On the Road to Rabat

I love that OAT allows their guides the flexibility to modify the itinerary. Yesterday, instead of driving directly to Tangier, we took the scenic route. We returned to Tetouan, driving through the lovely modern section, then along the coast, stopping in the resort of Smir.

It was off season, so all the shops and restaurants were closed, still it was easy to see why Smir would be a popular vacation spot. Sadly, the self cleaning, solar public toilet was also closed, so no video of its operation. You’ll just have to use your imagination.

Until this trip, I had no idea that Spain retained control of two cities in Morocco. Ceuta is almost directly across from Gibraltar, so ships passing through the Straits have to pay Spain for the use of that passage. We were able to see Ceuta off in the distance from a roadside stop, but weren’t able to visit this heavily guarded border.

The other Spanish city, for those with inquiring minds, is Melilla. You can Google it.

We stopped to catch a glimpse of the Rock of Gibraltar, but it was only visible through binoculars, so again, no photo, but that’s okay, because Tangier is more visually compelling.

Morocco is definitely a country on the move. Their new port in Tangier is the largest in Africa and is shipping out huge quantities of cars every day. We were able to view some of the Renaults and Peugeots manufactured in Morocco from a distance.

Our drive took us to the very windy spot where the Mediterranean and Atlantic Ocean meet. Dave’s elf hat was on his head long enough for this shot to be taken before it went sailing over the cliff. And yes, it WAS a very steep cliff, but fortunately Mostafa is athletic, and heroically retrieved Dave’s hat.

Before the trip, I’d been warned that Tangier was dirty, crowded and a somewhat scary place. That may have been the case years ago, but it was not our experience.

Relaxing in the square in the medina

We walked up a very steep hill to visit the old Portuguese fortress and were rewarded with several spectacular views.

On our way to the fortress
Tangier’s old port can be seen from the fortress

Morocco really treasures their long, positive relationship with the USA. Our visit to the American legation offered further proof.

I sure hope this comes up as a trivia question one of these days!

As usual, my posts lag behind our experiences. Tomorrow we leave Rabat for Fes. Forgive any typos…no time to proofread.

Three Nights in Chefchaouen

It would not be accurate to say we spent three DAYS in Chefchaouen because during our stay, we spent one day in a local northern village and another in Tetouan.

I can understand why other OAT travelers are so enthusiastic about this pre-trip. (For non-OAT travelers, OAT always offered the opportunity to add additional days before and after their main trips). The scenery is beautiful, the food is wonderful and inexpensive, the accommodations are gorgeous, and the people are so happy to see American visitors. As we were walking through the Medina, the locals were yelling “welcome”, “hello”, and different phrases, including “happy wife, happy life”.

Moroccans are very proud that their country was the first to recognize the brand new United States right after we achieved independence.

At Chourafa, the owner told us that Eisenhower stayed in that very dwelling during World War II, back before it was transformed from a private house to a restaurant.

Owner of Chourafa, entertaining us with his stories.

One feature of OAT is home visits, where we have the opportunity to spend time with a local family, sharing a meal and learning about their day to day lives. Our visit was with Mohammed, his lovely wife Ishhane, and their two daughters, where we enjoyed this fabulous feast made from ingredients grown on their farm in a little village so remote even Google hasn’t found it!

Tagine
Kris and Ishhane with their assistant. Mohammed and his family built their house, including this kitchen.

It’s good we were so well fed, because after we left the village to return to Chefchaouen, we did a LOT of walking. It is a bit of a hike to get to Boulazaafar, the mosque that overlooks the city. Built by the Spaniards in the 1930’s as a way to make up both for the expulsion of Muslims after the fall of Andalusia in the late 1400’s, and for the Spanish invasions during the late 1800’s, it has never been used. Understandably, the Moroccans were a bit suspicious of the Spanish military’s attempt to make friends. Maybe they heard about the Trojan horse?

Okay,so it isn’t Hagia Sophia,but the location is pretty spectacular.

It is SO worth the 30 minute uphill stroll to get there in time to watch the sun drop behind the mountains.

From that vantage point, we could hear the call to prayer issuing forth from the 30+ mosques scattered throughout city.

Most of the other hikers were a bit younger than we were, by roughly 4 or 5 decades
Another vier of Chefchaouen: Different centuries coexisting. Women are doing their laundry in the stream and taking photos with their cell phones.

We were offered an optional trip to Tetouan, which all of us, except Mike took. Although the scenery on the drive was spectacular, in retrospect, I think I would have preferred to spend that time in Chefchaouen instead.

