Joined June 2017 Message
  • Day41

    Back to Barcelona Part 2

    September 22 in Spain ⋅ ⛅ 25 °C

    And so all good things must come to an end. We ended our Spain - Morocco - Andorra adventure where we began ... in Barcelona. We had one last night in Barcelona before we commenced our 27-hour journey back to Brisbane, with a five-hour stopover in Doha, Qatar.

    Next stop: Brisbane
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  • Day40

    Our Andorran Adventure

    September 21 in Andorra ⋅ ⛅ 21 °C

    Situated in the Pyrenees mountains between Spain and France, the Principality of Andorra is only a 3-hour bus ride from Barcelona-Sants. The last time we took a bus up mountains we were in the Andes in South America, and that wasn't a great experience for our stomachs. This time, we were prepared with motion sickness tablets. While there were some windy roads along the way, we got to our destination with full tummies intact.

    Similar to Barcelona, the official language spoken in Andorra is Catalan, which, to me, sounds like a mix between Spanish, French, and a pinch of Portuguese. Bon Dia! Due to its proximity to Spain and France, there are many ex-pats living in Andorra, making up a population of about 78,000 (40,000 residing in Andorra la Vella and surrounding areas).

    When we checked in, we spoke a little Spanish with the receptionist (there’s no way that we could speak in Catalan). She responded in English, which tended to be common along our adventures. At one point, she paused and said “do you understand Spanish more than English?”. We explained that we speak English in Australia, and assured her that we were native speakers 🤣.

    With little time to spare, we set out to explore the streets of Andorra la Vella. The city is small and can easily be traversed by foot. We quickly realised that Andorra was the duty-free capital of the region. It could also be the casting location for the next instalment of Cocoon. Spanish and French grey nomads wandered the streets ready to snag a souvenir or stock up on duty-free cigarettes and alcohol.

    We also soon realised that the temperature in Andorra can change drastically throughout the day. When we arrived in the late afternoon, with the sun beating down on us, we roasted like chooks on a rotisserie. But by evening, we were grabbing cardies to keep us warm. The temperature dropped to five degrees #5degreesinthepyrenees. Needless to say that Princess Goldilocks was only satisfied for a brief moment when it was just right.

    While Jason seems to have escaped the Lost World (for now), it was my turn to enter. I was convinced that my sunglasses were stolen from reception when we checked in. It turns out they were buried under all of my crap in the hotel. But it was a great excuse to go in search for a duty-free pair.

    The following day, we continued our shopping pursuits, wandering the central shopping district. We stumbled upon a clothing store, next to our hotel, with lots of sales. We couldn’t help ourselves, and walked away with half the store. The next challenge is getting it home. Where is DHL when you need them!

    Next stop: back to Barcelona
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  • Day38

    Back to Barcelona Part 1

    September 19 in Spain ⋅ ⛅ 24 °C

    From Fes, we headed back to Barcelona for the final leg of our adventure. Despite flying the 2.5-hour journey with Ryan Air, the flight was surprisingly uneventful: no delays or crash landings. We were expecting Fes Airport to be a tiny tin shed in a paddock. But it was a proper airport with proper check-in facilities, although you have to print your booking information so that it can double as your boarding card, contrary to what it says.
    While face masks are apparently obligatory onboard, no-one except us seemed to be wearing a mask. Ryan Air staff were not to be seen for the entire journey, besides doing the safety gymnastics demonstration: exits are at the front, middle and rear. It really should be an Olympic sport the way they flap their arms in the air with such theatrics.

    By the time we had cleared customs, our bags were ready to be collected. This gave Jason hope that we may get to our hotel and out to the shops before they closed. But alas, it took about an hour on the airport train and then a transfer on the metro. We seemed to have taken the scenic route, although there wasn’t much to look at. Jason thought we were travelling for an eternity. Like a child on family holidays, he continued to ask the question: “are we there yet?”.

    We finally arrived and checked in. With a quick dress change, we were pounding the pavements of Barcelona in pursuit of a bargain and a beverage. It had been a little over 4 weeks since we were in Barcelona, and there was a noticeable change in the weather. For our entire trip, Princess Goldilocks (aka Jason McGoogle) has been struggling with the heat. Now, Goldilocks is feeling a little cool … no, hang on, he’s hot again.

    On day two, before setting out to acquire some souvenirs, we went in search of a barbershop so that we could return home with a cool Spanish hairdo, ¡qué guay! We found a trendy barbershop around the corner from our hotel. It was probably the first time we have had a proper conversation in Spanish. Jason had his hair cut by Alejandro from Puerto Rico, and Ivan from Argentina cut mine. Ivan was from just north of Mendoza, a city that we had visited five years ago and which we could reminisce about with him. He’d been living in Barcelona for the last six years.

