Vagobond Entering Morocco – Vagobond Travel Videos

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 …

World Travel for Almost Nothing #4 – Couchsurfing Friends

If you missed the story of how I met my wife, let me remind you. I was couchsurfing at her family’s house in Morocco.

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.

Couchsurfing Morocco

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 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.

Couchsurfing in Belgium

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, 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.

Places I’ve Lived #19 – Sefrou, Morocco and Fez, Morocco

Casablanca MoroccoIt’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.

Casablanca MoroccoThe 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.

Fez Medina Fes MoroccoThe 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 Medina Fes MoroccoFez (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.

The Glaoui (Glaoua) Palace in Fes, Morocco

Slightly outside of the UNESCO classified Fes Medina, you will probably miss something extraordinary, unless you take the time to go and look for it. The Dar al Glaoui, the Glaoui Palace, a crumbling reminder that power is fleeting.

While a lot of people mention Paul Bowles novel, The Sheltering Sky as the ultimate in capturing the essence of Morocco, for me, it was a different book that succeeded in capturing not only the Moroccan mentality, but also the soul of the country itself. Gavin Maxwell’s Lords of the Atlas: The Rise and Fall of the House of Glaoua 1893-1956 is perhaps the ultimate in coming to understand Morocco.

Consider this review from The Library Journal

British author Maxwell accomplishes the twofold task of detailing the daily life, customs, and rituals in pre-independence Morocco and of recounting the rise and fall of El Hadj T’hani El Glaoui, the legendary tribal warlord through whom the French ruled one of their prize colonies in North Africa. Maxwell, who died in 1969, considered himself an explorer and wrote of faraway places; here he introduces readers to the harshness and beauty of Morocco. He shows how the blend of Berber, Arab, and black African races created an extraordinary cultural mosaic and explains how the French colonialists recruited the Atlas Mountain tribal warlords to subdue the other tribes.

As the chief beneficiary of this policy, El Glaoui was able to rule most of southern Morocco in an absolute fashion, until Morocco’s independence from France in 1956 brought an end to the rule of a very colorful warlord.

At times it is necessary to remind yourself that not only is this a true story, but that most of the events portrayed took place in the 1900’s! It is a fantastic account of the power behind the French Protectorate, and a reminder that politics has always been a filthy business. Anyone planning a visit, or who has been to Morocco, especially the Glaoui kasbahs of the High Atlas, should read this book, as should fans of bloody, political intrigue.

I should point out though that the book has more than a few critics who generally say something like this: “If you want a book singing the praises of a few thugs who made good during the French mandate (Primarily on prostitution) A book filled with unsupported (And frankly slanderous) comments, a book written by a man who clearly doesn’t know the first thing about Morocco, Islam or Arab culture and a book that’s basically a rip off from someone else’s then this really is the book for you. ”

After all that, hands down, this is my favorite touristic destination in Fes. It’s not as well kept as the Batha Museum, not as grand and glorious as the Karaouyine Mosque, not as stinky or touristic as the famous Fez tanneries, but there is something truly awe inspiring in this famous, decrepit but still beautiful house.

The palace is owned by 14 families who have fallen on hard times in Marrakech and France but is lived in and taken care of by Abdou, an artist. He was born there and lives there with his sister. He is the third generation born there and while not a Glaoui, he is happy to be there and try to keep it from falling in on itself.

The palace is generally closed to the public but usually open to the public via Abdou and his sister who are happy to show you around the 150-year-old palace comprised of 17 houses, stables, a mausoleum and cemetery, Quranic school, hammam, garages and two large gardens. While generally the tour is composed of seeing a few salons, the haram, the massive kitchen and a few of the courtyards, it is possible to see a bit more if you are careful and polite and the weather lines up for you.

Apparently, the palace complex is for sale for several million dollars. A steal for anyone who gets it since it would be like owning your own miniature al-Hambra (which it was actually designed after). The entire house is a masterpiece of painted wood, zellij (mosaic tile), carved wood, fountains, and also the first modern bathroom to ever be built in North Africa complete with original plumbing.

If you do buy it – try to get a few of Abdou’s paintings thrown in. Total hidden treasure. I would tell you how to get there, but it would be a waste of time, because you would get lost and have to ask someone anyway – so, just go to Batha and start asking people how to find Abdou and the Glaoui Palace – they’ll know exactly where you mean.

3 Continents, 4 Countries, & 6 Cities in 24 Hours! #FlashbackFriday

So far, I haven’t exceeded this record that I set back in 2011. To be honest, it was a little too much, too fast. 

Skopje, MacedoniaThis was a new personal best. Skopje-Sofia-Istanbul-Casablanca-Fes-Sefrou and all in time to give flowers to my sweet wife on Valentines.

What’s your personal best? Comment below.

I was pretty proud of the hell bent for leather nature of this trip.

From Skopje I took a bus to Sofia where I said hi to Tim and Peppy and then caught an overnight train to Istanbul. That day I caught a flight from the Asian side of the Bosphorus to Casablanca, Morocco thus leaving Europe going to Asia and then to Africa.

Sofia, BulgariaFrom Casablanca, I caught the train to Fes where I then took a taxi to Sefrou. Once in Sefrou, I just caught my breath and spent a lovely ten days with my wife and her family (though, it can be exhausting to be around the family- but that’s normal with in-laws, right?)

So – Europe to Asia to Africa
Macedonia to Bulgaria to Turkey to Morocco
Skopje to Sofia to Istanbul to Casablanca to Fes to Sefrou
Not bad for a day’s travel.

Total distance: 4090 Kilometers

I’ve gone further in a day, but not covering as many countries, cities, and continents.




Night Train Istanbul to Bulgaria

Casablanca Morocco

Fez Medina Fes Morocco

Jmaa el Fna in Marrakech – The Circus of Morocco

MarrakechPlace Jemma el Fna is filled with snake charmers, jugglers, men with monkeys, and the scariest dirty clowns I’ve ever seen. (originally posted on 20 FEB 2009)

My first trip to Jmaa el Fna was overwhelming. The sights, sounds, smells, animals (snakes, monkeys, donkeys, goats, chickens) and the humanity were simply overwhelming to the senses. I made friends with a nice American couple who were staying in the same hotel as me. We got food, explored the surrounding areas, and played cards together. This was before everyone on earth had a smartphone, before Instagram, and before travel had changed so much. People were either traveling with a laptop or a guidebook and it was still fairly common to make friends with strangers. My camera was an old Pentax and I wasn’t very skilled with it.

