Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Melbourne is what's happening!

Blue skies in the Melbourne CBD

After that massive amount of travel, and a few days here in Melbourne, I'm finally back to feeling normal and am catching up on the blog.  The first few days have been amazing, seeing old friends, meeting new people, having a pool party and enjoying some truly hot weather.  This is not the European wintertime I came from, this is hot!  Too hot for most of the locals, with it hovering around 100 degrees Fahrenheit.  Perfect for hanging out at the inflatable pool at the place I am staying. 

I'm staying with friends right now in a fun area of town, close to cafes and shops.  Soon I'll be moving to a new part of town to a different couch as I keep trying to sort out the living situation.  It's actually nice to bounce around a little, to get to know the city better.  So many cool parts to live in and this is like a test run.  I'm leaning towards one of the neighborhoods in the north, where most of my friends live.

I've got some job applications out there as I attempt to work myself back into the workforce of the world.  They say that finding a job is a job in itself, and that is true, but this is also summertime in Australia, so I'm having a wee bit of fun as well.  I'm staying right nearby a park, and we have a dog here that loves to play, so lots of outdoors activities.  The life is good!

The infamous Moroccan carpets I plan to sell, with my backpack.  Both are here safely (backpack 12 hours after me)

Cafe streets in Melbourne

Street musicians all over

Super Bowl coming up!  Sea-Hawks!!!!

Fitzroy, one of the better neighborhoods, as seen from a rooftop cafe

The CBD from a distance.  Still sunny and hot at 8pm!

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Local life in Morocco

Time to put the backpack on the shelf

After almost 9 months of traveling around, visiting old friends, making new friends, exploring amazing places, being surrounded by numerous languages, it is time to put the backpack away for a while. Time to settle down a little and enjoy life in one place, where they speak English, have fixed prices on everything, and stop all those long “chicken” bus rides through windy roads. To some, Australia is just a continuation of travels as it's another country, but for me, it's a stopping point. I'll be living in Melbourne, paying rent and working for the first time in a long while. It's time to get some structure in the life, and work, and make money again to stock up for the future. The funds are running mighty low!

I'll miss the life in Morocco, which has been amazing. I've had lots of great adventures here and have started a carpet export business through a manufacturer in the seaside town of Essaouira. That's right, I'm taking expensive, one of a kind, handwoven carpets with me to Australia to test the waters. It's an unexpected, new venture, and should be a fun experience no matter what happens. If it works out to be a good deal, I might be doing more of this, to fund the travels and visit Morocco again. Good vibes there with the right people.

Plus the little things in Morocco have been adventurously fun, such as the Grand Taxi. The Grand Taxi is a huge fleet of old 1980s or 90s Mercedes Benz sedans that they pile two passengers in the front seat and 4 in the back. They run on set lines, and only go when completely full (or if you pay for multiple seats) and are quite entertaining to travel with. It's the cheap and fast option of travel and gives you a local view of Moroccan life.

I'll also miss the Moroccans and their tea, how each tea pot must have way too much sugar, and that each glass has to be warmed first by pouring tea in each one, and then back into the pot. This also mixes in the sugar with the hot tea, so it serves two purposes. Remember to pour as high as you can to get extra foam on top for proper mixing (no joke here).

By the time this is published, I'll be in Melbourne, in a time zone way ahead of almost everyone reading this. I'm taking the slow, cheap way of airline travel, using frequent flier miles to ensure maximum satisfaction on a 4 airplane journey taking 44 hours today, not including getting to and from airports. Fun times ahead! All part of the adventure, of which I stocked up on Moroccan food as snacks: mandarins (.25/kg), apples (3/$.50), peanuts, dates and the classic peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Bring on the flights!

***Posting now after 2 flights. Spending the night here at the airport in Barcelona before flying to Singapore. All good so far, with light meals and fresh juices on each flight. And only once did my suspicious carpet package have undercover police come after me.

Flight #2
Flight #1

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Surf's up in Morocco

Here are a few pictures from the beach life out on the coast of Morocco, split between Agadir and Essaouira, with some visits to small surf towns in between.  The life is good!

