This blog is about my travels. At home in New Zealand, in other parts of Oceania, North, Central and South America and in Europe.
From Marrakesh, I traveled to the neighbouring Atlas mountains. On the way we stopped at a traditional Berber village. At a roadside stall I bought a 350 million year old fossil, from when the Atlas mountains were buried under the sea.
On the way we stopped for lunch and had traditional mint tea and some kind of bread which you dip in date and almond paste and Argan oil. It was super delicious.
We kept on going until we got to the small mountain village of Imlil. The towns in this area are all Berber - the indigenous people of Morocco. Although the Atlas mountains are in general a dry place, the towns are well irrigated and green, due to the fertile mountain soil.
At 4137m. Mt. Toubkal is the highest mountain in the Atlas mountains, and the second highest on the African continent. Certainly high enough to start feeling the altitude!
We stopped at a little mountain store on the way up. I was pretty hungry, but the servings were too generous for me! I also listened to traditional Berber music while I had my lunch. Not an experience that happens every day!
As we arrived at the lodge as it was getting cooler. The altitude made things a lot colder and the wind was cold. The lodge itself was very well equipped, and plenty of people were staying there. In winter it gets so much snow it is a ski resort, and it is very affordable for locals, it only costs $5 to ski there per day. I had dinner and went to bed, tucked under as many blankets as I could find. I didn't have much rest because the next morning we were all getting up at 3am.
The next morning, bright and early, we bustled awake and headed off up the mountain. It had snowed a bit overnight and there was a lot of wind and it was very cold! We headed on up, a row of bobbing head torches. Towards the summit we could see a bit more in the pre-dawn light. The sun rose just as we reached the summit. It was amazing to see the sun rise over North Africa. The locals said prayers to Allah and we took our summit photos and headed back downhill quickly. It was freezing cold and the wind was blowing so hard it was hard to stand up straight!
We headed back down and I went back to Marrakesh. By the evening I was sitting in my colourful hostel drinking mint tea. The next day I caught the train back to Casablanca and also went to the hamman (spa complex) at the mosque. It was very affordable and definitely recommended after any climb of Mt Toubkal.
From Casablanca I took the train to Marrakesh. My hostel was in a rabbit warren of tiny streets in the old part of town, but I found it in the end with some help from kindly locals.
Marrakesh is an ancient Berber city, surrounded by fortifications built from red brick. I wandered around the markets and met many more people who were keen to sell me things. Things in general are very affordable, a glass of fresh squeezed orange juice for instance costs about 40 cents. The market place sells everything you can imagine, with delicious fruit piled high, there are snake charmers and rug salesmen. I loved the giant piles of beautiful smelling spices and herbs piled into high in baskets. I went into one store to buy some argan oil and the salesman offered his me brother's hand in marriage, and to help sweeten the deal 'all the herbs in his shop'! I delicately declined this kind offer while awkwardly waiting for what seemed to be forever for my change and I even had to meet the brother at one point. I was at the point of nearly asking them to keep the change when they gave it to me and I was able to scamper out of the shop. Goodness me!
I had been so inspired by the beautiful Islamic architecture of Alhambra that I decided to visit Morocco from Spain. So, from Granada, I took the bus, then crossed the Strait of Gibraltar by boat. The boat journey was quite rough, but it wasn't long before we arrived. I was in Africa! My very first step on this giant continent. And I must say, it really did feel like another world compared with being home in New Zealand. French, Berber and Arabic were being spoken, and most people wore traditional dress, long shifts and head scarves.
The bus headed off from the ferry terminal and off to Casablanca where I made my way to my lovely, Bougainvillea surrounded hostel.
I went to the markets in town and there were a lot of people quite enthusiastic to sell me things. I did buy a traditional dress, and wore a headscarf as well, just to blend in a little bit more.
After I went to the market I also wandered down to the Hassan II mosque, the largest mosque in Morocco and the second largest in Africa. It stands on the shores of the Atlantic ocean.
Alhambra, the famous Islamic castle. The history of the Iberian peninsula over the past thousand years involved successive waves of conquest and reconquest, back and north between the Islamic (also called Moorish) and Christian forces. During the period of Islamic rule, what is now called Spain was called Al-Andalus. The beautiful palace of Alhambra was built during this time. It's difficult to get tickets to visit, so if you are considering going there, whatever you do, book your tickets well ahead of time.
The first place we headed was to the beautiful palace gardens. The gardens are kept as they were and in Islamic style they are designed for the five senses, there are scented plants and flowers, edible plants as well as ornamental ones, and trickling water that you can hear bubbling away.
