Saturday, November 26, 2011


...but with a hot wet rubdown by a half naked Moroccan man.

So I'm laying face down, ass up (but skivvies on), on a marble floor. The room is hot, steamy, and there are three or four other men in skivvies getting hot rubdowns by other half naked Moroccan men. They scrub with hot water, some sort of soap and a rough brush that scrapes off the dead skin from my body. And boy, who knew there was so much of it! There's also something called a "massage", but it's more like a twisted, half yoga-half chiropractic twisting session. It did feel good, but there were times, as I was being lifted against the half naked man's legs, that I thought "Oh my god this hurts, I hope I don't pop out of place!". I didn't.

The main rubdown room was in the back. It has no lights other than small holes in the domed ceiling. There's another room you walk through, that has some sort of open shower stalls, though no one was in these. The front room of the bathing area is cooler, and is the rinse room. And through a door, and a VERY low ducking under a ceiling, you enter the entry way, which is a 50 foot tall starred dome, with star shaped vents that have sun streaming in.

This is a Hammam. A traditional Moroccan (and Turkish too, I think) bath house. The one I was in is hundreds of years old, and is the place you go to really get clean. It was probably more important back when there weren't showers and plumbing, but it is still an important part of Moroccan life. Naturally, the men and women have completely separate hours. It would be a bit impure (And really very counter to the whole way Muslim's do things here) to be getting a hot wet rubdown from a man while topless women were getting hot wet rubdowns from other topless women right next to you.

But that's how it works for the gals too. I met two Belgian gals on my birthday, and they described their experience, and it was remarkably similar to mine. Though they didn't mention anything about the strong smell of cigarettes on the attendants breath. Maybe they didn't have it.

It was really fun, strangely enough. And I haven't felt that clean in a long time. He cleaned everything but my crotch and butt crack. (But he got the cheeks!).

So for my Birthday, on Monday, I went down to the Djeema El Fna, the 1000 year old square at the center of Marrakech. I had some street food, enjoyed the jovial, fun, playful way the vendors try to get your attention to eat at their stalls. They mostly have he same menu (minus the one with the goat heads), but the food did vary in tastiness. I never could find my buddy Mike. He stayed at a different hotel, we set up time to meet and somehow missed each other. A strange way to end 10 days of good travel together. Never did get to say thanks or goodbye. (But fortunately we swapped emails, so we will be able to there, and get pics too).

So I hung out with other travelers. The aforementioned Belgian gals. And an Aussie who looked a lot like Jesus. And a fun Italian guy with a great laugh, who was only there for the dinner parts. We chatted, we swapped stories, we laughed of the Moroccan sales method, and I told them it was my birthday and I was determined to find a beer in Morocco.

Judging from stories of the Australian couple in Fez who, on a search for alcohol, were sent down back alleys to an unmarked door. They were let inside and the men (all men) sitting inside drinking looked up guiltily at the door like teenagers caught by their parents. Around the corner in the next room was the "bar", where a man showed them a bottle of wine while looking around to make sure no one was watching. He wouldn't let them hold it either. And when they bought it, they were ushered out a side door into another alley.

OR, the two Belgian gals, who were led to an equally dark alley and door, and when they entered... it was all women! Who knew, women in Morocco drink. So they ordered beers (Flag Special) and sat down. Then realized that these women were sure dressed provocatively. And there were indeed a couple of men in the room, and...oh, Hookers! A whole room full. They had no problems, were not assumed to be hookers, enjoyed their drinks and left.

So, I figured, this i going to be one hell of an awesome quest down the back alleys of Morocco. Leading to adventures, strange tales and odd happenings. So in French, Florine (tall belgian girl) asks the waiter "where can we find some beer?". He says "At the end of that street there is a hotel called Tazi. They have the only bar in the Medina."

Well that was easy!

So we went. Had three beers. Talked lots more. I had a Moroccan man say "Fuzzy wuzzy was a bear, Fuzzy wuzzy had no hair, Fuzzy Wuzzy wasn't fuzzy was he?". And he wanted to know what it, ok.

Oddly in a place where drinking is so hidden (though technically not illegal like it is in Kuwait), they sold us our last beers as they were closing and said we could drink it on the street. So we walked along, drinking beers to the Djeema El-Fna. We did slip them into pockets when we got within sight of the big Mosque though. We know enough to not be THOSE tourists who essentially give the finger to the mosque. Not going to that, that's not cool.

And when I headed back to my hostel, I fully expected to get offered hash and pot about 10 times, since I had been offered it tons of times in Marrakech. But I wasn't offered it once. Without the scooter traffic and shops and noise, it's almost like I walked back in time hundreds of years as I cruised through the alleys.

So that was my Bday.

The next day was a rainy, walking tour of some palaces. Some shopping. Some more eating in the square, with Monkeys climbing all over me (for a tip of course).

The final day was the Hammam rubdown, and a final tour of Marrakech, where I got way off the tourist track. And the touts seemed to pick up to take me to the tanneries and other places, but I politely declined "No thank you, I'm just exploring",
and they would be insistant "Just a quick look, no pressure."
And I'd say, what turned out to the be magic words: "I've been here for three weeks. I'm good."
They would smile the knowing Oh-yes-you've-seen-all-our-techniques smile, and say "Welcome Morocco. Have fun."
So THERE YOU HAVE IT: If you need to get the touts to go away, politely decline, then say (whether you have or not), that you've been here for 3 weeks, and they will leave you alone willingly. (Now don't ALWAYS do this, as you'll miss out on some fun adventures (see the jewelry buying in Meknes for instance), but if you're not in the mood, you now have your magic spell to use.

The walking, wandering led to a cool photography museum, with pics from 1870-1950 Morocco. And strangely, a lot of things looked almost exactly the same. And many things were different. It was a great way to end the trip, with this sort of time machine into the world of Morocco before. Some really cool images. Back in the day, the female coverings (which I'm blanking on the name right now) were all white. Completely white. Like ghosts. Now they tend to be black if it's a total covering, except the eyes. Though if it's not that complete, the colors vary wildly and the clothes are very beautiful.

And I had a cobra put around my neck. And other snakes too. And took pics with the snake charmers on the square. It was fun to do, and of course required a tip. But it was "Good price, Moroccan price".:) (After I talked them down from 200 MAD (That's $25USD, ) to 50 MAD (Tha'ts about $6...still a bit pricey, but what the hell. When am I going to have a cobra on my neck...)
I asked "Isn't it poisonous?",
They said "Yes, yes, very".
I said "How do you make it not bite? Has it been devenomized?"
Them "Yes, very poisonous."

I walked through the square one last time, and hopped in a cab at 4:15pm Moroccan time. Took a train for 3 1/2 hours. Another train for 40 minutes. Sat at the airport for 4 hours. Flew for 3 1/2 hours to Frankfurt. Leaving Morocco at night, so I never got to see Morocco from the air. Sit in Frankfurt for 4 1/2 hours. Sit on the plane 45 minutes. Fly 8 hours to Washington (Go USA! I can drink from the water fountains, wooooooooo!), wait 3 hours, take final plane for 2 hours to St. Louis where I am now for Thanksgiving with my relatives. Always a good place to be...and it only took 32 hours to get here. :)

And so that's the scoop. That's the journey. That's the adventure...

But wait, we're not done. There's one more story to be told...


Monday, November 21, 2011


So in Ouarzazarte (war-zazat) I did what the tourists do in Hollywood. Went to the big movie locations, took a tour of the studio, and then celebrated with a rap concert in the plaza (one group Moroccan, the other "Legacy" from... USA!).
It's the only sign of nightlife I've heard or seen in Morocco, and it started at 6pm and was over before 8. Was still fun. But there was a cold, COLD wind blowing down from the Atlas mountains. Probably put it in the upper 30s (that's fahrenheit, not centegrade).

