Sidi Ifni & Weekly Fireflies

I’ve decided to start a new weekly wrap-up, which will hopefully encourage regular blogging on at least my part (I can’t speak for Jon). So this first ‘weekly’ is a recap of our last few days in the former Spanish enclave of Sidi Ifni, and some impressions and observations from the last week. Departing from Dakhla was a welcomed move – not that Dakhla was unpleasant by any means, it’s just a very sleepy coastal town that presented itself with a mixture of West African/Mauritanian and Moroccan/Arab/Berber cultures. In other words, not really having a grasp on any of those cultures at this point, we were mostly just confused. Personally, I was also ready to move beyond the vast stretches of bleakness and see some landscape. I’ve read and heard that Morocco is a dramatically beautiful country and I wanted to see it for myself.

A 9-hour bus ride brought us to the city of Laayounne – home to about 200,000 Moroccans. Not much to say about it, other than it was refreshing to be in a somewhat urban environment. This fashionable town even has a Vegas-style neon-lit fountain. Cool. We spent one night there and boarded a bus at 7:30am Goulmim – described by our Rough Guide as a ‘drab administrative town.’ The bus ride was the most interesting yet (excluding the beautiful dunes of Mauritania), with the desert giving way to sweeping plateaus, plunging cliffs into the sea, and lush inlets carving valleys from the sea into the desert. The 7-hour ride brought us to Goulmim in the early afternoon, with an easy change to a ‘grand-taxi’ (bush taxi) for the hour-long ride to Sidi Ifni.

Moving north towards Laayounne


Not more than 15 minutes out of Goulmim we found ourselves winding through the colorful hills and lush valleys of the Anti-Atlas. Such topography! I was stuck again on the middle seat of a car filled with too many people (there were 4 of us in the back seat of a regular Mercedes sedan – one of whom was a…well-proportioned woman). An adventure!

Road to Laayounne

The Spanish built up Sidi Ifni as a military garrison in the 1930’s when they colonized the area. The town is set high above on a cliff, with a nice beach and steep stairs leading down to the water. It’s famous for its art deco architecture – which honestly not knowing much about architecture doesn’t seem very impressive (I think I got spoiled in Greece!) – but it must be unique to Morocco. It’s lovely nonetheless. We opted for a hotel on the beach, rather than up high, which has essentially given us the chance to get a nice workout every time we want something (food, water etc).

Jon’s healing another wound, similar to what was on his feet, so I took the day Saturday while he tended his wound and headed 10km north to the beach of Legzira. Just a few hotels nestled into the cliff, Legzira is a rocky beach famous for the red archways carved away by the sea. It was nice to find a private little cove where I could sunbathe, and then explore the rocks. I had planned to walk the 10km (6 miles) back to Sidi Ifni, but the tide never really went low enough to cross one of the rocky sections. Luckily I didn’t get too far before figuring this out! A kind Englishwoman and her Moroccan husband gave me a lift back to Sidi Ifni, thankfully before I felt too dejected walking alone on the hot, exposed road back to town. It was nice to have a little solo adventure for the day. A non-date-day as a friend recommended – nice for coming back and sharing stories with your travel partner.

Staying an extra day here allowed us to check out today’s Sunday flea market – the produce section of which made the Portland Farmer’s market pale in comparison, at least when it came to quantities of things. I’ve never seen bigger piles of oranges and carrots! It also allowed us to enjoy the phenomenon that is Saturday night in Sidi Ifni. Apparently everyone gets dressed up to walk the town starting around 8pm – who knew there were actually so many people here!

Tomorrow brings an 8-hour bus ride to the grand city of Marrakech! Very exciting.

Here’s some other weekly thoughts:

Are they arguing or just talking? I may not know a lot about this culture, but one thing I’m convinced of is that Arabic is a language for making one’s self known. People are always talking loudly, and very unabashedly in the presence of others. Whether it’s on the cell phone, or like the larger woman and her young son who talked over each other the whole way to Sidi Ifni – I’ve decided that the most important thing when learning Arabic is to speak forcefully. Maybe they’re just talking about puppies?

