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Should I Take an All-Inclusive Vacation? – 5 Things to Consider

All-inclusive.  Some people swear by all-inclusive and love it for its hassle-free ease.  Others abhor it because it’s not “real travel” and allows people to vacation without really escaping their comfort zone.  What’s really up with all-inclusive vacations and when (if ever) should you take one?  Here are five things to consider in making your decision on all-inclusive vacations.

1.  What is your purpose in traveling – Culture? Relaxation? Adventure? Exploration? Escape?

The biggest factor in deciding whether or not to take an all-inclusive vacation is deciding on what kind of vacation you really want to take.  Be honest and don’t let other people’s opinions influence you.  If you want to discover new foods and culture, to really explore and get to know a place, then perhaps pass on all-inclusive this time around.

However, if you want nothing more than to escape and relax, then all-inclusive is a very good option.  How many times do people return home and say, “I need a vacation from my vacation”?  (Which really, who ever feels sorry for that person? Boo hoo, you are worn out from your awesome travel to destination x) Anyways, with all-inclusive packages, this will not be the case.  Your “stressful” decisions will likely consist of: do we go to the beach first or go to the swim-up bar first?  Very horrible indeed.

Our Morning View - Not Bad Eh?

Not having a schedule or anywhere to be was very nice.  Because you are on vacation with the goal of relaxing, you don’t feel as though you are missing out on “cultural destination A” or “museum B” when you opt to take a leisurely breakfast followed by a mid-morning nap on the beach.

For example, one day Ryan and I found ourselves at the swim up bar drinking el capitain con dieta at 9AM.  By lunch, we had polished off a bottle to ourselves.  Completely acceptable.  Would we do these things on a backpacking trip in Peru?  Likely not.

Still, you might want to do some adventuring and exploring.  On our trip, we took out kayaks that were available at our beach and took a day excursion to Tulum and Xel-ha.  At Tulum, we toured the Mayan ruins.

© Heather Freitag 2011

For more detail on our Tulum experience, you can check out my earlier post here.  Xel-ha is like an amusement park but built into a natural lagoon and focused on the water.  You can snorkel, float down in tubes, cliff jump, zip line, bike, see the cenotes, etc.  For additional fees you can swim with dolphins or manatees, walk on the bottom of the ocean and snuba.  More on this at a later date.  Point is, you can find a way to work excursions into your all-inclusive vacation.

2. Food

All-inclusive means all of your food and beverages are included, which is nice because there is no need to carry cash.  Our mini-fridge had a constant stash – especially nice to have the water to bring about.  If you are hungry or thirsty, you can go to one of the restaurants at almost any hour of the day.  Don’t like what you ordered?  Order something else.  At the same time, it means that you are likely to take in all of your meals at the resort instead of venturing out to find restaurants or street vendors.

On the negative side, and not unsurprisingly, the food at all-inclusive resorts is usually mediocre.  Yeah, it’s good or maybe okay, but certainly not anything to rave about.  Our resort tried to liven things up with multiple restaurants:  the buffet, an American sports bar, a Japanese restaurant, an Italian restaurant, a Mexican restaurant, a coffee bar and some snack places.  Still, for the most part, it was just so-so.  The one thing I will say for our resort…breakfast was just what I wanted.  Every morning I had a made-to-order egg white omelet packed with veggies, smoked salmon, fresh baguette, fresh pineapple, a yogurt, fresh grapefruit juice and coffee.  Breakfast was by far the best meal.

Nevertheless, if you consider yourself a foodie and want nothing less than absolutely delicious, authentic local cuisine prepared by the friendly and informative unlikely chef who shares their life story with you while the two of you sit outside at the small, but charming neighborhood hole-in-the-wall, then all-inclusive will leave you sorely disappointed.

