Category: Travel

Morocco

Exploring Morocco

Nothing like the cooler climate of North Africa to wind down the pace from four months of solo travel abroad.  I can’t say enough about Morocco to describe the amazing experience I had exploring this wonderful country.  After months of exploring countries on the Indian ocean, its not by chance that I end up in Morocco.  As a young boy I had a fantasy of treasure hunting and exploring exotic locals, riding camels across the famed Sahara Desert, so for my 50th this year I knocked another one off the bucket list and trekked the Sahara on camel, spent the night in a Berber camp where we partied until all hours of the morning.  While I was only in Morocco for a couple of weeks, I was fortunate enough to explore more than 13 cities.  Above:  My map of the journey.

I thought it might be a good idea to bring a map…Don’t want to get lost here.  We started in Casablanca, stopped and spent one or two days in each city, looped across the country, over the Atlas Mountains to the Sahara Desert, then back over the Atlas Mountains again to end our excursion back in Casablanca.  This country is a shoppers paradise.  I bought so many items of clothing, coffee, chocolate, antiques, etc. that I had to buy an extra piece of luggage to bring everything back.  Nothing like an aged leather bag from Fez to pack things into.


M A R R A K E C H   مراكش

The open air market in Marrakech.  Enjoying a beer rooftop.

Fun evening out on the town in Marrakech.  Great meal and entertainment at Dar Essalam.  Mmmmm, yummy Moroccan food and entertaining belly dancers.


C A S A B L A N C A

Exploring Casablanca. Great food, wonderful people and great deals on everything.

The Four Seasons, beach-side in Casablanca.  Just got a great deal on shoes and some designer shirts.


V O L U B I L I S

I explored the Ancient Roman city of Volubilis in Morocco.  Volubilis dates back to 40 BC and was once home to more than 20,000 residents. This site has not been fully excavated by archeologists yet, so there are lots of mosaic tiles and pieces of ancient pottery just laying around. What a fun city to explore.
David Loughlin


David Loughlin


David Loughlin


David Loughlin


David Loughlin


David Loughlin


David Loughlin


David Loughlin


S A H A R A   D E S E R T

Trekking the Sahara Desert.  Self given birthday gift.  My cell phone was going off in the middle of the Sahara with everyone wishing me Happy Birthday. Ding…Ding…Ding.  With a smile on my face, we rode on in search of our camp.

Below photo:  Sunrise on the Sahara, April 12th with the magical golden sand.  I bottled some of the sand and brought some home…memories like the shells from Indonesia, Singapore, Dar., Zanzibar and Madagascar.
David Loughlin

David Loughlin

Spent the night in a camp and celebrated my 50th with fellow explorers.  Jonathan Bulezuik got tanked on a bottle of gyn and stayed up all night playing drums with the locals while talking to them about hot political topics.  The video below was shot just after dinner in the center of out tent camp.

Sunrise in the Sahara.  What a beautiful morning.
David Loughlin

K A S B A H   A M R I D I L

Stopped and toured this beautiful kasbah in the middle of the lush palm groves.

 

T O D G H A   G O R G E

The drive to FEZ


David Loughlin

One last stop before we reach Fez and my chance to get some Moroccan chocolate for wine pairing and cooking.  Love the spice selection in the local supermarket.


F E Z

Love the detailed stone work in my hotel lobby.
David Loughlin

Leather capital of Africa. Bring some mint if you visit the tanneries.

Need a jacket, shoes, leather bag?  The Leather tanneries of Fez have anything leather you can think of, including fresh mint to mask the smell.

I love it when you go out to eat and the belly dancer pulls you away from the table to tango.


