A Travellerspoint blog

Week 48, 23.Jan.10 - 29.Jan.10

Fes, Morocco to Nouadhibou, Mauritania

View Week 48 on rd wrld1yr's travel map.

Fes, Morocco
Catching some football on the rooftop terrace at my hotel, heading over in a few minutes to catch an overnight bus to Marrakech. After the 05:30 prayer call from the mosque right next door (I'm convinced the AM prayer calls are much much longer than those during the rest of the day...), got a couple hours more sleep then awoke to crappy conditions - today has been cold and rainy for most of the day, but despite the weather, wandered around to take in more sites. First, I decided to avoid as many faux guides as possible by walking around the outside perimeter of the medina and entered the eastern gate to check out the tanneries district of animal skin & dye shops making all kinds of clothing and accessories.

There was only so much of that smell I could take before I bolted! So, next headed to the spiritual heart of Fes, Qaraouiyine mosque. Built in 859, not only is it one of the world's oldest, but also most elaborate with the colorful fountain and seemingly endless columns.

Next, after getting lost and wandering in circles in the medina, got my bearings and found the Nejjarine museum, housed in a restored palace that once served as a resting point for traveling merchants,

but now an interesting collection of wood crafts.

I wandered further west to Dar el-Makhzen (Royal Palace), and saw an entirely different Fes from the crazy souq area - the locals here totally calm, relaxed, and non-harrassing.. perfect end to the day!

Marrakech, Morocco
Marrakech is everything I had always pictured Morocco to be - jugglers, snake charmers (who demanded 200DH for photos I took of them... yeah, right! I offered them 2DH), monkey handlers and other street performers,

along with the seemingly ubiquitous Moroccan scammers and drug-pushers, all crammed into the Djemaa el-Fna square in the heart of the medina. Spreading out from there are the narrow alleyways lined with hotels, cafes, shops, souqs and motorscooters, carts, bikes and occasionally small cars going full-speed both directions with only a random horn or bell warning. When I arrived this morning around 7 am, the streets were still empty so I was pleasantly free of scammers for a couple hours as I made my way from the bus station into the medina. The cheap hotel I settled on has definitely seen better days. I spent a couple hours in the Djemaa el-Fna at a cafe taking in all the sites before they became quite repetitive, then wandered around some of Marrakech's other sites - Koutoubia mosque with its enormous minaret,

then got lost on my way to the 12th c. Ali Ben Youssef mosque. Caught some of the next round of African Cup of Nations football, then back in the el-Fna at dusk for more of the spectacles - the food stalls were now open, but as I was a bit weary to try anything for fear of becoming seriously ill, settled for pizza.

At the bus station waiting to take my overnight down to Tan Tan - no idea what will be there, as my guidebook doesn't provide any information, but it seems a pretty close 1/2 way point between Marrakech and Dakhla further on south. Today around Marrakech figured I'd seen enough of el-Fna and spent a majority of the day getting lost around the rest of the medina, occasionally stumbling on a site or two like Saadin Tombs (very cool, actually),

and nearby ruins of Palais el-Badi (now just some walls where storks are nesting....).

Also found the Sidi Bel Abbes tomb and mosque where the city's blind and lame were congregating in the center square.

After I shopped around a while, found a money exchange place with the best Dirham-USD rate, since some of the places I'm heading next are supposedly without ATMs. One of the US$100 bills looks suspect... I really hope I wasn't just scammed....

Tan Tan, Morocco
I'm at the bus "station" here in Tan Tan (storefront building used as a ticket office), with a couple men; one is calling his pharmacist to see if they have any anti-milaria pills, while the man's wife (I think) is just sitting waiting in the car. How this came about; this morning after arriving here on my overnight from Marrakech, I stopped by the second man's store (pharmacy) and asked about anti-milaria pills that I'll need to start taking heading further south, but he didn't have any. So I just went on my way and spent the day here wandering around this dust bowl of a town,

killing some time until the second consecutive overnight bus (eek!). But I must say the southern Moroccan atmosphere is very different - relaxed pace, locals looking at me more as a curiosity than dollar $ign$. The full-length robe women are wearing are colorful patterns, not the drab black ones up north, and the skin tone is surprisingly light, almost olive (I think this stems from Spanish ancestory?). So fast forward, here I am at the bus station outside having a cafe, and the pharmacist from this morning stops the car as he's driving by and now he and his friend are trying to track down someone in town who has the anti-milaria pills - very genuine and very very cool.