The optional tour consisted of a stop in a small Roman Museum, a walk by the palace, and through the Medina, the Jewish quarter and mella, and a seafood lunch in a restaurant across from the beach. Although enjoyable, I’d had similar experiences on other tours, so for me, additional time in Chefchaouen would have been preferable.

Next stop, Tangiers!

Chefchaouen

Talk about feeling welcome! The Moroccans were so excited that American tourists were visiting, they sent a camera crew to interview us. So, fellow OAT travelers in Morocco (I know you’re out there), tune in to channel 2 news tonight to see whether we survived the cutting room floor.

It was easy to be enthusiastic about Morocco. The people we have encountered have been so helpful and welcoming and our Riad, Dar Echchaouen, located in the old city, is over the top gorgeous,

If you’re wondering about the dog, he’s with me. Bonnie, my grandniece thought he should come along, so “Goldie” may be showing up in future travel shoots.

And now some history: Chefchaouen was created to be a secure refuge in the Rif Mountains for Muslim’s and Jews that Ferdinand and Isabella expelled from Spain.
First question: Why is Chefchaouen known as the Blue Pearl of Morocco? Take a look for the answer.

Dave, Mostafa, Kris, Tony, Mike, Terri
The Medina

Next question—exactly WHY are so many of the buildings blue? Was it because it was easy to extract blue from a particular blue plant or mineral was plentiful during the 1400’s? Was it because the color blue was thought to ward off evil spirits? Or did a former ruler just favor that particular hue?

If this were a multiple choice test, the answer would be “none of the above”. Buildings in Chefchaouen were painted blue in the early 2000’s to make the city attractive to tourists. And it worked! At least until Covid.

Hints for Future Travelers

To be on the safe side, unless you are flying non-stop to Morocco, get a PCR test. One member of our group was unable to board his Delta flight in Denver, which stopped in Paris, because he hadn’t had a PCR test. Interestingly, another member of the group flew from Denver on an earlier Delta flight and wasn’t asked to show proof (which was fortunate because she also hadn’t been tested). Both were fully vaccinated and showed their cards. The end result was Dave flew out a day later and met up with us late last night in Chefchaouen. Because he had purchased his air from OAT, they took care of his transportation from Casablanca to our riad. The moral of the story: it is better to have a test and not need it, than to have a “Dave adventure”.

And now the weather report for October travelers: it is glorious! Chefchaouen is warm during the day and cool enough for a sweater or light jacket in the morning and at night. Of course, this is only our third day here.

How Many Cities Have YOU Visited

Many of us have seen the lists circulating on Facebook, asking how many places we’ve visited. One list includes those tourist hot spots that are on EVERYONE’s Bucket List, such as Kabul, Pyongyang, Lagos, and Tehran. Really?

Here’s a list that is far more achievable. You might not be able to claim to have visited all 100, but I’ll bet most can get to about 20 – 25.

How many have YOU visited?

Trip Insurance–Is it Worth It?

Things are slowly starting to open up, despite the Covid variants. We restless souls are once again thinking about traveling. Several of my friends have asked about travel insurance, so I decided to update this post that I originally wrote oh so long ago, in 2019.

Is Trip Insurance worth it? Here’s the Cliffs Note version: It all depends. For some, trip insurance is definitely worth it. But there are caveats. Know what you need, know what you are buying, choose a reputable company, consider other options.

Know What You Need
Medicare does not cover you when you are out of the USA, so for some people, the main reason for buying trip insurance is to get medical coverage. We are fortunate enough to have a very generous medicare supplement, which DOES cover us for emergency services wherever we are in the world. So, for that reason, I chose the AIG policy that offered minimal medical and dental coverage, and the medical coverage was secondary. (That means they will pay after other insurance has paid first. So, you need to submit to your primary carrier, and then whatever isn’t covered, you would submit to the secondary carrier.) If your health plan has a high deductible, and high out of pocket maximum, then you may want or need more generous travel insurance benefits.

For some people, “cancel for any reason” protection may make sense. This might be true for someone still in the work force, who may have to change vacation plans because of work responsibilities.

In the past, before Covid, our main concern had been trip cancellation for health reasons (either ours or a family member), or trip interruption. Remember when the volcano in Iceland erupted and people were unable to continue with their original travel plans? That’s the sort of thing that worries me.

You can get plans that offer trip interruption at 100% of the cost of the trip (the amount you are insuring) or 150% of the cost of the trip. Why would you want to purchase coverage for more than the cost of the trip? Well, if your trip is interrupted, you may have to stay in another country longer than planned or you may have to change flight arrangements (which could be very expensive).

