Ubud, Seminyak & Lovina

Our drive to Ubud, a small village about 1.5 hours from Denpasar had many stops along the way as we were very keen to look at the local handicrafts which are located around this region. Woodworkers, stonemasons and metal workers who make carvings, furniture, statues, wall murals, lights, massive timber slab tables etc……we had particular interest in the creative reuse of timber from old fishing boats and buildings turned into furniture.   Ubud is very much the cultural centre of Bali and has expanded heaps since we were last here (2009), more of everything that makes it a great place to visit. There are endless galleries, a gorgeous Lotus garden, many boutiques stocking some great finds from Balinese designers and every second shopfront is a spa! We stayed in a resort hotel about 10 minutes out of Ubud, surrounded by rainforest and rice paddies which made it a peaceful escape at the end of the day.  On our return trip to Seminyak we stopped at a coffee plantation and had the chance to sample Luwak coffee, famous for its uniqueness which makes it the most expensive coffee in the world. The high price is driven by the uncommon method of producing the coffee as it has been made from the coffee beans digested by a civet, (looks like a cross between a cat and a ferret!), yes the droppings (coffee beans) are collected and processed to make the coffee…..An interesting stop and really great coffee. The smallest bag available for purchase cost around $35 for 100g.

We found another lovely retreat in Seminyak, staying at the beautiful Villa Blubambu, quiet boutique accommodation just back from the beach and five minutes walk from the busy shopping and eating strips.

Our Friday flight was cancelled and with no indication on when we would be able to leave here, we decided to cancel our Myanmar trip 😩 and continue to make the most of our time in Bali until we were able to get a flight home….and promise ourselves to travel to Myanmar sometime soon. So ….. more time to explore Bali whilst we wait for our flight home 🙂

Our evenings in Seminyak began with a walk on the beach, people watching and playing the usual games with the street ‘beach’ vendors. Local bars along the beachfront set up beach bags and umbrellas to entice to tourists to sit and enjoy the sunset. Bintang is the best choice here as the cocktails tend to be weak and expensive. It doesn’t take long to find something to observe….selfie sticks abound with tourists, instead of enjoying the scenery and the awesome sunsets selfie bandits look at themselves in a little screen snapping away to find that perfect shot …. 

Looking for new places to explore during the next few days we decided to go to Lovina, a small seaside village on the north side of Bali. A great scenic drive across a very high mountain or two and down to a beautiful beachside village barely touched by the mainstream tourist route. Along the way our driver, who spoke great english, explained Bali customs, religion and lifestyle to us and we really enjoyed the insights to local life. Our stops along the way included temples, gardens, lakes, local markets and amazing waterfalls. [Transport here is either via a metered taxi or a negotiated price with a private driver. The drive from the south to the north coast takes around 3 hours, we agreed a price with our driver = to 60 AUD, he also offered to stop for us so we could see the local sights along the way, the trip there took us 6 hours, our driver then turned around and drove 3 hours to get home! He also asked us to call him when we were ready to return south. We called him the day before and he came to collect us the next morning and then drove the 3 hours back again, all for another $60!] 

Once in Lovina we enjoyed peaceful days by the pool and the black sand beach, early morning dolphin watching in the bay (which sounds serene, but we just felt sorry for the dolphins watching the local fishing boats chase them!), walks along the beach to the village, and chatting to beautiful local kids playing on the beach all keen to practice their English and make friends. We read a review on a restaurant here called ‘The Secret Garden’, this restaurant was set up by a local couple in their backyard, she cooks, he serves and they only have 4 x tables! The food and service were outstanding and we ate there 2 of our 3 nights in Lovina. The restaurant only opened in April and is located in a residential area, so not one you would find by strolling and looking for somewhere to eat. Just over 3 months ago they listed it on Trip Advisor and it is now rated as number 1 in Lovina – such a great success story!


   Our last 3 x nights in Seminyak were spent in the beautiful Uma Sapna villas, we were upgraded to a private pool villa and we seriously didn’t have a lot of motivation to go too far, especially as the awesome onsite spa was right next to our room! Great breakfasts here also, cooked to order from the fabulous Kilo restaurant next door.

