Friday, 15 June 2018

Dear Diary.....Fes and Chefchaouen (Morocco)

Dear Diary,

This second last day of our tour was literally a day full of ups and downs. Many of us, including myself, had succumbed to either the common cold or stomach flu and the mood in the group was rather down at the start of this day. After a quiet breakfast at the hotel, we proceeded to board our van to head to the old Town of Fes. Many of us had expected this day to be a relaxing one as Fes was the only item on the itinerary.

The expression on this cat pretty much sums up our mood for this day...

However, due to concerns that it would be too rushed to cover two towns (Chefchaouen and Rabat) and make it in time for our return flight out of Morocco the next day, our guide decided to push forward the tour of Chefchaouen to this day. Upon hearing this, there was quite a commotion among our tour mates as Chefchaouen is the place that all of us had wanted to visit and explore the most out of the three remaining towns and we would want to visit it in good weather conditions rather than on this forecasted rainy day. The commotion lasted throughout most of the journey with some even suggesting that we forgo Rabat totally so that we can have more time at Chefchaouen. This suggestion spiraled down to a crazy debate over the fairness of striking out one item on our itinerary due to the lack of foresight on the person who planned this itinerary. The initially gloomy mood started to erupt into one that is filled with anguish and frustration and the commotion just got louder with time, definitely not the best condition for those who were feeling unwell to rest in. Eventually, our guide made the decision to stick to the plan for visiting both Fes and Chefchaouen today and to leave Rabat for the next day. We could only secretly pray hard that the weather would turn for the better when we reach Chefchaouen!

Entrance to Fes old town

The short journey from our hotel to the old town of Fes felt like eternity as the whole van was filled with an awkward silence after all that commotion. Upon reaching the entrance to the old town, everyone was eager to get out of the van and into the open space for some breather.

The Royal Palace in Fes...great spot to take photo!

Love the vibrant colors!

The dead silence and awkwardness was broken when we were joined by a Fes local guide. He was a young and handsome chap and certainly did wonders in lifting the cloud of negativity surrounding the group. When the Fes local guide started to go into detail with regards to our route for the day, we all started to get rather hyped up and excited over the tour and had completely forgotten about the argument earlier on.

Saw many interesting doors while walking along the maze-like alleys...

More colorful doors...

Prior to this trip, I had done some research on Fes and had noted that it was a chaotic and messy place with numerous scams on tourists reported on the Internet. However, the old town of Fes was nothing like what I had read about in this early hours of the day. Most of the shops were not opened and there was barely anyone in sight. This was probably a blessing in disguise as we did not have to deal with any touts and could safely wander about and explore the old Town of Fes in peace.

The narrow alleys...

This alley was considered wide...

A sneak preview of what to expect at Chefchaouen?

As we walked through the narrow alleys of the old town, it finally dawned on me as to why did the local Fes guide kept emphasizing to follow him closely and not to wander off on our own. It was literally like a maze inside the old town and we could have easily gotten lost with one wrong turn. The alleys were so narrow that we had to walk in a single file and it certainly did not help that these poorly lighted alleys were littered with rotting trash. Thanks God for our local guide!

The entrance of Al Quaraouiyine Mosque 

Winding through the small alleys, we arrived at our first stop - the leather tannery (with some stops in between to view the exterior of the mosque and Islamic colleges along the way). Although the tannery is the place most frequently associated with scams on tourists, it was also the place that I had been looking forward to visiting here in Fes! There were many online horror tales about scams by some “friendly” locals offering to lead the way to the tannery only to demand a fee upon arrival at the destination or that some tourists were held hostage after they refused to purchase anything or pay a fee after viewing the tannery. Some reviews even mentioned that the smell inside the tannery is unbearable and it certainly did not help that even our guide had advised us to put on a face mask if possible. Bracing myself for the worst, we were led to the viewing terrace located at the top floor of the leather shop. From the terrace, we were able to have a bird’s eye view on the tannery on the ground floor. Being wary of the potential revolting smell, I took a quick sniff and realized it was not as bad as expected and in fact, I was able to breathe as per normal! Heaving a sigh of relief, I kept my focus on the tannery. At first glance, it would seem like we were viewing an whole area filled with oversized painter’s palettes filled with various different colors. Upon closer look, we could see the workers hard at work, soaking the various hides with the dyes and laying them out to dry thereafter. It was indeed an amazing sight and it is no wonder a visit to the tanneries is a must when visiting Fes!

