Friday, December 26, 2008

Peace out... for now

Hi everyone!
Forgive the silence....

It seems that my trip has come to an end (for now).
The next few days I will be visiting with old friends, and soon I will be relocating to my new life in LA.  I will have a pause in my posting for a while, but stay tuned, because I will continue this blog when I next travel.

Thanks for all of your support through this journey.
Happy Holidays to you all!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Photo Game is Closed

Ok all.
I am sure that you are dying to know the answers to the photo game.
I have posted the answers in the comment section of the posts. Check it out and see if you were right!

Paris, Take Two

Ok. Here I am in the world's most popular tourist destination.
I still love it.
Just as much as I did my first visit back in Nov of 2002.
There is a confidence to this city; it knows it's the shit. I'm ok with that. I agree. This city is dope, but really expensive!

Luckily, though, I am fortunate enough to be staying with an old college friend of mine, Jen, who has a lovely little one bedroom in the east of Paris. It brings me back to my college days when you fall asleep talking with your roommate, and tip-toe around in the morning if you are the first one up. I kinda like it!



I spend my days here in Paris in much the same way. I wake up early--at my standard 7:00 wake-up time--and watch old episodes of Sex and the City on Jen's laptop. (Such indulgences are much appreciated after 4 months on the road). When Jen is up and at 'em we usually share a light French breakfast of toast or coffee cake and hot chocolate.

After a slow morning, I leave the house with all the layers I have: a warm hat, a thick scarf, two polar fleece jackets, fingerless gloves, mittens, and often leggings under my jeans. Armed with my Paris map (now well tattered) in my pocket, I set off in the general direction of something I wish to see. The first day it was Notre Dame, the second day Sacre Coeur and the third day it was the Eiffel Tower.

I walk (just fast enough to stay warm), all the while observing the activity around me... the shops, the people, the signs, the streets... my own little anthropological journey. I really like Paris, and so far I have nothing but good experiences with the French. Who are the people that say the French are rude? I would like to hear it directly from them. Even with my 5 words in French, I manage ok, and have encountered little anti-US sentiment. Amazingly I am even starting to be able to understand very basic French, probably due to its similarities to Spanish and English.

Oh, so back to my average daily schedule. So I walk around, enjoying the visual feast of buildings, people, etc, for several hours until I find something that interests me. When something catches my eye I circle it until I find the spot that most appeals to me. I look for the perfect place with interesting angles, nice lines and good colors, and I settle in to draw.

To set up my little work station, first I need to sit on my notebook, because at this time of year the concrete is verrrrry cold. I perch cross legged with an extra scarf draped over my legs for warmth. I pull out my sketchbook and my bag of pens, then I take the mitten from my right had and add it to my left, so now my right hand just has one fingerless glove, but my left has a fingerless glove and two mittens. Taking out my pencils and eraser, I get down to business, framing my latest drawing.

In this way I pass about 3 hours or so (more when it is warmer). The past few days have been really cold and rainy, so I haven't been out there. Too bad, but I am happy with what I've got; three new additions to my sketchbook; days 1, 2 and 3. The only interruptions to my work are the occasional stretch breaks to get the blood flowing again if I get too cold.

When I finish, I pack up all of my goodies and start the long walk home. By now it is usually getting dark, so I get to enjoy the Christmas lights all the way home. Dinner has varied every night, sometimes Jen and I make omelettes and salad at home, once I got yummy Chinese take out, once we went out for fondue... there is no pattern there. But rest assured that meals always include fresh, flaky french bread and cheese. Yum.

Evenings, like dinner, have varied. At times including a movie on the laptop, an evening out, making Christmas decorations or just sitting and talking. Either way, I like it. France suits me, except for the whole not-speaking-French thing, but I can learn. To my surprise I think the French lifestyle suits me better than Spain. I think I can atually pinpoint some reasons why.

