Africa

Mahe

Our first dose of Seychelles’ main island was in the form of Eden Island – a transit midpoint between a flight landing at 10.30 and a ferry leaving at 4.30. The cab from the airport got us there in 15 mins. Though it’s hyped as a major shopping destination, it’s actually quite a small place with a few eateries and shops. On a Saturday afternoon, the place had quite a lackadaisical feel to it. It seemed to be quite a yacht docking location though.

We had earmarked a couple of lunch options earlier, but ended up in a different place called Tamassa, which looked to be more lounging-friendly than the others. Our first lunch in Seychelles was excellent – mussels in a thick coconut milk based gravy, and some delicious octopus! Then, after some Tiramisu ice cream, D did quite a bit of window shopping as I people-watched. A cab dropped us off at the ferry to Praslin, another 15 minute ride away.

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La Digue

La Digue is only 15 minutes from Praslin by ferry, and we had chosen one that left at 11.45. We had asked for a cab by 10.45, giving us a half an hour buffer. We grew fidgety when our clocks showed us 11.10 and the driver still hadn’t arrived. We reminded the hotel owner and she asked us not to fret. He arrived at 11.15 and we got to the ferry in 20 minutes. The boat was docked but we left only half an hour after the departure time. We got time to exchange some currency, and comment on the guts of an Indian couple who arrived 20 minutes after the scheduled departure.

Our cab driver from the Anse Lazio trip had told us that La Digue had all of 4 cars, though the Palm Beach hotel owner said it was slightly more now. But the driver hadn’t exaggerated much – this was cycle country! Made sense, the place is tiny. We walked along the main road to Le Repaire, our destination.

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Praslin

Seven years since the (first and) last time we visited Lanka. Things didn’t seem to have changed much. The already horrendous start time of 3.30 AM was extended to 5 AM thanks to a flight delay. We knew this because we got a call the previous evening, but nothing on the web could confirm it. After multiple calls, we finally got through a Mumbai number, but decided to hedge our bets by reaching slightly earlier anyway. We took a Meru after a long time, and I wondered how their drivers were coping with the Uber/Ola onslaught.

The flight was indeed delayed, thankfully we had some buffer time for the connecting flight. The airline definitely seemed to have upped its game in terms of the flight interiors at least. The rest of the journey went without incident, perhaps because I snoozed, even as D watched a movie on the 4hr+ flight. We landed in Mahe around 11 AM, and after exchanging some currency at the only available option at the airport, took a cab to Eden Plaza. Going by the exchange rates we saw there, we seemed to have surprisingly gotten a good deal!  The ferry to Praslin was only at 4.30, so we had quite some time to kill there. (more in the Mahe post next week)  We reached the ferry and got our first sighting of many honeymooning Indian couples! Rains arrived soon after with almost Yash Chopra like timing and delayed the ferry a bit.

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Morocco Code : Saad no more!

Continued

Day 9

Sigh, the last day of our vacation. The nice folk at the riad gave us a good breakfast, and set us off on our half day tour. Our guide’s name was Khaled, and the first stop was less than 100m away! The Palais de la Bahia, part of the Jewish quarters, was built by the king’s vizier(s) as a harem, and later occupied by the French, who did that by throwing out their host! Only a portion of this palace is open to the public, but it does live up to its name in terms of craftwork – brilliant!

Khaled was not very jovial and preferred dry sarcasm and sharp verdicts – the original occupants of the palace being his victims in this context. But he knew what he was talking about, and seemed to be well respected judging from the way he was greeted as we walked around. It was not the typical familiar greetings that tourist guides normally get.

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Morocco Code : Courtyard or death?

Continued

Day 8

The scene from the previous day’s breakfast played out again, except we changed the battleground – to another table. The bees really did like the other table – we weren’t disturbed, and the poor folks sitting on that table were busy swatting them away!

We set out a little late to Marrakesh since the distance wasn’t much. Ismael Lo was the soundtrack for the drive, some amazing music. We made a couple of stops on the way, or rather D did. The first was an Argan cooperative. The fruit of the Argan tree is used to make oil for cooking as well as cosmetic purposes. D was given a demo of the whole process, and finally bought flavoured soap, even as I snoozed in the car. The next stop was also Argan based. Apparently, goats like the leaves so much that they were willing to climb the tree for it. We stopped for photos. (and barely took them before their owner came around to ask for a tip!)