  We caught up with Wendy and Alan for lunch on the beach in Sanur on our last day, so great to see them again and share more of what’s going on in their world, we shall return to visit them again soon!  By this time you may understand that we are and have been totally relaxed and have enjoyed our unplanned time here. We have an overnight flight departing this evening and will be back in our Eudlo paradise for a morning coffee on Sunday. Already planning on rebooking our trip to Myanmar :).

Nusa Lembongan

Lembongan is accessed via a fast boat from Sanur, the trip takes only 30mins and loading on and off is on the beach both ends. The main drawcard for tourists to the island is the diving and surfing, the island is very mellow, more a ‘village lifesyle’ and lacks the commercialisation that is seen Bali. Transport is by scooter and small trucks with seating in the back for passengers. Roads are typically narrow, some are sealed others not and shared with pedestrians, scooters, cyclists, small trucks and chickens. Scooters of course are not just transport for one but often whole family’s and also used to cart an assortment of many things, most of which don’t look like they belong on a scooter!

 

 
Our stay on Lembongan was at Wendy and Alan’s beautiful Tropica Tranquility villas, which is a lovely sanctuary, built in traditional Balinese style. Their villa’s are located on the beach at the northern end of the island where a local seaweed industry is still operating, but it is dying out as younger generations have no interest and can earn more money in tourist driven industry.


 We really enjoyed our time with Wendy and Alan, simply chatting and catching up and they took lots of time to show us around their lovely island which helped us learn more about their life here and meeting lots of their friends along the way.  We spent our days meandering around the island, it is quite small and would only take an hour so to go around by scooter. Local eateries or ‘Warung’ were our favourite places to get a meal, the cost for this is around $20 for a local dish and a couple of Bintang’s each. The most expensive meal we had here was in a lovely resort and cost was $40 per head for starters, cocktails, main and dessert and the food was fabulous.     

 

A local fishing boat with Mount Warung in the background  An active volcanoe that last erupted in 1964,

 

We did a couple of snorkelling trips, the first on a big Catamaran, there were only 9 of us on board and 7 were in our group. We snorkelled over a reef at Crystal Bay, not something that either of us have done before and the colours of the coral and the beautiful fish blew us a way. The second trip was on a local boat, to 2 different spots, the first Wall Reef, which describes perfectly how the reef is formed, we were able to swim very close to the wall and see the coral up really close. Our second stop that day was in front of some Mangroves and here we floated around in the water and fed the fish bread which led to a feeding frenzy and we found ourselves in the middle of schools of the most brightly coloured beautiful fish – a really amazing experience.           

In the village close to where we stayed there was a mass cremation, with many ceremonies held around this event. Our understanding of this is as part of the Hindu culture the deceased need to be cremated to be reincarnated. The cost of this for a local family is too great as the cremation needs to done with with so much ceremony which is of course very expensive. So…..bodies are buried in a local cemetery and then every few years the village will host a mass cremation. The family then remove the bodies from the grave and the bones are washed and cleaned. On the day of the cremation, the bones are wrapped and placed in an elaborately decorated cremation tower, this is then taken to the cremation site in a procession, which isn’t walked in a straight line, often spinning in circles along the way; this is done to confuse evil spirits and keep them away from the deceased. The bones are then placed inside a sarcophagus resembling an animal which has been placed on an elevated bamboo platform for the cremation.

The climax of the ceremony is the burning of the sarcophagus containing the bones, the fire is viewed as necessary to free the spirit from the body and enable reincarnation. The ceremony we attended had 53 ‘bodies’ that were from 9 families, each family was represented by a sarcophagus of a different animal. There is no grief associated with this as the belief is that the deceased is sleeping and are only temporarily absent until they are reincarnated, each newborn child is believed to be a reincarnated soul. We found the ceremony really fascinating and felt really privileged to have the opportunity to view first hand.       

We have returned to Bali to wait out our flights to Singapore & Myanmar, (disrupted by the volcano).  Our flight has been rescheduled to Friday 13th so we took the opportunity to head up to Ubud for the remainder of the week.

Family, wineries, breweries, chocolate….

Our week in the west was just fantastic. A day trip down to Fremantle is highly recommended, an eclectic blend of art, architecture, bars, cafes and breweries ..recently voted number 7 in lonely planets top 10 cities to visit… Not sure if they include the Ferris wheel on the to do list, but Indi and Scarlett would recommend it 😀
As for Little Creatures brewery..we certainly recommend it.

