Saturday, April 23, 2005

James leaves England for another long travel stint

Well, here I go again! After 4 months working in Bristol I’m finally off again for a 7 month stint around the edge of Europe, first heading for Egypt, then Jordan, Turkey, Bulgaria, Romania, Serbia, Bosnia, Croatia, Slovenia, Slovakia, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Russia (hopefully), Finland, Norway, then back to the UK for England, Scotland, Ireland, North Wales and then finally head back home at the end of November this year.

Anyway, some more places I visited around England and Wales in the last month...


Decided to spend a weekend at the Brecon Beacons national park in Wales, as Wales is known for it's beautiful countryside and I felt that seeing I’m so close to Wales (Bristol is at the border between them), I should at least check it out..

So, a few hours of buses and trains and rugby heading welsh later, and I found myself at the edge of a road in the middle of the Brecon Beacons, near the foot of Pen y Fan mountain, the tallest mountain in South Wales. I was not alone however, having encountered a slightly crazy old welsh man who walked up the mountain every week! Anyway, we decided to go through the more difficult route because I thought it would be more fun. Silly me for thinking that though, because it was quite a struggle climbing the treeless rocky alien like terrain while playing the role of the old man's psychologist (he reckons the welsh discriminate against him because he's welsh. huh? exactly).

Anyway, finally made it to the top to witness amazing views of valleys, lakes and rippled mountainsides. I could also barely see the start of Brecon, the town I was planning to walk to from the mountain top.

So, farewelled my crazy friend, and headed down the trail in the direction of the town.

After a while the trail disappeared and I was lost alone in the mountain valley, surrounded by sheep (there are more sheep than people in Wales it is said). Still, a beautiful tranquil place to be lost, with the reds, yellows, greens and browns of the trees and grass plains that the sheep were also enjoying in the late afternoon sunshine. But I figured as long as I keep heading straight and keep sight of the farmhouses scattered about the place I would be ok. Eventually I made it back to the main road and entered the town of Brecon just after sunset. Phew!

After that I was absolutely knackered, but decided that I would go out for one beer then go to bed.

Several beers and hours later and I was amongst new friends in a nightclub dancing till 2am (when the club closed). My poor feet!

The next day I went to visit Hay on Wye, which is a small pretty town, but with not too much to do except explore it's world famous second hand book stores (seems to be more of these than cafes and restaurants). A great place to get cheap second hand books on almost every topic!

My weekend in Wales over, I was lucky to get a lift back home with Cheryl (the school librarian), who was on her way home from visiting her parents in Aberystwyth on the west coast of Wales. She invited me to spend a weekend with her up there to show me the beautiful coast and beaches but never happened due to bad timing and poor weather. So the West coast of Wales will have to wait till October/November when I will be back travelling in the UK...


During the Easter weekend, I had a mate Tim come to visit and do some sight seeing (an Aussie workmate from where I worked back at home, also doing the work and travel thing).

We went to visit Wells, with it's huge beautiful cathedral with unique scissor arches holding the place up. Then we visited Glastonbury, where the smell of incense and joints overpowered you in this hippy town famous for having King Arthur’s gravesite, the holy grail, and the Glastonbury festival. So naturally the place is filled with new age mystical stuff.

The next day, John offered us free tickets to see the FIFA qualifying soccer match between Austria and Wales in Cardiff with him. How could we refuse? The football stadium was quite impressive, but the game was a disappointment (score was 2-0, Austria won, only Tim was happy as he was supporting his Austrian girlfriend, but kept quiet in the crowd of disappointed welsh, especially after the first time Austria scored Tim yelled victoriously "yes" then realised everyone looking at him in stunned silence.)

Next day, I took Tim to Bath where we admired the predominantly yellow architecture, the glorious Bath Abbey, and entertained ourselves watching the street performers (Tim got dragged in one performance and was forced to wear a pink tutu and assist the crazy performer - as you do). I also introduced Tim to the English Sunday Roast (roast meat and vegies with gravy and a Yorkshire pudding - which kind of bland pastry which seems pointless - what's wrong with bread?) and the joys of chilling out in an outdoor cafe while people watching.


