African Journey 2022

Agadir, Casablanca & Rabat, Morocco 2022

Agadir, Morocco

    We stopped in Agadir on the morning of October 20.  Founded by the Portuguese in the 15th century, Agadir was mostly destroyed by an earthquake in 1960 that killed thousands of people; it has since been rebuilt into a city of close to half a million.  Last time we were here we took an excellent excursion to the 1000 year old walled city of Taroudant and visited the Agadir Kasbah on our return.  You can see that visit here:

    Today was scheduled to be a rather brief stop (7AM to 1PM) so there was no time for a long excursion like that.  We planned to visit a museum and walk around the streets for a while and perhaps visit the souk (market) if there was time.  But the museum turned out to be closed and then upon our arrival the local officials surprised the ship with a requirement that everyone coming ashore present a new negative Covid test.  The ship distributed rapid Covid tests to everybody, which had to be displayed to the locals when leaving the ship.  This was a little silly in our view since we had been warned that the tests are no good after 15 minutes and you had to wait 10 minutes to see the result, so by the time you reached shore the test results would be invalid.  We were told later that an overnight trip to Marrakesh was delayed more than an hour longer because a few people’s tests were inconclusive by the time they reached the bus & they were sent back to do it over.

     Anyway, with the short stop, the closed museum and the substantial delays going ashore we decided that it was not worth the trouble of taking the test & then a shuttle bus to an area where we were only going to be able to walk around the streets for a short while.  So we stayed on the ship.  Here is a picture of Agadir’s beautiful long crescent shaped beach front taken from the ship as we sailed away.

Agadir water front

Casablanca & Rabat, Morocco

     The next day, October 21, found us in Casablanca.  Everybody knows this city from the great film of the same name but nothing in that movie was filmed here, it was all shot in Hollywood.  Last time we were here we took a very long one day bus excursion to Marrakesh:

This time, after a couple of excursions we had booked fell through (remember, we have been planning this cruise for three years), we ended up on an excursion to Rabat, the capital of Morocco. Founded in the 12th century, Rabat today has a metropolitan population of about 1.2 million.  In the 17th century Rabat and its close neighbor Sale (sometimes called Sallee) were home ports for Barbary pirates.  In 1912 France took over Morocco as a protectorate with Rabat as the capital and in 1956 Rabat became the capital of an independent Morocco.

     We set out for Rabat in the morning through the very congested traffic of Casablanca.  At a rest stop shortly before reaching Rabat we encountered some dogs who were so sacked out they didn’t even notice all the people around them and also a lovely pink hibiscus.  As we reached Rabat we drove down streets lined with trees (some kind of ficus, we think) pruned to look like one long plant with many trunks.

1a.  Dogs near Rabat3.  Casablanca (Rabat), Morocco

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     Built in 1864, the official residence of the King of Morocco is a palace called Dar al-Makhzen.  In addition to the palace there is a mosque, presumably for the King’s use, a large parade ground for official ceremonies, and a wall surrounding the whole complex.  We parked near the mosque and walked across the parade ground, past some fountains, to the palace.14a.  Casablanca (Rabat), Morocco_stitch12.  Casablanca (Rabat), Morocco28.  Casablanca (Rabat), Morocco19.  Casablanca (Rabat), Morocco20.  Casablanca (Rabat), Morocco_ShiftN

     The palace itself is a very long low building with numerous guards at its entrances.  The palace contains several schools and a library housing the royal collection of manuscripts, but there is no admittance for visitors so we were unable to see anything on the inside.

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     We drove through the wall to exit the palace.  And later we drove through a large gate in what we assume is the old city wall.

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     We next visited the Hassan Tower.  Built at the end of the 12th Century, this was intended to be the tallest minaret and the largest mosque in the western Muslim world.  However when the sponsoring Caliph died in 1199 the construction stopped with the minaret only half completed and one wall of the mosque and 348 pillars to hold up the roof partly finished.  And so they stay today.  If completed the mosque would have measured 600 x 456 feet and the minaret probably about 260 feet tall.  The existing portion of the tower is 140 feet tall.  Inside the minaret are ramps instead of stairs, which would enable the Muezzin to ride a horse to the top.  We entered the grounds through a gate manned by two mounted guards.

