Asilah, Morocco is a great little funky town that hosts a mural festival each year. It’s a gorgeous little town on the Atlantic Coast of Africa. I was going to share about 30 photos of the gorgeous artistic town of Asilah, Morocco when I realized it would be better and allow me to fulfill one of my New Year’s Resolutions (make more videos) if I put them in a video slideshow for you. I hope you enjoy it.
Just 31 km from Tangier. Its ramparts and gateworks remain fully intact. Its history dates back to 1500 B.C., when the Phoenicians used it as a base for trade. The Portuguese conquered the city in 1471, but John III later decided to abandon it because of an economic crisis in 1549. In 1692, the town was taken by the Moroccans under the leadership of Moulay Ismail. Asilah served then as a base for pirates in the 19th and 20th centuries. From 1912-1956 it was part of Spanish Morocco.
This year did not work out the way that any of us planned. I’m very grateful that my family has not been dealt horrible blows from COVID-19. We’ve had family members who caught it but so far, we’ve been really blessed. Our hearts go out to those who were not so fortunate.
I’m very grateful that my travel plans in 2020 worked out before the pandemic hit. I’d always dreamed of visiting Australia and Tasmania and while the pandemic had started – it wasn’t yet full blown. We did cancel some other trips but for themes part – we were pretty content with staying in Hawaii. Again, I am aware of how fortunate we are.
We took two trips to the Big Island of Hawaii when tourism reopened between the islands in July. We swam with dolphins, zip lined, and enjoyed visiting with a friend who has relocated to a farm there. But, for most of this year – we’ve been on lockdown. I’ve become homeschool teacher to our daughter, which we both love (again, I am so thankful to be able to do this)and I’ve been writing writing writing. I’ve almost completed another novel after writing one at the beginning and re-editing two others.
I took one short trip to the San Francisco Bay Area to sell my beloved VW Vanagon – with tourism closed, this was what it took to be able to pay the rent. I’m grateful I was able to sell it and that we’ve been able to pay our rent. I flew to SF before limited tourism was reopened to Hawaii and I’m grateful I was on empty planes and in empty airports.
It feels really good to be helping others – even if it is only in a small way.
We wish you a joyous holiday season and a wonderful 2021 for all the world.
Aloha nui loa,
Happy Thanksgiving! It’s 2019 – I first wrote this back in 2011 and I’ll just keep adding to it every year.
I hope that you are enjoying all the food posts that I’ve put up in the past month. Thanksgiving and travel are both all about gratitude and food. Here’s a post that gives me a taste of both and fits the holiday spirit.
Since coming back to the USA – so much of my energy has been focused on being a father, finding a way to pay for the right to live (the American way), and building businesses that might make things better – that I haven’t done much in the way of travel. In 2019, I only took a few flights – I took my family on a short island hop to experience the Hawaiian Island of Maui and I took a short trip to San Francisco for a tech conference. Other than that, I’ve been here on Oahu – not the worst place to be stranded, but I have to admit to a bit of island fever.
I’m grateful for my wife and daughter, for the fact that we live in Hawaii, and today, I’m grateful because I just finished the first draft of a new novel. This is the first novel I’ve written since 2012 – I’d forgotten what a huge joy it is to create a new story, new people, and to some extent a new world and be able to shape them into a story. Here’s our 2019 Thanksgiving dinner…not a big production, but a fun and easy way to do Thanksgiving dinner for the three of us.
In terms of the KIVA loan below – I’ve loaned it out several times now with only one time that it wasn’t repaid – in general I’ve focused on loaning to women who produce food – the one time I loaned to a man, the loan has not been repaid. I’m grateful that women are so awesome and I’ve just re-funded the loan so that it can help more women producing food in an sustainable way. We can help make the world a better place together…..
I’m excited about the year 2020. I’ve already got a new trip planned in spring. For the first time, I’ll be heading to Australia – my wife gave me the go ahead so I’ve got an ultra budget trip down under in my near future. Who knows what the future holds?
I hope you are all having a great Thanksgiving. Over the next month, I’ll be sharing our many Christmas and holiday season stories.
Aloha nui loa!
November 24, 2011, Happy Thanksgiving!
