April 1-3, 2007: Madrid
My first morning in Madrid, I woke up to a bag of churros and a cup of hot chocolate. Perfect! Un desayuno de churros con chocolate en la Madrid.
Since it was a Sunday, our first order of the day was to attend mass at a nearby church. It gave me an opportunity to observe how the people of Madrid celebrated Palm Sunday. And this was how it went.
The main doors of the church were locked so the churchgoers carrying palm leaves waited outside. Meanwhile, the priest early on led a procession within the radius of the church which ended at the church’s main entrance. He knocked on the door before opening it and then proceeded to march towards the altar. The churchgoers started filling up the pews inside the church. The priest blessed the palm leaves carried and waved by the faithfuls. Palm Sunday in Madrid was in no way different from the one we have here in the Philippines.
After the mass, we passed by a flea market. It was a merry sight. Merchants sold their wares, from paintings to old books, dresses, shawls and fans. Musicians played upbeat music that led some of the passersby and buyers to dance to the beat.
For lunch, Auntie Nellie and company treated me to KFC after learning that I haven’t had any Col. Sanders chicken for seven months. (FYI: Stockholm, my residence at that time, didn’t have any KFC outlet.)
In the afternoon, Auntie Nellie, Kuya Jess and Ate Mai brought me around to see the main sights of Madrid. We walked and rode the bus and the metro just like the locals.
beautiful maze garden
Later in the afternoon, Auntie Nellie brought me along to her next engagement. She and her friends were going to surpise a Filipino couple celebrating their anniversary by serenading them Filipino and Spanish songs. Instead of just standing in the corner, I joined the group and it was my first time to sing Spanish songs in front of other people. The melodies were familiar which put me at ease. After the singing, we devoured a mix of Filipino and Spanish treats.
On our way home, we stopped by the Atocha station which housed a man-made rainforest.
For the remainder of my stay in Madrid, we visited the other major spots in the city.
Puerta del Sol
Kilometric Distances in Spain are measured from this spot in Puerta del Sol,
just like the Rizal Monument (Luneta) in the Philippines.
just like the Rizal Monument (Luneta) in the Philippines.
walking down a shopping street
Madrid's symbol: El oso y el madroño
Philippines has its own place in Madrid.
I just had to pay homage to our national hero Dr. Jose P. Rizal in Madrid.
Mi Ultimo Adios
I was also lucky to have Auntie Nellie as my tour guide because she knew the history and culture of both Spain and the Philippines, having spent each half of her life in both countries.
We usually capped our night with music, long conversations and a mean game of scrabble.
Before leaving Madrid, I had to do some grocery for my brother based in Morocco. Since I would be visiting him next, I bought hotdogs, pan bimbo, bottle of bagoong as well as bags of Chippy and Boy Bawang. And of course, I also managed to have my soiled apparel cleaned, just in time for the next leg of my trip.
April 3-10, 2007: Morocco
I took the Easy Jet plane from Madrid to Casablanca. It was my second time in Maroc having visited the country in 2006 but every visit offers the regular traveler something new to experience. I was also joined by a classmate from Stockholm in this North African trip.
Getting past the immigration authorities was easy the second time around. But reaching my brother’s place from the airport was another story. We had difficulty getting a cab. Then my brother realized that there was an ongoing transport strike. Kapalmuks na kung kapalmuks! We flashed the familiar road signal (thumb raised, other four fingers curled). It was our first time to hitchhike in a foreign land and we were a bit scared. After several attempts, two guys were kind enough to give us a lift at no extra cost. Thanks to my brother for being conversant in the local tongue, he engaged the Good Samaritans in a friendly chat.
Late in the night, we went back to the airport to catch the Royal Air Maroc flight to Ouarzazate. It was already midnight when we got to our destination. We proceeded to the Kenzo Hotel and after checking in, we immediately hit the sack.
The next day, as Ouarzazate slowly stirred to life, I also explored the town, getting back to the hotel just in time for breakfast. Our itinerary for the day included visiting the kasbah as well as the locale of several Hollywood films and having Moroccan lunch. But the day ended not without another surprise. On our way to a kasbah which served as a backdrop for the film Gladiator, we got caught in a sandstorm. The wind was very strong I almost got blown away. I didn’t know what to do since it was my first time to be in such situation. My instinct then was to cover my face with my sweater not minding the pain caused by the pebbles and sand that hit my body. When the sandstorm passed, my pair of shoes was filled with sand and my shirt turned brownish.