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    Across the complex from the tower is the Mausoleum of Mohammad V.  It was completed in 1971 and contains the tombs of King Mohammad V and his two sons, King Hassan II and Prince Abdallah.  A mosque sits next to the mausoleum on a lower level so as not to detract from the view.  We left the complex through the same guarded gate through which we had entered.

53b.  Mausoleum in Rabat56.  Casablanca (Rabat), Morocco51.  Casablanca (Rabat), Morocco57.  Casablanca (Rabat), Morocco

    Rabat’s Kasbah is situated on a cliff overlooking the river Bou Regreg that runs between Rabat and Sale.  Kasbah means citadel, and this one was not only on high ground but surrounded by an imposing wall.  The uphill part of the Kasbah (left in the picture) was built in the 12th century and the lower part (on the right) in the 18th century.  If you look closely at the picture you will see that the old part is darker in color and is made of stone while the new part is lighter and has a smooth surface. 

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     The  main entrance (top left in picture above) is a monumental gate called the Bab Oudaya, built in the 12th century.  Its inner façade opens into the Street of the Mosque, down which we walked.

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     Mosque Street is notable for its many beautiful carved doors.  Some have a knocker in the shape of a hand, which is called the “hand of Fatima,” named for Mohammed’s daughter.

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     At the end of the street we turned right and walked down a steep street with stairs toward the river.

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     We came to a level with a café where we stopped for mint tea and a cookie (just one cookie, more would have cost you).  On the other side from the café was a broad view of the river with Sale on the other side.  Today Sale is a commuter suburb of Rabat but back in the day it was a notorious refuge for Barbary pirates.

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    We left the Kasbah through a gate in the lower portion, passing a very tall bush with pink flowers trained up the side of a wall and another wall near the exit gate that was built on top of an outcropping of natural stone.  Walking past the walls of the Kasbah we boarded the bus for the trip back to Casablanca.  Among other things, we passed a couple of Muslim cemeteries full of graves raised above ground (apparently to keep people from inadvertently sitting or stepping on them).  A number of buildings had what looked like covered lounges or laundry facilities on the roof covered by an awning.  And the street lamps here are rather distinctive.

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    After our return to Casablanca we had hoped to visit the humongous Hassan II mosque, but it was too late to have a tour of the inside and we had seen the outside on our last visit to Casablanca.  So we took the ship’s shuttle bus to United Nations Square in downtown Casablanca and walked through an underground passage beneath a busy street to the old walled Medina.  Next to its wall is a smaller copy of a clock tower that had been built here some time ago by the French. As we entered the gate we were met by a vendor who told us his goods were genuine but everything we would see inside was made in China.  Yeah, sure, heard that kind of come on before.  Well, we don’t know whether his goods were genuine Moroccan crafts but he sure was right about all the other tchotchkes we saw for sale inside.

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     We walked around the Medina for a little while but saw nothing very interesting so we returned to the ship.  After dinner we went up to the aft pool deck to see the Hassan II mosque all lit up.  Most mosques have a piece of metal near the top of the minaret pointing toward Mecca so people will know which direction to face when they pray.  Bringing this practice into the 21st Century, the Hassan II mosque has a green laser pointing into the sky toward Mecca.  It was a pretty striking sight to bring an end to our visit to Casablanca.

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Around Africa – 2022

    Note:  As this is posted our Grand Africa voyage has been over for several weeks.  For some unknown reason we were unable to connect to our blog from Rick’s laptop to post these episodes during the cruise, but his home desktop seems to be doing this OK.  So in the spirit of “better late than never” the postings from the Grand Africa cruise will roll out over the next several weeks (schedule uncertain because not all of them have been written yet & at home other obligations get in the way). 


