Sunday, June 20, 2010

El Jadida & Oualidia

The highlight of my Morocco trip was our 2-day excursion to El Jadida and Oualidia. After we returned to Casablanca from Marrakesh, we needed to figure out how to use our remaining few days in Morocco before we left for Tunisia. Because we missed out on seeing Essaouira and Safi (coastal cities) while near Marrakesh, we decided to go to El Jadida and Oualidia, instead. Both cities are located on the coast, just a few hours south of Casablanca.

We took the train to El Jadida and spent a few hours checking out the local Portugese fort. From there we took a 'grand taxi' to Oualidia. Most taxis that we had taken in Morocco were 'petit' taxis, or small, hatchback taxis that could take 2 or 3 passengers. The 'grand taxi' is an old Mercedes that can seat up to 6 passengers, though not comfortably. Since petit taxis did not travel as far as Oualidia, another 2.5 hours to the South, we had to take a grand taxi. The grand taxi rate to Oualidia is set at 180 dhirams and hard to negotiate, so we had to split that fare amongst 2 people instead of the 6 passengers who normally occupy the vehicle. It was a nerve wracking ride, going along the coast and passing on one-lane highways without seat belts. But hey, what can you do.

Oualidia was a pleasant surprise. Our goal was to surf, and surf we did. We located Dreams Surf, the surf shop from our Lonely Planet book. That afternoon, we took a 2 hour surfing lesson, during which I realized that my biggest weakness in surfing is weak paddling. However, when the instructor gave my surfboard a push as the wave approached, I was able to stand up every time. But without the push, I couldn't build up enough speed to 'catch' the wave. Timing is a crucial part of surfing, I'm realizing. After we surfed, our instructor showed us the carcass of a dead whale. When we got back to the surf shop, the owner invited us to stay the night at his apartment (for a modest fee) and surf again the next morning before we headed back to Casablanca. Sure, why not? And we spent the evening in the quiet beach town of Oualidia.

The next morning's surfing was far less successful than the previous day's. We surfed at a different spot with larger waves but these waves had shorter durations. I couldn't get up on any of these waves and quit early after my left shoulder got sore. Still, I realized that true surfers only get good by surfing every day, sometimes more than once per day. I've now been surfing 8 times, and need to raise my fitness level if I'm going to take it to the next level.
Jaleel, the owner of Dreams Surf had a small, energetic, friendly, black dog (probably a street dog), that came with us during the 2nd surfing session. The dog proved to be a useful companion as he watched all of our stuff while we surfed. Not all dogs like water though, as was clear when Jaleel picked up the scared dog and threw him into the water to give the dog some swimming experience.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Meknes, Fez, Marrakesh

The heart of our Morocco adventure was our tour through Meknes, Fez, and Marrakesh. We packed clothes for this 5 day portion of our trip and left our luggage in Casablanca. We stopped at Meknes for a few hours and attempted to do Lonely Planet's walking tour through the souq, but it proved too difficult. After a few hot hours meandering through city, we boarded the train for Fez, just another hour away to the East. We met some Moroccans and chatted with them about various topics pertaining to Morocco's culture. We learned that Moroccans are ethnically Berber or Arab, and learned about what physical traits distinguish them. We also learned that Morocco is becoming more liberal, and one way that this could be observed is the reduction of the number of women wearing the veil. In our train compartment were two young, attractive, Moroccan girls, who spoke little English but like most Moroccans, they were fluent in French and Arabic. We tried converse with them with the help of my trust Arabic / English dictionary; one of them found the Arabic word for 'handsome' and pointed to me. That just about made my trip ;)

The picture to the left is a mosque in the Fez souq; sometimes the souq, which is normally cramped and dirty, can house things of beauty. We followed the same routine in Fez and Marrakesh as we did in Meknes, getting to the cities and spending a few solid hours in the souq. The Fez souq was the oldest and most impressive one. The streets are narrow and winding, with what felt like thousands of stores lined right next to each other. Souqs are divided into areas: one for leather, shoes, clothes, meat, etc. In the Marrakesh souq I nearly gagged in Souq Dajaj, the 'chicken souq'. I witnessed numerous chickens butchered, so the combination of the site and smell was too much for me. Of course shop vendors would try to get us to buy their goods, but I had decided not to buy anything on the trip. My days of buying souvenirs on my travels are probably over. We had one very persistent shop sales man follow us for 5 minutes through the souq in an attempt to get us to buy some worthless trinkets (see first picture above), but the joke was eventually on him when we still showed no interest and he was far away from his store and probably out of his 'territory', possibly angering store owners in the local . During my 11 days in Morocco I witnessed 3 (random) fights, so tempers can run short in Morocco.