During the day we went to Ait Baddadou. Which is this palatial, Unesco protected Ksar (that's walled city) that you've seen in movies from Lawrence of Arabia to Gladiator to Prince of Persia (oh wait, no one saw that movie).
It was really cool to see, and I even took the Berber taxi (that's a donkey) accross the flooded river to get there.

Then I went to ATLAS studios and did the 1 hour tour of movie sets from Kundun, to Alexander, to Gladiator (again), to MISSION: CLEOPATRE, which was pretty awesome. To the KINGDOM OF HEAVEN city of Jeruselem, which took 7 months to build, was shot in for 2 months and had 1500 extras involved. Sweet. I love movies. Can't help it. Can't wait to be making some big ass movie myself. It would be amazing to shoot on sets like the ones I got to see today (or the locations).

Such as the Taorirt Kasbah. Which is featured in many movies, including that crazy Prince Of Persia again. I got to explore all the rooms, and enjoy the maze like aspect of it.

It was a good day.

And today, it was off on a 5 hour bus ride over the very twisty, turny, two lane, cliff hugging road over the high Atlas to the grand daddy of all Moroccan cities, Marrakech. It is here I will likely end my trip. I was going to head to the mountains to hike tomorrow, but forecast calls for rain and clouds, which doesn't bode well for seeing scenery. And it's not easy to get up there, and the ski resort (yes, Morocco actually has skiing!) isn't open yet. Still not enough snow.

So here in Marrakech, there are tourists EVERYWHERE (well compared to the rest of the trip). I'm actually at a hostel with bunk beds, which normally I don't do, but it's a cool place and I wanted to have some traveler socializing while I was here. But then again, I'm typing emails instead, hmmmm....

But really, that's because I wanted to say thanks to everyone who send me Birthday wishes! WoooooO! Most of them are on Facebook, and I haven't figured out how to get on FB here in Morocco, because of the french interfaces. But I wanted say "THANK YOU!" to all who wished me a happy birthday. And if you didn't...well.... you're still my friends! :) After all, if you don't have FB to tell you it's my bday, you might not know. (Though now I guess you have no excuse since I just told you.).
Anyway, thanks for the wishes. It always makes me feel close to everyone, and when I'm half a world away (from most of you), it means a lot.

And now off to the Djeema El Fna (I think I spelled that right), for the 1000 year old, nightly party that tonight is being held for me! :)


Saturday, November 19, 2011


okay team, this keyboard blows, so this may be short.

After the dunes, it was time for some other desert scenery. Mike and I headed to the TODRA GORGE. A 1000 foot deep canyon that's 60 feet wide... with two hotels squeezed in next to the river and the one lane road. Yep, leave it to Morocco to take advantage of every single awesome place to put a hotel. But keeping with the tradition of the trip. No tourists. In some places, no people. Just empty buildings and strangely desolate towns.

After one of the most awkward moments of my life, where we moved from a hotel just outside the narrow gorge to a hotel inside the gorge, we were in the middle of it. (What happened, is that after a taxi ride of 200 plus kilometers for just me and Mike, we got dropped at the hotel right outside the gorge. awesome views. nice spot. Well, we took our rooms, and went for a hike before it got dark, so we hadn't paid yet. we walked through the gorge, saw the Yasmina hotel in the gorge and thought it would be WAY expensive. It was really nice. Surely 100 usd a night. We ask... it's 200 dirham. That's 25 bucks. including dinner and breakfast. Um...sweet. So we went to get our bags, and boy that was awkward, because the poor guy at the other hotel had no other guests. we gave him 20 dirham just because we'd been there, but it was horribly awkward, and frankly a dick move on our part. If I could do it again, I'd stay at his place one night, then move for a second night. Anyway, can't always be perfect...and my room the first night, had a fricking tree blocking the view of the gorge. That my friends, is karma).

We hiked a 6 plus mile loop around the gorge the next day. saw locals with camels heading to market or hearding sheep. we explored a broken, ruined kasbah when we returned to the valley. We rocked it. For those who don't know (Like me before this trip), a Kasbah is one of those classic mudbrick structures that was built to house a family, or families and were usually built for defense too. YOu've seen them in just about any movie starring the arabic world. This one was lived in, but also part abandoned (and part was build out of cement too, which was odd). It was cool.

The next day it rained, so my plans for rock climbing were dashed. But you just roll with it, and we headed on via various grand taxi's and buses to DADES GORGE, and took a 3 hour car ride through it. Took lots of pictures. Crazy hotels and Kasbah's built on cliffs, rock towers. It's really cool. We explored a really ruined one, that was crumbling and about to fall apart. Somehow I climbed up on top of it. Its so strange. Some are 100 years old. Some are 500 years old. Who knows when this was built.

The sun was going down as we rode the bus to SKOURA OASIS. The number of Kasbah and Ksour (that's walled city on a hilltop) was amazing. It was so beautiful in the low sun after the rainy morning. In Skoura we got off the bus and a guy named, you guessed it, Mohammed, who owns a Kasbah guest house asked if we wanted to stay at his. We went for it and it was AWESOME! Staying in a 150 year old mudbrick building with 2 foot thick walls. It's been modernized, with showers and electricity and it seems like plaster on the inside walls. But it's really cool. His family has lived there for generations. It was originally 4 families. They live in the towers and work and eat in the center areas. That's what Kasbah's were for. And every tower indicated the number of families.

Today we explored the Oasis. 1000s of palm trees. Kasbahs all over. I rode a bike all around, and was DEEP in the oasis. It wasn't what I imagined an oasis to be like. It's surrounded by the desert, with the snow capped High Atlas to the north. But it was much bigger than I thought they would be. And as I rode deep in, the locals looked confused about a tourist back there, but were also very friendly.

Which brings me to the fact that once I got away from Fez, EVERY SINGLE MOROCCAN has been AWESOME! I'm serious. So nice, friendly. Even if they want to sell you something, they are cool. The courtousy is amazing. The people who work at the hotels:
Ali in the desert and his staff. Mohammed, our camel guide. Youness and Rachid, the guides in Azrou. The staff at Yasmina, Mohammed (yep) and Youness (a different one) as well as the Matre'D / Owner who's name I never got. And now Mohammed (again) the Kasbah owner. All so friendly and nice. And not just in the "You're the client so I'm going to kiss your butt" way that happens in bigger hotels or in America and Europe. Or especially in LA. But generally NICE. They're friendly, engaged. And so great to learn about Morocco and what life is like. Ishallah ("God Willing") everyone will be lucky enough to meet folks like this when they travel. We played Guillotine and Uno with Mohammed at Yasmina. Mohammed (at the Kasbah) shared food from his garden and even let us take his moped into town to goto the internet last night. Really? Cool.

Due to the fact that there are no tourists. Well, not exactly NONE, but...yes, pretty much none. It's been cool, because I get to really meet Moroccans. And because many of the guest houses are family affairs, or often you are sleeping in their house. Yep, in their house. (Which was very bizarre to me at the beginning of this trip, but now is very comfortable and wonderfully cool). You get to know people on a different level from just being someone that works at the front desk of a hotel. It's really neat. Weird at first, yes, but ultimately good.

It's been cool to see that the touts and confrontation of Fez were very limited. Now granted, I'm about to goto Marrakech to finish this trip out ,and I might get my mind blown. But I think I'm ready for it.

Tonight, I'm in Ouazazarte (war-zazat), the gateway to the desert. Only I'm heading up and over hte mountains to Marrakech on Monday (my birthday, wooo!). Tomorrow... Movie stuido and Ait Baggadou (which has been in dozens of movies). Oh, the big Kasbah I saw today in the oasis was in "Hanna", "Nazareth", and a lot of other movies too.