I’m writing this from Paris. It’s been one hell of a wonderful year for me and I can’t tell you how thankful I am. Especially for this little wonder:
At four months, our daughter is already bringing us so much joy. I’m no less thankful for her sweet and wonderful mama, who, even though she wasn’t able to get a visa in time for this trip, understood, that I sometimes need a break from Morocco and insisted that I go since we couldn’t change or get a refund for our flights and hotels.
I am also very thankful for the many friends we have around the world, for both of our wonderful families, and for the many opportunities we have been blessed with.
I’m not sure how a too independent for his own good vagabond like me ended up with a beautiful family, a warm (well, mostly) and comfortable home, and the chance to travel the world, see new people and places and have wonderful experiences. But, I’m certainly thankful for it and I think that, ultimately, that is what this day is all about. Being thankful – it’s not about the turkey, the football, or even the United States. It’s about gratitude pure and simple.
As a small way of giving back, I am making a micro-loan through Kiva.org – It’s not much, just $25 but it makes a difference. I ask you to do the same…to join Team Vagobond, just follow this link: http://www.kiva.org/team/vagobond
Here is the woman who my loan went to in the Philippines. As you can see, she is a farmer – which for a Thanksgiving loan seems quite appropriate. She earns approximately $4142 per year, so as you can see, $25 makes quite a difference. Her requested loan amount is just $475 and she still has $400 to go. Let’s make her loan happen! http://www.kiva.org/lend/359963
Glane owns and operates farmland, planting & harvesting corn for sale to earn a living and she’s been two years in this business. Each month, she earns 15,000 doing this type of work.
She requested a loan of 20,000 PHP to purchase additional seeds, seedlings & young crops to raise. Glane is been a member of GDMPC for almost a year. In the future, Glane wants to make improvements to her house and to have her children finish their studies.
The web is full of great travel blogs, travel stories, travel photos and travel videos – the hard part is finding them amidst all the garbage. Through the week, I curate the best travel stories I find and bring you the highlights here at the Vagobond Travel Museum.
And while there were plenty of other great travel stories this week – that’s it for this weeks inductions into the Vagobond Travel Museum. To let me know about any great travel pieces, contact me using the contact form here at Vagobond.com
There’s something about doors that just make my brain fill with wonder. Like travel, doors always lead to something new and often to something unexpected. Like the story of the Lady or the Tiger or Let’s Make a Deal.
This door in Barcelona seems to lead to a classical place where graffiti monsters rule. Aren’t you curious what lies on the other side?
Does this door in Bergamo, Italy actually lead to anywhere? Why is it locked. What’s it hiding? Does it lead to Narnia?
Is there a French family drinking Bordeaux behind this French door? Can you almost hear the laughter? Oui.
This Brussels, Belgium door is altogether more serious. Are there great works of art on the other side or serious EU business going on?
Couscous perhaps? Maybe a carpet shop? What does your imagination say is behind this door in the Fez Medina? What about this door from a cave in San Bernardino above Grenada in Spain. How do the troglodyte gypsies pass their days. Beer, fortune telling, black magic? Or just a card game and some cooking.
Finally this one in the magical city of Marrakesh. Don’t you feel like you are falling in?
Lao Tzu famously said that without opening your door you can see the world and I think that might explain the fascination with travel. We all wonder just what is on the other side of the door and sometimes it’s even more wonderful than we imagine.
If you’re looking for English Language books in Fez, there are really only a few options. First you can go to the upscale bookstores in the Ville Nouvelle where you can find a small selection of English language books for about double what you would pay for them in Europe or North America. The selection tends to be light with a heavy focus on the classics, guidebooks, books about Fez or Morocco, and language books.
But what if you are looking for a good old pulp novel, or like me, you simply enjoy browsing through the stacks of a used bookstore, hoping to find a treasure, a good read, or just something to pass the time while you wait for a grand taxi to fill up?
In that case, you need to go to an unlikely place. Situated under the Lido bridge, close to Atlas, under a ramshackle collection of tin rooves in what looks like it could be among the poorest of shantytowns is what I like to call the book souq.
Meeting the Artisans of Fez, Morocco was one of the highlights of my time in Morocco. Much has been written about the Fez, Medina – I’ve even written some of it. In a nutshell, the Fez Medina is a UNESCO world heritage site, the largest inhabited car-free urban area in the world, the best example of a living medieval Muslim city and a place where you can stay in some amazing hotels, guest houses, dars and riads.
