Wednesday, October 26, 2011

DAY 5; MOROCCO TRIP WITH PRINCESS DR BECKY LEOGARDO AND MICHAEL MANTZ

KEE@FSWMAG.COM

LEAVING LE MERIDIEN HOTEL IN MARRAKESH AND CROSSING THE ATLAS MOUNTAINS IN 6 HOURS TO THE SEASIDE RESORT OF AGADIR

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I had a last morning stroll in the garden of Le Meridien and smelled the Rose of Marrakesh as I said goodbye to this pink city

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This is what we left behind in Marrakesh---the Le Meridien hotel---for the adventure crossing Atlas Mountains!
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This is what we encountered along the slopes of Atlas Mountains! The earth colours may be similar but here the similarity ended!

CROSSING THE ATLAS MOUNTAINS BY CAR IN 6 EXCITING HOURS FROM MARRAKESH TO AGADIR!
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Michael Mantz at the peak of Atlas mountains at 2,100 metres

DAY 5; MOROCCO TRIP WITH PRINCESS DR BECKY LEOGARDO AND MICHAEL MANTZ 19 OCTOBER 2011

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Auberge restaurant Haute Vue 2,100 metres is the highest point and the perfect coffee/toilet break.

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The magnificent view from Auberge Restaurant which I thought meant 'Aubergine' in French and this was the name of the restaurant but 'auberge' meant 'hotel'! No wonder I thought it was rather odd serving aubergines at this sky-high altitude!

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At least I knew what 'Aghbar' meant---'news' as 'Akhbar' is news in Malay but then again, maybe not as it might be a French word!The 2 languages are only French and Arabic!

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You can dine and enjoy tea alfresco too in the truly great outdoors

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This is the most spectacular stopover ever! It even has 6 rooms for rent for 50 euros with hot running water

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A charming and cosy livingroom

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Atlas Mountains are famous for fossils though you have to haggle wildly since the prices quoted are thrice what I paid in London!

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Cafe with stupendous views from every angle

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Kee Hua Chee soaking in the grand views

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Such magnificence is hard to come by. The owner of this little cafe spoke good English too.


MARRAKESH TO AGADIR---CROSSING THE ATLAS MOUNTAINS AND SCALING 2,100 METRES FROM SEA LEVEL!

TO REACH THE FAMOUS SEASIDE RESORT OF AGADIR, WE HAD TO LITERALLY CLIMB OVER 2,100 METRES AND TRAVERSE THROUGH THE LEGENDARY ATLAS MOUNTAINS!

IT WAS AN ADVENTURE AS MICHAEL MANTZ AND OUR TRUSTY RENAULT MEGANE HAD TO SLOWLY DRIVE UP THE VERY LONG AND WINDING ROAD FROM SEA LEVEL TO SEE LEVEL AS THE PANORAMIC VIEWS WERE AWESOME!

ALL THE WAY, EVERY PHOTO I TOOK SEEMED TO BE BETTER THAN THE ONE EARLIER.

BELOW ARE IMAGES OF THE STUNNING SCENERY WE ENCOUNTERED ON THE WAY. THE IMAGES SPEAK FOR THEMSELVES SO THERE ARE NO CAPTIONS AS I DO NOT KNOW THE NAMES OF THE ROADS, VILLAGES OR INDIVIDUAL HILLS ANYWAY.

THE SKY WAS AZURE BLUE AND THE INTENSE COLOURS DUE TO THE PURE, UNPOLLUTED AIR WAS AMAZING. THIS JOURNEY WAS LIKE A TRIP TO THE LEGENDARY LOST LAND OF SHANGRILA THOUGH THE VEGETATION WAS SPARSE AND SCRUBBY AND CERTAINLY NOT LUSH AS THE CLIMATE IS HIGH AND DRY. BUT THERE WERE MANY POCKETS OF OASES IN THE RIVER BEDS BELOW. THEY WERE QUITE SHALLOW DUE TO THE DRY SEASON BUT I CAN WELL IMAGINE THE RAGING TORRENTS IN WINTER!

CERTAIN STRETCHES OF THE ROAD HAD HAIR PIN BENDS AND I AND PRINCESS BECKY HAD TO CLOSE OUR EYES AND PRAY TO BUDDHA AND JESUS CHRIST OUR CAR WOULD NOT TOPPLE INTO THE DEEP RAVINE BELOW! BUT MICHAEL MANTZ WAS A GREAT DRIVER AND DID HOLLAND PROUD SO WE ARRIVED IN AGADIR SAFE, SOUND AND MOST IMPORTANT, IN ONE PIECE!

