Category Archives: travel

Gnaoua or never

Essaouira is a great place to end a trip through Morocco. The cool air and wind from the sea felt wonderful after the intense heat of the desert. Seagulls wheeled and cried, and waves crashed on the rocky shore and nearby islands. The smells of salt and fish blew through the air.

essaouira

Walking through the narrow streets in the medina, I fell in love with the shades of blue. Against the high white walls of the old houses, shutters and doors are painted pale blue or turquoise. Sometimes they’re surrounded with a border of yellow. I wanted to paint everything in my house white and golden yellow and pale blue.

essaouira

And Essaouira is mellow. Even full of Moroccan visitors and European tourists, it felt relaxed and peaceful. If I lived in Europe, I might make it a regular vacation spot.

We were there for the Gnaoua and World Music Festival. (It’s also spelled Gnawa, but I seem to gravitate toward spelling Moroccan names the French way rather than English). Pronounce all the letters: Guh-now-ah. The title of this post, by the way, is stolen from some posters and t-shirts we saw at the festival. Continue reading

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Sahara road trip, Part I

We were a little nervous about renting a car in Morocco. But we asked a lot of questions, listened to stories from other travelers, and decided to do it.

Sitting on the couch at Mami Tours, we asked: is it an automatic? Does it have air conditioning? Does it have a CD player? Yes, yes, yes, he said.

Two out of three isn’t so bad. It’s just that it’s been a long time since I’ve driven a car with manual transmission. And that was in New Zealand, on the other side of the road. And car.

But it comes back to you.

Even on roads like this.

winding road in the atlas mountains

With goats crossing. (Sorry for the windshield smudge in the photo.)

goats crossing the road in the atlas mountains

Mara took the wheel first and navigated the traffic and roundabouts of Marrakesh and our first taste of Moroccan highway. Once we started to approach the Atlas Mountains, we switched.

goats grazing in atlas mountains

The Tizi-n-Tichka Pass is Morocco’s highest road pass, reaching 2260 meters (7413 feet) before descending again. The road winds through pale rock, green valleys, red rock, cedar forest, and black rock before it brings you into the desert. Continue reading

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A fes in Fes. Or a fez in Fez, if you rather.

French spelling, English spelling, whatever.

I bought a fes in the town of Fes. My brother used to collect hats, and I couldn’t help myself. I gave it to him when I got back yesterday.

Since internet wasn’t quite as easy to come by in Morocco as I’d anticipated, I’m going to write a bit about my trip now that I’m home.

We arrived in Fes late in the day. Once we finally landed in Casablanca (after the saga of the cancelled flight and the unhelpful airline and the new flight a day later with a layover that hadn’t been part of our original itinerary), we took the train to Casa’s main station and then hopped the express train to Fes.

When we stepped off the train, bleary-eyed and travel-weary, the sky was pink from the setting sun, and the call to prayer echoed even through the station. The moon was already rising. Finally, we were where we wanted to be.

The Fes medina (old city) is said to be the world’s largest car-free area. The little car we’d gotten into parked outside a gate, and we took our bags and followed our driver into the narrow streets. Some were steep enough to have steps on one side. All curved and intersected unpredictably. It was getting dark, and only men – and a couple of mules pulling carts – walked the streets. Small groups of men sat on low chairs, smoking and talking drinking glasses of mint tea. Continue reading

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The Sahara

I just spent ages typing a post about driving through the Atlas Mountains to see the Sahara, and it’s gone. So for now: I’m in Marrakech, heading to Essaouira this afternoon, and I’ll write another time about remembering how to drive stick on winding mountain roads, riding a camel through red sand dunes, sleeping under the stars, and wandering through old kasbahs with crumbling pisé walls.

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Morocco

I made it here. Eventually. After a canceled flight and other hijinks. Fes was wonderful/ we stayed in the medina, near the square where craftsmen hammer brass and copper plates by hand and men laze at the cafe. The riads (old houses) and other buildings (medersas, palaces, mosques) are stunning, with layers of deep carving and colored tile and intricately painted wood, and central open-air courtyards planted with bananas, oranges, jasmine, hibiscus, and other leafy lovely things.. Museums hold old weapons and scabbards, ceramics, wedding robes, carpets, urns, teapots, platters, carved doors. This French keyboard is confusing the hell out of me, and I’m off to see Yves St. Laurent’s gardens.
More later.

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Hand Delivery

On the island of Floreana, in the south of the Galapagos Islands, is a little place called Post Office Bay.

In 1793, a whaling captain named James Colnett set up a wooden barrel to serve as an unofficial post office box. Whaling ships were often away from home for two years at a time, so ships headed back home to Europe or the U.S. would stop and pick up mail left by ships on their way out. The tradition has remained. People – tourists, now – drop off postcards in the box, and others pick them up to deliver by hand. Some people also leave signs made of driftwood. I grinned to see a marker from an Olivia group.

I dropped off a few postcards at Post Office Bay in late December, wondering what the chances were they’d reach their destinations. We looked through the stacks of cards in the box, calling out where each was from to see if anyone would be near enough to deliver it. The Australians took a few. A woman from Japan took a couple. A New Yorker found one to deliver.

I took two postcards that were addressed to places in Connecticut I could reasonably get to.

And the postcards sat in my backpack for weeks.

A couple of weeks ago, I was finally near enough one of the towns that I could drop off one of the postcards. I got directions and found a condo complex with winding roads and a trickling stream. At the top of the hill was the little street and a collection of mailboxes. I wondered what the recipients would say when they found the postcard, dated late December, unstamped, with “hand deliver only” printed in block letters at the top.

A week later, my aunt called me. “Hi. I got this postcard from you. It’s the weirdest thing.”

She knew I had been in the Galapagos in December. And she knew that I’d been home for over two months now. And there was a little note in the corner of hers from whoever had delivered it.

So I explained.

I like that my postcard found its way to her house around the same time that I delivered the first of my two. I kind of wished I’d left a note, like my aunt’s deliver-er did. I’ll do that next time.

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Unseemly animals

A family friend asked to see my pictures of the Galapagos, so I sent her the link to my Flickr sets and babbled for two sentences about turquoise water and beaches and wildlife. We then had this email exchange:

Friend: Did you swim?

Me: Swam and snorkeled and saw lots of fish. And sting rays. And sharks. But mostly fish.

Friend: I’m so happy other people travel. Those were fantastic pictures, and I’m not even jealous that you went swimming in that aquamarine bath, since you had to share it with unseemly animals.

Yellow-tailed surgeonfish. Photo by Flickr user yvettemn.

Unseemly animals! I don’t know why I’m so tickled when someone is grossed out by things I love. I didn’t even tell her about the sea turtle that swam by when I was snorkeling, the schools of yellow-tailed surgeonfish that I could have reached out and touched, the tiny lobster and the huge parrotfish, the spiny urchins, or the jellyfish barely bigger than my thumbnail.

The sharks, I should point out, were fairly small white-tipped reef sharks, probably only about four feet long. And it’s not like I was going to a sting ray petting zoo.

Also, I really need to get an underwater camera.

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