Five Offbeat Destinations in Morocco

Azrou, MoroccoMorocco is one of the most photogenic countries on the planet. From the markets to the sahara there is never a lack of wonders worthy of a photograph. Here are five off-beat destinations that you may not have heard about but are worth your time. Don’t forget your camera.

Azrou. In the Middle Atlas mountains there are vast cedar forests that the Phoenicians used to build ships. The mountain town of Azrou is a picturesque village with a lively market on Tuesdays where the Berber tribes from the surrounding regions converge to sell blankets, rugs, and handicrafts. If you trek into the mountains, you will find Barbary Apes swinging in the cedars.

SefrouSefrou. Sefrou has been eclipsed by it’s neighbour Fez, but the old medina (walled town) of Sefrou is actually older and more manageable than that of Fez. Just 28 kilometres south. Sefrou is great for a day trip. The waterfall just outside of Sefrou is a cool destination on hot summer days.

Sale. The ancient pirates of Morocco were based in Sale and caused problems for Europeans for hundreds of years. This was the center for white-slavery and nefarious deeds. Today it is a relaxed seaside city where you can find delicious seafood and uncrowded beaches.

OuarzazateOuarzazate. Morocco is famous for the Sahara and most people miss out on visiting Ouarzazate, also called the Hollywood of Morocco. It was here that films like The Mummy, Lawrence of Arabia, Prince of Persia, The Last Temptation of Christ, and Gladiator were made. Most recently it has been a location for the very popular HBO series Game of Thrones. There are studio museums and ancient desert fortresses that have been well preserved by the dry desert air.

MarrakechMarrakech. Everyone has heard of Marrakech, but most people go there for the old medina, Jmma el Fna, or the ruins. It’s the new parts of Marrakech you don’t want to miss with red hot world fusion cuisine, great chefs, fabulous nightclubs, and an annual red carpet Film Festival that brings some of the biggest stars from around the world.

Monkeys, waterfalls, pirates, mummies, and movie stars – I’ll bet you had no idea Morocco could offer so much!

Ritual and trance healing at the Mouseem Sidi Ali

sidi ali mouassimAiR Sidi Ali is an artist in residence project that brings a group of creators to the Mouseem ( festival) Sidi Ali in North Morocco in January 2013. Culture Vultures aims at facilitating artists to draw inspiration feeding their art practice. The project offers a rich program of lecturers and interviews so as to gain a deeper insight and broader understanding of pilgrimage, ceremonies, trance healing, offerings to saints and jinns.

One of the main elements of the Sidi Ali Mouseem is the ceremonies in homage to the saint Sidi Ali Ben Hamdouch. The Hamadcha brotherhood play a principle role in this worship.

Along with the Gnawa and the Aïssawa, the Hamadcha are one of the three most important so-called ‘popular’ Sufi brotherhoods in Morocco. The Hamadcha brotherhood was founded by Saint Sidi Ali Ben Hamdouch in the seventeenth century, and has become famous through the originality of its repertoire, its spellbinding dances, and the trance-therapy skills of its members.

sidi ali mouassimThe Hamadcha’s rhythmic and melodic modes are extremely complex, and like their musical instruments, are found only within the brotherhood. A large part of the repertoire of the Gnawa and the Aïssawa is borrowed from the Hamadcha and is named “El Hamdouchiyya”. This amazing music is played during a ritual that dates back several centuries which mixes praise to the founding Saint and trance.

sidi ali mouassimThe Hamadcha ritual, like that of the Gnawa, has a therapeutic function. The Hamadcha were for a long time regarded as expert therapists, and Moroccans looked to them for help because of their knowledge of “medicine of the mind”.

Like all Muslim brotherhoods, the Hamadcha are subdivided into separate groups proper to each town or region. The groups are affiliated with Sidi Ali Ben Hamdouch and his descendants. During the moussem, which takes place every year, they gather at the tomb of the Saint in the region of Meknès.

Because of the modernization of Morocco, the future of traditional practices is uncertain, and the Hamadcha, as well as the other brotherhoods, are in danger of disappearing.

This article is reprinted with permission from www.hamadcha-fez.com

Exploring Essaouira, Morocco in a Daytrip

Essaouira Morocco ToursIf you want to experience an extraordinary place, I recommend a visit to Morocco’s seaside resort of Essaouira.

