The Morocco Journals: Rabat

Mausoleum of Mohemmed V of Morocco

I have conquered a large part of the world as a female solo traveler, but there are some countries I’m not quite ready to explore on my own. I’m still hesitant about Brazil, Jamaica, India, and many other countries. Morocco was definitely one of those countries I did not want to visit without some assistance, so when my sorority sister decided to put together a group trip to the North African country, I figured it was my chance to go.

The tour was through Gate 1, and it was my first experience using this tour company for a travel experience. I went into it with a positive mind, but my personal opinion of Gate 1 for this Morocco trip was unfavorable. Our assigned guide and driver were phenomenal, but everything else was very basic. I understand why people love the tour company, but it did not fit my travel style. As a solo traveler, it was an adjustment to have to travel with a busload of other people, stay committed to an unimpressive itinerary, and partake in long travel days. The itinerary included visits to the cities of Rabat, Fez, Marrakech, and Casablanca, and didn’t leave a lot of wiggle room for me.

Friday

I arrived in Rabat from France with three other members of the group. We left it to up to the group leader – who was the only one fluent in French – to negotiate the cost of the taxi. I was glad to have a Francophone with us for this very reason. If one thing was certain, it was that Moroccans were going to do their best to get more money out of us than we fairly should give.

On the way to our hotel, I noticed the Moroccan flag everywhere. I would later learn that Moroccan flags were everywhere throughout the country, and all I had to do was open my eyes to see at least one flying high. It was an interesting sight to see because Old Glory doesn’t get the same treatment. There may be one American flag in front of a building, but it was unusual to see it on every light post in the streets.

Although I would have preferred to stay in some of Morocco’s beautiful riads, Gate 1 contracted with very basic hotels for the tour. We met our guide, M’hamed, as soon as we arrived to the hotel, and we were treated to Moroccan mint tea as a welcome. Drinking tea would become a regular part of the trip, and I was grateful for it. M’hamed gave us our keys and told us we were one our own until our welcome meeting and dinner later that evening.

We checked into our rooms, and a group of us met up to get some lunch. I had some time alone after lunch, so I walked around the area and got a feel of the city’s energy. I bravely crossed the Rabat streets and wandered a while. There were a lot of people out and about. They weren’t necessarily doing anything, but I can’t say they were doing nothing either. I walked to the Mohammed VI Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, but decided I wasn’t in the mood for browsing art at that moment. Instead I kept walking and made a trail around a mosque that was blocked from my view by walled fortifications.

I didn’t want to exhaust myself, so I made my way back to the hotel to rest before meeting with the rest of the group. All 14 ladies from the group gathered at the top floor of the hotel that night to meet M’hamed and a few other people from Gate 1 to discuss everything about the upcoming week. Afterwards, we had a welcome dinner consisting of couscous, tajine, lamb, various soups, pastas, salads, breads.

Welcome Dinner
Welcome Dinner

I caught a gorgeous glimpse of the sunset over the city before heading to bed.

sunset views in Rabat

Saturday

We were on the tour bus at 8:30 am and off to sightseeing in Rabat. The low was 67° F and the high was 78° F, and the perfect weather made me joyous despite the feeling jet-lagged. Our first stop was the Royal Palace of Rabat. Let me admit that I wasn’t deeply interested in the historical perspective of Morocco, so I didn’t pay much attention to the information our guide provided at each of the sights. M’hamed was a historian with lots of educational facts about the country beyond the usual information most tour guides gave. I was grateful for his expertise, but I was only on the trip to shop, take cute photos, and flirt with handsome Moroccan men. Yes, I took the full opportunity to be the obnoxious tourist who only snapped photos and didn’t get a grasp of the experience.

Royal Palace of Rabat

Next, we visited Hassan Tower, a tower and mosque that went unfinished after the ruler died in the 12th century. What’s left is the unfinished tower, and the pillars of the unfinished mosque. There was also a guarded mausoleum for Mohemmed V of Morocco. The architectural details of the mausoleum was phenomenal.

pillars at Hassan Tower

Then we went to ancient ruins of Chellah. 

Stork’s nests at Chellah Necropolis
ruins of Chellah Necropolis

I can’t say a thing about the next stop on the trip, the Kasbah of the Udayas. While our guide was telling us the history of the place, a vendor started playing Drake’s In My Feelings from one of his speakers. That was the end of the history lesson for many of us – including me. It was time for the party. 