    As Ivan was finishing my haircut, I overheard Jason and Alejandro chatting. Alejandro asked Jason if he liked Aussie girls and he answered in the affirmative before he realised what he was agreeing to. Divorced in Marrakech, a new wife in Fes, and now it seems he's on the hunt for a new girlfriend in Barcelona 🤣🤣.

    Prior to getting our haircut, as we walked back to our hotel, we heard a cry for help from a guy on the street corner. At first, we thought two guys were having a flight, and so, we started to take a wide berth away from them. Soon, we realised that one of the guys was being pickpocketed, as his Rolex watch fell to the ground. The thief quickly recouped the goods and took flight. I saw he didn’t have a weapon and tried to obstruct his path, but he just wacked my arm as he flew past, with the owner in hot pursuit. With the speed that the thief was travelling, I doubt he would have been caught. It reminded us to be a bit more vigilant.

    With over 22,000 steps, we retired to our hotel with all of our spoils. We decided to take a later bus to our next destination so that we could get a sleep-in. But someone or something in this universe doesn’t want me to sleep. At 4am, the fire alarms were set off. Here we go again! Will this be a repeat of Ibiza? I poked my head out into the corridor, and there was no smoke, no people … nothing. We rang reception to let them know, only to be told that they couldn't stop the alarms and that "it was okay". The alarms continued for another 10 to 15 minutes before they stopped. I'm not sure if the fire alarms were worse than the wailing sounds for the call to prayer at quarter to five each morning in Morocco! Not happy Jan! Oh well, I guess there’s plenty of time to sleep when we’re dead.

    Next stop: Andorra la Vella.
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  • Day36

    Frolicking around Fes

    September 17 in Morocco ⋅ ☀️ 29 °C

    Fes, founded in the late eighth century CE by Idris ibn Abdallah, is a 3-hour train trip from Rabat. Fes, similar to Marrakech, is centred around the old Medina, Fes el Bali, with little laneways and alleys connected to houses and markets. Apparently there are over 900 laneways in the Medina, according to the tour guide that struck up a conversation with us as we waited for the train in Rabat.

    We arrived at Fes train station, and as the tour guide in Rabat advised, we headed away from the train station to catch a taxi and avoid the inflated tourist prices. As we walked away, we tried flagging down taxis as they drove by, but most were already taken. One taxi stopped and saw the address and refused to take us. We continued on our way and found another taxi rank but none of the drivers were familiar with the Riad location. Eventually, another driver came along and was willing to take us to our accommodation.

    We were dropped off at the Bab Bou Jeloud gate and we walked the five minutes to our Riad, laden like a pack-mule. I’m certain we could get a job within the Medina transporting goods all over the Souk, instead of the donkeys that roam up and down the alleys.

    It wasn’t long before a young Moroccan guy came up to us and followed us to our Riad, offering to take us to his mother’s kitchen for food. He stood next to us as the Riad Manager opened the door. The Manager asked if we knew the Moroccan guy and we replied in the negative. Apparently the young guy was part of the Moroccan mafia. Fortunately, he never bothered us again.

    We were warned that we would get lost easily in the Medina and that the locals will offer, for a fee, to escort you out. Jason McGoogle had no problems in navigating the streets of the Medina. In fact, the Souk in Marrakech was much more chaotic. At least motorbikes aren’t throughout the Medina; it’s only horses and donkeys that you have to contend with.

    We wandered the streets of the Medina in search of some Moroccan wares to bring home. While the spruiking wasn’t as aggressive as Marrakech, the shopkeepers were on the hunt to coax people into their shops.

    We stumbled upon three Moroccan women who worked in a perfume and oil shop. We were in need of more Arabic oils so we browsed her merchandise in pursuit of our preferred scents. We introduced ourselves and soon started chatting about all kinds of things. The main shop attendant was Yousra, and she was assisted by Fatima and Hajar. We were our charismatic selves which earned us a discount, although I'm sure it still wasn’t Moroccan prices. The discount was because we were “gentil” (lovely/sweet/charming). Fatima said that I had a “gentil visage” (a lovely face).

    Both Yousra and Hajar spoke English, along with Arabic and French, but Fatima only spoke Arabic. With an Moroccan Arabic accent, she said, in English, “I don’t speak English”. Soon she was on Instagram, following Jason. She scrolled through Jason’s feed, liking every post, even before they could load. Internet connection is not great in Morocco, and even worse inside of the markets of the Medina. I think Jason has found his new Moroccan wife to replace the wife he divorced in Marrakech.

    Before we walked away with half of her Arabic oils, I noticed that Yousra was wearing braces. We compared notes between old school braces and my Invisalign. When I pulled out the aligners, Fatima countered this with detaching a set of her eye lashes. She had about three or four sets of them, fluttering from her eyes.

    I noticed that there seemed to be quite a few people on the streets with braces and wondered if there was good dental care in Morocco. When we struck up a conversation with a guy selling leather goods, he explained that it cost him 2000€, but he had been wearing them for three years because he didn’t have the money during the pandemic to pay for it.

