Happy Thanksgiving from Vagobond

TurkeyHappy 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.

Turkey and All the Trimmings from Vagobond.

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…..

Join Team Vagobond at Kiva

My most recent loan is to a group of women growing coffee in Vietnam. I know it’s not a huge thing – but if we all take little steps like this – the world really will be a better place.

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!

~Vago

Thanksgiving 2018

 

 

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

Let’s make Glane’s Micro-Loan happen!

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.

5 Definitive Moroccan Dishes

Moroccan cuisine is rich and varied with influences from the Arab world, Spain, and sub-Saharan Africa. The use of spices and herbs in Moroccan food is incredibly distinctive and you will find abundant use of saffron, cinnamon, and cumin throughout the cuisine. Here are five Moroccan dishes that will tempt your taste buds.

Couscous with Seven Vegetables

couscous

You may have tried couscous before, but until you’ve had hand rolled couscous cooked with carrots, potatos, cabbage, onion, garlic, turnips, and peppers, you’ve never really had couscous. Eat it with your fingers if you want to be truly authentic. Often there is chicken or lamb hidden under the pile of veggies. Wait to eat the meat until last and don’t be afraid to lick your fingers.

Tajine

tajine

The tajine is the pot this meal is cooked in as well as the name of the meal itself. The pot is thedistinctive clay vessel with the cone shaped lid which is sometimes glazed and sometimes not. There are countless variations of tajine from meatballs in red sauce to veggie tajines with potatoes, onions, and peppers.  To eat in the traditional way, use Moroccan flatbread (khoobz) to scoop up the food and soak up the sauce.

Pastilla

pastilla

Pastilla doesn’t sound good until you taste it. Traditionally it is pigeon cooked in a crispy flour shell and flavored with sugar and cinnamon. The light crispy pastry coated with powdered sugar will surprise you with it’s delicateness. It’s sometimes hard to find it made with pigeon, but chicken is almost as good.

Beyt wa Matisha

berber eggs

Sometimes called Berber Eggs, this dish is as simple as it gets. Eggs cooked and smothered  in fresh tomato sauce with garlic, onion, and sometimes meatballs (kifta). Eaten with Moroccan flat bread (khoobz), usually from a communal dish.

Lamb with Prunes

lamb with prunes

This is a meal you see at every important Moroccan celebration whether it is a birth, wedding, engagement, or circumcision party. Lamb (actually it is mutton since Moroccan’s don’t usually kill baby sheep) pressure cooked with prunes until it falls off the bone. Sweet and savory.

5 Cultural Travel Experiences in Fez, Morocco

Fez is the spiritual and cultural capital of Morocco. Here are five activities that will give you the ultimate in cultural exploration in this remarkable city.

Artisanal Tour

Fez Arttsanal Tour

Morocco is one of the few places on the globe where you can find artisans practicing their crafts in the same way they were conducted hundreds of years ago. The hard part is finding the real artisans and crafts and avoiding the fakes. An Artisanal Tour is the best way to see the real thing. (http://culturevulturesfez.org/artisanal-affairs/)

Moroccan Cooking Class

Fez

A cooking course is a great way to take a bit of your travels home with you. The Clock Kitchen Cooking School offers authentic courses in a variety of traditional techniques. Chef Souad knows her stuff and is a real sweetheart on top of being able to teach you about Moroccan cuisine.

Explore the Architecture

Fez

Fez is filled with beautiful old riads, houses, and palaces. Some of them have been restored to their pristine condition while others are in ruins. The medieval Islamic architecture of Fez is reason enough to visit this former imperial capital.

Get Lost in the Old Medina

Fez

Watch out for donkeys! You won’t have to worry about getting run over by a car or motorbike in the Fez medina, but donkeys are still the primary means of transport within the ancient city walls. This is the largest car free urban area in the world. Don’t get too lost!

Listen to the Call to Prayer from 365 Mosques

As the spiritual capital of Morocco, Fez has 365 mosques within the city. When it’s time for prayer, you can hear the muezzins (callers) giving the ayden (call to prayer) from all of them. This can be expecially poignant at sunrise or sunset. Since they don’t coordinate their clocks down to the second, there is a surreal, other-worldly quality to the warbling sound. Of course, if you sleep too close to a mosque, don’t be surprised to be woke at dawn!