     On October 10, 2022 we set sail from Ft Lauderdale on Holland America’s Zaandam for a 71 day voyage to circumnavigate the continent of Africa.  We originally booked this cruise more than three years ago for a sailing in October of 2020, but you know what happened.  The pandemic shut down all cruise ships in the Spring of 2020 and this cruise was postponed to 2021, then again to 2022.  The ship was also changed twice, first from Amsterdam to Rotterdam for 2021 then, after Amsterdam and Rotterdam were sold, to Zaandam for 2022.  All three of these ships were built at about the same time and are of virtually identical construction and layout, although internal furnishings and decoration are different.  So we ended up still in the same cabin on the Starboard (right) side of the Lower Promenade Deck that we booked in 2019 but on a different ship.  This is the Zaandam:

Zaandam 1

Our cabin was between the last two lifeboats in the picture.  This gave us a nice ocean view and enabled us to walk through the exit doors next to our cabin onto the walking deck under the lifeboats on either side of the ship.

     So finally, after three years of preparing and waiting and packing, it felt great to be on board.  Like everybody else on the ship we were vaccinated against Covid and for the first week (at least) everybody had to wear a mask inside when not eating.  We were rather nervous right up until we left home for the two day drive to Florida because we had to pass a monitored Covid test on Oct 7, within 3 days of boarding.  We had visions of receiving a positive result from our tests after driving a couple hundred miles south and having to turn around and spend the next 10 weeks at home after all.  But at 4:30 AM Saturday, about 5 hours before we left, we both received our negative test results and we were good to go.  

     We don’t know whether any other potential passengers tested positive & had to abandon at the last minute (HAL generally doesn’t tell you things like that) but we were told there are a little over 1100 passengers on board the ship, which has a capacity of about 1400, so some of that difference might be folks who tested positive.  It would have been quite a kick in the teeth to be left behind after waiting three years!  We know of at least one couple who had to cancel during the last week after being booked for a long time because of health reasons; not Covid but that probably doesn’t  make it feel any better. 

     Here is our itinerary, in map form (half moon means late departure & a black half sun means a two day overnight stay) and then a list of the ports with arrival and departure times:

New Grand Africa map (9-22)

DATE DAY               PORT                               ARRIVE & DEPART

Oct 10 Monday         Ft. Lauderdale, Florida     Embark 4:00 PM

Oct 18 Tuesday         Funchal, Madeira, Portugal     8:00 AM 5:00 PM

Oct 19 Wednesday    Arrecife, Lanzarote, Canary Islands, Spain     11:00 AM 6:00 PM

Oct 20 Thursday       Agadir, Morocco     7:00 AM 1:00 PM

Oct 21 Friday           Casablanca, Morocco     7:00 AM 9:00 PM

Oct 24 Sunday          Tunis (La Goulette),     Tunisia 8:00 AM 5:30 PM

Oct 26 Wednesday     Soúda, Chania, Crete, Greece     11:00 AM 10:00 PM

Oct 28 Friday            Transit Suez Canal-    Cruise Only

Oct 29 Saturday        Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt     7:00 AM 5:00 PM