    He spoke perfect English, and was on for the chat to improve his speaking. We were only too happy to partake. He was a smart man and had studied sociology at University. Now, he was the store manager of the small shop in the Souk. Another shopkeeper told us that she had studied at University, but it seemed that they couldn't get other jobs outside of the markets. It seemed such a waste of their talents.

    The leather guy gave us the lowdown on the Medina. We’re glad that we bought from his shop and didn’t fall victim to a tour group visiting the tannery. Apparently the tour guides get 60% of the cut, and that’s why the prices are so inflated. He even admitted that the sellers set the price based upon a person's nationality. If you are from Australia, UK, USA or Japan, they set the prices much higher.

    We finally managed to drag ourselves out of the market carrying our spoils for the day: teapots, tea cosies, glasses, leather belts, and cushion covers (and the list continues … ). The next problem was going to be packing everything, even with the addition of our new backpacks. Let’s hope that everything survives the next leg of our adventure.

    Next stop: back to Barcelona.
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  • Day35

    Racing about Rabat

    September 16 in Morocco ⋅ ☀️ 25 °C

    It’s only an hour train trip to travel the 90-kilometres from Casablanca to Rabat. Rabat, founded in the 12th century by the Almohads, is the capital city and the administrative hub of the country. When we boarded the train, people were already sitting in our seats, enjoying the first class carriage. But I'm not too sure what made this first class. It looked like any other suburban train. With some pigeon French and pointing, we figured out the seating arrangements.

    We decided to include Rabat as a stopover to see another part of the country and to break up the journey to Fes. This time, there were no dramas with check-in. Immediately, the atmosphere seemed different to Marrakech and Casablanca. The people seemed friendly and the city looked relatively clean.

    We had little time to waste so we set out for the old Medina and Kasbah. On our way, we stumbled upon the Martyrs Cemetery, a sea of graves near the seaside. The cemetery is on prime land near the beach, and it is divided into the elite versus the commoners. The differences between the classes is visibly evident. The gravestones of the elite are neatly arranged, while the commoners section seems to be in disarray and includes unmarked burials.

    Unlike Marrakech, the Medina was subdued, with very little spruiking going on. It may have helped that it was the Sabbath and most people were at mosque until the afternoon (except many of the shopkeepers). This gave us an opportunity to acquire some Morrocan wares at a fraction of the Marrakech prices. We walked away with a beautifully decorated silver teapot, with matching tray and glasses. The hunt is on to find matching accessories.

    The following day, we returned early to the Medina to continue our shopping spree, leaving the markets with new leather jackets. Now, the issue was going to be how we were going to get it all home. Easily solved. Let’s buy new backpacks.

    Laden like a pack-mule, we checked out of our hotel and made our way to the train station for our next leg of our Moroccan misadventures. It would have been handy to actually have a mule to carry some of our stuff.

    We had some time to kill so we rested with our entourage of bags. As usual, a stranger was drawn to me, mumbling something in French. The typical conversation ensued; we spoke about where we were from and how we can’t speak French well. The conversation nearly always ends with a request for money. Apparently I'm not to talk anymore, otherwise a stranger may cut my throat. It seems a bit dramatic, Jason.

    By the way, Jason’s Lost World continues to escalate. This time, he thought he'd lost his Kindle. Fortunately, I’ve rid myself of the dreaded Lost World syndrome.

    Next stop: Fes.
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  • Day34

    Here’s Looking At You, Casablanca

    September 15 in Morocco ⋅ ☀️ 26 °C

    Heading north, we travelled the 230-kilometres from Marrakech to Casablanca by train. We’d been told not to bother with Casablanca by a few different friends; but, we decided to make a pitstop and break up the journey.

    We boarded the train and found our first-class seats. Jason was expecting a high-speed train but this was more a rickety old train that would plod for two and a half hours to our final destination. First class was just a booth of 6 seats. I’m not sure what second class looked like, but everyone was vying to sit in first class.

    Two Moroccan women came and sat in the spare seats next to us, but when the ticket inspector came along, it turned out they had purchased second class tickets. The younger woman argued with the inspector and refused to move to their allocated seat. The inspector gave up and went on his way. I overheard her say to the French couple next to her that she was an art dealer, buying art for the wealthy. When the inspector came back, he had a few more words to say to her, but she continued to ignore him.

    Since we were only staying overnight in Casablanca, we opted for a hotel near the train station. This way, we could avoid the bartering process with taxi drivers. However, I'm not too sure it was the best neighbourhood. And in true Jason and Ricky fashion the hotel was located on the opposite side of the train station, which meant walking a little further than expected. It wasn’t just a skip across the road. Fortunately, the temperature was a little cooler in Casablanca, not that it helped with Jason’s man-o-pause. Princess Goldilocks likes it just right – not too hot, not too cold.