M E K N E S

I found the food in Meknes to be delicious, the merchants were way too high on their prices, but then I was a little over dressed for hard core bargaining.  Nice antiques in this city.  I took this photo of Bab Mansour, a huge gate with arches and mosaic tiling. The gate leads into the former imperial city. The Mausoleum of Sultan Moulay Ismail, who made the city his capital in the 17th century, has courtyards and fountains. Now heading to the capital city of Rabat on the coast.
David Loughlin


A I T   B E N H A D D O U

Below:  Ait Benhaddou, ighrem, along the former caravan route between the Sahara and Marrakech in present-day Morocco.  We found snow while crossing the Atlas Mountains.  My ears were popping upon descent. Digging the shirt I bought in Ethiopia, the clothing there was pretty cool for a third world country.
David Loughlin


R A B A T
Hassan Tower at the Mausoleum of Mohammed V
David Loughlin


David Loughlin


David Loughlin

Sunset over the Atlantic. The cool ocean breeze is refreshing. Nice way to end in Morocco.
David Loughlin

Madagascar – Island Hopping

David Loughlin Island Hopping in Madagascar, Nosy Be, Nosy Ambariovato, Nosy Tanikely.


Just an hour and a half flight north of Antananarivo, the capital of Madagascar, lies the sleepy island of Nosy Be (big island in Malagasy). Known for its beautiful beaches, sleepy villages and French influence, this archipelago serves as a jumping off point to a number of smaller islands in all directions. One finds it easy to disconnect from the digital world here, not only because of the abundance of under water dive excursions, horse back riding, island hopping, wildlife and scenic parks, but on these islands you are so far off the grid…electricity is unstable, it can and will vanish during any one of the many fierce lightning storms which pass over daily.

Local fishermen return with this day’s late afternoon catch. Want anything?
David Loughlin

No shortage of resorts along the beach offering a full range of accommodations. Enjoying an ice cold beer at high tide.

A local woman combs the beach in search of buyers of her fresh fruit.
David Loughlin

Low tide Southwest side of Nosy Be, peering south down the beach.
David Loughlin

Warm sunsets with fast moving clouds.  The sky constantly changes.

Raw video of a lightning storm in slow motion to expose the bolts.


Exploring – Hell Ville, Nosy Be, Madagascar

Peaceful drive into Hell Villa, the main town on Nosy Be. Great deals on local coffee, vanilla and many other spices.

Here you will find hundreds of merchants selling anything from freshly caught fish, local produce, electronics or whatever you need.


Island Hopping – Nosy Be to Nosy Komba (Lemur Island)

Off the coast of Nosy Be lies a volcanic island famous for the preservation of lemurs appropriately nicknamed Nosy Komba (Malagasy for Lemur Island). For a nominal fee of $35. USD, about 110,000 Malagasy Ariary you can travel via boat to any number of outer islands and explore the deep blue, snorkel, picnic or in my case, get up close and personal with a community of Malagasy lemurs.


Nosy Ambariovato

After 35 minutes of ocean wind in my face, we arrived at Nosy Ambariovato. A picturesque island, covering 25 km2, complete with lush jungles.  This island once service as a navigational aid to former mariners with its lighthouse.
David Loughlin

Eager to explore the island, we beached the boats inside the cove. Overhead winds from the Indian Ocean provide persistent change of light, as the clouds above cast quick moving shadows on the tropical landscape, alternating between soft and deep rich colors.

Just some stock video footage of our arrival on the beach on Nosy Komba.


Malagasy Lemurs

After a 20 minute hike into the forest we encountered thin trees with curious lemurs, hungry for a fresh banana. Connecting with these guys was an experience…playful, trusting, but mostly motivated by food, they are fun, bold and eager to jump on your shoulders for a bite to eat. Don’t be surprised if some jump on you from behind, they are not shy when it comes to asking for food.
David Loughlin

This little guy is curious to see if we have food. Friendly little animals.

This lemur is fascinated with the cell phone.
David Loughlin


Other Creatures on Nosy Ambariovato

Lemurs a only a few of the natural surprises you might encounter on Nosy Ambariovato. The reptiles are among the most colorful I have ever seen.