Dakhla, Morocco
I'm at a campsite, "Camping Moussafir", about 8km from the Western Sahara city of Dakhla, listening to a bald, stocky Austrian man with a 1/2 meter-long gray/white Santa Claus beard sitting around in his bikini briefs in the blazing sun, telling stories of how he's Saddam Hussein's nephew. No TV available for entertainment here?.. no problem! Arrived in Dakhla this morning on the overnight bus from Tan Tan (nothing quite like 2 consecutive overnight busses....), and wandered around a bit, had a coffee and croissant waiting for the sun to come up (which it did, over the Atlantic - strange to witness from the Western Sahara, but possible since Dakhla is built on a peninsula).

I got checked in the campsite, not too bad - cheap private room and hot showers (of course, I did ask they change the bed sheets... normally the cheapies will at least remake the bed to mask dirty linen, but this was still unmade from the last guest!), and then started making inquiries with other travelers staying there who had space for an extra passenger to the Mauritanian border, as Dakhla is the last point south for public transportation (but still about 375 km from the border). There is a Dutch-based convoy heading down to The Gambia to donate items to schools that is a possibility, but they're waiting for a runner - the campsite owner's son - to return from Rabat with their Mauritanian visas (as they weren't aware the visa is no longer available at the border... fortunately I did my research!). Meanwhile, its now 18:30 and I've got a ways to go for catching up on sleep, so I'm calling it a really early night.

Day 2 in Dakhla... I had figured it may take a few days to get that ride to the border, but hopefully not much longer - while Dakhla is nice and relaxing with the beach,

not terribly exciting. And the campsite is a long way from the city... one hour's walk (I tested that by walking back this afternoon... didn't feel like haggling/getting ripped off by the taxi guys). I got a ride into town this morning from a Senegalese man who now lives in Paris, and is making his way south but now also stuck temporarily here without the Mauritanian visa... apparently this change of visas no longer available at the border was just recently put in place. So he's even considering flying back up to Rabat to visit the Embassy, so that could be a backup plan if I'm not able to score a ride with the Dutch humanitarians (since the runner hasn't yet returned with their passports, causing some understandable anxiety over there). Meanwhile, I am meeting some other characters at this campsite, like a German woman who travelled south in Morocco this far but afraid to go into Mauritania because of the overblown rumor/scare stories of kidnapping/abductions from bandits. Same story with the 2 French men who actually entered into Mauritania but turned around after two days because they were so afraid... whatever! Some people are so easily influenced by overblown sensationalized stories... while there has been about 3 or 4 reported kidnappings, it is over the span of about 5 years - I'm sure much worse has happened in both Germany and France during the past 5 years but not reported in the news (I have a feeling these folks would never consider visiting places like Syria or Lebanon)... Anyway, while in the city today I stopped in a few cafes and also a restaurant for lunch - my first proper meal after 2.5 consecutive days of cookies (on the busses, plus no restaurant at the campsite). I ordered this chicken pastry - flakey crust sprinkled with cinnamon and powdered sugar - bizarre way to eat chicken, but really good! I enjoyed the (nearly) hassle-free environment of the city compared to the north.. only incident was with a group of young boys who came up asking me for money - I responded that they should move up to Marrakech if they want to grow up begging... Now, to mark 11 months on the road, I'm going to watch a DVD I picked up on the street (US $2) on my laptop, while the generator is working at the campsite (only 4 hours/night!).

Nouadhibou, Mauritania
Well, I made it into Mauritania, and getting ready for bed in the campsite tent I'm staying in at the border town of Nouadibou. The 2 Canadians (father and son, Conrad), who are part of the Dutch humanitarian group, stopped by my room late last night letting me know they finally received back their passports w/ visas and had room to squeeze me in one of the 4 vehicles of the convoy. I rode most of the way to the border in the red van with Jan and Chirak, crazy tall Dutch man wearing this flowing white robe and colored head scarf,

Along the drive, the landscape of the Western Sahara seemed to be about as desolate as it gets... "They're really fighting over this?", I was asking myself...

So Chirak really liked to drive most of the way on the shoulder in the dirt, despite the road being paved the whole way. And let's just say also he isn't the fastest driver/in a hurry, so it took quite a while to make it to the border, and once there passed through 4 different Moroccan exits posts, each one of them staged with a guard asking for bribes. I will give credit to Chirak, he handled the harassment well - asking the guards if they were Muslim (they were), and then looking them in the eye, nodding and touching his chest, saying, "Its in here". Then would just start the van up and drive on to the next checkpoint... hilarious! So after getting through the Moroccan side, we were met by some guide working at this campsite in Nouadhibou, who "escorted" our convoy through the 3km long no-man's-land to the Mauritanian border. This area has no real road, just tire tracks to follow (closely, as either side is filled heavily with land mines), and countless piles of garbage and abandoned vehicles.

At the Mauritanian border, we sat for quite a while in the blazing sun - 6.5 hours total - finding different ways to entertain ourselves to pass the time.