It's quite sad leaving my life here in Bristol for I know I will not be coming back here again to work and live like I have been doing - my 2 year working holiday visa is soon to expire, and you can't renew it. Unless of course I marry someone in the UK or work full time for several years - none of which look desirable to me at this point in time! But you'll never know...

I must say, I have no idea how I’d ever get back to real life. Just coming back from Morocco for two more weeks work and already I can't wait to leave again and explore some relatively untouristed area of the world! Perhaps I’m just spoiled...

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

James’ Eye Opening Experience in Morocco

Casablanca - Marrakesh - Atlas Ranges - Aii Benhadou - Quarazate - Vallee des Roses - Doges Gorge - Todra Gorge - Tinehir - Merzourga Sand Dunes (Sahara Desert) -Cascades D'Ouzoud - Fez - Meknes - Volublis - Rabat




I have just come back from a two week Easter break in Morocco, unshaven, a little sunburnt, a few mosquito bites, and missing my luggage, which just got luckily couriered to me last night by the airline. I've also come back feeling a little more enlightened, having had a wild hectic but very educational and eye opening experience in Morocco amongst one of the most friendliest hospitable nations on Earth. I've been an invited guest to many a local people's homes, rode a camel in the Sahara desert sand dunes at sunrise, slept under the stars to the sounds of drums, singing and sizzling brochettes, sampled delicious local dishes like tajine and couscous, lost myself in the chaos of the medieval souks with it's exotic spices, carpets, friends and villains, admired intricately decorated mosques and Islamic architecture, and traversed through spectacular desert oasises, striking mountain ranges and surreal alien landscapes..

Not bad for my first venture into African territory.


Arrived in Casablanca airport after midnight, to be immediately confronted by several shifty looking characters as soon as I stepped outside searching in vain for the bus to the centre, which as it turned out had already left. The shifty characters were actually trying to be friendly, directing me to the Grand Taxis on the end of the street. Already, things were not as they appeared or as I was brought up to believe in the western world.

Grand Taxis are wonderful things. More comfortable and faster than other public transport, they will usually go between cities at a fixed rate, which you would share the cost with 6 other people, which can also work out to be cheaper too! I managed to find a friendly German couple to join me, who chose to pay my share of the Grand Taxi as well. So far so good.

But the night wasn't over yet. I was dropped off around 2am in front of the hotel I had attempted to book over the phone earlier that day (in my terrible French), and was worried when the hotel appeared locked up and closed. I rung the bell hoping for a response. In the meantime, an old Moroccan walking the street decided to come over to chat to me. Which is probably fine if you a) understand their culture of talking to total strangers (which I hadn't), and b) if you weren't alone in the middle of a dodgy looking empty street at 2 in the morning (which I was). Luckily, the door suddenly opened and a sleepy looking guy let me in the hotel (he was sleeping on the floor of the reception).

Thus, survived the first night unscathed with a bit of a culture shock - and to think this was only Casablanca, the most modern international city in Morocco! How would I react to the rest of the country?


- Moroccans are amazing linguists. Although their main languages are Arabic and French, they often also know Berber, English, Spanish, Portuguese and German!

- Moroccans are the most hospitable friendly nation I have encounted to date. They will talk to and invite random strangers into their homes or a cafe for tea. Moroccans tend to see westerners as "cold". One Moroccan recounted a story of a friend he had who was contracted to work in Finland. Last time his friend called home, he sounded upset, saying that he was lonely and sad because no one wanted to talk to him and were immediately suspicious when he tried to talk to them.

- Most cities in Morocco consist of two parts: The Medina and the Ville Nouvelle.

The Ancient Medieval Medina is a mud brick walled enclosure of souks selling practically everything, twisting alleyways, poor residential areas and kids running around, usually playing soccer. The people are generally very poor, but also very happy, having everything they need right in the medina - friends, family, enough to eat and a few meagre possessions. Most may never escape their simple honest life but they live quite happily.