    We arrived at the hotel to check-in, but there was a problem with our booking. Of course, there was; it wouldn't be a Jason and Ricky adventure without at least a little bit of drama. The hotel was trying to charge us for the room when we had already paid. After a bit of back and forward, the issue was resolved and we were allowed to check-in. Fortunately, Jason didn't need to go full Karen – Get me the manager!

    With little time to waste, we headed out to wander the surrounding areas. Many of the buildings looked like they needed a little bit of care and attention. As Morocco’s largest city, with over 4 million people, Casablanca has little in the way of tourist attractions. It is more an economic and business hub.

    The main tourist attraction in Casablanca is the Hassan II mosque, the second largest in Africa and the seventh largest in the world. It was commissioned by the previous King Hassan II, involving more than 10,000 artisans and at a cost of about 585 million euros (866 million Australian dollars). The mosque was funded by 12 million people and loans from across the world. Meanwhile they needed to abandon the expansion of the train network due to a lack of money. As an atheist, it always puzzles me how so many religions preach about helping the poor, and yet so much wealth is poured into monuments rather helping people survive this harsh world. But then, there are many things in this world that don’t make sense to me.

    Next stop: Rabat.
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  • Day30

    Marching about Marrakech

    September 11 in Morocco ⋅ ⛅ 37 °C

    From Maspalomas, we set out for Marrakech, travelling budget airline Binter Canarias. They were the only airline that travelled direct from Gran Canaria to Morocco so we were prepared to go no-frills. We arrived early in case check-in took longer than expected. But it was probably the easiest check-in process so far. Vueling could learn a few things. The woman at counter 124 was a machine. Before she finalised one group she already had another lined up. “Siguiente en la cola” (next in line).

    I was expecting a small aircraft, and it was, with only about 25 rows. If I stood on my tippy toes, my head hit the roof. Take-offs and landings were going to be interesting. But surprisingly, the flight was fairly smooth, although I was worried that the plane was a repurposed Fisher and Paykel washing machine.

    As we got off the plane, a short Moroccan man came running out of the plane towards the airport shuttle bus. Jason’s Lost World strikes again! This time, Jason had left his sunglasses on-board the plane.

    After queuing for immigration, we needed to begin the bartering process with the taxi drivers. Due to colonialism, French is still widely spoken (and advertising and signage are all in French). Hello high school French!

    Taxi drivers, in our experience, are the most likely people to rip off tourists. You’re at their mercy, especially if you don't speak the language, and you really need to get to your accommodation. Our hard bartering paid off – we were only ripped off 50 dirham (AU$7) 😂.

    We were staying in the old Medina, constructed in the late 11th century by the Almoravid dynasty. The Medina is filled with Riads, historical elite dwellings that have been converted into hotels/homestays. We were greeted by the Riad Manager, Soufiane, and the owner, Hakim, who was a French Moroccan living in Dubai with his Ukrainian wife and two children. We got the low-down on everything.

    We headed to the Big Square (Jamaa el fna), the epicentre of the Medina. We’d spent the last six days in little old Maspalomas and now we had been transported to another world that was almost a sensory overload of smells, sounds and sights. Donkey- and horse-drawn carts are still used in Marrakech. And you can smell it in the air. At first, I thought surely people aren’t just pissing all over the square. No, just horses and donkeys.

    Connected to the Big Square are the entrances to the Souk, a maze of shops selling all kinds of wares from teapots and rugs to fragrances and counterfeit “designer” clothes. The counterfeits were really bad. The Moroccans should stick to what they're good at: teapots, pottery, leather making, jewellery, fragrances etc.

    The shopkeepers in the Souk were really aggressive in their sales techniques. I think they’re even more aggressive than the shopkeepers in Thailand's tourist areas (or even anywhere in India). One encounter left Jason with bruises along his arm from a shopkeeper trying to drag him into his shop. In the back of our minds, we had the Absolutely Fabulous episode, Morocco, in our heads where Saffy gets abducted and sold into slavery. I wonder how many camels I’ll get for Jason 🤣🤣.

    Outside of the Souk, the shopkeepers seemed less aggressive. We had a lovely chat to one woman who sold Moroccan fragrances, oils and spices. She called the spices her Berber crack. Whenever she had a craving, she could take some of the herbs and spices and sniff it like it was crack.

    To get to the Big Square, we needed to follow a narrow lane that connected a rabbit-warren of alleyways. Each day we would traipse up and down the lane, weaving between motorbikes and donkeys, passing by the same spruikers coaxing us to look at their wares or dine in their restaurants.

    One guy, dressed in traditional Berber attire, tried to guess our nationality, a game that they all play, and not too dissimilar to the games played in South East Asia. Usually it’s a tactic to get you to stop and talk (and also so they know what price to pitch). After going through almost the entire list of countries in Europe, he was left unsure where we were from. The Berber Crack shopkeeper said we looked German, because we were tall, had blue/green eyes and had blondish hair.
    French and German were usually the first couple of guesses.