 

Happy Halloween from Vagobond

The thiefs hand
The Thiefs Hand

Happy Halloween! To celebrate Halloween I offer you some of the odd and scary things I have found in my travels from legendary monsters to the monsters who built concentration camps.

Tomorrow, November 1st is considered All Saints Day – it is a day when the good and righteous come back to life and assist those who are still alive. It’s an older holiday than Halloween. In ancient days, the night before this was considered an inauspicious time – the night before the saints, all manner of things dark and creepy came to haunt the earth and look for victims – especially children. To hide the children from these monsters and spirits, parents would dress them up to hide them in plain site. But that wasn’t all- the spirits and ghoulies would wander the earth looking for victims and sometimes would appear at a door – to appease them, the residents would offer treats and thus avoid the tricks of the wicked (since we all know that the wicked generally have a sweet tooth) – since the kids were disguised as goblins and ghosts too – they began to ask for the treat to avoid the trick too – thus Trick or Treat!

As I travel,  I’m always on the lookout for the odd and the scary. For example these Night Marchers in Hawaii...

Sometimes I find both – in Morocco people tell tales of Aisha Kondisha and are always watching out for Djinn and the Evil Eye.

In Serbia the Tower of Skulls was disturbing but the Nis Concentration Camp was more terrifying.

Bulgaria offered more than a few monsters in Bulgarian folklore.

Turkey, like Morocco tends to discount monsters except for the Lake Van Seamonster.

Of course, there is Aicha Kondiicha in Morocco and numerous djinn too.

But not all monsters are scary- the mummies of Andong, South Korea tell a love story. The centaurs of legendary Greece were teachers and warriors.

I visited a ghost in Samcheok, South Korea who is celebrated with statues of penises and the slept in a famous haunted London hotel as well.

In Ireland, I explored haunted ruins at Wicklow.

Happy Halloween! Don’t forget to give treats so you don’t get tricked!

If you are coming to Hawaii for Halloween, there is only one place to go – Lahaina on the island of Maui!

The Hermit of Sefrou, Djinn, and Aisha Kandisha

casbah sefrouWay back in 2009, I was geeking out on Tarot cards and trying to find my way in life – at the same time I was living in Morocco and suddenly steeped in the mysticism, legends, monsters, and stories of daily Moroccan life. That was when I wrote this while sitting in the blue depths of my first apartment in Morocco buried deep within the Casbah of Sefrou:

Tarot HermitAn old hermit walked around the village and the area day and night, and even in daylight still carried a lit lantern. One day the villagers had enough curiosity to ask him “Sir, why do you carry your lantern lit in daylight?” He said, “Because I’m searching for an honest man.”

The Hermit has internalized the lessons of life to the point that he is the lesson.

There are two major ways this card can be interpreted:
* First, the need to withdraw from society to become comfortable with himself.
* Second, the need to come out of isolation to share his knowledge with others.

I understand why this card is speaking to me so heavily these days.

Some say that The Hermit represents the time we learn our true names; who we really are. The Greek philosopher Thales is reported to have been asked, “What is the most difficult of all things?” To which he is said to have answered “To know yourself.” The Hermit is given time to obey the Delphic Oracle’s demand: know thyself.

 

In Islam, a Djinn (also jinn, genie) is a supernatural creature which occupies a parallel world to that of mankind, and together with humans and angels makes up the three sentient creations of Allah. Possessing free will, Djinn can be either good or evil. The Djinn are mentioned frequently in the Qur’an, and there is a Surah entitled Al-Jinn. While Christianity maintains that Lucifer was an angel that rebelled against God’s orders, Islam maintains that Iblis was a Djinn who had been granted special privilege to live among angels prior to his rebellion.Although some scholars have ruled that it is apostasy to disbelieve in one of God’s creations; the belief in Jinn has fallen comparably to the belief in Angels in other Ibrahamic traditions.
Djinn

Aisha Kondeshia may have fallen in love with me. I am warned about her often by my new Moroccan friends.

aisha KandishaHer name is Aicha Kandisha and she was a beautiful enchantress and voracious JINIYA
(she-devil) she has the power to bewitch both men and women.  She is helpless against her own wicked power. Her victims are driven beyond madness or mental derangement…some become paralyzed,their blood into ice, others are left insane for ever.

