanting to visit for years …… I am finally here.

Breakfast and a quick few photos and we met our local guide Hassan and our driver Abdul and we are off onto our gorgeous luxurious Mercedes bus on our way to see the Hassan Mosque.

It’s the 3rd largest in the world and the largest in all of Africa. Like the Taj Mahal, it is built on stilts over the water for a totally different religious reason, and can fit 25000 people inside and 75000 in the forecourts, is tile heaven and a wonderful photo opportunity for our little group who look like ants against this giant building.

On the edge of the Ocean with the blue sky and cool breeze cameras at the ready position, we all took shots through our own visual lenses before a few group photos, and I loved every minute of our time outside the Mosque (we will have to return ) as apparently there is tours and the locals pray over a glass floor – oh amen and the roof opens!

Taking 6 years to build at the bargain price of 800 Million USD, the hand carved tiles and wooden doors that just go for days are spectacular so are our photos (non biased opinion of course!)

Our half an hour stop turns into a Moroccan hour before it’s our ‘nous nous’ coffee break! We go to a small part of the old town and got to sit enjoy our coffee and people watch for half an hour, people selling anything from tissues and chewing gum to bright red converse sneakers, others shining shoes ……. oh and the coffee well it’s the best I’ve had for days!

We leave Casablanca with ‘a round up the usual suspects’ and drive past Ricks Diner from the movie Casablanca, an import and apparently a popular one….. even though Casablanca the movie was not even filmed in Morocco! We were too jet lagged last night. There’s 3 quotes from the movie in my blog here… do you know which ones ???

Rabat, pronounced slightly different in Arabic or French but it’s another coastal town blending the new and old. The rugged coastal rock ledge was being pounded by the sea, which then comes into a quiet sleepy river filled with little boats and loads of nets, and further along on the edge of the river we stopped for an exquisite seafood lunch washed down with a glass of local rose and sparkling water. It’s here we meet our last two gals from the group, who have been in Tangier for a few days. Our group is now 8 plus Sally and Hassan.

Hassan and Sally then took us to see the Mohamed V’ s Tomb whom they all loved as a national hero after being exiled he brought peace and independence to Morocco. Again, there is that eerie sense of the greatness of the Taj Mahal, just not the vast structure or walking distance or view, but inside the spectacular tomb, is stunning tiles and mosaics that are just incredible. Local families young and old all enjoy the sunshine in the courtyard nearby. My photos are too large to add to my blog so perhaps I will create a gallery when I get home.

Another short drive and whilst my mind is singing rock the Kasbah, we pull up outside the old fortification of Rabat, overlooking the ocean with high stone walls that is now it’s own community, beautiful old laneways filled with character and stories, you could almost hear the walls talk.

Sally bought the yummiest nougat from a young guy selling it in the Kasbah as he chopped it into small pieces from a large big block. watch your fingers!

Our group took photos of doors and windows and the traditional medinas being the courtyard inside the homes, where light filters through the home from the 1 central area and provides them with their own oasis. A wonderful way to spend the afternoon.

It’s back on the bus for a half hour journey to our overnight Villa Mandarine…. an amazing old family villa that is now a quaint hotel, with gardens for days and an eclectic collection of artworks, statues and a heated pool. As we head inland we know it will be cool for a few days as we cross the middle Atlas Mountains, reception may be a little dodgy ( there is wifi on the bus) how clever !

Til next time a very jet lagged Mrs Wong ~Been awake since 5 ! Xx

The Wonky Camera’s next Adventure.

I’ll shortly be heading off on a new adventure! To the top of the African continent-Morocco.

I have been following this amazing lady Sally from Souk & Co on Instagram and although I asked for one of their itineraries a few years back, I just haven’t been able to make it on one of the tours. 

Was I trying to organise too many people?  Can I fill a a whole private tour?  Can I go over Easter when it’s family time?  All these processes go through my mind. We all lead such busy lives, and to organise a group trip often takes 12 months in the planning. 

 Well after a few years of trying to get a group together, without much success I’m booked to go with a buddy and I’m bursting with excitement. 

My travel buddy is my cousin’s wife – Lisa. The 2 of us have previously travelled together to New York, Bali and Canada. Lisa and I are joining a group of 8 women and Sally the owner of Souk and Co and heading off for 12 amazing days. We will be travelling vast distances through this “gateway to Africa” on a small tour bus. 

We met up with Sally and another gal who’s on our tour – Sim, last Friday as like us they also live on the Northern Beaches of Sydney in Australia.

There are the 3 of us from Sydney, a mum and a daughter from Melbourne, another mum and daughter from Adelaide and a lady from San Francisco, making up the 8 plus Sally.  We will all arrive at varying stages into Casablanca and then travel to the city of Rabat where our tour will officially kick off with dinner under the stars.