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Snackin on Snails

Maybe it's the French influence.  Maybe they are everywhere in the desert.  Either way, you can find stalls selling snails pretty much all over Morocco.  And they're almost always full of people getting a quick snack.  The broth is perhaps one of the best out there, and the taste is pretty good, with the texture not being as bad as people would think.  Here are some pictures of the snail snack, with my couch surfing host Rachid.

Fes photos

Here are a few pictures from last week in Fes, the cultural capital of Morocco.

Click to take a trip to Fes and feel Moroccan !

Friday, January 17, 2014

More Sahara photos

Click to open the Sahara

The Sahara!

Running around barefoot, chasing the frisbee with sand dunes all around, I just had to smile. I was in the Sahara Desert, in the middle of a picnic stop at the only trees around and life was good! I find myself doing the Moroccan Trilogy: an adventure that bounces around the mountains, the desert and the sea. So far, the relaxing mountain vibes were amazing, but being in the world's largest desert was something special. Everyone knows of the desert, its vast sand dunes, the nomadic people living inside it somehow and camels being the main form of transportation. Well, that is exactly what my last 3 days were all about. So yes, I am smiling and I've lived through the heat and cold of the desert, watching 3 sunrises, 2 sunsets and one amazing moonset.

It's been 8 years since I first rode a camel in Australia and now I was back in the saddle again, holding on tightly as the camel shifts from his sitting position to standing, unbuckling more knees than I have, pitching me forwards, backwards and then upright almost 3 meter off the ground. It's kind of like a roller coaster, minus the safety belt. All part of the experience and over the few days, we were on the camel quite a lot, traveling around the desert. It may look glamorous, but riding on a camel's hump tends to make the nether regions mighty sore.

Our guide was Abdul, a friendly Moroccan from the desert who could look at a camel and make them lower themselves to the ground. The first ride might have been the best with a huge feeling of excitement as we rode into the dunes and full on into the desert. No more mud buildings or real signs of life on the ride until we got to our tent camp. Like circled wagons in the old west of America, the tents were set up in a circle with just one entry point. With not that many people in our group, there was plenty of space and blankets to go around.

After climbing the dunes to enjoy a proper sunset over the dunes in the Sahara, we were treated to a feast cooked by Abdul: chicken tajine! Slow cooked in the tajine pot, complete with the cone shaped lid to keep the flavor it, it was amazing. Definitely one of the best foods you can eat here in Morocco. The night was spent around the fire, playing African drums, telling jokes/riddles and enjoying the bright moon and stars. Very impressive sky out there in the desert.

Day two started with the sunrise of course, cold, but worth it. Over 1.5 hours of camel riding took us to a small clump of trees to relax, play frisbee and eat vegetable salad to keep the energy flowing. Our water came from desert wells which are only 5-6 meters deep normally, meaning that water really is close at hand in the desert. Another long camel ride later, we arrived at a group of mud houses where a Berber family lives. There were 6 kids running around, a full moon rising and some palm trees nearby. Definitely a good traditional spot to hole up for the night. Hole up might be correct as we had to stuff extra blankets in some window holes in the mud house we were in to stay warm. Dirt floors and mud walls, very authentic. They put some carpets/mats on the floor and heaped us up with blankets to stay warm. After watching and learning about lots of stars, it was time to have vegetable couscous for dinner, followed by getting under the covers to stay warm. I haven't had central heating in any place in Morocco so far, and definitely not in a house made of clay.

Being awoken before 6am to the cold and dark, we were treated to an amazing setting of an orange moon, complete with stars ahead of us. Behind us, the sun was slowly working its way up. It was a cold ride back, but one of the most beautiful, watching the moon with the dunes on the left slowly receiving more light from the sun. That was the perfect finish to a great trip in the Sahara. Enjoy the pictures and more will be up soon!

I'm on a camel named Tigfillis!

Me and the group on day 1 taking on the Sahara

Everyday sight here in the Sahara

The group on day 2, all smiles after waking up for the sunrise and now being warm again

Abdul leading us through the desert
What a typical Sahara sunset looks like
Sunrise or sunset?