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Morocco Code : Ess, more please!

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Day 7

We woke up around 9 only because breakfast would be served only until 10. The riad had a lovely terrace, and we chose a table that gave us a view of the beach and beyond. Some bees apparently liked the table too. After attempts from both sides, the bees successfully shooed us away! The staff very kindly sent the breakfast to our room.

Essaouira, formerly Mogador, (that sounds so GoT!) seemed to have a very active market, and Marrakech was the only stop left, so we planned to exert our shopping muscles a bit. The WIFi was working fine and we mapped our entire walk. It helped that the routes were pretty straight forward and the places weren’t far off. Our first stop was supposed to be the Bab Doukkala, but we managed to distract ourselves and wander into the side lanes. There were a couple of shops which made some very interesting figurines with vehicle spare parts, cutlery, cameras etc. We reached Bab Marrakech, another corner of the medina, before we realised we had forgotten our original destination.

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Morocco Code : The coast is clear!

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Day 6

Breakfast was standard fare, except for an omelette that arrived in a tajine, and some excellent vanilla yogurt! We checked out from Riad Maktoub, and happily got into the car, when Hisham told us that we’d be walking up. That took us about 20 minutes, and we were early enough to miss the crowds that would soon arrive from Marrakech. The site is a kasbah which apparently still has a few families staying inside. The rest of the population had shifted to the opposite side of  the river, (that looked more like a stream) because it had electricity, transportation etc.

On the way up, we met “Picasso Abdullah”, who painted using indigo, saffron and tea+ sugar. The fantastic part of it was how the colours changed when he heated the paper. This was an old ‘encryption’ technique, he said. Ait Benhaddou has also appeared in Hollywood fare, (including Gladiator) and more recently as Yunkai in Game of Thrones. The view from the top was fantastic.

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Morocco Code : Ain’t Hollywood, but..

Continued

Day 5

The sun apparently woke up early in this part of the world. So we did too, to watch it rise. 6’o clock, brutal! A little over an hour on camels took us back to Yasmina. Though we had to ask for some tech support in between, the bath felt really refreshing. The breakfast brought us back from our elated state – stale, and the worst mint tea we had on the trip. But, to be fair, they’re in the middle of nowhere, so things must be tough to maintain.

We returned the way we came, and chose to skip an archaeology museum visit on the way. For the second day running, we had a long way to go – close to 400km.

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Morocco Code : Enter sand man!

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Day 4

We had a day long drive ahead, and had to make an early start. Breakfast done, we set out, towards the Sahara. We first passed a town called Ifrane. Set in the Middle Atlas, this town is locally called the Switzerland of Morocco and has snow during its winter months. Its “hill station” image meant that it had a huge number of villas which were apparently rented out for weeks. The town is also famous for the Al Akhawayn university.

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Next up was Azrou, which means ‘great rock’, and is home to forests where the Barbary macaque is found. We stopped at what seemed a tourist spot. Our first attempt to shoot a family pic resulted in an NSFW image! We also caught an aspiring Formula 1 driver! More

Morocco Code : Two Fez’d

Continued

Day 3

We woke up reasonably late, at least by our usual itinerary standards. Our guide was scheduled to meet us at the hotel around 9.30, and that gave us time for a relatively simple breakfast (that’s a distant cousin of the Kerala porotta on the plate) and a mini tour around the riad. The view from the terrace, as had been indicated by our elderly host, was amazing, though I oscillated between freezing to death and being blown away by the wind in the five minutes I spent up there!

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Abdul, our guide for half a day, promised to show us the ‘real’ Fez. Dressed in a djellaba, he was a middle aged man, with a son who was born the same year as the one in which the current king took over the rule. He was also quite talkative, as most guides are wont to be, and had a great many adjectives for himself – great, modest (in the same breath), honest, and lucky were a few. Hisham drove us to the (old) medina, and he described how it had many quarters, and each quarter had five essentials – a mosque, a hamam, a bakery, a school for the kids, and a fountain. These days, Batman as well. (check the image for the bat mobile) More