After a panoramic view of the city of Meknès, and lunch at La Grillardière, made our way to the Roman city of Volubilis. It was the middle of the day and the sun was blazing. I was not interested in the hike to see ancient ruins designed by colonizers, and the sandals I was wearing was unfit for the the hike. So while most of the group went on the hike, I bought a popsicle from a vendor and went back to the bus along with five or so others. Everyone eventually returned exhausted from the hike, and we proceeded to our final destination of the day – Fez.


A Spontaneous Trip to Slovenia

A Spontaneous Trip to Slovenia

After spending a couple of days in Zagreb, Croatia, it was time for a new adventure. The city and its people were great, but there wasn’t much to do after a couple of days of exploring. Since we didn’t have a rental car, my friend and I had to rely on public transportation to get where we needed to go. We headed to the train station in Zagreb that afternoon and purchased a ticket to Melania Trump’s birth country, Slovenia. It would be a 3-hour train ride that included a stop to have our passports reviewed when we crossed countries.

A Spontaneous Trip to Slovenia

Slovenia was a wonder! I’m 9 for 10 when it comes to perfect weather this year (Cartagena was a beast), and Slovenia was no different. September was the perfect time to visit as the summer crowds had died down, but the weather was still warm.

Our landing point was Ljubljana, a city with a pronunciation I have yet to master. The j is supposed to make a long e sound, but the locals said it quickly and made it sound like they skipped the j altogether. At any rate it was the perfect city for exploring on foot, and I spent quite a bit of time wandering the pedestrian-friendly streets. There were tons of little boutiques, cute restaurants and desert shops. We found lots of places for ice cream, and I obtained my love for forest berries ice cream there. We also stumbled upon a unique ice cream shop called Sisters kurtoš that used something similar to a cinnamon roll cone in place of a traditional waffle cone. Continue reading

A Weekend in Zagreb

I’m not ashamed to admit I am a planner. When I travel anywhere, I make sure I have a jam-packed itinerary even if I know I won’t experience half of the activities I listed. So when I booked a flight Zagreb, Croatia departing three days after confirming, it was out of my character. Three days was not enough time to research and develop a list of activities that included some of those “must visit” places and “must eat” restaurants. This was something I would normally spend months doing to ensure a pleasant trip. Although I was accustomed to being well-informed about a location, the spontaneity of the trip forced me to accept that I cannot be in control of every experience.

Lodging

My flight into Zagreb arrived late at night, and I took an Uber to my hostel. Subspace Hostel was similar to a hostel I stayed in while in Amsterdam, so I looked forward to the staying in another capsule. It was true to its listing, but it wasn’t my favorite experience. The check-in didn’t go very well, but the woman was very nice. Things were going fine until she asked for payment, but I had already paid in full when I made the reservation.

The hostel didn’t appear to have an adequate software system that could track all of the bookings. I was listed as reserved, but the woman at the check-in counter couldn’t verify that I already paid. I had my confirmation email and my credit card app available on hand to prove I paid at the time of the reservation and the amount was charged to my account. She checked my confirmation a couple of times, but was still unsure. She reassured that everything would be fine, but I wasn’t worried about it at all because I knew my end of things were taken care of. It was their system that needed to be corrected. Eventually, she showed me to my capsule and told me that she would contact me in the morning if there were still any unresolved issues.

The actual capsule was fine, but the air circulation inside was loud. If I turned them off, I got very stuffy. I wasn’t a fan of the showers and toilets either. The cleanliness could be improved, and the design didn’t seem as innovated as I imagined it would be. I did enjoy the location of the hostel, though. Continue reading

A Layover in Frankfurt

A Layover in Frankfurt Germany

On my way to Croatia, I had a 9-hour layover in Frankfurt, Germany. That was more than enough time to venture out and explore the city, but I had no idea what I could possibly see because Frankfurt had never been on my radar. When I searched through my travel community forums, most people stated there wasn’t much to do in the city, but I just knew there was something worth seeing there. Without a concrete plan, I ventured out to explore Germany’s financial capital with a friend.

We found a luggage storage area for our carryons in Terminal 1, and took the S8 commuter train to the main train station in Frankfurt. It was a simple process that took less than 15 minutes, and no one even checked our train tickets. From our starting point, we strolled leisurely down Kaiserstraße, and checked out what restaurants and shops were available. We also caught a glimpse of some parts of Frankfurt’s Red Light District.