3. Becoming a Local

Many people travel with the intent of learning about another culture:  language, customs, food, daily routines, etc. and trying to “become a local”.  It’s a fantastic aspect of travel and honestly if this is truly your goal, you can work it into any type of trip – at least in some respect.  Usually people don’t think of becoming immersed in a new country when they think of all-inclusive.  Rightly so.  But, you can still make efforts.  I spoke as much Spanish as I could with the resort employees and I actually learned a lot and was getting to be decent at basic things.  When we ventured out, Ryan chatted with all of our drivers, who were all very eager to tell us about Mexico.  Still, this is obviously a far cry from the immersion you can experience during other types of travel.  Really, it’s more of a mild exposure than an immersion.

4. Kids

Let me start this by saying I do not have kids, but I hope to have them one day.  That being said, I used to think that there was nothing more annoying than a bratty child acting like a hooligan without any supervision, or worse – with a shoddy “parent” just standing idly by while their kid acts like a hellion.  Then I realized, it’s soooo much worse when you are on vacation and trying to relax.

When I took an all-inclusive trip in college I didn’t see many children.  I went to the Dominican Republic and, with it’s relative instability compared to other tropical destinations, it’s probably not a family favorite.  Or, perhaps the lack of children was because I was in college and chose the cheapest resort imaginable.  Whatever the case, I guess the downside of being able to afford a fairly nice place is that families think it will be nice too.  There were more kids than I would have liked on my last vacation.

This simple fact alone could have been okay had the parents been in control.  They were NOT.  Kids were jumping off of the swim-up bar stools into the pool, splashing the bartender and getting pool water in everyone’s drinks; wrestling and throwing each other in the pool; coughing all over the food at the buffet; a band of 9 year old heathens were running amok in the coffee bar unsupervised at 10:30PM trying to order cappuccinos.  The very astute barista made them evaporated milk with flavoring.  Again, I blame the parents more than I blame the kids; but regardless, they were annoying and I certainly could have done without seeing any of them.

Of course, I’m not the first person to think it would be nice to be on vacation without any little kids screaming or running around like banshees.  Thus the birth of adults-only resorts.  The drawback is that these types of resorts are almost always much more expensive for the luxury of being child-free.  So, if you are thinking of all-inclusive try to gauge the family-friendliness of your resort or at least keep in mind that your moments of relaxation and bliss may be dotted with interruptions from incredibly annoying, miniature holy terrors.

5. Vacation Preparation

Planning a vacation can be a big undertaking.  There are a lot of pieces to travel and so many options!  Personally, I like researching and planning on the front end of a trip and also leaving room to be spontaneous and flexible while I am traveling; but, for many people this is very overwhelming and can be a deterrent.  If this is you, all-inclusive is a fantastic option.  Once you choose your destination, find a resort and pick your travel dates, your decision-making responsibilities are over.  This takes the stress out of planning for many people and leaves them time to just be excited about their upcoming trip.  You could also use a travel agent, but they can be expensive.

Another big part of preparing to travel is saving up money.  If you don’t want to go the hostel route, all-inclusives are pretty great as far as their value.  Most packages are bundled with airfare on many travel websites.  For the Caribbean and Mexico I would recommend using Cheap Caribbean.  I booked my last vacation through them and was very, very happy with it.

Room at Ocean Coral and Turquesa

Obviously, the descriptions above may not apply to every all-inclusive resort, but I think each point is a good thing to think about if you are considering an all-inclusive vacation.  Overall, I would say the biggest difference with all-inclusive vacations is that it really is all about relaxing – an all-inclusive vacation will likely be the least stressful vacation you will ever go on. 

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Posted by on September 8, 2011 in Food and Drink, Travel

 

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Ancient Mayan Ruins – the City of Tulum

When people think of the Mayans they likely think of two things: ruins and apocalypse.  If you came across this post hoping for apocalypse news, I’m afraid you will be disappointed.  Apocalypse will just have to wait one more year.  In the mean time, I did decide to get off my ass and leave the luxury (and drinks) of my all-inclusive resort to check out some ruins – more specifically, the Mayan city of Tulum.