Morocco as a whole was a great place to be in that period. There was a lot of fear about terrorism still about – there had been the bombing in Casablanca though the bombing in Jmaa el Fna itself hadn’t happened yet. That bombing came in 2011 and killed 25 people sitting where many of these pictures were taken. The great recession was still new and an entire generation was cast out of college with nowhere to go and no jobs to be had. Many of them, like me, took to the road hoping to find something better than unemployment, wage slavery, and eating the shit of a failed capitalist society.


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Casablanca Morocco – Much more than just Rick’s Cafe #slideshowsaturday

Casablanca is famous for the movie, and most espeically for Rick’s Cafe. I admit it – it was one of the first places I visited when I got there. At the time, I had no idea I would end up getting married in the Sahara… However, there is more to Casa than just Rick’s just as there is more to North Africa and Morocco than the Sahara Desert.

Casablanca is the largest and most important city in Morocco and one of the largest and most important in Africa. The King Hassan II Mosque is the largest mosque in North Africa and the third largest in the world. With a regional population of more than 6.8 million people,  there are numerous embassies, consulates, shopping malls, and the widest variety of food choices anywhere in North Africa. Casablanca was a port of the Phoenicians and the Romans and today is home to the Mohammad V International Airport – so if you are flying to or from Morocco – chances are that you will be in Casablanca at some point. While the old medina in Casablanca isn’t as magnificent as that of Fez or Marrakech – it is still a lot more exciting than walking around most other places and you will get a great feel for Morocco as you explore it. The waterfront offers some amazing seafood and grilled meat options. There are fine hotels in Casablanca and then there are really overpriced ones and finally there are run of the mill, share the toilet with the other guests hotels. I’ve stayed in the hostel and stayed in some of the most expensive riads and frankly…the biggest difference was that the wifi was free in the hostel and the people were friendlier. Middle of the road, hundred euro a night is your best bet in Casablanca.

I didn’t realize this until a couple of years after I left Morocco, but I wasn’t the first Damitio to live there. There were Damitio’s brewing beer in Casablanca from the 1930s until 1956 when independence from France was gained. It turns out I wasn’t the first Damitio to live in Hawaii either – we seem to get around.

Here are a few pictures from this magnificent place.

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The Fez Medina in Morocco #flashbackfriday

From 2009 to 2013, Morocco was home for me. While I didn’t live in Fez for all of my time in Morocco (only about six months) it was the closest city to the town of Sefrou, where I lived the rest of the time I was there. Fez was where I found expat friends, a job, nightlife, and much more. It’s where my daughter was born. I love Fez. I wrote this back in 2013, when I was still going there on a regular basis – even substituting once in a while as a cultural tour guide in the heart of the medina. 

Fez Medina Fes Morocco

I first came to Fez, Morocco on a 3 a.m. train from Tangier. I’d been in Morocco (and Africa for that matter) for less than 12 hours and the adventures that followed are far too numerous to tell here but they involve a girl, a Berber Nomad marriage in the Sahara, a baby, and the fact that four years later, I still find myself living just 28 km South of Fez with my Moroccan wife and our baby daughter.

Fez Medina Fes Morocco

The point of all of this, is that Fez is one of the most remarkable places on the planet and if you take a trip into the Arab world- Fez is an astounding starting place that will enchant you, fill your camera’s memory card, and affect you for the rest of your life. Perhaps not in as profound a way as it has me, but the truth is that I’ve never met anyone who has visited Fez with nothing remarkable to share when they went home.

Fez Medina Fes Morocco

The ancient medina of Fes-el-Bali is the largest car free urban area in the world in addition to being the oldest inhabited medieval Islamic city left in anything like it’s original state. With more than 9,500 narrow streets, alleys, and twisty turny paths, it’s no wonder that people who have lived their whole lives in the medina still sometimes become lost.

Fez Medina Fes Morocco


As a visitor, you will most likely first come into the medina through the massive maw of Bab Boujaloud where you will be called to dine on meat heavy tajine dishes or huge golden piles of couscous. The touts can be overwhelming at first, but you don’t need to worry because the days of the truly aggressive touts and false guides are now a thing of the past – the tourist police have reined them in.

Fez Medina Fes Morocco

Before you venture into the medina, you should understand that donkeys and mules have the right of way – they carry crates of coke, baskets of grain, and everything else that needs heavy transport in the medina and they will, run you over. So, pay attention and don’t get distracted by the magnificent architecture, the women scrubbing orange blossoms from the tile doorways, or the heady smell of mint flavored tea. Welcome back to the 7th Century.

Fez Medina Fes Morocco

While you are in Fez, there are a few things that I recommend you must do. First of all, a tour of the medina with a licensed guide is essential in order to get yourself oriented. A guided tour will bring you to the Karouyine University and the mosque of Moulay Idriss as well as take you down many of the streets and alleyways where some of the most beautiful architecture hides.

Fez Medina Fes Morocco

Personally, while the fully restored palaces and riads are magnificent, my favorite destination to show visitors is the crumbling Glaoui palace. While not preserved or restored like the Batha Museum or the Karouyine Mosque, or perhaps becuase of it, the Glaoui Palace is overwhelming.Not as stinky or touristic as the famous Fez tanneries and yet there is something truly awe inspiring in this famous, decrepit but still beautiful house.If you read Gavin Maxwell’s Lords of the Atlas, it is even more so.

Fez Medina Fes Morocco

While you’re in Fez, I think it is essential to stay in a Riad in the Medina. New ones open every day, so there is always a deal happening somewhere. It’s best to check. You can spend anywhere from $20 to $1000 per night – I recommend somewhere in the $50-$100 range for the best value. Make sure that breakfast is included – especially if you pay $1000.

Fez Medina Fes Morocco


The Nejjarine and Bou Inania Mederasas are beautiful examples of classical Quranic schools. Inside you will be bowled over by the intricate tile (zellij) and woodwork. The artisans of the Fez medina are an astounding living museuem of tha ancient arts and crafts of Morocco. Rather than taking the standard tannery tour most hotels or riads offer – my suggestion is to book an artisanal tour with Artisanal Affairs.

