Freedom led us to Playa Blanca, a small beach just outside of Tangier. The entire Tangier area was once known as the Interzone and made famous by William S. Burroughs in both a short story and in the novel, The Naked Lunch. The story of how the interzone came into being is wrapped up in French and Spanish colonialism and the creation of an ‘international zone’ around the city of Tangier where sovereignty was jointly held by French, Spanish, American, and British governments from 1912 until 1956 when Morocco gained its independence. The Interzone was about 373 square kilometers and had about 60,000 residents. That means that Playa Blanca, where we were staying with friends in a kick ass beach house, fell firmly in the zone, eh interzone.
It seems fitting that my first holiday as a married &independent writer would be in the same area where writers such as Burroughs, Kerouac, Bowles, Tennessee Williams, and others cavorted and did more than a few questionable things, and I’m happy to say that there was a fair amount of cavorting over the five days we were there, though we kept the questionable things to a minimum. Playa Blanca itself used to be a haven for drug money in the 1980’s when South American drug lords built and bought beach houses there. Prior to that it was a smugglers cove. While it is only a 15 minute drive from Tangier, it is isolated and aside from the houses and one small hanut (food shop) any other purchases require a car or a taxi trip to Tangier which ends up costing about 100 dirham each way.
Yes, that’s the Mediterranean Sea if front of us. Just steps out the door to the beach and while during the weekend, the crowds on the beach swelled, there was plenty of space on the sand in the mornings and later afternoons. We explored tide pools, had nice dinners each night with our friends, read, watched TV, and since I’m now employed via the internet, we had an enforced break from my work since there is no chance of internet there, no cyber cafes, and even my dongle didn’t work…(get your mind out of the gutter).
We built sandcastles, swam, body surfed, and had fires each night and finally, at the end of it all, we got back on the train from Tangier and left the Interzone to come back to Fes.
If you’d like to spend some time on Playa Blanca and delve into the interzone yourself, have fun!
Tetuan is a city near the beach in the former Spanish territories. As such the town has a very Spanish flavor and all the Moroccan touts say Hola Amigo rather than Bonjour Monsieur as they do in Fez. Here is a little blurb on Tetuan from wikipedia:
Tétouan (from the Berber language “Tarifit” meaning springs ), also spelled Tetuan, sometimes Tettawen or Tettawin, is a city in northern Morocco. It is the only open port of Morocco on the Mediterranean Sea, a few miles south of the Strait of Gibraltar, and about 40 mi (60 km) E.S.E. of Tangier. In 2004 the city had 320,539 inhabitants (census figure).
he city is situated about 60 km east of the city of Tangier and 40 km south of the Spanish exclave of Ceuta (Sebta) and the Strait of Gibraltar. It is in the far north of the Rif Mountains. To the south and west of the city there are mountains. Tetuan is situated in the middle of a belt of orchards that contain orange, almond, pomegranate and cypress trees. The Rif Mountains are nearby, as the city is located in the Martil Valley. It is picturesquely situated on the northern slope of a fertile valley down which flows the Martil river, with the harbour of Tetouan, Martil, at its mouth. Behind rise rugged masses of rock, the southern wall of the Anjera country, once practically closed to Europeans, and across the valley are the hills which form the northern limit of the still more impenetrable Rif.
The streets are fairly wide and straight, and many of the houses belonging to aristocratic families, descendants of those expelled from Al-Andalus by the Spanish “Reconquista”, possess marble fountains and have groves planted with orange trees. Within the houses the ceilings are often exquisitely carved and painted in hispano-moresque designs, such as are found in the Alhambra of Granada, and the tile-work for which Tetuan is known may be seen on floors, pillars and dados. The traditional industries are tilework, inlaying with silver wire, and the manufacture of thick-soled yellow slippers, much-esteemed flintlocks, and artistic towels used as cape and skirt by Arabic girls in rural areas. The Jews lived in a mellah, separated from the rest of the town by gates which were closed at night. The harbour of Tetuan was obstructed by a bar, over which only small vessels can pass, and the roadstead, sheltered to the North, N.W. and South, is exposed to the East, and is at times unsafe in consequence of the strong Levanter.
The city was founded in the 3rd century BC. Artifacts from both the Roman and the Phoenician era have been found in the site of Tamuda.
Around 1305 a city was built here by the Marinid king Abu Thabit. It served as a base for attacks on Ceuta. Around 1400 it was destroyed by the Castilians, because pirates used it for their attacks. By the end of the 15th century it was rebuilt by refugees from the Reconquista (reconquest of Spain, completed by the fall of Granada in 1492), when the Andalusian Moors first reared the walls and then filled the enclosure with houses. It had a reputation for piracy at various times in its history. It was taken on 4 February 1860 by the Spaniards under Leopoldo O’Donnell, (a descendant of an old Irish royal family, O’Donnell of Tyrconnell, who was made hereditary Duke of Tetuan, and later Prime Minister of Spain; the Dukedom is currently held by his descendant S.E. Don Hugo O’Donnell, Duke of Tetuan, Grandee of Spain and Count of Lucena) and almost transformed by them into a European city before its evacuation on 2 May 1862, but so hateful were the changes to the Moors that they completely destroyed all vestiges of alteration and reduced the city to its former state.