The Walled City

When you see Tulum, it is not hard to understand why someone would want to live there, with its absolutely stunning views of the ocean.  Of course, the Mayans weren’t necessarily in the market for a summer home.  More likely, they chose Tulum for the water access, as the city was an important trade port.  Still, I’m pretty sure they didn’t mind the view…

Not a bad view

Even with a storm approaching, the view is fantastic!!!

Storm approaching, but I'm still enjoying my view

Beyond the incredible beauty, Tulum is a very smart place to set up camp.  Perched atop a cliff and surrounded on one side by water, Tulum has an awesome natural defense.  If that weren’t enough, there is also a reef in the water, allowing ships to enter the bay through one narrow passage only.  Watchtowers dot the border for defense and to spot incoming ships bringing in or picking up goods.  These buildings also served as lighthouses to help the sailors navigate the water and beaches.  According to our guide, they also had conch shells set up that acted as bad weather and hurricane “alarms”.  The wind needed to be of a certain strength to force the conch to sound the alarm.  Pretty cool.

Watchtower along the shore

On the landward sides, the city is encircled by a high wall, which gave it the name Tulum, meaning wall or fence.  Originally, the city was called Zama, or sunrise.  It seems the name was changed by explorers that “discovered” the city; but, both names seem fitting to me.  Anyways, the wall not only served as a defense, but also separated the rulers and priests from the common people.  Commoners…ugh.

Ryan breaching the perimeter

Inside the wall, was a very advanced society, especially when you keep in mind that the city was built around 465 AD and peaked in the 13th-15th centuries.  The Mayans had their own system of writing, very clearly were advanced in math and architecture, and invented the zero.  In addition, their astronomers were obviously ballers.  The things they were able to figure out were amazing.  For example, the building below was meticulously planned and constructed so that the sun would shine through the window during the spring equinox.  People still gather at Tulum to see this.

Equinox through the building on the left

Here’s a closer look:

Even the buildings that aren’t perfectly aligned with an equniox are still fascinating.  This building below is the Temple of the Frescoes that was used as an observatory.  On the corners, the faces of Gods are carved.

Temple of the Frescoes

You can sort of make out the face carved in the nearest corner, but here they are a little closer up:

Face of the God

Overall, it’s pretty damn impressive that they were able to build these structures without the help of machinery or modern technology.  It is obvious when you look at them that it took a lot of effort to erect these.  Plus, they are still standing after all this time!!! (I doubt that a lot of our modern buildings could pass this test of time)

© Heather Freitag 2011

Reverence to the Gods

The Mayans, like the Greeks and Romans, worshiped Gods.  Worship was not only part of their spiritual life, but also had a big effect on many other aspects.  For example – construction.  Stairs going up the temple were purposely constructed to be very shallow, forcing the people to walk up and down the stairs sideways.  In doing so, you could never turn your back on the Gods, nor could you look at them directly (suggesting that you are equal).

Similarly, the doorways to the building below, The Temple of the Descending God, were made to be very low so that you had to bow to enter.

Low entryway to show reverence

Though human sacrifices were performed in other Mayan cities, Tulum celebrated the God of Life, and so people were spared.  Instead, they sacrificed animals such as jaguars, animals that were easily captured…  While human sacrifices may seem barbaric, Tulum shows that the Mayans also celebrated life and appreciated it.  In reality, it’s not all that different than the modern day willingness to sacrifice lives for the cause of war.  It doesn’t show a disrespect or devaluing of life, but an understanding of a greater purpose and belief that the life is being given for a cause.  People in Mayan civilizations actually battled it out through games to compete for the opportunity and honor of being sacrificed.  I would lose on purpose.

So, how can you beat Tulum?  Awesome ruins, great beach views, no human sacrifices and lots of history – I highly recommend it!  One tip – it can get pretty hot.  I would go early and bring water.  Also bring your suit because the beach is open for swimming!

 
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Posted by on August 8, 2011 in History, Photography, Travel

 

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Friday Escape on a Thursday!? – MEXICO!