Fez Medina Fes Morocco

Another destination that isn’t on most itineraries is a trip down Taala K’bira to the donkey parking area next to Palais Jamai. For a more conventional tourist stop, visit Dar Batha (pronounced bat-HA), the home of the Batha Museum. An absolutely gorgeous restored 11th century house of sculpted wood, wrought iron, sculpted plaster and tile work. The gardens offer a respite from the of the medina and inside a treasury of embroidery, carpets, jewelry, pottery, and coins compete with one another to astound you.

Fez Medina Fes Morocco

A visit to the Fez Medina can be overwhelming and that’s why a rest at Cafe Clock is well worth your time. Grab a date milkshake and a camel burger or sit on the roof with a cafe latte and look out over the 366 minarets of the old medina and listen as the call to prayer warbles at you from every direction. There’s also free wifi and a full cultural program of everything from henna, oud classes, calligraphy courses, Gnawa music on Sundays, and Moroccan cooking courses.

Fez Medina Fes Morocco

For me, the best times to visit Fez are late Spring and early Summer when the temperatures have climbed above freezing but not yet to the scorching range. Early June also offers the World Festival of Sacred Music in Fez which draws incredible musicians and interesting speakers each year.

Fez Medina Fes Morocco

Fez is known as the spiritual and cultural capital of Morocco. A visit at any time of the year will show you why. I recommend three to five days, though, like many others, you may find yourself still here three to five years later.

Fez Medina Fes Morocco

Travelling the Sahara by Camel – Recollections from my Marriage -Saturday Slideshow

“Trust in Allah, but Always Tie Your Camel” this is the punchline of an ancient Arabian proverb. There is both wisdom and humor in the idiom, but at a more basic level – this is a lesson in survival. These walking ships of the desert provide a lifeline to those who survive in the vast reaches of the Sahara and if they should disappear, life becomes much more difficult or in come cases – impossible.

My wife and I were married in a Berber wedding ceremony in the Moroccan Sahara. That’s us in the picture above.She is Moroccan and so when our wedding party mounted a caravan of camels and set off into the massive dunes surrounding Erg Chabi and Merzougha, it was really just another ordinary day and a different family outing.

Yeah, right. It was magnificent and something that mesmerized every one of us from her mother and sisters at the front of the caravan to our Berber nomad guides who had never seen such an astounding juxtaposition of the traditional ways of the desert with the offbeat ways of a romantic American and his Moroccan mountain family. You see, my wife is not of the desert – she is a shepherd’s daughter from the mountains.

Her mother and sister’s were not pleased when we announced that we would be deviating from the standard traditional mountain wedding celebration and instead taking part in the customs of the Sahara – and yet – as they rode camels for the first time – their smiles and laughter lit the early evening sky even before the last light of the day disappeared. Her mother, the one I thought would have the most trouble with the camels settled onto the oddly shaped saddle and allowed the weight of her sixty years to stabilize her better than any of the rest of us. My mother-in-law was built for camels. The rest of us, not so much.

With everyone mounted, I threw out a quote that none of them recognized “If the camels die, we die.” Peter O’Toole playing T.H. Lawrence in one of the most magnificent movies ever made. He shaped my romantic images of the desert, the quote is attributed to one of Lawrence of Arabia’s guides and since most of our party spoke no English, it was only my bride who understood – “Let’s not think of such things,” she told me with complete seriousness. It was no time for me to explain.

Camels are not comfortable creatures to ride – despite the ease which my mother-in-law seemed to take to it. She had never been on a camel before, but you wouldn’t have known it as she sang and laughed to the purple and scarlet sunset. But a look at my sisters-in-law or the other members of our caravan showed it clearly. The Berber Nomads weren’t on the camels – I asked about it later and one of them Assou, told me “It’s very uncomfortable to ride them. We prefer to walk and let them carry things for us.” Huh, imagine that.

It turns out that Peter O’Toole also struggled with riding camels while filming Lawrence. The story goes that he used washing sponges to make the ride more comfortable. At first there were laughs at his expense but by the end of the film, the Beduins had realized how much more comfortable the sponges made things and they copied him! I don’t know if the Beduins of Jordan use sponges today, but I can definitely tell you that in Morocco they do not.

sahara wedding

The magic of the Sahara was more than enough to move beyond the discomfort of the camels though. As darkness fell I looked out to the dunes and became transfixed by the eerie quality of nothingness stretching further than I could imagine. As a sailor, it is the sea that soothes me and brings peace when my soul is tormented and in those moments, I realized the allure of the desert. It is the same. The desert is a place where the world can be forgotten and one can come to terms with one’s true inner self.

There is much more to calling camels ships of the desert than simple transport. The metaphor also paints the image of the desert as a vast sea of sand, constantly shifting, containing treacherous shoals, and vast reaches where men (and women) can perish if the simplest mistakes are made.

“If the camels die, we die.” There was really nothing funny about it. It was true. I understood why the Nomads who spoke a bit of English had not smiled when I said it.

If you’ve come this far, perhaps you’d like to see some not-so-ordinary wedding photos…Enjoy!

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Fez, Morocco – The Festival of World Sufi Culture 2012