We spent 5 days touring the Margaret River wine region, it is quite a compact region that packs a lot in. We based ourselves in Margaret River township and did day trips to wineries, breweries (boutiqueeeee) a chocolate factory and a really amazing coast. We climbed to the top of Cape Leeuwin lighthouse, Australia’s tallest mainland lighthouse which is situated at the most south westerly tip of Australia, where the Indian and Southern Oceans meet.

The beaches are really beautiful, call in to any parking spot along the coast and you will be delighted by what you see. From white, white sand being washed with the clearest aqua coloured water, rolling surf that attracts surfers from all over the world and sit long enough and you will spot whales breaching as they head south.

Back in Perth at the end of the week we enjoyed a picnic day in Kings park a glorious mix of gardens, grass and playgrounds with plenty of space to play cricket and chase (follow) the kids around on their scooters. It was lovely to spend time with Sam, Taya and the kids in their home and wandering around their part of the world.



Adelaide

5 days in Adelaide passes pretty quickly. Our initial plan was to not spend all of our time catching up with family and to spend some quality time exploring the some of the wine regions, in reality, that didn’t quite work out as planned, which is all good :).
We took the scenic route wherever we were going, passing through many beautiful small towns, full of historic sandstone buildings and lovely gardens, grain growing areas, market gardens and of course lots of healthy grape vines along the way.

We made a fleeting visit to Langhorne Creek and the Barossa, which both deserve much more time. Lunch in a winery one day and at Henley Beach the next, an insiders tour of the new Adelaide oval and dinners in some nice local hotels  with family and friends and before you know it our time is done and we were on our fight to Perth.


  
  

Heading West

Today we are heading off on a trip that will take us to Adelaide, Perth, Bali and Myanmar.  The first 3 stops to spend some special time with our families and then two weeks discovering Myanmar.  We will do our best to keep this blog up to date as we go and look forward to sharing our journey with you.

Last Day …..then Home

And so this fantastic trip has come to an end. We rose early, and jumped into our car waiting to take us to the airport for the flight home. This might be a good time to mention motor vehicles here in Abu Dhabi..the car to the airport was a 7 series BMW, one of many here. When we arrived here I made the comment to Fi that in the first one hour in Abu Dhabi I had seen more Porsches than I had in my whole life to that time!!! Bentley Continental GT’s, Ferrari’s, Lamborghini’s, Maserati’s, Aston Martin’s, Audi’s, Merc’s, BMW’s and …Holden Commodore’s!

We checked in for our 14 hour flight home and we had been upgraded to Business Class…wooohooo! Thru customs and into the lounge, breakfast and onto the plane for the flight home. The flight was great, we were able to get some reasonable sleep, were well fed and watered and touched down in Sydney around 7.10 am on Saturday morning. Off the plane, thru customs, collected our bags, out and into a cab and home all within 45 minutes, a world record!

LIFE’S GOOD!

Abu Dhabi

Well here we are, the final day of our holiday and my birthday and awake bright and early to make the most of the day 🙂

Abu Dhabi has been a great place to stop over on our way home. We spent the first 2 nights at Qasr Al Sarab Desert Resort, an amazing resort in the Liwa Desert about 2 hours from the city. There’s lots to do there but we chose not to and spent our time relaxing by the pool, eating nice food and drinking a cocktail or 2 🙂 this is a really beautiful hotel, service, facilities – everything was spot on and we enjoyed it all immensely. The most energetic we got was to climb to the top of a huge sand dune near the hotel to take photos at sunset, well worth the effort, so beautiful and peaceful and the views were just breathtaking.

The hotel limo took us from the resort back to the city yesterday and along the way we passed by a car museum. The driver explained that this was a private collection owned by a sheik and that he didn’t mind stopping for us to go inside to see. We didn’t actually have enough local currency with us to pay and he lent this to us, so nice!