And the guide here at this campsite is a total scammer - saying each vehicle costs 10 Euro insurance (even though the convoy already purchased insurance to cover all these countries), and asking for an extra 10 Euro to help speed-up the border crossing process (it didn't). And he totally screwed me on the conversion rate to change USD, saying, "Dollar no good. Euro good, Dollar bad." Yeah, if the Dollar is bad, what does that make the Mauritanian Ouguiya?!?

Posted by rd wrld1yr 02:37 Comments (0)

Week 47, 16.Jan.10 - 22.Jan.10

Casablanca, Morocco to Fes, Morocco

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Casablanca, Morocco
Turning in early (again), in my sleeping bag on the living room floor at the CouchSurfing hosts apartment I'm staying at here my 2nd night in Casa. I had sent a few inquiries out while in Tunis to CouchSurf here, and the one positive response I received was from a well-traveled guy Joel from the States who has spent the past several years living abroad teaching English, so knew I'd have quite a bit to talk about. After checking out of the "prison" (youth hostel), I met up with him at his work location to discover there were other guests also staying at his place, an Aussie couple, on the couch (hence my floor arrangements). So, we all headed out to walk around the city and first stop being a small cafe where we had one of the best juice drinks I've ever tasted (mixed with avocado!). We took a couple petit taxis (since they can only fit 3 passengers each, had to take two) over to the medina for a bit of wandering through the souq - exciting and different for the couple, but I've now lost count of how many souqs I've visited in the Middle East... definitely have had my fill. After a while, we headed out of the medina and caught another couple petit taxis over to Ain Diab beaches a few kms away. The couple gets in the first taxi, and Joel and I the second... which already had a passenger in the front that we joined going the same direction. So when we start driving a bit, I ask Joel how sharing the taxi works if there is already a passenger that has the meter running.... do we just subtract the fare that is already on the meter? He tells me that it is a common thing to share, and they either have a second meter, or will just subtract the initial fare, so I just leave it at that. But after the first passenger gets out and we drive another 10 minutes or so and get out at our stop, sure enough, the driver is asking us for the full fare! Well, I didn't pay attention to what the meter was at when we got in, based on what Joel had said, just figured he knew what he was doing. So an argument between Joel and the driver ensues on the side of the road, and it is ridiculous because Joel doesn't speak French well enough to have a conversation, he just keeps repeating the same phrases. A local bystander watching all this just walks over and hands the driver the 20 Dirham bill and starts saying something in Arabic... Joel tries to stop him from paying, but he just walks away and the driver leaves - well, I definitely was thinking if sharing a taxi was as common as Joel mentioned initially, either he or the driver didn't know what the rules were. Anyway, after that fiasco we met up with the Aussies and walked along the beach a few kms - really nice sunny day with at least a couple hundred locals all along the stretch in various pick-up games of football (soccer).

We get to a section of the beach where locals have set up makeshift cafes (stools, a table and umbrella for the sun), selling tea and some fried bread snacks. We stop at one of the places and a couple older women playing drumming music and singing stop along to perform for us... and the really awesome thing, this isn't a touristy place, other than us 4, there are only locals here!

Out in the water past a narrow channel of water there was a large rock that has houses set up on it, some small community that lives there and the locals being "ferried" across from the mainland and back by some guy pulling an innertube - totally awesome.

We hang out at the beach for a while, enjoying the sun, music, local crowd, etc., then the Aussies take a cab back to the apartment while Joel and I walk, enjoying the scene along the corniche until the sun went down. We went out for dinner at a nearby restaurant, but unfortunately after that, the group wanted to come back to the apartment instead of checking out the nightlife.

Rabat, Morocco
Rabat, the Moroccan capital about 45 minutes north of Casa, has a completely different feel - right away I noticed it definitely doesn't have the grime and slime(y people) like in Casa, everything here seems well laid-out, easy to navigate and minimal pan-handlers and hustlers. This morning back in Casa, the Aussies took off early for Marrakech while Joel and I went out for a coffee. I definitely have observed at the cafes, here and in Tunisia, are of the typical Middle-Eastern type (men only, gathered inside to watch the TV or outside to watch the crowds in the streets). But the one distinction of the North African cafes from those in the Middle East/Arabian Peninsula, is the lack of nargileh/sheesha pipes - I don't recall seeing any so far. But of course thats not to say the cafes here are a breath of fresh air - 99% of the patrons still smoke cigarettes. Well, I bid farewell to Joel then cabbed it to the Gare (train station), short ride up here to Rabat and checked in the friendly, clean (relatively), and hot shower/clean sheeted youth hostel - much better than Casa's! I wandered around the medina late afternoon - super hazy and loaded with people buying goods or sitting in cafes watching the Africa Cup of Nations (of course).

Outside the medina I was actually able to find a bar - super smokey and some shadiness, but they have beer - and cheap, too (only 14 DH, or about $2), so I wasn't complaining!