Yes, it is a Thursday; but, for me it is a Friday because Ryan and I are off to MEXICO!!!  Although we have both traveled internationally, we have never done so together.  Plus, oddly enough, I have never been to Mexico, so I’m pretty excited.  And really, it’s all-inclusive on a beach so you can’t go wrong.  Just in case you have any doubts on how awesome it is going to be…here’s a little video of our resort – Ocean Coral & Turquesa.

Sometimes you just want to lay in the sand, listen to the ocean and sip on some drinks – especially if you spend way too many hours per day sitting at a windowless cubicle doing mindless work.  Strangely though, I plan to get up early every day (I’m very motivated on vacation).  It’s not the same as getting up early to zombie walk to the metro and continue my day as an office drone.  In Mexico, I can get up early, get an iced coffee, do a little yoga on the beach and then nap for awhile.  Maybe I get thirsty so I wake up and get a margarita.  Peruse a few magazines or read some silly no-thought-required beach read on my kindle.  Lunch and then a post-lunch kayak in the waves. More margaritas.  If I get to hot, I’ll jump into the pool and belly up to the swim-up bar.  You get the idea.

In addition to our relaxation time, we also plan to visit some ruins!  Should be a fantastic time – see you next week!

 
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Posted by on July 28, 2011 in Friday Escape, Travel

 

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Friday Escape – Into the Woods

Later today I will be headed out of DC to my primitive campsite at Raystown Lake.  Though not my first time camping at Raystown, this will be my first time mountain biking there – or anywhere for that matter.  As anyone who knows Ryan can tell you, he loves bikes of all sorts.  Usually when we go camping he finds some time to either go out on his own or hits the trails with some of our biking friends.  Meanwhile, I occupy my time reading, kayaking or drinking beers and hanging out by the fire.  Trust me, I’m perfectly content with this set up.  However, there has always been a part of me that wondered about the appeal of mountain biking.  I like the wilderness, I like hiking and I like biking….perhaps I would like mountain biking?  On the other hand, the idea of launching myself off of a rogue root or rock and into a tree sounds horrifying.  Still, I have to give it a try and this weekend will be my maiden voyage!

I did a little research and the good people at Rothrock Outfitters have a short lady sized bike that I’m going to rent.

Will I become hottest thing to hit mountain biking since I don’t even know what -or- will I get my ass handed to me by mother nature?  I’ll find out tomorrow, but you all will have to wait until Monday.  Wish me luck!

 
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Posted by on July 8, 2011 in Camping, Cycling, Friday Escape, Travel

 

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Friday Escape – Cambridge, NY

After a colder-than usual winter here in DC, spring is finally here and with that – Ryan is starting his bike racing seasons!  Up first – The Tour of Battenkill.  The race is a grueling 64 miles with lots of climbs, but does offer up fantastic scenery in the form of covered bridges, rolling farmland, small villages, etc.  It’s known as America’s Queen of the Classics and is really the biggest stateside road racing event.

Sunday is the big race day, and I will happily spend the time bounding from place to place trying to take some good pictures.  On Saturday, we are hoping to explore the little town of Cambridge.  It’s very old and rural and should have some great architecture and history.  For example, the Cambridge Hotel, which is a landmark hotel that was built in 1885 to provide lodging for people on the Delaware and Hudson Railroad Line.  Apparently Cambridge also has its share of antiques and crafts…could be fun.  The area is supposed to be good for biking (clearly), but also hiking, camping and kayaking.  Maybe if it’s nice we can take a light hike or a calm paddle.  I also saw that hot air balloon rides are big in the area; however, at $240 per person, I think we will entertain ourselves on the ground.

Food-wise I found this little cafe, Common Ground, that I think we will have to try.  Looks like they have a bakery, espresso bar and a small menu of salads, sandwiches and wraps.  Unfortunately, it’s not open on the weekends, but hopefully we will have time to stop in on Monday morning before we head out.  Other than that, given the size of the town, I think we will be better off just wandering around and asking people for recommendations.  Or, if any of you have suggestions, let me know!