    The Berber guy was probably thrown when I responded in (bad) French, but obviously not bad enough to eliminate France as an option. The next day, we gave him enough clues that he guessed correctly. We took a look at his merchandise as a prize for winning the competition. But his pitch was way off. He tried to sell us two leather necklaces for AU$90. We quickly retreated, and he didn’t bother us, except to yell “Aussie, Aussie, Aussie” at us as walked by.

    Within the Big Square, there were all kinds of stalls during the day, along with snake charmers and monkey handlers. There were numerous stalls in the centre of the square that sold freshly squeezed fruit juice.

    Similar to the sellers in the Souk, the fruit juice sellers were competing with others for every person who wandered into their peripheral vision. Usually, we would say nothing and keep our eyes diverted. As soon as they spot you looking at anything they pounce on your like Tigger from Winnie the Pooh. It made shopping an interesting sport. One of the juice boys yelled at us to come to their stall, and when we ignored him he asked why we didn't want to buy from him. Before we could respond another juice boy yelled in English “because they don't like you”. We all cracked up and then went on with our day.

    On our second day, we headed to the Bahia palace and gardens, which were begun by Si Musa, grand vizier of Alaouite sultan Muhammad ibn Abd al-Rahman, in 1859 and continued by his son, Si Ba Ahmed ibn Musa, grand vizier of Sultan Moulay Abdelaziz. The family had risen to power from that status of black slaves due to their connection to the royal family. The palace included a number of Riads, some for the grand vizier's four wives and 24 concubines.

    After visiting the palace, we decided to explore parts of the new city of Marrakech. We set out for Guerliz, a district in the new city. There was a noticeable difference in atmosphere and architecture as soon as we stepped outside of the Medina boundaries.

    It is also impossible to travel to Morocco and not experience a hammam. In the old days, when not everyone had a bathroom in their house, the hammam was the place to bathe and get clean. It was also one of the few places women were historically allowed to visit outside of the home. Due to COVID, we decided not to go to a local hammam and instead went with a more upmarket take on the traditional hammam. Though, the treatment we opted for probably wasn't too traditional – I mean, eucalyptus isn't native to Morocco.

    To get to the spa, a Moroccan woman appeared at our Riad and guided us through the windy lanes of the Medina. When we arrived, we were ushered into a changing room, told to strip and put on some black see-through mesh panties. There wasn’t much left to the imagination!

    The hammam experience started with rubbing eucalyptus oil over our bodies. They left us there for a few minutes and then returned to pelt water at us. Rinse and repeat; this time with gommage (scrub). And we paid for this!

    I’ve never been too comfortable with strangers touching me, even for a foot massage. And especially in Asia when they bring out the stick and dig it into your foot. There’s something about it that makes me feel awkward. I feel like it’s almost a master-and-slave relationship. Anyway, I tried to put that aside.

    But really shouldn’t there be at least dinner with that kind of intimacy and heavy breathing. Jason said to me afterwards, “you seemed to enjoy the massage with all that moaning”. But that was the massage therapist not me. I laid uncomfortably on the massage table, losing feeling in my hands and arms. At one point, I thought that I might have been having a stroke.

    Fortunately, when we finished the hammam experience, the same woman showed us the way back to our Riad. Jason McGoogle thought that we didn't need her. Apparently he’d worked out the rabbit-warren. Except after the second left turn, he admitted he would have gone right.

    Early on in our Marrakech adventure, we found Mazel’s, a restaurant that served the best pitas filled with slow-cooked meats of your choice. Needless to say, we popped by either for lunch or dinner each day to try different items on the menu. On the third night, as we sat at Mazel's, Jason entered the Lost World, panicking that he’d been pickpocketed. But alas, his wallet was just in his pocket.

    After dinner each night, we gravitated to the Big Square to immerse ourselves in the crazy atmosphere that is the Medina. We watched the locals enjoying a meal, playing music or belly dancing. A group of Moroccan carnies were playing hoopla with a long stick and a rubber ring at the end. The end game was to snare a bottle and win a lucky dip prize.

    As we stood watching the hoopla game, a Moroccan man struck up a conversation with us. The first thing that came out of his mouth after we revealed that we are Australian was “kangaroo”, followed by “Sydney, Melbourne”. He said he liked Australia because it had pubs, something that was foreign to Morocco. The lack of pubs meant our livers have taken a little break from alcohol. I couldn’t justify the AU$7 for a 250ml bottle of beer – well, I did justify it once as an emergency 🤣. After a bit of banter, he invited us back to his house. Maybe he wanted to marry us off to his sisters. We politely made an excuse and headed back to our Riad.

    The topic of marriage came up when Jason was browsing in a shop. The shopkeeper asked Jason where his wife was. He replied that he was divorced, which was met with “how sad”. Jason said that he was happier now that he was divorced, and living a much better life without her 😂😂.