Sample itinerary for a fantastic and fun filled one day trip to Essaouira starting from Marrakech.
DAY 1:
– After breakfast at your hotel, depart for Essaouira.
– The journey to this former Portuguese fishing village offers up only a few roadside towns and the occasional Berber village. In the 1960s and 1970s, Essaouira was a pitstop on the hippie trek from Marrakech. Jimi Hendrix made the pilgrimage, as did Bob Marley and Cat Stevens. Essaouira was the inspiration for Hendrix’s song “Castles Made of Sand”. Are you experienced?
– Essaouira is a sea-side medieval town filled with lovely white-washed and blue-shuttered houses, colonnades, thuya wood workshops, art galleries and perhaps the best seafood in all of Morocco.
– Once called Mogador (do you hear it Led Zeppelin fans?) by European sailors and traders, Essaouria is known for its annual Gnaoua Music Festival and attracts 300,000+ people each year in June. It also has one of the better surfing beaches in Morocco which is called Plage de Safi.
– A visit to Essaouira is not complete without a stroll along the town’s sunlit pedestrian main square, Place Prince Moulay el Hassan. Also required is a visit to Skala du Port, the fishing harbor where you will have jaw-dropping views of the ancient Portuguese ramparts. Be sure to take time to explore the ramparts and wander through the aromatic and sparkly spice and jewelry souks of the medina.
– The medina of Essaouira (formerly “Mogador”) is a UNESCO World Heritage listed city and is one of the world’s best examples of a late-18th century fortified town.
– You must have lunch at the fish-grill cafes, with wooden tables and benches laid out overlooking the sea that was once- in the 19th century- the only Moroccan port south of Tangier.
– Did you know that Orson Welles is revered here? Find out why with a visit to Orson Welles’ Square and memorial, designed by Samir Mustapha, one of the towns artists. Essaouira’s history is a reminder of the times when Spain, Portugal and England fought to maintain control over its coasts. It has a typical Portuguese harbor that is a stunning example of Moorish and Portuguese architecture.
– One of the coolest side trips in Essaouira Morocco is a visit to Ranch de Diabat, located in the small village Diabat. Ranch de Diabat offers quads on the beach, camels or horses – and it can be for 2 hours or it can be for several days.
– A word of warning…once you are here you will probably be extending your stay to try kayaking, kite surfing, wind surfing, or just regular surfing. Essaouira is the wind capital of Africa and the world.
Here are some day tour specifics:
One Day Tour Essaouira
Duration: 9:00am – 7:00pm
Morocco Travel: In Luxury 4×4
English, French Speaking Driver, Guide
Starting & Finishing Point: Your Hotel In Marrakech

How Not To Enjoy World Travel – Part 2

world travel tipsThis is the second part in an ongoing series about how to have the worst time possible during your world travels. Here is the link to part 1.

http://www.vagobond.com/how-not-to-enjoy-world-travel-part-1/

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.

world travel tips5) 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.

world travel tips6) 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.

Technomad Tools – #1 – Smart phone – Mine and yours?

Let’s talk about smartphones. I just got one and following is my review. What smartphone do you use? Is it better or worse? What features do you love? What features could you do without?
This term technomad is coming up more and more these days. To a certain extent, I fall within the category since I do a lot of my paid (and unpaid) work online and for that I don’t have a boss, an office, or a need to be in any one place.
As such, my office for the past year or so has been my netbook. An Acer Aspire One which has been by far the best $300 I’ve ever spent. I’ve used it for everything a full on laptop or desktop can be used for and it has never let me down. I recommend it 100% as the ultimate travel machine. Below is an affiliate link from Amazon for one.

Still, I’m always trying to make my possessions smaller, faster, and better and I’ve been looking at people with smartphones for a while now and wondering if I would be able to make the leap and perhaps the next time I travel I would be able to leave the netbook at home.
best phone for travel
Does your phone travel well?