Walking through the medinas can be pretty daunting if you're not used to the hustlers and touts trying to persistently and sometimes forcefully offering their services as a tour guide or dragging you into shops, hotels and restaurants so they can earn commission. You do learn to be more tolerant and sympathetic though when you hear that these people only survive by doing so.

The Ville Nouvelle is the modern French influenced area of the city with cafes, upmarket hotels and restaurants, amid shabby broken down art deco and art nouveau buildings.

- Everyone seems fascinated with my Asian eyes and my origins because I am exotic and beautiful to them. The amount of attention I get from the Moroccans, I sometimes feel like a celebrity. Kids would run past me while I’m sitting in a cafe, stop, run back, stop, and just stare at me curiously. Then they would continue on their way.

- Wherever I was, Moroccans would smile at me and shout out joyously "Japan", "Jacki Chan", or "Bruce Lee". In fact, a standard conversation would go like this:

"No, I’m from Australia."
"Ah. kangaroo! But you look like Japan?"
"My parents are from Vietnam/china."
"Ah. Vietnam. Very strong. Kick America out!"
"Thankyou, I think."
"Welcome to Morocco. You are very welcome!"

After this they would invite me to have tea with them, or try to drag me into their shops...

- It takes a while to realise that even if they succeed in dragging you into their shops, they will assume you will be able to buy something, regardless of excuse! An example of one experience:

"Please, come in, have a look, I have beautiful carpets!"
"Sorry, but I have no money"
"It's ok, just to look, no problem, you like, you buy, cheap price"
"OK, but I really don't have any money"
"Here, sit down, we have many carpets"
"Look, what is the cheapest carpet you have"
"We have big and small carpets"
"Yes, but how much do they cost?"
"They can be 600dh-1000dh..."
"Well I only have 100dh on me." (this was true)
pause. sad sigh.
"Ok, thankyou, I wish you good holiday!"

I sure felt guilty about it, but what could I do?


Casablanca is a large sized city with a very international flavour, and a small intimate medina by the beach. Casablanca also has the monumental Mosque Hassan II, the third largest mosque in the world with the tallest minaret tower, perched on the edge of a cliff. A truly inspired building, built recently and still incomplete, this mosque would list highly on my 10 ten buildings of the world, amongst the Taj Mahaj and St Peters Basilica. The interior has to be seen to be believed, every square inch decorated with vibrant reds, gold, wood and plaster carved Islamic designs and extravagant crystal chandeliers.

It was in a (literally) "hole in the wall eatery" in the medina that I had my first taste of Tajine, one of their many staples (couscous and brochettes (kebabs) being other kinds). Tajine is basically a casserole, cut up meat with cut up vegetables surrounding it, mixed with spices and sauce and covered and left to stew over a charcoal stove. Eaten by scooping up the food with bread, it is absolutely delicious. Another variation is Kefta, which is meatballs with eggs. Yum.

It was in a cafe in the old medina where I met Hamid and Jino, locals who I spent an afternoon with chatting over "Moroccan whisky", (mint tea), their national drink, tea served very sweet with at least 4 lumps of sugar. Served with the mint directly soaking in the glass itself, or within a silver teapot, which is ceremonially poured into a glass from very high up like a waterfall to create froth, as this indicates the tea is well made.

They invited me for drinks in their house in the medina that night. The house they lived in is essentially a room 2x3m in size, enough to fit two narrow beds, a coffee table, and a chest of drawers with a radio blaring out 80's and 90's ballads from Bryan Adams, Sting and so on... the toilet, around the corner near the front door, is basically a concrete hole in the floor.

Much discussion was had on the politics and war. Moroccans are very open minded and accepting of other cultures and beliefs, as here, Muslims, Jews, Christians, Arabs, Berbers etc all live in relative harmony and peace with one another. They believe that education is very important to distinguish between what is good and bad, and that war is particularly bad because it leads to the destruction of cultures, history and lives. They believe that America's interference in the middle east causes political and economical instability so in the end they are forced to buy weapons and protection from America (because they aren't allowed to make weapons themselves), in return more control and access to their oil supplies. Regardless of whether this is true or not, it seems many people in the Arab nations would feel happier if America would stop interfering and left them all alone.


