Marrakech, Morocco

Last stop Marrakech, 40 hours and 4 flights after Adelaide.


The Marrakech airport is very nice and surprisingly easily to get out of. Many airports I have been to create a labyrinth of passages and security checkpoints, but not Morocco, here it seems they want you out in their cities rather than taking part in some insane bureaucracy.

We met our guide Brahim from Morocco Key Travel in the airport foyer, my name clearly visible on the sign he held. Looking at all the other drivers, I was amazed at how clearly written all the signs were. This is not your average tourist destination, there seems to be a professionalism you don’t often see anywhere in the world.

Brahim made us feel at ease right away with his smile and gusto. He explained to us as we drove that Morocco was quite liberal for a Muslim country, very easy going. “We are Berber”, he explains and that encompasses everything you need to know. We drive through the new city with modern buildings that pay homage to historical architecture. In the new city, Brahim explains, you can get everything including alcohol (we make a note to try the local wine at some point).

We park the car and walk a few streets to the edge of the Medina. Cars don’t enter the Medina for the most part due to the narrow roads and alleys, it is better to walk, cycle or take a motor bike (some of which drive very fast through the crowded alleys). We hire a local with a trolley (50 Dirham) to take our bags and guide us to Samira’s Riad. We move quickly through the alleys, past stores and restaurants, hooking left and right seemingly at random. The air was warm when we entered but in the tight alleys it is cool due to the high walls.

Samira’s Riad welcomed us in and gave an option of rooms. We settled in and took mint tea with Brahim and our hosts. We were soon joined by Youssef, a friend of Brahim, who would take us through the Medina to the main square and teach us how to navigate the labyrinth. As we drank tea and smoked cigarettes, we talked. Youssef told us that Australians are considered nomads, as those they have met are always travelling somewhere, rarely ever to home. This is true of us as we told them of our year ahead. We also told them that our desire for the day was to see the sun set, eat a good meal and sleep to reset our body clocks after the 2 days of travel. Youssef offered for the Riad to prepare a traditional meal for us upon our return from the main square.

Youssef took us slowly back through the labyrinth and showed us the landmarks to make our way back. He also explained that the smaller alleys always dead end which makes it easy to find your way back. Within a few minutes we began to understand the ease at which you can get around, and what at first seemed daunting was in fact quite easy.

The main square was bustling in the late afternoon with a range of restaurants, greengrocers, potted plant vendors, and beyond that a swath of performers and artists plying their trade. The square was a cacophony of drums, horns, singing, and spruiking. I have been to a few markets in the world but this was my first bazaar and it was alive and daunting.

We found a café on the edge of the square with a rooftop terrace to watch the sun set behind La Koutoubia minaret.

Through dusk we made our way back to the Riad for dinner. The dinner was grand, starting with a lentil soup and eggplant salad, followed by Citrus Chicken Targine with Green Olives, finished by fruit salad. The food was simple but tasted incredible. Cumin and Turmeric subtly mixed with the natural flavours of the other ingredients.


The following morning we arose, had a breakfast of fresh breads, eggs, yoghurt, and crepes, with coffee before heading out for a walk through one of the nearby parks. That afternoon we caught the Supratours bus to Essaouira where we are staying for the next week.

Other Experiences in Morocco:
Marrakech to Imil
The Route of a Thousand Kasbahs
A Walk in the Dades Gorge
A Night at Erg Chebbi, the Sahara
The Middle Atlas

Planning Part 2

Once you have your shortlist and the gathered the weather data, you will need to decide when you are going to travel. one of the locations on our shortlist is Vancouver and we want to be there in summer (June/July). this means it could be our start point or the halfway mark, as we would rather not wait until the middle of the year to travel, we needed to decide if we start in South America or Europe. Since my travelling companion is having her birthday early in February, it became her choice: Morocco for her birthday.

Morocco is one of those mythic destinations. There are so many stories told of Morocco that it is hard to work out what you really want out of it.

Our first step was hitting the web and seeing what the major global tour operators had on offer. Our general guide to visiting anyplace is wonderful local food, beautiful natural environments and a culture that interests us.. Morocco has these and the range of activities offered is vast although very similar. Several times we had to stop researching and come back later due to overload. In the end we decided to spend a week at Essaouira before taking a 16 day private tour from Marrakech into the Atlas Mountains before heading east into the desert then north.

We have opted to begin our European leg in Spain (mostly because it should be slightly warmer than the rest of Europe and we can stay while everywhere else warms up) and therefore needed to work out how we wanted to cross the Mediterranean. Do we head to Casablanca to catch a plane or should we take a ferry from Tangier? Tangier Med runs ferries every day into Algeciras in Spain's Andalusia region for under 30 Euros a person and only takes an hour or so (Also taking a ferry between the pillars of Hercules sounded awesome). So, we decided that our Moroccan tour would end with a ferry into Spain at the beginning of March.

Planning a trip to Europe as part of a gap year is a very different thing to just planning a holiday.. To start with you have to think of how long you want to stay as compared to visa restrictions. Most of Western Europe is covered by Schengen convention which allows an Australian citizen to stay for 90 days every 180. This can be both a liberating and restricting when planning. Liberating because you must set an end date, restrictive because you have to be clear with what you want to achieve.

Distilling Europe into 90 days is impossible unless you want to have a whirlwind tour that has you visiting lots of cultural sights without actually experiencing the culture. We had already chosen Spain as one of our locations, so we started looking into what we wanted there.

Spain has dozens of highlights for a tourist to experience, but our goals are different. We want to get to know a bit about life in Spain.