Morocco is a big country and our travels will take us through the desert, across mountain ranges and to ancient villages. we will wander through medieval cities with cobble stoned Medinas, all whilst staying in 5 star Riads.

Medinas are traditional walled towns, filled with local people going about their everyday life in laneways, that are a maze of shops and tea houses and alleys that I can only assume I will get lost in with my trusty camera over my shoulder- I can’t wait! A Riad traditionally is the word for garden, however when you look at some of these beautiful homes that are now small boutique hotels, I think todays version is more a ‘stunning garden courtyard’. 

With just under 3 weeks till we leave, I have started my pre packing prep. I have chosen about 8 outfits and will cull this down to 4 or 5 including the outfit I will wear on the plane, allowing for comfort on long plane journeys and bus trips, that may get a little grubby and also having the ability to feel like I haven’t worn the same clothes for 2 weeks! 

This trip requires covered shoulders and longer dresses below the knee. Not only for the larger cities but also for the quaint ancient villages we may be travelling through, respecting their traditional ways. Morocco is a Muslim country.  It has also been suggested that for our camel rides we wear loose pants! Have you ever got on or off a camel? It can be quite daunting and also funny!

One hump or 2 …. From a trip to India in 2016

We need to also pack for cool desert nights and mild days, so the good old duckdown puffer jacket I bought in South Africa a few years back that folds into it’s own small pocket will no doubt be on high rotation should the weather be cool. 

I try to only pack into a carry on suitcase for a few reasons. Firstly this leaves my large suitcase free to fill up with treasures and Morocco looks like an Aladdins cave. So when we are on tour and on and off the bus, I can try to leave my large treasure case on the bus and just use and the smaller carry on case with my clothes and use my back pack for my camera equipment etc . The smaller case on the return flight allows for excess baggage….  On the way over it fits inside my main large suitcase.

Back to packing clothes. I hang these on a door and keep looking at what goes best with what and style them up with other items until I have the perfect travel wardrobe. 

I leave the clothes hanging on a door so I can rotate or mix and match

I’m only taking 2 pairs of shoes -my Frankie 4 slides and white sneakers.  The Frankie 4 brand are a support arch shoe or slide that are just heaven to walk in all day, plus shoes take up so much room and what if I buy 3 pairs ? Well then I will be glad I only left with 2!

A few trips back I discovered these great plastic zipper bags from Louq. They hold anything and everything and as they are clear plastic, you can’t loose things for too long as you can see in the bags. I have a trusty bull dog clip that keeps them altogether, in my suitcase and I also have a couple in my carry on backpack to hold lithium batteries ear plugs etc. 

My friend Lindy also introduced me into packing cubes last year and aren’t they a travellers best friend.  For a non expensive item, they sure help in the packing dept, keeping t shirts and socks etc. under control! And don’t forget a Sards wonder soap- stick great for those annoying marks on clothes…. you will be the tour favourite sharing to get stains out of clothes!

I have also discovered the Travellers note book. A great little leather compartment, that can hold your notes, diary and they even have a scrapbook/water colour paper book that slides in too for those arty moments. This also reduces what I travel with, and along with ditching the Mac book pro for the iPad that has a small keyboard attached and look at that I’m ready to blog paint or just make notes!

Travellers Note Book top left
Down sizing my computer and then the iPad can also be a book!

I’ve mentioned before I only take 1 international wall plug with me and use a power pack with 4 pins to cover off phone and camera chargers etc. This way if you are sharing a room or an apartment, you aren’t hogging all the wall sockets.  A friend of mine Deanna loved this tip, so I thought I’d share again. And don’t forget a blu tac blob! Just in case the wall fitting is loose it will help keep the plug in place. 

Power Ready !

Also make sure the actual power point where you are staying is working before you got to bed, otherwise you will wake up in the morning and have not charged your appliances. Nothing ruins a great day travelling than not having fully charged devices.

Packing a small back up portable power pack that can charge your phone is also handy. You may not need it, however if you only use your phone to take photos this can drain your battery quickly and if you are on a bus it is not always possible to charge your phone! Don’t leave home without one. I always travel with an additional battery for my camera for this reason. Imagine getting somewhere and your battery has no charge.

Lastly, I always travel with some trusty packaging material-bubble wrap. I line my big suitcase with this when I leave as you just never know when you might find a special ceramic dish that needs protecting on those bumpy roads and flights. And if you don’t use it, then leave it at the hotel for the next needy traveller. 

Got any questions or other suggestions to streamline small group travel ?  Drop me a line and let me know, I’m off to buy a backup battery for my new smaller mirrorless travel camera!

Mrs Wong xx

Bikes in Vietnam toot -toot- beep- beep

Have you ever been to Vietnam? Motorbikes and push bikes are life!