Oct 30 Sunday          Aqaba (for Petra), Jordan      *7:00 AM —

Oct 31 Monday         Aqaba (for Petra), Jordan     — 5:00 PM*

Nov 1 Tuesday         Safaga (Luxor), Egypt     8:00 AM 12 Midnight

Nov 10 Thursday     Dar es Salaam, Tanzania     *10:00 AM —

Nov 11 Friday          Dar es Salaam, Tanzania          — 8:00 PM*

Nov 12 Saturday      Zanzibar, Tanzania         *8:00 AM —

Nov 13 Sunday        Zanzibar, Tanzania            — 5:00 PM*

Nov 15 Tuesday       Andoany, Nosy-Be, Madagascar         *11:00 AM —

Nov 16 Wednesday   Andoany, Nosy-Be, Madagascar     — 3:00 PM*

Nov 19 Saturday      Maputo, Mozambique      8:00 AM 3:00 PM

Nov 20 Sunday        Durban, South Africa       11:00 AM 11:00 PM

Nov 23 Wednesday  Cape Town, South Africa        *8:00 AM —

Nov 24 Thursday     Cape Town, South Africa             — 11:00 PM*

Nov 26 Friday          Luderitz, Namibia      8:00 AM 5:00 PM

Nov 27 Saturday      Walvis Bay, Namibia      10:00 AM 11:00 PM

Nov 30 Tuesday       Luanda, Angola      7:00 AM 5:00 PM

Dec 4 Sunday           Takoradi, Ghana      8:00 AM 5:00 PM

Dec 5 Monday          Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire      8:00 AM 5:00 PM

Dec 8 Thursday        Banjul, The Gambia      8:00 AM 5:00 PM

Dec 10 Saturday       Praia, Ilha de Santiago, Cape Verde       7:00 AM 6:00 PM

Dec 11 Sunday         Mindelo, São Vicente, Cape Verde       8:00 AM 5:00 PM

Dec 17 Saturday       San Juan, Puerto Rico, USA      8:00 AM 11:00 PM

Dec 20 Tuesday        Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, USA      7:00 AM Disembark

*overnight stay in this port


     We were hoping to make it to all these ports, of course,  but we have had last minute itinerary changes in the past because of disease or political unrest or weather.  You may have read about unrest in some of these places recently and  there was no telling how Covid or weather could disrupt things.  We had already had some itinerary changes about a month before departure, so who could tell?  Stay tuned.

     Crossing the Atlantic takes seven consecutive sea days, so everyone would be happy to set foot on land in Madeira.  Among other things, on Wednesday we had the Captain’s toast to introduce the main officers and wish luck for the journey (free champagne for all) and on Friday we all had to take a self test for Covid, the results of which were reviewed by crew members.  Even though every person on the ship had tested negative within 3 days of boarding, just 3 days after boarding some (we heard 15 and 25, but no official numbers were released) tested positive and were quarantined for seven days.  A couple of them are friends of ours and they would miss at least the first two ports.  It was a chilling reminder that this insidious virus can take a hunk out of your voyage at any time.  I guess if you have to be quarantined, crossing the ocean is a better time for it than when we stop at new and exotic ports.  We tried to be careful and kept our fingers crossed.

1.  Crossing Atlantic-topaz4.  Crossing Atlantic

      As I mentioned earlier, Zaandam is laid out just like Amsterdam, but with different furnishings and art works.  In the Atrium in the center of the ship is a three story pipe organ.  It was played one day in the first week but we were disappointed that it was just a recording (similar to a player piano we guess) with no one sitting at the keyboard.  Among a lot of other eclectic art around the ship are a couple of paintings overflowing their frames outside the main dining room, a floor to ceiling sized painting in the hall near the Explorations Café, and a sculpture of a couple of seahorses near the entrance from the deck just outside our cabin.  Several large MC Escher pictures were displayed on the walls of stairwell landings.  And almost qualifying as a work of art, we received a box of Grand Africa themed chocolates after the first “dressy night.”  (These are nights when men are expected to wear a tie & jacket to dinner, formerly called “formal nights,” then “gala nights”; no explanation for the name changes.)  Other shipboard pictures may show up in later episodes. 

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    In the Explorer’s Lounge a young classical pianist named Luca presented concerts twice every afternoon.  This was supposed to be a cello-piano duo but at the last minute the cellist was unable to sail with us, so Luca performed solo piano pieces, and quite excellently.  He assured us that the cellist would join us soon.  As on all the older HAL ships, the Explorer’s Lounge features a naval painting (or a reproduction) about 15 feet long.

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      So that is enough introduction and the next episode will be the first of our ports.  Until then, we will leave you with the first of what we hope will be many beautiful sunsets on this voyage.

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