Marrakech >>> Sahara >>> Marrakech >>> (Spain) Madrid >>> Barcelona
7/2 – Day 1 of Sahara Tour
7/3 – Camel Ride into the Sahara
7/4 – Ride out of the Sahara and drive back to Marrakech
7/5 – Flight back to Spain
7/6 – Explore Madrid
7/7 – Bus from Madrid to Barcelona
7/8 – Meeting up with Alyssa and Josh!
Day 1 of Sahara Tour
+ Although we were extremely sleepy, the upcoming adventures excited us enough to get out of bed and grab our breakfast to go in time for the driver to pick us up from the hostel. We then briefly stopped at what looked to be tourist central in Marrakech where 100+ other tourists lingered and another 15 identical vans were parked waiting for everyone to be divided up for their respective trips. After filling the remaining seats in our van, we were finally off!
+ Our group consisted of a large group of 7 older South Koreans and 5 young students studying in the UK but originally from Hong Kong and Nepal.
+ The next 4 hours were a mix of trying to sleep in our completely straight backed seats. Just when we were nodding off, we were awoken to view a landmark or take some pictures of the landscape. So far we were very unimpressed having just come from the mountains in northern Morocco, but we knew the best was yet to come.
+ Our first major stop was a Kasbah/castle town in the Desert that had served as the filming location for many different movies including Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Ark, Gladiator, Cleopatra, Laurence of Arabia and more recently, our favorite – Game of Thrones! It was a cool place that we got to see the inside of people’s homes and get a good 360 degree view of the desert landscape.
+ Finally it was time for lunch! Trying to stick to our budget and not run out of cash we’d brought on the trip, we got a decently sized meal which again lacked on taste. Corey especially had been really disappointed in this country’s food and considered it the worst country for food we’d been to yet. Liz liked the tanjines but agreed they did get tiresome.
+ We had nice conversation with some of the other young people in our group about traveling and different places we’d all been to.
+ Back into our van we all piled, and continued our journey father east as we watched the elevation flatten and the thermometer climb. We also passed a movie studio place/town that had served as the base of operations for all those movies filmed nearby.
+ Even though our van was supposed to have A/C, they weren’t using it and instead rolled down the windows which only let in hot air blasts and made us sweat even more. So that combined with being unable to squeeze in a decent nap made the drive not a lot of fun.
+ After a pit stop where we grabbed some freezing cold ice cream to cool down, we continued the journey as we gradually became immersed in mountains once again. But as it was getting later in the day, the temperature was finally dropping and we got some cool views of the sun setting on the red rocks.
+ We didn’t know what to expect with our accommodations since it was included in the tour price, but at the hotel we were delighted to find out we got our own, big spacious room! After some much needed showers, we headed downstairs for dinner with the group. It was the same thing we’d had the day before, minus the Cous-Cous and thanks to the unlimited supply of bread, we were able to get completely full.
+ The hotel also had wifi so we used that for a bit before watching an episode of Archer and going to sleep.
Camel Ride into the Sahara!
+ An early start to the day had us down eating breakfast by 7 am and we had some yummy crepe-type bread with butter and jam, along with fresh orange juice. Then we all piled in the van to continue our journey west.
+ Our first stop of the day was at a town along the river where we were given a separate guide to show us around. He told us a lot about Moroccan history and also touched on what Ramadan means and how the customs differ for the men vs. women.
+ Then we stopped at a traditional Berber home. We ducked into a room completely covered in carpets, including the walls and ceiling. In there he gave us detailed descriptions of each type of carpet and all of the different types of materials they are made from, such as Camel wool, baby camel wool, goat wool, sheep wool, cactus silk, etc. Each material gave such a different texture!
+ Liz thought it was really interesting they were able to dye the wool such vibrant colors from natural materials such as cabbage leaves, turquoise stones, and even mascara kohl.
+ After a demonstration from one of the Berber women illustrating the excruciating detail that goes into every bit of the creation process, we headed back to the van.
+ Our next stop was in a canyon with the river cutting through giant walls on each side. It looked just like Petra, Jordan, except for the river. We took a short stroll through the water cooling off and then it was back in the van.
+ Today’s lunch was cheaper and much more filling than yesterday’s and afterwards we all hung out for about an hour using wifi escaping some of the heat of the day. It was funny that they had wifi so far out here!