    Both premarital sex and same-sex acts carry heavy prison terms and fines in Morocco. But interestingly, Yves Saint Laurent, a very open gay man, set up home with his partner in Marrakech without any fuss from the authorities. I guess having lots of money helps. The museum, which was once Saint Laurent’s home, was closed for renovations so we could only visit his gardens.

    Jardín Majorelle was created by the French Orientalist artist Jacques Majorelle in 1923 and purchased by Saint Laurent in the 1980s. To be honest, the gardens were a little underwhelming. Many of the public gardens throughout Marrakech seemed more impressive.

    From the moment we arrived in Marrakech, we realised that obtaining money may be a challenge. The ATMs that we tried were either out of service or undergoing maintenance, and the money exchange didn't accept Australian dollars. Luckily, we had some Euros to tie us over until we got to a working ATM.

    The other issue with ATMs was the 2000-dirham (AU$28) transaction limit. On our third day, we tried to get money out of an ATM and the transaction appeared to have worked but no cash came out of the machine. We went into the bank and a Portuguese girl who had had the same thing happen a few minutes earlier was trying to chat to the bank personnel, who appeared to only speak French.

    Eventually, we found a machine that sort of worked. It only worked if you selected French language. Nothing happened if you chose English. The French have never really liked the English, have they?

    Another tourist tried to take money out of the machine next to us. We alerted him to the attachment on the card reader that appeared to be a credit card skimmer. He quickly removed his card and tried to use the same machine as us. We walked off to grab some gelato, and when we returned his card had been eaten by the machine. We surmised that he may have tried to select English and because nothing happened the machine took the card.

    We were aware of the many tourist scams in Marrakech that take you to leather shops or tanneries. Jason says that I talk too much to strangers but I can't help talking back to them. We were told by a young Moroccan guy that there was a Berber market and it was the last night before they go back to the Atlas Mountains. He gave us some directions and took off. However, he kept popping up along the way. In French, he kept saying that he was out to buy food for his family. He ended up leading us to a Berber tannery; and, when a guy offered us some mint to smell before entering, we realised that we were being taken on a tour of the tannery. We politely declined the offer and quickly retraced our steps, trying to lose the guy who led us there. Exit, stage left.

    Meanwhile as we tried to navigate back to the Big Square, the guy zoomed by us on the back of his mate's motorbike. Later, we saw him again in the Souk, and still he tried to get us to go to a hammam or get a massage.

    Since alcohol was off the menu, we turned our attention to the patisseries. We had high expectations that the French colonial influence may have lived on in Morocco. We found ourselves some baklava, which was bland and tasteless, and then a Moroccan bakery that sold millefeuille. We bit into it and the custard was banana favoured. Who puts banana in a millefeuille? (p.s it seems the British do). The dirty bastards!

    Next stop: stopover in Casablanca.
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  • Day24

    The Gran Canaria Getaway

    September 5 in Spain ⋅ ☀️ 27 °C

    After the hotel fire drama in Ibiza, we headed to the airport early. We didn't need any other dramas unfolding. As soon as we stepped onto the plane, the English woman sitting next to us struck up a conversation. She had lived in Sydney 20 years ago but now lived on Ibiza, dedicating her life to saving Ibiza's hippie lifestyle. As we took off, I got a run down on all of the island gods and goddesses. At one point, Jason kicked me, as a secret code for “this woman is loco”. As he did, she caught a glimpse of it, but it didn’t deter her from continuing her Ibiza tales.

    We were staying in Maspalomas not far from the Yumbo Centre, and a little walk to the Cita Shopping Centre. The Yumbo Centre would become the epicentre of our Gran Canaria getaway. After bouncing around Spain for the last month, we were looking forward to setting up camp for six days to bask in the sun, sand, sea and other shit 😂.

    Before arriving we didn’t have too many expectations. Gran Canaria is known for its black lava and white sand beaches, and also as a popular destination for the Brits. And based on all the signage in German, it seems the Germans too like to visit the island.

    On our first night, we wandered to the Cita Shopping Centre to grab a bite to eat and a little beverage to drink. One prominent theme on our holiday, apart from drinking and eating, has been mazes and labyrinths; the Cita Shopping Centre was no different. We ended up in the dungeons of the shopping centre, where another theme started to emerge. We noticed there was an unusual number of sex cinemas and sex/swingers clubs in the vicinity. It turns out that Gran Canaria is also a popular destination for British and German swingers. It reminded me of Magda Szubanski's and Peter Moon’s Full Frontal characters, Bob and Cheryl Ugly, who were avid neighbourhood watch champions, watching their neighbours for more than 8 hours at a stretch (https://youtu.be/_bBNyxqym-8). Exit, stage left!