I copied the article below from Time Out Dubai as it gives a great overview of what the ‘museum’ is like:

……..The title ‘museum’ is something of a misnomer here: there is no information. No plaques. No audio guides. No brochures. There are no set exhibits because everything must be free to move at a moment’s notice lest the owner – Sheikh Hamad bin Hamdan Al Nahyan, colloquially known as the Rainbow Sheikh (he acquired this nickname from the insignia emblazoned across many of his motors) – wishes to drive one of his collection. It is no coincidence that the path around the displays is marked like a road. Only the occasional bench signals that company is welcome. This is less a museum and more a shrine to one man’s passion.You may need to find an attendant to open the museum, but once inside, the hangar-like size of the place will become apparent. Rows of vehicles fan out to either side. Directly ahead, in a cage of its own, sits the first mass-produced automobile; a glistening black 1908 Model T Ford. Down one row is a Rolls Royce used by Queen Elizabeth II of the UK, another reveals a rare Lamborghini 4×4, a third, a bizarre moon buggy designed for a future where disco is decidedly not dead. Here, the extraordinary (an 1875 steam-powered carriage) mixes with the mundane (a rather grim set of Range Rovers).

Possibly the most impressive sight, however, is the 5m-high replica of a 50s Dodge Power Wagon, custom built in Abu Dhabi to a scale of 64:1. Its wheels came from an oil rig transporter, its wipers from an ocean liner. Inside is a full apartment with bedrooms, bathrooms, a meeting area and a kitchen. Incredibly it can actually drive – it had to in order to enter the Guinness Book Of World Records. Take a step back and between its front wheels sits an ordinary-sized Dodge, and in front of that, a knee-high radio controlled model. Anywhere else this might be considered unusual – here, it makes an odd kind of sense.

So then onto Abu Dhabi and checked in at Jumeirah at Etihad Towers our luxurious home for the last days of our holiday 🙂 I do think we’re pretty good at spoiling ourselves! Our room here is on the 59th floor with amazing views of the city and coastline. We didn’t do a great deal in the afternoon, a late lunch and then went to the adjoining tower to the 74th floor to check out the 360 degree views from there. A nice quiet night last night and now looking forward to our last day 🙂

The day started with a magnificent breakfast, again…then we jumped in a cab to visit the ‘Grand Mosque the mosque is one of the worlds largest which can accommodate 41,000 worshippers!!! There are 82 domes, more than 1,000 columns and gold covered chandeliers and the worlds largest hand woven carpet…ok get the feeling it is impressive?? The mosque is open for all religions to visit as long as you wear appropriate clothing….(cover ups are available for the ladies).

From there we went to the ‘Gold Souks‘ to see what we could find for Fi. The market was on the lower level of a shopping centre and was a little difficult to find…but worth the search as there were lots of shops all vying for your money and willing to barter to seal the deal. Fi settled on a very nice bracelet and we headed back to the hotel. We had drinks in the bar, and an awesome dinner on the terrace overlooking the pool to finish of our last night on what has been an absolutely fabulous six weeks away from home. Can’t close without mentioning the truly outstanding staff at the hotel, every single person was keen to have a chat, ask if we were ok, needed any help, they genuinely wanted to see that we were having a good time.

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Marrakech

We spent a total of 4 nights in Marrakech, the first the night before our tour and then the last 3 when we got back. We did realise it would be a bit of a culture shock, which was pretty spot on. We stayed in the Medina which is the old area of the city, in a Riad, which is a traditional type of Moroccan hotel. The Riad advise to eat in house the first night you arrive which is a great tip as the initial impression you get of the Medina is fairly daunting. We booked a taxi through the Riad to pick us up from the airport, another great idea, as the place you’re staying in isn’t always accessible by car. Our taxi phoned ahead and we were met by the Riad owner and a guy with a pull along cart on wheels for our luggage, we then followed both through a maze of lane ways, full of people, rubbish and cats……makes you wonder exactly where you’re being taken! The beauty of the Riad’s is that the style of building has no exterior windows but is built around and opens onto a courtyard, so as soon the door is opened and you enter inside it’s like being in a beautiful calm oasis and the noise and craziness of the Medina is left behind.