AT VARIOUS TIMES AS I GAZED AT THE VALLEYS AND PRECIPITOUS SLOPES WITH RAGGED CLIFFS AND RUGGED PEAKS, I WAS REMINDED OF COLEDRIDGE'S POEM 'KUBLA KHAN' WHICH GOES 'IN XANADU DID KUBLA KHAN, A STATELY PLEASURE DOME DECREE, WHERE ALPH THE SACRED RIVER RAN, THROUGH CAVERNS MEASURELESS TO MAN, DOWN TO A SUNLESS SEA'...

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Packed to the roof!

AGADIR THE MOST FAMOUS AND CELEBRATED SEASIDE RESORT IN MOROCCO! IT IS ONE OF THE TOP 5 RESORTS VISITED BY EUROPEANS AND THE TOWN'S LIVELIHOOD IS ALMOST TOTALLY DEPENDENT ON TOURISM.

THERE ARE MANY SUPERB HOTELS WITH SPECTACULAR ARCHITECTURE AND WE WERE SPOILED FOR CHOICE. WE SIMPLY DROVE AROUND AS WE DECIDED WE SHOULD CHOOSE A HOTEL BASED ON ITS EXTERNAL APPEARANCE! ALONG THE BEACH OR WITHIN EASY WALKING DISTANCE WERE DOZENS OF 5-STAR HOTELS AND WE COULD HARDLY DECIDE. IT WAS LIKE CHOOSING A BOOK BASED ON ITS COVER.

AT FIRST WE WANTED A FAMILIAR INTERNATIONAL NAME LIKE SOFITEL BUT SINCE WE WERE IN MOROCCO, WE THOUGHT WE SHOULD STAY IN A MOROCCAN BASED CHAIN LIEK ATLAS. SO WE CHECKED INTO ROYAL ATLAS HOTEL AND SPA AS THERE WERE ANOTHER TWO ATLAS HOTELS BUT THIS WAS THE BEST AND MOST EXPENSIVE AT 160 EUROS PER NIGHT.

THE GRAND ENTRANCE WAS A MODERN VERSION OF A MOROCCAN PALACE WHICH APPEALED TO ME AND THERE WAS A STRETCHED LIMOUSINE LONG ENOUGH FOR MICHEAL MANTZ AND KIM KADARSHIAN'S HUSBAND KRIS TO STRETCH THEIR LONG LEGS.

OUR ROOMS FACED THE POOL AND BEACH AND THE SUNSET WAS SPECTACULAR. I HAD TO HURRY TO TAKE PHOTOS AS THE SUN SET SURPRISINGLY FASTER THAN I THOUGHT.

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The Royal Atlas Hotel & Spa, my kind of glam hotel and my kind of wheels!

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Royal Atlas Hotel & Spa is supposed to be the best beachfront hotel in Agadir. The limousine cost 200 euros per hour inclusive of chauffeur

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Michael Mantz and Princess Dr Becky Leogardo in the 'love seat' in lobby of Royal Atlas Hotel & Spa

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View of swimming pool complex from my bedroom on 2nd floor

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I enjoyed this panoramic view from my balcony daily for 4 days and 3 nights

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I never tired of this view as it changed throughout the day

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The same view but this time from earth level from the pool complex with its lovely islands of palm trees

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My room is on the second floor at the building on the right

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Cool pool

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Michael Mantz by the pool

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Michael Mantz prepared to jump into the pool fully dressed but finally decided against it

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We went to the beach instead as Royal Atlas had its own private cordoned beach area with deck chairs and umbrella

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Looking good

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Our private patch of paradise

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The Arabic characters on the mountain slope declared God is great, Country and King

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Our beach boy Murad

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Michael Mantz preparing to strip

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Removing his shoes

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Aaahhhhhhhh...

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Michael Mantz is oblivious to his fans

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This is the life!

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Time to wake up for a quick pose

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Kee Hua Chee lurking in the shadow of his umbrella to avoid the sun but as the sun was setting, he had to keep dragging his deck chair backwards every 10 minutes or so!

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Very attractive view

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My little but powerful Leica camera zoomed in for a closer look

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Across the bay is the newly built Agadir Marina with stylish shops, restaurants and trendy apartments and luxury yachts

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I took this with my Leica but my arm's not long enough for a full length view

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This angle's much better and you can see the portrait of Jesus Christ as I am a good Christian, I am

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So softly sultry

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What a poser I am

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Kee Hua Chee with his beach boy Murad

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Just in case one of us blinked...