Regardless, I’m excited to explore Cambridge, to get some great photos and of course, to watch Ryan race!!!  I’ll let you know how it goes on Tuesday.

 
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Posted by on April 8, 2011 in Friday Escape, Travel

 

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Cabin Fever? 5 Tips on Planning Your Next Getaway

If you are like me, the winter months probably have you cooped up inside more than you would like.  Without the outdoor activity, you feel the need to travel somewhere even more strongly than usual.  No worries.  Before you go spinning into an out-of-control “I NEED TO TRAVEL NOW!!!” tantrum, here are 5 tips on how to get going on planning the perfectly-timed, much needed getaway.  As an added motivator, I’ve sprinkled photos throughout!

Escape the weather!

1. Start SAVING $$$. By starting to save right away (if you haven’t been already), you can make your way toward your travel goal even as you plan.  My favorite way to do this is by setting up a direct deposit from my checking to my ING account.  That way you don’t have to think about it or remember to do it – it just goes!  Trust me, I saved just over $4,000 by doing this for a year and a half.  Depending on the expense of your trip and your current financial situation, start thinking about little changes you can make.  By bringing your lunch to work everyday, drinking the free (although admittedly ALWAYS inferior) work coffee in lieu of Starbucks, etc. you can save a lot of money that can be re-directed toward travel.

Thailand - Beautiful Country, Great Food, Nice People

2. Find a travel buddy….or don’t. Decide if you want to travel solo or have someone come along with you.  If you would prefer a companion, think seriously about who would be good to travel with.  Word of caution:  not all of your friends, regardless of how “fun” they are, are going to make good fellow travelers.  Don’t choose someone who always backs out of plans (spoiler – they will back out of the trip too, leaving you very angry).  Think about how the person has reacted when plans go awry.  If they are a major drama queen maybe you don’t want to be traveling with someone who will break down and cry at the sight of one bug in your hostel.  Also, depending on what types of activities you want to do on your travel, pick someone who is also interested in those things.  The best person is generally someone whom you always have a good time with and that has a good sense of humor!  Choosing a travel friend now gives you someone to continue the rest of the decision making process with.  Although perhaps too many chefs spoil the broth and you would rather have a set plan in your mind and then just present it to those you think would be interested.  This really depends on your own personality and your friends.  If so, save this step until after the next two.

Art and Architecture - Gaudi in Barcelona

3.  Decide on a time frame. How soon do you want to leave?  How much money do you have saved already?  How good of a saver are you?  Answering these questions will help you decide how much money you will have to spend and as a result, what destinations will be feasible.  If you only have $50 in savings and want to leave right this second, then perhaps a month of backpacking through Europe is out of the question.  If you think you can wait and have a little bit of savings already, I say go for something big!  May as well start knocking off the dream list now.  I know it’s hard to wait at all, but once you have your vacation planned, you can start to look forward to it and the waiting will be much easier.  Plus you can make yourself a countdown and spend your days learning about your new destination.

Sun, Sand, Drinks - All Inclusive in the DR

4.  Choose a destination!! If you already have somewhere in mind, this is likely to be easy.  Also given what I said in #3, you may have to rule out some of your options and save those for another trip.  But maybe you have no idea where you want to go – what then?  One idea would be to subscribe to emails from travel websites, such as Travelzoo.  Each week they send out a list of their top 20 travel deals.  Scan through them and pick something that sounds interesting!

Another idea is to think about your hobbies and interests and choose somewhere that reflects them.  If you like yoga, maybe you want to head to Costa Rica and relax with some yoga on the beach, can’t get enough pho – head to Vietnam, drawn to art – find a museum or exhibit that you would love.  Last year I went to Chicago to see Aerosmith because I love Aerosmith, they weren’t playing in DC and I had never been to Chicago, so why not?

If none of these methods works for you, throw a dart at a map or put your finger on a spinning globe.  Or pick up Lonely Planet’s The Travel Book and flip through the pages for inspiration.  If this all fails, you should probably just stay at home – you likely suck at life.

