Saturday, July 25, 2009

Chek Jawa

As mentioned in one of my previous blog entries on Pulau Ubin, Chek Jawa is a large area of wetlands found on the island that has become a focal point in nature education and conservation. It hosts several ecosystems, including sandy beach, rocky beach, mangroves and even a seagrass lagoon, and it's probably the last place in Singapore where you can find one.

Initially marked for land reclamation, it was saved by a large coordinated effort by volunteers who submitted a report and petition to the government, expounding on its biodiversity and value to Singapore's nature conservation. It is now under the National Parks Board, who conducts guided tours (using volunteers) during low tide season to the general public. There is now a visitors centre, and even a boardwalk for people to get up close to the marine life.

For urban Singapore, this is an excellent venue for a nature family outing, and it is evident when I see many families joining the guided tour of the wetlands. Do note the tide timings and details on how to get there etc can be found on our NParks website. Enjoy!

Saturday, July 18, 2009

The Festival of Roses

Somewhere between the High Atlas mountains and the Dades valley of Morocco lies El-Kelaa M'gouna. Every year in spring, waves of tourists and locals will converge here for the Festival of Roses.

Also known as Vallee des Roses, or the Valley of Roses, the area is known for its production of rosewater. The pink Persian rose, also known as the Damascus Rose, will be harvested during this period when the valley floor is filled with them. However, these roses are relatively small in their hedges, so they may not be easily noticed initially, esp when you are on the main road. If you expect to see "fields of pink", you may be disappointed like me. But they are big in their importance as they provide the main income to the people of the area.

The Festival is supposedly held over 3 days over in the 1st weekend of May, but it really is not fixed. A parade will be held on Sat in the town, where it will pass through the main road. Floats and performances will be the main entertainment. The winners of the Miss Rose pageant, selected the day before, will be one of the highlights of the parade, together with a "Queen" of some sort. After the parade, the whole town essentially becomes a giant carnival and souk, and the whole local community enjoying what it seems like a rare holiday opportunity.

Most details of transportation and accommodation are highlighted in the various guidebooks. If you are in the area during May, check out the Festival of Roses. The Damascus Rose is indeed sweet smelling!

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Erg Chebbi

One of my favourite experiences in Morocco was an overnight stay in Erg Chebbi. Situated in/beside the village of Merzouga and Hassi Labied, Erg Chebbi is a sand dune rising 160+m high. Several guesthouses/establishments have setup semi-permanent camp deep into these dunes, and arranging an overnight stay in these is one of the ways to enjoy the magic of the dunes.

Many many guides/agencies are available for arranging trips to the dunes. They are available in the villages Merzouga and Hassi Labied, further in the town of Rissani, and even as far as Er-Rachidia. There are camel treks into the dunes, 4WD and even quad tours into the dunes. However, the quads and 4WDs are pretty noisy, and one of the magic of experiencing the dunes is the serenity and quiet of the place. Most of these seems to operate near the edge of the dunes, so, my recommendation is to spend the night deeper into the dunes, away from the crowd.

I took a camel trek, starting out at 4pm and with a slow ambling walk up into the dunes, you can slowly admire the beautiful golden light play on the curves and lines on the dunes. Before 6pm, I reached our Berber tent, where we view a beautiful sunset over the dunes, and then enjoy our meal of tajine under the cool light of the magic hour. And in the night, you'll experience the surreal tranquility of nature, with barely the sound of swirling sand around you (but not before some hypnotic Berber music from your guide). And whether you sleep in the tent or find yourself lying on a mattress under the star-studded sky, what you would get is a night of the most restful sleep you'll ever get....

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Tighza, Morocco

Unplanned destinations oftentimes yields unexpected surprises. It was on a whim when I contacted Carolyn of HomeStays Morocco, and it turns out that Tighza is such a destination.

Tighza is a village some 30+min away from Telouet.
Nestled in Tighza valley, it is a great place for trekking the High Atlas. For the independent traveller, there is a bus (4+hrs) to/from Marrakech to the village of Anmiter, whereby its just a matter of an hour trek to Tighza :)

As mentioned, HomeStays Morocco can arrange overnight stays in one of the local families in the village as well as trekking programs in the region. What strikes me is that apart from trekking, Tighza is quite off the beaten path, and makes for a really great getaway, esp if you have been through the bustle of Marrakech. The fertile green, amidst the barren brown, provides a beautiful backdrop to traditional Berber hospitality. Besides, when night falls, the valley is immensed in total darkness, and with the stars decorating the skies, it is a night photographer's paradise!

While I had my challenges reaching Tighza from the Dades valley, it was a destination well worth going. I enjoyed it alot, and would highly recommend a visit!