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It was 5.30pm and Murad had to pack the umbrellas and lock the deck chairs so we went back to the pool

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Orange seemed to be the favorite color in Morocco. The umbrellas were all orange which perfectly matched this tourist's t-shirt

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Michael Mantz should be in orange as he is Dutch but he was all dressed in brown, cream and yellow

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Enjoying the beach view

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Malaysia's national dish made it to Morocco as it is now truly international! Look at the menu under Main Courses and 'Nasi Goreng' is right at the top! But it cost 120 dirhams or RM RM 48!

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The sun begun to set and i hurriedly moved to the right as this man's bulk might block the view

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Enjoying a last dip as the sun started to set, throwing out stunning colours of red and orange

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Hotel guests soaking in the setting sun

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A setting sun framed by swaying palms made a perfect picture

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I hurried to the beach for a better view

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What an idyllic scene---the setting sun framed by palm trees. I do have an artistic eye for composition

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This guy had the same idea but there was no palms in his picture

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I have a flair for composition for sure...

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Deck chairs locked up for the night

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I saw 2 Moroccan flags fluttering in the wind and immediately rushed to frame this fabulous picture!

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A more panoramic view

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Waiting for the wind to flap the flag flat took some patience and quick click of my Leica!

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Grand view of the Citadel, Marina, beach and couple in love

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Dinner in Italian restaurant across the road

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Princess Dr Becly Leogardo enjoying a fish dish at Tio Pepe next to Royal Atlas

BELOW ARE PHOTOS TAKEN AT THE SOUK OR TRADITIONAL MARKET IN AGADIR OLD QUARTER. THIS SOUK IS FREQUENTED BY LOCALS SO IT IS A VERY AUTHENTIC SOUK MEANT FOR MOROCCANS AND NOT SANITISED FOR TOURISTS.

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Michael Mantz and I entered through Gate 2

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The most dominant items here are food, fruits, drinks, household items and fake bags

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I never knew there were so many varieties of olives

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Olives come in many colours

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Common fruits but all are locally grown

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Moroccan weather allows apples and grapes to be grown

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Preserved fruits are plentiful and cheap

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Dates and nuts are delicious and nutritious

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Oils and essences are hand grounded and squeezed on the spot

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The best buys are Argan oil and beauty products containing age-defying argan oil. The argan tree grows only in Morocco and nowhere else!

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They resembled neon tubes or led lights but they certainly were not!

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These are just plastic sheets with stripes!

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Walkway covered by plastic sheets

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Charming key chains shaped as traditional Moroccan slippers, daggers and Blue Eye to ward off the evil eye

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The Old Souk of Agadir

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Serving plate and cover for the tanzine dish, a classic Moroccan dish

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More tanzine dishes

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The floor here is cleaner and drier as it is a dry, not wet market

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Spices and tea leaves

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Nuts, beans, grains and flour

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Exquisitely scripted Koranic verses make fantastic wall hangings

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A refreshing sight---lush, green palm fronds

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Oranges and pomegranates are best buys as they are cheap and plantiful since they were grown here

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Michael Mantz bought 2 avocadoes

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Women in this souk dressed conservatively

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Eastern and western gear met in harmony

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Taste before you buy. The seller offers the tourist some nuts on a long handled spoon

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Olives galore

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Well protected from sun and rain

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We enjoyed our trip to the souk tremendously

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I was waiting for this man to fall on the ladies but sadly he did not

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All ancient souks were protected by high walls and ramparts

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Looks like a fortress but this is Agadir Souk

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This guy admiring me later wanted to be our tour guide but we politely declined

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This is Gate 6 but there are at least a dozen gates

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Busy, bustling and colourful

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Outdoor market outside the souk walls

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Fruit seller outside the souk walls

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This could be anywhere in North Africa all the way to Middle East!

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We left the same way we entered, through Gate 2

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We enjoyed fine dining at Les Mauresque restaurant which had only another table apart from ours as it was very expensive but the food was superb and service impeccable

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Michael Mantz, Princess Dr Becky Leogardo and Kee Hua Chee feasted on Moroccan delicacies

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Mint tea, like our teh tarik, must be poured from arm's length into glass to produce an intense aroma and not a drop is allowed to spill or else bad luck will come to the pourer!


We left Le Meridien around noon. The concierge suggested we took the new highway to Agadir which should take around 3 hours. But as we know, highways are fast and usually bypass scenic routes so Michael Mantz decided we should take the old road which crosses Atlas mountains! According to the porter, this should also take 3 hours but the concierge said 5 to 6 hours. Naturally we heard what we wanted to hear. Princess Dr Becky meekly suggested the highway but it was 2 to 1.

