Morocco, Pt. II: On a Hump with Some Name

Abraham met us with a wide smile and two towering beasts clad in rug saddles of orange, yellow, and pink. Set against the backdrop of a monochromatic no-man’s-land, they looked like a pair of flowering cactus. Abraham, our camel trekker, was colorful too, with his white gandora and indigo headscarf. But no bouquet of color could compete with the cinematic scope of nothingness that went on and on in every direction. It was as if we’d been dropped onto the set of The Sheltering Sky. Except this wasn’t the Sahara. The Sahara, we were told, could easily kill a tourist this time of year. Which is why we were here, in the stony desert, where conditions, they said, would be tolerable.

But tolerable, like tolerance, is one of those words that means different things to different people. Read more

Morocco, Pt. I: Ships of the Desert

A life without steep learning curves is no life at all.
—Tahir Shah, In Arabian Nights: A Caravan of Moroccan Dreams

Even if we’d had a magic carpet to fly us to every corner of Morocco, eight days wouldn’t have been enough. A land so ripe with art and architecture, history and tradition, faith and Oriental mystique—not to mention a jet-set nightclub scene in Marrakech that rivals Studio 54 in its heyday—would take a lifetime, maybe longer, to absorb. Read more

Vietnam: Don’t Eat the Fish, Pt. III

Hoi An is the most popular destination in Vietnam. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and going there is like buzzing back to the seventeenth century when it was a major port influenced by Chinese, Japanese, Dutch, and Indian traders.

Because the Old Town area was relatively untouched by the Vietnam War (or the American War, as the Vietnamese call it), the townscape still holds its old world charm. At night the streets glow with handmade lanterns in red, purple, green, and gold. Vendors sell votive candles for buyers to float down the Thu Bon River with a wish. And the smell of white rose dumplings and incense fills the air.

But make no mistake. Read more

Vietnam: Don’t Eat the Fish, Pt. II

Wikipedia still lists the cause as “unknown” for its entry on the “2016 Vietnam Marine Life Disaster.” But many knew the cause—including the Vietnamese government—weeks before villagers in the central region were told not to eat the estimated 115 tons of fish that had been mysteriously washing ashore since early April. Fishermen still fished. And restaurants and markets still sold the sea’s sickened bounty. Read more

Vietnam: Don’t Eat the Fish, Pt. I

We had just emerged from a lazy lunch at a French noodle bar when a pair of breathless tourists stopped us on the street in Saigon. “I wouldn’t go that way if I were you,” said the Englishman in khaki shorts, safari jacket, and tall black socks. “Unless you have a death wish.” His red-cheeked wife nodded in agreement. “There’s a riot happening,” she said in a shout-whisper. Read more

Vietnam: District Not Number One

“Let’s go this way,” Chris said and folded the map.

We were supposed to be in District 1, the part of Ho Chi Minh City known for its luxury boutiques, white-tablecloth restaurants, and world-class people watching.

But the more we walked, the more obvious it became that we had gone the wrong way. Maybe it was all the bloody meat laid out for sale, or the squirming fish in buckets, but I felt pretty certain we weren’t about to stumble upon a Tiffany’s.  Read more