I'm sitting at a cafe sipping mint tea in the kasbah, high above the bluff overlooking the Oued Bou Regreg channel leading out to the Atlantic - great views!

This morning after breakfast I cabbed it over to the Mauritanian embassy to apply for a visa. Arrived there to a queue of Arabic & French (but not English)-speaking people outside, and used enough of my French knowledge to get through the application. Then proceeded to stand patiently "in line" while super-annoying and aggressive people cut & shoved their way in the door each time it opened to allow another 10 or so people inside. Well, after an hour & 1/2 or so, finally got in (as I was one of the last remaining people), gave the director the DH340 with my application/photos, and was told to return at 17:00. It took 5 minutes, tops - and as an American. I'm not sure why it took so long for all the Moroccan/French people?? But he didn't say whether I would actually get the visa at 17:00. Hmm... Anyway, cabbed it back to city center then wandered around a bit, making my way through the Ville Nouvelle, stopping at one point at an ATM. So, I've been reading in my guidebook that many Western African countries don't have ATMs at all. And rather than withdrawing a boatload of Dirham while here in Morocco that I'll get screwed on commission/exchange rates when I continue traveling, trying to find an ATM that dispense USD or Euro directly (like in Lebanon). So the ATM I stopped at I checked for the option, but only dispensed Dirham, so I cancel the transaction. A local man comes up speaking to me in French, and I just wave him off and start walking away, as I assume he is either asking me if I needed "help", or whether the ATM was not working (which he could find out for himself). "Well, then, F-You!" he calls out! I stop and turn around, he's going off, "I don't know if you speak English or French or whatever, but I was trying to help you..." blah blah. So I respond, "Well, I know what 'F-You' means. I didn't say anything to you." For which he responds, "No, its 'social grace' you lack. I was trying to help you". Yeah, I'm thinking, like this country has so much "social grace" standards to live up to. I just say, "Well, I didn't say anything to you before, but now its my turn, F-YOU!", and just walk away. So he's still going off, saying things like, "You f-ing American... or whatever... get off my land!" I don't even turn around but just reach behind flipping him off and keep walking. I thought that encounter was SO ridiculous, I just had to write it down to remember. I mean, if someone is at an ATM and walks away with purpose, not standing there looking confused or needing help, what makes one think they want help? And its not like you're a tourist at a market or walking along the street and dealing with the normal hassles of local touts/scammers, you're at A BANK and SHOULD have your guard up, skeptical of people around (especially someone who is obviously watching the transaction) offering "help". The reaction for him to get so angry that I didn't initially respond was just idiotic... and if he thinks less of Americans because of that, I guess he's oblivious to all the Moroccans who regularly try to scam the more approachable/unsuspecting tourists. Anyway! I kept walking to get that idiot off my mind and headed to Mohammed V's mausoleum, which is really beautiful mosaic tiled building,

opposite the "Tour Hassan", 12th c. minaret ordered built by the Almohad Sultan Yacoub al-Mansour to be the world's tallest (but abandoned incomplete at 44m after his death).

The courtyard dividing the 2 was lined with Roman columns and really nice big tree-shaded park behind I spent a few minutes people-watching. Continued north along eastern section of Ville Nouvelle to the kasbah,

and the crazy narrow and winding passageways past peoples' homes,

to the Platforme du Semaphore. Here there are really nice views across the Atlantic, Oued Bou Regreg, Sale (across the channel), and it appears as though a large section of the kasbah is slowly sinking into the Oued Bou Regreg!

Now I'm heading back over to the Mauritanian embassy, hoping to receive good news on the visa approved?

Heading out to catch my daily dose of the African Cup of Nations (funny, I think I'm kind of addicted!). No exciting/eventful happenings to mention today; I found a cafe with wifi (rarity these days), so spent a while catching up with the virtual world. I did get my Mauritanian visa yesterday afternoon, so now need to figure out what else to see/where to visit in Morocco before heading south.

Tangier, Morocco
Just returned from dinner with Ayia, Japanese girl I met staying at the same hotel here in Tangier - we had the harira, traditional Moroccan soup - now I'm addicted! This morning back in Rabat, got to the station early to catch the first train out, but still sat around for quite a while dealing with the lengthy delay, due to flooding in parts of the Rif mountains. When we did finally take off, the train went as far Kenitra, where it terminated and all the people had to get on connecting busses. Once in Tanger, got hassled by the touts as soon as I stepped foot on soil! Got to the hotel and then out to watch some of the Africa Cup of Nations, then met Ayia and wandered around the very touristy Nouvelle area.

It is very obvious, there is no doubt of the proximity to Europe from here - this is the most bars and clubs (actually with women patrons!) I've seen in all the Islamic nations I've traveled in.