Solo vs Couples Traveling: My non-date-day solo adventure to Legzira highlighted the stark contrast in the experience one has as a solo female traveler vs a couple traveling together. From taking breakfast in a café where I was joined by a kind gentleman who gave me a lift to Legzira (yes, I’m very trusting…); to the willingness of anyone to talk to me – it was interesting see how people treated me differently without Jon there.

“Camping Cars” – French for Retired RV Tourists: There are lots of them – easily over 100 are parked in the two ‘camp grounds’ right next to our hotel. They are all French. Not much else to say, it’s just curious.

Coffee: FINALLY good coffee, freedom from Nescafè. Give me a noss noss (Arabic for half half – half coffee half steamed milk) and I’m a happy girl.

Olives, dates, oranges and argan: The presence of any of these during a meal is fabulous – and this is where argan oil comes from – a highly prized oil used in western beauty products. Here it’s mixed with almond butter and honey for a delicious bread dip. Yes please.

Cliffs: I can now safely say that the majority of the entire Saharan coastline is a very steep cliff. We saw everything from Nouakchott to Sidi Ifni – it was far.

Can't Ghent Enough

Ghent it? Yeah, we do. Not only is Belgium's fourth most populous city prime for name-calling puns, it's my new favorite super-old, overly gorgeous, filled with delicious things European city.
We arrived yesterday, New Year's day (happy new year!) and are leaving tomorrow to go to Brussels. This is certainly a place I know I want to come back to. A sizable city, with just over 250,000 inhabitants, Ghent brings together the seemingly unending architectural beauty that Brugges offers, but with a bigger city feel, thriving student population and all kinds of old-world-meets-new-world art and design that makes this girl real happy.

A note about art in Ghent: it's everywhere. In addition to the collection of medieval churches, buildings and town halls, one can see what seems like an entire history of western architecture just in an hour's walk through the historic city center.  Earlier in 2012 I spent a lot of time thinking (mostly at work) about creative placemaking - the process of animating public spaces with artistic expression and installation. Here, creative placemaking is alive and well. One of the most visible examples is the 'grafitistraatje' - a little alley where the street walls, bricks and fences (anyone - you too!) are continually reinvented by street graffiti artists. At first glance, looking down the alley looks a bit dodgy, but once you step in you're surrounded by such a collection of artists that Portland's first Thursday would pale in comparison. Street art seems to be a highly respected form of expression and you can easily find yourself turning a corner to be welcomed by an extensive mural or graffiti experiment. And although we didn't see it, apparently a group of artists are working on a 'graffiti tower' project in response to the city's plan to tear down to high-rise low(er) income development projects and displace a large group of immigrants.

I've also been so excited to see contemporary art installations in the (huge) medieval churches. From photography installations to youth artworks to an electric light installation, it's clear that these old, ornate and incredibly beautiful spaces are being reinvigorated time and time again. I like it.

We've of course been keen to partake in local treats. Aside from the obvious necessary intake of high-gravity Belgian beer, we found a true Belgian "Frieten" or friterie/fries cart. Just for the record, fries are not French, their Belgian, and are typically served with sauce - the traditional being mayo.

We also visited Mokabon, a coffee house that serves locally roasted coffee. But the best part??? When you want cream with your coffee, they give you a little plate of thick Belgian whipped cream. I LOVE THIS PLACE.

We also made sure to try "cuberdon" - the "nose of Ghent" a candy made only in this region is hard on the outside (but not like hard candy) and stuffed with fruity sweet gelatin paste. At first taste we weren't sure we were into it, but before we knew it we were on a mission for a sac of these little "noses" because we just wanted more. Good thing we're walking about 9 miles a day (that's not an exaggeration) because Belgium would be very bad for my waistline otherwise.