OH... and in Ouarzazarte there's one other thing of note.



(Well, compared to the rest of the trip). Mike and I point them out and go "ooh, look, another!". It really is bizarre. We saw more in 20 minutes than the rest of the trip all together. (At the Todra gorge, in a hotel of 70 rooms. It was he, I, and a german couple. That's it. Oh, and the power only worked when the generator ran at night. I love it!).

Who knows, maybe I'll make some new tourist friends... or maybe I'll just stick to the Moroccans.


Friday, November 18, 2011


I'm alive! I'm alive!

It's true, by now some of you might have thought I was swallowed by a saharan sandstorm...
but I wasn't.

I was swallowed by the gloriously internet free desert though.

So, with my new traveling buddy Mike in tow. We hopped an 8 hour bus from Azrou and headed south. Through SNOW in the mountains. Down into desert valleys. Strange places where everything is rock blasted desert...but for the river valley which is bright green, lush and planted with crops and filled with palm trees. Eventually the bus led us to Rissani... and from there a car picked us up and brought us 35 more kilometers to the end of the line, Merzouga.

And the dunes.

You could keep driving if you had a four wheel drive...either over the dunes or down a piste to Algeria. Except the army which scans the border with radar and heat sensing equipment would find you and... capture? Kill? I don't know. I didn't find out. But I can tell you that there were NO LIGHTS OF ANY KIND for over 180 degrees of view from the top of the dunes. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

We ended up at KSAR BICHR. A cool hotel, guest house built out of mudbrick, with a great swimming pool (it's usually hot as crap out here) and guys dressed in traditional blue robes (sure it's just for show when you're at the hotel, but it's cool.). The man in charge, Ali was AWESOME. He was super fun, friendly and made us feel at home. The rooms were nice, and even had REALLY hot showers. Good to take before 3 nights in the desert.

So we stayed here for the night. Enjoyed the nearly full moon over the nearby dunes and could hear drum music wafting in from someplace nearby. The moon was so bright I could TAKE PICTURES without the flash and see things. No BS. It's pretty awesome.

So the next day we had a chill morning. I headed out for a walk over some of the dunes. It was cool. The big ones, 500 feet and more stretched in a line blocking the horizon with thousands of small ones all in front of them. After lunch and the hot showers, it was time to SADDLE UP.

Walk out front of the Ksar and there are 3 camels and our guide, Mohammed. He wears blue as well. It wasn't 2 minutes and I'm climbing onto the back camel and up it goes. It's a very strange, high angle, multi-step balancing act that brings it up to it's feet with me riding on top. Mike hopped on his. The middle one carried gear and we were off. Mohammed walking along, the camels following in line. A rope from one stretched to the mouth of the one following.

And the dunes swallowed us for 3 days.

It was really something else. The low sun was brilliant. The shadows dark. We named our camels. Ricky, Bruno and Aziz. Aziz was my favorite, I rode on him/her (didn't look below to see which) for most of the days. Which consisted of 2 hours or so of riding over the dunes.

We got to the base of the high dune as the sun was getting really low and Mohammed told us to go up now to see sunset. It's not easy marching up a 500 foot dune (blissfully barefoot). But we did it and saw a cool sunset over the expanse of dunes in all directions. Beyond the dunes was hard rock desert. Towards Algeria in the east and south it was black desert. The distant mountains were at least 50 miles away, and you could see them.

The sun set, it got dark. Mike rolled down. I enjoyed the peace and quiet. And i mean QUIET. Not a sound. Nothing.

Finally I headed down...straight down the side of the dune to camp. Was awesome. Unlike a mountain, a dune is never going to be super super cliff like, and so you can just go down down down. Was so cool. I thought "I'm walking blindly down a giant saharan dune in the dark. Awesome."

Camp consisted of berber tents (low tents with rugs all around a central area. We had mint tea (you always have mint tea in Morocco. I mean ALWAYS :). We had a wonderful Tagine. We sat by a fire in silence.

Then we heard voices.

High in the dunes. Women. In English.

"Hello!" I call out.
"Hello!" comes back.
"Where are you from?"
"New Zealand. Where are you from?"
"(sing song) Of course!"

We were barely speaking above a normal voice. They were near the top of the dune. With the angle, maybe 700 to 1000 feet away. You could hear every word perfectly. It was so surreal to have a normal volume conversation with someone so far away who you could barely make out against the moonlit sky.

Well, I had to find out who they were, so up the dune I go. It's STEEP. But I eventually met up with them on the ridge about half way up. We sit and chat. Traveller talk. "Where you from? What have you seen? Tell fun stories". It was nice, as there are SO FEW travelers on this trip. It's amazing.

But eventually they head down. And I go up and enjoy pure awesomeness. Moon views for miles. Darkness for nearly 270 degrees, save 2 lights.

DAY 2.
Up and food and Sand board! We hike it up a bit. Then slide down. I stood pretty much every time. Never done it before. But it was fun. Wish there was a lift! We probably did 100 foot runs. We're not crazy.

Chill in the shade, as the noontime sun (even when it's only 75 degrees) is fierce. Enjoy lunch. Nap. Chilling.

Then up on the camels for 2 hours ride out to the black desert and the Nomad People. They live half the year in the mountains, and come down near the river (which is dry) in the summer. Live in mudbrick homes. There was a low tent set up for us. We barely got to interact with them, though one had a California sweatshirt!

I walked out into the black desert towards Algeria. It was surreal.

Tea at sunset. Dinner. And sleep by 9pm. There's nothing to do after dark and it's pitch black by 6pm. It's pretty wonderful.

Save the shits.
Yep, Diahrrea in the desert. Yep, using the Berber toilet (that means the ground outside).
Yep in the middle of the moonlit night.
Yep, it was interesting...but always a good skill to know you have: The ability to shit anywhere, level 2.

And it got cold, but the warm camel wool blankets ruled.

DAY 3.

Up early. Breakfast on the ground with a little table and blankets.
Brushing teeth and... oh shit. More shits.

Yep, Berber toilet, fun times. I had some bad problems with this for the next day, but fortunately the camps have Porta Pottis. And then Mike gave me this perscription anit-diarreha pill that his doctor gave him. That shit WORKS.

Anyway. The point of all this shit is that the shitting didn't ruin the desert trip at all. I was a little worn out today, but honestly, when you're in the peace and quiet of the dunes, it wasn't really a big deal at all. :)

2 hours of camels back to dunes. Chilling. Lunch. Then another 2 hours over the low ridge to a camp in a dune bowl at the base of another huge dune. Very cool. After tea (and watching Mohammed pray towards Mecca on a dune ridge up by the Mike and I head up this dune. Much easier climb, but almost as high. An amazing sunset. Great picks. Good laughs.

He headed down soon after sun down,but I hung out up there. And started dancing. It was hard not too. Twilight. Stars coming out. Dancing on a dune top with "Standing on top of the World" by Van Halen stuck in my head. Might be one of my favorite travel moments ever.

After a wonderful Tagine, we lay on the Berber blankets and watch the stars grow and grow in brightness and shooting stars too.

DAY 4.
Up nice and early, a final breakfast. A final camel ride out of the dunes. And an end to one of the coolest part of this trip. I doubt it'll be beat. And when we got the bill of 1500 Dirhams (that's NOT EVEN $200). It's almost hard to believe it was possible. But it was. It happened. If you're ever here, head to Mourzouga. Stay at Ksar Bicha with Ali. Take the desert trek with Mohammed. Experience perfect peace and silence like you'll never find in civilazation. I mean, TOTAL silence. I've never "heard" anything quite so quiet. No trees. No animals. Nothing but stillness. Calm. Peace. Perfect.