  • The French like fresh bread and cheese... good cheese. That's reason enough, but there is more....
  • The schedule isn't wonky here, in fact dinner is eaten at the respectable hour of 7 or 8
  • Smoking is banned in all public buildings. Yay!
  • Ham is only the sidenote to a meal and not the central component of everything.
  • While good fashion is appreciated here, women aren't "done up" all the time with the same intensity as Spanish women. There's less pressure to be a Barbizon.
  • Chocolate and pastry making are common arts, I mean... hello? Perfect for me!
  • Eating is considered somewhat of a hobby here; meals extend for hours as the meal leads to cheeses, which then of course has to end in dessert. Fabulous. If I lived here I would gain a million pounds.





Christmas in France

It is strange to try and get in the holiday spirit when you are away from the ones you love, but fortunately I have been lucky enough to know some fellow travelers and old friends, with whom I have been spending time this December.

While there are no hanging stockings, no Christmas cards, no snow, no Muppets, Bing Crosby or the Chipmunks to sing Christmas carols, there is a lot of Christmas spirit. All over France there are colorful reminders of the impending holiday. Doorways are laced with garland and bright lights, sidewalks are punctuated with colorful trees, alleyways are strewn with ribbons and lights.... Christmas is undeniably on its way. Red and white colors are everywhere, garland and christmas lights visible from every window and Christmas trees are sold on every corner.

It is definitely Christmas..... French style.









Monday, December 8, 2008

Photo Game Closing

By the way, time is running out on your guesses on the photos.
I think I will post the answers in a week.

So soon.....

It's official.
The trip of a lifetime is taking a hiatus.
Well, not really a hiatus, but it is changing continents.

On December 31 I will be flying from Dublin to Los Angeles.
There I will try my hand at west coast living.


My time away has been fantastic, but it will be nice to have somewhere to call home for a while. I will continue to post, so you know the latest on my progress. Don't be a stranger!

Sunday, December 7, 2008

France

I have been in France for about a week now.
First I was in Montpellier along the southern coast and now I am in Grenoble.

I didn't know much about France when I came here; my experience in french limited to a 2 month sampler course in 6th grade, and my time in France limited to a week I spent in Paris in the fall of 2002.

Funny story about that, by the way.
I never wanted to go to Paris.
Really.

I was sick of everyone saying how beautiful it was, how great it was, the city of love, blah blah blah. It was overrated, overdone, overly processed, post-consumer waste to me (sorry guys). Everyone had gone, or was planning on going. I had less than zero interest.

But there I was studying in London for the fall with a week vacation mid-term and a seriously greedy travel itch. SO, my friend and I scavenged what little money we could (and I really I mean a little) and found our way to a student travel agency. We had big dreams of Rome, Athens, Geneva... But to our dismay all were out of our budget. The only thing we could afford was a train ticket to Paris and a few nights in a hostel.

And so it was that I begrudgingly found myself on the way to Paris. I was not looking forward to the trip. I had myself all prepared for a miserable time in a land of cliches. Fortunately, the trip proved to be far better than I had expected.

It was cloudy and rainy every day of the week we were there (In fact, I still have not seen the top of the Eiffel Tower)...

We were so broke that every meal consisted of the same cheap local foods: cheese, bread and wine...

We never went out to eat or for drinks once...

but I still look back on that time as one of the best trips ever. The city is just so lovely and pedestrian friendly. The people were friendly and helpful, and didn't seem to mind that I knew little more than: Bonjour, Merci, Au revoir, S'il Vous PlaƮt...

It really held all of the magic that I had heard about.



Now I am back, 6 years later, and to my further surprise, this experience is equally positive. I find France to have a soothing relaxed pace to life. This has been the first area that I have visited which felt persistently relaxing. So far so good.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Name that picture: Photo #1

Ok. For weeks now I have been writing and writing, posting and posting.... Sometimes someone responds to a post or a picture, but in general, the posts fall into the dark unknown of the net. So now, I want you to get invovled. Here is a little game.

I am going to post a series of pictures.
Your job is to figure out where each photo was taken.
If you have a guess, just click the little button that says "COMMENT" after each picture, and you can leave an anonymous message or leave your name.

No cheeating: No looking back on past posts. Just use your reasoning. Plus, if you were with me there, or you live there, etc, please don't say!
Ok. Here is your first one

Where do you think I took this photo?


Photo #2

What do you think? Where is this one from?