One thing NOT to do is to get hung up on what you should do on vacation or what a vacation is supposed to be.  Do what you want!  I’ve done all-inclusive, I’ve done luxury, I’ve done backpacking and hostels.  All have their merits.  Do what you feel like doing!!!  If you aren’t big on art, don’t feel like you have to go to a “must-see” museum if you don’t want to, hate spice food? – then don’t try the spiciest of Thai food.  At the same time, travel is partially about being outside of your comfort zone and trying new things.  As with most things in life, it’s about balance.  Travel the way you want, see and do the things you want; but don’t be a pig-headed, stubborn, rude ass about it.  There is a happy medium – find it.

Backpacking in the Three Sisters Wilderness (Oregon)

5. Logistics and Itineraries. Depending on who you are, this could be your favorite part or this could truly be your biggest nightmare.  It does haven’t to be a big debacle.  Once you have made your travel date choices (probably should consult a guide for best times to travel), get your plane tickets squared away.  If you are going to be traveling by plane once you reach your destination, those quicker trips are almost always going to be cheaper on smaller, local airlines – and sometimes will only be available in this way.  For lodging, decide if you want camping, hostels, moderate hotels, or luxury and go from there.  Activities and sights – you could search the internet and scour books, but I”m telling you, you will be overwhelmed if you do this.  If you are indecisive like me, to the point of choosing a cheesy card for your sister takes you 20 minutes, then the amount of information available will certainly be a little much.  A great way to avoid this is by asking other travelers!  Don’t know anyone that has gone to your desired destination?  Hit up Twitter or travel advice sites written by travelers.  Twitter is fantastic because you can find people who have traveled and/or lived in the locations, find blogs about travel, and be able to interact with people.

The following is a list of some sites that I find helpful:

Airfare

Lodging

Travel Advice

Hopefully this was helpful to you – flee your cubicles and get out in the real world!

Crater Lake National Park in Oregon

 
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Posted by on March 5, 2011 in Travel

 

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A Camel Trek Down Memory Lane

With all of the recent protests and uprisings spreading across the Middle East and North Africa, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about my trip to Morocco.  In 2005 I studied abroad in Strasbourg, France and for my spring break I headed to Morocco!

Just getting to Morocco was an adventure in and of itself.  For almost all of our vacations, we would use RyanAir – a discount airline that serves much of Europe.  To get to the nearest RyanAir airport, Karlsruhe-Baden in Germany, we would take a tiny shuttle bus that usually left at ungodly early wee hours.

Shuttle bus! (That's me with the giant pink bag)

From Baden, we would almost always connect through London-Stanstead.  This time was no different and was complete with an overnight in the airport…

Sleeping and reading

Luckily for me, my host family was freaking awesome and packed me a sack full of goodies:  two sandwiches on baguettes, oranges, pretzels, a wheel of cheese and a bag of dark chocolates!  My snack bag made me a very popular travel buddy…well, maybe not the cheese part of it – delicious, but not exactly fresh smelling.  From London it was on to Malaga, Spain where we bused to Jerez to catch our ferry.  Of course there are more direct ways of going about getting to Morocco, but when you are a student cheap beats convenient every time.  Plus, the ferry part was really fun.  I love boats.

After landing in Tangier, we jumped in the taxi to our first destination – Chefchaouen, a coastal town in the North of Morocco that looked like what I would imagine Greece to look like.  The majority of the buildings were white with portions painted baby blue.

Chefchaouen is a beautiful town, but we were only there for a day or so, during which time one of our other friends was supposed to meet up with us.  He never showed and eventually we had to move on.  At the very end of our trip when we were sitting in the airport in Malaga, we finally met up with him…if he were anyone else, we may have been more worried, but this guy was just like that.  Great guy, but definitely beats to his own drum.  He alternated his time in Morooco between sleeping on benches and crashing at people’s houses that he met along the way.  I do NOT recommend this for most people.