sufi culture festival The 6th Edition of the Festival of Sufi Culture will take the stage this April . From Thursday the 12th to Saturday 14th a series of round tables, conferences and concerts will take place. The theme of this years festival is Hakim – “Sufi Sapiens”
Sufism, the mystical side of education and spiritual teaching in Islam and considered by many  to be the heart of the faith was  first revealed to the world in  11th century.
Historically, from the 13th century onward, these teachings were passed from teacher to student down through spiritual centers that aimed to preserve the culture, sociability and spirituality proper behaviours of Islam in an era of dislocation of the Muslim world, particularly under the impact of Mongol invasions.
Sufism has nourished the Muslim culture and not only enhanced its artistic and literary expressions, but also its social and economic advancements. For centuries Sufism has inspired simultaneously the ethical and spiritual charters of guilds throughout the Muslim world.
In Morocco for example, guilds and special trades have traditionally allied themselves with Sufi orders. The relationship that has been established between spirituality and social and human development has marked  the cultural and historical identity of Morocco.
The Sufi Orders of Morocco are engaged in teaching and civic and spiritual education at the same time promoting human development and mediation for peace.
The festival of the Sufi Culture celebrates the heart of the Moroccan society today as well as Sufism throughout the world. Sufism can also inspire on global level and some new approaches towards peace mediations and for development of mutual dialogues between religions and cultures.
Itinerary for 2012 Festival of World Sufi Culture in Fez, Morocco:
The venues have yet to be published but the a provisional program is as follows..
Thursday 12th April
10 a.m. Official opening of the Festival.
11 a.m. Conference : the literature of Hakim in the Sufi tradition
4 p.m. Conference : Hakim and poetry in the works of Mohammed Iqbal
8.30 p.m. Concert by the Nidhamouddine Brotherhood from New Dehli India.
Friday 13th April
10a.m. Conference : Hakim and the voice of spiritual chivalry (futuwwa)
4 p.m. Conference : Hakim and Culture
8.30 p.. Concert : Samaâ of Tariqa Khalwatiyya from Turkey
Tariqa Khalwatiyya Brotherhood
Saturday 14th April
10 a.m. Conference : Can one teach Knowledge?
4 p.m. Round Table with Eva de Vitray Meyerovitch lecturer of Iqbal : l’Islam in mouvement Closure concert : Arab/Andalusian and Samaa – with Sufi Brotherhoods from Morocco.
For more information see
If you’d like to get private accommodation just a short distance from Fez, why not rent our apartment in Sefrou? It’s just 28 km from Fez, will easily sleep up to six people and is  in the charming town of Sefrou which offers a beautiful waterfall, a rustic medina and much more.
Or there are a number of Fez Riads and Hotels to choose from.  Below are some of our favorites.

Sofitel Palais Jamai Fes

Bab Guisa
Best deal306 TL
Latest booking: 13 minutes ago
Score from 111 reviews: Great, 8.8 There are 6 people looking at this hotel.

Ramada Fes

Ramada Fes

85 Av Des Far
Best deal129 TL
Latest booking: 19 minutes ago
Score from 85 reviews: Good, 7.9
There are 8 people looking at this hotel.

Riad Dar Bensouda

Riad Dar Bensouda

14 Zkak El Bghel Quettanine
Best deal117 TL
Latest booking: 2 minutes ago
Score from 168 reviews: Very Good, 8.4
There are 5 people looking at this hotel.

Wassim Hotel Fez

Wassim Hotel Fez

Avenue Hassan II Rue Du Liban
Best deal89 TL
Latest booking: 5 minutes ago
Score from 99 reviews: Good, 7.2
There are 3 people looking at this hotel.

Riad Dar Dmana Hotel Fez

Riad Dar Dmana Hotel Fez

20 Rue Salaj Douh Batha
Best deal187 TL
Latest booking: 2 minutes ago
Score from 19 reviews: Very Good, 8.3
There are 9 people looking at this hotel.

Other interesting sights to visit while in Fez include:
The museum of Dar Si Said, equipped with a display of Berber arts and crafts from all over Morocco.
The remains of the Badii Palace, a historical monument which is host to the Annual National Festival of Popular Art, beginning the second Friday in June.
The Bahia Palace, which exemplifies Moorish splendor at its finest. It is situated in the heart of the Mellah, and continues to host dignitaries to this day.

