Monday, August 29, 2005

Road Trip to Tanger, Morocco

(Moroccan architecture at Larache)
I arrived in Casablanca, Morocco on 24 August. My first itinerary was to visit our branch in Tanger on the 25-26 August. The distance between Casablanca and Tangier is about 400 km. Karim (a manager with the distributor) took me and my Japanese colleague, Sakai, in his Corolla.

The journey was a pleasant long and straight drive on the autoroute. To our west, we could see the Atlantic ocean, while on the east, stretched miles of farm land. We felt like we were going on a road trip to a vacation, But we were dressed like traveling salesman rather than tourists.

We stopped by a town Kenitra to visit a dealer there who served us very sweet traditional Moroccan pastry and tea. Also, we ate for lunch, the freshest grilled fish at Larache, a former Spanish fishing town. After lunch we had tea at the road side café near an old Spanish fort.

(Old Spanish fort at Larache)
We took more than 5 hours to arrive in Tangier from Casablanca. Downtown Tangier is buzzing with life day and night. Because it is only 14 km away from Spain, this border city is packed with vacationers either going to or coming from Spain. I believe that my good friends, Chien Yee and Steven were here before trying unsuccessfully to enter Spain.

(Façade of hotel)
Our hotel, El Minza, afforded a very nice view of the Mediterranean Sea. Next to El Minza was a very busy street. I tried to take a walk along the busy streets surrounding the hotel but soon felt weird because everyone was looking at me like I was some kind of alien. Basically, I have nothing much to do so I left the streets and went back to my room for some exercise. I desperately need to cut down on some weight gained from the excessive eating since my visit to Bangkok and then Algeria.

(View for my hotel, Spain is on the left but blocked)

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Algeria: Surprising Africa

My one week's stay in Algeria completely changed my misconceptions about Africa. I thought Africa is mostly black, but I found in Algeria, mostly Arabs. I thought Africa is dry and barren because of the Sahara desert, but I discovered that Algeria is a large producer of agriculture. The fruits here are huge and "marvelously" sweet.

My experience in Algeria didn’t begin well initially. I arrived in Algeria on 16 August after a tiring 16 hour’s flight. The airport in Algiers was a disappointing sight! It looked something like the train station in Tanjong Pagar, very shabby and rundown. The airport was so small that once I cleared immigration, I was out of the airport. My welcoming party was waiting for me outside the airport gates! Talk about first impressions.

Well, my first impression didn’t last because when I look elsewhere, Algeria is rapidly changing. Under the current president, revenue from oil (a chief resource) is being pumped into a development program. Construction projects are springing up everywhere. Many of these projects were given to Chinese construction companies. Little wonder there are many Chinese living in Algeria. Even the new international airport is now being built by the Chinese construction workers!!!

(French style architecture in downtown Algiers)

In terms of culture, Algerians love the French. Their official business language is French, they watch French TV, their cooking is French style, their laws follow the French legislature, they like to drive French Renaults and Peugeot and their buildings were built by the French. In a nutshell, Algeria is like France with Arabs.

The people of Algeria are warm and humble. Although they are Muslims, many of them do love their wine. Algerian wine tastes excellent – smooth, light and fruity. Algerians love their food too. Every night after work, we are taken by our hosts to a hearty late night dinner. Their food tastes excellent although the portions are too big. Imagine a food lover like me having to refuse more food!!!

(The post office)

The country is not without its flaws too. The service is incredibly inefficient (I waited 20mins for my beer during lunch!!! =P) They don’t have a sense of urgency in what they do. Their flights are normally delayed for more than an hour!!! But after sitting down and dining with them, you tend to see things from their point of view. When you are in Algeria, what’s the hurry?

(Wedding at the airport: the groom has to fly from another city to fetch his bride here)