The only way to lift the curse is through elaborate trance ceremonies which include heated rhythms, frenzied dancing, self-flagellation.Some say she was a freedom combatant against the Portuguese in the region of El Jadida she used her beauty to attract the soldiers then kill them, some say it’s a woman who was hurt by a man…but the common point with all these stories is that she appears to people in secluded places, abandoned houses or empty roads at night.

My house is empty and she is waiting for me.

casbah Sefrou

The Celebration of Fire and Water – Ashura in Morocco

The Celebration of Fire and Water – Ashura in Morocco

If you’re in Morocco on the 10th day of the Islamic month of Muharram, you are sure to hear drums banging and see gangs of happy children rushing through the streets and alleyways with new toys generally used to make music and noise. This is just a part of the celebration of Ashura (which comes from the word ‘ten’ in Arabic since it’s the 10th day of the first month on the Muslim calendar. Some call it the Islamic New Year, but it’s more than that. It’s a celebration of light and life, death and renewal, light and dark. For the past few years, it has been celebrated in November and December but since the Islamic calendar is lunar, each year it is ten or eleven days earlier (on the Gregorian calendar) than the year before.

In most of the Arab world, Ashura is a time to remember the death of Hussein for the Shi’a and a day for celebrating the liberation of Moses from Egypt for the Sunni. For both it is a day of solemn fasting and prayers. The same is true in Morocco, but the shamanism and Judaism that Moroccan Islam was born in have reshaped the holiday into something more.

In Morocco, Ashura is a day that celebrates life. It is a day when people throw water on one another after a night of bonfires and singing. Ashura is the day when the myth of Baba Aichour is celebrated. Baba Aichour is the Moroccan Santa Claus, and so, Ashura is almost like Christmas for children in Morocco. For days before and after the holy day, kids form makeshift bands that play celebratory songs on drums made of wood, pottery, and sheepskin. They travel through the streets performing for candy and coins. The noise reaches a crescendo on the night of the ninth day of Muharram when bonfires are lit in vacant lots and neighbors gather to share food and tea.

In the poorer areas, people will light branches and wander through the streets chanting songs reserved for this holiday and at the neighborhood bonfires, you will often see people jumping over the flames in an effort to burn away evil spirits or free themselves of curses.

This is considered to be the most auspicious time of the year to say your prayers. Fortune tellers called ‘shawaafa’ do a booming business during this time as young people try to understand their destiny and capture the love of their lives. Some go further and engage the help of witch doctors ‘afikih’ that work with djinn and magic. Some seek to cast spells and others to be free of them. The ‘afikih’ can help with both.

morocco celebration The morning of Ashura is often begun with a cold bath or shower which some say is the origin of the water throwing. Other’s hold that it is a celebration of the parting of the Red Sea. Either way, in desert areas it is common for men and women to sprinkle water on tents, plants, and each other whilst saying their prayers. In some areas, Ashura is called ZamZam day. ZamZam is the name of the well in Mecca that Muslims believe God created for Hagar and Ismael, the wife and son whom Abraham abandoned in the desert.

While the adults fast, the children are given chocolates or small toys, and as the sun goes down, the entire family will gather to break the fast together. There are some traditional meals for Ashura – among them sheep’s tail, liver, dried meat, and couscous.

The holiday extends into the next day, since tradition says that any profit made during the 11th day of Muharram will not be blessed by God. The 11th day is called the day of waste and usury and with all of the businesses closed, it’s a handy way to extend the celebration for one more day..

In the Moroccan city of Goulmima there is a large street festival where  people celebrate Ashura by wearing costumes, different skins of sheep and goats, and scary looking animal masks.  In the Berber tradition, the costumed people are referred to as “Udayen n Ashur,” the Jews of Ashura.  With only tambourines and handclaps, “Udayen n Ashur” creates lively music, performances of acrobatic dancers.  Everyone sings and dances with amusing variations on the songs, until very late into the night.

The Berbers have a different name for each of the three days of Zamzam:  The first day is “Bou Isnayen” the second, “Bou Imerwasen” and the third is, “Bou Imrazen.” These are translated as “the day of throwing water,” “the day of repayment,” and finally “the day of fight.” On any one of these days, if water is thrown at a person, they have the right to throw stones back

MoroccoOne of the songs children sing as they travel through neighborhoods asking for coins tells about how Baba Aichour came outside to pray, gave the children coins and sweets, but then was swept away by the river.