The city is situated in the area of Morocco which was formerly ruled by Spain. In 1913 it became the capital of the part of Morocco under Spanish protectorate which was governed by the Jalifa (Moroccan prince, serving as Viceroy for the Sultan, and the Spanish “Alto Comisario” accredited to him). When Si Ahmed Belbachir Haskouri appeared in the political scene, as the Chief of the Khalifien cabinet, he enforced the delegated powers of the caliph and, at the same time, caused the power of the Spanish Commissioner to be diminished by political manouvers. Teuan remained the capital of Spanish Morocco until 1956. Many people in the city still speak Spanish. On road signs often names are written both in Spanish and in Arabic, though many signs are in Arabic and French, the second language of modern Morocco. Tétouan became part of the independent state of Morocco when it was founded out of French Morocco and most of Spanish Morocco in 1956.
Tétouan has also been home to an important Sephardi Jewish community, which immigrated from Spain after the Reconquista and the Spanish Inquisition. This Jewish Sephardi community spoke a form of Judaeo-Spanish known as Haketia. Some of them emigrated later to Oran (in Algeria), to South America and much later to Israel, France and Canada. There are very few Jews left in Tétouan nowadays.
All of that aside, it turns out we didn’t see a whole lot of Tetuan. Our bus left Fes at 9 am, it was 90 dirhams each by CTM to Tetuan. For those who haven’t traveled by bus in Morocco, CTM is slightly more expensive than the other lines, but infinitely more enjoyable. CTM makes only scheduled stops and doesn’t allow touts and vendors onboard at those stops. Riding the other buses, is like taking an extended city bus trip with stops every few miles, constantly changing passengers, and beggars and vendors pushing themselves on you while you try to take a nap. As it was, the trip was about 7 hours to Tetuan. Along the way we made one small stop where we bought kifta sandwiches (essentially lamb-burgers). You buy the meat from the butcher at the bus stop, then you take it to the guys at the big outdoor grill to cook it and put it in bread for you. (Originally published in 2009)
Editors Note: This article was written to help promote Culture Vultures Fez. For more information you can go to this link. Vagobond is proud to support the arts and cultural exchange through programs such as this one.
Moussem Sidi Ali Ben Hamdouch – Every year on the anniversary of the prophet Mohammed’s birth, (‘Eid al-Mawlid) many Moroccans take part in pilgrimages to sacred places, saintly tombs, shrines and grottos, and places frequented by ‘junuun,’ those mystical beings from the Qur’an who hold a special place in Moroccan folklore and popular culture.
Thousands of pilgrims descend upon Sidi Ali to commemorate Sidi Ali Ben Hamdouch and to delve into the world of the supernatural, the trance, the aura of the junuun, to experience the ritual bath at the spring of Aïsha Ben Hamdoucha and incantations that bring spirits and humans together in remembrance of God.
During the week of the pilgrimage, tents and stalls line the streets of the small town. The smells of tea and grilled meat mix with those of live sheep awaiting slaughter and the sweet incense used in ritual offerings. Music fills the foggy mountain air as impromptu street performances take place in every corner.
Musicians playing anything from the Ahidous native to the Atlas Mountains to Sufi music in the Hamadsha or Gnawa traditions descend upon Sidi Ali, set up camp in a ground floor garage or room in an apartment for the week to perform ceremonial ‘Lillas’.
Spectators are slowly brought into the ritual – dancing, swaying and being offered breaths of incense until some fall into a trance. Participation with the mystic during the pilgrimage of Sidi Ali ben Hamdouch is very much like all mystic experiences: it requires initiation, belief and surrender.
The sweet smell of incense and the rhythmic clapping of metal castanets and chanting of the Gnawi form an experience that flows between the spiritual and the sensory – between mere curiosity and more esoteric meanderings. Hardly advertised, the pilgrimage of Sidi Ali Ben Hamdouch is still known by most Moroccans. This is an opportunity to be transported deep into Moroccan tradition.
Happily for us, no one else had thought to book a Valentines getaway at Dar Zerhoune and so back in 2009, we had this entire beautiful Dar to ourselves.
The Dar itself is gorgeous, the product of three years of intensive renovation and decorating. Hot showers, gorgeous lighting, and a feeling of warmth and home that I often find missing from top end guesthouses, Dars, Riads, and hotels. A rooftop terrace offers a stunning view of Moulay Idriss and Volubulis.
The salon was well stocked with comfy chairs and sofas and plenty of English language reading material, including books and up to date copies of Newsweek and Time.
There is also free wifi throughout the house, I however had decided to leave my laptop at home since I knew if I had it, I would feel compelled to work.
Dar Zerhoune has single, double, and triple ensuite roooms plus a dormitory for backpackers who are looking for some intense luxury without an intense cost. Rates are far less than you would find in any of Morocco’s bigger cities with the triple ensuite going for only 600 dirhams per night.
Don’t think you are getting less though because this place has it all. The kitchen is available for personal use or if you want to have delicious meals cooked by a local, you can do that too. In short, awesome experience and awesome value.
We took a walk through the Medina and learned of the history, festivals, and traditions of Moulay Idriss. We considered taking some of the treks to lesser known Roman ruins, scenic views, beautiful cascades, and even horseback trips.