Riad Jnaan Sherazad and other overpriced Casablanca Hotels

Hotel rooms in Casablanca are generally crappy and overpriced. I know this not because I’ve stayed in them all, but because when we had to go to Casablanca a few days ago, I asked all of my Moroccan and expat friends if they could recommend a good mid-range place to stay. While some of them told me where not to stay, no one actually was able to recommend a hotel. (Update: After I wrote this I was actually given a 4 star recommendation that looks quite nice – Idou Anfa Hotel Casablanca )
hotel in CasablancaSo, I turned to TripAdviser – what the reviews generally said was that no one is happy with their hotel choice in Casablanca. They are all overpriced, crappy, and generally not worth the money but since Casablanca is the business, commercial, and to some extent governmental center of Morocco (at least for – me the American Consulate is there), we are all forced to go there and pay the prices they demand.
In this case, I had a chance to do a third party review of a place that I would never have visited because just by the price, I knew it would be a bummer. However with someone else paying, I didn’t mind seeing if it might live up to the expense. We confirmed our stay for two nights at the Riad Jnane Sherazade in Casablanca and set off!
On the phone before we left, I asked the manager the best way to get there. He told me that if the taxi didn’t know the hotel, just give the street address. From that I assumed that it was a well known place. If that was the case, the taxi drivers at Casa Voyageurs were all pretending to not know. Nor did they know the street – Rue de Belgrade. We finally found a driver who knew the place who offered to take us there for 5x the price the manager had suggested (10 dirhams) and then a second driver who agreed to take us after he dropped off the lady in the front seat (who was going 10 kilometers away) and then charged us for her trip there and back so that we ended up paying 50 dirham anyway but with a longer drive. A word of warning – there is one honest taxi driver in Casablanca and he’s very old – he may not last much longer.
hotel in CasablancaAnyway, we’d looked at the hotel’s website and despite the annoying automatic pretentious music it began to play and it’s flash heavy interface – the place looked great with big rooms, a lush private garden, balconies, plus games and reading material for guests. I figured we would try their in house restaurant one night and of course enjoy breakfast in the morning. Rooms were priced at $140 to $300 per night though if you choose to stay there, the link I’ve provided above will get you cheaper rates.
Upon arrival we were met by a friendly doorman. It started to sort of fall apart from that point. The touristic tax they included on the room was double the official rate, when I inquired about dinner I was told that we could pay 300 or 400 dirham per person (an outrageous amount for what they were offering in Morocco) and that even though the rooms were in the top tier of prices for Casablanca accommodation that not only was there no complimentary breakfast, but there wasn’t even complimentary water or coffee. Breakfast (a simple one I was told) was 17 Euros per person – which is roughly triple what a great breakfast costs at the cafe down the street. Even when I told them I was doing a review for a third party, their reaction was stolid – which on one hand I admire, but on the other was just such incredibly mercenary bad business practice that I’m certain my jaw dropped. Frankly, if someone tells me they are reviewing me – I would at least offer to provide them with complimentary breakfast so they could write about it (and a complimentary dinner for that matter) but these guys – no way. Old school bleach blonde Moroccan manager sucking down cigarettes in the lobby while the portly French affected Moroccan owner told me “Children aren’t normally welcome in our hotel”. To be fair, I saw that it wasn’t listed as ‘child friendly’ but didn’t realize they meant they didn’t want kids there. In my inquiry, I had mentioned we were bringing our month old daughter but no one had said it was any sort of problem.
hotel in CasablancaWhile there was wifi in the hotel, they wouldn’t provide me with the password but did point out that I had a cable port in the room. This worked but eliminated any idea of working in the lovely garden or on the patio. The reading material in three languages consisted of old free airline magazines and French fashion magazines from the 1990’s. There were also a dusty set of French encyclopedias in the drawing room (which the owner and clerks smoked in but which, when I lit up a cigarette in, I was told to go out on the patio…).
I should really point out that despite the name – Riad Jnaan Sherazade isn’t actually a riad at all. Instead it’s a villa built in 1956 and decorated in the style of a Riad. The decoration is quite nice and so is the villa though it is in need of some thorough cleaning and a bit of renovation. While the website touted top of the line sheets and towels, I found them to actually be sort of course towels and the sheets to have a texture that I associate with a thread count of 150 or less. Most of my friends who own mid-high range guesthouses, riads, or hotels insist on a minimum of 250.
The balcony was large and looked out over a lovely garden where twenty or so businessmen were drinking and conversing in the evening. They were obviously having a private function as we seemed to be the only guests staying. While I debated whether to pay the outrageous price for dinner or breakfast, I found myself looking at TripAdviser where the majority of the reviewers mentioned the dinner as being ‘good’ but way overpriced and the breakfast as being a rip off. That was enough for me- if you are considering buying breakfast or dinner at Riad Jnaan Sherazade – I recommend you see what TripAdviser has to say first. Who knows? Maybe it will be worth it – but I wasn’t willing to chance it. We had two nights and I wanted to have enjoyable meals both times – which we did – elsewhere.
The mattress was hard. My wife and I both woke up with sore backs. The shower, tub, and dual washbasins in the bathroom were fantastic. Hot water, good pressure, and clean toilet.
The television was fairly dated and got the free local broadcast channels only – no satellite, no cable. It sat on what looked like an old wooden microwave stand. When I asked about the games they specifically mentioned on their website (Monopoly, Chess, Scrabble, and Cards) I was told that they only said they had them since most of their clientele are businessmen who don’t have time to play games. When I mentioned that they listed them on the website they told me “Yes, but we don’t have them.”
The price they list for the hammam was so beyond what the hammam next door charged that I didn’t bother to inquire why – maybe they include a happy ending for the businessmen – but I doubt it since nothing was free at this place despite the high prices. The mini bar in the room contained small bottles of water and bags of chips that sell for 5 dirhams listed at 50 dirhams (about 5 Euro or $7.50) each. A placard placed in the room said that it was against the regulations to bring in your own food or water. Since we didn’t want to drink the Casablanca tap water, we smuggled our own bottled water in like criminals. Some of the reviews on TripAdviser say that the desk actually stopped them from carrying bottled water to the room!!!
The air conditioning worked well. The plugin internet connection was fast. The room was quiet. The doorman, by the way, was great.
Overall – I would say this is a 3-star hotel (clean, quiet, no bugs, free internet) with 5 star prices (and they rate themselves as 5 star as well) and 1-star guest treatment. The main reason I say this is because of the mercenary nature of the pricing, the complete lack of value for money and the indifferent attitudes of the desk manager and owner. Even ultra budget hostels manage to provide coffee and drinking water and can tell you what is interesting in the area without having to probe like a detective.
We won’t be going back. Instead, we will be looking at the many other options among this Complete List of Casablanca Hotels

Breaking News: Large Explosion at Cafe in Fez, Morocco

Friends and local news are reporting a large explosion in the Ville Nouvelle of Fes. This from French)
Explosion in Fes, Morocco

A strong explosion rocked a cafe today in the city of Fez, injuring several people. The official agency Maghreb Arabe Press (MAP) reports that according to initial findings, this claim is due to the explosion of a gas cylinder installed in the basement of the coffee.
A source of Emergency Preparedness of the city speaks seven injured were transported to University Hospital Hassan II. “We are continuing the search for the wounded,” says the fireman.
The cafe, located in an upscale neighborhood known as “La Villa”, is mostly frequented by young people in the middle of the city of Fez.

This comes from my friend Karima who lives in Fez and shared this information in a status update/note.
“I have been to the cafe where the explosion took place … ” La villa” 5 min away from the Super Market Acima above Al willaya. Its a disaster…Burned like hell… Police everywhere and they don’t won’t us get any closer .. I saw no dead bodies leaving the place but heard that some people died.. mostly the staff who worked in underground:” the oven, pastry makers..the girls in charge of cleaning…I met a girl there who works in the bakery and she was crying I barely could understand what she was saying because she was sobbing and she told me..”.Its the gaz no bomb involved.”I said how do you know:” she looked at me and she said:” God sake i was there and i saw them changing the gaz bottles..I don’t know what happened to them but i am sure most of them are gone….” Because i used to go there most of the time with friends and the waiters were super nice to us… all i was asking about were what happened to the waiters till, that under-shock lady thought that my husband or my boy friend was one of them…..!!! I will put the video i have shot there later but let me tell you this, what i saw there was soo catastrophic to the point that i forgot to ask the girl about her name…and she forgot to ask me who i was and why i was asking…..brief Glory to Allah in his Universe and may our lord bless everyone died in this dramatic accident.”

