Posted on April 24th, 2009 No comments
Morocco tour account – Linda Lakatos, office manager
Entering into the medina, the walled city section of Morocco’s capital, Marrakech, is nothing like I’ve ever experienced before. The souk contains booth after booth of wares, including local clothes, furniture, rugs, lamp fixtures, spices and exotic foods. Of all the adjectives that could be used to describe the souk, I think eclectic is the most fitting.
After adventuring around for a while in this, one of Africa’s most exciting destinations, (and exclaiming, “Wow! Come look at this!” around every corner), we hired a tour guide to take us through the lesser-known areas of the souk. Our Moroccan escort took us into the back, where the trades are made as Marrakech wholesalers negotiate with local venders and we got to see raw materials such as leather to make shoes, wool that would soon become a rug, dyes used for clothing, and animals that would soon be for sale. It was the staging area for the souk.
After leaving our tour guide behind, we went exploring a little more and in every direction we turned, there seemed to be a helpful Moroccan that would make sure that we knew where the centre of the souk was. This was where all the action was happening. When I approached the focal point, I saw there was a cock fight in one circle, a dancing monkey in another, a local playing a flute to a dancing cobra…It was nothing like I’d ever witnessed, either in Morocco, Africa or elsewhere!
After leaving this centre square, we asked a local about visiting a hamam-a local Turkish bath house. They pointed us in the right direction and made sure that we were clear on the door we should use so that we would go in the women’s bath, not the men’s. After we entered, we realized why: everyone in the hamam was naked. With a bit of a language barrier, we managed to communicate that we’d like a massage. We undressed and a local woman proceeded to lather us up with a gel-like soap and scrub us down. I was so relaxed after this experience I could barely walk. In fact, I walked right into a Berber gentleman crossing the street right in front of me. It was as though I were walking on a cloud and we opted to sit at a café for a drink before continuing on our journey.
Before leaving the souks of Marrakech, we opted to take one more look at the central square. It had completely transformed. The live dancing animals were no longer there; they had been replaced by a food fare, with some animal heads to be eaten (presumably from the animals that we had seen being traded earlier), some food that looked like worms, some that I recognized to be vegetables, and some that you would expect at a food stand in Marrakech, like your tagines, couscous and soups.
We left the medina with a whole bunch of souvenirs; some for us, some for friends and family back home. We also indulged in some of the more familiar food, some fresh vegetables, olives, cheese, a bottle of local wine and, of course, some fresh mint for after dinner tea, and had a wonderful picnic at our apartment hotel just outside the medina where it was little quieter.
All in all, our Morocco adventure proved to be a most wonderful experience.
Only the 15kms of the Gibraltar Strait separate Morocco from Europe, but setting foot on Moroccan soil brings with it the realization of how different the two actually are. However, Morocco does display some decidedly European traits, due to both its proximity to, and past incursions from, peoples on the neighbouring continent and is, as such, often considered as a gateway country; where Europeans can ease themselves into the drastically different African culture, so too can Africans get a taste of Europe without wholly immersing themselves in a foreign society in a foreign land. Morocco as a tour destination is becoming evermore popular and is not by any means restricted to those looking for a first taste of Africa. On the contrary, Morocco is a place that travellers return to year after year, a fact that speaks to the alluring nature of the country and its people.
Topographically speaking, Morocco is about as varied as it gets. From the towering peaks of the Atlas mountains to the miles of superlative gold-sand beaches on the Mediterranean and Atlantic coasts, and from the wide, rolling coastal plains where most of the country’s population can be found to the harsh extremes of the southern Saharan regions; Morocco has plenty of eye-catching landscapes to take in, and plenty of activities to partake of. Where relaxing tours can limit themselves to the areas on and around the sun-drenched beaches, more adventurous tours can involve hiking in the mountains, camel riding in the deserts, or getting the feet wet with some watersports along the coasts.