Sunday, January 12, 2014


Blue Gate

After the blue city of Chefchaouen, I took a super bouncy bus down to Fes, the cultural capital of Morocco. So much life, activity and people!  Definitely the fullest city I've been to, and you feel more going on and get pushed around a little bit more than the others.  But it's been a good overall experience and I've enjoyed seeing the sights and meeting some good people.  Eating mandarins for $.25 a kilo, drinking lots of mint tea, eating potato cake topped with cumin and paprika and drinking some mighty strong coffee.

The sights are nice, but not as good as other places.  Just so big and a crazy city full of life.  The pictures show a little bit of what's going on.  More to come later.  Need to be out with the people exploring and having fun.

Tonight I take an overnight bus to the desert, to a small village called Merzouga.  Right in the Sahara! I'll be going out on a camel into the desert to sleep in a tent.  That's what I say now.  Who knows what will happen.  Guaranteed good times though.  Justus takes on the Sahara!  Viva Morocco!

Trying to make the donkey's life a bit happier

Pound it!


Eating the ripe, juicy cactus fruit

Maria and I feasting on cactus!

Good views from the cafe terrace

Coffee and spices in bulk everywhere

Friday, January 10, 2014

Here are the best pictures from my time in Chefchaoen.  Think Blue!


Thursday, January 9, 2014

A bit of blue in Morocco

Here are a few pictures from the Moroccan village of Chefchaouen where I have been spending the last couple days.  Amazing place all covered in the color blue. Most houses are blue, most doors are blue, sidewalks can be blue and yet the people, are not blue.  Happy times here exploring the old town and getting lost in the maze of streets, and hiking way up in the hills.  I took loads of pictures here, so expect more to come soon.  Consider this the teaser.

The Moroccan haircut

After looking like a shaggy haired backpacker for the last few weeks (ask the family about it), it was time for a haircut.  I mentioned this to my friend Majid in Tangier and he said he would take me to his local barber, where you can get a cut for $3.  Always good to know where to get the good cheap cuts.

The barbershop was really not really a shop, rather just a small room on a side street, and was filled with locals hanging out, laughing with the barber and relaxing.  Not much stress in this part of the neighborhood.  First we walked in and there was someone getting his hair cut, so we went and got breakfast.  We came back, and two more people were in line, so we went to the cafe for a coffee and the barber came up to get us when he was done.  Laid back, the good job where you can talk on your cell phone, go buy something at the store or get a Moroccan tea, with people hanging out waiting their turn.  Definitely the local spot.

I told him I wanted to look Moroccan and that was enough to get it started.  As he trimmed up the sides with the clippers, he was yelling at friends outside, talking on his cell phone and checking out the TV.  After lighting the hot water heater (typical Morroco) and then filling up a water bottle, he cut through the top, still talking with people out the door.  Finally for the back of the neck, he dipped the razor blade in a fluid and then lit it on fire.  Sanitation!

It's a fun, new look that helps me blend in with the locals (not really) and makes my ears look tiny (not really).  For $3, with lots of laughs and good times, it was another solid international haircut.  Loving it!

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Morocco pics!


Morocco, the land of sea, deserts and mountains.  It's enticing in the fact that it is the gateway to the Mediterranean, serves some of the best food in the world (often slow cooked, always with loads of flavor) and has a national tea that is addicting (sugary green tea loaded with fresh mint).  I've only been in the north of the country so far, but I'm hooked.  Here are some pictures from the adventures so far.  Not much wifi out here, which keeps me outside enjoying the local culture.  Loving it!

These pictures are from Tetouan, a small city in the north, about one hour away from Tangier.  I couch surfed here with Soufiane and his girlfriend Selma.  Great experience and nice to be in a town which didn't feel touristy and had lots of character to it.  Good vibes!

Inside a riad (traditional house built around a living room courtyard)

The tannery, where there used to be lots of leatherworking in the old days

Stripping the sheepskin of hair

Looking like a local!  And yes, I did buy this.

Tetouan classical military building

Soufiane and I with our feast of a lunch


Inside a traditional house (Riad)

Living it up!

The sea in the distance, showing how close the mountains are.  Super amazing scenery here.
Sunset in Tetouan