Trekking The Sahara

I have the tendency to allow my imagination to carry me wherever way it seems to go. Rather than keeping what most people would deem normal expectations, I reach for the stars. I think the impossible, romanticizing every possible situation beyond any sense of reality.  I can’t help myself, really.  I love the figments of my imagination, so I let them run wild. I enjoy the ride. Then I deal with whatever disappointments that arises from the discrepancies later. Why exist in the realm of basic when you can concoct the spectacular?

Take our desert tour as an example. In my head, David and I would be cruising the Sahara desert on two dashing, long-legged camels. I would be riding side-saddled, wearing my gorgeous new kaftan with David by my side. We would comfortably trek through the sand dunes, captivated by the views, to arrive at a lush oasis camp just in time to watch the sun set. This would be my personal, more realistic version of a magic carpet ride, because what little girl didn’t want to be Princess Jasmine as a kid. Our oasis camp would be like something from a movie, large tents with comfortable beds, plush pillows, exotic plants and an overhead zip-away screen window for stargazing.

Clearly I was seeking the Beyoncé experience.

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While we received the stunning views, we were far from my dreamt up Queen Bey standards.  I don’t know why I imagined a camel could ever be “comfortable.” With those humps, which are really hard, and those legs, camel transportation is the worst kind of transportation.  At one point when we started our trek from the main road, a local family in a van stopped driving to wave and take pictures of us on the camels. Us. You know you’re doing something crazy when you, as a tourist, are being the one photographed. That should have been a sign, right? A bunch of westerners bouncing up and down on the saddest looking camels ever, balancing bags and trying not to completely fall off and end up with a face full of sand.

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We were quite the scene. When we arrived at camp we experienced a gorgeous sunset. We also experienced a pain so deep in our groins and asses that we could barely walk. David’s butt was actually rubbed raw. RAW.

I’ll let that settle in for a bit…

Camp itself was interesting.  We ended up sharing a tent with another lovely couple from England, which wasn’t so bad.  But our narrow beds were so hard, they felt like sleeping on industrial sized bags of flour. Hard and unforgiving. And we had stacks of blankets that looked like they were infested with something… Fortunately, the delicious dinner and incredible stargazing helped to make up for it.

I know it sounds like I’m pooping all over this opportunity. I’m actually very pumped about it. I mean, I got to sleep in the desert after a camel ride through the Sahara. Sure, it wasn’t perfect, but there were some great parts to the desert, like the beautiful scenery, the number of stars that were visible from the near darkness of camp, the camaraderie between campers from our mutual loathing of camel rides and most definitely the sunrise and sunset.

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Now, would I ride another camel? Hell no. There is no way ever again I would ride a camel. It’s definitely a one and done. But my dream has now been fulfilled and i’m happy to be able to say that I’ve done it. And I’ve got some incredible photos to prove it.

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5 Ways To Relax In Marrakesh

When you’re planning a trip to Marrakesh, everyone has a tip or gentle warning that they’ve gained either from personal experience or a friend of a friend. They are all well intended. Beware of the vendors in the souks. Don’t walk around by yourself.  More than likely you’ll get lost. Always negotiate!

All of these tidbits are so very true. The souks can be absolutely maddening. I’ve been called Rhianna, Nicki Minaj, Lady Gaga, Chocolate, Sister Obama and my personal favorite, Africa, all in the name of trying to sell me a $2 scarf.

Wait. Aren’t we all African here?!

And if you aren’t careful enough, you can wind up in the direct path of a speeding moped making its way down the narrow alleyway.

Yes, you will most definitely will get lost wandering the medina, but that’s a part of the fun.

Negotiating is the way of life.  Always start with a third of the asking price, especially with the taxis!

I’m so thankful we walked into this experience with this information; it’s definitely given us a leg up. But what I wish someone would have shared with me was how to minimize our exposure to the craziness and actually have a relaxing day in this bustling city.  Because at some point, I can guarantee, some man will call you Chocolate and you’ll want to lose it right there in the middle of the street.  Rather than making a fool of yourself, it’s best to find a way to block it all out. And I’ve got just what you need to do that.