I’m a cheap bastard. I don’t like to replace things while other things still work, so when my camera went kaput during our wedding in the Sahara, I thought that maybe if my phone would die too, I could replace the phone and the camera with a smart phone. So, I’ve been keeping my eyes open.
Unfortunately, in both Turkey and Morocco the cost of electronics is about 500% more than in the USA or Europe. Even in Europe the cost of an iPhone or Blackberry is at a premium. Another thing is that I don’t like contracts since I’m never 100% certain I’ll be staying in a country. And, I’m pretty poor in terms of money that I can spend.
An iPhone in Morocco runs about $1700 U.S. A Blackberry is a little less, but the truth is that I’ve used Blackberries and I don’t particularly like them. In Turkey and iPhone is about $1500. I thought about ordering one from Ebay or Amazon, but friends here confirmed that customs (as in Morocco) would rake me over the coals and I would end up paying more. I don’t want to make any bones about it, I’ve looked around and despite the problems, it looks to me like an iPhone 4 is the best thing going.
The other day when my old Motorola Razor V1 once again started dying with a full charge, I decided it was time to make the leap to something. One of my colleagues showed me his phone and told me that I could get one for right around 350 Turkish Lira which works out to about $225 US.
I did a little homework and decided that while it didn’t have all the options I wanted, it would be a pretty decent way to break into having a smart phone. Here is what I wanted:
– a decent camera
– wifi so that I could check email, use voice services on Skype, GTalk, and Yahoo messenger to make calls with no charge when wifi was available
– video capability – playing and recording
– blue tooth
– good sound quality/ call quality
– a good quality touchscreen
– fm radio
– good battery life
– and some games/ability for java apps
samsung star wifi
The reviews I read of the phone seemed to indicate that I was going to get what I was looking for with the Samsung Star Wifi which is marketed in India, Pakistan, Turkey, and other Arab countries under various names such as Samsung Avila.
The phone lives up to most of what I read about it. I’ve had no problems with the wifi though I haven’t yet figured out how to change the default for most java apps so that I don’t get charged for usage.
samsung star wifi - phone for vagabond
It’s small, light, and fits easily in my hand or my pocket.
For me, the camera takes acceptable pictures but the lack of a zoom and flash probably means I’m going to have to get a camera anyway. The video quality seems pretty decent.
Call sound is good and the music player works well but doesn’t seem to have much flexibility in the way playlists work. Definitely would prefer i-tunes.
One big issue at the beginning was that the proprietary browser kind of sucks. Only allows one window at a time. I solved this by downloading the Opera Mini 5 browser which allows for multiple windows but the cost is that with Opera when I turn my phone sideways, it doesn’t automatically change to landscape screen
Another issue is that since it is proprietary, Skype and other voice chat services (VOIP) have not bothered to (or not been able to) make software that allows free calls. So even with the wifi and a browser, I’m not able to make the free VOIP calls I wanted. I was able to download a java app called Nimbuzz, but can only access it through the browser and engage in text chat only. Big disappointment on this one.
Also, I think because of the firmware and proprietary Samsung crap, I can only run one app at a time, although there is a setting which allows music to run in the background while I do other things. So what this means is that if I am using the Opera browser and want to make a note, I have to close the browser and open up the note. Again, big disappointment and not ideal at all.
The initial data storage size is reasonable, but not huge. I’ll have to buy a data card. I want to have the space for videos and music on it, not to mention pictures, and hopefully an ebook or two.
The word processing (notepad) function is fairly primitive and when I have put pdf or .doc files on it, I have to scroll left and right in addition to down. Not really very good for reading something which I was hoping would be an option.
The battery life is good. About 10 hours with heavy usage or from what I’ve read, if it isn’t being used much, a week or more.
The touchscreen seems to work great. It’s fun and the stylus which comes inside is easy to use and stores in the corner safely.
As to videos, I’m afraid that this phone is set up to mostly play youtube videos and since I’m in Turkey, where youtube is banned, I’ve not yet had the opportunity to watch any video but the one I recorded to test out the video camera function. I’m hoping to find an alternative source so that I can watch tv shows and news.
The phone has a couple of kind of goofy features. One is that if you choose you can set up the phone to automatically email two contacts if the SIM is replaced. Ideally this will tell you the number of any thief who steals your phone.
Another one is a fake call function where you can press a button and the phone will call you and play a conversation you’ve pre-recorded so that you can get out of class, meetings, or other uncomfortable situations. It’s a phone with built in lies.
One last thing I do like about this phone is that it comes unlocked and is quad band so I can go anywhere and use it in any country on the planet.
Overall, I like the phone. It’s a definite upgrade from the razor v1, but it is definitely not a replacement for the netbook. That will have to come later. Although, I’m quite happy to lug the netbook with me since it is light and awesome.
Now, how about you- what smart phone do you use? Does it kick ass? Or does it blow?

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