Our time in Moulay Idriss was wonderful in no small part thanks to Dar Zerhoune.
We knew that we would be back to enjoy more of what this wonderful place has to offer.
Montezuma’s revenge, Delhi belly, Hong Kong dog, Tiki trots, Casablanca crud, Katmandu quickstep. But travelers from Mexico, India, Nepal, Morocco, and other places might call it the ‘Lincoln’s Loose Logs’ or ‘Shock and Awe’, because they can get it when they visit the United States too.
One of the likely challenges a traveler may face as he embarks on either business or leisure travel pertains to his health. A major occurrence is diarrhea. This is the passage of semi-formed or watery stool. Most times, it calls for urgency and the affected person may not be able to hold it for sometime as may be done for a normal pooping. At times it happens amidst vomiting, flatulence and abdominal pain which may last for 3 to 4 days. Hence, it is necessary for travelers to ensure that this ugly experience does not occur during traveling.
Bacteria are the most common microbe that cause diarrhea. However, it may also be caused by other parasites and viruses.
The destination actually is also a major factor on which contracting the runs depends. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, over 30 to 50% of travelers will contract diarrhea during a stay of 1 to 2 weeks in some areas of high risk. The risk also varies from time to time in temperate climates.
Places of low risk
Truly, there are some countries of the world with very low prevalence of diarrhea. The United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and countries in northern and western Europe fall under this category.This doesn’t mean people don’t poop their pants in these countries though.
Places of intermediate risk
Some of the places where risk of diarrhea is average are places like Eastern Europe, South Africa, and the Caribbean Islands. Chances are that you will just have average amounts of flatulence in these places too.
Places of high risk
Areas in the world with high risk of diarrhea are Africa, Asia, Middle East, also Central and South America. This isn’t because of the people in these countries it’s because the rich countries of the world have generally treated these countries like shit thus leading to the current loose stools in these places.
Causes of the runs:
The chief cause of diarrhea is intake of contaminated food and this is because of the presence of bacteria. Some of the bacteria that may cause this ailment are:
Enterotoxigenic E.coli (ETEC) requires large inoculum to get the disease. This is common in developing countries due to low sanitation efforts. It is characterized by frequent stooling, abdominal pain and low-grade fever.
Another bacterium is the Entroaggregative E.coli (EAEC) which is rated as the cause of over 25 per cent of diarrhea experienced by travelers.
Its symptoms are similar to that of Enterotoxigenic E. coli. Campylobacter jejuni, a causative microrganism common in developed countries, though risk of contacting it is more prevalent in the developing world. The diarrhea caused by this bacterium is characterized by blood stools.
Salmonella spp is associated with food borne epidemics in developed countries. Shigella spp is also a cause of traveler’s diarrhea which may also be bloody and accompanied by cramps in the abdomen and fever.
As for Vibrio spp, it is linked with intake of partially cooked seafood. Also, Giardia lamblia is an intestinal flagellate that is associated with intake of polluted surface water in poor sanitary environments.
The list of pathogens continues. Therefore, travelers, in order to have poopie-pants-free vacations must endeavor to take necessary health measures and exercise some caution.
How to Avoid the trots:
* Avoid uncooked vegetables, especially salads, fruits you can’t peel, undercooked meat, raw shellfish, ice cubes, and drinks made from impure water.
* Try to make sure the dishes and silverware you use have been cleaned in purified water.
* Drink only water that has been carbonated and sealed in bottles or cans. Clean the part of the container that touches your mouth and purified water. Boiling water for 3 to 5 minutes purifies it, as does iodine liquid or tablets.
* Drink acidic drinks like colas and orange juice when possible. They help keep down the E. coli count, the bacteria most responsible for digestive distress.
* Drink acidophilus milk or eat yogurt before your trip. The bacterial colonies established in your digestive system before your trip and maintained during it, reduce the chance of a loose stools catching you by surprise.
Cures on the road:
Here are two possible ‘cocktails’ that might help reduce your diarrhea once you have it.
1) In a glass, put 8 ounces of fruit juice; 1/2 teaspoon of honey, corn syrup, or sugar; and a pinch of salt. In another glass, put 8 ounces of purified water and 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda. Drink a couple of swallows alternately from each glass until finished.
2) Here’s the second formula: glucose, 20 grams; salt, 3.5 grams; baking soda, 2.5 grams; and potassium chloride, 20 grams. Just add to a quart or liter of purified water and drink.
Other options? What if you are stuck and you don’t have any of the above? Easy. Just eat clay or ashes. Or you could eat blueberries, plantains, blackberry roots, or Acorns. All of these have properties that will cause your diarrhea to disappear.
Thankfully, we don’t have to talk about it anymore.
Imperial Meknes is a bit off the beaten track of Moroccan trips that usually hit Marrakech, Fez, Casablanca, and maybe Tangier. In my view – people are really missing out on a true wonder. The good news is that you don’t have to deal with crowds of tourists. The bad news is that Meknes doesn’t really cater to tourists.
Before I get into that though, I should give those who aren’t familiar with Meknes and its history a bit of background (via wikipedia of course!)
The original community from which Meknes can be traced was an 8th century Kasbah. A Berber tribe called the Miknasa settled there in the 9th century, and a town consequently grew around the previous borough.