Anyways, from Chefchaouen, we took a taxi to Fez.  Taxis in Morocco are very inexpensive but can sometimes be a handful to deal with, especially with language barriers.

Once in Fez, and on the recommendations of many other travelers, we hired a young guide to show us around.  This cut down on the amount of people trying to sell us their services – considerably.  Plus, he knew how to get around the city and instead of navigating we could just enjoy Fez.  Plus, Fez doesn’t necessarily seem like the easiest place to get around…

Road to our Riad

Once we got to Riad Louna, we were very excited – it was incredible.  The inside had an open-air courtyard in the center with plants, trees and fountains and was filed with blue and white tiling.  Our rooms were small, but clean and colorful.

Our blue room

And the best part was the rooftop terrace, where we sat at night drinking mint tea (of course) and talking with fellow travelers.

While in Fez we were given a tour by our young guide, Ali.  He was very knowledgeable about Fez and had remarkable English.  He was even making jokes in English.  For anyone who has studied a foreign language, you know that this requires a pretty substantial command of the language.  I was having a hard enough time speaking French without a Minnesotan accent and I had studied French for 4 years.  But here was this kid in his early teens that was remarkably fluent – amazing really.  Like many of the people we met along the way in Morocco, he learned the bulk of his English from interacting with tourists.  Still, every once in awhile Ali would get confused.  Like during our walking tour when one of us asked if something was close he said, “no, it’s still open.”

Most of the walking tour was without mishap other than the sporadic calls of “how many camels?!” and directed at me, “konichiwa!”  Apparently a decent number of Japanese visit Morocco and everyone seemed to assume I was Japanese as well.  However, during one part of our roaming, we encountered an unhappy man that shouted something in Arabic at us.  We just kept walking along not knowing what he said anyways, but the guy kept walking behind us and yelling.  Finally at one point, Ali looked at us very seriously and told us to start running.  Which we did, all the while the man giving chase and Ali trying to distract him.  Somehow we ended up running through a serious of small streets like this one…

Finally we lost the man or he gave up chasing us.  Ali would not tell us what he was yelling about and to this day we have no clue what happened really.  The next day, we decided to fill our day with activities unrelated to running through the streets of Fez being chased by an angry man.  First we went to look at rugs.  We met one of the weavers who taught us how it was done.

The woman was very nice and patiently helped each of us weave in some of the yarn.  Afterward she said I was well-suited for it because I have such small hands.  Definitely beautiful work she is doing.  As we were the only ones in the place, the owner showed us rug after rug of varying colors, sizes and designs.  And of course, we had tea.  Anywhere you go in Morocco you will be offered mint tea – which is the most delicious, sugary tea you will ever have.  Eventually one of the rugs caught my eye and I bought a fantastic rug in shades of blue (the color of Fez).  It’s in my bedroom to this day.

After rugs, we visited a tannery to watch them work on the hides and to peruse the stalls of purses, wallets, belts, etc.  Not sure why this never occurred to me, but a tannery does not smell good, at all.

It definitely seemed like a hard, messy job; and, although it was not hot while we were there, I’m sure that in the warm months it would be scorching to be out there.

Then we were on to scarves!  Here the man at the stall showed us different ways to wrap the scarves, which was fun because we all were just kind of tossing ours around our head like a little babushka.  We all wore headscarves when we were outside of our rooms in an attempt to blend in better and not attract as much attention.  Plus, later when we were in the desert, everyone wore them for protection from the sun, wind and sand.

Different styles

I bought the yellow scarf for my sister, who LOVES yellow.  We also saw some of the weavers, but their looms were a little more complicated than the one for the rug, so we didn’t want to mess them up.

Then our final stop of the day was henna!

Me covered in henna

After the henna dries, it flakes and peels off and reveals a “tattoo” of sorts.

The next day we packed up early and had a quick bite before we transferred our stuff to another hotel where we met up with more people in our travel party.