The Artisans of Fez, Morocco
I was fortunate in being able to take part in something that hasn’t been so extensively written about. I joined my friend Jessica Stephens (aka ‘The Jess’) on a medina tour that was focused on not only observing but also interacting with, talking to and getting up close and personal with the artisans who do their work and make their home in the Fez medina.
The usual medina tour goes something like this (and it’s good, don’t get me wrong)
“Here is the medina, here is a potters shop, here is the Quarawine Mosque, here is an old funduq, here is an old medrassa, and here are the famous tanneries from five floors up, now we will go to my uncles rug shop…”
Depending on how much you’ve paid your guide, you will get various levels of sales, various levels of information, and various levels of bullshit (How do you know when a guide is lying? Their lips are moving!)
This tour was different. Jess and I met with her clients at a cafe in Bathha which sits on the edge of the Fez medina and is very tourist friendly. They were nice, interesting people from Seattle who have traveled all over the world and lived in Vietnam, India, Malaysia and probably a few other places. One way to tell if a tour is interesting at a glance is to look at who is going on it. This one was looking tops from the beginning.
Jess went over the details with a map and asked them about anything in particular they wanted to see. He wanted to see the tanning process up close and she wanted to just enjoy the architecture since she’s an architect. I particularly liked Jess’s warnings at the beginning 1) This isn’t a shopping tour so they shouldn’t buy a bunch of things on the way – the guide could take them back later if they desired 2) Don’t walk into an artisanal and just start snapping photos, instead talk with people, let them explain what they do and then – after all of that – take some photos if they want 3) Don’t be afraid to ask questions and interact with people and 4) Watch out for the donkeys (okay, I added that last one myself)
Once the briefing was done we headed down to the not so tourist friendly (but still safe and cool) Bab Rcaif, where we met with the licensed Moroccan medina guide. Here’s a side note – Jess pays her extra not to take visitors to any of the shops that most guides get commission from when tourists buy things. That’s not only cool for the guests, it’s also cool for the guide because Jess tries to compensate her for the commissions. There’s a lot of talk about sustainability and fair trade these days, but this is the real deal in action.
Our first stop was to the dyeing street inside the medina. This is an entire derb (small street or alleyway) dedicated to the art of dyeing clothing and material. We were able to stop and ask questions along the way from the dyers and they showed us the process of the vats, using wool and also aloe vera silk harvested from the mountains.
This old man was the shop steward in one of the dyeries…the map of lines on his face speaks of the travels of Ibn Battuta and more. Here’s something else nice, rather than the guide simply telling us everything – she allowed the artisans themselves to speak and then translated. This might seem like a small thing but it made a huge difference in terms of trust and authenticity.
From there we crossed over the river and went through the metal working and mirror shops. All along the way, Jess was giving the artisans, the workers and the kids copies of the photos she had snapped on previous expeditions. It’s something that brought smiles of delight to the old and young and made all of us welcome guests along the way.
The metal working area opened up into the Attarine Square – one of the oldest squares in the medina and our lovely guide told us about the history of the migrations from Tunisia and from Andalucia and how they set up on different sides of the river and had a fierce rivalry which caused Fez to become the shining light of the times – home of the first university (The Quarayine University) and also I learned something I hadn’t known – there are 365 mosques in the Fez medina and that is why it is the spiritual capital of Morocco ( of course the guide’s lips were moving as she said it, so you might want to count).
We paused to explore a bit of the square and see the famous library though since it is still a place where students study, we weren’t allowed to go inside. Still, magnificent…
Down another narrow winding passageway and we came across a fellow who works exclusively with bone and horn. He showed us how he heats the bone and horn make it flexible and then he is able to cut around it and create beautiful shapes that can be carved and polished.