Photo #3

Where was I when I took this one?

Photo #4

How about this one?

Photo #5

Where was this taken?

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The Traveling Heart: A list of longing

I pride myself on really learning about the places I visit.  As much as possible I immerse myself in the language, food, culture and people of that place.  This has served me really well.  Especially when I am living in one place for a while, because I find my niche--my favorite places to go, my friends and my favorite foods, etc...  
But moving around this much, constantly changing my setting, it's a little harder to carve out my own slice.  All this means, then, is that while I do enjoy the local experience and I find all the newness exciting, I am constantly adjusting and readjusting.  As a result, in this trip more than any other, I find there are more things that I miss.  I was thinking about this the other day and all the things that I want from home, thinking to myself, what will I do with my first day back home?  I made a list.  Just for entertainment value, here are the sorts of things that a wandering soul craves.  

(This of course does not include the obvious things of my friends and family.  That is a given)

  • mashed potatoes:  this has been my most persistant craving.  It's accompaniment changes.  Sometimes it's turkey with gravy, sometimes meatloaf, what matters is the creamy, buttery taters, just like Grammie used to make.
  • blue cheese dressing:  (Ken's, to be exact)  It is hard enough to find salad in Iberia, but if you do find some it is served either with a thick mayonaise sauce or the occasional tasty balsamic.  What I would do for a big salad--loaded with different veggies--dressed with blue cheese... mmmmm
  • biore pore strips: ok, I know, incredibly girlie and all, but I don't care.  You just feel so clean and refreshed after using them.  I have felt really clean only once on this trip, and that was after an intense scrubbing at a traditional hammam in Morocco.
  • dressing nice:  Nothing against comfy travel clothes.  I am by no means a dressy gal, but every once in a while it is nice to look like I didn't just roll out of my laundry basket.
  • a varied diet:  All three countries which I have spent my time in so far have very repetetive diets.  The same food is available everywhere, and the "local specialties" are constantly consumed. In Portugal I got sick of hamburgers and fries, in Spain, I was sick of ham sandwiches on a baguette, and in Morocco I could eat no more couscous or Tagine.  In the US, in a week's time I can have pad thai, pizza, a burrito, sushi, chinese take out, clam chowder and then pupusas.  I am salivating just thinking of it!
  • oil-free food:  Portugal, Spain and Morocco all use olive oil for everything.  It is cooked with, poured on bread, and drizzled on food.  In fact, I was sick from it for a while.  I OD'd on olive oil.  You may think this sounds crazy, until you have been burping up olive oil for 5 days.  I want eggs with butter, bread with peanut butter, fish with lemon, and a salad with blue cheese dressing!!!  No more olive oil for  a while.
  • cooking:  I know it must sound like needless complaining, but I miss just being able to open the fridge and prepare my own food.  Cafes are nice, but after a whilethey grow tiresome.  Now, whenever possible, I make use of the kitchens of friends or hostels.  The other day I was in heaven eating pasta with sauce and parmasean, even though I never make it at home.  It was just predictable and comfortable food.
  • familiarty:  Every so often I get that pang.  I want to know where the things are that I need; I want to know how to get where I need to go; I want to understand the conversations around me; I want to lounge on the couch in my pj's and channel surf, chatting on the phone and joking with friends.  Being somewhere new, learning new social expectations, working in an unfamiliar language all just makes your brain tired.  Funny how it is always like this.  When you are somewhere familiar, you crave new, but after you have had enough new, you crave the familiar.  Murphy's law.
As I drafted this list, I realized it was dominated by food relateds items.  After friends and family, the next thing I think about is food.  I wonder what that says about me...

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Recommendations to the Moroccan Traveler

While I was in Morocco only for a short time, I do feel like I came away with some good advice to pass along to anyone thinking of going to Moroco. Here are a few things I would like to share with you:

Clothing:

  • Don't listen to the people who are all worked up about what to wear in Morocco. Yes, it is a predominantly Muslim area, but they understand we are visitors.

  • Ladies, the more skin you show, the more attention it will attract from men. I was very slobbily dressed, and still received an exasperating amount of attention. If you don't mind a continuous stream of suitors, then god's speed.