To achieve this we have been investigating WWOOFing through the website. To register you need to make a 20 Euro donation which gets you access to the sites contents for 1 year. The site allows you to search by region, language, length of stay and other filters. WWOOFing is free and is a way to trade your skills and labour for food and board. We also have another alternative to this in that we recently made friends with a couple from Spain whose families live in Murcia. Our new friends are looking into the possibility with us volunteering our time with their friends and family there which should make for a great experience.

In our research we also came across a program called Vaughan Town. This program runs an immersion English courses at hotels/estates around Madrid and requests volunteers to stay for a week or longer and engage their students in discussion throughout. The volunteer gets to meet new people and receives 3 meals a day, accommodation, and hopefully some new friends and a rewarding experience. There are a lot of positive reviews and it sounds like just the craziness we would enjoy. The application process is quite easy and the organisers get back to you pretty quickly. We applied in August and were confirmed before the month was out. We chose to attend at the end of March at Rascafaria which looks like a wonderful area.

The above is not to say we aren't going to see any of the tourist highlights. Our plan on arriving in Algeciras is to catch the train to Ronda (15 Euros, 1 ½ hours) where we will stay a day or two before heading on to Granada (20 Euros, 2 ½ hours) for a few days. After Granada we will make our way by bus to wherever we will be living for a few weeks.

Spain has an extensive network of railways that include quite a few high speed lines and the prices are quite reasonable. Depending on where we end up staying before Vaughan Town, we will be able to get to Madrid in a few hours for under 100 Euros.

For April and the 1st half of May, we have tossed around quite a few ideas. Belgium, The Netherlands, Germany, Italy (Rina has family there), Romania. The options are too great to count and we felt that we were becoming too rigid in our thinking so we decided to leave it open and see where life takes us.

In the 2nd half of May we decided to visit the UK. Rina was there a few years ago around the same time and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. She also has a friend whose birthday falls into that time and he traditionally goes camping for the weekend, which sounded awesome so we locked that in. Over the years we have met a few people that live in the UK and have decided to drop by and see them. Thankfully a couple of them live in Edinburgh which I very much want to see and will also provide me the opportunity to taste few single malt whiskeys not available in Australia.

An idea we played around with quite extensively but unfortunately ended up dropping was visiting Iceland.

In the middle of June we are going to leave Europe and begin our journey across the Americas.

Planning Part 1

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In 2014, I will be traveling across the world. Planning a trip this large can be a very daunting thing. There is so much that is possible and it is very easy to become overwhelmed. In the end it is about being true to who you are and finding out what it is that drives your desire to travel.

Recent years have seen me shift from civil and social activism to more environmental activity. This isn't an abandoning of the social and civil sphere but rather the acknowledgment that without a well resourced and protected biosphere the rest is meaningless.

Conservation became a major direction with regard to where I plan to travel throughout 2014. When we first started planning, it was with searching for the must beautiful places we could find. As you can imagine the list became quite large, expensive and worse very poor value. It would be a year of touristing with a great many photos and passport stamps but very few enriching experiences.

So, with that in mind we began to think of how to enrich the year. Initially came across WWOOFing. WWOOFing (Willing Workers on Organic Farms) is working on small farms across the world for food and board. This sounded great as at home we try our hand at gardening with some success and it world be an excellent way to increase our skills and knowledge in a practical way. As we searched the web for places to wwooff we began to notice on various newsfeeds how the various global crises were affecting the environment. It occurred to us that an excellent way to get a rich and fulfilling experience would be to volunteer in conservation activities, helping preserve green spaces and fragile ecosystems where funding had disappeared and thus giving back to the societies that we were visiting.

Our list once more became large and thoroughly untenable. So we refined our search to the “PIGS' (Portugal, Ireland, Greece, and Spain) as they were foremost on feeds. In these countries there was a great deal of volunteering available in various fields and we soon found that it would be very easy to keep ourselves occupied but we had overwhelmed ourselves with data so had to take a step back.

Taking a breath, I decided that in order to make good choices we needed to have a general overview of what limitations, restrictions and opportunities there are for Australians traveling.

Stage 1: Short list countries that were to be considered

Stage 2: Ascertain Visa costs and restrictions for those countries

Stage 3: Collate weather data for the countries to optimise the time of our visit

Stage 4: Analysis

The short list was relatively easy, it included a lot of Europe, Morocco, Canada and South America. Visa information was easy as well.

Utilising as a start point and refining/adding to that information with the Australian Government website Smart Traveller, we were able to gather most of the information we needed as well as the websites for the specific countries embassies for further information like cost and application processes.

Temperature Chart2Weather was also very easy. There are dozens of sites out there. I chose to focus on the individual countries Bureaus of Meteorology (or equivalent) then going to alternate sources (like to fill information not available. The data I was after was: Average High Temperature, Low Temperature, Humidity, Rainfall, and number of Rainy days/month. Once the data had been collected we had to apply filters to it in order to work out what the optimal time of travel was for our needs and comfort. As such we applied the following for each field:

High – No Higher than 35C

Low – No lower than 5C

Humidity – No Greater that 70% (unless average high below 30C)

Rainfall – No more than 100mm

Number of Rainy days – No more than half the month

These filters may seem odd, or even strict, but when you look at the chart you will see that Adelaide, South Australia (our home) is one of the few places that offers all round comfort and is thus the baseline. The chart is meant to be a guideline for our travel and not completely exclude a location. It all comes down to comfort which is something every traveler should consider, especially when travelling so long from home.

With all this data in hand we were able to begin planning in earnest, finding projects and places to visit based on the average weather profile as well as the VISA requirements. The challenge would now be to balance our desire to contribute as well as enjoy the countries we were visiting.

Our shortlist to visit is: Europe and the Americas.

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