Once we ventured out into the Medina it really wasn’t as bad as we’d first thought, although very full on and can be dirty and smelly in places. The thing you soon realise here is that tourism is the main source of income and everyone wants your money, from hustlers and beggars to people wanting to take your photo or give you directions, or the many many stall or store owners wanting you to buy the local handicrafts, it all comes at a cost. To put that into context tho, half of the Moroccan population is under 25 and a massive 44% of those people are unemployed, so life can be terribly tough, you then understand why everyone is after a piece of you. The basic monthly wage here is only around 240 Aussie dollars.

Not wanting to paint a bleak or bad picture here, the Moroccan people are lovely, very respectful and friendly with a great sense of humour. Even the first night we arrived we were following the taxi driver through the car park loaded up with our 4 big suitcases and he stopped at the smallest car in the parking lot and indicated it was ours, he had a huge laugh at the shocked look on our faces! We usually don’t go for souvenir’s when we travel or even the local handicrafts, but there’s lots of great things to buy here, ceramics, Tajine’s, spices, beautiful lanterns and amazing handmade rugs are just some, and yes we have a few small things packed in our bags to bring home. Larry and Rhona have headed off home with a Tajine in their back pack which cost all of $5 as well as some amazing spices from the guy that had the spice stall just outside of our Riad. The food here is also awesome, with salads, kebabs, Tajine’s and many types of pastries being the main traditional choices.

We spent our days wandering with no real plan, the sun shone each day and we didn’t need to wear our jackets until the evening, a nice change from Shap 🙂 Being a Muslim country alcohol isn’t always available, when you walk past the square’s and cafe’s everyone is drinking water or mint tea, which is the local speciality. We actually got our driver to make a special stop at a supermarket before we went to the desert so we could have a wine (or 2) with our meal. We did find a bar in the Medina tho that was set on a terrace with lovely comfy lounges, maybe a bit embarrassing that we became regulars in the space of 2 days, with the staff recognising us as we came in the door 🙂 we all treated ourselves to a Hammam one afternoon, very different to the one in Seville, but really great. We relaxed in a steam room and were then scrubbed clean with a loofah and a traditional black soap, then covered in a clay mask and left to sweat, followed by a massage – so good 🙂

The first night we ate away from the Riad we went to the local market that’s set up in the main square and full of stall holders all wanting your business, extremely full on and very busy, we finally chose one and had a great meal – Rhona was taking a pic of the man behind the stall that was cooking a whole heap of Tajine’s and the waiters got her up (and then me) to get her photo taken with the cook – lots of laughs and fun.

Advice in Morocco, being a Muslim country is to not show too much skin, so shirts with sleeves and shorts or skirts below the knee. For our last night we wanted to dine somewhere special and asked the advice of the Riad manager – he told us about a restaurant located in the ‘new’ part of the city where the food was traditional and there was music and belly dancers – sounded good to us, so he made a booking and arranged a taxi to take us there and return us to the Riad when we were done. Other than driving from the Airport and out of the city on our tour we hadn’t seen much of the new part of the city. So, picture this …….. we walk from the Riad to where our taxi is waiting, down the lane way past the local stall holders, women wearing burka’s, sitting on a crate selling bread and of course the odd stray cat or 2. Into the cab, leaving the Medina behind we drive down avenues lined with palm trees and fancy hotels and pull up at the entrance to the restaurant where the doorman opens our door and ushers us inside. We go upstairs and are shown our table, the restaurant is plush, low lighting, a DJ spinning some tunes in the background. There’s not a Burka in sight and the women are dressed to impress, tiny short skirts, cleavage and sequins everywhere you look, and lots of older guys with very young lovely girls! So bizarre!! We had a great night the food was awesome and the belly dancers sensational, some were balancing silver trays with tea pots and lit candelabras on their head while they danced, very talented ladies!

So now, we’ve left that behind us and are slowly heading towards home, on our Royal Air Maroc flight to Paris for an overnight stop and the onto Abu Dhabi for our final few days. As always, we’ve had an awesome time with Rhona and Larry, so special to be able to spend Christmas together and to be here to celebrate Rhona’s birthday, I did have tears leaving her behind 😦

We’re hooked on Morocco and will come back, but next time will stay longer and travel much further 🙂

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The Atlas Mountains, Berber Villages and the Desert

Crowded roads, traditional dress, tajines, small children, donkeys, goats, mosques, beggars, Kasbahs, camels, rocks, rubbish and sand……