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1. Relax Inside your Riad. These dwellings were designed to provide privacy and keep the noise out.  Where we stayed, at Riad Soundouss, was the perfect place to lay back and enjoy the tranquility.  Pascale and her team went out of their way to ensure that our experience was restful. We probably could have stayed within those four walls for a while, but travelers guilt weighed heavy on me, so we moved on to other peaceful activities.

 

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2. Visit Les Jardins Majorelle. Depending on where you’re staying you’ll have to venture into a wee bit of craziness, but once there, it’s an ideal escape just outside of the medina.  It’s one of the most popular attractions in Marrakech, but doesn’t feel too crowded while there. You can stroll the manicured lanes of the gardens, enjoy the collection of cacti and plants, breathe in the fresh air and delight in the shade from the tall trees.

 

 

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3. Explore a Palace. While you  can’t step foot near the Royal Palace of the King of Morocco, you may explore the palaces of the past.  These beautiful displays of grandeur are really and truly a step back into time. You can wander the grounds imagining how the rulers may have lived.

 

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4. Take Refuge. Tucked away in a deserted alley is a gem of a place called Dar Cherifa.  You must ring the door in order to enter into the 16th century year old house.  Within the courtyard, you can lounge on sofas and eat a delicious meal, cozy up to a good book from their literary corner or appreciate the art of the featured exhibit.  You could literally hold up here for hours.

 

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5. Schedule a Hammam. A hammam is a wonderful treat that I think everyone should experience if traveling to Morocco. It involves an intensive scrubbing of the body. But trust me, it’s an incredible experience. You first start with a complete cleansing, followed by a head to to exfoliation.  After, you’ll rest in the lounging area to enjoy mint tea and sweets You will be amazed by how soft your skin feels.  I swear, you’ll never feel cleaner.

Essaouira!

Top on my list of things to do in Morocco was a day-trip to Essaouira, a coastal town about two hours away from Marrakesh.  From my research it was a must-see and I figured a quick visit to the sea would be a great change of scenery.

We rose early to make our Supratour Bus just as the clouds were gathering over Marrakesh, turning darker by the minute.  They were intense and clearly weren’t there for show.  Oh, no.  The bottom was about to fall out and we couldn’t be more relieved to be driving away in the opposite direction from where they were coming.

Our ride to Essauoira on the Supratour bus was quite comfortable, despite the assigned seat debacle that had both locals and tourists confused. Nonetheless, the gray clouds were thinning as we distanced ourselves from our home base and the scenery was beautiful while we were awake.  It was one of those bus rides where our tiredness would overcome our every intention to keep our eyes open and observe the surroundings or catch up on some reading.  Every once in a while we would catch a glimpse of the desert, what appeared to be whole towns under construction or a pair of trees where goats stood on high limbs, like oranges waiting to be picked, as a small gatherings of tourists waited their turn for photos.

As we approached Essaouira, the Atlantic Ocean grew larger and larger until we could see the sprawling sandy beach and the waves breaking on the shore.  Essaouira is a beautiful coastal town, with white-washed buildings and blue painted doors and shudders. The city was strikingly different to Marrakesh. I would call it the cool, laid-back younger sibling. Just chill.  As I guess you would expect any coastal city to be.

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We took to their medina first, noticing the breathing room to explore without the near death experiences from passing mopeds and the constant vying for our attention from vendors. For once, we were able to browse the goods without having to put up with the hustle.  After we made our way over to the marina, where the aroma of fish took over our senses.

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We found the true chaos, but it wasn’t directed towards us.  They couldn’t even be bothered with David and me. The fishermen fresh off their morning trip to sea were busy trying to sell their catch to the locals for their dinners.

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It was exciting to watch the craziness ensue, but we grew hungry. Fast.  But before seeking out lunch, we took a slight detour to the Portuguese Ramparts to get those coveted coastal views of the city.

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For lunch, we followed the guides and headed straight for the seafood stalls, where you pick out your fish that was just caught and they grill it up for you on the spot. Man did we eat well! We had a lobster, sea bass and shrimp. I grabbed a fresh pressed orange-grapefruit juice and life was good.  In those moments between the delicious bites and the beautiful ocean view, we had just about everything we needed.