Now we were heading to the area where a recent scandal shook the medina. I hadn’t been in town for more than a few days and already I’d heard about it from three different sources. Here is the scandal and the very unfair way it turned out:
A fashion magazine of some sort came and booked a tour with their models of the famous Fessi tanneries. When they got there, they apparently bribed someone to be allowed to go down in the thick of things despite the fact that they were using an illegal guide and technically aren’t supposed to go down there. Once down there, the models stood in the center and stripped nude! Now, this might not seem so scandalous but remember, this is a conservative Muslim country and these guys working there are among the conservative working class – it was shocking! As a result, the models and the photographers were escorted out but the manager of the tanneries and the guide were both jailed and charged 4000 dirham – which is a huge fine here. Anyway, we had proper permission and we all kept our clothes on.
Even clothed, the tanneries were still amazingly interesting. I’d always wanted to get down into the pits and see the process and it was incredibly fascinating. The process goes a bit like this – skins are brought, thrown into the limestone pits (filled with pigeon shit and lime) and soaked for a few days. After this they are thrown onto a huge electric wheel that scapes them along the floor and gets the hair loose. Next a man scrapes the hair from the hides. After that, they are thrown in another pit with more chemical agents. Following that they move to the dying vats (the brown ones) and then they go to be dried, scraped and softened, and finally made into your shoes or bag.
I probably don’t need to say this, but the smell is something you can simply not imagine. It is awful throughout. The guys in the pits looked at us suspiciously as we wandered through, probably wondering if we would take our clothes off or at least ‘Why the hell do they want to come down here?” We walked through the entire process and then blissfully, left the tanneries to head to the carpet weaving area. The weavers rooms didn’t smell bad at all, but then, after the tannery, nothing really could!
The weaver spoke excellent English and gave an demonstration of how to make material. We found out that for silk and cloth, it is generally men who do the weaving but for rugs, that is up to the women (like the women weavers I met in the collective in Rbat al Khair a few months ago). The scarves and textiles were gorgeous and in a variety of colors but most striking was a deep cobalt blue. The dyes used to be all natural but these days (we had found out on the dyer street- most of them are chemical dyes).
After this we took a car from Rceif to the artisanal school commissioned by the King of Morocco. In the school we met a master zelij (mosaic tile) craftsman, teaching four apprentices his craft with a massive piece. We also had the chance to meet and talk with a Moroccan slipper maker and to see a number of the workshops where master artisans are teaching their craft to pupils. Among the skills being passed on are the making of the oud and Moroccan fiddles, stone work, glass, tile, ceramics, wood working, and much more.
Finally, withe the tour of the artisans of the Fes Medina complete, we all sat down for lunch and took a good rest. This was an awesome tour – I hope that more tours like this that 1) respect the local people 2) interact with the culture 3) create an appreciation for the arts and handicrafts of places – continue to show up.
If you want to start looking for another way to travel and work for the man, there are options available for you. And many of them involve working for a man (or woman) that might just be very cool and good to you.
With so many people out of work, looking for work, or between jobs there are plenty of folks right now that have the greatest opportunity they will ever have to really live their lives and do something.
Maybe now is the right time to spend a few months or even years living and working overseas. In fact, living and working in another country is the best way to really learn about different cultures. You end up working with and living among people instead of just seeing them from a tour bus.
Most of these jobs won’t make you wealthy, they won’t pay enough to pay back your student loans, but they just might make your life feel fulfilling, make your soul sing, and give you a bigger and better world view.
It’s not easy to find work overseas, but you can do it and now might be the best time you will ever have to see what it’s really like to live in a foreign culture. World travel is calling…will you answer the phone?
Do you have any idea how many people half a billion are? That’s 500 million and that is the number of Chinese who are studying English right now. Most of them don’t have native speaking teachers but they want them. The same goes for Indonesia, Spain, Morocco, Germany, and just about every other non-English speaking country in the world.
What do you need? Usually you need at least a bachelors degree. For many companies that is enough and they will pay for your housing, visa, and even your flight to and from their countries. To get an idea of the jobs available have a look at ESLcafe.com. I’ve been doing this in Morocco for nearly a year and you can do it too. In fact, I just might do it again somewhere else in the near future. Teaching is a total joy.Find out more by clicking on the i to i icon below.
Those wanting to find service jobs can. If you want to go about things the legal way with a work permit and visa you should look into companies such as BUNAC (British Universities North America Club) and CIEE (just google them) which will assist for you for around $300 to work in Australia, the UK, New Zealand, Canada or Ireland. You can work in restaurants, pick fruit, or do just about anything your heart desires.
