Rabat

It makes me a little sad that so many travellers decide to skip out on visiting Rabat. The capital city of Morocco, although perhaps lacking in nightlife and major tourist hotspots, is a wonderfully photogenic city. It’s a modern city, with nearly all the amenities of western culture, interspersed with ancient ruins and stunning Arab architecture.
Perhaps it was because I have family friends in Rabat, who were kind enough to show me the sites and hidden gems of the area, or perhaps it’s the very lack of tourists that makes it so appealing.
For a capital city, Rabat is fairly laid back. The crazy Medina’s of Fez and Marrakech are completely opposite from Rabat’s set prices and “I don’t care if I make a sale” attitudes. Rabat’s souks are hassle free, and yet still carry everything you could ever want to buy. Antiques, scarves, pottery, shoes, leather bags, or a full Addidas jumpsuit: the Medina carries tourist trinkets and household necessities in plentiful supply. Food venders sell bowls of steamed snails (not bad), grilled meat sandwiches and freshly squeezed fruit juices. We tried pomegranate juice that was selling for less than a dollar a glass. I could hardly see the profit in selling it for so cheap. The vendor must have gone through at least 5 pomegranates, banging the backs of them with a wooden stick to loosen the seeds, just to make one cup of juice. But it sure was delicious!
On my first day in Rabat, Tamara and I walked around the sites of the city while the girls were in school and Rick was at work. Apparently you can see all the sites of Rabat in two hours, but we managed to keep ourselves busy for two days of sightseeing. We visited Le Tour Hassan, a mosque, that was originally supposed to be the second largest in the world, at 60m high. Unfortunately, the building was left unfinished, and an earthquake destroyed parts of what was constructed. What remains, however, is a beautiful, red-brick mosque, a courtyard of half standing rows of pillars and a gorgeous, intricately designed mausoleum on the other side. There were some tourists milling about, but mostly the place was empty, apart from some ornately dressed guards on horseback at the entrance gates, and others standing at the mausoleum entrance.
From the mosque we walked along the city outskirts to the Chellah. Of all the sites in Rabat, I believe this was my favourite. Originally built by the Romans in 40AD, the ancient city of Sala Colonia was abandoned in 1154. The Chellah was later reconstructed by the Arabs in the 14th century: towers and defensive walls were constructed around the roman site. What results is a wonderful mix of cross-cultured ruins: old stones with Greek letters etched into it sit next to a dilapidated mosque, partially decorated with fragments of colored tiles. The Chellah was completely devoid of tourists. It was a little garden oasis at the edge of Rabat, just out of earshot from the bustling traffic outside. We wandered the Chellah until it was time to pick the girls up from school. Then, it was surf time.
We drove South of the city about a half hour until we made it to this beautiful stretch of sandy beach. There we met up with Bob, who owns a surf school that the girls have been taking lessons at casually for the past month or two. On the day we went, it was overcast, and being the end of the summer season, we were the only ones on the beach!
Now, my experience with surfing is limited solely to my failed attempts in Southern India. Myles and I rented terrible surf boards, and threw ourselves into 6ft waves on the beaches of Kovalam. We lasted 20 minutes, then sat on the beach to eat a chocolate bar… I was hoping this time was going to be better than the last!
The second we arrived, it was already easier. We had great surfboards, wetsuits, and an instructor: already a winning start. Even though I put my wetsuit on backwards, and didn’t understand a word our French instructor was saying, I was still having fun.
We were out in the waves for an hour. Paris and Danika were amazing: I spent most of my time being dragged across the ocean by our guide. My upper body strength is weak at the best of times, throw a current into the mix and I’m right out! I like to think of my day more as “I was AMAZING at body boarding on a really long board” rather than “I am a terrible surfer”. Regardless, the water was warm, the waves were good, and we all seemed to have fun!
When we had recovered from the waves and made ourselves presentable, we all went out to a wonderful dinner down at the river. Just outside the medina there is a big sailing ship that has been transformed into one of the coolest restaurants I’ve come across. The bow has comfy cushions and low tables, perfect for drinks, the stern is a fancy dining room and downstairs there’s a cozy lounge bar that smells like old cigar smoke. The whole thing is beautiful, and the food is delicious! It’s such a rare event to visit fancy restaurants like this one when you’re a backpacker on a budget, so I really appreciated getting spoiled! We had fresh, warm bread rolls, a wonderful salmon, and Moroccan wine. I didn’t even know Moroccans MADE wine! But it was surprisingly tasty!
Overall I had an amazing time in Rabat. I only wish I’d had more time to get to know the city!