A driver collected us in the square close to our Riad and we began the drive up and over the high Atlas Mountains. Another sunny day with lots of clear blue sky, and people on the same route as us. The drive was spectacular, the mountain road winds it way precariously, continually climbing up over this rocky steep snow capped terrain. We had stops along the way to digest the natural beauty and harshness of the country the Moroccan people call home. We stopped in the tiny village of Telouet where we had lunch and wandered through an ancient Kasbah with a local guide. A short drive after lunch to our overnight stay at Ait Benhaddou passing the most spectacular scenery along the way. Berber villages built from a red mud brick made from a mixture of mud, straw and stones blending in to the red landscape. The Berbers live a simple life, animals are their wealth, donkey’s for transport, goats for milk and chickens for eggs and food. Some Berbers are still nomads and live between the desert and the mountains as the seasons change. There’s a Unesco protected Kasbah built in the 11th century in Ait Benhaddou, of course built on top of hill which we explored the following morning. This has been used as a location for films including Lawrence of Arabia, Prince of Persia, Gladiator and many more.

Our driver is Hamaal a 6ft 5in Berber dressed traditionally in a Jellaba, (an ankle length robe with a pointy hood) an imposing figure, he chatted along the way on our drive, telling stories and explaining the history and culture of the Berber people and stopping the car so we could jump out and take photos.

We stayed the next night in Tinghir and celebrated New Years Eve and Rhona’s 50th with other ‘Morocco Explored’ travellers. The tour manager had arranged a dinner and celebrations at the hotel where we stayed. Probably 30 or so tourists, locals and musicians all together to see in the new year and party loud and long! We had a great night, eating, drinking, singing, dancing and generally celebrating together. Fi had arranged a birthday cake for Rhona and everyone joined in to sing happy birthday and celebrate her special day!

In the morning we walked through the palm grove then headed out to our desert adventure. Again the drive was a tour through different landscapes, continually changing and always interesting. Off the bitumen and onto the sandy desert track, travelling on tracks in the rocky, sandy plain toward the hotel on the edge of the Sahara Desert.

After a quick lunch we were ready to climb onto our camels for the trek into the desert, the four of us were ushered to our awaiting camels, each sitting on the ground, groaning…one in particular groaning lots and foaming from the mouth…..this one ended up being Rhona’s ride…One by one we mounted our camels, me first on the camel at the end of the queue, then Fiona, then Rhona,( on the frothing one)…..and finally Larry at the front. You know something is going to happen..and sure enough Rhona’s frothing noisy one slobbered on Larry’s back…….Not a pretty sight…but a good laugh at Larry’s expense. And so we set off with the camel trek guide walking ahead and our camel train following…(Larry’s on the lead camel,his black coat covered in slobber).

The camels took us out over high dunes, travelling for about an hour and a half, taking in the spectacular sunset along the way before we, along with three other groups of camel trekkers, arrived at our camp. The camps are semi permanent tents grouped together with a central fire where the nights music, singing and dancing took place. We were shown to our tents, dropped our back packs and all met at the centre of the camp to get to know each other. The guides lit a campfire and prepared dinner whilst we sat around the fire talking. Night fell and the air cooled. Awesome tajines were served for dinner accompanied by red wine we bought into the desert with us (excellent planning on our part). After dinner we all moved back around the fire, the music started..bongo drums?…the guides were good musicians as well, and they had a great sense of humour. Solo performances were expected from everyone, and lots of fun was had.

Well fed and exhausted from camel riding, singing and dancing we slept the night away under a magnificent star filled sky. The return trip in the morning gave us the chance to see the sunrise over the dunes…a great experience for us all and well worth the early start.

We spent the remainder of the day driving back to Marrakech, our guide, Sala, providing interesting information along the way. Back over the High Atlas Mountains, treacherous narrow winding roads shared with pedestrians, buses, donkeys, motor bikes and hawkers, what a fabulous place! We all had a good laugh recounting New Year’s Eve party stories, camel trek stories and general catch up reflecting on the past few days.

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Morocco Explored

We travel from Manchester to Marrakech tomorrow and on Sunday morning will head off on our tour with Morocco Explored. Interesting getting our head around the culture in Morocco, it’ll no doubt be unlike any other place we’ve been to. We received a 6 page info pack with the itinerary you can see below, I’ve copied just the tipping advice section from the info pack, we’ve made a bit of a cheat sheet from this as a reminder to ourselves, we so don’t want to offend anyone along the way!