Marrakesh is one of the four imperial cities of Morocco (Fez, Rabat and Meknes being the others). Predominantly red in colour, Marrakesh is quite a large atmospheric place with an enormous medina which I got completely lost in. It took me once two hours through purposely twisting lanes (designed to confuse and disorientate attackers, or these days, tourists) to find my way to the main Djemaa el Fna square where people would gather to watch snake charmers, sword swallowers, acrobats, singers, dancers, watersellers in red costumes laden with gold cups and a waterbag, musicians and even monkeys perform. At night numerous tables laden with different foods (even boiled snails in soup) are cooked right in the square where you just sit on a bench next to a table and choose what you want to eat.

All this under the shadow of the beautiful Koutubia minaret - Marrakech is definitely the most atmospheric place to be in Morocco, especially when you get to sleep on the roof terrace overlooking the square under the stars as I did, though waking up to the sound of their call to prayer from the minarets at 5am is not that wonderful.

The call to prayer which they do at least 5 times a day following Muslim protocol, is quite a sound to hear and an unique experience. Loud chanting and singing over humming and mumbling prayers in the background coming from a loud speaker is impressive enough. Hearing it coming from every minaret in the city by different people transforms the city to a cacophony of chanting and song.

Haggling is an art form in these parts, and takes lots of practise to not get ripped off. I got ripped off buying a pair of sandals for 250dh (it was worth about 100dh, the seller asked for 500dh). But I think I did well buying Moroccan spice, managing to bargain 500gm for 50dh. I was wondering why the seller seemed unhappy Until I saw how much 500gms was (a helluva lot), and I changed it for 200gm for 30dh. (BTW $1AUD is 6dh, 1euro is 10dh, �1BP is 16dh)


I decided on the spur of the moment to do a 3 day tour through the high Atlas mountains to the Sahara desert... Normally I don't like tours because you are rushed through everything and most of it involves alot of travelling on a bus. But I couldn't pass on the opportunity to go to the places I’ve only read about.

So there I was, with 3 Aussies, 4 kiwis, a lovely Moroccan couple on their honeymoon, 2 German girls and a Japanese guy, all sitting in the minibus, bags tied to the roof, monies paid, waiting for the tour to start. Suddenly, some old Moroccan guy got into the front seat with no introduction or explanation, and drove off with us. Could have been a kidnapper for all we knew, since no one thought about questioning him at all until an hour into the drive when we took the initiative to ask.

We finally worked out that we had no tour guide, just the driver who could only knew French and Arabic, which none of us could speak (except the Moroccans couple, but they couldn't speak English either)! All the driver did was just drive us to places and mumble "photo" (meaning get out and take photos), or point to his watch and signal when to return to the bus, then magically disappear, only to reappear when we had to leave.

We were first driven from Marrakesh to the Tizi n'Test Road mountain pass, where the views from up high in the red, black and brown Atlas mountains were spectacular to behold, some peaked with snow. We soon reached Ait Benhaddou, the first of many kasbahs (fortified mud castles) we were to see. Ait Benhaddou was an impressive kasbah situated at the foot of the hill, the walls coming up the slope to a ruined tower at the top of the hill. The labyrinth of twisting lanes, flat roofed mud brick houses and patterns carved into the walls quite characteristic of the Berber regions we found ourselves in.

Berbers are the native inhabitants of Morocco until they were joined by the Arabs, Jews, French and Spanish people. "Berber" however is only the name used by outsiders (some speculate as a historical derogatory term, i.e "barbarians", others believe it's due to the old name of the North African area they come from i.e "Barbary").

The real name of the people (in Morocco anyway) is "Amazigh", split into three dialects based on regions: "Tarifit" from the north, "Tamazight" from the center, and "Tachelhit" from the south.