The Almoravids founded here a fortress in the 9th century. It resisted to the Almohads rise, and was thus destroyed by them, only to be rebuilt in larger size with mosques and large fortifications. Under the Merinids it received further madrasas, kasbahs and mosques in the early 14th century, and continued to thrive under the Wattasid dynasty. Meknes saw its golden age as the imperial capital of Moulay Ismail following his accession to the Sultanate of Morocco (1672-1727). He installed under the old city a large prison to house Christian sailors captured on the sea, and also constructed numerous edifices, gardens, monumental gates, mosques (whence the city’s nickname of “City of the Hundred Minarets”) and the large line of wall, having a length of 40 km.
The taxi dropped us off in the Place Hedim which reminded me a lot of Jmma el Fna in Marrakesh but without the circus atmosphere or the touts. There were the usual merchants selling hats, fake adidas, djellabas, blankets, and trinkets. The square itself is beautiful and we were approached by exactly zero touts!
From there we wandered into the Dar Jamai museum. This old riad has seen a lot of history and now houses a beautiful collection of Moroccan handicrafts. The architecture, gardens, and displays were beautiful, but sadly it looked as if some of the restoration work was done by second rate apprentices. concrete patches slapped on beautiful zellij and mosaic floors unevenly retiled. Hopefully in the future, all of this will be restored to the quality of work it deserves.
Its been 11 years since I first visited Volubulis in Morocco back in 2009. I look forward to returning someday.
Since coming to Morocco a year ago, I’ve wanted to visit the ancient Roman ruins of Volubulis. Each time I’ve planned to go, something has kept me from it, until now.
Before the slideshow, I should give you a bit of historical background :
Volubilis is an archaeological site in Morocco situated near Meknes between Fez and Rabat along the N13 road. The nearest town is Moulay Idriss. Volubilis features the best preserved ruins in this part of northern Africa. In 1997 the site was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
In antiquity, Volubilis was an important Roman town situated near the westernmost border of Roman conquests. It was built on the site of a previous Carthaginian settlement from (at the latest) the third century BC, but that settlement overlies an earlier neolithic habitation.
Volubilis was the administrative center of the province in Roman Africa called Mauretania Tingitana. The fertile lands of the province produced many commodities such as grain and olive oil, which were exported to Rome, contributing to the province’s wealth and prosperity. Archaeology has documented the presence of a Jewish community in the Roman period.
The Romans evacuated most of Morocco at the end of the 3rd century AD but, unlike some other Roman cities, Volubilis was not abandoned. However, it appears to have been destroyed by an earthquake in the late fourth century AD. It was reoccupied in the sixth century, when a small group of tombstones written in Latin shows the existence of a community that still dated its foundation by the year of the Roman province. Coins show that it was occupied under the Abbasids: a number of these simply bear the name Walila.
The texts referring to the arrival of Idris I in 788 show that the town was at that point in the control of the Awraba tribe, who welcomed the descendant of Ali, and declared him I
mam shortly thereafter. Within three years he had consolidated his hold on much of the area, founded the first settlement at Fez , and started minting coins. He died in 791, leaving a pregnant Awraba wife, Kenza, and his faithful slave, Rashid, who acted as regent until the majority of Idris II. At this point the court departed for Fez, leaving the Awraba in control of the town.
Volubilis’ structures were damaged by the 1755 Lisbon earthquake, while in the 18th century part of the marble was taken for constructions in nearby Meknes.
In 1915, archaeological excavation was begun there by the French and it continued through into the 1920s. Extensive remains of the Roman town have been uncovered. From 2000 excavations carried out by University College London and the Moroccan Institut National des Sciences de l’Archéologie et du Patrimoine under the direction of Elizabeth Fentress, Gaetano Palumbo and Hassan Limane revealed what should probably be interpreted as the headquarters of Idris I just below the walls of the Roman town to the west. Excavations within the walls also revealed a section of the early medieval town. Today, a high percentage of artifacts found at Volubilis are on display in the Rabat Archaeological Museum.
4. Don’t Read
To me, reading is an essential part of travel. As far as I’m concerned, if you are one of those people who ‘doesn’t like to read’ than you are one of those people who should stay home and not travel.
Don’t read anything about the country of place you are going to. That way you won’t understand the culture, the traditions, the history, the climate, or anything else. You will be able to have a completely one dimensional experience. If you should read, for example, about how it is rude to point the bottoms of your feet at someone in Thailand, then you’ll miss out on the ass kicking that results when the kick-boxer tells you to stop pointing your feet at him and you continue to do it. You wouldn’t want to miss that.
Or if you read, you might feel compelled to go fifteen kilometers out of your way on the way between Seattle, Washingon and Vancouver, British Columbia and visit the remote and gorgeous Scenic Hot Springs. Wouldn’t that suck?
Don’t read on your trip. Don’t discover that Mark Twain stayed in the same hotel you are visiting in Honolulu (The Moana Surfrider) or that the lovely looking picnic spot in Cebu, Philippines is where Lapu Lapu ate a famous explorer. Who needs to know details like that?
Don’t read when you are stuck at the airport. It’s much better to just sit and get angry at the workers or eat overpriced food. Don’t read at the beach because it’s much better to sit there wondering what to do now that you are done swimming.
