Tuesday, December 31, 2019

2019 - My Year & Decade In Review

What a year 2019 has been, the end of this year not only marks the beginning of a new one but it also marks the beginning of a new decade. As you all very well know, a lot can happen in a decade and as I reflect back on 2019, I can't help but also think back to the past 10 years. Off the top of my head this is how I would summarize my last 10 years
  • Got my master's degree
  • Took my very first solo trip that ended up being the best thing ever (had traveled before just not by myself)
  • Traveled to 20 countries and countless cities by myself
  • Held several jobs, quit one, lost a couple (tough times)
  • Moved to South America by myself - totally changed me
  • Learned Spanish making it the 3rd language I speak
  • Got proposed to twice by two different people, refused one accepted the other
  • Had very messy "relationships" but finally ended up married to a great guy - No more drama
  • Made friends, lost some
  • Made money, lost money
  • Lost a loved one
  • Grew A LOT as a person
Phew! I could go on with the list but I will stop here and get into 2019. This year there were a lot of highs and lows. The biggest low this year was going through a midlife crisis. Turning 40 had never been a bother to me and if anything, I was actually looking forward to it and had started counting down to the big day, once I hit my late 30s. When I started 2019 I was pretty excited about my last year of being in my 30s and I was planning to end the year with a bang. I tried lots of fun new things and my motto to life was YOLO (You Only Live Once) I was determined to live this year to the fullest. Things were going pretty well until midway through the year when something just clicked and I started panicking at the prospect of turning 40. I went through a major case of midlife crisis which took a toll on me mentally and emotionally, it was tough and I thought I was losing my mind I'm not even joking or trying to be dramatic.

When things got to a boiling point I decided to get away for a while, I needed to go very far away by myself to regain sanity. That's how I ended up in Morocco, that one week spent in Morocco did wonders to me and just being away from my regular life helped me gain clarity on a lot of things. I came back happier, more chilled out and yes...........ready to embrace turning 40. Now let's get into the fun stuff, the trips I took this year.

Colombia - The beginning of 2019 found me in Cali, Colombia where I got to celebrate the new year at an all night party which was way more fun that I had anticipated. I didn't even know I had it in me, we danced and partied until 9 am the following day!


Jordan - Visiting Jordan for my birthday was awesome, I had read good things about the country and experiencing it for myself did not disappoint. The best part of it all was meeting really nice and welcoming people that made the trip even more enjoyable.









Washington, DC - This was a nice getaway for my husband's birthday and I was glad to have been able to check out DC as I had always wanted to visit.




Nantucket/Martha's Vineyard - What a fun trip this was, prior to going on this trip we did not have any expectations whatsoever but it turned out to be one of our best trips, we even toyed with the idea of moving to Nantucket for a while but housing is ridiculously expensive and it just wasn't financially feasible. Isn't it funny how you end up enjoying the least expected places?





Chicago - I had visited twice before but this was years ago so it was fun refreshing my memories of the city. We had fun adventures on this trip and one of the highlights was taking a helicopter tour of the city which was super cool.






Morocco - Such a beautiful and photogenic country, I don't even think my pictures did it justice. This was such a refreshing getaway that truly helped me recharge mentally. I wish I could have visited more cities but I couldn't take too much time away from work.





That's it folks! I am grateful for a lot of things and even though I may experience personal lows here and there, my life truly is blessed. I have good health, I am loved and I live a decent life. As we go into 2020 my wishes for the new year and the new decade are: continued good health, continued good vibes in all aspects of my life, more trips & more money. Cheers to 2020!!














Saturday, November 30, 2019

Morocco In A Week, Tips & Tricks

I am leaving Morocco today so I decided to write up a summary of some tips and tricks for visiting the country while I am waiting for my taxi to the airport. I hope they may come in handy for someone so here goes....

Getting to Morocco

From the city in the US where I live, there are no direct flights to Morocco so to break up my trip I booked a direct flight to London. I have a cousin that lives there and I haven't been to the city in such a long time so this was a good opportunity to catch up. From the UK I got a cheap direct flight to Marrakech with a return from Fes using Ryanair flying out of Stansted airport. The total cost was roughly $80 and the flight was pretty short so that was a bonus, getting to Marrakech took only 4 hours and getting back to the UK from fes took only 3 and a half hours.

NOTE: Make sure to check in online if you are flying with Ryanair, I kept getting reminders to check in but I wasn't paying too much mind to the messages thinking I would just do it when I got to the airport. Yeah............not a good idea at all because I ended up paying a check in charge of 55 Pounds! that's about $71!!!!! I never knew about this so please don't be like me, check in 2 hours or more prior to your flight.

