Exploring Marrakesh: Awesome airport, nice weather, fun flea markets and souks

If you want to soak in vibrant colors and hues, go to Marrakesh. Every plate, wall, sign – even horse carts – are magnet to the eyes.

Because in the end, you won’t remember the time you spent working in the office or mowing your lawn. Climb that goddamn mountain.” – Jack Kerouac

Marrakesh (or Marrakech) is a former imperial city in western Morocco, is a major economic center and home to mosques, palaces and gardens. The medina is a densely packed, walled medieval city dating to the Berber Empire, with mazelike alleys where thriving souks (marketplaces) sell traditional textiles, pottery and jewelry. A symbol of the city, and visible for miles, is the Moorish minaret of 12th-century Koutoubia Mosque. It is also the 4th largest city of Morocco after Casablanca, Fez and Tangier. *

As Royal Air Maroch taxied in the runway from Casablanca to Marrakesh, this scene bid us goodbye. Doesn’t this looked like a copy of a scene in Casablanca, the movie?

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Flying from Juba, South Sudan to Cairo, Egypt, I arrived in the morning in Casablanca, Morocco and has to wait for 5 more hours for my domestic flight to Marrakech. It was almost a 2-day flight but was made easier with the smooth flights via Egypt Air. The only ruffle was the long wait for the car to take us to our transit hotel in Cairo and the much longer wait for our passports at the Egypt Air office. Otherwise, the trip was hassle-free.

Photography book The Art of the New Airport has named Marrakesh Airport as one of the most beautiful in the world. Indeed, it is.

I was in awe of the Menara Airport. It is one of the most beautiful that I have landed into. It is said to have a capacity of accommodating 19 aircrafts and over four million passengers in a year. The immigration process was fast and in no time, I was out waiting for my taxi driver. I requested from the hotel and the cost was 200 Dirhams (USD20).

This profusion of lights greet the passengers warmly upon arrival and look even more fascinating at night.

Hotel Racine located in Gueliz did not disappoint. The room was spacious and clean with a small verandah that gave me a view of the sunset and the daily lives of the people. Breakfast was a wonderful treat – usually with fresh juices, an array of bread and fruits. There were choices of coffee and tea. The Moroccan tea is not to be missed! I agreed with one tourist who said she is a latte-person but in Morocco, she fell in love with their tea.

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Hotel Racine’s location was very strategic. It is also walking distance to many landmarks, shopping areas and event the Catholic Church.

The hotel lobby. It is fully booked most of the time so I got lucky to have reserved early. Staff are friendly and would patiently explain the direction where you want to go.

People, from hotel staff to drivers, would often laugh every time I ask if it is safe for me to walk alone. Indeed, I have never felt threatened while exploring on my own, even with or without a crowd. The Moroccan traders are among the friendliest! In some countries in Asia, shop owners will scold you taking pictures without buying anything. It is free advertising!

All things nice and beautiful – find them in Marrakesh’s souks (shops) – where every item draws the eyes. It was relaxing!

I learned one needs to bring a light coat or a jacket all the time when traveling on March. The mornings can be warm but the afternoons can be chilly. Depending on where you come from and your tolerance to cold weather, it is best to be prepared. I am glad I brought my thermal shirt with me, it was nicer to layer on top of it. You get the best of both on March and I was happy I came at the best of times.

I almost got tempted bring these plates home. It was too hard to refuse. I am glad my resolve did not break down. Next time, plates (when I have learned to cook)!

Few shops accept US dollars but currency exchange shops are in every corner. Even hotels would prefer the Moroccan Dirhams when you are settling your bill, or pay in credit card. It is also smart to have smaller bills. Taxi rides would often range from MAD 30-50 around the city. Most drivers’ shift ends at 7:00pm but they would gladly refer you to the next if you feel comfortable of the service. I prefer taxis recommended by the hotel but in some instances I just flagged on the road and agreed on the fare before I got in.

Carpet overload! Remember your flying carpet story? I got reminded. If you are into expensive handwoven carpets with amazing intricate Berber designs, they’re waiting for you.

If you are around on a Sunday, never ever miss the choir from the Church of Holy Martyrs at its 10:00am mass. They were amazing you would think you attended a concert with a variety of African instruments being played, including the drums, of course. A lot of tourists and visitors have been raving about this choir. The mass is in French but there are translated guides in a variety of languages from English, German, Italian, etc. I met few Filipinos on my way out of the church.

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The Church of the Holy Martyrs in Rue de Imam Ali in Gueliz. Conveniently a walking distance from the hotel. The church was said to have been built in 1928.

The beautiful mosque in Rue de Imam Ali facing the Catholic church.

They said the mosque and the church facing each other is a testament how the city and the country values diversity and respect of the people’s beliefs, traditions and faith. Morocco is said to have over 50,000 Catholics out of its 36 million population which is 99 percent Muslims.

Jemaa el-Fnaa is a square and market place in Marrakesh’s medina quarter. It remains the main square of Marrakesh, used by locals and tourists. It is also known as the big square and fills up in the afternoon with people. This is said to be one of the busiest in Africa.

Next blog: Getting lost in the labyrinth of the souks!