To cut the story short, the 250 km trip took 6 hours! But to Michael and I, it was worth every minute! If you have the time, energy and inclination, this drive is one of life’s great ‘soft’ adventures.

The road is rather and very winding and at times rather precarious when we were confronted with hairpin bends, more so when another vehicle was approaching from the opposite direction.

Luckily with the new highway, almost all Moroccans and tour buses use the new route as it is impossible for coaches to traverse the mountain slopes. So the road was mostly empty which made driving a breeze!

Gasping at the valleys below from the sides of the mountains was almost like looking down from a roller-coaster and the faint-hearted may prefer to close their eyes and hope for Morpheus to take them to dreamland.

We were lucky the weather was fine as the blue sky contrasted wonderfully with the earth tones of the semi-arid Atlas mountains. Down in the valleys, the vegetation is lush and green, fed by the streams which were barely knee-deep at this time of year. When the rivers are engorged and lapping furiously at the banks, the sight must be even more breathtaking.

We came across vans and cars so loaded with people and goods it was a miracle they could move. One of the vehicles had so many passengers the exhaust pipe scrapped the ground now and then. I took a photo and two men wagged their fingers and looked annoyed so I hastily hid my camera. The thought of the van stopping to disgorge 20 men was enough to make me wee in the pants.

Many houses built of earth, sun-dried bricks, clay and mud blend so harmoniously with the mountain slopes protecting them it was not easy to make them out. These hamlets proved to be very picturesque and photogenic though some had cable TV dishes which marred their looks.

Men who need to pee have no problem but women should abstain from drinking too much liquids! Hygiene is not world class here. Princess Becky required a toilet break but the one she encountered in a café made her flee in horror.

Finally, we scaled almost to the highest peaks and came across a restaurant named ‘Auberge Restaurant Haute Vue 2,100 m’. Princess Becky sent me to check out the lavatory which mercifull was extremely clean and functioning so all was well and she was relieved in more ways than one.

We ordered a snack as it was by then 5pm. At 2,100 metres, the air was cold and there was a mild wind. As Casa Blanca and Marrakesh proved to be sizzling, I had packed my jacket in the suitcase inside the boot so I had to brave it out.

The restaurant also sold fossils and geological specimens extracted from Atlas mountains famed for its archaeological digs and bountiful supplies of trilobites and ammonites. In London I bought many fossils at Camden Market which came from Morocco so I thought I hit the jackpot when I saw fossil stones carved into plates and beautiful examples of ancient marine life embedded into petrified wood and stone. Alas, the seller wanted 1,500 MAD or RM 600! I think I paid RM 200 in expensive London! Of course I could try bargaining but to ask for RM 100 was too tiresome and anyway I think I have enough fossil plates at home. I paid L10 (RM 50) for a small plate whereas here he wanted RM 180! This is why I prefer shopping in pricey London where they are cheaper than in their country of origin! The locals must think we are suckers or foolish enough to buy at exorbitant prices though I guess to wealthy tourists, a few hundred ringgit is loose change.

The owner of the restaurant (not the fossil seller) took me to see his vegetable patch as he proudly announced all his veggies are literally garden fresh. I asked where were the aubergines since his place was called ‘Auberge Restaurant Haute Vue’. He looked surprised and said he could not grow aubergines at such high atltitudes. I asked why he named his restaurant after aubergines. He burst into hysterical laughter and called his family and spoke to them in French and they too rocked with laughter.

The owner grinned, “The word ‘auberge’ is French for ‘hotel’ and is not French for ‘aubergine’ the vegetable!”

Oh well, at least I learned a new word.

Due to the intervention of Buddha and Jesus, we descended to terra firma just as the sun set around 6 pm. To drive on mountain slopes at nightfall is deadly treacherous.

Enroute we passed Taroudante 80 km east of Agadir and we reached Agadir in one piece. As usual, we drove around looking for the most glamorous 5-star hotel. It proved very difficult as there were at least a dozen promising ones! I always judge a book by the cover so when we drove past Royal Atlas Hotel & Spa with the super-stretched limousine parked at its swanky entrance, I could feel in my bone marrow this was the one. Of course I was right.

The rate on display was 2,600 MAD or RM 1,050 but as Michael Mantz is a member of Amex Centurion Black Card with a limit of 1 million euros, we got a discount. Isn’t it weird the rich always get a discount when they can afford the full fare while poverty stricken peasants have to pay the full price?

Our 2 inter-connecting rooms had marvellous views of the vast pool interspersed with palm fronds while the Atlantic ocean beckoned beyond.

Agadir seemed agog for us!

THE END