Last year, I was able to travel to 3 countries: United Arab Emirates, Morocco and South Sudan. I went to the first two countries for my holiday break while the last one was for humanitarian mission. It was my first time to visit these countries.
Here are the highlights of my visits:
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates
One of the things I really enjoyed during my trip to Dubai was watching the spectacular dancing water fountain outside the biggest mall in the world, The Dubai Mall and the world’s tallest man-made structure, the Burj Khalifa. Walking around during the day was not fun at all for me. I got blisters from walking under high temperature (it was 50 degrees when I was there!). The best way to see the city is through its metro. Most of the metro stations are connected to malls and or tourist attractions. It is the fastest and cheapest way of seeing the city. As I wandered around, I was fascinated by the contrast of modern architecture to the traditional architecture. Dubai’s modern architecture can be described as cosmopolitan with unique architectural designs made of steel, concrete and glass. The traditional architecture uses limestone building blocks and muds as evident in the residential houses, mosques, forts and souqs. I also enjoyed the various skyscrapers clustered in three different locations: Sheikh Zayed Road, Dubai Marina and the Business Bay district. It is advisable to see the skyscrapers during the day and in the evening. Aside from the skyscrapers, Dubai is the quintessential home of shopping with so many malls to choose from. I find electronics and jewelries more cheaper in Dubai than in other countries. Although, there are also various attractions and tourist destinations within and outside the city, I did a little exploring on my own and got way off the beaten track. I discovered many unique places such as shops, alleys and secluded beaches. My visit to Dubai is definitely one ‘gasm’ experience!
My visit to Morocco is more of a photographic journey than a mere holiday trip. In Marrakesh, I enjoyed staying at the Place Jemaa El Fna, the heart of the old Medina (old city). I spent more time exploring the main square and the nearby souks. It was hectic and crazy, filled with motorscooters, donkey carts, horse drawn carriages, snake charmers, hash-sellers, fortune tellers, food stalls, cafes, vendors and tourists. Once I was inside the walled city, I was engulfed in the bustle and flurry of the sights, smells and sounds of Marrakesh and the combination of stunning historical and cultural heritage. I met a real herbalist and learned a lot about tea, spices and herbs. Together with my travel buddy, we went on a food trip at the square and ate different variety of tangines, one of the most famous Moroccan main dishes. We also had a day tour of the city through its city tour bus to see the contrast of the old and new medina. The old medina has several architectural and artistic masterpieces from different periods in history while the new medina is more of a European modern district with 5 star hotels, big shopping malls, fastfoods and a variety of restaurants.
We also toured Essaouira, a charming and vibrant port and seaport town, about 3 hours drive from Marrakesh. Despite the strong European influence, Essaouira was able to preserve its 18th century contemporary architecture in a North African context. I particularly enjoyed walking at the Kasbah’s Sqala, a UNESCO-listed World Heritage Site which has a remarkable view of the port and the Atlantic coastline. I also got lost while wandering at the old medina and souks and ended up in a maze of blind alleys where I discovered some of Morocco’s best craftsmen. Since I came from a landlocked country and living in hardship condition during my humanitarian mission, I spent more time relaxing at a seaside bar by the beach. Essaouira is watersport’s paradise, a perfect location for kitesurfing and windsurfing. With its subtle beauty, unspoilt sands and wonderfully slow pace of life, Essaouira was a great relief from the madness of Marrakesh.
On the way to our Sahara Dessert tour, we crossed the picturesque High Atlas Mountains passing by the Col du Tichka with an altitude of 2260 m. This part of Morocco looked like another country. The landscape was amazing. I felt like I was floating in the air while standing at the highest peak on top of the mountain. Then we visited Ourzazate, the Gate of the Desert. People here are mainly the traditional indigenous tribe called Berber. It is a popular tourist town, home to the world’s largest film studio, the Atlas Film Studios. Several Hollywood movies including Lawrence of Arabia, Gladiator and The Mummy were shot here. 30 km away from Ouarzazate is the Ksar of Ait-Ben-Haddou, another UNSECO World Heritage Site in Morocco. Located at the foothills of the Atlas Mountains, the Ksar is a traditional pre-Saharan habitat with houses built entirely of earthen materials with rich red mud plaster. The houses crowd together within the defensive walls with high angle towers dating from the 17th century. Its stunning location was where one of the Star Wars movies was filmed. Most of the tourists find it exciting to walk the same streets as their favorite movie stars once did. This part of our trip was well worth every minute spent here not to mention the photographic opportunity in each and every corner of the Ksar.
CENTRAL, EASTERN and WESTERN EQUATORIA, South Sudan
Although my stay in South Sudan was work related, I was privileged to be able to see three different states aside from its capital, Juba. South Sudan was my first humanitarian assignment in hardship location. To be able to serve the newest country in the world was a humbling experience, something I will never trade for anything else. It was one of my best if not the greatest experience in my life. For more of my humanitarian experience in South Sudan, visit this link: Wandering the Road Less Travelled: My Humanitarian Missions.