Heading out in a minute for dinner, and after a late one last night, likely will be an early one tonight. Today said goodbye to Ayia who is heading up to Spain, and I spent a majority of the day wandering around the medina here, attempting to dodge the gang of touts trying to show me hotels or sell me grass. Checked out the 17th c. Dar el-Makhzen, former Sultan palace turned museum with some cool pieces showing the changing hands of nations that have ruled this area over the centuries.

Over at the kasbah, had nice views of Le Detroit De Gibraltar -- funny, last time I looked out over the Strait, it was from the other side, 12.5 years ago!

Fes, Morocco
Sipping a whiskey and coke (took advantage that Tanger had a liquor store) up on the rooftop terrace at my hotel here in iconic Fes. Took the early morning bus today in Tanger, through the flooded Rif mountain range about 7 hours south here to Fes. As the bus was pulling into the city, I had my first glimpses of the walled medina that seemed to stretch forever...

And of course, once I stepped off that bus and nearly every minute since, countless faux guides all over swarmed around, relentless with their harassment trying to score commissions... "Hey friend, where you from?" And it isn't like this is the first time dealing with these types from all over the world - but they're ridiculously persistent here in Fes... as if my ignoring the greeting for the first 5 minutes, will suddenly decide, "Yes, I'd like to have a conversation with you!" And the young kids here are flat out punks - swearing vulgarities at you if they're not acknowledged. Unfortunately, I'm beginning to think the guy at the ATM back in Rabat wasn't an isolated example of the Moroccan men. That said, the cities' sites, and particularly Fes, are amazing.

Posted by rd wrld1yr 04:18 Comments (0)

Week 46, 9.Jan.10 - 15.Jan.10

Sousse, Tunisia to Casablanca, Morocco

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Sousse, Tunisia
I'd really like to say I'll be motivated enough to head out the the bars along the waterfront tonight here in Sousse, but it is SO damn cold outside, I know there's no way I'm leaving my hotel! After the initial shock of waking up to the - literally - near freezing cold temp, had breakfast at a small stand along Rue Braunschweig selling large glasses of o.j. squeezed before your eyes. For only .50 Tunisian Dinar (about 50 cents), I had two! Today was spent wandering around the medina checking out the Ribat fortress,

Grand Mosque, towering Kasbah,

and of course the countless shops selling everything from electric outlet adapters to sheesha pipes (I bought neither). Next, moved outside the medina to the waterfront where really nice white sand beaches I had planned to lay out and relax on (envisioning the mid 20 degree centigrade temp from yesterday), were empty with the exception of the occasional fisherman bundled up. I stopped by the tourist office to find a location in town that has wifi, and proceeded to spend the next 2 hours looking for the "L" cafe (every person I stopped along the way to ask, would confidently point me the wrong direction). Finally I found the place, only to discover something wrong with Macs picking up the signal, so that was time well spent! Settled on an internet cafe and logged into a PC to discover the bad news reply on my inquiries for getting a visa to Libya - not currently available for Americans. So since that option is now eliminated, need to figure out where the next destination will be....

Gabes, Tunisia
Arrived here in Gabes a bit ago, and other than a convenient location as a base for traveling in the south, pretty sure there's not much to do here. Today I took a taxi from Sousse to the inconvenient train station in Kalaa Seghira for the 4 hour ride (2 of them standing... I'm beginning to learn Tunisia trains seating availability is about 95% 1st class and 5% 2nd, in a scamming effort to force more people to upgrade) down here to quiet little Gabes. I did pass the one bar in town, so may head back out to catch some of the Africa Cup of Nations football (soccer) match with the 50 other men (all smoking)...

Today I took a louage (minibus) a couple hours south to Tataouine, surrounded by dry mountain ranges that I was able to hike around a bit (while avoiding the blood-thirsty dogs chained up at nearby homes).

Not quite what I expected, which was to see some of the Ksour (Berber) villages they used as film sets in the Star Wars movies - those apparently many kms outside of town. I was, however, able to see a lot of Jellabas (brown flowing cloaks) of the traditional Berber outfit.... looking like giant Jawas, so still had some of the Star Wars experience!

Tunis, Tunisia
Today I took another louage south of Gabes, this time about 45 minutes to Matmata, home to dozens of old Troglodyte pit homes dug out of the sandstone, some of them used as sets in Star Wars.

One of the larger pit homes, the still-functioning (but really depressed-looking) Hotel Sidi Driss, was used as the set for Uncle Owen's home - and I learned from the tourist office that they left some of the set in place, so off I went to visit. I took a quick tour with the hotel manager, he was willing to show me around after I expressed my consideration on staying there the following night (not at all true), but, I would have to see the original movie again to refresh my memory... didn't strike me as immediately familiar?

