Search This Blog

Monday, October 4, 2010


Okay, I cruise. I know, its not like me to be a cruiser but I got into it after my first cruise.

My first cruise was for my honeymoon; it was around the Hawaiian Islands and as a bonus, we got to go to Kiribati (Fanning Island).

That was by far my favorite cruise because the whole concept of being on a big boat was new to me and I had an excellent travelling companion.

But I have found cruises have a diminishing return effect; the first is always the best usually and then it goes downhill from there.

This is my fourth cruise; I went to the Greek Islands/Croatia in 2007 and in Alaska in 2009. To be perfectly honest, I don’t really like cruises that much anymore. Sure it was exciting at one point but with the same type of entertainment, food and cabins, it gets a bit tiring. Plus you never get to spend as much time as you want to in one place (unless said place is Skagway). I spent more than enough time there.
The Roman version of AMI stadium.  When are the All Blacks Playing?

Honestly after the Alaska cruise, I wasn’t excited to return to a boat. But a couple things excited me about this cruise. The itinerary (Spain, Portugal and Morroco) just sounded cool…I’ve never been to any of those countries before and I really wanted to see them all. And it was a good excuse to spend some time with my parents. Mom and Dad like cruises; it’s easy for them and for me to find plenty of things to do.
Malaga streets

So far, the boat has been a bit of a disappointment but the destinations are anything but. We went to Malaga yesterday. Malaga is a beautiful portside city with a HUGE cathedral in the centre. The Moorish influence is clearly seen in the architecture and design of the place. We climbed up to the Citadel structure in the centre of town and got a wonderful panoramic view of Malaga and the surrounding area.

I enjoy the city; there are many little streets that open up into plazas, lovely little tapas bars and life everywhere. It was Sunday, so people were out in their Sunday best, having a drink after church.

One good thing about this cruise is its gym and spa. I go there every morning (YES I DO! I’M NOT LYING) and do a bit of a workout to start my day. I did yoga one day but found it hard to concentrate whilst gazing at the gorgeous Hungarian instructor who, I’m pretty sure, digs dudes. I mean, he’s that beautiful, he just has to be. Sigh…

Anyway, I did poke my head in at a singles event, I’m embarrassed to admit. I was more curious than anything; right now is the wrong time to gain a boyfriend, even for the length of a cruise. The only person there was an 60 year old Italian man who vaguely resembled an umpa loompa (Can someone please reference the spelling for me???). He saddled up to me and started speaking in Italian.

“No, signor, Americano.”

He used a hand gesture and walked off. Phew. I walked off quickly before any other Roald Dahl characters came my way (even Johnny Depp in a bob couldn’t keep me there…did anyone else find him creepy in that movie?).

The whole boat is filled with Italians; they dominate the boat. This makes this cruise, hands down, the liveliest, most chaotic cruise I have ever been on. There is a constant opera going on at the customer services desk. No one has a concept of lines or queuing (living in New Zealand, land of the organized queue, this can be quite frustrating). But the dance floors are always filled and there are actual younger people on the boat.

On a cruise, even though there are 3,000 guests, the same people pop up over and over. Like mullet body builder guy and weird accent lady who complains all the time (pretty sure she is English). There is angry old French dude, the kiwis from Auckland (why do I always get seated next to kiwis???) and the two Italian glamour grandmas. These people pop up every time I venture to the upper decks.

The ship itself is an ode to Italians; its gaudy as hell, with huge chandeliers, gold couches and marble floors. Not really to my taste but fun to try on, like those times you go to Ballanytynes or Macy’s and try on the sequin covered dresses or for the dudes, test drive a car you can never afford nor want to own.

Today, we went to Morocco but didn’t linger in Casablanca as we had an all day date with Fez, Morocco’s artistic capital.

After a pretty lengthy bus ride out there, when we got Morocco 101 by our tour guide, Abudullah, with our driver Muhammad "Cous Cous". Hilarious. Everyone was excited to explore the old city, where souks (markets) and craftsmen abound.

We entered the first souk, which was mostly a food market. The smell of meat and clotted blood was enough to cause me to hesitate but I thanked the many deities I pray to (hey it never hurts to get a second opinion) for my experience in Namibia. Namibia had prepared me for intense poverty, bizarre food, a total lack of health and safety and interesting hygiene choices. The smell reminded me instantly of Namibia and I carried on. Others in group struggled.

In the souks, you wouldn’t know if it was night or day. The small streets are like a black widow cobweb; completely without structure or logic. There are over 800 little streets in the old city and you can easily get lost in the mayhem.