From here we took another taxi to Merzouga, a village in the Sahara.  This taxi ride was among our most uncomfortable transportation situations yet. We decided to pile 6 of us in one taxi and as the smallest, I sat middle front.  Despite my selection as the lucky worst-seat in the car holder, none of us were comfortable regardless of which seat we had, and it was a long, long drive through the mountains.  One of us in the car spoke Arabic so that helped things a little.

Nice and cozy in the back seat

We met our guide, another Ali, at a pre-determined gas station.  Sounds a little sketchy I know, but it worked out perfectly actually.  Ali is the owner of the Nomad Palace and was going to be our guide on our camel trek.  Looking at his website now, I see he must be doing well!  It looks as though he has expanded and added a swimming pool since I was there – good for him, because you will not meet a nicer guide.

The lounge and dining room

We were treated to a fantastic Moroccan dinner which was very private because we were the only ones at the Nomad Palace that night!  Ali ate with us and talked with us about growing up in the desert and starting his business.  Again, through the tourists he guided, he had learned “a little” Spanish, German, English and Japanese.  In addition he spoke Berber, Moroccan Arabic and French.  I say “a little” because like most people outside of the US, Ali said he could only speak a little of these languages when really he seemed quite fluent to me (at least his English did).

The next morning we were assigned our camels and were off for the Erg Chebbi, the largest sand dunes in Morocco.

Me atop a camel

After a few hours “in the saddle” we arrived at camp.

While we waited for dinner, a few of us decided to climb one of the sand dunes.

Definitely was quite the haul, but totally worth it to sit up on top and look out across the desert.  By the time we made it back down, we were starving and made quick work of our tasty supper.

With our bellies full and our legs sore from camels and climbing sand dunes, we listened to some music in our tent…

The next morning Ali woke us up, at our request, incredibly early so that we could see the sunrise.

One leg tied up so he won't run away

That's me!

The trek out was definitely not as pleasant as the way in.  All of us woke up very sore from the camel ride in.  Adding to the unpleasantness of hopping back onto the camels was that we had just spent the night climbing dunes and sleeping in the desert, which meant, sand was EVERYWHERE.  Seriously everywhere.  So, when we were on the camels, it was not just muscle ache, but also sand rubbing against your skin.  For those with sensitive skin beware – I definitely came away with a rash down the inside of both of my legs.  Luckily, I know my skin likes to blow up and I had packed my Cortizone10.

We returned our trusty steeds to their homes and continued by Land Rover with Ali to visit a Berber family.  They were very welcoming and of course, we had tea and chatted.

Yes, that is a giant tower of sugar

Finally it was time to leave Ali.  He set us on our way with a dependable cab driver who took us to the train station, where we jumped on a train and headed to Marrakesh.  We spent our day there walking around and shopping in the souqs.  Marrakesh is full of interesting things to see in the markets, complete with snake charmers, monkeys (which was actually a little sad), spices, pottery, woodcrafts, jewelry, clothing, anything you want really.  There was even a photo shoot going on in one of the sections.  It’s also a great place to try your hand at bartering, a skill that I’m sure I will never master.  I’m horrible at it.  I know that they can see it in my face that I really want whatever it is and I’m just going to buy it regardless.  It doesn’t bother me too much though, since the prices are good anyways, but my friends all found my lack of bargaining prowess to be funny.

The best way to top off a day at the souq?  Dinner on a rooftop!  Then the sad day came when we had to leave Morocco.  Our parting gift from Marrakesh was a bizarre stray cat fight that went on in the alley where our hostel was.  These cats were nuts and were making sounds that I thought only cartoon kitties made.  Eventually we meandered back to Tangier and it was back on the ferry for us.  Au revoir Morocco.  See you soon, inshallah.

Crossing back to Spain

To the people of Morocco, whom I found nothing but welcoming and warm, I hope that things become stable and peaceful and that meaningful changes follow.

***Photos are mainly from my friend Katie, with some contributed from others on the trip.  I unfortunately was too dumb to take photos during this trip.

 
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Posted by on February 27, 2011 in Travel

 

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