Craig O

PS: Here's the info for
KSAR BICHR: Ali is the man!,
MOHAMMED the guide:,

Friday, November 11, 2011


Hey Team,

Wow, I'm really typing a lot of updates for this trip! I guess it's because after dinner there is NOTHING else to do. Sure, I write my journal, or read, or have more than once had solo dance parties in my room. But other than sitting in cafe's drinking mint tea or coffee, nothing goes on. And that doesn't even go on very late. (Though now that I'm FINALLY feeling much more comfortable because I'm outside of the big cities, I think I'm going to join them some night to watch a football game (the cafe is packed right now)).

So Azrou...stands for "Awesome".

Not really, but it is. I got here last night and bumped into Youness and Rachid. Two guides who offered the hiking proposal (I think I mentioned in the last email). I thought about it and figured, "why am I in a hurry?", so I said "let's do it". And on top of that, I met a cool New Yorker named Mike, and he joined me.

So today we four went by grand taxi, and then small car to this mountain town of Zouiara Idris (?) in the Middle Atlas, and had a wonderful day. It's a tiny Berber town, with a charming home we could have stayed at. And above and behind the town was a volcanic rock face overgrown with green and sporting 6 waterfalls falling down it's multi-hundred foot face.


Youness and Rachid were great guides. (I'm so glad I met some in Morocco. They are legit. They knew there stuff. Were fun to talk with and very enthusiastic. And not pushy at all. They let us go at the pace we wanted. They rock... if you are coming to the middle Atlas of Morocco, let me know and I'll give you there emails. ).

We hiked, took pictures, explored small caves, drank super fresh spring water pouring out of the mountains, took to darn many photos of the mountains and animals and falls. Enjoyed a snack with our feet dangling over the edge of a cliff as the Mosque's prayers echoed over the valley.

A darn good day. Great conversation.

When we got back to the Berber village, we had an AMAZING Tagine (traditional Moroccan dish) of chicken and vegatables and honey and man it ruled. SOOOOO Good.

Being out in nature, fresh air, lots of friendly people around.

I'm so glad I ended up here, and it was just by chance. And sticking around an extra day wasn't part of the original plan (which was to leave today and head to the desert, which I will do tomorrow). But I trusted my instincts and finally am starting to feel more comfortable here. Which is good. Learning some Arabic from Rachid and Youness. Getting to hear about cool other countries Mike's traveled too. (he's been to 48, and most different from my 30 which is cool.). I even talked to the hotel desk guy for 30 minutes last night.

I tought Rachid "Awesome".

I'm just rambling.
Things are good.
Tomorrow it's off to the desert and camel's and camping in the dunes, so it will likely be a few days until the next update.
After all, I must find the Fremen and the Spice and avoid the Sandworms.


Thursday, November 10, 2011


Ahhhh, the Fez Medina.

A wonderful, crazy, busy, friendly, alien, hostile, relentless, bustling, angering, joyful, tasty, stinky maze of madness and humanity. Fez is the largest intact ancient city of it's kind in the world. And it is ENORMOUS. 150,000 people live in the twisty turny maze of the medina. World class leather, carpets and pottery are made. A wall that's 30 feet tall and 30 plus kilometers long surrounds it (and that's just part of it). It's been there for 1400 years or something. The "new" part is 700 years old. It is INSANE.

And I was there on the goat holiday (it's still going. Reports vary from 3 days to 10 days. Guess it depends on home much money you have or how religious you are, how many days you take off). It really is AMAZING. So cool to walk around. To see, hear, smell. Awesome.

But one thing that doesn't stop for any holiday is the Touts.

Now, if you've been to other countries, you konw the touts. The Men (it's always men), ranging from 12-35 (or older sometimes) who come up to you and welcome you, tell you they love your country and then insist on:
1. guiding you someplace you don't want to go
2. guiding you someplace you know how to get to
3. taking you to the a. tanneries. b. pottery lane c. carpet shop d. berber pharmacy
4. say your hotel is closed, but they know one who isn't
5. take you to a restraunt, shop, taxi stand, cafe.

And they don't take no for an answer (well, the annoying ones don't).

So you get this head down mentality that keeps you from engaging with the NOT annoying people who live and work in the Medina. But they find you anyway. And here are a few tales of Fez.


So I'm out touring fez for my second day there. Enjoying sites. I head out to Barj Nord, a big fortress outside the medina with views of the sprawl. And meet some Polish tourists. Chat a bit. Generally I'm not bothered. I goto an old tomb on a hill with a great view again. There's a berber man there, he welcomes me, offers to show me his carpet and his hats. He's nice, it's pleasant. I don't buy a rug, but buy a nice knit hat for 5 bucks. He warns me of pickpockets.

I get back to the medina just fine. Enjoy lunch and head back to my guesthouse (DAR FATIMA, I recommend it. They are super nice and fun). I walk in and, as manifesting works... there are 2 American girls sitting in the living space! Yahoo!!!!!! YA-FUCKING-HOOOOO!!!!! :)

Well we chat, they just came from the desert. I ask of the tour, there's was WAY cheaper than what I was about to book. Hmmmm... They were led to Dar Fatima by a guy named Mohammed (not the same Mo as I met before...oh wait, I havne't told that story yet. Well, in another email). So me and the girls decide to go explore and maybe grab some food in a bit (it's like 5:30, so it's dark). Well there was some confusion with Mohammed, because he was going to take them around, but they'd said they have no money, he seemed okay with that. Wanted to "practice his english. He's a student" (That is clue number one my friends...)

So if I'm going to go with them, he will charge me 150 Dhm (that's almost 20 bucks) to join them, but they are free. Well...that's stupid. I know where I'm going and just like to explore if I don't. But I'm going out at the same time, so we walk down all the steps from Fatima and go outside.

As soon as the door closes, Mohammed leans forward agressively toward me and says "You got a problem with me?"
I have NO IDEA what he's talking about. "YOU GOT A PROBLEM WITH ME?"
I have a habit when shocked of smiling or sort of laughing...well, you don't do this to a Moroccan man.
Me "Are we really going to have this conversation? What are you talking about?"
Him "You have a problem with me"
Me "Really, you wait till the door closes and now you say this?"
(I'm thinking...I have no idea what to do right now and no idea what is going on...)

Well, we're on a little alley in the medina of Fez. A couple folks walking by stop. The girls have NO IDEA what is provoking this. And honestly, I'm so annoyed by all the fucking touts I kinda want to have him swing at me so I can drop kick his ass with some Tae-Kwon-Do!

But I'm also not a fighter (I'm a lover, ha ha ha), and know that getting in a fight here and now would be REALLY FUCKING DUMB.

So thankfully Sonja steps in. And he tries to lead her and Leah off (but I'm thinking "this isn't safe at all"). So we end up about 20 feet further away and he thinks I'm following them, which I am. So he wants money. He says "You just want to fuck them, that's all".
Me "I don't even KNOW them! I just want to find out about their desert trip and where they went!"

Sonja tries to figure out what's up. Explain that they were just in the desert, and went trekking etc etc. Another guy standing there, and his girlfriend motion me over and we start talking. He doesn't know what's up, and I feel like he said something about me taking money from Mohammed. (I mean, I KNOW Mohammed is leading them to shops, but if they want to go, they want to go, that's fine).

Sonja comes over and says, "It's okay, he understands". And then he lights up a cigarette, as Sonja and Leah rush through what they did and the costs. It was rediculous. Then he says "How much you pay?"
I say "The guy says it'll be 320 Euro."
Mohammed "No no no. You book with me and I can do it all for 200 Euro. I was just in desert. I'm a guide".

REALLY? You threaten me, then 5 minutes later want my business. Come on!!!