Schweea by Schweea…Nothing Moves Quickly in Morocco

I wrote this for a travel writing contest, but never heard back…I guess I didn’t win 🙂 But, I think it’s still worth sharing…Enjoy ~Vago

small town Morocco
Stepping carefully to miss the streams of sewer water and partially holding my breath, I pulled shallow draughts of air through my mouth so as to avoid the stench. I passed by the dozen or so young guys in rip-off Dolce and Gabbana jeans and fake Armani t-shirts . They hunkered down in an unlit doorway with a deck of Moroccan barraja cards and played an excited game of what appeared to be a cross between slap-jack and Texas Hold-em. Filthy Moroccan dirham notes lay on the ground between them. One or two of them glanced at me with suspicious eyes, after all, what the hell was a gaurie-an obvious foreigner with light skin and blue eyes- doing in the heart of the casbah at 11:00 pm. Just then my neighbor Mohammad glanced up from the cards and greeted me “A salaama leycum Yassine. La bas?”
“Wa leycum a salaam Mohammad. La Bas. La bas aleek.” I answered his query about my general state of being and with the same words wished him goodness in return. Since he was in the midst of gambling and I was on the way home, we bypassed the oft required but painfully drawn out process of greeting each other with a thousand and one questions about friends and family followed by numerous wishes of blessings that would be bestowed by the creator. Sefrou Medina
Five steps more and I was at the lime green metal door which led into my thousand year old apartment. Inside I bypassed the narrow mud-brick steps leading ladder-like to my neighbor’s flat and put the key to the ancient wooden door which led to my very humble abode. The door was ‘Sefroui Blue’ but had been buried in at least twenty layers of colorful paint over it’s lifetime which made it sometimes difficult to close all the way. Scraping it open, I stepped down into what lives in my memory as one of the most fascinating places I have ever lived.
My apartment in the casbah didn’t come with a stove, light-fixtures, a flush toilet, or a shower. The one thing it did have was indoor running water, a luxury in the medina of Sefrou. Every surface inside had been painted a brilliant sky blue including the window frames, the doors, and the cabinets. Within a month of moving in, the moisture on the wall had caused the new paint to bubble and blister and had revealed the nebulous layers of ancient enamel beneath which neither time nor brush could make disappear.Oued Aggai
Opening the windows, I reveled in the sounds of the Oued Aggai as it flowed merrily past my windows in the chasm below. My apartment not only had running water indoors, but running water delightfully nearby that would lull me to sleep each evening. Looking up towards the grand mosque of Sefrou, I could see men in djellabas crossing the narrow stone bridge separating the Mellah from Beni Mdrek. In the late hours, they moved even slower than usual. That meant their movement was almost imperceptible since nothing ever moves quickly in Morocco.
Schweeya b Schweeya is what you will inevitably hear in what the Arabs referred to as al-Maghreb, the Kingdom of the West. Schweeya b schweeya translates to little by little and if there is a modus operendi that nearly every Moroccan plays the game of life by, this is certainly it. It’s a philosophy of patience but also of cunning and ultimately, it is what drives many time conscious Westerners who think of living in Morocco to change their minds and go somewhere else.Moroccan food
If you sit for an afternoon in Morocco’s ex-pat and traveler hangout, Cafe Clock, you will without a doubt hear at least one conversation which involves someone’s expectations not being met in any sort of a timely manner. It might be someone restoring a house, someone trying to get married, someone trying to start a business, or someone waiting for transport – but the certainty is you will hear it. You will also hear that reply, sweeeya b schweeya.
To understand and experience Morocco, you must internalize this philosophy. Those who rush from one tourist destination to another will find and see amazing things, but they will also miss the soul of al-Maghreb. I know this from experience, I did it. In less than a fortnight I saw the great imperial cities of Marrakesh, Fes, Meknes, and Rabat and then I visited the bustling port of Casablanca with it’s massive Hassan II mosque, which somehow feels like it’s missing something. Perhaps it is because of the speed with which it was built, no schweeya b schweeya was included. And like the mosque, my fast paced journey was beautiful and exotic, but somehow it completely missed the soul of Morocco.
2nd largest mosque in the worldIt was only later, when I decided to stay for a longer time that I started to understand just how embedded into the very fiber of this place this concept truly is. With a history that stretches back thousands of years and a culture born from the intersections of Berber, Arab, French, Portuguese, Spanish, African, Hebrew, Turkish, British and American – this civilization is a fantastically complex human construction which has been built over time idea by idea, piece by piece, and little by little. To try to see it in a day, a week, or a month is an exercise in complete futility. In fact, you will leave with more misconceptions than you arrived with since you will have essentially looked at the couscous without seeing the chicken that lies under it.
orphan boys in MoroccoEach time I came in or went out that door from my apartment I would meet my neighbors. Not just when they were playing cards in the alleyways, but also when they were getting water from the communal fountain. Mischievous kids with dirty knees and faces would always run by me and once in a great while I would surprise them with a piece of candy, but never money. If you give money once then you are marked for all your time as a charity for the needy to turn to. Scweeya b schweeya. I preferred the charity of carrying water for the old woman who was called ‘Radio’ by the young boys. The name came because her nearly bent in half spine caused her to resemble a radio antenna. Bringing the water inside, I found she and her husband living in a single room heated by a charcoal brazier which was used not only for heating the room, but also for heating food and water . It’s not fast, but then, there really wasn’t any need for it to be. Mr. and Mrs. Radio had nowhere to go and nothing to do. My running water and propane tank stove suddenly seemed outrageous luxuries.
Moroccan cobblerRadio’s invitation to tea was a process that took nearly two hours as the water was heated to a boil, the tea was added, the water was reheated, and finally the tea was poured. My extremely limited command of Moroccan Arabic meant that I could only nod in agreement without actually understanding what she was saying. In time, her son the cobbler arrived and explained that they were happy to have me visiting. I was honored and thankful that their son took the time to visit and bring them groceries.
On Fridays I watched as my neighbors brought couscous to the men working in the vegetable souks. The men motioned me to join them as they slowly gathered around the steaming plate covered with seven vegetables. Under it all, delectable pieces of chicken were hidden under the mound of couscous. I was on my way to an appointment, however, and I had an irrational fear of being late. “Shukran bzzaf. Ana mettl.“ “Lai-owwn.” Thank you much. God help you, they replied, no doubt pitying my rush.
I paused just long enough to buy a kilo of oranges. Even after a year, it felt strange to call them ‘lemons’, but like the donkeys and fire heated water, I was becoming used to it. I walked more quickly than anyone else, a vestige of my Western upbringing and uptightness. Finally, I arrived at my destination.
Morocco CouscousThey had asked me to come for lunch at 2:00 pm, but Mama Khadija hadn’t gotten started until a little bit later because she was visited by her sisters unexpectedly. After that, she had to go to the souk to find the right vegetables and since she was a little late, it was harder to find cabbage that suited her needs. Her husband and sons hadn’t arrived yet and her daughters were relaxing in the petite salon watching Turkish soap operas dubbed in Darija. The time had only been for the strange foreigner and only because I asked. I’ve heard an apt phrase about expats. “They never have the time but they always know it.”
Mama Khadija accepted my gift of oranges and offered me a cup of sweet mint tea. It would be at least an hour before the Friday couscous would be ready, but I was in no hurry. Schweeya b Schweeya. Al hamdillilah.