Coming To Africa

I have finally returned to the motherland!

Okay, Morocco is not the motherland that my ancestors hail from, according to the DNA test results, but I’m most definitely on African soil, so that has to count for something, right? We touched down in Marrakesh and I was completely blown away by both it’s beauty and chaos. From all of my reading up on the country, I believed I had a good idea of what to expect, but it’s greater than anything I imagined. There’s a constant give and take of that which is alluring and that which is complete confusion.  Take for example the road leading us away from the airport, it was packed with cars and mopeds taking matters into their own hands, but if you looked a bit harder you would see that very same road was lined with rose bushes that had the biggest and prettiest blooms that I’ve ever seen.  And that is Marrakesh at it’s core, a gorgeous display of disorder.

As we wove our way through the city and slipped into the medina, I was absolutely captivated.  I watched intently as the cars, mopeds and pedestrians moved around each other, each focused on there own direction, forgetting about the rules in place to protect them. Cars would rear up on school-aged children as scooters would dart out in front of cars without so much as a look.  And poor little me, I couldn’t help but hold my breath and prepare for the impending collision. What we would deem a certified cluster, magically works here. There were no collisions. No sweet old ladies being taken out by two wheels or four for that matter. Here, everyone makes it out alive.

Inside the medina, we are met by the riad manager, Paschale. She’s a wonderful French woman who I can tell is a person who lives to see the world. I absolutely adore her spirit. She leads us down the alley, pointing out the street art that will serve as our reminder that we are at our temporary home. Et voila, Riad Soundouss! She opened the door to our private sanctuary. Shut out from the outside, the riad was a peaceful escape. Inside, the air was perfumed with roses, you could hear birds chirping and the soft sound of a bubbling fountain. The hustle from the medina was no longer there, just two tall orange trees, cedar carved wood, intricate tile work and hand painted ceilings. It was my taste of heaven on earth. And in those first few moments, as David and I sipped mint tea on the terrace, I had a feeling that Marrakesh would be one of those cities that I fall deeply in love with.

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The Bourgie Traveler Is Back

Passport Photo BT Is Back

I’m about to leave the country for thirty days and life couldn’t be more normal.  In a matter of hours my grandmother will be cruising her way through Atlanta to pick up David and me to go to the airport and I’m in my PJ’s casually making breakfast. What the hell is wrong with me? Preparedness. That’s David’s explanation. To his point, our trip has been seven months in the making, but that doesn’t reasonably describe why were so relaxed and reserved this morning.

A smile crossed my face when I woke and realized that today was the day, but where’s the unabashed enthusiasm? Thirty days. 3-0 days of vacation. On the inside I feel like a kid cracked out on a giant pixie stick, the blue one of course, but on the outside I’m the exact opposite. Why aren’t I dancing in my underwear to Donna Summer?? Could it be that I’m…tired? NO!

Clearly I need to pull myself together here.  In less than 24 hours, I’ll be stepping foot on European soil and you know what that means. Beautifully manicured parks, buttery pastries stuffed with chocolate for the hell of it and glass after glass of wine just because I can. There will be no real sense of time unless I’m chasing the sun for its grand morning appearance or it’s lazy descent into the horizon. It’s only a matter of time until I’ll be staring up into a vast starry sky from the comforts of my desert tent, post camel ride. And I can’t forget about all of the gelato I intend consuming. My guesstimate is about twenty cones, a little conservative, but we’ll see.

I’m psyched about the countless experiences that are before me, I just need to have someone pinch me to remind that this is real. It’s real and it’s happening right now. Maybe when I’m being felt up by TSA, a fun beat will pop into my head.  And when I order a milkshake in the terminal as a toast to America, my shoulders will begin to shimmy in time to my hips. And finally, when my butt hits my seat on the plane, I’ll have an uncomfortably awkward smile plastered across my face as other passengers pass me by, because this trip is going to be AMAZING (my preferred vacation descriptor of all time, at least so says my dear friend David Munz)!

So the long of the short of it is that the Bourgie Traveler is back! And it’s high time that we all get excited for what’s to come.