I’m not a big fan of snakes, but everyone else took the same picture, so why not.
David Loughlin


Rum & Lime – Sleepy Beachfront Bar

I found a sleepy beach bar offering shots of local rum, a 50/50 mix of rum, local lime juice served with a salted rim.
David Loughlin


Nosy Tanikely

Heading back to Nosy Be, we stopped at an even smaller island in the archipelago named Nosy Tanikely. The lighthouse on the island was once the navigational aid for nautical traffic in these waters.
David Loughlin

Boats tied up, lets explore this island.
”David

David Loughlin

The lighthouse located at the islands highest point is a reminder of days when navigation was visual not electronic.
David Loughlin

Atop the lighthouse you get a panoramic view in all directions.

David Loughlin

David Loughlin

View from the lighthouse – Your chariot awaits. Gazing down at the beach you gain perspective
David Loughlin

Local fishermen
David Loughlin


H O R S E B A C K   O N   N O S Y   B E
The mid-morning start of a half day ride across the lush countryside on Nosy Be. Horseback through the Malagasy countryside, crossing through many local farms and plantations.
David Loughlin

Pausing for a rest and taking in the sights before descending to the beach.
David Loughlin

David Loughlin

A warm day today, so its time to head to the beach for some fun in the bay with the horses.
David Loughlin

The Spice Islands of Zanzibar

Situated on the Swahili Coast, adjacent to Tanganyika (mainland Tanzania), lies one of the most beautiful islands in East Africa.  Formerly known as a center for spice and slave trading in the 19th century, Zanzibar is much more than a stopping point on an itinerary, it’s 1,020 square miles of pure adventure waiting to be explored.

N U N G W I   B E A C H   Z A N Z I B A R

Whether you are an avid diver, beach comber, hopeless romantic, shopaholic, love horseback riding, enjoy fine dining or just want to escape and explore new destinations, Zanibar has something for you.

One of the first things you will notice are the countless miles of untouched beaches, romantic, pristine, untouched pieces of paradise waiting to message your feet.  Since this island is not a high traffic tourist destination, there are plenty of beautiful seashells to be found in the early mornings, before the locals awake to gather these gems for the market.

Zanzibar hosts many luxury resorts waiting to pamper your every need.  While I stayed at several resorts on the island, my favorite is the Sea Cliff Resort situated on the east cost, 25 minutes north of Stone Town.  Whether you like horseback riding, golf, sailing, fine dining, the spa or simply relaxing by one of their two infinity pools, Sea Cliff will sooth your senses.

M A T E M W E
Miles of beautiful beaches line the coastline in Matemwe, north Zanaibar on the east coast.
David Loughlin

S E A  C L I F F   R E S O R T

Riding, Sea Cliff Resort, Zanzibar
David Loughlin

Equestrian lovers will find pleasure in riding horses across the tropical countryside into emerald green waters.
David Loughlin

Private Beach @ Sea Cliff Resort
Enjoy one of the private beaches reserved for guests only.
David Loughlin

Nothing like a a couple of beers, a several hour nap and waking to this scenic view.  Ahhh Yeah.
David Loughlin

D I V E R   D O W N

Whether you enjoy snorkeling or deep water diving, Zanzibar offers an array of excursions to meet your needs.
David Loughlin

Diving The Royal Navy Lighter shipwreck at 30m, Zanzibar
David Loughlin

Exploring artifacts below.
David Loughlin

Shoppers Delight
If you love to barter, then the markets of Stone Town are the place for you.  The city is a virtual maze of alleyways all lined with merchants eager to sell their goods.