Headed back to Gabes to check out of the hotel and then took another louage the long 7 hours or so ride back up to Tunis. The interesting event along the way occurred at one of the many police checkpoint stops, where they ask for the passengers ID. Well, one of the passengers gets arrested - dragged out of the louage, interrogated in the police booth,

then cuffed and stuffed into the police car. The other passengers only spoke Arabic, so I have no idea what he did but glad I was handed back my passport and allowed to go on!

Spent the majority of the day researching tour groups to Algeria (which I understand you must be sponsored by a tourist agency, in order to get a visa), and contacting Chase Visa for unblocking the freeze they've again placed on my credit card, despite my sending them travel notices - twice in one month, extremely annoying! So in the evenings here nowadays, every place - and I mean EVERY place, from coiffeur salons to bars to garages will have the Africa Cup of Nations matches on. And at the stadium during the matches, fans are continuously blowing horns which sound like bees buzzing. So the whole city of Tunis sounds like a hornets nest... crazy. Well, I may as well head on out now to the cafe and watch the matches myself since everyone else here is!

Received the news on organized tours to Algeria, and the verdict is: very, very pricey. As in... way out of my budget. So with Libya also off the table, the only other option is to fly out of Tunisia, which, considering my options, the next logical (proximity-wise) location is Morocco. And fortunately, found a (relatively) cheap flight tomorrow. So with that settled, spent the majority of the day relaxing and people watching at my favorite cafe in Place de la Victorie just inside the medina... so overall I will say Tunisia is a nice place, but maybe a bit boring though in the off-season....

Casablanca, Morocco
About to go to sleep early in the prison-like feeling of the youth hostel here in Casablanca (completely unfriendly/unhelpful staff, dirty sheets, no hot water, midnight curfew... damn, won't be staying here tomorrow!). So earlier today, had a pretty uneventful flight from Tunis over, and took the train from the airport and bus connection to the central medina of timeless Casa... I did wander around a bit and see there are about a million cafes here.

And already sense a very different feel here compared to Tunisia - the touts are much more aggressive; the beggars, panhandlers and scammers who are all too familiar with tourists. Ugh.

Posted by rd wrld1yr 01:01 Comments (0)

Week 45, 2.Jan.10 - 8.Jan.10

Jerusalem, Israel to Sousse, Tunisia

View Week 45 on rd wrld1yr's travel map.

Jerusalem, Israel
I didn't expect to be making a journal entry back in Jerusalem (and certainly not back in the crappy New Palm hostel/hotel), but here I am! So after hanging out with Svenja at the club in Tel Aviv last night, she asked me if I'd like to travel with her for the last couple days while in Israel before heading back to Germany. Of course I said yes, and so here I am! We shopped around a bit for a different hostel, but with the price and convenient location of the New Palm, and sun blazing outside, just settled. Now heading out for dinner, hope to find a better place than the shwarma stand next door...

Today Svenja, Matthias and I visited the less-than-spectacular ruins of Qumran, where the Dead Sea scrolls were discovered in some caves.

Although most of the caves were inaccessable. And, still not 100% sure what the scrolls had written on them, but assuming the original Tora or something to that effect? Regardless, the scrolls are now in a museum back here in Jerusalem which I didn't visit! The area of Qumran was quite nice, though, for hiking around a bit.

And the taxi driver Abu Omar who shuttled us from Qumran back to the West Bank checkpoint, was entertaining enough, reminding me many times of his name and offering to stay with his family next time I visit Jericho. Not sure that'll ever happen, but thanks for the offer!

Eilat, Israel
Arrived here late in the southern Israeli border town of Eilat, just got checked into a hostel and getting ready for bed. Had to bid farewell to Svenja (unfortunately!) and Matthias today back in Jerusalem, then waited at the bus station 3 hours, since the earlier bus at 14:00 was sold out (that has to be a first for all the busses I've taken??), so overall uneventful day sitting around...

Cairo, Egypt
I am sitting in my hotel room here in Cairo, I just grabbed a couple beers and chilling out after a long day, which began ages ago back in Eilat. After doing some research on flights to Tunis a while back, determined it was much cheaper to fly to Tunis from Cairo than Tel Aviv - although the net savings probably wasn't worth the effort to get here: stopped at the Egyptian consulate at 09:00 and got my visa, then hurried back to the hostel to check out to catch the 10:00 bus to the border. Crossed over (by foot) to Taba, and the 1 km walk to the bus "station" to try and catch the 10:30 direct to Cairo... but got there at 10:40. Damn! Well, the next bus being at 16:30, and a 9 hour ride to look forward to on top of the wait, got settled on a bench at the "station" and just watched the stray camels wandering up and down the streets.