Currency

The currency in Morocco is the Moroccan Dirham that currently exchanges for $9.65 to the dollar. At the airport I withdrew some money at an ATM just so that I could have Moroccan Dirhams on me and to also pay for a taxi. Outside the airport you can change your money at the various Western Union and Money Gram locations which are plenty or even ask at the hotel that you are staying at. They should be able to show you where to change your money.

Dress Code

From what I observed, it's pretty casual and not very restrictive. Some local women cover up and others don't, I saw plenty of women wearing skinny jeans. As a tourist I would suggest to wear what makes you comfortable and also be respective of the local culture.

Language Spoken

The official languages are Arabic and Berber, French is also widely spoken and it comes in really handy when interacting with the locals.

Visa Requirements

US and EU citizens don't need a Visa, I don't know about other countries though so it's a good idea to look this up online and find out what the requirements are for your specific country.

Adapter

If traveling from the US, get an adapter similar to this.

Best Time to Travel to Morocco

I have heard and read that spring is the ideal time to travel to the country, summer is extremely hot and winter is not too bad. You might encounter rain and cloudy skies but the big plus is that you will not have to deal with huge crowds of tourists because its low season, it's currently winter season here. I have been lucky that the sun has been out through out my stay but it does get chilly at night.

My 7 Day Morocco Itinerary

Marrakech Day 1 (Arrival) - I landed in the afternoon and I was able to familiarize myself with the main parts of the city thanks to my airbnb host. This was very helpful in knowing how to get to and from the airbnb. 

Day 2 - Spent the entire day up and about exploring the main tourist sites in the city. I had booked a city walking tour so that I would get an overview of what the city has to offer before exploring it on my own. I like walking city tours because they give me an idea of what I might want to explore more off on my own, it's like an overview of the city before you figure out how to navigate it on your own. The walking tour lasted 3 hrs and afterwards I was able to walk around on my own visiting the places that interested me the most.

Day 3 - Decided to take a day trip out of Marrakech for a change of scenery. Booked a tour of the Atlas mountains via airbnb which lasted a whole day.

Day 4 - Departed Marrakech and headed to Fez.

Fes Day 4 (Arrival) - I arrived in the evening so I didn't get to do much but my airbnb host showed me around the neighborhood and gave me pointers to get started on my adventures in Fes.

Day 5 - Spent the whole day exploring the city and even got to experience a visit to a Hammam which was highly recommended.

Day 6 - Took a day trip out to Chefchaouen which was an all day adventure. 

Day 7 (Departure) - Last day in Morocco and I still had time to go back to the Medina for one last look around but I was tired and just wanted to take it easy. 

Traveling Between Fez & Marrakech

There are various ways you can travel between the two cities, below are some of the options you have:

By Train using the Moroccan National Railways ONCF the trip is about 6.5 hours direct and will cost you roughly between $22 - $25 depending on the class you chose. 

By Bus using CTM which is the oldest well established transportation company in Morocco, the buses are very comfortable. The price ranges between $17 - $30 depending on the level of comfort you chose. I hear the scenery along the way is beautiful and the trip lasts between 8 to 9 hours. 

By Car using either a private driver or renting a car to drive by yourself. I suppose prices would vary here so I don't have estimated costs but I would assume if you use a private driver it will cost you a lot more. I met a couple of travelers who used a private car to travel from Fes to Marrakech and they mentioned the trip lasted 8 hours, I did not ask how much they paid for it.

By Air using Air Arabia that flies between the two cities. I did not want to waste precious hours on the road so I decided to fly, it's only a 45 minute flight and I paid $58 for a one way trip. Air Arabia is very strict on their two luggage policy; I had my backpack, my little cross body purse and carry on suitcase but when I was about to board I was informed that not only would I have to check in my carry on but I would also have to pay 200 Moroccan Dirhams ($20). I should have just stuffed my cross body purse in my backpack because I don't like the whole luggage check in and retrieval process. 

NOTE: I converted the prices to dollars so they are rough estimates but it gives you an idea of how much you might be expected to pay. 

In Conclusion 

Morocco is a big country so with only 7 days I tried to make the most out of my trip and I think I did a pretty good job, the most important thing is that I got to see and experience what I wanted so I am happy about that. I hope you have enjoyed my updates and photos because the next time you will be hearing from me again will be in March when I take my annual birthday trip, it's all booked and I can't wait to share with you where I will be going. Who knows, maybe in between I might take a trip but it just depends on the opportunity. Anywho...........Morocco has been a blast and now its time to go back to reality, bills have to be paid and money has to be made for future trips so until then...........see yah! 

Friday, November 29, 2019

Chefchaouen

Today being my last full day in Morocco, I decided to take a day trip from Fes to Chefchaouen. Chefchaouen is situated in the Riff mountains of northwest Morocco. The city was founded in 1471 and served as a base for the Berber tribes to restrain the invasion of the Portuguese from Ceuta, a city at the north coast of Africa. The city grew from the arrival of Muslim and Jewish exiles from Spain and was closed off to foreigners especially Christians, up until the Spanish occupation in 1920. Today the city is popular with tourists and it's distinctive blue colored buildings in the Medina make it so picturesque.