Rooftop shot at 5:30 am atop the Maru Maru Hotel, Stone Town, Zanzibar.  Maru Maru means Tile Tile.
David Loughlin

The best deals are waiting to be had if your bartering skills are firm.  Whether you are looking for coffee, fresh vanilla, fish, antiques, artwork or what ever tickles your fancy, you will find it in the market in Stone Town.  Be willing to walk if you do not get the price you want, the merchant will follow you for blocks to seal the deal.
David Loughlin

Open air fish market in Stone Town.  Some unique smells for sure.
David Loughlin

David Loughlin

Day Excursions – Prison Island
There are plenty of day excursions to keep you busy.  Just a 30 minute boat ride from Stone Town lies a little piece of paradise named Prison Island.  This was a former prison, turned tourist attraction that also serves as an animal preserve for the endangered tortoise population.
David Loughlin

The snorkeling is spectacular and the waters are pristine.  Abundant coral lines the ocean floor, rich with a spectacular variety of tropical fish, star fish and much more.
David Loughlin

David Loughlin

We passed some locals fishing on our way to Prison Island.
David Loughlin

The road to vanilla heaven.  Before departing for East Africa I created a bucket list of items I wanted to purchase in each country.  Coffee and chocolate were on the list for every country while vanilla was my primary target from both Madagascar and this island of Zanzibar.  Below are photos of one journey to a vanilla plantation located in the middle of the island.

Farm Country…getting close.

Young vanilla on the vine.

History of slavery is ever present.  This is a former slave cave, over 100 years ago, slaves were stored in these caves after a full day of labor on the spice plantations.


David Loughlin


David Loughlin

Fishing boats.
David Loughlin

Below:  A local spear fishing mid day to feed his family.
David Loughlin

The blue Monkey.  It does exist.
David Loughlin

These kids from a local village want to model for the camera.

Double Rainbow
David Loughlin

Boats
David Loughlin

Foul weather ahead as the sun begins to set.
David Loughlin

Very relaxing evening.
David Loughlin


 

Antananarivo, Madagascar

Antananarivo, the capital of Madagascar.  A city rich with a blend of Malagasy and French European influence.

Le Louvre Hôtel & Spa

I booked accommodations at Le Louvre Hôtel & Spa during both of my visits to Antananarivo.  The spa sold me instantly.  At the end of each day I booked massages at the end of each day.  Some of the best self love in a long time.

The lobby at Le Louvre Hôtel & Spa

The spa at Le Louvre Hôtel & Spa


Patisserie Colbert Tananarive – Fine Malagasy Chocolate

Stumbled upon this French Bakery just two blocks from my hotel and added a couple kilos of fine Malagasy chocolate to my luggage.


The Open Air Market – Antananarivo

Exiting my hotel, crossing the street and through the park, I reached a set of stairs that leads down to the local open air market, with hundreds of vendors to bargain with.


 


The Royal Palace

 


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Coco Beach, Tanzania

David Loughlin – Exploring Tanzania


Coco Beach reminds me of Laguna Beach, California in the states.  This posh little town just 25 minutes outside of Dar es Salaam is the perfect place to stay when visiting the Capital city of Tanzania.  I spent most of my time at the beach clubs, sampling the local cuisine and watching the sunsets and exploring Dar with fellow travelers.  One fascinating aspect of Africa that I found most entertaining was the high demand for American men.  Everywhere I went, the beaches, restaurants, clubs, I mean everywhere in Tanzania, Zanzibar, Kenya, Ethiopia, Madagascar and Morocco, women were very proactive in communicating their desires.  Needless to say, I found an abundance of romance abroad.  🙂  Sing it with me, Love is in the air…

 

Quest for Coffee – Ethiopia

In East Africa, heading south to Madagascar through Ethiopia, Kenya (Nairobi), and Tanzania (Kilimanjaro, Dar Es Salaam, Zanzibar) before heading north to Morocco for a 13 city tour.

While in Addis Ababa, I piked up some elegant local clothing, experienced the most amazing Cappacino in my life, mingled with some locals, met a journalist with an amazing life story, then headed out in search of the unroasted.

Six hours after arriving another adventure begins.  I’m heading to a plantation that is rumored to produce some very fine beans.  Its a trek into the countryside as the quality of roads begins to diminish every ten minutes.  It’s hot and balmy here, the soil moist and the canopy lush and green with something to eat everywhere.

Calm and peaceful farming communities with decent acreage.  Locals working to harvest the daily yield.  Vines bursting with cocao, coffee, vanilla, cinnamon and much more.