Morocco has a diversity of inhabitant that equals its diversity in geography. Foreign influences, invading armies and immigrating refugees throughout the ages have moulded Morocco into the melting pot of cultures that it is today and there exists in Morocco, to name but a few, descendants of Phoenicians, Romans, Arabs, Andalusians, sub-Saharan Africans and the indigenous Berbers. The result is that travellers are greeted not only with an eclectic mix of traditions and customs in the people they meet, but also treated to an array of architectural styles from a multitude of eras—Roman ruins, Berber fortresses and Islamic monuments, for example. However, though buildings like the impressive Palais Royal in Rabat and the fascinating UNESCO World Heritage Site, the medina in Fes, are definite points of interest on a tour, the most common given reason for return tours to Morocco is the hospitality of the locals.
Posted on April 3rd, 2009 No comments
WEST AFRICA VACATION
Over the last four years I had the pleasure and also faced the challenge to develop and lead our Adventures Abroad West African series. This is not a trip for the faint-hearted. The going is tough. We link together six different West African countries. And most of them are among the least economically developed nations in Africa. A lot of travel is done overland. In often difficult road conditions across serious bush country. We reach remote destinations where the infrastructure is poor. No fancy restaurant or super lodge at the end of a long day.
But the rewards are many. The natural and cultural diversity is incredible, the sites fantastic. They resonate like drum beats in the night. They bring you right back to the origins of civilization in Africa: the arid Sahel; the acacia-studded savannah region; the living rainforest; the Senegal River; the Niger Inland Delta; the stunning Bandiagara escarpment; Dakar; Bamako; Ancient Djenne; fabled Timbuktu; the Kumasi market; the Abomey palaces.
Great peoples form an interwoven fabric of countless languages and traditions. Wolofs, Bambaras, Dogons, Tuaregs, Lobis, Ashantis, Ewes, Dahomeys. Ancestral beliefs, fertility cults, Voodoo spirituality, Christianity, Islam.
Nomadic cattle herders share the land with sedentary farmers in vast seasonal cycles. People and land form one. Spectacular traditional architecture provide the background to village markets and celebrations where music, mask dances and rituals bring you back to the true values of the African spirit.
I strongly believe that Adventures Abroad offers here in West Africa the most extensive and comprehensive tour ever, unequalled by anyone else in the field in its scope and approach. It is a real odyssey.
We take our people from one end of West Africa to the other providing our travellers, along this dusty West African track, in this modern age of technology, movement and globality, a true human connection and a deep personal experience.
Posted on March 17th, 2009 No comments
Leading the tour of Ethiopia during the Timkat (Epiphany) Festival this past January was amazing. The whole country goes NUTS! We were in Lalibela for the actual festival and waited along the edge of the spectacular rock-hewn Church of St.George for the procession of the tabots (replicas of the Ark of the Covenant) to begin. Not utilizing modern technology, the priests of each individual church signal to the other that they are ready by blowing loudly on a horn. When they finally decided they were ready, it was complete chaos. We followed the procession for the next two hours and it was unforgettable. There’s no way to stay together as you all get caught up in the crowd, but that’s the fun part. So much going on and so much colour! Music, chanting, pushing, laughter, and chaos!
The festival in Lalibela was great, but what I’ll never forget was our drive the following day when we drove through scores of tiny little villages and towns having their own Timkat celebration and more often than not, our vehicles would get surrounded by locals caught up in the frenzy of the festivities. At one point, my vehicle was completely surrounded by local men all chanting and jumping up and down while waving sticks in the air. They seemed thrilled to have foreigners there to watch and everywhere we went we were greated with cheers and smiles.
What a beautiful country. It certainly doesn’t live up to any stereotype or preconception I might have had. For me Ethiopia is far from a desert-like country plagued by famine. To me it is gorgeous mountain scenery, unique wildlife, waterfalls, rivers, strange food, great music, a unique culture, and a bizarre and fascinating history bordering on mythology.
Check out some great tours to Ethiopia