    Most of the Island seems geared towards European tourists. The bars played British artists (or whenever we entered the room INXS or Sia would come on as if they knew the Aussies had arrived). The only exception was the cars booming with loud music, most blaring the sounds of Bad Bunny’s “Tití Me Preguntó”. That syncopated reggaeton beat is recognisable anywhere!

    The only Spanish spoken is by the shopkeepers, and even then Spanish is their second (third or fourth language). So there's been even less opportunity for us to practise our Spanish!

    Each night, we seemed to end up at the Yumbo Centre, and somehow managed to appear at Ricky’s Bar and Cabaret for the Drag Show. I mean it seems fitting that we ended up there. But the drag shows were really sub-par. Bad bingo drag queens imported from the UK seem to rule the roost in Maspalomas. By day, the Yumbo maze is a bustling shopping centre with all kinds of merchandise. By night, pubs and clubs for all persuasions are pumping.

    The beach (Playa del Inglés) was a little walk away from our hotel, and we probably needed a packed lunch for the trip. On our second day, we made the mistake of heading out too early in the blaring sun. Needless to say the shadow-hopper, Jason, managed to get to the beach without frying, unlike the burnt Brits, Bob and Cheryl Ugly, who displayed their battle wounds with pride. The skin on some dangled like a thread on their bali-inspired sarong or boob-tube bikini. I really just wanted to go over and rip it off like a wax strip.

    The dunes of Maspalomas are one of the main tourist destinations (that is, other than the swingers clubs). The dunes were even further than the beach but we decided to up the ante on our step count for the day. We only did that once, and never again. Instead we opted for the €4 taxi trip for all future dune adventures. We needed our energy to traverse through the desert sand dunes. The first time, our legs and calf muscles didn’t know what had hit them.

    In between visits to the beach and the dunes, we shopped, taking advantage of any bargains that were on offer. The only problem was how we were going to fit it into our bags. Packing next time is going to be a real treat!

    By Friday afternoon, our hotel had transformed into a gay pool party, for the fifth annual Freedom party. Men in skimpy swimsuits and oiled up torsos paraded around the pool. We sat back, sipped our mojitos and took in the views. Is it time for another mojito?

    By the way, the Lost World syndrome has spread like COVID and I'm now a victim too (but still trailing Jason).

    Next stop: Marrakech.
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  • Day20

    We’re going to Ibiza

    September 1 in Spain ⋅ ☁️ 30 °C

    Ever since Jason decided that he wanted to go to Ibiza for his birthday, he has had the Vengaboys' song “We’re going to Ibiza” in his head and has had it on high rotation. Finally, we were on our way to Ibiza for a party in the Mediterranean sea. But before we took off from Málaga, I popped by the trendy Barbershop around the corner from our accommodation to get a new hairdo. Refreshed with a very Latino cut – a zero to three fade – we were on our way to Ibiza.

    We got to the airport with plenty of time to spare, despite Jason panicking that we were going to be late. But the spare time was quickly eaten up, as we queued for over 45 minutes to check in, even though we had already checked in online. We had forgotten how painful it was to fly budget Vueling.

    As soon as we hit the ground in Ibiza, the party started. We had tickets to see Martin Garrix at Ushuaïa, a well-known club in Ibiza where almost all partygoers hang. We quickly realised that navigating the island may not be as easy as we first thought. Essentially, taxis are the most efficient way to get around. Ride share doesn’t exist, so you are at the mercy of the traditional taxi service. This proved more difficult to find as the hordes decended on any taxi that came by. Jason approached two French girls outside of our hotel and they happened to be going to Ushuaïa too. So we tagged along.

    As we pulled into Ushuaïa, a guy came up to us and asked if we could change a 20-euro note. Twenty minutes later, after we entered Ushuaïa, we caught sight of him. He was obviously under the influence of something more than a mojito or margarita. He’d taken off his shirt, had his eyes closed, and it looked like he was trying to keep imaginary walls from falling down, as he made small pulsing motions in the air. Now we know why he needed change.

    Prior to arriving at Ushuaïa, the club sent us the dress code. Guys couldn't enter shirtless or wear a vest. All the steroid gym bunnies were told to put on their shirts by security. But strangely enough women could wear next to nothing. Women wearing short shorts and bra tops dotted the landscape of the club. In front of us, one woman, who appeared to have had butt implants, wore a pair of denim shorts that covered a millimetre of her bum and the rest of the material had disappeared up her clacker. To quote the John Waters’ film 'Cry Baby': "hysterectomy pants I call them." The butt implants were obviously done to help distribute some of the weight from her breast augmentation, otherwise she would have toppled over. I'm not slut shaming her; it's just interesting the double standards when it comes to objectifying different genders.

    It became obvious that superficial appearances mattered more on the island. Faces filled with botox and fillers and that was just the Zoomers/Gen-Z in the audience at Ushuaïa. Influencers have marketed Ibiza and presented an idealised version. In reality, it is tired, overpriced and overrated. A bottle of water at Ushuaïa cost 12€ (AU$16) for a 300-millilitre bottle, while beer went for 15€ and basic spirits for 19€. Still, we enjoyed our time there.