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Coolangatta

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I knew I was going to love Coolangatta the SECOND I got off the bus. The beaches were gorgeous (and swimmable), the entire promenade was filled with cafe’s, funky restaurants and was perfectly geared toward people watching.
Coolangatta is a lot smaller and a lot more laid back than Surfers. The backpacker average age was actually out of the teens, and everybody just wanted to have fun and surf. I loved it.
The hostel I stayed at was called Komune. By far one of the nicest hostel’s I’ve stayed at. It reminded me of a tropical resort more than a backpackers. Our room had a balcony that overlooked the huge pool and bar area AND had a gorgeous ocean view. The pool had big blue lounge cushions that you could suntan the day away on. The bar had nightly events and parties that you could join, or just watch from the balcony above. The place was fantastic!
I stayed in a ten person dorm, and everyone (in separate groups) was from South America: Chileans, Brazilians, Argentineans, aaaand a guy from Spain. Some spoke English better than others, but in the end, my Spanish conversational skills were better than having 9 people struggle through English. I had all but thought my Spanish was forgotten after two years of not speaking a single word. But it turns out I’m still pretty good! Who knew I’d come all the way to Australia and have to know a language other than English?
I spent a day longer in Coolangatta than I had intended. I spent the days hiking along the beaches, eating at all the various restaurants in the area and reading in the shade or watching the surfers. It was idyllic!
When Monday came along I actually found a spot to watch the Super Bowl! A little sports bar at the Twin Towns Hotel was playing it, and although only half the pub filled up, it was exciting to see Seattle kick some ass!
But after three relaxing days in the town, it was time to move along to bigger places. Next stop: Byron Bay!