Yes, if you don’t want to enjoy world travel, it is essential that you not read.
5) Don’t talk to anyone unless you have to
If you want to have horrible and meaningless travels, don’t talk to anyone unless you have to. Don’t talk to the man next to you on the airplane or bus, he might be a Chinese businessman who would invite you to visit his home and stay with his family.
Don’t talk to the guy who works at the hotel unless you need towels or directions. If he thinks “Hey, this is a nice person” he might actually tell you someplace that he doesn’t recommend to every other rude tourist. You might end up going to a tiny temple in Penang, Malaysia instead of going to the big one that has eighteen tourist buses outside it.
Don’t talk to people in the street. They might try to sell you something. They might want to practice English with you. They might want to share a bit of their culture or learn something about yours. Wow, wouldn’t it be a bummer if that Indonesian guy learned that the USA is not just like Bay Watch and Jerry Springer? Don’t talk to him.
If you want to NOT enjoy your travels, do not talk unless you need something.
6) Don’t learn any of the local language
Finally, if you want to be absolutely certain that you don’t enjoy your world travel, pretend your a British Colonist and refuse to speak the local language.
Don’t say Tarima Kasih in Indonesia, don’t ask where to get the gonggongcheecha in China, don’t say Yvet in Turkey, don’t show the grocer in Barcelona you can understand the uno, dos, tres, don’t speak French in Paris (I found Parisians to be very gracious about my bad French), don’t say shukran in Morocco, kapcun kap in Thailand, daijobu in Japan, bollacks in England, dude in California, wienerschnitzel in Germany, or Mahalo in Hawaii.
Speaking the language encourages people to learn about you, to teach about their culture, to make friends, to have relationships, to even fall in love. There is nothing miserable about any of that. So if you want to Not enjoy the world of travel…don’t speak the local language.
Got more tips about how to NOT enjoy world travel, why not leave a comment below or send your tips to me using the contact form.
Moroccan cuisine is rich and varied with influences from the Arab world, Spain, and sub-Saharan Africa. The use of spices and herbs in Moroccan food is incredibly distinctive and you will find abundant use of saffron, cinnamon, and cumin throughout the cuisine. Here are five Moroccan dishes that will tempt your taste buds.
Couscous with Seven Vegetables
You may have tried couscous before, but until you’ve had hand rolled couscous cooked with carrots, potatos, cabbage, onion, garlic, turnips, and peppers, you’ve never really had couscous. Eat it with your fingers if you want to be truly authentic. Often there is chicken or lamb hidden under the pile of veggies. Wait to eat the meat until last and don’t be afraid to lick your fingers.
The tajine is the pot this meal is cooked in as well as the name of the meal itself. The pot is thedistinctive clay vessel with the cone shaped lid which is sometimes glazed and sometimes not. There are countless variations of tajine from meatballs in red sauce to veggie tajines with potatoes, onions, and peppers.To eat in the traditional way, use Moroccan flatbread (khoobz) to scoop up the food and soak up the sauce.
Pastilla doesn’t sound good until you taste it. Traditionally it is pigeon cooked in a crispy flour shell and flavored with sugar and cinnamon. The light crispy pastry coated with powdered sugar will surprise you with it’s delicateness. It’s sometimes hard to find it made with pigeon, but chicken is almost as good.
Beyt wa Matisha
Sometimes called Berber Eggs, this dish is as simple as it gets. Eggs cooked and smotheredin fresh tomato sauce with garlic, onion, and sometimes meatballs (kifta). Eaten with Moroccan flat bread (khoobz), usually from a communal dish.
Lamb with Prunes
This is a meal you see at every important Moroccan celebration whether it is a birth, wedding, engagement, or circumcision party. Lamb (actually it is mutton since Moroccan’s don’t usually kill baby sheep) pressure cooked with prunes until it falls off the bone. Sweet and savory.
Fez is the spiritual and cultural capital of Morocco. Here are five activities that will give you the ultimate in cultural exploration in this remarkable city.
Morocco is one of the few places on the globe where you can find artisans practicing their crafts in the same way they were conducted hundreds of years ago. The hard part is finding the real artisans and crafts and avoiding the fakes. An Artisanal Tour is the best way to see the real thing. (http://culturevulturesfez.org/artisanal-affairs/)
Moroccan Cooking Class
A cooking course is a great way to take a bit of your travels home with you. The Clock Kitchen Cooking School offers authentic courses in a variety of traditional techniques. Chef Souad knows her stuff and is a real sweetheart on top of being able to teach you about Moroccan cuisine.
Watch out for donkeys! You won’t have to worry about getting run over by a car or motorbike in the Fez medina, but donkeys are still the primary means of transport within the ancient city walls. This is the largest car free urban area in the world. Don’t get too lost!
Listen to the Call to Prayer from 365 Mosques
As the spiritual capital of Morocco, Fez has 365 mosques within the city. When it’s time for prayer, you can hear the muezzins (callers) giving the ayden (call to prayer) from all of them. This can be expecially poignant at sunrise or sunset. Since they don’t coordinate their clocks down to the second, there is a surreal, other-worldly quality to the warbling sound. Of course, if you sleep too close to a mosque, don’t be surprised to be woke at dawn!