  • Otherwise, long pants or a long skirt and a blouse is pretty standard. Head wear completely optional.

  • Don't bother trying to blend in. They always know who the tourists are.

Agents:

  • Beware of wolves in sheep's clothing. There are LOTS of men who will try to get you to come to their sahara tour. They will seek you out at bus stations, restaurants, in shops or even just walking in the street. They know all of the things to say to convince you, they have a book of photos.... If you are lucky, all they will do is charge you an exorbitant comission. The unlucky ones end up stranded in a crappy hotel in the middle of nowhere.

  • Sadly, you can trust no one. No matter how nice they seem. They are good at what they do.

  • If you are booking a trip of some kind, try to use an established company so you know you are getting the real deal.

  • Get everthing in writing--a written agreement of the services that will be rendered and how much it will cost.

  • Be wary of "deposits." This is the money they skim off and keep. I heard of some folks that arrived at their destination only to find that the company was requesting more money, because the agent took such a large portion. If you do pay a deposit, get a receipt.

  • Be sure you ask all the right questions. Make sure your drivers and/or guides speak your language, check on the duration of transport, what sort of accomodation and food you will have, and how you will get to your next destination etc.
  • Again, be sure to get all of this crystal clear up front so there are no surprises to hamper your experience.

Bargaining:

  • This for me, is a miserable process. It is a way of life there, everything--even taxi rides--have to be negotiated in advance, otherwise you will have an angry Moroccan demanding payment at the end. I hate this.

  • NEVER TAKE THE FIRST PRICE. Shoot to pay no more than 50% of what they first said, preferrably about 25% of the original price. If they persist and don't lower the price, feign dissinterest and start to leave the shop. Generally they will call you back with a better offer. If they let you go, then they honestly can't go any lower.

  • Every time you begin to look in a shop, they will ask where you are from; I avoid this line of questioning, and divert to some other topic. If they know you are from the US, UK or Germany, their prices will be much higher, while people from France, Spain and Australia get a lower start price.

  • Learn some Arabic (or even French) phrases : Salaam Aleikum--Peace be with you/Hello, Shokram bezef--Thank you very much, Marhaba--Welcome/You are welcome, Ashnu shmitik--what is your name, Shmitik ____--My name is _____, N'Shala--god willing, Mekken fluus--I have no money, Counting to 10: wahed, djoodj, klehta, araba, hamsa, seta, seba, sh'hmenia, t'seha, ashara... All of these things provide a little more cultural currency

  • The longer you stay in a shop, the more invested they become and they are more likely to try to make the sale. I managed to get something for 80 durham that they began at 300 because I was there for so long.

  • Shopkeepers assume that if you ask about the price, that you are really beginning a bargaining process. Browsing or window shopping is a foreign concept. We had some men get angry at us when we just walked away after asking the price of something, so be sure you know what you are getting into.
Random Bits
  • Directions: There is a huge business of leading travelers to thier destination and then upon arrival putting their hand out with a pitiful expression. The nice ones just try to make you feel guilty, but I have heard of others who start shouting at you. Even worse, sometimes they lead you astray. My biggest request, I will consider this a personal favor, do not pay anything! The more people that pay them, the more this exploitation will continue. To avoid this problem, I tried to ask people myself, rather than wait for someone to come up to me.
  • Begging: There is more begging here than anywhere I have been. Not only are there the standard sickly people, but there are also many women with babies attached to their backs, old women, young children and any number of other bedraggled folks. What you must understand is that giving to the poor is one of hte major tenents of Islam, so on more than one occasion I saw a local give them something. Use your own discretion, but just be prepared to be inundated.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Sahara Dessert, A Love Story

(Again I must give photo credits here to Cecilia and Fran. Thanks for hooking me up, girls!)

Given the negative experience we had with the agent we worked with, we arrived to the desert deservedly skeptical. It was already dark when we arrived to find an ouberge (desert hotel) devoid of customers. At this point I was in the throws of "traveler's indigestion" so after 8 long hours in the car, I was just glad to have somewhere to stop. They brought us into the main hall of the ouberge and I was immediately put at ease. It was lovely, decorated with the traditional rugs covering nearly all surfaces (except the ceiling), huge pillows, and a ring of drums ready for a night's celebration.

