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Ending the Blog

Saturday, September 29th, 2007

Hi everyone,

I started this blog almost exactly six months ago. It has covered a few months of pre-trip planning and angst, my actual travel adventures, and then some post-mortem reviews. At this point, there isn’t much more to say, and I think it is time to bring closure to the write-up. I had marked October 1 as my “return to normal life” date, the day where I begin to actively job hunt, to work part-time for my former employer to support me while job-hunting, to begin a strict diet and exercise regime, to do all those new year’s resolutions we tell ourselves we will do, but quite often never get around to.

I had a fantastic time, and I encourage anyone who can make the time and apply the resources to have an adventure like this should do so. Don’t let age, gender, or financial state discourage you, I met people of all walks of life in all circumstances traveling and getting a new perspective on life. We only live once, what a shame to not see what the world has to offer!

For future travelers reading this blog, feel free to contact me through the blog and I’ll answer what questions I can, and feel free of course to contribute comments. For my fan base (and I am still shocked when my friends and family tell me how they actually regularly followed my adventures!), thanks so much for reading and commenting, I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.


Post-Mortem on Packing

Saturday, September 22nd, 2007

On June 11, a little over 3 months ago, I posted a blog entry of my packing list along with photos of what I was bringing with me. That post is thus far the most visited of the whole blog, by several percentage points (it gets linked to in a bunch of places). I’ve also gotten many comments that people have found that very helpful. But the true test, of course, is how well that list held up. Now that I am back I can give a faithful accounting of what worked and what didn’t.

Let me start by saying that I learned very quickly that I both hate and suck at doing laundry in a sink. Some people do laundry every night, I found that my clothes simply didn’t get clean enough (I also DON’T recommed Dr. Bonner’s Soap as detergent). I would generally find it far more worthwhile to pay a hotel or hostel to do my laundry for me, but you must swing it correctly such that you’re in one location long enough to have them do it and have it dry. In Uganda, it rained far too much so I mainly had them wash it, and if it looked like rain, I dried it inside my room. So having a clothesline is a necessity, even if you don’t plan much on doing your own undies. [read on]

Morocco Photos — all trip photos and videos, actually

Saturday, September 22nd, 2007

Snarky in Sahara Desert I know I should link these in to their appropriate posts, but I’m finding working on the blog to be more time-consuming than I can handle right now, what with running around the East Coast visiting newly acquired relatives and all. So, you can see links to the Morocco photos, in fact all the photos going part-way through Uganda at the first link below. After that, I link to the individual pages for the photos that are at kodakgallery. You’ll need to sign in to see them, sorry. The baby gorilla videos are really short because they eat up memory. [read on]

Arriving Home and Happy to be Alive

Saturday, September 22nd, 2007

The next morning everyone had flights around 10am except me, who flight was around 1:30. Nonetheless it felt better to travel in a group, as in addition to my backpack (now slimmed down to 20 lbs) I had a plastic tote bag that had about 26 lbs worth of presents and a carpet that was rather precariously taped up and its 1/4″ straps could readily slice through my shoulder muscles (I had a near decapitation incident when I tried putting the bag around my neck). We traveled en masse to the airport on the train, and made it through the bottleneck of security that had us waiting around for 45 minutes so 200 people could pass single file through a metal detector that I’m fairly certain wasn’t actually on, and then got to the terminal.

But, actually we got to A terminal, not THE terminal. [read on]

Day 11: Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world…

Saturday, September 22nd, 2007

We were out of Essaouira by 9:30 and I was feeling pretty gnarly. I think the damp-fishy-sewage smell that pervaded the city had finally taken its toll. My throat was raspy and I was completely nauseous, but by the time we were an hour outside of town back in the desert I was fine, so that was good news. Overall, on the entire trip, apart from the bad cold in Tanzania, I never got sick once. Not a single case of “traveller’s revenge” or the cold fed through the tour group, or any other physical indisposition. As one who usually gets sick at the drop of a hat, I was pretty astounded.

We drove to the Marrakesh airport to drop off two people, then stopped in Marrakesh for lunch, with everyone having strict orders they were not allowed to shop, wander or otherwise delay the group. Our biggest ‘delay-er’ had been one of the ones earlier dropped off, so we actually succeeded in this mission! A few people stayed behind in Marrakesh, and we made it to Casablanca (in our now nice-and-roomy van with the loss of so many bodies) by around 3pm. It was sad saying goodbye to so many people, but I think a lot of us were ready to move on. As this was the end of my whole African Adventure, I was particularly eager to get back to American normalcy. If I had had another country on my intinerary, I could have readily moved on to that and traveled on indefinitely, but once my mind had accepted I’d be going home soon, it was time to do so.