I was approached a couple times on taxi rides to Cairo, but as the price was double the bus ticket, passed. But after a couple hours a nice older couple from Jerusalem, who were also waiting for the bus, told me they scored a shared taxi for 60 Egyptian Pounds, actually LESS than the bus ticket, so off we went in the beat up car. He was cruising, so it only took 6 hours to cross the Sinai (which included a 45 minute stop along the middle of the desert when the car broke down),

and through the tunnel in Suez, leaving Asia to enter Africa. But many times along the way genuinely feared for my safety - this kid was an absolute maniac driver. Dropped us off on the outskirts of Cairo, but as we were unable to get a local taxi to the downtown, we were taken to the airport nearby to grab the bus (another hair-raising experience). After finding this hostel and getting checked in, I'll say again - maybe not worth saving a few bucks for today's effort...

Tunis, Tunisia
Arrived here in Tunis on my flight from Cairo this afternoon, and other than a few attempts at finding a single room in a hotel (shortage of hostels here, so settled on a triple room for 15 Dinars (about 11 USD)), not much excitement!

Sitting in the smoky TV room of my hotel while my laptop charges, since there is no outlet in my triple room (how ridiculous?). Had a good day exploring Tunis - after cafe au lait and croissant (I've been brushing up on my rusty French in this former territory), wandered around the Souq in the medina -

maybe not as big as others I've seen, but perhaps one of the best with the crazy narrow winding tunnel-like paths sprawling around like a maze in a science experiment.

Eventually finding my way out of the medina, made my way via tram to the National Bardo Museum - really magnificent displays of ancient mosaics,

and Roman-era artifacts housed in a former palace. Next wandered around central Tunis a bit more, having another cafe au lait and people watching - nice day. But with most everything shutting down by 20:00, seems not much happening here for nightlife!

Sousse, Tunisia
Had a nice day traveling a bit outside Tunis - after breakfast at my cafe au lait place down the street, took the suburban TGM train over to the Carthage ruins, the ancient Phoenician city-state capital in the 6th c. BC. Not too much of the city's 13 meter-tall walls remain in-tact, but still impressive enough to walk around one of the most powerful cities of its time, holding 400,000 people and control over the Mediterranean Sea trade.

Really nice views of the Gulf of Tunis and northernmost mountains of the African coast from atop Byrsa hill,

the center of Carthage that also housed a good museum of exhibits and artifacts.

Wandered around Carthage ruins (spread out all over) to the ancient port and amphitheater (built after the Roman conquest),

then hopped back on the TGM for a couple stops further to the village of Sidi Bou Said for lunch. Sidi is a really picturesque town with gleaming white houses and turquoise doors all over - reminded me a lot of Mykonos in Greece!

Wandered around a bit after lunch then back to Tunis to catch the train down here to Sousse - had to stand in the aisle for 1 hour as 2nd class was jam-packed with Tunisian punk kids heading to Hammamet. Got checked into a cheapie hotel just inside the walled medina, now after wandering around a bit and stopping at the one bar I found along Ave Habib Bourguiba with zero women (stayed for only the one beer!), getting ready to turn in!

Posted by rd wrld1yr 03:13 Comments (1)

Week 44, 26.Dec.09 - 1.Jan.10

Jerusalem, Israel to Tel Aviv, Israel

View Week 44 on rd wrld1yr's travel map.

Jerusalem, Israel
Today the "Pilgrim" crew from the hostel & I went back to the West Bank to visit a couple more legendary towns (both recent and historically), Ramallah and Jericho. Getting on the sherut (shared taxi) past the checkpoint to the stop off in Ramalah,

the only site of interest/importance my guidebook listed for this unimpressive town was Yasser Arafat's tomb, so the group made a b-line to the site. The tomb itself was equally unimpressive, just a modern-looking building with a couple guards posted.

Next we grabbed a shared taxi to ancient Jericho, this place is rich with history!

After getting duped into visiting the adjacent archaeological site Tel Es-Sultan, with the big "Ancient Jericho" sign above the entrance (even though the archaeological site has actually nothing to do with Jericho), and wandering around the pretty boring trenches, we hiked up the steep Mountain of Temptation to the monastery.

Getting to the entrance turned out to be the easy part - a grumpy old priest living there wasn't letting anyone in!

There was an Italian group of about 10 who also showed up to the monastery (via cable car - cheaters!), and were persistent enough with pounding on the door and calling inside (monasteries have cell phones?) that we eventually were let in. Very cool place inside with the narrow passageway of rooms,

and alter built on top of the rock that Jesus supposedly sat for 40 days/40 nights (being tempted by Satan), until his cleansing was complete(? - the information being shared was in Italian!). Then He was off to the Jordan River in Bethany after, for the baptism - and although in reverse order (having been in Jordan first), pretty cool that I have now seen both these sites within a few weeks of each other!