What about Covid? Different travel companies have different policies. If a trip has been canceled by the tour company, most are offering the travelers a choice of either a refund or of rebooking with some kind of bonus. It is wise to check the tour company’s policy before submitting your deposit.

What if YOU cancel? Again, check the tour company or airline/hotel/Booking site for their policy. We are frequent travelers with Overseas Adventure Travel. They will allow travelers to rebook without any change fees up to 24 hours before the original departure.

But what if you are not on a group tour? What if you are traveling on your own, driving to hotels that allow you to cancel within a day or two of arrival? You may not need any trip insurance at all.

Know What You are Buying
I have used Insuremytrip.com to compare various travel insurance options. There are other companies, such as Squaremouth.com, but I’ve had good luck with Insuremytrip, so they are the only company that I have had experience with.
Others may be more comfortable using an insurance agent to find the plan that best meets their needs. If you DO decide to do it on your own, be sure to download the complete policy and read it carefully so that you know exactly what you are getting.
Things to look out for: Pre-Existing condition exclusion clauses, what qualifies as a covered reason for trip cancellation, what level of coverage is offered for things that are important to YOU and is that coverage primary or secondary?
For example, I never check anything valuable when I travel, so I don’t care about the level of coverage for lost luggage. The airlines offer some coverage for delayed or lost luggage, and the airline is usually considered primary.
If you are uncomfortable purchasing a plan from the internet, you can speak with a representative for Insuremytrip.com. They are not paid commissions, so they do not have a financial interest in your choice of plan. That may be true of similar companies.

Choose a Reputable Company
Take the time to read the reviews. Insuremytrip, for example, includes Better Business Bureau ratings, AM Best ratings, years in business, and reviews by users for each of the companies offered, and allows you to do a side by side comparison of the plans. You can also do a google search.

Other Options
Check your credit card for any coverage they might offer. You need to read the booklet that they give you when you first enroll, or compare the benefits of the various companies on line.
I had never considered the Chase Sapphire Reserve card, because of its $550 annual fee. Then I read a post from a fellow traveler who explained that Chase reimburses you up to $300 for any travel expenses you incur during the year. They also offer trip interruption and cancellation insurance, up to $10,000 per person and $20,000 per occurrence, with a $40,000 per year maximum. To us, that coverage is easily worth the remaining $250 per year charge.
Some of my friends swear by one of the premium American Express cards. It is also possible that Citibank has something competitive, but I have had no experience with either.
You may also consider purchasing the insurance that your tour group offers. I always take a look, but so far, have been able to find more attractive options. That may change as we get older.
If the thought of doing all that research gives you a massive headache, you can always choose an agent who is knowledgeable about trip insurance and can help you find the coverage that best meets your needs. If you don’t already have an agent, Dan Drennan was highly recommended by a traveler on a travel forum, and rightfully so. I’ve had positive experiences with Dan and am pleased to share his phone number with you: 402-343-3621.

Tips for Filing a Claim
Sadly, in 2019, on our trip to Australia, we had the opportunity to investigate in great detail how Trip Interruption Coverage works. We were pleased (and quite frankly, amazed) by the speed with which we were reimbursed for our expenses.
Here are some suggestions to help you navigate the claim process, should the need arise.

  • Notify the insurance company as soon as you realize you will be submitting a claim. They can email you the claim form, tell you what to include when you submit your claim and provide moral support. The medical team at AIG Travel Guard was wonderful. Although I didn’t need their help, it was nice to know they were available, if I wanted them to check up on me and my husband.
  • Keep ALL receipts. I immediately bought a spiral bound notebook and scotch tape, so that I could enter every receipt, by day, into the notebook, with notations indicating what the expense was for. It is very easy to lose small pieces of paper, like taxi receipts.
  • If you can, pay everything with one credit card. It makes documentation much easier. If you are in a foreign country, your credit card statement will have a record of the currency exchange rate for that item. You simply match the receipt against the credit card charge, and you save the claim examiner that extra task, which brings me to the next point.
  • Make it as easy as possible for the claim examiner to pay the claim. A claim for trip interruption is far more complicated than one for trip cancellation, so more information was needed to process our claim.
  • I created a “claim package”, with a cover letter and a table of contents. I explained what was being provided and identified the attached exhibits. I also created a spreadsheet showing what I expected to collect. It took me a day to get everything organized, but I didn’t have any back and forth with either insurance company.
This will give you an idea of the paperwork I submitted. Can you see why I wanted to help the claim examiner out?

Let’s hope we are all safely traveling again, real soon. Happy trails!