Lunch was had at Ouarzazate, a place where many films such as Gladiator was filmed. In fact, many places featuring desert or representing Egypt is often filmed here because it is cheaper. We all decided to break from the itinery and spend some time in the town's medina and were all invited to a carpet shop where they demonstrated how they made the carpets using vertical looms and hand tools, and then we were shown many carpets, to which we were told "if you find a place in your heart for this, you will also find a place in your house, and also in your budget". Nice.

Would have liked to have bought one as they weren't badly priced compared to other places, but then what will I do lugging a Moroccan carpet around Europe for the next 7 months with me?

Driving along the vallee des roses was next, beautiful lush green oasises fed by an underground river, lined within valleys and canyons of red and black rock pinnacles and mountainsides, with many opportunities to stop and take photos and take in the beauty and serenity of the little mud brick villages scattered amongst the oasises. It's amazing to see oasises and life in such a desolate area mostly surrounded by harsh dry mountain and empty tundra terrain.

We stopped at a hotel by the Dades Gorge, where we passed the night listening to our Berber hosts playing their drums and telling stories and riddles over tea and candles - as was done before TV came about. Speaking of which, the only sign of modernity in these parts is the sight of satellite dishes on the roofs of the mud houses! It is sad to see traditional ways being lost as remote places such as these become more modernised. At the same time it is naive to believe they will stay the same forever. As such, it makes me more determined to visit places like this all over the world quickly before they are lost in the depths of time.

The next day, we went to Tinehir, an oasis town known for it's palmeries. We walked through alfalfa fields amongst villagers tending to their crops, into the old medina where we were given yet another carpet demonstration. It's fascinating to watch the time and effort it takes to make a carpet, and we were also taught the symbolism
behind the carpet patterns...

Then it was off to the Sahara desert...

We were driven through occasional sandstorms on a road that was quickly eroding, until we found ourselves in a field of nothing but little rocks as far as the eye can see, except in front of us, where the sand dunes rose out in the middle of nowhere signalling the start of the Sahara desert.

We got to a base in Merzourga at the edge of the desert, where we were shown to the camels sitting waiting for us. Camels are funny, although they can be temperamental, they always seem to look like they're smiling. Which I guess makes them unpredictable cause you never know what they're thinking. Anyway, received an old greasy blanket which I was to throw over the saddle and sit on. Later I was to find out that was the blanket I was to sleep under. Not for the faint hearted.

Anyway, we all got on our camels, and lead by a nomadic Berber desert guide, we rode through the sand dunes in one long caravan, each camel tied to the one in front or behind. Though at one point a renegade camel in the middle managed to break free from the caravan and tried to walk off! Not sure how it did that.

We rode on, stopping to witness the sun set over the sand dunes, though the weather was a little cloudy so it wasn't perfect, but we were hoping the sunrise would be clearer and better.

So, we arrived at a little nomadic camp between a couple of large sand dunes where we were to sleep in a big but well made nomadic tent - a few carpets, string, sticks and pegs holding the whole thing together. Some of us then tried to climb one of the sand dunes. They are alot bigger than they appear, and the top is alot further than you think. Something that seems like 10 meters away actually turns out to be 100 and so on. By the time we reached the top completely exhausted (Walking up a sand dune also is a killer on the legs!), night had fallen completely and it was pitch dark, except the stars that lit up the sky spectacularly and the tiny lamps of the campsite far below. It was incredibly windy on the top, with sand being blown everywhere all over you!

Back at camp, covered in sand, we enjoyed another meal of tajine, fruit, and then sat around in a circle while we entertained ourselves with drumming, singing, dancing, and smoking fruit from a shish? pipe (never found out the name of those pipe things).

Next morning we woke up before dawn and got back on the camels, in time to catch the first rays of sunrise turning the wind formed ripples in the sand turning from blue to red to finally yellow. We could also see some bird life flying about, and also the tracks of a desert fox that must have been out hunting in the night. We rode to the point where we could see the border to Algeria, which is currently closed due to conflicts down south in the western Sahara (Apparently, Algeria wants to take the land from the Moroccans so they have a closer and more direct oil line pipe straight to a port on the Atlantic ocean for shipping to the US and beyond).