We headed in to the gates of Alhambra, past the special cordoned off entrance for the lucky few who got tickets to enter the palace. I was quietly congratulating myself for managing to get a ticket ahead of time.
The palace of Alhambra was reconquered around 1500AD, and so some of the interior of Alhambra has some christian influence. Fortunately, however, this beautiful palace has largely been left as it was constructed.
As you can see, the beauty of Alhambra was mind blowing. I love the subtleties of the Islamic artistic style. There are no representative forms (in general - although there are a few exceptions in Alhambra) and instead there is an emphasis on form and light. It really is a truly incredible place. We also passed the hamman - a series of spas used before prayers that were of course, shut down once the reconquest arrived.
From Barcelona I traveled down to Granada. It is a small and beautiful city, overlooking the Sierra Nevadas (they are snow covered in winter time). The most famous sight in Granada is Alhambra, and the city as a whole has a lot of Islamic heritage and architecture.
The history of Granada is shaped by it's importance during the Islamic rule of the Iberian Penninsula (when it was called Al-Andalus) and the later Christian reconquest. As well as beautiful Islamic architecture there are flamboyantly gilded Catholic churches.
I went for a wander through Granada, past a stream in town overlooked by Alhambra and giant medieval balustrades, through a path shaded by fig trees and wandered through cobbled streets and the old part of town, up towards a lookout over the whole of the city.
After having a good wander around Granada I went back to the hostel and went to a flamenco show with the lovely people from the hostel.
While in Barcelona, I went to see the Sagrada Familia, the architectural masterpiece first designed by the Catalan modernist architect, Antonio Gaudi, and still under construction today. It is expected to be completed in 2022, so it's not too far away!
You have to book tours well ahead of time to see the interior of the church, so I did this. Our guide was very knowledgeable and started by showing us the features of the exterior parts of the building.
The church has two main entrances, one which is decorated in relation to the birth of Christ and the other with is decorated in relation to his death. The birth side depicts the nativity scene and lavishly decorated with flowers, creeping vines, spring blossoms, palm trees bearing fruit and animals, fluttering butterflies, bees, flocks of sheep and cattle. This is one of the oldest parts of the church and many of these sculptures were created by Gaudi himself.
The death side is deliberately much more sparse, with twisted anguished angles and distorted and mournful figures. It depicts the crucifixion and is designed to look sad and bony looking in order to convey emotional anguish.
Born in 1852, Antoni Gaudi was an interesting person. When his marriage proposal to his sweetheart was turned down he sought solace in his religion and the Sagrada Familia became his life's work. He poured almost every moment into the design of this amazing building. His designs were extremely innovative, so much so that many parts of the building weren't actually able to completed when the building began to be constructed. Gaudi had faith that technological progress would enable his vision to be completed, and as it turned out, he was right. He was also a vegetarian at a time this was considered highly eccentric. He took great care of the safety and well being of the workers in the church and made sure that there was a place for the children of the workers to go to school.
After having a good look at the exterior of the church we headed inside. It really is spectacular, with soaring ceilings and beautiful stained glass windows. There also happened to be an opera singer singing right when we walked in.The acoustics of the church are also amazing.
The stained glass windows are absolutely gorgeous and different parts of the church have been designed to light up at certain times of the day and times of the year, depending on the natural light shining into the church. The colored light also reflects across the church.
The numbers of beams and windows are also influenced by significant numbers from the bible. The 18 towers of the church represent figures from the bible. There are symbols everywhere in the Sagrada Familia.
Gaudi took inspiration from many forms in the natural world, and the design of the church is very influenced by nature.
Gaudi stated that nature was his greatest inspiration. He studied plants, animals and even stars, and worked out geometric features from nature, and incorporated them into his designs for the Sagrada Familia. Honey comb, flowers, trees, stars are inspirations behind designs. The beams of the church are built like the trunks of giant trees. The church is designed along curved lines because Gaudi noted that straight lines don't exist in nature.
One feature I particularly liked was a giant conch shell which was used for holy water.
We then walked under the church where there were displays of Gaudi's designs for the Sagrada Familia. There was also a viewing window where visitors could look in and see the architects planning the ongoing construction of the building. As I headed out, I saw a large piece of a tower being hoisted into place.
From America, I headed over to Spain again and visited Barcelona. It is a beautiful city, and I particularly like the cobbled gothic quarter. It is full of tiny, twisting alley ways and obscure shops.
In August I went on a hiking trip to the tablelands in the Sierra Nevada mountains in Sequoia National Park. It was organised by the legendary Sierra club, an amazing organisation that has an amazing history of fighting for the environment as well as founding the world's first national park. It also runs a lot of great hiking trips in America, and in other parts of the world. The tablelands are a special area, and the Sierra club was able to get special permits so we were some of the privileged view who could go to this amazing place.