Traditionally, the morning of Ashura begins with a cold bath. Some say this is the origin of the water throwing that takes place through the day, but for others it is a celebration of the parting of the Red Sea or of Baba Aichour being swept away. In the Sahara, the Tuareg sprinkle water on tents, plants, and each other whilst saying their prayers.

 

 

 

Finding Family Love and Marriage in Morocco – Vagobond Travel Videos

I’ve written a bit about my marriage in the Sahara before – but I believe this is the first time I’ve put together a video of it. Meeting my wife changed my life. Our wedding was nothing short of extraordinary.  Please subscribe to my YouTube channel at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCvV2_3gHVl6NKf6jBBSnHzw They won’t let me have a vanituy URL until I have 100 subscribers and I’m new…so every like and subscription helps.

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 Couchsurfing.com is that it relies on opening your heart and mind to the hospitality of strangers. Contrary to popular belief, most people on the planet are good and want to help you in this life. If you doubt that, look inside yourself and I’m sure you will see it is true.

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 HospitalityClub.com, I certainly have known plenty of people who have. These sorts of communities thrive on the fact that people are in general kind and good natured. If you don’t believe that, then you better keep paying for hotel rooms and guided city tours.

World Travel for Almost Nothing #3 – Budget Airlines vs. Regular Airlines

(This is a repost from 2011 but not much has changed in terms of cheap travel)

AirplaneI travel by international airlines more than most people. In particular I travel more than most people who don’t have an obvious source of income i.e. a job.

In 2011, I traveled in Turkey, Morocco, Bulgaria, Serbia, Macedonia, Italy, Greece, South Korea, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Spain, and Switzerland – and I might be leaving a few places out…

In any event, I can say that I travel because I’m always looking for deals and because I’m lucky, for example I won the round-trip ticket from Malaysia to South Korea and I sometimes find bargains that others miss. I’m not some guy who inherited money, I don’t have a trust fund, I’m not a wall street banker and point blank – I don’t have a ton of money, I support my wife and daughter in a comfortable lifestyle (sometimes bringing them with me) and while I work a lot, I don’t have a boss.

While there are many lifestyle and travel choices involved in how and why I am able to travel as much as I do, one of the biggest factors in my being able to travel is living in the age of budget airlines.  I’m like everyone else, I carp about the bad service, the uncomfortable seats, the charges for every little thing and the feeling of being cattle – but at the same time – I’m always aware of the magic pointed out by some comedian that I’m able to ‘sit in a chair and fly through the air’ and I can do it without actually spending very much money at all.In fact, I usually spend less to fly to another country than my countrymen spend on a Greyhound bus ticket between two neighboring towns.

AirplaneThink I’m lying? A Greyhound bus ticket from Bellingham, Washington to Seattle, Washington will cost you $22.50 – I flew from Volos, Greece to Milan, Italy for $18 U.S. I flew from Milan, Italy to Tangier, Morocco for another $18! That’s three countries and two continents for 30% more than it costs to go 90 miles by bus in the USA.

Okay, I admit, the fares aren’t always that good but sometimes they are even better. I flew from Brussels, Belgium to Fez, Morocco for $1! And it’s not just Europe and North Africa – recently AirAsia had $10 fares from Kuala Lumpur to Australia or South Korea!

So, to answer my own question. Yes, budget airlines are definitely worth it. This year I’ve flown with several budget airlines: Air Arabia, WizzAir, Pegasus, Onur Air, Air Asia, Air Asia X, and of course RyanAir.

How do they stack up to other airlines? The truth is that most U.S. Airlines I’ve flown with (except for Virgin America, Hawaiian Airlines, and AlaskaAirlines – don’t give much better service or more comfortable seats. And the prices? Forget about getting anything for under $200 US unless you are flying from cities in the same state or to Vegas from California…it just doesn’t happen very often.