Those of us leaving the next day from Casablanca were almost all staying in the same grubby Ibis near the train station and that night we decided to see the one sight there is to see in Casablaca – Rick’s Cafe! [read on]

Day 10: Shopping and Dining Essaouira

Saturday, September 22nd, 2007

As I had a great night’s sleep (thank you ambien) and a whole day ahead of me that promised to not involve sitting in a van at all, I was very happy. The tour company had offered the option of wind surfing/kite surfing if it was windy that day or kayaking if it wasn’t. It wasn’t windy but only one person wanted to kayak. I think the rest wanted to vegetate and shop. [read on]

Day 9: Having one of “those days”

Saturday, September 22nd, 2007

Ok, in my defense, everyone on a tour has “those days”. As noted earlier, one thing I learned from the trip is that I am not one for long tours. I think a 5 day tour is about the maximum I can handle without some serious independent time. Various of my compatriots also had had “their days” during the trip, each at various times when things went awry. “These days” are those where happiness and civility are sometimes put aside in favor of being an overt unpleasant bitch.

For me, this was “my day,” as the itinerary called for us to go from the Atlas Mountains to Essaouira, which overall should be a few hours drive. We had breakfast in Armed at 8am. We arrived in Essaouira at 7pm. I was not a happy camper. Now, I should point out in defense of the tour company, many many people were happy with the day’s itinerary. I just wasn’t one of them. [read on]

Day 8: Was this supposed to be an athletic trip?

Saturday, September 22nd, 2007

The next morning those of us who didn’t go to to summit Mount Toubkal left Marrakesh to drive to the Atlas Mountains where we would meet up with those who did climb. After some time we arrive in the village of Imlil where the van can’t go any higher and we get out to walk the rest of the way to Armed Village (pronounced and sometimes spelled “Aramed”, not “armed” as in being in clover with much weaponry). And walk we did.

Back in my pre-trip days, when I was doing 4-6 mile hikes with my 30 lb bag to get in shape, this trek would probably not have caused me to break much sweat. As it was, I was afraid we’d need a defibulator by the time we were done with the 1 hour trek. I cannot believe how unbelievably bad shape I am now in. It’s a good thing I am unemployed as when I get back to LA I’m going to need to devote some serious time toward being able to walk up a flight of stairs without getting winded. [read on]

Morocco Day 7: Intimate Details of the Hammam

Monday, September 17th, 2007

The next morning I sleep in and then do some minor wandering around the shopping stalls, not really buying anything, but looking around. Around 10 I go back to the carpet vendor and buy the last carpet (again, mucho fun).

After lunch I had my appointment at the Les Couleurs de l’Orient Hammam spa. As I consider myself somewhat of a spa connoiseur, I was really interested to see what a Moroccan spa was like. This was not an expensive spa, less than $45 for the hammam bath and the massage, but I was more interested in seeing the treatment than getting it at the poshest possible level. Hammam is just a general term for their baths, and most people use public hammams. I went to a private hammam which is geared for tourists, but I still felt it was a very interesting experience. For those not into getting the nitty gritty spa details, best move on to the next post. [read on]

Morocco Day 6: Let the Shopping Begin!

Monday, September 17th, 2007

As mentioned, most people got great nights sleep but one couple had been moved last night because of mold and another pair were stuck in a room that had a sewage problem. One was moved to another riad the night before, but the other stuck it out. The manager acted as though he didn’t know we were supposed to be given breakfast and breakfast ended up only being tea, juice, and “moroccan pancakes” which are somewhat oily nan-like pancakes that some loved, but I despised. There was not even any regular bread so I went out and got a couple of chocolate croissants from a nearby baker for 3 dirham (less than 50 cents), as I’m still taking malaria meds and need a decent quantity of food to keep the pill down.

Because of the problems with the other rooms, the tour company decided to move us all out of the riad because the manager was being quite the jerk (we noticed this as well). Though not keen on moving because we’d gotten good night’s sleep, we agreed we didn’t really want to give business to a jerk and we wanted to support JBT. At it turns out, the riads we were moved to were great. Mine in particular was FABULOUS – the L’Heure d’Ete. It was the only one we stayed in that was a restored house but restored into modern decor, not ‘traditional’. The place was great and the bathrooms were wonderful (best shower I had the entire time, I think). [read on]

Morocco Day 5: Braving “Mount Puke-ed”

Monday, September 17th, 2007

The day dawns beautifully and most people are going to go on a walk through the valley after breakfast before we need to leave around 10. However, D’s international blackberry started working and given a choice of exercising my fat backside or checking email, I checked email. it had been about 6 days since I’d checked and I was started to get the shakes. Reception was dodgy and we found it would suddenly kick out unless you moved somewhere else in the room. The toilet was an especially good spot at getting reception. [read on]

Morocco Day 4: Camels Suck

Monday, September 17th, 2007

Camel Head I awoke a bit before 4:30 and wandered out into the pitch blackness toward where the camels are kept. It won’t come as a surprise to anyone, but the stars were amazing. It was like the sky was blanketed with not only the regular-size ones, but also tons of teeny ones you never see at home. Also, Mars was super-bright, and showed up in my pictures almost as much as the moon did.