As we were the only guests that night, we enjoyed the company of the staff who spoke at least some English, talking about life in the Sahara and what was to come in the next few days. We capped off the night with a short walk out into the dunes to see the stars. They were so spectacular. I can't remember ever seeing so many in my life. The relief was even more pronounced when they showed us to our room, which sported a huge canopied bed and a private bathroom and shower. We went to be exhausted, but pleased with our luck.


DAY ONE
I could hardly sleep that night, which I credit equally to my stomach problems as well as the anticipation of seeing in the daylight what we saw as mere shadows the night before. Let me say that I was not disappointed. In fact, I dare say that the view was even more spectacular than I had imagined. See for yourself.









Honestly this is where I was living for 4 days. Too bad I was feeling really shitty (oh wow, really, no pun was intended there). The ouberge was right at the base of the sand dunes and this small lake. I was entranced. This is when I started falling in love with the Sahara. I mean, who wouldn't!? Look at it! I spent the entire next day sitting on the roof of the hotel, just watching the light change on the dunes, listening to the quiet, letting my thoughts wander, chatting with the staff, and bonding with Mimi.









DAY TWO
The next day I was feeling a bit better, so we decided to endeavor out into the dunes themselves. It was an arduous walk, but we were helped by the fact that it had rained the night before our arrival, so the sand was firm underfoot. It is during this exploration that I began to notice the small details that make the dunes so fascinating.

I loved how the camel blankets looked laying out to dry in the sun.....



how different animals all made their own unique tracks... none of which I could recognize...



how one kind of clay seemed to form small waves that stuck out of the loose sand...


the dry plates formed by drying mud...


and the reflections of sky in sand in the lakes.


It was also then that I decided to try sandboarding.... with hesitation, of course, given my knee's condition. But I was careful and wrapped my knee well. It was much harder than I expected. Snow is faster, and much more fun. I'll try it again some day with real equipment and two healthy knees.



DAY THREE
It was on our third day in the Sahara that we ventured out on camel back. Before I recount this part of the tale, I must explain something first. I have always been somewhat of a softie for animals. I always cringe at any mistreatment and am overprotective of their health and well-being. As such, I planned to walk when we did our camel trek. I couldn't stand the thought of some creature baring my weight. But then a day into my trip, I met Jimmi. He changed my mind about everything. He was standing having a snack behind the ouberge when he caught my eye. I made my way over and just stood watching him for a while. He looked at me quizzically, but unperturbed. He was just so cute, I couldn't resist. So I returned and visited Jimmi a few times a day for 20 or 30 minutes. He grew accustomed to me and dare I say, even a bit friendly. Let me introduce you to Jimmi.




Isn't he fantastic? Perhaps it's just one of those things that gets lost in a photo, but he is really special. We spent a lot of time together during my stay in the Sahara. I began to learn his likes and dislikes: don't bother him while he is eating, move slowly with your hands near his face because he is a bit jumpy, he loves to be scratched behind the ears when he trusts you, if he wants to stop and eat you can do nothing to stop him, he makes the sweetest pained noise when they pull his ring, so I did everything in my power to keep him from getting pulled. Later on this even meant getting off and feeding him while we walked--what a crazy white girl--but I digress.

I realize this course of events is illogical. Usually if you bond with an animal, it serves to dissuade you from using them, not make you want to jump on their back. In fact, that is exactly what was happening. The more I hung out with my new friend, the more I felt pain for his circumstances. My sympathy for his pain became unbearable. Until one cold morning, when I came out for our morning visit wrapped in my sleeping bag. Jimmi greeted me with his quiet grunt and allowed me to pet his nose gently (which, by the way is just as soft as a horse's). He was interested in my bag through, and kept pushing his head under it. To my surprise, he seemed to want me to put it on him so we could ride. Call me crazy, and perhaps I am personifying too much, but for the first time in my life I found that I believed that perhaps this captive animal might actually like having a rider! I changed my mind in that moment, and decided to try the camel trek, but only if I could ride Jimmi. Thus it was settled.