AirplaneAs for international airlines – well if you fly with Turkish Airlines, Malaysia Airlines, Thai Airlines or just about any other Asian carrier – you will be treated with respect, get great service, and have great amenities. You end up paying four to ten times the price of a budget airline, but in this case – especially for real long flights, the extra expense might be worth it. Unless, you are on a super duper budget in which case you might want to go budget all the way.
You can fly from the UK to Morocco with Ryan Air for less than $100, then fly from Morocco to Turkey for about $200 using Air Arabia (or alternatively you could fly from Morocco to Spain, France, Italy or Belgium with Easy Jet and then take a Pegasus flight to Turkey for less than $100 each). From Turkey you can fly with Air Arabia to the middle east or Egypt for next to nothing and then you can fly to India for another next to nothing. Then from India you can go with Air Asia to Asia, Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, Japan or more. I’m not sure if South America has budget airlines but from what I can tell, North America doesn’t though in Hawaii you can island hop with Go Airlines for less than $100 each leg.

But I have to admit – flying Malaysia Airlines earlier this year was incredible. No extra charges, great food, beautiful flight attendants, great service, free drinks and free in flight entertainment.

If I had the money, I’d never fly with budget airlines again – but as it stands now – I’ll probably be on another Ryan Air flight before the year is done. At least I hope so!

Places I’ve Lived Ranked from Best to Worst with Top 10

Vagobond MapThis is actually, a very hard list to order – mainly because the particular time and experience I had in each place weighs just as heavily as the place itself. I didn’t realize that ranking these would be so difficult. Not only is it hard to rank the best from the places I’ve lived – it’s equally hard to rank the worst.  In the middle, each place had positive and negative qualities that would change the ranking. Perhaps the only way to do this is to rank these places based on whether I would want to move there again with all other things being equal.

After getting started, I’ve realized that it only makes sense to rank the Top-10. As for the others, I’ve  put them in an approximate order – but in general aside from general top and bottom of the list groupings – it’s pretty hard to juggle or rank them.

Looking at this list – it’s interesting to see that I’ve lived in six countries and seven U.S. States. My top 4 all have more than 1-million people. I’ve lived in four state capitals and nine cities of 500,000 population or more. I’ve lived in the largest cities in Turkey, Oregon, Washington, and Hawaii. In my top-10 are cities in Turkey, Hawaii, Washington State, Oregon, and Indonesia. I’m surprised that California isn’t in that group. The bottom line is that I like living in large cities next to the ocean, preferably with a Mediterranean or tropical climate, plenty of diversity, and at least one university and plenty of public transit options.

#1 – Izmir, Turkey

Izmir is a special place. It’s a port city on the Aegean and the gateway to the Turkish and Greek Aegean Islands. Izmir is cosmopolitan, modern, ancient, and laid back all at the same time. Izmir literally has it all. The caveat, of course, is that since I was last there in 2012 – a lot has happened. The Syrian civil war changed the population dynamic and the heavy hand of Erdogan and his process of re-Islamization may have drastically changed Izmir from my memories. Certainly it has changed, I’m just not certain how much.

Istanbul, Turkey

No matter if Istanbul has changed or not – there is no place like it in the world. There are two places that I consider to be the center of the world. Istanbul is one of them and see below for the other. The entirety of human history and civilization meets in the crossroads of the planet. This astounding place with so many stories, so many traditions, and so many people. Istanbul contradicts itself. It is both East and West, a land city and a water city, secular and religious, expensive and cheap, easy and difficult. Every big city is a masterpiece – but Istanbul – it is more.

#3 Honolulu (and Oahu), HI

Honolulu is the other city I consider to be a center of the world. If you were to poke a straight hole through the globe, you could almost run it straight from Istanbul to Honolulu. Much smaller than Istanbul, much less history, and much less important in terms of human culture and politics – and yet – Honolulu is where the entire world dreams of going and you can meet anyone from anywhere on Oahu. It truly is ‘The Gathering Place’. Oahu is expensive, crowded, and remote – but the weather is beautiful, the people are generally peaceful and kind, and while very small in comparison to the world- it has an outsized place in the imaginations and dreams of humanity. At number three is living pretty much anywhere on Oahu including Honolulu, Lanikai and Kailua, the North Shore, etc.

#4 London, UK

I didn’t like the weather very much during my time in London, but the museums, the access to Europe, the ease of finding something to do made it rank high on my list.

#5 Bellingham, WA

Bellingham will always be a place that I hold dearly in my heart. The sheer magnitude of outdoor beauty from Mt. Baker to the San Juan Islands. Sitting between Seattle and Vancouver, British Columbia. The terminus for the Alaska Ferry. The great beer, the hippie/environmental vibe combined with a great university. It’s just a cool place. I made a great decision when I decided to live there.

