Morocco, Pt. V: Dewitched

It was almost dusk when Boujeema dropped us at the curb. The reek of urine stung my eyes, and the air was still hot enough to roast a goat. Chris took my hand and we strolled toward the square down a lamp-lit boulevard lifted from a French fairytale. To the right, a caravan of carriages and raggedy coachmen implored us to ride in style. Behind us a towering mosque stood as a beacon for the faithful who would soon gather for the evening prayer. But we were lured in the other direction, toward the rhythmic thump of hand drums, the whine of pungis calling to cobras, and the Arabic voices of insistent men. A spectacle awaited. But so far, Jemaa el-Fnaa was not what I had expected.

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Morocco, Pt. III: The Danger of the Desert

As we sped along the dusty two-lane road, there wasn’t another car in sight. Agafay wasn’t our first choice. We’d never even heard of it. Nor had we ever considered that there are many different types of desert. To me, you have your Arizona desert, with those arms-up cacti, and then there’s the sand dune kind of desert, like in Lawrence of Arabia. That’s the one we wanted to see, the Sahara. Instead, we had visited its edge, the pre-Saharan stony desert of Agafay, because in the summertime the temperatures in the interior are too caustic for most Western tourists to bear and things can go wrong. Read more

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