    After a night out, we spent the next day exploring the old town. We sweltered, as Jason continued his quest for shade and a cool place to rest. Maybe it's the paws – the man-o-pause.

    The following night, we had tickets to Calvin Harris. As experienced Ushuaïa partygoers, we knew what to expect and teamed up with two girls from the Dominican Republic and Ecuador (but now live in Miami, Florida). This wouldn’t be the last time that we would see the girls.

    As we stood listening to the music, waiting for Calvin Harris to come on, three Scottish girls, Kylie, Amber Cornell and Tricia, weaved their way to our patch of the club. Kylie was a little vertically challenged and needed some assistance to see the stage. Jason let Kylie in front of us and this sparked the beginning of a new friendship. Kylie thought Jason was a hot Jason Donovan. Together they are Kylie and Jason - their rendition of Especially for You will be in stores for Christmas. Kylie then turned to me and said in her thick Scottish accent, “and you’re hot too. You're both handsome". I’m sure the soft lighting helped. Needless to say, we now have a "penpal" and a crew we can call on when we are in Edinburgh.

    The night soon came to a close and we had to make our way home. The Thursday expedition back from Ushuaïa was relatively painless. We had left 5 minutes prior to closing and were able to snatch the first taxi that came our way. The Friday night expedition didn’t go as well. As we left the club, the line at the taxi rank was already snaking around the corner. We filed to the end of the line and waited as it slowly moved.

    After about 30 minutes waiting in line, Jason saw the girls from the Dominican Republic and Ecuador. We bolted as fast as we could and they allowed us to catch a ride with them. Then came the slow ride home. The roads became a carpark as we came to a dead halt, moving only ever so slightly every few minutes. A trip that would normally take 10-15 minutes took 45 minutes. We probably could have walked home, but who knows where we would have ended up.

    Over the next few days we slowed the pace a little as we recovered from the 48-hour intermittent party. For Jason’s birthday, he was treated to some fine dining at La Torreta, a Spanish restaurant serving modern, Mediterranean fusion cuisine. Opening with a couple of cocktails, this was followed up with an artistically presented entrée and a tasty main to die for.

    All was going along as planned until drama struck us on our final morning in Ibiza. Jason had already gotten up when all of sudden the fire alarms sounded. At first, we thought it must have been some drunken shenigans. When the alarms didn't stop, I started to think maybe this wasn't a drill. The emergency exit had opened and I followed it to the bottom until I reached a passage that was blocked with bikes. Then I looked around the corner and I could see and smell smoke. It looked like I couldn't get out so I backtracked to get Jason. Before leaving the hotel room, we could hear people outside yelling there’s a fire. Within a few minutes, the police and fire brigade arrived. After a hour, the fire had been extinguished and we could re-enter the hotel. It was scary to think of what could have happened if it was a bigger fire.

    We can only hope that the drama doesn’t follow us.

    Next stop: Maspalomas, Gran Canaria.
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  • Day18

    Great Granada and Alhambra Expedition

    August 30 in Spain ⋅ ⛅ 34 °C

    We got up early to travel by train to Granada, a little over an hour away from Málaga. We had a ticket to visit the palaces in the Alhambra at 1pm and we had mistakenly thought that this meant we weren't able to enter the complex until that time. So we wandered around Granada before heading to the Alhambra. It turns out it was only the Palace that we needed to wait until 1pm. Oh well, at least we got to see Granada.

    The Alhambra, which translates from Arabic as 'The Red One’, is a well-preserved palace and fortress complex, showcasing Islamic architecture of the Thirteenth to Fifteenth century CE. It was built in 1238 CE by Muhammad I Ibn al-Ahmar, the first Nasrid emir and founder of the Emirate of Granada, which was the last Muslim state of Spain. The palace complex includes many courtyards and fountains. One set of stairscases leading to the top of the Generalife had a water feature built into the hand rail. Located outside the Alhambra walls is the former Nasrid country estate and summer palace. It too incorporates elaborate courtyards and gardens.

    On our way to the Alhambra (and also around Málaga), there were women handing out twigs to rope tourists into getting their fortune read. Tourist trap! After avoiding the first few women, Jason turned to me and said "why are we not doing the Terrie Nelson finger wave". From there out, we had our script written, a slight wave back and forth of the index finger and a stern look on our faces.

    Our train back to Málaga didn’t leave until almost 7pm so we had a few hours to wander the streets of Granada ... again. On the train trip, Jason's surmising contained. This time, the focus was on a nearby couple. Jason had their entire life story mapped out. They were a newly married Ukrainian couple on their honeymoon. All this from just the way they looked. Jason should join the women handing out twigs and start fortune reading. Tired and sore, we managed to stumble home, after more than 23,000 steps.

    Next stop: back to Málaga.
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