Of course if you want to do it the good old fashioned way, just get a one way ticket and take a kick ass resume with you. It’s not hard to find employers that will hire you illegally. Of course you probably can’t expect a great salary this way either.
And then there are the guiding jobs, cruise ship jobs, sales jobs, and airline jobs which don’t usually pay as well as sedentary jobs in your home country, but pay off with the chance to spend significant amounts of time in foreign climes.
So, if you want a job or you want to leave your country, don’t wait. Start looking now.
I feel like I have traveled around enough in Morocco at this point to write a small piece on how transport works here. In a nutshell, it works, but only in the most loosely defined sense of the word.
In my initial traveling around Morocco, I thought that maybe as a foreigner I just wasn’t getting it and that if I were a local or had the knowledge of a local, I would find how it worked, well, thanks to Hanane, I have discovered how it works and that as a foreigner with no guide book and no clue, I was doing just as well or better than just about everyone else. The exceptions are those who have private cars.
Airplanes: I haven’t flown in Morocco yet, but assume it is more organized than other forms of transport. Although I checked online and it seems that flights are actually fairly intermittent and not tightly scheduled at all.
Trains Trains are definitely the best way to travel in Morocco. The only problem is that you can’t go everywhere on trains. In fact, you can go roughly from Tangiers to Rabat to Casablanca to Marrakech to Meknes to Fes and to Tangiers and that is about it. The stops are not often marked clearly, the trains make major stops that last less than 30 seconds at times, and you are often required to change trains in obscure locations without any clear indicator. The conductors are not very helpful. First class is less hectic than second class and not too much more money. the stations are generally clean but still you will be hit up for cash by anyone who recognizes you as a foreigner and is the type of person that hits foreigners up for cash.
Buses There are local buses that you get a ticket from the guy on the bus on and the more efficient long transport buses. Again, no clearly defined stops, no real help from the drivers, sometimes you have to pay for baggage going underneath, sometimes you don’t. The bus times and schedules are not at all clear, rarely or not posted, and even if you have a seat assigned, you can expect to find someone in it and then you just find another seat. The more local style buses will sell more tickets than seats and while they don’t seat people on the roof, Hanane and I rode on a blanket covered gearbox next to the driver that wasn’t too uncomfortable but required everyone exiting the bus to climb over us. Next to us was a guy on a stool, a guy hanging out the door, and the driver smoking while he blared tinny Moroccan music. This was about an hours ride. Oddly romantic except for the baggy pants kid in the Palestinian scarf who kept flinging unwanted comments towards us. When we got off the bus in Fes, Hanane ripped him a new one and he meekly apologized and went on his way. There is more to this story, but you will have to hear it over coffee with me someday…
Anyway, buses are scheduled badly and few and far between, overcrowded, and pretty fun…watch your bags close and be careful not to miss your stop.
Grand Taxis These are by far the craziest means of transport in Morocco. These are Mercedes sedans that provide the main means of transport between small Moroccan towns. Different colors for different regions. Fares range from 5-20 dirhams and typically this is how they work. The drivers converge with their cars in a station and the people come to go, when there are 6 passengers, the driver gets them all in the car and like sardines you journey to your destination, bit it 10, 20, or 100 miles away. Sometimes, there are more passengers than taxis and when this happens, if a taxi comes in, passengers swarm and chase after it and try to be the first to pull the passengers out so they can take the seat. While I didn’t see anyone get thrown on the ground yet, I am sure it happens, I am also sure that fist fights break out over these. So if you are in a grand taxi and you come into a station and forty people start chasing and swarming your taxi, don’t worry, they just want a lift out of that town. The grand taxi stations are generally dirty mud filled lots with dirty men and dirty little shops surrounding. Not the nicest places but necessary. No schedules, no set times, and sometimes the location of the grand taxi ‘stations’ changes without notice. Very efficient. Usually pretty honest about the set prices, but its best to watch what they charge the locals and then just hand then the correct change.