*From Google and Wikipedia

Never assume you’ve seen the best of the Philippines: Visit Siargao if you haven’t, my latest dream paradise!

By Diana Marie Laguardia-Paquingan

Maddie goes island-hopping! Siargao is one of the best places you can introduce your precociously cute toddlers to the beauty of nature. Just one headache, they will not leave.

Siargao Island, Philippines – I long wanted to visit this rising island paradise but the over 12 hours of travel from Davao City with a baby in tow kept me from going. As soon as Philippine Airlines announced its direct flight from Davao City to Siargao earlier this year, I grabbed the opportunity and booked us a flight instantly.

“Siargao is a tear-drop shaped island in the Philippine Sea situated 800 kilometers southeast of Manila in the province of Surigao del Norte. It has a land area of approximately 437 square kilometres.” – Wikipedia

I never had a difficult time planning our itinerary since I already asked few friends who have been there. There are also many blogs about Siargao available in the internet. Once just a haven for surfers, it is fast emerging as a premier tourist destination. It even has a its own box-office hit movie.

A few friendly tips and reminders before heading out to the island:

A perfect break for a working mom. It is hard to get over Siargao’s serene loveliness.

A family trip and a time alone, throw in an amazing atmosphere like this, are among the best times of life.

Of course, the no brainer, bring cash. Wads if you can, and help boost the local economy. I mean, your credit cards might be at rest for awhile.

Never rely on your bank cards – debit, savings or whatever. There is only one ATM in General Luna and sometimes goes offline. Most restaurants and shops do not accept credit/debit which is quite a problem for travellers.

“Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.” – Helen Keller

Bring a family member you can share the fun and responsibility. This is my top advice for a family vacation with kids, tag along your sister or brother for an extra hand in baby sitting and in — taking photos. 🙂

Bonding time with a perfect backdrop. It is hard to find fault in Siargao. You’ll love every bit of it.

Bring sunscreen. Lots of them. Too much sun is too challenging to handle. It can also be expensive from the local shops.

Book your accommodation ahead. In my case, I booked our accommodation five months earlier because hotels and bed-n-breakfasts easily sell out. Don’t just walk in and expect to find an accommodation that’s exactly what you wanted for a holiday – and the budget that you have.

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in you sail. Explore. Dream. Discover.” – Mark Twain

My husband Sherman takes his quiet time. Must be tough balancing two sea urchins in his life now.

Take care of the environment. Limit the use of plastic cups and straws and be mindful of your trash. Do not litter. Throw them in proper garbage boxes. It was a relief that a lot of groups are trying to keep the island protected. When you go visit, help maintain instead of becoming a problem.

“Take only memories, leave only footprints.” – Chief Seattle

No to plastic straws! Siargao ingenuously uses this environment-friendly coconut straw for your drinking needs.

We feel fortunate to spend a lot of fun times with our 2-year old daughter Maddie while she still have a lot of time for us.

Our itinerary

Day 1: Arrival and quick tour around General Luna and Cloud 9. General Luna is mostly where the shops and restaurants are located. Entrance fee to Cloud 9 is P50/head (USD1).

Our Maddie is now a certified sea urchin.

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Cloud 9 lives up to its name.

Day 2: Magpupungko Rock and tidal pool +Sugba Lagoon. We rented a jeepney for P2500 (USD50) to take us to these spots, which is more comfortable than a tricyle and less expensive than a van that roughly costs P4000/day (USD80). It costs P1200/head (USD24) for a small boat to take you to the lagoon.

Siargao’s colorful jeepneys, a classic Philippine ride, is a comfortable alternative for a tour.

Pristine waters – we are blessed not to travel far to enjoy this!

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Having a toddler in an island trip is double the fun. Maddie is used to traveling before she turned one-year old she is now a wanderlust.

“Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But that’s okay. The journey changes you; it should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart, and on your body. You take something with you. Hopefully, you leave something good behind.” – Anthony Bourdain

Day 3: Island Hopping day. I booked a reliable island hopping tour guide, My Siargao Guide (check them out in Facebook) and paid around P1000/head (USD20) to take us into 3 island, Guyam, Naked and Daku Islands.

Siargao is peace. Picture perfect scenery combined with quiet and calm.

Our little one’s tiny legs never got tired exploring the island.

Day 4: Horseback riding and beach bumming. My cousin Tina LaGuardia-Sarraga’s family runs Magic Rides, a fun horseback riding service along the shores of Siargao. Click on the link and make a reservation. It was an amazing first-time experience for Maddie!

“Because in the end, you won’t remember the time you spent working in the office or mowing your lawn. Climb that goddamn mountain.” – Jack Kerouac

Horseback by the sea! Maddie took her first pony ride with beautiful cousin Simone courtesy of Magic Rides.

Where to eat? La Carinderia, Harana, Bravo Surf resort, Kermit (best pizza in the island), Shaka, The Dirty Kitchen

“Blessed are the curious for they shall have adventures.” – Lovelle Drachman

You are in for a pizza treat in Kermit. Don’t miss it!

Traveling also made Maddie easy to adjust to weather and different conditions.

The Author

Diane is Admissions Officer at Tebow-Cure Hospital in Davao City, Philippines. She also operates a 2-bedroom AirBnB place right at the heart of the city.