Anyway, no more tensions there. End up walking with them a bit. I knew they would get harrassed, but I had to go a different direction, or there would be more problems. They were fine. Said Mohammed claimed I was "in the mafia". Yep. I'll put out a contract on you, don't you know it!


Well, the night just keeps getting better. I walk all the way to the main gate, where I knew I could get some good food. I ate alone, because my new friends were being annoyed by the "guide".

On my way back, it was maybe 8:45pm. Getting late in Morocco time. Shops all closing up. I had to walk the main "road" (it's maybe 8 feet wide) to a side one and then I would head through a passage to my hotel. Problem is...I'd never walked BACK that way before. So before leaving the cafe I looked on the map, saw some landmarks I could memorize and use, and head out...

I've got a bottle of water, I'm walking focused. I don't really answer folks when they ask the ever coming first question "Where you from? Welcome Morocco. Your second home Brother."

But then a (maybe drunk, maybe high, maybe just annoying) guy comes up.
"You want to goto Tanneries? To pottery? Buy good stuff?"
"No thank you."
"I take you, Tanneries You come."
"No, I'm good."
"It's right up here, you come, Good deal"

I turn around (because I KNOW I've gone too fucking far down the street, and more guys are sort of appearing).
So I walk past another couple

"Where you from?"
I never looked back

Now I KNOW I'm in a bad place. I do not have a clear idea where to go. I know even if I PICK the right side alley, it is not close. Maybe 300 meters of quiet alley and dark passage. Then I have to open the fricking door, which isn't easy to open.

This is not cool.

I can't leave it alone, so I say (not really very loud) "Glad you practiced your English" as I'm walking away

Other people on the street (thank god they were there) started to look at what was going on. I pass the bank (and know that the alley is right next to it from the map). So I do a hard Left, glance quickly to see if I'm being followed...I'm not.

But I just walked into that alley. And NO ONE is around.

I quickly debate turning back onto mainstreet, going up to gate and hanging at cafe. But really, if they sit and wait, I'm fucked.

So I go for it.
I don't run, I walk, senses tuned to sounds of footsteps behind.

I slide under the passage, out onto Fatima's alley. And up to the door. Look back...

no puruit.

Open door. Slide inside.
Fuck me.


I'm a bit frazzled. Fatima's daughter wants to know if I'll be doing the 320 euro tour so we can call the guide for the pick up tomorrow. I say "I need to calm down".

I chat with Leah and Sonja, we tell stories of Mohammed and the "Fuck your mother" guys. And I think "I'm not going on this tour. It's way too expensive and I'm in no hurry...but I'm getting out of Fez".

So I have.
We toured the Jewish quarter and saw a few quick sites this morning. Had some great conversation. Ran into this Aussie couple I chatted with yesterday and then went our separate ways. Emails swapped. New friends.

I rode a grand taxi (a full size Mercedes, painted a certain color depending on the city, that goes between towns. They ALWAYS put 6 people plus the driver in them.) So it was me and another guy in the front seat. Cool...I had my arm out the window as we headed into the LUSH GREEN MOUNTAINS. Um, this is Morocco? Yep, cedar trees and other evergreens. Very pretty. Past the french inspired town of Ifrane. Very cool, kinda wish I'd stayed there. But got to Azrou.

Pretty mountains. Very nice people. The hotel guy is fun, we chat (in rough English) about travel, america, Los Angeles, his trips etc. I met another traveler at the restraunt (though I was by far the ONLY one here for awhile). His name is Mike. He got fed up with Fez and headed out today too. We'll go hiking tomorrow.

No Touts, though one guide came up to me with his friend, they had a book of testimonials and a photo book a Dutch couple had made for him of their trek. He told me what we could do, said "Just a proposal. No pressure. If you want to book, let me know later". And they left me be. And I climbed on this cool huge rock pile that's like 100 feet of volcanic awesome that overlooks the town, the mosque, the full moon and the fading sunlight.



Wednesday, November 9, 2011


Hi Team,

Well I'm in Fez.

It's crazy busy, big, noisy, and the only thing I can compare it to is La Paz Bolivia. Though it's STILL the holiday, so it's less noisy, less crazy and less busy than it normally is. The imperial palace and the ENORMOUS medina are crazy cool.
I had one hell of an experience yesterday, which I don't have time to write about just now. We'll say it involved lots of stinky dead goats.

I just wanted to give you a location update. And if anyone has done a multi-day camel trek in Erg Chebbi, could you please give me the information of the company / hotel you went through. It is REALLY complicated to book anything, or get a straight answer out of anyone here (it's a lot of tell you want you want to hear, or what they THINK you want to hear just to make the sale). Again....Bolivia. I'm planning on going to the desert tomorrow or the next day, and the only concrete tour I've found (met the guy) is too expensive for my taste.

And now...


I keep meaning to write about this, but get too wrapped up in the adventure stories, to mention this. (As "Sk8ter boy" by Avril Lavigne plays at the internet cafe....)

It's real.
I came here for it. I chose it. I wanted it. I wanted to get outside my comfort zone, and I am WAY outside of it. I haven't felt grounded but for a few fleeting moments (chilling in the olive grove on the bike ride, grabbing the grand taxi to Moulay Idriss) this whole trip. It usually takes a few days to get used to travel someplace (the oft referenced "See-Legs"), but Morocco is turning out to be quite the challenge. There tourist infrastructure is fractured at best. It exists, but it's so strange to be sleeping in someone's house. Just me. In Fez. With a family. It's very cool, it's a glimpse into something I don't normally get to see, but it's very strange. I mean, it's not everyday that you're shown "your bathroom" and there is a GOAT CARCASS hanging in the middle of the room. Yep! And later in the day they were cutting it up, sawing it in half with saws and knives and just laughing up a storm, having the best time of their lives. Admittedly, I laughed a lot too because it was so strange, and well, they were laughing and laughing is fun.

Still, it's weird.

And it is VERY hard to determine if people are being friendly or offereing you "services" (not sex services but guide services) that you may not even want. I've gotten better at saying "no thanks" and walking away, but it's a different mind set. And the pouty "goss, poor me" look you get if you dare to say no to the hard working salesman.

As many of you know, I've been to a lot of places. Morocco is the 30th country. And so far it's shaping up to be the most challenging one to travel in and function in. Sure, if I spoke french or arabic it would be a little easier, but I don't think by much. If you come from a place (like USA) where prices are posted and information is much easier to access, the Morocco experience is quite unnerving at times.

All this is to not say that it's not worth it, of course. Travel isn't always "Fun", but that doesn't mean it's not a worthwhile experience. As the end of the travel philosophy from "THE BEACH" says: "Just keep your mind open and suck in the experience. And if it hurts, you know what? It's probably worth it."

That being said, I'm REALLY ready to meet some travelers. When you book places, it seems there were always "2 american girls" or "2 german girls" that are staying there. But when you check in they have conveniently "left this morning". It could be a couple from England, it could be a group, but usually it's 2 girls. It's really funny. (And no, I'm not just seeking out 2 girls in Morocco. :). Still, I'm ready to hear how other travelers are finding Morocco, get some tips and advice about places to see and things to do that might not be tinged with the fact that they are making a percentage of their "uncles" shop or hotel or driver company. And I like travelers, they are from other places too. I'm very curious what it's like for women to travel in Morocco, and see how their experiences differ from men. (Yes Michele, I will pick your brain for more stories when I get back. Definitely!)

Culture shock.
It's what I wanted.
And if it was comfortable, I wouldn't have gotten out of my comfort zone...which is part of the main reason for travel in the first place.


PS: Cadry, remember the "CULTURE SHOCK!" Books? Did you ever read one for Morocco?

Monday, November 7, 2011


Well today I have.