Petit taxis These are the main means of local transport. I think they are yellow in Sefrou, Red in Fez, Blue in Rabat, Green in Casablanca, and maybe Red in Marrakech…actually, I’m sure I screwed up the colors, but each city has its own color. Short fare should be anywhere between 4 and 15 dirhams but a meter is the best way to go though not available in smaller places. A set fare beforehand is a good idea. If the robbers in Tangiers or Fez get a hold of you expect them to tell you 20-50 dirhams for a short ride and be prepared to tell them to go fuck themselves. Easier is just demand a meter in these places. Drivers are generally good guys though. Typical is for man to get in the front and women in the back, but then other people might get in your taxi, this is supposed to lower your fare, but if you don’t speak Moroccan will only lower theirs.
In summary, you are damn lucky if you manage to get anywhere at all in any amount of time. Enjoy.
Originally published 3/10/09
Morocco 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.
Sefrou. 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.
Ouarzazate. 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.
Marrakech. 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!
AiR 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.
The 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.
The 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.
Again, not a lot of time to write, but we are having a wonderful time in Turkey. From cruising the Bosporus to marveling at the Iskander Kebap in Bursa, this trip has been filed with adventures stretching across the Black Sea, the Marmara Sea, and soon the Aegean Sea, and of course a bit of the Mediterranean Sea too.
I’ll be writing about all of our adventures when I have some time to put things together and pick the best photos. In the meantime, here is a small piece I’ve put together on this amazing land we are trekking across by ferry, bus, taxi, and more.
As a guy who loves the ocean, I can hardly imagine a place that offers more variety than Turkey. While very different from places like the Philippines, Indonesia, and Hawaii; Turkey is filled with more Greek and Roman ruins than Greece and Italy and is surrounded by four seas and several straits.
The Black Sea which the Turkish people call Karadeniz borders the northern part of Turkey. It’s an inland sea that takes up more than 420,000 kilometers. Geologists say it was formed when Asia crashed into Europe and opened up the Bosporus Strait and flooded an inland plain. It is about 2200 feet deep in places and is warm in the summer and extremely cold during the winter. It is fed by many rivers and empties into the Bosporus. While no one seems to be certain why it is called the Black Sea some say it is because of the dangers that exist in it and others that it is because of the deep dark waters. It is the youngest sea on earth and is kept saline through inflows from the Mediterranean Sea through the Bosporus.
The Sea of Marmara which Turkish people call Denizi is a small inland sea connected to the Black Sea by the Bosphorus Strait. The Marmara Sea’s name comes from the Greek work for marble (marmar) and is about 11,000 square kilometers. It is relatively small being only 280 by 80 kilometers at its widest points. It is filled with many islands. To the south the Dardanelles Strait connects the Sea of Marmara with the Aegean Sea.
Turkish people call it Ege Denizi, but in English it is known as the Aegean Sea. Legend says that it was named for a famous drowning but whether that was Queen Aegea of the Amazon or Aegeus, the father of Thesius isn’t totally clear. It’s waters however, are very clear and while it is only 214,000 square kilometers and often included as a part of the Mediterainean, it has over 3000 islands within it including Crete, Rhodes, Lesbos. It sits between Turkey and Greece. It’s shores were home to Trojans, Mycenaean, Persians, Minoans, Romans, Byzantines, Seljuks, Ottomans, and many others. You can’t take a step without stepping on ancient stories and history.
And finally, there is the mighty Mediterranean Sea. Bridging the continents of Africa, Asia, and Europe and the many countries that exist on it’s shores. It fills the area between The straits of Gibraltar in the West which lead to the Atlantic Ocean and the Suez Canal in the East which connect it to the Red Sea. The Turkish name for the Med is Akdeniz which means White Sea. Mediterranean actually comes closer to meaning Middle Earth in Latin. That explains all the hobbits. Despite the Latin origins of the name, the Romans called it Mare Nostrum- Our Sea.
The Mediterranean is nearly 2.5 million square kilometers. Just about everyone you read about in ancient history class lived on its shores. Phoenicians, Egyptians, Carthaginians, Greeks, Lycians, Arabs, Persians, Romans, Byzantines, Seljuks, Ottomans, and all those Europeans during the Renaissance. That’s because it has a massive 46,000 kilometer long coastline that is shared by Spain, France, Monaco, Italy, Malta, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia and Montenegro, Albania, Greece,Turkey, Syria, Cyprus, Lebanon, Israel, Palestine, Egypt, Libya, Tunis, Algeria, and Morocco.
If 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.
– 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
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.