Way back in 2009, I was geeking out on Tarot cards and trying to find my way in life – at the same time I was living in Morocco and suddenly steeped in the mysticism, legends, monsters, and stories of daily Moroccan life. That was when I wrote this while sitting in the blue depths of my first apartment in Morocco buried deep within the Casbah of Sefrou:
An old hermit walked around the village and the area day and night, and even in daylight still carried a lit lantern. One day the villagers had enough curiosity to ask him “Sir, why do you carry your lantern lit in daylight?” He said, “Because I’m searching for an honest man.”
The Hermit has internalized the lessons of life to the point that he is the lesson.
There are two major ways this card can be interpreted:
* First, the need to withdraw from society to become comfortable with himself.
* Second, the need to come out of isolation to share his knowledge with others.
I understand why this card is speaking to me so heavily these days.
Some say that The Hermit represents the time we learn our true names; who we really are. The Greek philosopher Thales is reported to have been asked, “What is the most difficult of all things?” To which he is said to have answered “To know yourself.” The Hermit is given time to obey the Delphic Oracle’s demand: know thyself.
In Islam, a Djinn (also jinn, genie) is a supernatural creature which occupies a parallel world to that of mankind, and together with humans and angels makes up the three sentient creations of Allah. Possessing free will, Djinn can be either good or evil. The Djinn are mentioned frequently in the Qur’an, and there is a Surah entitled Al-Jinn. While Christianity maintains that Lucifer was an angel that rebelled against God’s orders, Islam maintains that Iblis was a Djinn who had been granted special privilege to live among angels prior to his rebellion.Although some scholars have ruled that it is apostasy to disbelieve in one of God’s creations; the belief in Jinn has fallen comparably to the belief in Angels in other Ibrahamic traditions.
Aisha Kondeshia may have fallen in love with me. I am warned about her often by my new Moroccan friends.
Her name is Aicha Kandisha and she was a beautiful enchantress and voracious JINIYA
(she-devil) she has the power to bewitch both men and women. She is helpless against her own wicked power. Her victims are driven beyond madness or mental derangement…some become paralyzed,their blood into ice, others are left insane for ever.
The only way to lift the curse is through elaborate trance ceremonies which include heated rhythms, frenzied dancing, self-flagellation.Some say she was a freedom combatant against the Portuguese in the region of El Jadida she used her beauty to attract the soldiers then kill them, some say it’s a woman who was hurt by a man…but the common point with all these stories is that she appears to people in secluded places, abandoned houses or empty roads at night.
The Celebration of Fire and Water – Ashura in Morocco
If you’re in Morocco on the 10th day of the Islamic month of Muharram, you are sure to hear drums banging and see gangs of happy children rushing through the streets and alleyways with new toys generally used to make music and noise. This is just a part of the celebration of Ashura (which comes from the word ‘ten’ in Arabic since it’s the 10th day of the first month on the Muslim calendar. Some call it the Islamic New Year, but it’s more than that. It’s a celebration of light and life, death and renewal, light and dark. For the past few years, it has been celebrated in November and December but since the Islamic calendar is lunar, each year it is ten or eleven days earlier (on the Gregorian calendar) than the year before.
In most of the Arab world, Ashura is a time to remember the death of Hussein for the Shi’a and a day for celebrating the liberation of Moses from Egypt for the Sunni. For both it is a day of solemn fasting and prayers. The same is true in Morocco, but the shamanism and Judaism that Moroccan Islam was born in have reshaped the holiday into something more.
In Morocco, Ashura is a day that celebrates life. It is a day when people throw water on one another after a night of bonfires and singing. Ashura is the day when the myth of Baba Aichour is celebrated. Baba Aichour is the Moroccan Santa Claus, and so, Ashura is almost like Christmas for children in Morocco. For days before and after the holy day, kids form makeshift bands that play celebratory songs on drums made of wood, pottery, and sheepskin. They travel through the streets performing for candy and coins. The noise reaches a crescendo on the night of the ninth day of Muharram when bonfires are lit in vacant lots and neighbors gather to share food and tea.
In the poorer areas, people will light branches and wander through the streets chanting songs reserved for this holiday and at the neighborhood bonfires, you will often see people jumping over the flames in an effort to burn away evil spirits or free themselves of curses.
This is considered to be the most auspicious time of the year to say your prayers. Fortune tellers called ‘shawaafa’ do a booming business during this time as young people try to understand their destiny and capture the love of their lives. Some go further and engage the help of witch doctors ‘afikih’ that work with djinn and magic. Some seek to cast spells and others to be free of them. The ‘afikih’ can help with both.
The morning of Ashura is often begun with a cold bath or shower which some say is the origin of the water throwing. Other’s hold that it is a celebration of the parting of the Red Sea. Either way, in desert areas it is common for men and women to sprinkle water on tents, plants, and each other whilst saying their prayers. In some areas, Ashura is called ZamZam day. ZamZam is the name of the well in Mecca that Muslims believe God created for Hagar and Ismael, the wife and son whom Abraham abandoned in the desert.
While the adults fast, the children are given chocolates or small toys, and as the sun goes down, the entire family will gather to break the fast together. There are some traditional meals for Ashura – among them sheep’s tail, liver, dried meat, and couscous.