The camel trek was divided over two days. The first day was broken in two parts--3 hours each and ending at our tents in the middle of the sand dunes, and the second day just a few hours to return to the ouberge. It was harder than I expected. You lurch back a forth quite a bit, and with all the sand dunes you are constantly inclining and declining. I was saddle sore for a few days afterwards. But the view was spectacular and it left me lots of time for contemplation which was only broken up by my occasional encouraging remarks to Jimmi.

Here is our guide, M'Bareck--a really nice young guy with broken english.


And here are our camels. Jimmi Hendrix, Bob Marley and Chris Brown (honestly, those were their names--only the last one was added by my travel companions).













During our first day, as I mentioned earlier, my belief in Jimmi's enjoyment of carrying my lazy behind wavered. I sensed his exhaustion (real or imagined) and indignation at wanting to eat (definitely real). In fact, he reminded me of me quite a bit--always hungry, pensive, and extremely stubborn. He found a bush of a juniper-like plant that he must really like, because he bent his head and refused to move. So, to relieve my conscience, off I hopped. But even with his burden lifted, Jimmi was insistant. So of course, the only logical thing for me to do is to bribe him. I grabbed as much of this plant as I could rip off, and got him to his feet and following the others. In this way I ran after my caravan, continuously bringing fresh greens to my beloved camel. M'Bareck couldn't help but laugh. It was the first time anyone had ever dismounted, he said. Crazy western white girl.






DAY FOUR
Having woken up early to see the sun rise, closed up camp and made our way back to the ouberge, our time in the Sahara was coming to a close. With a tearful goodbye to Jimmi, I asked M'Bareck to be sure to watch over him for me, to which he laughingly agreed. As the 4x4 wheeled off, I took one last longful look at the camp, and the sun casting dark shadows on the dunes. I was sad to say goodbye, but I hoped that n'shala, I would be back soon. I shall look back on it very fondly. I miss the quiet, the way the list is so dramatic on the sand, and of course, Jimmi. If you see him, give him a squeeze for me, would you?

Marrakech, Morocco, Day One

It is going to be really challenging to try to summarize my time in Morocco. Especially since I not only lost the photos from my first 5 days, but then the next day I broke my camera, preventing any more pictures to be taken. Most of my photos for Morocco are then attributed to my lovely travel partners, who I will introduce next post.

It was a short visit, only 11 days, but it was full of adventures, laughter, highs and lows, and feels like it was three times as long.

I want to begin by saying that I travel with a free mind. I arrive to a place unpolluted by the recommended itineraries of guidebooks, the biases of other travelers or the prepackaged reactions of the media. I like to experience the place for myself and come away with my own interpretations. As such, I arrived in Marrakech with little more than a fold out tourist map I happened to find in one of the FOUR bookshops I searched in the Madrid airport.

Actually, you know what, that isn't totally true. As I was planning this trip, Morocco was the one destination that people had things to say about. I couldn't escape what became a litany of surprisingly negative reactions. At first I wrote of the complaints as the whinings of high--maintenance travelers-the people who want clean bottled water, nice linen, and everything exactly as it is at home--but as I heard from more and more people, I began to get worried.

Every woman I had spoken with complained of her treatment in Morocco. They felt harrassed, uncomfortable, scared and angry. They said men would call them, follow them, say inappropriate things to them, and children would try to help them when they are lost only to insist on getting money when they arrive safely. Even women who walked hand-in-hand with their husband felt targeted. The worst stories came from a girl that I met the night before I left for Morocco; she said that she was hissed at by old ladies for showing her hair and felt that a man was going to follow her to her hotel... the list of horror stories goes on and on. Needless to say, despite my efforts to arrive unfettered, after 10 separate people told me they hated Morocco, I entered the country a little guarded and wary of what was to come.