Our campsite was amongst huge Sequoia trees, and not too far from the largest Sequoia, and largest tree in the world.
The next morning we packed up and had breakfast. We saw a black bear, wandering nearish the campsite. They are attracted by foodscraps and rubbish that campers leave behind, a good reminder not to do this!
We packed up and headed off up the track, our packs at their heaviest because of all our food for the next few days. We hadn't been going long before we saw a deer just off the trail. I don't know which type they are, but they are much less timid than NZ deer, that's for sure!
One thing I really like about hiking in America is the amount of wildflowers all the way along the path. I think there was also some kind of wild peppermint that smelt amazing as we brushed past.
We stopped for lunch overlooking an amazing view of the Sierra Nevada mountains, we'd already gained a lot of height. The sky was blazing blue, it was hot and dry, typically perfect Californian weather!
For some reason I'd decided to pack a whole mango and a lime, not the most lightweight snack, but I've got to say, it was pretty delicious sitting in the sun and eating a mango with fresh lime juice squeezed on it at lunch.
We got to our campsite in good time. It was a great spot, a lot of a higher elevation than our first campsite. There were also terrific views across the valley.
The next day I woke up bright and early and wandered around the campsite taking photos of the dawn. We headed off, wading through a field of wildflowers, and meandering on upwards.
We headed on upwards steadily. As we climbed higher, the hillside started to turn into the granite tablelands. We even started to see some patches of residual snow. The air was crisp because of the altitude, but the sun shone brightly, the granite radiated heat and the sky was bright blue. It was a beautiful day.
After a lot of uphill climbing we got to a beautiful turquoise blue alpine lake, (or tarn as we'd say in New Zealand). This was our campsite. After all the uphill in the sun, it was also nice to take a dip in the incredibly clear water. This is a place that only the lucky few are able to visit.
The next day was a shorter day across the tablelands.
Our group headed out over the table lands, up hill and down dale. At one point we found sign of what we think might have been a mountain lion. I was kind of curious to see one, although I hear that they sometimes attack humans. We arrived at our camp and put up our tents, and enjoyed the beautiful sunset. There was a crescent moon as the sunset, and after that we saw a huge number of stars. One of our group was an astronomer so was able to share a whole lot of useful information about space the Northern stars (especially interesting for someone from the Southern hemisphere like me!).
The next day we set off, and we were heading downhill from the tablelands this time. It was another gorgeous day. We also saw a snake, an unusual sight for me, because of course there are no snakes in New Zealand. In some places we had undulating granite steps to walk down, because it was so dry, it was easy to walk on, but I think it would be slippery in the rain.
As we dropped in altitude, we started to see more trees and plants. We stopped for a break beside a beautiful stream.
There were more and more trees as we started to head back into the bushline. We kept heading downhill until we got to a really cute little log cabin. This is where the ranger stays.
We got to our campsite which was located near a lovely lake and set up our tents and then went for a swim in the lake, which was delightful after such a hot day.
At about 4am it started to pour with rain, the first rain we had seen on the whole trip. It was good timing because it was our last day. The rain cleared and the sun came out and there was a beautiful rainbow above the lake.
We kept on heading down until we were back amongst the tall Sequoia trees. On the last few minutes of the trail were the same as the start of the track. I saw a deer again, it was completely unafraid and stared at me curiously. It might have been the one I saw on the first day.
The next day I headed out, very bright and early, for some climbing in Yosemite valley which isn't too far from Sequoia National park.
We did some slab climbing near Camp 4 in the hot sun. It was so hot it was almost too hot to touch the granite. Even just a taste of the climbing on the seas of granite in Yosemite was great. I'd love to go back one day and do more climbing there though.
From Europe I flew back to the United States and spent the summer mostly in Wisconsin. It is very hot in the American midwest in summer, so different to the cold winters. It is also very leafy and green. Continents have such different climates to Islands, like the one I grew up in.
From Litochoro I took an overnight but to Istanbul, Turkey, where I would fly out. Sadly I didn't have a lot of time to spend in Turkey, but I still got to see some amazing things. We arrived at the border between Greece and Turkey at about 4:30am, and got to hear the Muslim call to prayer as the light started to grow on the horizon.
While I saw there I went to the former Royal palace and saw the famous blue mosque.
The Blue mosque was also beautiful. I would have liked to spend more time in Turkey. Maybe I will get a chance to go back and explore some more one day. It was still a wonderful glimpse into an amazing country.
I am a traveller from New Zealand. My blog is to inform friends and family about my adventures. I hope you enjoy it!