I have tried finding out why the city is painted blue but no source is quite sure of the answer. All I can tell you though is, the Medina is extremely pretty and makes for a worthwhile visit. Chefchaouen is a 4 hour drive from Fez so you can imagine how expensive using a private taxi or guide might be. I decided to go by public bus which cost me 75 Moroccan Dirhams ($8 roughly) each way, for a total of $16. 

From Fes you can get a bus run by CTM which is the oldest and well established transportation company in Morocco. Its advisable to get a ticket a day prior just in case they sell out especially during high tourist season. I took the first bus out of Fes that departed at 8 am and arrived in Chefchaouen around noon, the first thing I did upon arrival was buy a return ticket to Fes just in case they sold out. I couldn't risk being stuck in the city as my departure out of Morocco is tomorrow. Having taken care of that I took a taxi from the bus station to the city center which wasn't too far, to begin my adventure. 

The tourist information booth was open but there was no one manning it so I couldn't get a map or guidance on how to navigate the city. Chefchaouen is not huge and you can get around easily but for someone who had just arrived with no knowledge of where to begin, I was a bit flustered. I bet my confusion really showed because I got approached by a local "guide" who offered to show me around. Since I had very limited time to explore, I took him up on his offer instead of trying to figure out my bearings on my own. He ended up showing me a lot and I don't regret going along with him because I would never have gotten the opportunity to visit some of the sites he showed me, by myself. As I mentioned before, Chefchaouen is very picturesque so I will just go ahead and stop my writing here as I let you enjoy the photos.




















Tried on the traditional clothing of one of the local tribes.




The Spanish mosque, to get here there is quite a bit of uphill trekking required but the aerial view of the city makes it so worth it!  








That's it folks! tired of my face yet? turns out the "guide" who was showing me around is fond of taking photos so kudos to him, saved me the trouble of asking strangers to take my photos. After getting my fill of Chefchaouen, I made it back to the bus station to go back to Fez. It was a lovely day indeed even though I was pressed for time.

Random Thoughts of The Day:

In Marrakech when I had mentioned to Yassin the guy who works at the airbnb I stayed at that I was heading to Chefchaouen, the first thing he said was "there are a lot of Chinese people there." I just figured he meant there are a lot of Chinese tourists who visit the city so I did not think anything of it. Then the guide at Chefchaouen mentioned the same exact thing before adding that a lot of Chinese and Japanese women come to the city to hook up with the local Moroccan dudes. I was like, "Aaah! okaaaay? but that can't be the only reason that they visit." He laughed and said, "you know Chinese men have tiny pee pee and us Africans have big ones so they come looking for that." Don't shoot the messenger, those were his exact words. I changed the subject real quick especially when he started giving me that sly look.

Apparently a lot of people also come to the city because of hashish which is rampant here even though its illegal to produce or even sell it. Will you look at that, all along I thought people came for the picturesque sites of the city, silly me...........apparently big pee pee's and hashish are a big draw for tourists as well (insert laughing emoji).

If you visit a Hammam here, please avoid the sun for a couple of days at least. After last night's scrub down at the Hammam, my skin was a bit raw especially my face so you can imagine how it felt under the hot sun today. I could feel the sting! my poor face.

So far I can say I have felt very safe being up and about by myself in all the places I have visited within Morocco. Despite annoying catcalls here and there, I haven't felt like my safety was threatened even once.

Speaking of catcalls, in Chefchaouen I was walking along this narrow alley and I passed by a group of these young boys who appeared to be teenagers. As soon as I passed them one of them shouted bomboclaat! It was so random and I almost burst out laughing when I heard it (he was referring to me). Sometimes its the most ridiculous things that just force you to laugh.

Speaking French would have really come in handy here in Morocco.



























Thursday, November 28, 2019

Fes, Morocco

Fes is the second largest city after Casablanca and it happens to have the first largest Medina in the world. It was founded in the 9th century by Moulay Idriss II the son of the founder of modern day Morocco. I arrived in the city last evening by flight which took 45 minutes as opposed to taking an 8 hour train ride or bus ride. As soon as I settled into my airbnb, my very gracious host was kind enough to show me around the neighborhood so that I would be a bit familiar with my surroundings. Since it was late in the evening and it was also my first day in the city, I wanted to take it easy so I didn't do much because I knew the following day would be a full day of exploration.

I had told my airbnb host Esaqi my plans for exploring Fes and he volunteered to take me around and show me the city, his young daughter who was such a good sport joined us too. I was pleasantly surprised by his generosity and I gladly accepted the offer. Today being my second day here, I can say the day was very well spent and without further ado, let me share my adventures with you.