Time and Money in Morocco – Matters of Confusion

Much to my surprise, I find myself quite content to be living in a small town in Morocco. The reasons for this aren’t entirely clear, even to myself, but the fact is that I’m quite enjoying myself here and feel like I’m home for the first time in years.
moroccan dirhamThis isn’t a post about me though, rather it’s a couple of those quirky observations of life that I know Vagobond readers love to read about. It comes from living in Morocco, but the subject matter is something that is so baffling to me, that I can’t explain it at all. As the title clearly states, I am writing about time and money.
I know, on the surface there should be no confusion. Moroccan currency is the Moroccan Dirham (MAD) and it trades for approximately 7.5 dirhams to the U.S. Dollar (USD) or 11 dirhams to the Euro (EUR). This means that it should trade for about 4.4 dirhams for the Turkish Lira (TRY). Clear enough. The dirham is broken up into 100 centimes per dirham.
Moroccan moneySo, one would expect that when you buy something the price would be given in dirhams and centimes such as a loaf of khobz (bread) costs 3 dirhams and 50 centimes or something like 3d50c or three and a half dirhams. Easy right?
Far too easy for the complex Moroccan mind. Don’t forget when you talk about Moroccans, you are talking about people who are born polyglots. Even the least educated of Moroccans speaks Darija, Arabic, and French to some degree plus in the countryside many people speak one or more varieties of Berber (tamizit or amazigh or another). Now, I don’t know if this has anything to do with the confusing state of money or not but here is how it really breaks down.
old moroccan franksEven though the currency is dirhams and centimes, prices are often talked about in terms of franks, ryals, dirhams, centimes, and millions of one or the other depending on the item being discussed. So, in fact the flus (money) of Morocco can be broken into dirhams, franks (even though there haven’t been franks for about 50 years) ryals (same as franks) and centimes.
Moroccan FranksA dirham contains 100 centimes. A dirham also contains 20 ryal. A dirham also contains 100 franks. So to convert franks or centimes to dirhams you divide by 100, to convert ryals to dirhams you divide by 5. Sounds slightly confusing but easy enough. A frank is a centime and a ryal is five centimes. 100 franks = 20 ryal = 100 centimes = 1 dirham. Great.
Then you go to the market. If you are Moroccan, you know that a certain person is Berber and will give the prices in ryal or another person is Fassi and will give the price in franks. If you aren’t Moroccan, you just get numbers thrown at you. Add to this that in general, large ticket items have their prices given in millions or hundreds of thousands of centimes or franks, but also sometimes just to make things difficult they will give the price in ryal. So, for example, let’s say you are buying a hot water heater which would cost 120 Euro if you were in Europe. This is a luxury good here so the markup is to 170 Euro which we will use the common exchange of 10 MAD per Euro and we have a price of 1700 dirhams.
Moroccan moneyWhen you go to the hardware hanoot (store) you see the item you want and you ask the price. The old man at the counter tells you that it is 200,000 franks. You struggle for a moment to remember if franks are the same as centimes or if it is 5 centimes to the franks or if you are mistaking a frank for a ryal (since you have never seen a Moroccan frank or ryal, this is an easy mistake to make). Finally, you ask him the price in ryals to get the difference (just because you are curious) and he tells you 40,000 ryals which sounds much better but is still too much, but at least now you’ve established that the ryal is bigger than the frank so the first price of 200,000 is in centimes (or franks if you prefer). So, you divide the price of 200,000 by 100 and arrive at the price of 2000 dirhams or 200 Euro. It’s too much since you know the price is only 170 Euro but you can’t just tell him the price is 170 Euro or 1700 dirhams or 170000 franks or whatever that might be in ryal. Next you have to make your offer, probably in the neighborhood of 140,000 centimes and then you negotiate and probably you arrive at the price of 170-180 Euro
This was a relatively simple purchase but when you start talking about cars or riads, you need to make sure you have your calculator. Even a trip to the market can be confusing since one vendor lists the price as 10 dirham and another is calling out 200 ryal and a third is saying myatain which is is probably the same, but frankly (hehe) I’m totally confused already.
By the way, you can’t take Moroccan dirham from the country and there are only a handful of currencies you can convert to dirhams in Morocco, one of which is NOT Turkish lira which I learned only after bringing my pay from Turkey to Morocco in Lira…oops. I thought to save from the conversion to Euros and then to dirham, but instead, I have a lot of unspendable money…thankfully, I know people who go to Turkey and come back to Morocco. Although this might be touching on the edges of the black market…
Time in MoroccoAnd then there is the matter of time. Morocco has daylight savings time but it just doesn’t work. Many people don’t know about setting their clocks forward or back and others resent the fact that the government should be involved in something so fundamental as time and so refuse to change their clocks. As a result you have people who are on new time and people who are on old time but when the time changes back again, you have people who change for the first time and people who stay on the old time so, in effect you have a new old time and an old old time and then you have the real time which is a matter of continuous debate if you choose to engage in such a thing ( which I don’t recommend since you can’t possibly win but only become muddled in the process and perhaps buy a carpet before you realize your watch is on a time you didn’t expect it to be). In theory, for half the year everyone should be on the same time but for some reason that doesn’t happen and (god forbid) if you have employees or have hired workers for some reason, don’t expect to understand the reason why they show up an hour late AND leave an hour early, perhaps they find the new time during the middle of the day and revert to the old time when they go home.
If you want to be confused, ask my wife what time she plans to leave her moms in which case she looks at the wall clock and tells me in the time there (old time) and when I ask about whether it is old time or new time, she says ‘real time’ at which point I ask if she means real time for Moroccans or the government and she says ‘the time on my mom’s clock’ by which I know she means the old time which to her is more real than the time I have on my phone which is to me, the real time.
Besides, Moroccan time is essentially the same as Hawaiian time but without the laid back attitude you find in Hawaii-ne. For those unfamiliar, 15-30 minutes late is early, 30-60 minutes late is on time, if you wait more than an hour you will probably be disappointed and today usually means tomorrow but sometimes tomorrow means next week because the built in excuse given by God makes all things acceptable and justifiable – it’s why inchallah is tacked on the end of any statement of time or obligation you may want free of – for example: “I’d love to come to your disco party – inchallah” (translation: God doesn’t really want me to come) or “I’ll have it for you tomorrow – inchallah” (translation: Unless you stand here and make me work on it, it will never be done unless I have nothing else to do) and so on. In fact, I love inchallah since it gives me an easy way to accept the many invitations I don’t want to accept and then just not show up to. I know, completely unacceptable in the Europe or the U.S., but then, this obviously isn’t either place.