All work and no play make Donkey a dull boy...
Depressed donkeys pass you by in the streets, laden with water bottles, tanned leather and large metal tanks. The donkeys are pushed, kicked, yelled at and generally mistreated by many of their handlers. Clearly, if you are a real asshole in this life, you end up reincarnated as a donkey in Fez.

Occasionally one would go on strike and end up alone, triumphant, with its load eschewed on top, but happy to be free, even for a few minutes.

In the souks there are so many cats and little kittens and the Fezites clearly have affection for their cats, as they feed them raw meat and small fishes in plates on the side of the streets and pet them lazily. Beggars also line the streets; Mom gives money to the women because the women often get beaten if they don’t bring any money home. Dad gives to them because he feels it his duty to aid the widows or other needy older single women.

The day is packed with visits to craftsmen and of course everyone is trying to sell us something. Of course we get ripped off but we decide two things. One: we only buy scarfs from the guilds and beautiful beaten bronze plates and in both cases are actually making the artwork there and not in China. Two: we figure that these people work pretty hard and well, we will enjoy the stuff we got.

So yeah, we got taken.

Lunch was excellent. It was served in the old Minister of Defence’s palace, which is now a restaurant. There was a wonderful local band playing local Morrocan music and delicious Moroccan cuisine that included cous cous, vegetables, meats, and wonderful spices. The wine was even good. Our guide, Abdullah, told us that the Morrocan muslims were very tolerant of all lifestyles, including alcohol consumption. They grow their own wine in fact and import it to France.
This picture alone makes me want to give up meat entirely.

After lunch, we visited the tannery. The tannery is unlike any place I have ever visited. We were taken up to shop where we could overlook the whole thing, which was exposed to the open air. We were all given sprigs of fresh mint to breath to mask the awful smell (kind of like in a morgue putting Vicks Vaporrun in your nostrils before the dissecting begins). Large round pots, the size of three men, littered the street below like a honeycomb. The pots were filled with different colored natural vegetable based dyes; reds, oranges, yellows, blues, purples and white. The men waded in the large pots, soaking the hides and swooshing it around the colorful water. The dyes are made from various local flowers, vegetables and herbs.

Several people struggled with the intense smell but I think it’s good to be exposed to what really goes on. I believe strongly that we have isolated ourselves too much from our food and the way our clothing is made and we rarely see the reality; the animal and human cost of what we consume. Going to a place like Fez brings us all back to earth and reminds us that someone suffered and animals die to sustain our lifestyle. Watching the men below waist deep in the heat and dust and colored liquids, covered in colors from the vats…many of these poor souls seem to have a permanent hunch from working there.

The Fez version of Haylar
We then went to the local weavers and purchased a few nice shawls. The souks are filled with small shops but we focused our attention on the actual makers of the product. We visit some ancient Mosques, which are amazing in the detail, age and design elements of the structures. Every surface possible has a design or an inscription. It’s a work of passion and a clear labour of devotion for the people of Fez.

Our final stop on our tour was the ceramic workshops, for which Fez is famous for. I wish I could buy and take things home to my new house but sadly lack of space in my luggage prohibits such luxuries. We watch the pottery being shaped; Fez’s clay is gray, unlike the rest of Morroco’s which is red. This helps the design, as blue glazes (another thing Fez is famous for) is applied. The designers have no pattern they follow; simply their own eye, the memory of designs past, and their own creativity.

The whole operation is filled with young men; not a single woman works there except to help us with the toilets and behind the counter. The men work hard on mosaics, creating works of art through micro destruction of tiles. Not a single worker was seen wearing safety glasses. Those workers who make mosaic pieces of many designed are especially vulnerable as they labor at chipping out the art pieces hour after hour.

We leave Fez behind and enjoy three hours on the bus; watching beautiful Morocco fly by. The place is dry but not like the Sahara; it’s a scrub land. The king planted forests throughout Morocco and now large trees dot the landscape in a neat grid like pattern.

The current king clearly has a fan in Abdullah. He recently made it mandatory for everyone in Morocco to go to school until age 16. He also banned polygamy and women now have 32 seats in Parliament (about 10 percent of the sitting body). The changes in policy mixed with the Moroccoan people’s eye for craftsmanship has attracted buyers and manufacturers in droves from around the world. The labour is cheap and the products are good quality, unlike other developing nations around the world.
The tannery at Fez.

Morocco feels pretty safe too but I wouldn’t want to navigate the Old City of Fez without a guide or at least some string to ensure I would find my way out of the small street mazes again.

We returned to the boat, tired, dusty but happy. The smell of the souks lingers in my hair and I wash it multiple times, wondering when I will get a chance to return and explore the dark nooks and crannies of Fez.