#6 Seattle, WA

Like Bellingham but bigger and with a more robust tech industry, amazing museums, great architecture, and instead of being between Seattle and Vancouver, it’s between Vancouver, Bellingham, and Portland. Great music and art, lots of cool neighborhoods, amazing restaurants.

#7 Fez, Morocco

I enjoyed living in Fez. It’s an exotic city with a lot of the amenities of the West and great markets, food, entertainment, and a robust community of expats and educated locals. Fez is the only place in my Top-10 that isn’t a water city.

#8 Kapa’a, HI

Kapa’a is one of only two small towns that made it onto my top-10 list – the main reason is because I lived right next to the beach there for a couple of years. Kapa’a itself had a pretty great selection of restaurants and diversity of cultures for such a small town – but really it was waking up and going for a swim every day.

#9 Parapat, Sumatra, Indonesia

Parapat is the other small town that made it to my list. I’m sure it is a totally different experience now – but swimming in Lake Toba, taking the trip to Samosir Island, drinking that coconut wine and playing guitars with the Batak men in the evenings, hiking into the jungle and finding giant fruit bats and orangutang – these were high points in my life.

#10 Portland, OR

Portland is a cool place but I’d never live there again. It’s gotten too expensive, too big, too weirdly politically correct. I love the food, the quirky neighborhoods, the music, the markets, Powell’s books – but I wouldn’t live there again. I will be happy to visit over and over again though…

Florence, Oregon

The following are the cities that I would live in again – if there were no other choices available. They are good places.

Tacoma, WA

Tacoma seems like it just might be cool. I need more information but if I had to choose one town from all of those not in the Top-10, Tacoma would probably be it because of proximity to Seattle, Portland, Canada, the Pacific and the universities, art, music, and culture.

Mazatlan, Mexico

I didn’t really live in Mazatlan long enough to be able to judge it. I was a child and not there all that long. I think I would like it if I were to go back.

Mendocino, CA

Mendocino is beautiful and honestly, I would consider living there – but it suffers from the same issues as a lot of towns on the bottom of this list – too far from a city, not close enough to warm oceans.

Juneau, AK

Alaska is amazing. I would never want to live there because the winters in Southeast are wet and long and dark. I want to go back to visit. If I had to live there, I don’t think it would be too bad.

Manisa, Turkey

Manisa was exotic and cool but the summers were sweltering and the real attraction was being close to Izmir. Three things I did love about Manisa – the hiking, the wild horses in Niobe, and the Messer Festival.

Sacramento, CA

I liked Sacramento but it just got too hot. A big house with air conditioning would probably make it livable but there are better choices nearby.

Big Bear Lake, CA

I feel lucky to have grown up in Big Bear Lake. I also recognize how limiting that was. It’s a beautiful place. If I were to live in Southern California again, however, I would be more towards the San Diego area.

Sefrou, Morocco

I liked Sefrou but it’s a bit too big and a bit too small. If I were to go back to Morocco, I would pick a city or town on the coast that was either bigger or smaller. The biggest draw to Sefrou for me would be friends and family who are there.

Florence, OR

Florence is cool but the ocean is so cold you can’t really swim in it. Florence needs a university.

Raleigh, NC

Raleigh was another city I appreciated and enjoyed.  Simply too far from the beach and the whole Southern approach to history including confederate monuments etc gets under my skin.

Myrtle Creek

As for these last places (below), I guess I’ve said all I needed to say about them. I have no desire to visit or live in any of these places again. Reedsport is the only one that I ever loved – but it broke my heart and I have no desire to ever go back. I also loved being a farm kid in Myrtle Creek, I loved our property but not all that went with it, not the community, not the people, not the horror of my experience there.

Reedsport, OR

Jacksonville, NC

Millington, TN

Redding, CA

Canyonville, OR

Myrtle Creek, OR

 

 

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.

Tenerife – Canary Islands – History and Culture

Tenerife is another one of my island bucket list destinations. 

Tenerife

Since Tenerife, the largest of the Canary Islands, is so far away from each of the continents in distance, its culture and history are very different and isolated from Spain, and other countries. Though these are Spanish islands found in the Atantic Ocean, they are closer geographically to the African nation of Morocco.