The holiday extends into the next day, since tradition says that any profit made during the 11th day of Muharram will not be blessed by God. The 11th day is called the day of waste and usury and with all of the businesses closed, it’s a handy way to extend the celebration for one more day..
In the Moroccan city of Goulmima there is a large street festival where people celebrate Ashura by wearing costumes, different skins of sheep and goats, and scary looking animal masks. In the Berber tradition, the costumed people are referred to as “Udayen n Ashur,” the Jews of Ashura. With only tambourines and handclaps, “Udayen n Ashur” creates lively music, performances of acrobatic dancers. Everyone sings and dances with amusing variations on the songs, until very late into the night.
The Berbers have a different name for each of the three days of Zamzam: The first day is “Bou Isnayen” the second, “Bou Imerwasen” and the third is, “Bou Imrazen.” These are translated as “the day of throwing water,” “the day of repayment,” and finally “the day of fight.” On any one of these days, if water is thrown at a person, they have the right to throw stones back
One of the songs children sing as they travel through neighborhoods asking for coins tells about how Baba Aichour came outside to pray, gave the children coins and sweets, but then was swept away by the river.
Traditionally, the morning of Ashura begins with a cold bath. Some say this is the origin of the water throwing that takes place through the day, but for others it is a celebration of the parting of the Red Sea or of Baba Aichour being swept away. In the Sahara, the Tuareg sprinkle water on tents, plants, and each other whilst saying their prayers.
I’ve written a bit about my marriage in the Sahara before – but I believe this is the first time I’ve put together a video of it. Meeting my wife changed my life. Our wedding was nothing short of extraordinary. Please subscribe to my YouTube channel at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCvV2_3gHVl6NKf6jBBSnHzw They won’t let me have a vanituy URL until I have 100 subscribers and I’m new…so every like and subscription helps.
I had no idea how profoundly my life was about to change when I journeyed to Morocco in February of 2009. Here is some footage and photographs from those first days in Fez and Sefrou – I really had no idea that the rest of my life would be connected to these places – but that’s what happened. I’d just left Spain after a month of amazing friendship, camaraderie, and fun …
Couchsurfing likes to remind people that it’s not a dating site, but in fact, it is a place where I’ve met many of my closest friends and the woman I married.
One of the keys to mastering the art of world travel on almost nothing is learning to trust strangers and let them become friends.
World Travel on Almost Nothing Tip #4: Make strangers into friends.
One of the things that I love about Couchsurfing.com is that it relies on opening your heart and mind to the hospitality of strangers. Contrary to popular belief, most people on the planet are good and want to help you in this life. If you doubt that, look inside yourself and I’m sure you will see it is true.
I wrote a thesis about fans of the TV show LOST. One of the amazing things I found was that when fans traveled to Hawaii they often found places to stay, free guided tours, and new friends waiting for them. In that case, what brought these people together was a love of a TV show. For the world traveler, you are more likely to come together because of a love of travel.
I’ve made friends just about everywhere I’ve been and in the process I’ve managed to avoid paying for hotels, meals, and sometimes even transportation. I’m not saying you should be mercenary about seeking out and using people, I’m saying that when you open your arms to the world, you often get a hug in return.
While I’ve never been a WWOOFer or used HospitalityClub.com, I certainly have known plenty of people who have. These sorts of communities thrive on the fact that people are in general kind and good natured. If you don’t believe that, then you better keep paying for hotel rooms and guided city tours.
It’s bizarre how I ended up living in Sefrou and Fez. I studied Arabic at the University of Hawaii. I’m not sure why (my best supposition is that the universe needed me to be my daughter’s daddy and set me on this path – nothing else really makes sense). My major was cultural anthropology and my minor was in film. I took a lot of classes that interested me. I took Arabic for three years – even though I didn’t have much talent for it.
After I left Honolulu, I took trains across the USA, then bought a ticket to Spain from New York City. In Spain, I wandered south from Barcelona to Valencia then Grenada. While in Grenada, I met a lot of really spectacular people. We went to the Moroccan quarter where we ate great Moroccan food and drank sweet mint tea. One of my new friends said “You should go to Morocco. It’s incredible.” He told me how simple it was to get to Morocco from Tarifa using the ferry which takes you across the Straits of Hercules to Tangier. That was too much to resist.
Morocco wasn’t a part of my plan, but off I went. I landed in Tangier, caught a train to Fez, spent a couple of days exploring the old medina and then went on couchsurfing to find a local host so I could learn about the culture. I found an English teacher in Sefrou who agreed to host me for a few days. I thought Sefrou was a suburb of Fez, but actually, it’s a different city about 30km to the South. It was pouring rain and after a taxi ride that took far longer than I expected – this incredibly cute little woman came and picked me up at the gates to the old city of Sefrou.
The subsequent flooding kept me (and an Italian couchsurfer) in Sefrou far longer than we’d expected. I was staying at the teacher’s parent’s house. They were incredibly kind people and by the time I left – the little teacher (she’s only 4’10”) and I had become interested in one another. As I traveled to different cities in Morocco – we texted each other. She suggested I come back to see her in Sefrou. I did – and to make a long story short – ten years later we’re still married. We have a lovely 8-year-old daughter and as I write this – we live in Honolulu, Hawaii.