Lots of fun to come, as well as some sunshine and warmer weather 🙂

December 30
Your driver will meet you at your Marrakech riad or hotel at 8am, take you to the vehicle and transport over the High Atlas mountains Tichka pass. You’ll have time to stop for coffee and fresh-squeezed orange juice and enjoy impressive landscapes. We’ll pass through Ouarzazate, and many Berber villages clustered with kasbahs (fortified dwellings that house many families and their livestock). Stay in Dades valley auberge (small country inn), overlooking the valley gorge and gardens. Includes dinner and breakfast.

December 31
You’ll have a short drive to Tinehir, and you can wander with a guide* through Todra Gorge: a massive fault dividing the High Atlas mountains, rising to 300 m in a narrow valley thick with palmeries and Berber villages for a close look at traditional Berber ways of life. By mid-afternoon take time to settle into your room, before New Years celebrations and dinner. 8pm the fun begins, New Years buffet dinner includes traditional whole roasted lamb (Meschui) with all the trimmings and live music.

January 1
After breakfast, transport further into the desert to our auberge 29 km from Merzouga. Afternoon you will meet your camel guide* and ride at sunset into the Erg Chebbi dunes to our carpeted desert camp and sleep in traditional Nomad tents. A tagine dinner will be served under the stars in this beautiful setting, afterward learn to drum or dance by the fire in the traditional style of the Sahara.

Our desert camp is far from the crowds coming from Merzouga. It consists of a circle of five nomad tents that each sleep about 4 people but they are very rarely full. They are equipped with carpets, foam mattresses, warm wool blankets, freshly washed cotton sheets and pillows – camp also has solar lighting and nice pit toilets, kitchen tent and dining tent, and carpeting around the fire pit. All camel guides are local nomads working to support their families, and our very friendly camels love to have their ears scratched.

January 2
Return by camel at sunrise to the auberge for breakfast and shower. The remainder of the day is spent driving back to Ouarzazate where you’ll stop for lunch and visit the old Glaoui Kasbah Taouirt. Then we cross the High Atlas once more, down the Tichka pass. Arrival evening in Marrakech at approximately 6pm

Tipping
For great service and going-the-extra-mile it’s traditional to tip in the travel industry. Any one who devotes their time with you will appreciate his/her services well rewarded. Even though they do receive a daily wage, mountain guides, camel drivers, mule handlers and drivers fall into this category. Please tip individuals if they deserve it!

You can decide if you want to tip as a group or as individuals. Present a tip using your right hand. The tip will be discreetly tucked away, with barely a thank you.

General tipping rates
Any guides you hire for anything – beyond the ones we have pre-arranged – should be paid (tipped) at minimum 100 dirhams an hour or more. Guides do not earn a wage at all, your payment is their only wage. Generally a local city or site guide will expect to be given 400 dirhams or more for a days work equal to 3-4 hours; or 100 dirhams or more per hour from your group as a whole. If your group is larger than 4 people, please increase the recommended amount to 200 dirhams per hour.

Any guides we have pre-arranged and listed in your itinerary Whats Included: will be paid by us – you can tip them extra dirhams if you like their work but anything under a 100 dirham tip is considered an insult – its better to not tip at all. If you want to tip, give a meaningful amount.

Drivers are not guides. They are paid for their work, but also rely on tipping to make a good living at what they do.
For any of your drivers you can tip:
– for a daytrip at least 200 dirhams or more if you like him.
– for an extended journey like your desert tour at minimum 100 or more dirhams for each day he works with you, up to a max of your choice.

For camel trek guides each person should give 50 dirhams or more. Tipping waiters in restaurants is appreciated at the normal 10% to 15%. Café waiters can be tipped a five to ten dirhams.

Asking for money for just about anything seems to be on the rise in Marrakech, most notably in the square where, if taking pictures, they will ask for 100 dirhams. It used to be 10 – not sure where this is coming from but perhaps packaged tourism is cultivating some kind of greed factor. Ignore their demands and give them 10 – 20 dirhams with a big smile.