+ Our only stop after that was for everybody to stock up on water before entering the desert. Then we arrived at the hotel/house we would leave from with the camels and again waited around for about an hour and a half waiting for the excruciatingly hot sun to dip lower in the sky. While waiting, Corey finished watching Kindergarten Cop 2 and got partly through Captain America: Civil War (his 2nd viewing).
+ Now the time was finally here! We got to ride camels in the Sahara Desert! We all helped each other tie on our headscarves to shield us from the sand and sun. Gotta look the part!
+ The camels were very funny looking creatures up close and after we climbed on, they stood up in a manner that almost vaulted everybody off! Wisely, the saddles had handles for us to brace ourselves and stop us from going head over heels into hot sand and camel poop!
+ When everybody was loaded, the 14 of us headed off into the endless sand dunes with our barefoot guides leading the way. For over an hour we ambled along on the ridges of the dunes, getting tossed around like rag dolls on these surprisingly lanky creatures. We felt so bad for them because each one was linked from his mouth to the butt of the other camel in front. From the moaning and groaning sounds many of them made while standing, it was clear this was not their favorite thing to do.
+ We ended up being the last 2 in line, with Corey serving as the camel caboose. This provided great pictures of the group as we cast shadows on the orange dunes and watched as everybody held on for dear life while climbing up the dunes, and did their best continual push up pose while going down hill.
+ The landscape itself was incredible and looked like a painting with only 2 colors existing out here: the orange of the sand and the bright blue of the sky. No trees, no clouds, no variation in the colors at all, it was amazing!
+ When we arrived in camp we had some free time and Liz chose to socialize with the other young people while Corey picked the largest sand dune around and without giving it much thought, set out to climb it. It proved to be much more difficult and exhausting than he’d planned, as the sand was soft and deep and the incline steep. That combined with the wind and fading heat made it a daunting challenge. Twice he almost quit, but after about 20-25 minutes (by far beating the hour or 2 the guides said it would take) he reached the top just in time to catch some great sunset views.
+ After running back down the hill, he joined up with the group to lay on the sand and stare up at the sky as it turned to darkness and more and more stars began to appear.
+ The guides called us all to the table for some tea and we sat around for an hour or two chatting and waiting for dinner to arrive. After traveling with everyone for over 36 hours now, we all felt really comfortable and familiar with one another which lead to a lot more laughs and jokes. The best joke though was definitely Liz’s Abu Dhabi/Dubai joke!
+ Eventually dinner was served and it was the same thing in a row for the 3rd day, lol. And we again filled up by eating 5+ pieces of bread each. This country relied way too much on bread for it’s substance in it’s meals.
+ The guides had a surprise for us after dinner when they all sat around playing the Moroccan bongos and singing us traditional Berber songs. Some of the other tourists chimed in with their own traditional songs from their home countries.
+ The main thing everyone was looking forward to doing tonight was star gazing in the clear sky without any light pollution. So we followed the guide through the dark along sand dunes for a while and stopped atop a hill where we laid for about 2 hours trying to spot shooting stars (with only mediocre luck). It was impressive but Liz and I still think that time we were on the Nicaraguan beach may have been even better.
+ Everyone made their way back to camp around 1:30 and moved to a sand dune right next to the tents we’d been assigned. Although we had the chance to sleep in the tents, we all opted to sleep under the stars (like Corey) or stay up all night talking and star gazing (like Liz).
+ The best shooting star we saw was around 2 am when a huge one (comet, maybe?) slowly made it’s way across part of the sky. This one flew for much longer than your typical shooting star and seemed to be much closer to us as we could see the tail and everything! It had everybody ooo-ing and ahh-ing over what a cool sight it was!
+ The group of young people all stayed out on the sand dune the whole night. A few went to sleep (including Corey) but most of us stayed up talking and stargazing until the guides called us to start getting ready to ride out.
Ride out of the Sahara and drive back to Marrakech
+ Before we knew it, it was almost 4 am and time to wake up for our return trip back towards camp. So everyone loaded up onto a Camel again (different ones this time) and felt the soreness in our legs, back, and arms to remind us we’d done this just hours earlier.
+ As we rode, the complete darkness slowly gave way to light and after almost an hour, we stopped on a sand dune to watch the sun rise over the mountains in the far east that separated Morocco from it’s much larger neighbor, Algeria.
+ Back on the camels for only a short time longer and we said goodbye to the orange sand dunes and returned to the hotel where we ate a quick breakfast of: Bread! How’d you guess? Then we piled in the van for the very long day of driving straight back to Marrakech. Only 2 others were returning to Marrakesh with us, the rest of the group was continuing via taxi to Fez.