As I walked out, I really hoped some of the others would make it, as I wasn’t sure I wanted to go into the desert with just me and a camal guy. The camel guys were young berbers, ranging in age from 9 to early 20s, and they do this only before they get married. Once they get married they do other type of work. Apparently, lots of Spanish tourists come to these resorts and have a VERY good time with the berber boys so they love the young women tourists (especially those who apprently never got the message that Morocco is a Muslim country where hot pants and bikini tops are not normal modes of dress). Me, I prefer men who bathe consistently, but to each their own. [read on]

Morocco Day 3: Dates and Desert

Monday, September 17th, 2007

The next morning we drove less than an hour away and took a tour of the Ziz Valley which is a (the?) major producer of dates for Morocco. It was beautiful. Very “Jurassic Park” feeling in that there were these huge rock cliffs as background but this lush green center full of ancient-looking palm trees. We started the walk by going through the village of 25 familes (I forget the number of people but somewhere under 1000 I believe, maybe even just a few hundred). It was your usual brown rocky hovel teeming with boys. Some people on the tour gave them pencils and we were subsquently mobbed. It was very cute if you like kids, annoying if you don’t. [read on]

Morocco Day 2: ‘On the Road, Again’ Begins

Monday, September 17th, 2007

Overall I would sum up my tour of Morocco as a too many toos:

Too crowded
Too rushed
Too much time on the road

Don’t get me wrong, I greatly enjoyed the trip. I loved Marrakesh and Fes, and met some great people in the group (including some other active Boots-N-All folk). I also really liked the people who ran the company and even though there were some problems, they did just about everything within their power to fix them, much at their own expense. I have no doubt they lost money on the trip with having to foot the bill for fixing some housing and people issues, and I would highly recommend the company —Journey Beyond Travel (JBT) — in part because of how well they tried to respond to issues in the interest of making their customers happy. I just can’t recommend the intinerary we did or traveling with this large a group. [read on]

Morocco Day 1: Planes, Trains, and Fes

Sunday, September 16th, 2007

Hello all! I am now back in the USA and getting used to having a washing machine again (how fabulous!), people driving sanely, and being able to drink the tap water. However, I’m going to chronicle my adventures from where I left off, so back to September 2…

Once again, I was told by my hostel guy in Cairo to be up at a certain time to make it to the airport at 7am for my flight, and once again I left almost an hour later and still was fine. Also once again the cab driver took me to the wrong terminal. You really have to watch what’s going on. The driver did not carry my bag so he didn’t get a tip.

The flight was uneventful, though it left almost an hour late, and when I got to Casablanca the airport baggage area was a mess. There were bags everywhere. [read on]

Morocco update

Sunday, September 9th, 2007

These arabic keyboards are really frustrating to type with, so I will just update the blog when I return to the states in a week. Stay tuned!

Morocco is da bomb

Friday, September 7th, 2007

Just a quick note to show I am alive and well. Morocco is awesome and I am spending a fortune. But there is limited email access (am borrowing an international blackberry that gets sporadic service) and all with arabic keyboards. So adventure tales will need to wait…

Of Minaretes and Men

Saturday, September 1st, 2007

We said goodbye to K and B with whom we spent a week in Dahab, and P, M, and I traveled back to Cairo by flying from Sharm el-Shek (I had had enough with Egyptian buses at that point). I am back in Cairo for the day and leave for Morocco tomorrow.

Today P, M, and I meandered around the city and visited two old Mosques. At the first one – Al Ghuri — we had really nice guides who were very helpful and kind. The mosque was beautiful and we went all the way up the minarete and had amazing views of the Cairo, though we didn’t feel like the railing at the top of the minarte — the tiny, ancient pieces of wood stopping from us falling hundreds of feet to our deaths — was all that stable (addendum: P, who works in contruction, has since informed me we were only 60 or so feet up). The stairs were a bit trecherous and at one point there was no light and M and I were not exactly being “mosque-level modest” with our skirts hiked up our thighs to avoid tripping down the steps. Oh, and fashion note, big skirts and headscarfs make you look fat in all photos. Or at least, they make me look fat. [read on]