Day one:
My first experiences in Marrakech proved to be very reassuring. No drama. No hastle. The only thing that left an impression on me was the sheer chaos of the city. It is the sort of place that you always need to be alert, or you will be flattened by a truck, a bus, a taxi, or one of the horse and carraiges, donkey carts, or motorbikes loaded down with huge bags of items to stock the local shops. There are no real traffic laws in effect there, so it is truly every man for themself, and you must never expect people to make way for you. (Sidenote example: Once we were even nearly flattened by an aggressive group of modern Moroccan woman who apparently needed the taxi we had called more than we did as they rushed to the window, shoving us to the side.) Despite all of the goings-on, thanks to my handy fold out map, and a quick call to my would-be host, I made it to my resting place with relative ease, setting my bags down with a sigh of relief.

The rest of the afternoon I used to explore my new neighborhood. It turned out that I was living in the Medina, which is the old, original part of every Moroccan city which is generaly still enclosed on the original city walls. It is characterised by close houses, modest doorways, and narrow streets. At its earlier times, the narrow streets served to dissuade and confuse any insurgence as well as to limit the amount of sunlight that came in so that the streets were cooler in the heat of summer. 


The modest doorways thing is really interesting because all of these narrow, dark and dirty alleys had the most unassuming of doorways. If you are lucky enough to enter through one, generally you find yourself in the middle of a gorgeous courtyard that opens up to the sky! In this way intruders could never tell the wealth of the family at whose door he stands. The muslims certainly spared no luxury with their architecture; the classic structure includes 5 main characteristics: marble floors, ceramic tiling with intricate patterns and symbolic colors, wood carving, intricate plaster designs and a fountain.









Additionally, every front door is heavy and made of wood, but sports two knockers-one that signaled family, and another, further up for those on donkeyback, signaled comany.





It is the medina (the old town) that most tourist come to see, so this is where the large portion of touristy merchandise can be found--localized to a specific area called the sook. It is in this maze of narrow streets and covered alleyways that I found myself that first afternoon. I found an interesting man with a nice little shop. He invited me in for tea, which he prepared in the traditional metal teapot, pouring high into the traditional painted glass tea cups to create a light froth on the top of each cup.


This was to be the first of many cups of tea. In fact, tea seems to be the tradition before and after every meal and several times throughout the day just to relax. The tea is always made the same: boiled water is poured over either fresh mint leaves, or dried ones and some dried tea leaves called gun powder, and sweetened with a ridiculous amount of sugar. By the end of my time, I got really, really sick of tea. Perhaps I would have had better luck if I were British.






And it was in this way that I passed a greater part of my afternoon--sipping tea, cross-legged in the back of a small shop, chatting about tourism, the merits of Morocco and the production of all of his merchandise. His walls were laden with traditional leatherwork from West Africa, silverwork ad beading from the Sahara, as well as the popular steel lanterns. I enjoyed looking through his baskets of beads, too, as there were so many different ones from all over the Sahara. We even had a visit from his pet squirrel who came out to make sure that the beads were beads, and not nuts.


Upon leaving his shop, to my surprise it had gotten dark, and I had NO IDEA where I was, or where my home was. Nonetheless, I tried to forge my way ahead, continuously searching for something familiar to mark my return. Alas, none to be found. In this way, I received the unsolicited help of three different people. Each led me in a different direction, and onlky one of whom did try to insist I pay him for his help, even though he clearly had brought me the wrong way. It was a bit nerve-wracking, but fortuntely it ended well as a nice young guy, who also works at a riad--guest house--who spoke English very well, ended up giving me a ride on his motorbike. Ordinarly this is a simple thing, right? People ride motorbikes all the time, no? Well, imagine riding this bike through streets that can't be more than 8' wide, and are then lined on each side with small stands, and filled with pedestrians walking in every possible direction, as well as men pulling huge carts heaped with goods, donkey carts coming through and cats and dogs running around at your ankles. Not your average driving. The one advantage, atleast, was that it is pedestia only, so no cars are allowed to pass through. Thusly, I arrived to a familiar point, and continued the walk back to my temporary home.

To finish off the night, I met the three girls with whom I had planned to travel. We chatted away into the night, getting very excited about the possibilities of our time in Morocco. I went to bed looking forward to what was to come, amazed that we were able to pull it off, but relieved to be somewhere safe and quiet.