+ The good news though is that we now had the whole van for only 4 people! We were able to lay down on the bench seats to sleep. The only bad thing was that the weird bulky seat belt things in the van made for some awkward positions and painful jabs on any turns and bumps.
+ So for the next 10 hours we rode along in the van, sleeping and watching movies to pass the time. Corey watched Captain America: Civil War and Alice through the Looking Glass. Due to there being so few people, lunch was quick and with only 1 bathroom break, we arrived in Marrakesh about 2 hours earlier than expected!
+ Back at Dream Kasbah the showers felt wonderful as we had sand in about every crevasse of our bodies and we’d just sweated almost incessantly for 72 hours. Then we reorganized our bags for our upcoming flight the next day. We had to get our big backpacks we would check down to 15 kg each (usually around 20 or so). So we switched light stuff into those, and heavy into all our small bags since we were allowed 2 of those each for free.
+ Then we headed out to go grab dinner and ended up eating at the same place as 3 nights earlier since the food was decent, had big portions, and the cheapest around.
+ Afterwards we did the thing in the city Corey had most been looking forward to: watching Snake Charmers! He’d seen the cartoons when he was younger of people controlling cobras by playing the oboe and he’d always wanted to see it in person. We did get to see a few snakes, however they were in no way charmed, more so just pissed off. After some pictures and a video, the guys tried to demand an outrageous tip and we argued and ended up giving them 1/5 of it (still a generous amount). That was our last box to check before we felt satisfied with our Morocco visit.
+ The rest of the night we hung at the hostel and used the intermittent wifi, which always seemed to disappear at the most important moments. When our heads hit the pillows finally, we pretty much immediately passed out, happy to be sleeping on a comfortable mattress in decently comfortable temperatures.
Flight back to Spain
+ After breakfast at the hostel, we checked out and went up to the rooftop terrace where we used the Internet for the few remaining hours we had until it was time to head for the airport.
+ With our lighter than normal big backpacks and heavier smaller packs, we caught a cab to the airport and got a last glance of the giant city of Marrakesh.
+ Check in was really fast and we found ourselves with ample time to spare so we spent our remaining dirhams on lunch and a water marked up 400% more than the normal price. Then we boarded the plane celebrity style again and took off for our 2 hour journey.
+ When we landed in Spain we’d lost 2 hours and after some confusion with the metro/train system (and a nice walk through the landmark square), we finally made our way to the Air Bnb around 11 pm. Neither one of us was particularly hungry so we grabbed a subway sub to bring back to the room and split while we watched a couple episodes of Parks and Recreation.
+ The night ended with some research and planning for Madrid and upcoming travels.
+ We seized our first opportunity to sleep in that we’d had for quite a while and finally headed out in the afternoon to grab some lunch. KFC was the quickest option on the way to our first destination so we ate there.
+ Another 15 minutes walking east put us at the famous El Prado Museum, which was famous for works from Goya and Rembrandt, among others. The line to get in stretched almost 1/4 mile around the block, because admission was free during the late afternoon. So after a good 40 minutes inching our way forward, we were relieved to finally step foot inside the nice air conditioned art museum.
+ We wandered through the halls admiring the many different statues, sculptures, and art displays and tried to cram in as much history as we could into our relatively short visit. Eventually, we got kicked out at closing time and headed next door to the giant park Retiro for a stroll through the gardens. We stopped at the giant man made lake (that featured about 50 row boats with couples and families) to have some overpriced Gelato and do some people watching. Roller blading seemed to be a very popular thing here, with many people even sporting all the extreme knee and elbow pads.
+ After that we walked around a bit more and saw the rest of the focal points of the park before heading back towards the central part of the city where our air bnb was. Our main take away from this Spanish culture lesson was that all the couples, especially the young ones, had absolutely no reservations about public displays of affection. None. They would full on straddle their partners and roll around in the grass while making out and more. This went in line with what we’d seen in other parts of Spain where couples performed many similar acts, including a kissing pose that looked as if the guy was trying to grab and devour the woman’s face. We always got a good laugh at these couples throughout Spain.
+ We’d spotted a Steak n Shake earlier in the day, the first one we’d seen since the U.S. and despite the slightly higher prices than at home, we couldn’t resist our taste buds demands for the familiar delicious tastes! Even better, they had wifi so we hung out downstairs for a couple hours doing some work listening to their mix cd of American music (which was actually pretty good!).