And that was it. The rest of the day was the long arduous drive back to Marrakech, where we wished each other farewell and I went to sleep on the roof again.


It was on the bus ride (and Grand Taxi since no bus goes to the Cascades) that I met Mohyiddine, Abdullah and Elhoucine, teachers from Agadir on holiday, visiting an old friend and cafe owner at the cascades. They invited me to join them.

The Cascades D'Ouzoud is the largest waterfall in northern Africa. Different to other waterfalls, it starts out wide as 7 little waterfalls, ending up joining up at the bottom as one large cascade of water, where rainbows and rock pools are abundant. Near the top, trees are full of Barbary apes swinging all over the place. At the bottom lie the rock pools and a tiny Berber village. Halfway down the middle sit hotels and cafes, where I was introduced to Azil, owner of a cafe with the best view of the cascades. It was here that we were provided with free lunch and drinks while everyone caught up, and later that afternoon, after exploring the cascades, we all went up for more talking over food and drinks when all the tourists had left.

It was here that we discussed many things, and I learnt alot about the Islam faith. It really does get a bad reputation; the religion is quite beautiful really. They have 5 pillars to attain in the Islamic faith. These are:
1. You must accept Allah is the one God and Muhammed is his Last Prophet.
2. You must pray 5 times a day, waking up, lunchtime, midafternoon, sunset, and before bed.
3. If you can do so, you must use at least 2% of your wealth to help the less fortunate.
4. If you can do so, fast the Ramadan (30 days, consisting of no food or other pleasures, only water, from sunrise to sunset.)
5. If you can do so, you must visit Mecca (in Saudi Arabia)

I was also taught about the steps involved when you reach Mecca. But this email is too long as it is to go into it.

They invited me to stay with them, 4 of us in a room designed for 2, but very cheap because the hotel owner knew Azil, and gave it to us "friend price". I offered to pay but they all refused, saying that "you can't put a price on friendship, you are our friend and guest and we welcome you".

Next morning, a quick breakfast of Them (hot milk from the Them plant) and Malawi (crepes), and I farewelled my friends and headed up the long bus ride to Fez...


Fez is also a very large town with a very big medina. Blue is it's colour, though there are many more references to Green, which is the colour of Islam, with green roof tiles on white and yellow walls. The medina is actually 3 medinas in one hence it's great size; the Fes el Djedid (new medina), the Fes el bali (old medina), and the area between joining the two, with a large gate called Bab Boujeloud, where I stayed in a hotel (terrace) nearby overlooking it. Nice.

The new medina basically contains the royal palace and gardens, but it is the old medina, at the bottom of a valley enclosed within huge mud brick walls that most of the life of the medina is contained. Visited the Kairaouine Mosque, regarded as the holiest place in Morocco (never found out why, and couldn't go in since non-Muslims generally can't go into any mosque in Morocco, - with a few exceptions like the one in Casablanca). Beautiful Islamic designs adorn the 16 entrances into the mosque allowing people to enter and exit
from all sides during calls to prayer.

Also visited the Bou Inania Medersa, which is one of many old Islamic colleges centred around a beautiful courtyard with small fountain, and rooms on the floor above. The walls being adorned with plaster and wood carvings, the wood joints a testimony to expert carpentry.

Visited the tanneries, which are huge pots filled with different dyes etc that skins are soaked into and then left to
dry on the roofs. The smell and the sight of people bustling about amongst it is unbelievable.

Outside the walls of Fez are a huge number of white tombstones high up on the hill. From here you could see beautiful views over the old medina as the sun sets.

Even in the backwards country like Morocco I can't seem to get away from doing IT stuff. One night I went to help set up a printer (in French) for a very grateful cafe owner.