Getting from Fes to Fes Sais International Airport

This may sound funny, but one of the trickeist parts of travel in Morocco, in my opinion is finding a reasonable way to get to Fes Sais International Airport from Fes.
Fes Sais Airport International
When it comes down to it, the problem is that there really isn’t any set and consistent way to get there. There is a dedicated airport bus, but it runs irregularly. The bus costs 20 dirhams or 2 Euro and runs from next to the Gare de Fes (Fes Train Station), come out of the Station, go to the right and pass the big lot filled with taxis, the bus is sitting on the far side of the next lot. And that’s the problem, it’s usually just sitting there and when you arrive, you think, ‘Oh the driver will come soon’. Sometimes that happens and sometimes you can sit there for hours.
The last time I went there, I sat for two hours on my suitcase along with a dozen other travelers, both Moroccans and foreigners. The driver just didn’t come. I held out because since you aren’t supposed to take Moroccan money outside of Morocco, I hadn’t brought much with me. Just enough for the airport bus. (Okay, and I always bring an extra 200 dirham note because it’s enough to get to Sefrou from Casa, Fes, or wherever if I should come and the ATMs aren’t working- but I don’t touch that until I return)
Other travelers slowly wandered off or banded together in groups of four or five or six and entered into negotiations with the taxi drivers who waited patiently on the other side of the lot.
Here is what annoys me about the taxis. A trip to Sefrou is roughly the same distance as a trip to the airport from Fes, about 30 km. While a trip to Sefrou costs 10 dirhams, a trip to the airport will cost you between 100 and 500 depending on where you are from, if you speak Arabic or French, and how well you can haggle. Most people end up paying about 250 for the taxi.
However, this is the reason why a trip to the Airport bus stop isn’t a wasted effort. The cost is for the entire taxi so if you can work it out the right way, you can actually pay less than the airport bus, although you will be in more crowded conditions.
As an example: this last time, I sat waiting and first watched a Moroccan man talk to the other Moroccan passengers. When he found six he walked to the taxis, negotiated, and then motioned to the others to come join him. Six down. Next, a Frenchman did the same thing with a number of foreigners, I passed since I didn’t have the 50 dirhams each he had negotiated (I’m guessing the Moroccans had paid 20 each). Five more down. Finally twenty minutes or so later, a Moroccan guy living in Spain negotiated a deal with a driver to get the cab for 100 dirhams. Four of us at 25 dirhams each piled in. A spanish backpacker, a French teacher of the mentally impaired, the Moroccan-Spaniard, and me. The French teacher made up the difference in my fare since I only had 23 1/2 dirhams.
International Airport Fes, MoroccoSo, for those who are wondering, that’s how you can get to the Fes Sais International Airport for those cheap RyanAir flights to Europe. In this case, I was heading to Rome and the Spaniard was kind enough to buy me a coffee with the last of his dirhams. He also introduced me to an Argentine backpacker named Josephina who was also going to Rome for a day. We had no language in common but a common destination.
From Fes to Roma – coming up next…

Izmir Sunday in a Friendly Turkish Home

We voyaged to Izmir this Sunday to meet up with a Moroccan friend my wife made on her flight here. Nice to have a different location for this week. Sunday in… Izmir, Turkey.

Hanane’s ability to make new friends will never cease to amaze me. In this case, her new friend is a Moroccan woman married to a Turkish man. Her husband is in Morocco and she and her sister are staying with her in-laws in Izmir. they sat next to each other on the plane and then exchanged facebook and skype info and have been chatting ever since. One evening they even had both of their families join in the conversation!
Turkey loves Moroccans!
We woke up, had a late Sunday breakfast and caught the bus to Izmir which costs just six lira each. The girl, Souad, her sister Wafa, and her father in law picked us up at the bus station and drove us around Izmir. Fishermen in Izmir, TurkeyWe had a nice walk along the water and then went to Souad’s in-laws house where we had a wonderful Turkish lunch/dinner and enjoyed the afternoon in a lovely Turkish home. Souad’s little boy is cute as a bug and her father in law showed me his garden filled with grapes, pomegranites, olives, and hot hot peppers.
I know just how hot because after eating some at dinner, I stupidly reached up and touched my eye! It hurt like hell, but for some reason, that kind of pain, like tattoos, I’ve never really minded. I don’t know quite how to explain that, so I’ll just leave it there.
Dinner was a Turkish soup, followed by beans, followed by kifta (lamb meatballs) with wild rice and yogurt/cucumber sauce. After dinner, a lovely cup of Turkish coffee, followed by nuts, followed by chocolate. Needless to say, I feel like I might explode.Our Friend's Father in Law in Turkey
They were all lovely people and we had a very nice day. It was especially nice for Hanane, I think, because I know how nice it is to connect with your expat community when you are living abroad. Since this is her first time living outside of Morocco, I’m guessing from the smile on her face that this was a very nice Sunday in Izmir. For me too it was nice, though it was somewhat confusing to have to change channels from English to Turkish and back to Moroccan again, but I wasn’t alone. At one point Souad started to explain something to her Turkish mother-in-law, but she was doing it in Darija while the woman smiled in confusion. We all laughed together about it.
Izmir statue of Attaturk
After way too much food, Turkish coffee, nuts, and chocolate they drove us back to the bus station and we headed back home.
I really love Sundays, wherever I am. That’s why I pretty much always make it a condition of any job that I never work on them.At least not for anyone but myself.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t such a good Sunday in Istanbul where two bombs by separatists killed seventeen or more people. While Turkey is generally safe and wonderful, Kurdish separatists have been growing increasingly violent over the past few years. I’m glad to be somewhere that isn’t ‘important’ enough to be a target for them.

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