View of the tannery

Workers hard at work

After viewing the tannery, it was time for the leather shop owner to showcase his variety of leather goods and as my other tour mates were excitedly trying on and purchasing the leather products, my husband and I (who are not so much a fan of leather products) found a bench and just sat down and admire the colorful leather products surrounding us. It was also interesting to observe how the Moroccans interact with tourists and how they adapt their business strategies to different individuals.

Moroccan leather shoes...

All the other leather products

The next shop that we visited was a weaving shop where the owner tried to attract our attention by introducing to us the weaving machine that was used to weave his products (such as cushion covers and scarves). However, it seems like the products in this shop did not have that much of an appeal to us and many of us either just wandered about halfheartedly or were just taking a rest at the benches provided. My husband and I were feeling quite stuffy in the shop and had decided to step out for some fresh air and many of our tour mates started to follow us out in no time. I guess this action might have irritated the owner as he started to become quite hostile to us and chased the rest of our tour mates out of his stop. It was at this point in time that we decided as a group to cut short the tour at Fes and to head to Chefchaouen instead. We were even willing to forgo a sit-down lunch and make do with a grab-and-go lunch.

The weaving machine

Beautiful scarves and cushion covers

After making known our request to our guide, she gave us some time to buy some snacks for lunch before we board our van. She also mentioned that we would still have to make a rest stop so that our driver can have his lunch. Happily, we boarded the van and head off for Chefchaouen. However, just as we left Fes, it started to rain and the rain became heavier and heavier as we travelled on. We were quite disheartened and the excited chatters at the start of the journey soon quietened down as everyone started to pray very hard that the sky will clear up by the time we arrived at our destination.

Panoramic view of Chefchaouen (try to locate the blue town)

Lo and behold, we are indeed a very blessed group because the rain actually stopped when we were approaching Chefchaouen. Our dismay turned into relief and we started cheering and everyone was in high spirits again. With the weather turning to our favor, our driver decided to make a stop along the roads that provided a good view of the blue town - Chefchaouen. The whole town, though small, still stood out because of its vibrant blue color! The stop at this viewpoint certainly made all of us more excited then ever!

Did you manage to spot this in the above photo?

After checking into the hotel, we eagerly made our way out to explore Chefchaouen and just as we stepped out of the hotel, a huge rainbow was seen hanging in the sky as tho it was welcoming us to the blue town. It was a clear sign that our stay in Chefchaouen would be an excellent one!

A rainbow to welcome us!

The main square of the town was just minutes away from the hotel and from there on, there was just this one path that will loop back to the main square. My husband and I strolled along the path and we really enjoyed admiring the vibrant blue surrounding us. There are many tales of why the walls of the buildings in Chefchaouen were painted blue, though one can never be sure which is the actual reason. One of the more popular theory was that the blue kept the mosquitoes away while another is that the Jews introduced the blue when they were escaping from Hitler in the 1930s. Whatever the real reason may be, the blue walls of this town is certainly stunning and I am thankful to be able to explore this beautiful town and to get to experience its charming side!

The Grand Mosque in Chefchaouen

Even the street art is in blue!!

The start of the blue walls...

Doesn't it just looks like a painting?

We have the place all to ourselves because of the rain (which stopped just when we arrived at Chefchaouen)

Although the path can be covered in less than 1 hour, my husband and I really took our time and even stopped and admired every little alley that branched out from the main path - you never know what to expect at these off beaten roads! It was a fun time of photo-taking and I must say I have never had this much blue in my photos ever! We are so glad that the rain had stopped just in time and that we were able to explore Chefchaouen and admire its splendid beauty!

Love these blue doors!

Are you feeling the blues already?

Overall, this day had been like a roller coaster ride, with adrenaline and emotions running high and low throughout the day, but most importantly, it is another day of the tour that my husband and I will remember in time to come, and we are indeed grateful to be able to explore two more wonderful towns of Morocco! Looking forward to what’s in store for the last day of our tour.....