Much less than I was expecting. From the sounds of it, this holiday was going to be rivers of goats blood running down the streets as many, many, MANY goats were ritually sacrificed for the holiday Eid al-Adha. All those goats coming out of trunks and trucks and beng hauled on the back of donkeys. Every one of them.

And to top it off... I got sick last night! Ugh. So after waking up at midnight and throwing up (for only 5 minutes or so... I lucked out),
I didn't feel to swift. Been draggnig all day, but after what happened in Guatemala (see puke and shit simultaniously for 3 or 4 days... remember that one team?), I felt pretty lucky. I've been careful not to drink water and not eat cut vegatables. But obviously something got me. Oh well, it happens.

So when I finally woke up and drug myself up to the rooftop terrace on a beautiful sunny day, I peered off over the town. There was no traffic. No horns. Just the sounds of families spending time together. I looked to the terrace next to mine and a grey haired man, his son, and his grandson drug a goat out on the patio...

(My vegan freinds (Cadry, David...any other ones) should stop reading now...until you see the capital letters saying you can read again)....

...they all had plastic "aprons" on and sharp knives. 4 kids were there watching. 2 boys. 2 girls. Probably 6, 8, 10 and 12. The 12 year old girl looked over and saw me. I offered a wave and said "Bonjour". She cringed and pointed at the goat, who was suprisingly not struggling. Then the son (who was 14 maybe,) got the honors of cutting the goats throat as dad and grandpa held it down. It kicked a little, and then just lay there. The 12 year old girl cringed and looked away. The other kids were sort of dancing on the table.

One of them turned and saw me. Said "Bonjour". I returned it. Then the grandpa looked at me and said a few thngs in French with a smile. I said "Parle Vouz English?". He smiled "English. Welcome Morocco!" And they went back to what they were doing. Which was washing the blood with a bucket and eventually cutting off the goats head...

well, this didn't exactly sit well with my upset stomach, so I headed inside. (Though later when I peeked out the goat head was cooking on a hot plate and the animal had been skinned. Seems like everyone here knows how to do this. I don't have any idea how you butcher an animal. Though I know my uncle Kev does! :)

As I looked off the balconies, and you could smell the hundreds of goats being cooked. I also realized that those weren't all clothes hanging over balconies. Nope, that's inside out goat skin. Yep, hanging like a bedsheet over the balcony. Don't see that everyday.


So the purpose of this, I was informed at the panoramic lookout later in the day, is a symbol of Ibriham's sacrifice for Allah. He was the first prophet (after Mohammed) and there seems to be some sort of choice he had to make between a Jewish son and a Muslim son. As often happens with my lack of language skills, and the thick accents that I'm not quite used to listening to, I missed exactly what it's for. But I had been told that Moroccan's are the main country that ACTUALLY do the sacrifice. And as I said before, this is a very holy day. Meant to be with family, and much of the meat gets given to those less fortunate. Sure, there are status points for how big your goat is, but for the most part it's not nearly as commercial as Christmas is. It's Christmas...with goats.

So I went for a bike ride in the afternoon. Along a cool road on the side of the bluff. The area looks a lot like the southwest. Parts of New Mexico perhaps. The roman ruins of Volubilis are below. And other than the 4 boys who threw rocks at me (no clue what that was about.) It was a very pleasant ride.

(Yesterday I visited Volubilis for 3 or 4 hours. It was sunny, and rainy, and sunny again. The ruins are awesome. TONS of mosaics in the ruined houses. Very elaborate. Been there for 2000 years. And pllars and columns and other houses. It was really amazing. A great day and really fascinating).

I met a Spaniard on my bike ride who rode up behind me and said "Hi". He's riding from Spain to Mauritania (Which is south of Morocco) to visit his girlfriend. 10 weeks on the road. Very little stuff. Was nice to chat with someone who spoke decent English. Sure it's my own shortcoming, but damn it, I'm ready to have some conversations with someone. The chopped conversations I've been having are nice and all, but it's fun to have a REAL conversation with someone. I'm hoping that Fez will have more tourists and English speakers. (Though I've been told that the level of touts increases dramatically there).

So I'm back in my fancy ass house. Writing another email update because I have no one to talk too. Sure, I could wander around town again, but I did that as the sun set. It was super super cool. This town covers two hills, and I went down the backside, had amazng views, ran into lots of people playing and laughing. I was searching for the thermal Roman bath, that apparently is somewhere, but I never found it. Oh well. So I'm here, writing this, with the sounds of a family coming through the front door. Every time someone knocks on the door next door or talks, it sounds like they are here. The Spanish guy is stayng a couple doors down (where I ate last night), but we didn't set up a time to meet later, so alas, no conversation.

I JUST remembered that you have to do that when you're backpacking / travelng. You have to say "Hey, you want to meet for dinner? Cool, come by at 7pm". OH YEAH! Funny, we're so used to the endless instant access of celphones that I forgot you had to make PLANS to see people and stick to them. Hilarious. Guess I should have chatted a bit more with the british folks I saw earlier and maybe we could have met for dinner. (Guess I don't quite have my "See" legs back all the way!)

So I'm havng a great trip (and yes the "i" key on this keyboard sucks), but I have to say that Morocco is definitly living up to the culture shock travel challenge I was looking for this time. It's not the easiest place to be a traveler. And not just because I don't speak the language. There is a different way of dong things here, with constant tipping, and touts and people people EVERYWHERE. (which is why I enjoyed just stopping on the side of the road on my bike ride. It was me, olive trees, and silence for half and hour). Now, if I lived in New York, maybe the people everywhere would be more familiar. But I don't. And it's also me. I like people and crowds, but I also like my space. And not only are people everywhere, if you engage, many times they are into tout and selling mode. Not always. I've had some interesting interactions with folks just sayng hi. One guy shook my hand, and then just held it as we got by on a broken conversation. It was a little unnerving...until I realized that often Moroccan men will do that. But you never know if someone is being friendly or sellng you something. And honestly, I haven't been to Fez, or the grand daddy: Marrakesh. I have a feeling it's going to be pretty wild.

So if I had to rate Morocco's travel level now (on my travel scale), I'd give it a 4 of 6. If I spoke French, perhaps it would be 1/2 a point less. Who knows.

But again, it's all part of the adventure. Being out of my comfort zone is a good thng.


Sunday, November 6, 2011


Hey Team,

It's true. Jedi Knights own Morocco. On the streets, in the mosques, in the cafes. Everywhere you look. JEDI. It's pretty awesome...

... okay. So they aren't REAL Jedi knights. And the two times I've brought it up to Moroccan's they look at me like I'm nuts, but there is no doubt that George Lucas got his idea for the Jedi robes from the Jellaba robes worn here (and likely in Tunisia). Do a google search. Get your Jedi on.

On top of that went into the bowels of Jabba's palace while in the imperial city of Meknes. Sure, some would say it's the graneries (or as the tour guides insist...the DUNGEONS) of Moulay Ismail's palace. But they bear a striking resemblance to Mr. Hutt's palace. Again, some likely inspiration for Mr. Lucas. I wonder if he traveled around North Africa (and perhaps Morocco) when he was younger. Haven't seen any light sabers yet...but I'm keeping an eye out.