Meknes, less chaotic, less frequented by tourists, another imperial city (green being its colour), and probably my favourite city in Morocco because of it's very laid back atmosphere and souks where you can walk around without being chased after by shop owners trying to drag you into their shops. Quite a nice medieval atmosphere, where you can witness people making clothes, metal and wood work in little workshops along the main street.

Visited the Dar Jamai palace with it's collection of carpets and tapestries amid beautiful rooms. Here I met Ben, a Christian Chinese American from LA, who seemed to be quite knowledgeable about history and religion for an accountant. We went to visit the Mausoleum of Moulay Ismail, who was the founder of Morocco. Apparently only Muslims are allowed in, but the guard in front allowed us in as long as we took off our shoes. So we were lucky to see the grave and admire the beautifully decorated interior of the Mausoleum, which is more impressive than the outside.

We then chilled out watching people walk past in the main Place el Hedim while Ben explained the main differences between the religions. I learnt that the Jews and Muslims are actually half brothers, both being sons of Abraham. The difference is that each believe they are the "chosen people". Also, Jews believe in Chapter 1 (Old Testament), Christians in Chapter 1 and 2 (New Testament and Jesus being son of God), and Muslims believe in Chapter 1, 2, and 3 (Jesus just being another prophet, Muhammad being the Last Prophet carrying the final rules God had sent down for us to study so we can learn to be good and thus pass his exam (i.e go to heaven, failure means hell). They also explained that there is much fighting between them because the religions are so close, much as brothers or loved ones fight. They refrain from drinking alcohol to remain pure, and most women (younger and single women usually don't) cover up so men don't think impure thoughts.

Of course, there are also the fundamentalist Muslim groups that they all frown upon (just as there are fundamentalist Christian groups) that are of an oppressive and violent nature. What is important is to realise that they do not represent the true Islamic faith, where they praise God for giving them life and existence, are good to one another, and want to be truly good so they can go to heaven.

Next day we headed to Volublis via Grand Taxi (no direct buses that way) with another guy from Hong Kong called Wing who was at the hostel with me.

Volublis is a very well preserved roman ruin, on top of a hill, famous for it's mosaics, location for Martin Scorseses film "Last Temptation of Christ". We didn't have a guide but I've seen enough roman and Greek ruins to identify which buildings and ruins were what. The mosaics were quite impressive, though alot of it was fading out due to the elements.


Left for Rabat the next day. Rabat, the fourth imperial city (colour being white), despite being the capital of morocco, was by far the most laid back city I had encountered. Consisting of a small medina which is almost too civilised that it's souks felt more of a small European market, but also a large ville nouvelle full of government and military buildings which you had to be careful not to take photos of. There are three main attractions in Rabat however.

- Chellah is an old ruined area within medina walls outside the city, overgrown with wildflowers and trees filled with storks nesting on the top, one stork nesting on the top of a minaret of a ruined mosque. A very picturesque and peaceful place, many locals go with their families to picnic, play music, make wreaths of wildflowers and play soccer.

- The incomplete Muhammad V mosque and mausoleum in the city is quite a sight to see. With beautiful gardens filled with fountains, a half built stunted but gigantic minaret which would have been the biggest in the world if it was completed, concrete pillars in the area where the mosque would have been built around making the mosque quite picturesque. The mausoleum was equally beautiful (designed by a Vietnamese architect), where the former king (Muhammad V) lies in amazingly detailed Islamic designs of gold, red carpets and tiled patterns, protected by friendly costumed guards.

- The Kasbah Oudaia, also just outside the city walls overlooking the beach. Here, you would find the Bab Oudaia gate, which is apparently one of the most beautiful gates in the Islamic world, though I can't work out why for the life of me. Inside, white washed walls with blue paint reminiscent of a Mediterranean island village leading to beautiful views of the beach and the ocean, with huge Atlantic ocean waves crashing against the Kasbah and the rocky pier below...


And that was it! Was sad to leave, but I hope that I will have to opportunity to go back one day.

Soon, I'll head off again to Egypt and beyond for a 7 month stint around the borders of Europe...

Till next time,
A bientot!