I shaved a medium sized bundle of cinnamon off this tree.  My luggage is starting to smell alive with the coffee, chocolate and cinnamon.   Note to self, wrap cinnamon in plastic when packing with clothing.  Smells good though.

Not ripe yet, but perhaps these guys will end up in your chocolate bar one day.  These trees are checked daily all ripe bounties are picked when ready.

In the end, I returned from Africa with coffee from eleven different harvests spanning eight countries.  Some roasted, some raw green, weighing in at ten kilos.  The roasted varieties are producing aromas of chocolate, not, peanut butter, orange, mint, various fruits and more.  After roasting the raw beans, I have a total of 14 different flavors to sample and share with friends.   I take the beans to the sweet, sugar brewing phase of the roast and stop at the first crack, producing a more flavorful, authentic coffee flavor, much lighter in taste than any black french roast will ever produce.

Nairobi, Kenya

The Experience

In East Africa, heading south to Madagascar through Ethiopia, Kenya (Nairobi), and Tanzania (Kilimanjaro, Dar Es Salaam, Zanzibar) before heading north to Morocco for a 13 city tour.

I’m on a quest for the elusive unroasted coffee bean from small production farms with a limited annual production of 500 to 1000 pounds max.  I’m hunting for a particular scarce bean that, when roasted to the first crack, yields an aroma of dark chocolate with a hint of peanut butter. It’s color, once ground, is said to resemble the color of the sands of the Sahara Desert at sunset, visually resembling a nutty caramel color with a hint of orange.  My goal?  To return with the most tasty coffee beans I can find.


The Network

The barista mentions a small private tour of a local plantation, known for fine coffee and rare spices. The next thing I know, I’m heading north in a silver van in rout to said spice plantation at the cost of around $30. USD, transportation and guided tour included. People are fast and friendly here if you know what you want.

The guided tour?  More like one guide and five young African farm laborers who gather and present you with samples of their products.  The kiwi was sweet, the mango tangy and the coffee green on the vine.   I’m looking for the money man, so I ask, “how much?” as I point to the green beens ripening on the vine.  “You want?” one guy asks, “how much?” I replied.  “OK, come come” he says as he gestures with the slow movement of his hand.  I broke from the spice tour with plans to meet up with them for lunch around noon.


The Bean

Departing the cool shade of the canopy we crossed a field and navigated over few irrigation trenches and arrived at what appeared to be a shanty bean drying facility and operations warehouse with burlap sacks, 50 kilos each.  I am presented with two types of raw coffee beans to choose from.  Option A was the pure green bean, nothing but the bean. Option B was a mix of raw bean mixed with unsorted rough.  I chose option A to be safe.

Then the money man asks, “how many kilos?” To which I respond, “Ah…..one!”  That’s 2.2 pounds of raw beans and I plan on scoring 10 to 11 times as I move south before heading up to Morocco in the north.

Suddenly it occurs to me that I need to quickly assess my strategy, because my plan is to get a sample from 10 or 11 plantations to roast when I return.  So much for strategy…I returned with 10 kilos of beans from the African continent.  More than enough to master the art of roasting and still have enough to host cuppings (tastings) for a year or more.


The Deal

Money man starts the price at 1,654. Shillings per kilo, about $16. USD.  Two or three times the going price by weight.  After more barter we settle on a price and I walk with my score in hand, only nine or ten more deals to go.


The Score

In the end, I returned from Africa with coffee from eleven different harvests spanning eight countries.  Some roasted, some raw green, weighing in at ten kilos.  The roasted varieties are producing aromas of chocolate, nut, peanut butter, orange, mint, various fruits and more.  After roasting the raw beans, I have a total of 14 different flavors to sample and share with friends.   I take the beans to the sweet, sugar brewing phase of the roast and stop at the first crack, producing a more flavorful, authentic coffee flavor, much lighter in taste than any black french roast will ever produce.