Our next destination is to the capital, Brussels, where we'll spend three days hanging out. I'm particularly looking forward to visiting the instrument museum, the world's largest collection of unique instruments from around the world. I'm also looking forward to having some Belgian chocolate, which oddly for me I haven't even had yet - too busy with the waffles, beer, fries and now cuberdons. Don't worry Mom, I had a salad tonight.

There's so much more I want to say about Ghent, but it's been such a whirlwind of a time here. I remarked to Jon tonight how much it feels like Strasbourg (France) to me, and perhaps that's why I feel so comfortable here and why I enjoy it so much (despite not understanding a lick of Dutch - I just don't Ghent it..hahaha ok sorry). I spent 5 months in Strasbourg, fyi for anyone who was wondering why on earth I would have any attachment to that city. Whatever it is, I hope we make it back here before the trip is done. I'm considering this an official scouting mission.

What are some of your favorite far away cities?




Our time in Bruges has come to a close. We leave deeply impressed with the scape of this beautiful city, tired of the crowds of Brugenyland, hung over on amazing beer, full of frites and waffles. Some Bruge thoughts:

1) Food is expensive. Unless you are having a super cheap snack food, your out 15-20 euro for lunch and 20-30 for dinner for a three course meal. Jess and I were impressed with the mayo on is somehow better here. The waffles were always great as well. We had Flemish stew (beef stew in a dark beer sauce) and rabbit Flemish style (in a beer sauce with prunes); both were quite good and came with frties per usual. I can't say we got a chance to try much food here due to the cost, but there are over 400 places to eat here and I would like to have a go at them all.

2) Beer is cheap. Given my nature to pay too much for Belgian beer in the states I was amazed to find that some of the best Belgian beer is 2 euro in the bottle, 4 euro at the pub. We also toured the only brewery in Bruge, The Half Moon which makes a great beer called Bruge Zot and Hendricks. Beer is freaking serious here...never considered ordering wine (except for hot spiced wine in the market :).

3) I have never seen so many beautiful buildings in my life; every corner you turn is amazing. However, other people think this too...hence, Brugneyland. every day a flood of tourist come into town and leave in the evening.


Jess chiming in here: HAPPY NEW YEAR! As Jon mentioned, we really did decide to dub Bruges Brugeneyland. It's so unbelievably beautiful - oozing with gorgeousness - it's overwhelming. The first city settlements were made in the 8th century, with the height of merchant trade, religion, and art culminating in the 15th century. Home to artist Jan Van Eyck, the only Michelangelo sculpture made onsite outside of Italy and the first book ever published in English, Brugge has serious history. Art is everywhere, not just in galleries, public art, and in the ridiculous amount of churches; but in every detail of the buildings, landscaping and canals.

The amount of tourists that pour in each day and leave at sundown, really does give the feeling that you're in a theme park, that it can't be real, but it is.

Our new year's eve was one of the most fun new year's eves I can remember. In Brugges, the highlight of the evening is to convene outside the concert hall (oddly one of a few modern buildings in the city) and partake in a 15,000+ person sing-a-long. Songs were sung in dutch, italian, french, spanish and english, and, while some of the song choices were pretty odd, it was a beautifully festive and family affair. People of every age, singing, dancing and celebrating. A scene of pure joy - even with the misty rain. Events like these would heal the world if they happened more often. Our favorite parts were "Sweet Caroline" sung in dutch, a massive amount of people dancing to gangnam style, and a dutch song that our Ghent couchsurfing hosts have informed us is a Belgian 'dwarf dance' - where everyone waves their arms over their heads, turns around, ducks/squats down and does another turn. Let me tell you, when 10,000+ people start doing a totally cute belgian dwarf dance, you can't help but be happy.

We're in Ghent for a couple of days and then off to Brussels. More soon!

What did you all do for New Year's Eve?