Borj Nod

Our first stop was at Borj Nod which is an old fort in Fes that was built by the Saadians who were part of an Arab Moroccan dynasty. From the fort you can get a very good aerial view of the Fes Medina below as it is pretty high up on a hill. The positioning of the fort was intentional of course because soldiers in the past were able to monitor anyone coming into the city. The aerial view of the Medina gave me a clear idea of how big it actually is. I had heard it was huge but I didn't expect it to be that big! it actually makes the Medina in Marrakech look tiny in comparison.




After enjoying the aerial view of the city, we trekked downhill to get inside the Medina so that Esaqi could show me around. Pretty much every historical point of interest is located inside the Medina, making it so convenient to visit each site. Our first stop was Al Karaouine.

Al Karaouine

This is the oldest known university in the world which was initially used for Islamic studies and in the present day it's still a functioning institute of higher learning that offers more than Islamic studies. It's also a mosque so non Muslims can't go inside, from the photos you can't tell but its pretty huge.


Take a look at that ceiling, how pretty is it??!



Tomb of Moulay Idriss II

Remember I had mentioned Moulay Idriss II the founder of the Medina in Fes? well, his body is laid to rest in the Medina and his tomb is still very well preserved. Esaqi was telling me that people visit the tomb with offerings as a way to give thanks for founding the Medina. I could not get in unfortunately (I believe only Muslims can get in) but I was able to get some photos from outside, the place is beautiful with colorful tiles as you can see below.

See where the two ladies are standing in the photos? that's where the tomb is.




Chouara Tannery

This is one of the three tanneries in Fes and is the largest. It was built in the 11th century, you get to see the ancient art of tanning and dyeing leather here. The smell is not pleasant and is distinctly strong but you get used to it after a while. This is the leather that goes into making some of the leather products to be found in the various souks within the Medina. 






The Souk 

The souks within the Medina are colorful and it was fun walking around and checking stuff out while scouting for souvenirs. Unlike Marrakech, I found the Fes Medina to be more peaceful and less hectic plus I was not hustled even once, maybe its because I was walking with a local. Either way, it was a pleasant time.







The Blue Gate

This is the main entrance into the Fez Medina and although the Medina has 18 gates, this is the most beautiful one and Esaqi had wanted to save it for last. How thoughtful, right? we exited through this gate. I am glad he had organized the visit in such a way that we were able to visit the main points of interest as he narrated the history of each, before departing through the Blue gate.





Jnan Sbil Gardens

These gardens were a welcome change from the busy Medina. We stopped here and sat down to have a peaceful lunch before continuing on with our adventures.



The Jewish Quarters

After lunch we passed through the Jewish quarters where you can see the distinct design of the houses. There is a long history of Jews in Morocco but since I am not too familiar with it, I will leave it at that.




Royal Palace

You can't enter the palace but at least you can admire its exterior and even take pictures. It really is beautiful and I can only imagine how it must look like inside.





Hammam Visit

Last stop after all that walking was a Hamman, which is a public bathhouse. I had been told not to leave Morocco without trying one out so I figured since its supposed to be relaxing it would feel so good after a long day of walking around. Lucky for me Esaqi's wife was also going so she invited me to join her. Honestly I did not know what to expect so I was a bit nervous.

Photos are not allowed in the Hammam for obvious reason so I will say this.........throw your reservations out the window and just go for it. I got the best all body exfoliation and massage in my life thanks to Esaqi's wife and at that point my shyness about feeling so exposed was already gone.  

That's it folks! my day ended on a high note and if you ask me if I would go to a Hammam again? I would say, DEFINITELY! my skin feels so good right now plus when I got to the house which is normally cold, I was feeling warm and ready for a good night's sleep. Tomorrow another adventure awaits so stay tuned.

Random Thoughts of The Day

The pictures posted online of the airbnb that I am staying at in Fez did not do the place justice. I almost cancelled so many times because the photos were not flattering but reading the many positive reviews made me want to give it a shot plus I wanted to experience staying with a local family. I am so glad I did not cancel because the house is actually very pretty and its in a nice residential neighborhood surrounded by places to eat and lively streets.

The irony is, the airbnb I stayed at in Marrakech was the exact opposite. The pictures were way nicer than what the place really looked like. Don't get me wrong, the place wasn't bad but let's just say good photography goes a long way!

There is no central heating in the house and its cold! I came prepared though so I cover up real good at night plus I was offered extra blankets. This is the beginning of winter here so the temperatures in the morning and at night can get low and you definitely need to cover up. During the day when the sun comes out it does feel good.

Moroccans eat a lot of bread, I don't think I have eaten this much bread until I got here. I feel so bloated but everything tastes so good accompanied by bread so its hard to say no to bread. Ooh! well, life is to be lived and enjoyed, I am loving and enjoying the food so I will indulge keep on indulging till may vacation ends.