Being the furthest south, Marrakesh was the hottest city and clearly had the most tourists. Marrakesh featured an expansive square in front of the souq that housed all sorts of con-artists (snake charmers, monkeys, etc.) and the like. Fortunately, it did also feature numerous food stalls, and some of the best Moroccan food we ate on the trip was in this square.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Casablanca and Rabat

We spent 5 days in Casablanca on the trip, more than we anticipated. Most people I spoke to before the trip recommended spending less than 2 days in Casablanca because the city lacks historical sights, aside from the Hassan II mosque, the largest mosque in Africa. However, I enjoyed the cosmopolitan nature of Casablanca, as well as its cooler weather. The city houses countless cafes, restaurants, and clubs; it is the New York of Morocco. While we visited a few great Moroccan restaurants, namely Riad Zitoun, my favorite restaurant was Pomme de Pain, a sandwich chain that sold fantastic pesto, tomato, and mozzarella sandwiches. We also spent 1 night out on the town, going out on Ain Diab. We spent the majority of the night at Armstrong's cafe, and even met the band that performed that night. We arrived on a day when Casablanca's two football teams had played for the championship, so there were numerous fans roaming the streets. I guess Morocco is pretty football crazy, although fan excitement didn't achieve super levels because Morocco didn't qualify for the world cup. That honor goes to neighboring Algeria.

During one of our days in Casablanca, we took a day trip to Rabat, the capital of Morocco. Rabat is just 1 hour north of Casablanca by train. We visited Roman ruins at Rabat, and walked through the older part of the town. We also toured Rabat's fort, after which we went down to the beach to go surfing. We rented surf boards and surfed for a few hours, although I wasn't able to get up on the board (Neil got up once). On the way back to the train station, we stopped for mint tea at a cafe, and met 3 footballers who played for Morocco. Eventually I got a picture with them.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Bees Be Gone (but leave your honey!)

My next blog was supposed to discuss my North Africa trip in more detail, but a more interesting and pressing topic has come up. I'm now back home in California for the summer. When I came home, to my surprise, I learned from my parents that we had a bee hive atop our living room chimney. The bees starting trickling into our house about a week ago. They would come down the chimney and go to the nearest window, where they would shortly die. Recently, I discovered a second hive in a hole in the wall on the outside of our house, near the second chimney. In fact, I can see these bees from my room.

We called a bee exterminator in to assess the situation. The exterminator killed the first bee hive by spraying a chemical from the roof. Next he used a laser gun / thermometer to detect the location of the second hive. The hive could be found from our master bedroom's bathroom - a temperature of 85 degrees could be detected at certain places in the wall (whereas 77 degrees at other parts of the while were normal).

This second hive is still operating, and we are deciding what to do about it. I suspect that this bee hive has been there for a few years. We are reluctant to exterminate the bees because, quite simply, they are not harming anyone. When the exterminator killed the first hive, he may have killed 3000 bees or more. This was hard to bear. The second hive may have 15,000 - 20,000 bees. We were hoping that the bee professional would bring a second hive and entice the bees to enter the new hive. Unfortunately, this was not the case. Also, when the hive is exterminated, the chemicals contaminate the honey. On the other hand, we don't want the bees to somehow burst into the house. We also don't want the bees to attract hornets, which are known to kill bees and steal their larvae. Another strategy is to leave the bees alone for now, and close the hive in the Fall when the weather cools down.

As luck would have it, the exterminators also found a small hornet's nest in a nearby overhang, which we ripped down. Apparently, the wasp problem is expected to grow in June when the weather becomes hotter. Our bee problem lead to my spending countless hours on YouTube learning about bees. This of course lead to watching videos on wasps, and then videos on lions vs. tigers, lions vs. hyenas, etc.

What do you think we should do about the second hive?
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