Our intentions were to kill some time before participating in the Alternative Walking Tour of Frankfurt, then eat a nice dinner before taking the train back to the airport. The tour began at 2pm, but we both got hungry around 1pm and started searching for a place to get a good meal. Continue reading

Exploring Curaçao Beyond the Beaches

Before I arrived in Curaçao, I received a manual that detailed safety. I was worried because it said cars such as Kias and Hyundais were more prone to being stolen or highjacked for the car parts. Well my ass had already reserved a damn Hyundai. They went as far as saying to keep my glove compartment open and emptied to show that nothing of value is left in the car while I’m not occupying it. They even offered portable safes for beach days because it was common for locals to steal valuables while people were swimming. I just knew that I was going to get robbed at the beach.

Thankfully, I was never robbed and never felt in any sort of danger. Otrobanda, the neighborhood I stayed in, was very quiet and I rarely saw anyone loitering on the street. I didn’t take any valuables with me to the beaches, so the risk there was already mitigated.

The first thing I did was the Otrobanda Art Walking Tour, established by Avantia Damberg, a local visual artist. Our group of eight ladies strolled the historic neighborhood learning about its history and discovering the latest art murals and sculptures. There were a few homes in the neighborhood that were abandoned and in need of repair. According to Avantia, many of them were homes passed down to descendants who no longer live in Curaçao and/or cannot afford to repair them. The government has decided to provide significant financial assistance to those families that invest home updates.

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Lazy Days in Curaçao

I was minding my business on the second floor of a club in Amsterdam last year, when I got approached by a fine caramel-colored man with a raspy voice, perfectly white teeth, and a twinkle in his eye. We chatted for a moment, and he told me he was from Curaçao. I wasn’t familiar with the small Dutch Caribbean island just north of Venezuela, but if all the men there looked as good as he did, I was more than willing to visit. I added it to my travel wish list that same night.

Yes, one of the reasons I went to Curaçao was shallow – fine men.

Fast forward a year, and while I was scrolling social media, someone was raving about how great of a time she had in Curaçao and how rich the history was. She showed photos of a visit to the Kula Hulanda Museum, and that made me finally check out the flight prices. Continue reading

Traveler’s Diarrhea in Panama

I knew the day would come when the travel gods would call my number. I don’t know how I managed to enjoy so many meals without ever getting sick, but my day was coming. While I was in Panama, I stopped for lunch at this dingy spot outside of Casco Viejo called Cafe Coca Cola. I’d walked by it a time or two in the four times that I had visited Panama, but never cared to go inside. Everything about it screamed insanitary, but I’ve learned from experience that looks can be deceiving. I took a seat and read the history of the restaurant from the menu, learning that it was the oldest running cafe in the city, with the likes of Fidel Castro, Che Guevara, and Teddy Roosevelt as previous visitors. With my mind now at ease, I ordered a plate of shrimp fried rice and a soda. Continue reading

An Unforgettable Weekend in Detroit

An Unforgettable Weekend in Detroit

What up, doe!

A barbecue hosted by one of my travel communities provided me with an opportunity to visit the city of Detroit for the first time. I struck up a conversation with a Detroit native in the New Orleans airport on the way to Detroit, and he grew excited when I told him I was headed to his hometown. He spoke on the “new Detroit” I would be witnessing – a Detroit vastly different from the one that hit rock bottom five years ago with a bankruptcy. The economic resurgence made it a great time to travel to the D, and he was thrilled for me. Continue reading

The Cartagena Journals: Street Art and The Real Cartagena

Thursday

I hadn’t slept late since I’d been in Cartagena. What kind of vacation was this? I was up early again for the Real Cartagena Tour with Chris, Alex Rocha’s oldest son. The tour only included me and another couple because a group of five chose to sleep in after a long night of partying. The tour began in the Bocagrande, El Laguito, and Castillogrande neighborhoods. Chris explained Cartagena neighborhoods have six levels, with level six being the safer, more luxurious areas, and level one being the impoverished areas. Those three neighborhoods were level six after lots of gentrification. El Laguito was once the residential area of local fisherman, but they have been pushed out to other neighborhoods in the city. Residents of Castillogrande like to consider it as a level seven neighborhood, although such a thing doesn’t exist.

Street Art and the Real Cartagena

Next we headed to the Old City. Continue reading

The Cartagena Journals: Playa Blanca

Wednesday

As fate would have it, Wednesday didn’t go as planned. I was supposed to catch an 8:00 am bus to Playa Blanca, but something weird happened. When I booked the tour through my Airbnb host, she gave me clear instructions about the meeting place and that I should arrive early. I arrived at the meeting place at 7:40 am, but never saw a bus arrive to pick me up. My Airbnb host said they called her at 8:00, 8:05, and 8:07 looking for me. I never saw them and they never saw me, but I know I was at the right spot. So my Airbnb host rescheduled me for the 11:30 am bus tour instead. This time the meeting place was at a closer, more precise location and I showed up right on time.