Yours Truly,


Friday, 8 June 2018

Dear Diary.....Ziz valley, Kasbah Asmaa hotel and Ifrane (Morocco)

Dear Diary,

It was going to be another day spent mainly on the roads as we ventured from Merzouga to Fez, with stops at the top of the Ziz valley, Kasbah Asmaa hotel and Ifrane along the way. After a hearty breakfast, we hopped onto our van and set off on the road. Blessed with good weather and surrounded by the boundless and gorgeous landscapes along the way, it was no wonder that everyone was in good spirits. What a great start to the day!

Magnificent sights on the roads...

Snow capped Atlas Mountains...

After a few hours on the road, losing ourselves in the ever-changing landscapes of Morocco, we arrived at a photo-point overlooking the Ziz valley. The area was big and spacious, which provided ample space for us to stretch our stiffened joints from the long journey. As we ventured further towards the edge of the cliff, we were rewarded with a panoramic view of the Ziz valley. It comprised of a whole stretch of fertile land filled with countless trees and rock formation, a stark contrast to the barren land surrounding it! It was a gorgeous sight and as we were the only group there, we could totally enjoy this marvelous place to our hearts’ contents! There was even a made-shift stall where the locals were selling their harvested red dates. Our guide, who had been ever so enthusiastic about introducing the Moroccan food and culture, purchased a box of red dates and let us try it on the van. It was sweet and fleshy and certainly made a good snack!

Ziz valley...

..which spanned across a large area..

More gorgeous sights along the way...

Isn't it just breathtaking?

Satisfied with such a breathtaking view, we continued on our journey and it was another good few hours drive before we arrived at our lunch destination - Kasbah Asmaa hotel. The hotel looked like a small castle built in the middle of nowhere. Its exterior appearance was impressive enough to make one take a second look. However, by this time, our luck with good weather seemed to be used up as the sky started to be covered with dark clouds. As soon as we alighted from the van, the strong gushes of wind started to throw all of us into panic mode as we desperately tried to make a dash for the hotel entrance and away from the relentless wind! This sudden change in weather has certainly dashed all my hope of being able to take a good photo of the exterior appearance of this beautiful hotel without being blown off by the wind!

Kasbah Asmaa hotel

Look at how the trees were bending under the strong winds..

Bright and sunny on this side....dark and gloomy on the opposite side of the hotel...

Back in the warm interior of the hotel, we were ushered to a nice corner to have our lunch. My husband and I decided to be more adventurous with our food choices and opted to have the Moroccan brochette (or kebab) as well as the hotel’s speciality - fresh trout. The food was awesome! The brochette meat was tender and juicy and the trout was fresh and tasty - the perfect comfort food for this cold and windy day!

Interior of the hotel

Yummy bread that comes with our main course..

Vegetable soup

Moroccan brochette

The fresh trout

With tummies filled, we headed off to our next destination - Ifrane. This next stretch of our drive proved to be very challenging for our driver as he had to navigate slowly through the roads with poor visibility brought on by the heavy rain. The heavy lunch paired with a nice and rainy weather soon started to make my eyelids feel heavier and before I know it, I had dozed off into a sweet afternoon nap! By the time I woke up, we were already approaching the entrance to Ifrane. Upon entering Ifrane, we noticed some soldiers standing guard outside a particular enclosed area to which our guide explained that that is actually the royal palace. The next thing that caught my attention was how much this small town resembles an European town, with its European-styled architectures and floral species. The place was very quiet, clean and neat and was totally different from the other major bustling Moroccan towns like Casablanca or Marrakesh that we had visited! This current modern town was established by the French administration in 1929, which explains for this striking difference in the layout and outlook of the town. According to our guide, Ifrane generally has a cooler climate as it is located at an elevated point, which thus also made it a popular location for people trying to seek relief from the hot summer heat.

Cold and foggy at Ifrane...

The lion statue in the centre of Ifrane...

Although much has been said of its beauty, it was a pity that we did not get to witness that side of Ifrane. The charm of this town was dampened by the wet and cold weather and we ended up taking a short rest at a cafe as the heavy rain made it almost impossible to explore the town. Perhaps, we would see it in a different light in a better weather condition! When the rain became lighter, we decided to continue on with the journey to Fes for dinner and to turn in for the night.

Rain, rain go away....

The wet weather and the extended duration on the road had made this day seemed monotonous when compared to all the fun that we had at the Todgha Gorge and Sahara desert the day before. Nevertheless, the amazing sights of the Moroccan landscape never fails to perk up my spirits and make me look forward to seeing more of it....

Yours Truly,