So I'm pretty much the only tourist in Morocco.
Not really a big exaggeration.
I've seen, maybe...MAYBE a dozen tourists in Casablanca, Meknes, on the Train, and Moulay Idriss (where I am now). At the roman ruins today there were a couple tour buses, but I have no idea where they are staying. They seem to vanish like the ruins. At first I thought "Man, this is a little rough. No other travelers to chat with", but then I realized that this is really a cool experience. Travelers are familiar to me. Moroccan culture is quite a bit unfamiliar. So it forces me to engage in it all the time. And it's been a little tough. Though looking back, it really only took 3 days to get my "see" legs in place. But compared with the last couple trips (Costa Rica/Panama and Australia), where the "see" legs kicked in immedately. This was a bit of a challenge. And I mean, that even ordering food is intimidating. Or getting a train seat or ticket, or figurng out why the heck they DON'T EAT MEAT before 11am. And as all of you who know me, know I can't do a bunch of bread, jam, and sweet sugary tea for breakfast. I've actually felt a little off most of the time so far because the food is rough. It's LOT's of fried stuff. Very little vegatables (though they end up on the plate... unless they are cooked, I choose to not eat them. Already heard stories from two people who got sick.). So it's meat and potatoes, and LOTS of it. I mean, I thnk it's part of the culture, but they give you TONS of food for every meal. Example: Tonight I had a typical dinner (very different from Costa Rica "typical"). It was: Bread, Olives, Potato salad, Some sort of fruit salad, and the main course, which is in this clay warming plate (the name I can't remember right now), and theres' a lot of it. I keep eatng and eatng because don't want to waste it, but tonight I'm STUFFED. So I think it's time to trim back a bit. I wonder if locals eat that much, or if it's just for tourists and guests. I see their plates at the cafes...and they have all the stuff on it. It's a wonder Moroccan's aren't fat like Americans. :)

So yesterday I was wanderng the old medina in Meknes. (A Medina is the old part of town. Much like Stone Town was, or an old Medieval town, with winding alleys, and twists and turns. Dead ends. Blind turns. No traffic and lots of people. Souqs are the shopping area's in the Medinas. The most famous beng Marrakesh (which will be at the end of my trip). Some Medina's are "new", meaning only 150 years old or so (like Cassablanca), some are old (like Fes, which is 1500 years shit). Meknes is right in the middle, build around 600 years ago. The Royal city area build around 1700). So I'm wanderng the maze of Meknes, just taking in the palaces walls, the life, all the goats being hearded along, or hauled in trucks, and basically lettng myself get lost. It's one of the joys of being here, and in Meknes there is MUCH less hassle (or so I'm told) than in Fez or Marrakesh).

Well, I'm heading out (or so I think) and a guy says "hi. You speak English". And we start to chatting. Well, the thing is, you never know if they are wanting to sell you something, help you for free, or just say hi. We chat a bit, and he says "would you join me for some Mint Tea at my home. I would be honored."

Well, Mint tea is how it's done in Morocco. They love it. Drink it. Share it. It's like Beer Lao in Laos. And as many of you know, one of my guiding principles of travel is 1. Never refuse and invitation. So I say yes...

And he leads me down all these alleys and circles all around, way back into the medina. And to his home. Which is a door in a wall. He opens it and we descend stairs into a dark, gloomy room. I'm thnking..."hmmm... keep your shit with you and trust your instincts if you want to run. But don't be paranoid". Beyond the gloomy room, he turns on a light in another gloomy room. This one has a bed, couch, table, tiny tv, dvd player, and posters of Jimi Hendrix and a VERY young Rolling Stones. Like teenagers.

We get to chatting. He cleans up as we do. I keep feeling like I see random drug paraphanelia...but it never is. It's mint tea, or sugar, or cigarettes. He's nice. We chat of life in America, his family and other things. Travel and more. He cooks up some tea and we drnk away. (But I wait to watch him drink it first... I seem to know something about the poisoning of drink to get what you want... (those of you who know what I'm talking about, know. Those who don't, you'll find out someday soon...)

I ask to use the toilet, careful to brng all my stuff with me. He says "sure", leads me to a black "closet" looking thng in the wall by the front door. I can't see in it, but he tosses water in (the way you flush a squat toilet.). He goes away, and I have to pull out my headlamp so I can see... and there's no way I'm stepping in there to pee. So I take aim and go for it. Yikes.

Back to tea. And then what it's really about...
I ask "so what do you do?"
He gets up and brings over a little tray of Jewelry (ahhhhh... this is for the sale!). He claims to have made it, but honestly I don't think he did. It was all pretty varied and there were odd details in how long he said it took to make things. But honestly...who cares if he made it or not?

Next thing I know, we're eating cus-cus. Yep, he got it from his neighbor, cooked it up and we dig in. Was really good and he kept insisting eat more. (again...LOTS of food). I look at Jewelry, I pick out some items and ask "How much?"
He says it's not capitalism. I'm his brother. We are all loved by god in our hearts. Eventually I had to make the first bid...

100 Dirham. (that's $12.50). For a pendant (to be a magnet), two sets of earings and two necklaces.
He looks shocked, and laughs. (that's how it's done).
He tells me how long they took to make (the necklace a MONTH). I smile.
He says 1650 Dirham. (do the math, that's $200!!!)
I laugh. He says 1400.
We discuss more. I offer 150.
I remove one necklace. How much?
He says I should offer him.
And I end up at 200. (Now without both neclaces).
He says 250.
I say 220.
All the while we smile, we drink tea, we take our time.
He says 230.
Then goes back up to 250.
No way! I laugh.
I go to the other room. Pull out a 200 and 22 in coins.
I come in and offer them to him.
He takes them...
I take my jewelry.
And very quickly I'm lead out to the street and only 10 feet from his door we are back on the main drag where | met him in the first place. He'd led me all over tarnation just to add to the mystery.

He gave me directions and sent me on my way... me havng spent a little more than I should have, and him making a little less than he hoped. But I had good tea, good food and a good story. Well worth $27.50.

(But I've got to keep my eyes peeled for this in all the future Medina's I go to...because I'll be broke if I don't. :).
I'm glad I read this article by Andrew McCarthy (yep, the actor from the 80s, now turned Travel writer), about bargaining in Marrakesh. It helped a lot.

But thanks to that...I felt like I got my "See" legs back.
I headed to the crazy taxi stand as the rain came in again, was able to get in one to Moulay Idriss. But first they had to take the Goat out of the trunk. (yes you read that correctly). Open trunk...take out tied up goat. Pile into cab (not trunk), and off to the holiest Islamic City in Morocco. They say 5 pilgramiges here during August are worth 1 to Mecca. So it's like 1/5 Mecca!

And I'm stayng in a cool guest house... by myself.
I mean completely by myself.
Think a 3 story house with a central atrium all the way up. Rooms with beds on the different floors. A roof terrace. Bikes to ride. Hot showers. AND NO ONE HERE. I mean, not even the employees. NO ONE. It's my own fricking house! And will be for 3 nights because tomorrow is one of the biggest Muslim holidays, and the workers aren't allowed to work. It'd be like working on Christmas. Only with Goats...


Friday, November 4, 2011


And as you might expect...


A lot.

As in, Costa Rica style rain. It'll rain for a long time, clear up sunny, and then rain more. On top of that it's about 50 degrees outside and the wind is blowing hard. So needless to say, I'm sure glad I packed that extra fleece. Someone told me Morocco was a desert...not yet. :)

I'm typing on a crazy Arabic keyboard. Never seen one before, but as I expect will happen lots during this trip, it's a first. Fortunately the folks here are all super cool and helped me get it set to US English, so I can get the updates coming.

So, first stop...


Yep, This trip for 2011 is actually a couple trips put together. Iowa / Chicago, then Germany / Morocco / St. Louis.
One of these things is not like the other... (okay, maybe two of them).

I meant to write about Iowa and Chicago separately, but it was so busy with the trip and getting ready for Morocco I didn't get to it. All I really have to say is...I LOVE IOWA. If you've never been, don't knock it. Iowa City is one of the most wonderful places there is. It's truly magical. I enjoyed going back and visiting some of my best college friends who have moved back (perhaps wisely...). I rode bikes along the cornfields (Thanks Cadry and David), I enjoyed playing college student by walking around campus, stopping in on a lecture, and eating at my old dorm, Hillcrest. I rode around campus (thanks Nikki!) and read books on the Pentacrest. Went for a pub crawl. Was fun.
The whole experience was pretty surreal. Many of the memories were so specific and vivid, almost like nothing had changed. But other things felt like someone had "inceptioned" my dream of Iowa. There was a store that was different, an extra campus building that was open, an addition to the football stadium that wasn't there before.
Funny how after 10 years away some things were exactly the same, but some were so different.