Unlike the western world where we go to the local shops and park our car or motorbike in a car park go to the butcher or Woolworths to get our groceries, in Vietnam and here in Hoi An, there is still a lot of ‘street activity’ with the locals bringing their produce to town and selling it in the street and the local market.

They may live 20 minutes away or 2 hours.

Imagine going to Paddy’s market and riding through on your bike and just stopping at the stall for what you want. That pretty much happens here morning noon and night.

People just stop on the side of the road- for a juice, a bowl of Pho (pronounced fu), for meat all freshly brought to market along with fruit, veg or herbs whilst still sitting on their motorbike or push bike.

The tailor has someone from their workshop stop and deliver pants, or 2 guys on a motorcycle – 1 driving the other holding 6 slabs of bottled water to drop of at the quikky mart.. just incredible to see.

The stall holders set up to work until their produce is sold and then they pack up and go home. They may come back again in the afternoon with more meat or veg to sell and as it’s so fresh they really don’t need the golden food safety guide we have in Australia where we have 2 hours out of the fridge or 4 hours in a display before it needs refrigeration or gets thrown out.

Some stalls cook only breakfast, others BBQ duck or chicken and only set up at night.

When you have street meals you sit at little plastic tables and chairs, use chop sticks that you wipe over quickly with a square of paper and you NEVER touch the table! goodness knows what may have been there. If you have rubbish, like the little square of paper ( no serviettes here) or bones, you throw them on the floor under the table. It’s just the way they do it here. It’s not like a restaurant where you may sit back and have a drink and think about how much food you ate, it’s about quick food that is not only delicious and filling but it’s home cooked food brought out to the street on a cart and completely packed up when finished including sweeping the rubbish.

There is of course the western restaurants but where is the fun in that!

Now back to the constant tooting and beeping! Unlike Bali where it is a constant beep to see if you want a Taxi, here in Vietnam it’s part of the way a busy congested city and often the whole country keep the wheels turning -pun intended. The golden rule is you actually very rarely come to a complete stop, you toot to say you are going around the corner, you toot to say you are turning, you toot to say I’m coming around you – you just bloody toot! Except of course if you are a pedestrian…… you just cross the road, slowly and again you never completely stop, you just keep moving and they just toot and go around you!

It makes for some hair raising taxi rides, as everyone tries to go about their business, all with the hand on the beep beep button.

I cant believe we have been here for 10 days, and almost everyday we have walked and ridden our bikes all over Hoi An, out to the beach, to Yoga, through rice fields and along lane ways, up and over bridges and into remote villages and just enjoyed the local way of life. This has mostly been in the morning as the heat is almost unbearable.

Our activities have been varied, from going to cooking school at an echo village, and learning yet another version of spring rolls, the best we have had or maybe that was the oil they were cooked in ? Wading in thigh high water (depending on how tall you aren’t) with a professional photographer, to chat the the fishermen in the river as they catch the pippies that they sell and allow us to photograph them ….. Just wow!

I think Etienne the pro was enjoying himself, the warm afternoon light amazing clouds in the sky, tramping through corn fields and around rice paddies…….. insert big sigh- life is bloody fabulous.

We have loved our painting and sketching classes with Anna and another local artist. We trekked out to the Ba Na Hills and saw the Golden hand bridge.

Been to beach clubs and 5.00am trips to the fish market -wow wasn’t that an eye opener- with a hangover and all done with a smile on our faces.

We call out hello or Xin Chao, smile and wave and embrace this amazing country. They all smile because they think it makes them more attractive, the kids are cute all want to say hi!

Today was a brilliant day, we got to meet another artisan from Northern Vietnam- Cham and her family now live here in Hoi An. Cham studied fine arts has travelled all over the world and shared her passion with us about the local hand embroidery. Now don’t yawn it was actually so much fun, and to see this young mum sharing her experiences and passion for a tradition called Hmong embroidery with us and allowing us to see her father’s beautiful arts works about the heritage of the skilled embroidery and how they spin the silk and hand dye their cloth, was as our friend Pete would say Marvellous!

It was in an amazing new hotel, that was styled just the way I like it and we got to buy pottery plates that we ate an amazing lunch from!

Tonight we went to a seafood restaurant as the skipper and I have 1 more day here in Hoi An before we take the long way home to Sydney via Saigon and head to Bali for a wedding and a catch up with our friends from our Vietnam tour in 2018.

I’m sure this won’t be the last time we visit this amazing country we have loved travelling with Mez again whom we went to India with a few years back and we have made a new friend Bev from Adelaide and I’m sure we will see her again soon.

Lastly Happy birthday to my papa bear Alan – 81 year young today.

Till next time Mrs Wong x

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