+ On our walk home we discovered we’d missed a giant rain/thunder storm (2nd day in a row). We also had to decline about 10 different club promoters trying to lure us into paying a bajillion dollars to party at their place. Madrid is known for it’s nightlife, and even though it’s not usually our cup of tea, we would’ve tried it but still had work to do and we didn’t have the right clothes anyway.
+ In the room we talked to parents for a while and solidified some upcoming plans before finally calling it a (late) night.
Bus from Madrid to Barcelona
+ Since we’re night owls, we had packed up most of our bag the night before and after a brief shower to wake us up, we checked out of the room and started our trek to the bus station.
+ First we stopped at a local pizza joint for brunch since they had happy hour of €1/slice. Pizza happy hour! Genius! We quickly stuffed our faces with those since we were in a time crunch. After a couple of metro rides, and a long walk going up what seemed like 7 flights of stairs (how far underground were we?!) We reached the bus station in time for our bus but discovered the 1 pm one we wanted was sold out. So we ended up having to wait another hour for the next bus but the good news was the market store nearby had both Vanilla Coke and Dr. Pepper! This was a true rarity and at least made the wait much more bearable.
+ Finally we boarded the bus for the 8+ hour journey to Barcelona. We decided to watch Better Call Saul until Liz fell asleep but ended up watching 8 1/2 episodes! We almost binge watched the whole season! And along the way, we ate not only all of our snacks+cookies, but bought some more candy to hold us over til we arrived. So suffice to say it was a glorious and extremely healthy day!
+ Once we finally got off the bus and stretched our legs, we had to navigate another new citiy’s public transportation system to our Air BnB. 2 metro rides later and a 15 minute walk uphill and we arrived to find our room was deathly hot. It did have a window but no A/C, fan, or any sort of breeze so it was extremely stuffy.
+ Starving, we dropped our bags and set off in search of food. On the walk in, we hadn’t passed a single place that was open, but we hoped we had just been on the wrong street. Unfortunately it turns out the part of town we were in was super residential and nothing was open after 11. So we wandered a mile south until we finally found a Turkish restaurant and grabbed some kebabs. Then we wandered a different way home scouting out the (lack of) bars and restaurants for the future and finished with another uphill hike that left us pouring sweat once again by the time we entered the room. After some freezing showers and planning out our Barcelona itinerary, we finally went to bed around 3:30.
+ We couldn’t wait to see Alyssa and Josh the next day! Our first friends from home! Woohoo!
Meeting up with Alyssa and Josh!
+ We slept in as long as we could until the heat made it unbearable to do so any longer. Then we grabbed some lunch and relished the cool A/C blasting down upon us for as long as possible before heading back out in the heat.
+ We opted to walk to La Sagrada Família instead of taking the metro, that way we could see the city along the way. When we arrived, the sight was very impressive from the outside, even though it was still under construction (as it had been since the late 1800’s). After admiring the unique architecture and sculptures decorating the exterior, we headed inside. This was by far the newest “historic” sculpture we’d visited so far on our trip and you could tell it had the most advanced architectural designs. The artist, Gaudi, mimicked everything from nature when constructing the basilica. This made everything that much more interesting as you compared his designs to the natural ones Gaudi studied in the real world.
+ After a few hours we finished our tour and started walking towards the direction of Josh and Alyssa’s hotel. We checked out some other touristy structures along the way and when we finally stopped for a rest at a park to use the free wifi, we noticed them walking on the other side of the grass! Out of the millions of people in the huge city, we’d actually managed to stumble upon them with no plans to meet around there whatsoever!
+ It was soooo nice to finally meet up with someone from back home (first ones the whole trip!) and be able to hang out and catch up on everything. So as we talked we explored the rest of the park and strolled down the coast line. We stopped to check out the harbour and touch the Adriatic Sea on the beach and then realized it was somehow almost 9pm already.
+ There was a brewery right along the coastline so we went inside and sampled a few beers while cooling off and chatting. Then we set off in search of dinner.
+ They recommended a good pizza place near their apartment so we went there and grabbed some delicious slices. Then, after grabbing some stuff they’d brought for us from Winter Springs, we said goodbye and headed home on the subway.
+ We tried to get off at a different metro stop in hopes it would be less uphill, but it was actually worse! Although tired, we had to do some work online before bed- one of the necessary requirements and main differences between long term travel and just vacationing.