The history of Tenerife, and the other islands in the chain, were uniquely written according to the trips of Christopher Columbus. During Columbus’ exploratory time, the Canary Islands natives were called Guanches, and some documents confirm some facts about them and the Spaniards who came to the islands. It is assumed that the Guanches were of North African origin from modern day Morocco, and they lived among the volcanic mountains, eating the island’s bounty of fruits and vegetables.

According to their culture, they were known for their sculptural and folkloric traditions. On the islands you can find some great sculptures made by: Sevillano Martin de Anduhar, Rodrigues de la Olviva, Fernando Esteve and Lujan Perez. All existed after the XVII centuries.

Tenerife

One of the most well-known historical events that took place was a battle with English Commander Horacio Nelson in 1797. Santa Cruz, which is the capital of Tenerife, was attacked; Horacio lost his battle and his arms. The natives numbered about 15,000 at the time they got attacked. Moreover, the attack divided the island into 9 partitions, and each one of them was under the authority of a “Mencey”. Alexander Von Humboldt  gave life back to the islands and made them great tourist destinations for people from all over the world.

Tenerife

The main reason Folkloric events became popular on the islands was because of the Spanish and Portuguese arts, and their heritage. Music and dancing is a mix between Hispanic, Portuguese and Latin American melodies and they are danced typically with a guitar of 4 or 5 strings only. These events always occur with the Sabadeno Festival during September in La Laguna. In the Playa de los Cristianos, the International Folklore Festival takes place in August. On November 18th, a volcanic eruption in the Chinyero volcano took place in 1909, and these islands are famous for their volcanoes and volcanic sand beaches.

The islands were at first famous for their sugar cane, which was one of the most popular plants grown and exported. Then wine came through the Malvasia grapes which became the source of the island’s economy during the 16th century, and the wine trade gradually disappeared over the 17th and 18th Centuries.

Some cities sprung up among the islands, thanks to the natives and changes in their lifestyle. Cities like Santa Cruz have over 200,000 residents, and La Orotava is located in a fertile valley, while La Laguna was founded in 1497 on the shares of a lake that has dried up in the last century, leaving only culture and history.

7 Easy World Travel Tips

Travel like a proHere are a few easy world travel tips that will make your adventures more fulfilling, cheaper, and more like what you’ve always imagined travel should be.

1. Smile at the world and the world will smile back at you. Seriously, far too many people don’t smile. A smile invites people to interact with you.

2. Let people help you. I know, you want to be a rugged traveler that doesn’t need anyone. The truth is though that one way human beings build relationships is through helping each other. Let someone help you find a place, accept the offer of a stranger, ask for help when you need it.

3. Help other people. Don’t expect anything in return but when you see someone drop something, help them pick it up. If you find a wallet, make it a quest to find the owner and return it. Help an old lady up some stairs.

Travel tips4. Be the first to visit a place. I know, it sounds impossible but the truth is that in every town there are little cafes that only the locals know. In every country there are creeks or cities where tourists have never been. In the entire world, there are places that you’ve never heard of. Make these your mission.

5. Fear is your friend. When you feel fear it is your body’s way of giving you a warning. Pay attention to it. Know what it is. Learn to count backwards from three and ask yourself if you need to be afraid of this or not. Overcoming your fear is a massive rush. Listening to your fear and not getting killed is an even better rush.

6. Don’t be rigid. Part of the joy of travel is that it allows us to grow and become something different than we have always been. Open yourself up to new ideas. If you automatically say no, you will certainly miss something.

7. Remember to ask question about the people you are talking with. It’s far too easy to start talking about yourself. We are all our own favorite subject. People you meet will ask you questions. Answer them, but be brief and don’t forget to ask them about themselves. They are also their own favorite thing to talk about.

Okay, seven isn’t enough…here is an 8th tip!

8. READ! If you are traveling and you don’t like to read, you will have a less wonderful time than those that do. When you are traveling the world, you will have times when you have to spend hours waiting for something. A book can make that time a joy. Why not try my latest book? Vagabonds: Sometimes Getting Lost is the Point.

Vagabonds: Sometimes Getting Lost Is The PointPlus, if you read about the places you are going or have been, you will find all of your travel more fulfilling.

Sure, you can read the guidebook, but there isn’t much better than reading a story about a bar in Tangier and then walking into the place two days later.

Fiction, biography, travel memoirs, or holy books like the Q’uran (if you are visiting a Muslim country). All of them will give you insight into the places you are visiting.

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.

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