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Kovalam and Kunakumari

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Lighthouse beach in Kovalam seems to have two sides: a local beach and a tourist beach. The two are not distinctly defined, and you can find a mix of everyone at both spots, but the tourist beach is patrolled by tourist lifeguards… And they make for some incredible people watching!
I doubt any one of the tourist lifeguards could actually save a life. They are dressed in full clothes, sometimes even jeans, and most look as though they are beached whales themselves. If you find yourself drowning at Lighthouse Beach then you better hope one of the many talented (or untalented) surfers pick you up on their next wave in, because these lifeguards are probably useless in that department. These lifeguards are paid to whistle. They blow their whistle to push along any creepy locals who stray too close to a scantily clad female tourist. They blow the whistle if a pack of young local men stare too long at the bathing beauties sunning themselves in the sand. And they blow these whistles ALL. THE. TIME.
Myles and my favorite pass time was sitting in one of the many restaurants of Kovalam with a pot of coffee and our morning breakfast and watching the debacle of whistle-touting lifeguards all afternoon. We watched as a group of boys snuck towards a couple unsuspecting women to try to chat with them. Then the whistle! We made bets on how close a guy could get before getting caught. Then the whistle! And we laughed every time a wave crashed into a guy, accidentally pushing him towards a tourist. Then the whistle! Even innocent mistakes were cause for whistle blowing. The sounds began long before we woke up, and continued until the sun set behind the smog and the beach lay deserted. It was hilarious.
Kovalam beach was an amazing escape from the dusty, overcrowded streets of landlocked India. The beach was stunning, the vibe more relaxed, and the people more friendly. We had heard that Kerala was a different world and the rumors didn’t disappoint!
Myles and I moved into a slow routine right away. Long breakfasts with lots of coffee then an afternoon beach activity. A stroll into the local parts of town for the cheapest lunch we could find, then a late dinner with luke warm beers and games of rummy well into the night. We had no word from Kelsi about when she could return.
“All I want to see is the backwaters!” She said to me in an email a day earlier. “Other than that, you guys see whatever you’d like!”
The backwaters were just a couple hours North of Kovalam, so we waited and relaxed and for the first time in 3 months, took it slow.
One day we decided to go on an adventure to Kunakumari, the Southernmost tip of India, where you can see three seas converge! We had no guidebook, 5 dollars in our pockets, and could only occasionally remember the name “Kunakumari”. (Very well prepared, yes I know).
The two cities are not that far apart. Probably no more than 60km or so. An hour and a half each way and we’d be back for dinner! Or so we thought…
Unfortunately, even though there is a direct bus from Kovalam to Kunakumari, there is not a direct ROUTE. Our bus ended up backtracking to Trivandrum and then stopping in every tiny village between there and the southern tip. The trip took 4.5 hours. Each way. Kill me now.
What was supposed to be a three hour round trip turned out to be 9 straight hours of bussing! Luckily, we DID get to see the three oceans converge. And do you know what three oceans all converging at one focal point looks like?
Well I’ll tell you.
It looks like ONE ocean! It looks like any other ocean or sea or large body of water that I’ve ever seen. Yes, okay, it’s neat to be able to say that I saw the meeting point of the Indian seas, but it may not have been worth 9 hours of public transport.
What was worth it, was our local lunch stop that afternoon. We stopped in at a hole-in-the-wall Thali joint that was packed with locals. The owner must have thought we were lost when we sat down.
“Only thali!” He announced to us.
“We will have two please” we said back, much to his astonishment.
Thali’s are a delicious way to eat in India. They are served at most restaurants, from the grubbiest dive to the classiest joint, thali’s can differ in a million ways. But essentially they are all the same. It’s an all you can eat meal, with a base of rice, that comes with sauces. Sometimes there are curries or naan bread, desserts, aloo gobi, paneer masala, butter chicken and all sorts of wonderful cuisine. Other times there is a huge helping of rice with three sauces that could be anything. At this place it was red, yellow and green. The green dish had an okra base, and the okra was so tough you couldn’t chew through it. The rest we just guessed on; but any guess was as good as ours! The place had no napkins and no utensils. Perfect! (And I don’t mean that sarcastically for once).
We had been looking for a place to eat with our hands for a while. This was the first place that didn’t have some sort of food that could also be used as a scoop. It was just rice and sauce. A truly authentic hand eating experience!
Turns out, eating rice with your hands is more difficult than I had anticipated. It really takes skill! We tried a number of techniques: holding the rice if your hand like a bowl and hoovering it out. Taking the rice in your fingers and using a shoveling effect. Or pinching the rice and dropping it into your upturned head like a crane. I preferred the crane: Myles the shovel. We still both looked like idiots. C’est la vie!
When Kunakumari was all said and done we decided against day trips out of the city. When 60 kilometers turns into nearly 5 hours, it’s difficult to find places to visit nearby. So instead we learned to surf!
Let me just start by saying this. What were we thinking?! Or maybe more appropriately, what was I thinking?! We started out in the morning trying to find boards. We wanted ones as long as possible, for better balance. This was a problem right at the start. Nearly all the boards were short. Great.
When we’d finally found some longer ones at a decent price, it was mid afternoon. This meant big waves. Who the Hell learns to surf in 6-8 foot waves?! Myles and I do! That’s who.
We got out to beyond the breakers fairly fast. (Retrospectively I’m amazed by this). I could hardly even sit on my board without falling off, but a young local guy and his girlfriend gave us some pointers. Our first wave in was a fail. Obviously. As were the next couple. Although Myles was getting much closer. After that, it was 20 minutes of being beaten and thrown around by waves much bigger than us. We got spun around and knocked in the head by our boards. We came up spewing salty brine from our noses and mouths and trying to wipe the stinging from our already reddened eyes.
At one point, closer to shore I looked back to see Myles finally catch a wave! The thing was massive. I don’t even think he realized its size. He was paddling hard towards the shore as the wave lifted him. The wave loomed large and dark and blue behind him. He had a massive grin on his face as he started to push himself up.
“Oh my god,” I thought “he’s going to do it!”
Then, right as I thought, that the wave came crashing down on top of him. His expression turned to a muddled shock and fear as his face disappeared into the wave. Then I saw feet. Then head. Then feet. Then board. Then wave. Then nothing. Then feet again. And finally Myles came up spurting water again.
I couldn’t stop laughing. We decided to take a break. I thought we’d been out on the water for hours. It had been twenty minutes. We contemplated going out for a round two, but the waves just kept getting bigger. So we went for a beer. We’re much better at drinking beer. Maybe next time we should stick to what we’re good at.
Surfing: 1
Myles and Hilary: 0
You win this round Kovalam!

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