A trip to Morocco won’t be complete without frolicking in the Sahara desert. Since our host Mustafa was recuperating from an illness, he begged off from driving us to the desert. So we hired the services of a cab driver named Abdu plus his cab. Then we were off to Tin Fu, a portion of the the desert. It was really a long drive. When we reached the desert, I was speechless. I never thought that I would make it to the Sahara Desert. We rode the camel, took photos of the small village and ran and jumped around the sand dunes just like any first-timers.
On our way back, we stopped by a particular spot to take breathtaking photos of the rock formations and just sit for a moment to enjoy not just the view but the sun and the breeze.
Then it was time for us to continue our journey. And we were in for another surprise. A group of male Moroccans stopped our cab. Soon we were surrounded by them, some even rocked the car. It definitely gave me a fright. A lot of thoughts were randomly forming in my mind. What if we never get back to Ouarzazate? What would these Moroccans demand from us? I was praying that we’d get out of that quagmire fast and safe. Meanwhile, Abdu got out of the car and explained the situation to them. Apparently, the transport strike was ongoing, this time, nationwide. The group felt that Abdu was not joining them in their cause because he was transporting passengers during strike. After a heated discussion, they finally let us through.
I was really shaken by that incident but at the same time grateful that we arrived at Mustafa’s house in one piece. After having a heavy snack the Moroccan way, we left for the airport to catch our flight back to Casablanca.
EssaouiraWe were already on the road at dawn. This time we were joined by my brother’s friends from work.
Our first stop was the coastal city of Essaouira.
Since it was a Good Friday, we also searched for a church. We were lucky to find a Catholic church in the city. And in observance of the holy day, I fasted from dawn till dusk, taking only water when needed.
In the afternoon, we continued our trip to Marrakech. It was my second time in this rose-colored city. FYI: Each city in Morocco has its own color. For Marrakech, it is red so it is no surprise that the houses here are painted in that shade. In Casablanca, it is white.
When we arrived in Marrakech, it was busier compared to or last visit. A lot of Caucasians were vacationing in the city, taking advantage of the long weekend in Europe. We never expected the influx of tourists. Add to that, my brother didn’t make prior hotel reservations. We tried the Amalou Hotel (where we were billeted in our previous visit) but it was full. After an hour of searching, we finally found a two-storey vacation house and rented it for a night.
I was too tired to go to the square which comes alive at night. After dinner, I rested my sprained ankle and then finally dozed off.
The next day, we went to the Menara and the private garden of YSL. Before lunch, we were already in the square. Market scenes definitely has its own charms. Rows of stalls of dried fruits. Women offering henna tattoo services. Snake charmers. Magicians. And just about anything that will catch a tourist’s fancy.
We made our way to the inner stalls and bought pairs of baboush (pointed Moroccan footwear made of leather) for our friends and family.
Casablanca is the business capital of Morocco. The place reminded me of Makati. We celebrated Easter Sunday in Casablanca. We also visited Hassan II mosque, one of the largest mosques in the world. We also spent time feeding pigeons in the park and then had dinner at an Asian restaurant where a Filipino is part of the culinary staff. We also headed to the market to buy the magic (or secret) box as pasalubong for my friends which has fascinated me ever since I came to know of it. It is a box made of fine wood and it entails one to exercise his/her brain cells in unlocking it since the key is inside the box.
Rabat is the political capital of Morocco, about an hour’s ride away from Casablanca. We visited the tomb of the mausoleum of Mohammed V, the Parliament and another kasbah.
-Filipinos don’t need a visa to enter Morocco.
-Don’t be surprised if after hailing a cab (when you’re alone or with another companion), the driver stops to pick another passenger as long as it can accommodate three pax taking the same route.
-The best tea I had was in Morocco, made of fresh mint leaves. Tea houses are the favorite hangout of locals and expats.
-I noticed that billboards of offices and stores included a big picture of the services /products offered next to name of the establishment. Take for example a dental clinic or a bakery which would have a big illustration of a tooth or a bread, respectively.
-Apart from the plane or a private vehicle, one can get around the country by train. Just don’t expect it to be as fast as the ones in Europe.
-Tipping for services rendered is common. Don’t forget to say shukran.