I was the last person on the bus, and there was only one seat left. The bus pulled away before I could even take a seat. As we headed to the beach, the guide stood to greet us all in Spanish. I could translate parts of what he was saying, but I was waiting for him to begin explaining everything in English. A brown-skinned man seated next to me leaned forward to ask his friend in English if he understood what was being said. The friend, like me, could only interpret some parts. When the guide ended his introduction and asked if anyone had questions, I raised my hand and said in Spanish that I needed an English translation. There was none, silly American girl. The two men near me and I quickly realized we were the only ones non-fluent in Spanish on the bus. In that moment of uncertainty, the three of us became friends who vowed to stick together for the day. If we were going to get left at the beach, at least we’d get left together. One band, one sound!

During a short rest stop, the tour guide found an 11-year-old boy to translate the details about the day for us. After confirming all of the information, I was comfortable for the rest of the ride to the beach. We arrived at our drop-off location and had to walk fifteen minutes before we got to the beach. A few vendors were already there when we arrived, but none of them were bothersome. Playa Blanca has a reputation for aggressive vendors selling some of the most random items, but my Airbnb host eased my worries by saying it would be less hectic because it was a weekday.

Playa Blanca Colombia

We were served lunch once we arrived to the beach, and I chose the fried fish. I finished my plate before the open bar opened for business, so I chilled with my two new friends until it opened underneath our shared umbrella and chairs.

The rum and coke flowed until they ran out of coke and orange juice. Then I just had rum on ice. Once that was gone, I tried two coco locos. Before I left for vacation, my doctor told me no drinking and no swimming for two weeks. I survived for one week.

lunch at Playa Blanca

Playa Blanca wasn’t the most beautiful beach with the clearest water, but the water was warm and the day was fun. My original plan was to do some journaling at the beach for most of the day, but my new friends had better ideas. We spent half the time taking photos for social media along with two female flight attendants we met at the beach. We chatted for a while, and the fact that we communicated well with our limited Spanish and their limited English was quite impressive. The group spent the rest of the time riding on jet skis and and a banana boat, while I drifted in the water peacefully. At the end of the day, all five of us agreed to meet up later that night for dancing at Bazurto Social Club.

It was dark by the time we arrived back in Cartagena. I took the short walk back to my Airbnb, but stopped for some dinner at an Italian spot named Di Silvio Trattoria right on the corner. One of the ladies from the beach messaged me on WhatsApp to say she wasn’t meeting us tonight. After a little convincing, she changed her mind. Then she changed it again. I had it set in my mind that I was going whether the other ladies arrived or not. The other ladies eventually flaked, and it was just me and the two guys at Bazurto. We had drinks there, but left soon because there wasn’t much of a crowd. Instead, we walked to the Old City for more drinks and conversation at two rooftop bars.

During the conversation, I discovered that both of the guys were Morehouse men, and one is my frat brother. He and his father are members of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc., and his mother and I are members of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc. What a small world! We were family!

Our last spot of the night was at Eivissa. The music wasn’t touching my spirit at first, so I went to the restroom to freshen up a bit. While I was there, they started playing Beyonce. Well, that was my queue. I got so excited that I washed my hands in a hurry and ran out of the restroom without realizing I left my iPhone on the counter. The song was over by the time I reached the guys, but the DJ started playing a great set of back to back jams. At some point, I calmed down from dancing a bit, and reached in my purse to grab my phone. That was when I realized I lost it.

I started looking around, and noticed a group of women who “fit the description” of sex workers staring me down. I just knew they had it and were watching me to see my reaction once I realized it was gone. As a flood of assumptions and panic came over me, two gorgeous women with beautiful skin and perky boobs walked up to me and returned my phone. They had found it in the restroom. They knew it belonged to me because my photo was the lock screen, and there weren’t many black women in the building. God bless them forever because I certainly thought some sex workers took it for keeps.

Clock Tower Colombia

The energy of the DJ never picked up again, so we walked up to the upper level rooftop bar, to hang out for the rest of the night. The DJ at that level was playing EDM. EDM wasn’t our preferred genre, but we stayed anyway because the weather wasn’t that miserable and the view of the Clock Tower was nice. Once things starting dying down, we all decided to leave after agreeing that we would meet sometime again tomorrow.

Read more about my visit to Cartagena by clicking the links below:
The Cartagena Journals: Zumba and a Chiva Bus
The Cartagena Journals: Salsa Lessons and Yellow Fever Vaccines
The Cartagena Journals: Street Art and the Real Cartagena