Tiberias, Israel
Just arrived in Tiberias - northern Israel, Galilee region. This morning back in Jerusalem said goodbye to the "pilgrim" group (and crappy Palm Hostel/Hotel), although made plans to hopefully meet up with everyone (well, ok, hopefully with Svenja!) for New Year's. Got on the bus to Haifa for an unnecessary connection onward here to Tiberias (good to know after the fact there were direct buses here!), now checked into a hostel "dorm", even though its just two beds (doesn't this qualify as a double?), and the dorm-mate just so happens to be the Aussie Richard I had met way back in Hama, Syria - crazy! We're heading out now for a beer, but probably an early night, expecting a long day tomorrow.

I definitely got caught-up on some exercise today - biked all around the Sea of Galilee (with a REALLY crappy bike with gears that kept constantly slipping).

Richard and I headed out in the morning and first stop was around Migdal, though to be the birthplace of Mary Magdalene. Further along up the western shore we reached Tabgha, site with ruins that included Church of the Multiplication of Loaves & Fish where Jesus supposedly, well, multiplied bread and fish, to feed the masses.

Also Church of the Primacy of St. Peter also mentioned in biblical references. In fact, Jesus was said to have performed many miracles in and around this Sea - there were some pilgrims from Kenya who were trying to replicate one of the miracles, neither them nor I were successful... 6IMG_3127.jpg

After lunch at an overpriced buffet (where the waiter made sure, with several reminders, that we were aware "Service not included"), we continued with the sight-seeing at Capernaum, where Jesus lived during his Apostle recruitment period,

and Church of the Beatitudes, site where Sermon on the Mount sits. Headed back around the lake, about 50 km total, and with the amount of gear-slippage, really surprised the chain only fell off once the whole time! Well, into darkness with a good amount of trucks passing by the narrow (or non-existent) shoulder and straight to Big Ben pub for some well-earned beers to mark 10 months traveling!

Just got back from Big Ben pub, the now common beer stop Richard & I have frequented here in Tiberias. Today, we rented a car and spent the day driving around the northernmost, very beautiful, and very disputed (with Syria) Israeli-controlled Golan Heights. And many reminders of these battles are very visible today, with the staged tanks (presumably inoperable),

bomb shelters scattered about and countless areas fenced off due to land mines.

We stopped off along the road for views of Quneitra, Syrian ghost town located in the narrow UN-controlled "buffer" disengagement zone,

and next drove up to the village of Majdal Shams, where the Druze (traditional Syrian people stuck in Israel) are able to shout across a sliver of disengagement zone to their relatives across the border.

Next stop was to the 13th c. Nimrod Castle, which, albeit cloudy, afforded the best views of the Golan Heights.

We continued along the winding road up the Metula, right on the Lebanese border (no "buffer" here). In fact, you could easily throw a rock to the Lebanese side (not advisable), and of course the same could be said from Lebanon... which made me wonder, as nice as Metula was, who is actually going to live this close to a volatile border like Lebanon? We got to explore around an empty, but accessible, bunker (where I'm sure more than a camera has been shot through before...),

then had coffee at a shop with good views across to Lebanon. After we headed back to Tiberias, now turning in for the night - great day!

Tel Aviv, Israel
Having a coffee (many coffees, actually) in a cafe watching the pouring rain outside. This morning I bid farewell to Richard and Whiskey (hostel owner's awesome dog)

in Tiberias and boarded the sherut (shared taxi van) for the ride here to Tel Aviv. Heading over in a bit to Matti and Shai - guys I traveled with in the Gobi - apartment, where I'm sure I'll be having some drinks over the next few nights!

Getting ready to meet up on New Year's Eve with some of the backpacking crew I met while staying in Jerusalem, who are now also in Tel Aviv at a hostel. Today was all about relaxing with the (fortunately) sunny weather - coffees, strolling on the beach,

and of course a few afternoon beers with Shai & Matti at a seaside bar. Last night we put back more than a few drinks (as expected) - hopefully I can rally tonight!!

Happy New Year from Tel Aviv!! Last night I rang in the new year with Germans Matthias and Svenja, and Joel "The Tuck" Tucci. Pre-partied a bit first at Shai & Matti's, then continued the party from the crew's hostel along the streets of southern Tel Aviv with beers in-hand, to the closed-off section of the Florentine neighborhood, where more drinking commenced with 100's of other partiers.

Spending the countdown on the streets of Tel Aviv turned out much better than say, New York (mild temp, drinking permitted, bathroom easy to find... alleyway, at least). Today I met up with Svenja and we spent the afternoon strolling around Old Jaffa, historic commercial & fishing port a couple kms south of Tel Aviv along nice beaches. Really quaint town that we enjoyed an escape from the bustle of Tel Aviv for a few hours.

Now getting ready to head out to one of Tel Aviv's premier night clubs (or so I'm told) - I knew there would be a lot of drinking this weekend!!

Posted by rd wrld1yr 09:46 Comments (2)

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