I went and visited a class as well, did a little Q&A about moving to LA after gratuating and working in the movie business. Hopefully I can keep coming back and doing those as I achieve more success. Maybe it'll inspire some folks to come to LA and kick some movie butt.

But enough Iowa, now it's time for...


More great college friends. In fact I got to see most of my favorite college people on this trip. Yahoo! Watched some horror movies, enjoyed walking around the city, playing Ultra-Mega-Sonne with Dan.... if you don't know, feel free to ask. Frisbee. And SKYDIVING!

Yep, I FINALLY went Skydiving. A friend, Taylor, of some of my LA friends (Tom and Nina) drug my ass to Wisconsin to jump out of a plan. It was AWESOME! It's been on the list forever, and it was really cool. VERY different than what I expected it to be. I thought there would be the "whooopsie" feeling in my stomach of going on a roller-coaster. Nope. It's just FALLING THE FUCK OUT OF A PLANE. It's so weird, you're strapped to the dive master, you slide up to the edge of the plane. It was pretty cold when we did it so the wind was freezing my tears as we waited to jump. And waited. And waited. I'd watched Taylor and all the others just dissappear, and we waited and...


You just FALL FAST. Flipping upside down. Watched the plane Dive right past us (okay, it was probably 300 feet away as it dove straight down through the clouds). You could spin yourself left or right really easily, and my head got really cold... and I forgot to breath for a while. IT's very strange. Just howling through the air. Then we shot through some clouds and tada... Lake Michigan stretching out around us. Fields. Houses. Other parachuters. Was great. Then the canopy is released... and we're flying. It was very smooth and fun and peaceful. Wish it went on longer....

The whole thing is great and very smooth. Not nearly as jarring as I expected it to be. Quite wonderful. Not much to do after that, it's sorta like "now what do we do with the day"? Cause really, what can follow that? Very cool.

So, enough of the midwest. (Though I can never get enough of the Midwest).

After 24 hours back in LA, I'm on a plane to


Okay, it's really just a layover. But it was 11 hours. I left the airport. I got a stamp. I've been to Frankfurt-am-Main. Sweet.
It was fun to explore, take a river tour, eat some frankfurters (yep), drink Apfel-wein, enjoy the rather chilly weather, the cool German-ness of everything, and my favorite, the Dom... a church that was build in 690 AD! WHAT?!?!? Yep, it's been done in pieces, but that was the first part. Many emperors of the Holy Roman Empire were crowed there. It was awesome. An organist was playing this wild, deep, droning tune. I even paid the 3 euro to climb the bell tower at dusk and see all the modern skyscrapers light up. And then the bell went off... for like 5 minutes straight. It was so loud. Tom you would have loved it.

Then totally exhausted, I hope a flight to...

you guessed it...


Land at 1am. Still no confirmation from my hostel they would be there. So I considered staying at the airport till dawn. But that would mean the next day would be obliterated after 2 nights without a bed. So I used some travel skillz, talked to a tour group, and had them call the hostel for me...

... and no one answered.


Then I thought about it, and headed out to the Grand Taxi stand (that's the taxi's without the meters that go beyond the city limits), and found 1 of 8 drivers who actually spoke some English. (Please note, this is MY problem that I can't communicate in French or Arabic, not theirs. It's always something I wish I was better at, and am greatful when I find someone who speaks English that can help me out.) I made a plan to goto the hostel, and if locked, have them take me to another hotel that I picked from the guidebook. He told me for sure the hostel would be closed. I believe him. Alas, he wasn't the driver I got to have because he wasn't at the front of the line. So I head out with a guy who speaks french, and LOVES to bump the hot american dance tunes on his car stereo. BEAUTIFUL, by Akon and Colby, Check. ON THE FLOOR, Pitbull and J. Lo (I think), Check. Was fun.

We head right to the Medina (the old part of town) and up to Hotel Central. Knocked on the door...

and waited...


The door opens. Yahoo! Guy lets me in. I got my room, whew. So Tired (and pretty sure I'm not at the hostel, but I don't care. :)

The next day was all about exploring Cassablanca. (Here's looking at you kid!), and yes there is a Rick's Place restraunt and bar. I didn't go into it, because it was like 20 bucks to eat. Really? I'm in Morocco. But I did head out in the rain to the Hassan 2 Mosque. Which is...well... ENORMOUS. You could fit St. Peters Basilica in Rome, INSIDE the thing. Yep. Sweet. Went on a tour. Learned a bit more about our Islamic friends, and took some great pictures. It was a place I wanted to let seep in, but the tour was a bit rushed. Hopefully the pictures (which I can't upload from here) will give you a scale of the place. Later in the evening I went back (to goto a Circus that was next to it, but that ended up not having a show) and was there for evening prayers. Probably 100 plus people went in... the place was empty. It holds 25,000 worshippers on Ramadan. 80,000 more in the courtyard. The chanting and praying sounds really amazing in such a huge place. It was built in 6 years, with 6000 to 10,000 workers going 24/7 to complete it. It sorta looks like Jabba's palace. Yep, I said it. The 3rd largest Mosque in the world was inspired by Return of the Jedi. (I thought it might be the other way around, except that the Mosque was finished in 1993).

And for anyone who might be thinking "what are you crazy? All those Muslim's praying?! In a huge group like that! Isn't that dangerous"? Absolutely not. The Iowa Football game has more chance of getting out of hand than people worshipping. It'd be like a sunday church service turning violent. It's not going to happen. Even though we weren't allowed inside during prayers which is understandable. Everyone is so friendly, peaceful and giving. A guy gave us some oil to put on our hands. Others gave us well wishes. And one guy who was inside praying, was wearing a USA sweatshirt. We smiled and nodded to each other.

Yep, I think it's good to travel. Makes you realize (or remember) that, even though there are some crazy folks in all religions who do stupid things in the name of God. Most people who call themselves Muslims, or Christians aren't out to "get you". In fact, it's entirely the opposite. But I have a feeling I'll have many thoughts on this during the trip, so I'll not get too into it in the first email. :)

But it's not all about the Mosque in Cassablanca. I enjoyed the markets, the medina's, the pace of life is wild and exciting. And nearby is all the French colonial archetecture, which sort of feels like South Beach Miami, minus all the neon. And there are blocks and blocks and BLOCKS of the stuff. It's really cool. The collision of west and middle east is fascinating. I have yet to feel unsafe in the crowds or the Medina's or markets. It's been really cool.

And today I took the train to Meknes. One of the old imperial cities. The Medina here is AWESOME! A HUGE wall surrounds it. Markets are all around. I Saw inside a cool Riad (traditional house), which is now a museum. It's really really cool. All the ornate carvings and tilework and carpets (much like the Hassan 2 mosque).

And now it's raining. It's windy. I've barely seen any travelers in my couple days. Which is kind of awesome. I tend to like to talk with travelers, because well, they're traveling like me. But this is forcing me to interact EVEN MORE with Moroccan's. Of course, they mostly speak French and Arabic, and me, typical English only American. But we do the best we can. We smile a lot, and learn a little bit every day.

That's what we got so far. Tomorrow. More Medina, then off to some Roman Ruins. (?!?!?)

It's good to be back in Africa, even if it's a very different Africa than the one I saw before.

PS: Alex Rose, how IS the Africa that I saw before? ")