I rented my first apartment in Sefrou while we went through the arduous and difficult engagement and marriage paperwork and processes. I loved my little apartment. It was in the poorest section of the old medina. The walls were a sky blue color and it sat above the running waters of the Oued Aggai. My neighbor was the only other (non-Peace Corps) foreigner living in Sefrou, Jessica Stevens – a Welsh artist. We became great friends. The apartment was simple but it was peaceful and it worked. I really did love it.
Once we managed to get through the marriage process – one of the first things my wife and mother-in-law did was insist that I move out of the neighborhood I was living in. It was a very low status neighborhood filled with the poorest of the poor and my in-laws were ashamed to have their daughter living in such a place where prostitutes and beggars lived. I wasn’t happy with this – but there wasn’t much I could do – as a newly married man I was discovering that my mother-in-law had more power in my marriage than I did. I saw only one way to solve that problem. We would move out of Sefrou instead of looking for a better house closer to my mother-in-law.
My wife and I were both working at an English school in Fez and commuting every day – so it made sense on many levels but I have to admit – it was a newly married man’s power play. I found a big, light apartment in a large building above the best bakery in the Ville Nouvelle of Fez. The owner of the bakery (The Bakery of the Universe) had kicked out all of his Moroccan tenants and decided he wanted to rent only to foreigners. This made the building a little bit creepy – not because of foreigners but because we were alone in it.
I was stressed out trying to navigate being married to a Muslim woman and trying to claim some measure of independence from my mother-in-law (the move had helped but my wife was still being completely controlled by her mother – which meant that I was to some extent also). The line I’d drawn was on the wedding ceremony – I was poor and Moroccan weddings are big expensive affairs that involve inviting hundreds of people. My mother-in-law was already planning a huge wedding – that I would have to pay for. That would have been okay if I was keen on the type of wedding she was planning – and I wasn’t. I wanted something more exquisite, more exotic, more wonderful.
I reached out to Berber nomad friends I had met in the Sahara and began to plan a desert nomad wedding. It was all out war with my mother-in-law. At first she refused to attend but finally, I managed to convince her that it was her only chance to see her daughter get married. I bussed my wife, myself, her family and a couple of friends from the English school to the Sahara and we had one of the most extraordinary weddings I’ve ever heard of. I won the battle and won the war but the process destroyed my nerves, put me on a warfare mentality when I should have been on a honeymoon mentality, and completely wore me out.
My wife was having issues at the English school we were working at, the ALC or American Language Center. Mostly the issues had to do with the school using different teaching methods than she had used in Moroccan schools but some of it had to do with her accuracy in using American English. She was taking it very personal and in my hyper-stressed out wedding warfare state – it was stressing me out too. I wanted to share our wedding with my readers on Vagobond and in the hustle and haste of planning the wedding, transporting everyone, getting married, and then getting back to the school on time after our four day weekend – I cut corners and simply copied and pasted my journal entries about the wedding onto my blog with all of the remarkable pictures. I suddenly felt like I could breathe again.
The problem was that in my journal I had been writing about the wedding and I had also been railing with frustration about the director of the ALC and the problems my wife was having with him. That was what I pasted on my blog. It was a stupid mistake. At that point, nearly everyone who knew English in Morocco read my blog. It took about two hours before the director (and everyone else at the school) had been made aware of my harsh words about him and the ALC. I was asked to finish the semester and resign. My wife had already been asked to step down and take some teacher training – which was what had gotten her (and me) upset on our wedding trip.
I had already booked our honeymoon – a trip to Turkey. Since I no longer had a job waiting when we got back, I decided it might be a good idea to find an English teaching job in Turkey for myself and for my wife. I admit, I was still trying to get my mother-in-law out of my marriage. I arranged for us to interview in the middle of our honeymoon. That worked and we ended up moving to Manisa, Turkey and teaching there for about seven months.
My wife returned to Morocco when she got pregnant – at this point, I finally bowed to the wishes of my mother-in-law and we rented a nice apartment in a respectable neighborhood in Sefrou – just a five minute walk from her house. Our daughter was born in Fez and we lived in our apartment in Sefrou for just about a year and a half – until we finally got my wife’s USA visa approved and then we emigrated to the United States in 2013. I am grateful that even though I am an American citizen by birth, I got to go through the immigration process and live an immigrant story in the USA.
Sefrou, Morocco and Fez, Morocco
Fez (Fes) is the second largest city in Morocco. It is, arguably, the most important city and is the spiritual capital of Morocco. It has the best preserved car free ancient medina (city) in all of the Arab world consisting of 14,000 alleys, streets, and derbs through the heart of the old city. . When the Muslim and Jewish peoples were expelled from Spain in the 9th century – many of them came to Fez and nearby Sefrou in the Atlas Mountains to the South. Fez is home to the world’s oldest university, castles, forts, palaces and much much more. There is nowhere else quite like it.
Sefrou, to the south, actually has an older medina than Fez and was the original capital city after the exodus from Spain. It was once called Little Jerusalem and had the largest concentration of Moroccan and Berber Jews of North Africa – most of them left after Israel achieved statehood, but their traditions, handicrafts, and buildings remain – though much changed. Sefrou is home to an annual Cherry Festival and Pageant each year as well as magical Arab and Berber Fantasias where riders charge one another and fire decorative rifles.