the split


there’s definitely something to be said for trying to travel on your own as it changes the traveling experience completely. it’s not easy and you really have only yourself to depend on. plus, all of a sudden, you are left w/ only yourself and your own thoughts to deal w/ so it definitely helps you get in touch w/ your innner self. in some ways, it’s a test of your own independence. for me, in a lot of ways, testing that is really difficult. i’m a very social person, and back home i pretty much spend no time alone. i try to fill almost all of my would be alone time w/ my girlfriend, friends, and family. which is partially why i do have the urge to travel alone. i want to test myself. i want to push myself and try something new. last time i traveled for a while (to thailand for 6 weeks), even though i had the choice of being w/ friends the whole time, i chose to spend half the time traveling by myself to see what would happen.

and there’s also a second side to the equation. when you travel alone, not only is a good chance to spend some “alone time”, but it is also a really good way to meet random strangers and make friends. if you’re on your own and not part of a group, you become more accessable. the problem is, i’ve really never been any good at talking to people i dont know. actually, to say i’m not good at it is an understatement, i’m actually insanely shy. though i have no problem talking a mile a minute w/ people i know, and i *love* to socialize… put in me in a room w/ strangers and i end up usually not saying a word. when i went to thailand, i thought i would finally break through my shyness. i thought of it as a “sink or swim”… if i was all alone, and had no friends to talk to, and the only options were talk to strangers or dont talk at all, i thought i’d end up forced to sociallize. unfortunately, when put in the sink or swim situation, i sunk, and sunk way deep… all the way to the bottom. the half of the trip that i traveled solo, i dont think i talked to a single other person (other than waiters etc obviously). i failed and failed miserably.

so, in 2 more days, it’s test number 2. caryn and i are splitting up for a week, and we’ll see how it goes. for a week i’ll be split between two scenarios: being alone, and being w/ only people i dont know. not only will i be far from home, but i’ll be out of my element. we’ll see how it goes…


when we split up, caryn is going to go to greece for the week, and i needed to figure out for myself where it was that i wanted to spend that week. it was time for me to sit down and research different countries, weigh pros and cons, look into prices, etc. well, in typical vlad fashion, i did none of those things. instead, i decided to base my decision solely on some offhand random comments i’ve heard from a couple of other people. after hearing no more than three sentences about it (all three of which were that it’s “nice”), and opening up lonely planet for 2 minutes, i decided to go to croatia. yes, croatia.

i had to check on the map where it was (american geography class didnt teach me much), and as it’s fairly close to greece, i decided, sure why not? so now i have 1 plane ticket, and 0 expectations. i really have no clue as to what i’ll find when i get there… other than that it’ll probably be “nice”. what i’m kind of expecting (if anything) is half mediterranean and half eastern europe. oh wait, but there’s more :). there were no cheap flights to croatia, so instead i’m flying into budapest. so now i get to try out *2* countries that i wasn’t planning on going to!!

so that’s it. in a couple of days i’ll be winging it in croatia and hungary. wish me luck!!



yesterday we took the train up the coast to get to casablanca. we came here partially because we wanted to see this huge crazy mosque and partially just cause the word casablanca is world famous and we thought it must be a cool city. most people in the states couldnt name a city in morocco, but everyone’s heard of casablanca. well, we got here, and the mosque ended up being way cooler than expected, but the city was much less interesting than we thought it might be.

the mosque is the Hassan II mosque, one of the biggest in the world and it was just completed in 1993. this thing was so impressive looking. it has a humongous minaret that towers over the square (and we here the minaret has lasers shooting out of it at night pointing towards mecca), and the architecture of it is so crazy impressive. we were totally awestruck by it. i guess the place cost 600 million dollars to build, and it shows! the other cool thing about the mosque, is that it is one of the very few mosques that actually allows non-muslims to go inside it, and we were excited to check out the inside… but unfortunately, we got there too late for the last tour.

other than that, there really isn’t all that much to see in casablanca. in fact, in a lot of ways, it almost doesnt even feel like morocco. most of the city is very modern and seems just like any other large city in the world w/ just a splash of morocco-ness added to it. so all in all, we’re rather unimpressed here. today we ventured into the medina, and the medina here is way less crazy or interesting than the ones in fez or marrakech. on the flip side, we got hassled like *crazy*!! people just wouldnt leave us alone… it was sooo frustrating! one guy followed us forever asking us to come to his shop, gave us a business card, kept babbling on and on… when he finally got the drift that we werent coming to his shop, he yelled “give me back my card” and snatched the business card from my hand angrily and stormed away muttering. sheesh! after spending a bit of time in the medina, we started getting really frustrated about just how much we were being hassled… and then… i think i got pickpocketed.

here’s what happened: when i got to a particularly crowded area in the medina, this weird guy came up to me from the left and started totally fucking w/ me. he kept putting his foot infront of me and purposefully stepping on my foor over and over again while laughing all crazy-like. wtf?? and he just kept doing it and doing it… i couldnt tell if he was trying to step on my foot, or trying to step on the cuf of my pants to unroll them or what, but after like 20 seconds of this i got fed up and just shoved the guy hellza hard… but instead of reacting to that, the guy just laughed and waled away. afew seconds later, this other guy walked up to me and handed me my little notebook that i always keep in my right pocket, and walked away briskly. wtf? i can only assume that the first weirdo distracted me on the left, while my pocket got picked on the right, and when the guy discovered that it was a nbotebook and not a wallet, he handed it to me. i dont know how else he could have gotten the notebook… seeing as it was uber-crowded… if the notebook had just fallen out of my pocket, there’s no way anyone would have seen it fall in the mob. so i dunno… maybe it wasnt a pickpocketing… but the first guy was acting so weird that i just cant see it being a conincidence.

so, i think that caryn and i both are pretty ready to leave morocco. it’s from a combination of all the people hassling us, the not so exciting food, the icky hotel room we had last night, and our lack of enthusiasm about casablanca. dont get me wrong, we both totally loved morocco, enjoyed ourselves while we were here, and are definitely psyched that we came here… but i think we’ve had our fill. tomorrow, we take the train outta here and head northwards to cross back into europe.

oh, one more thing… one of the things that make dealing w/ the people who hassle you particularly difficult, is that you never know iof they may be genuine or not. we’ve had some people come up to us from out of the blue and help us for absolutely no reason at all!! we never even asked for help, and they were sooo nice to us! so when people come up to us in the medina, we dont want to just automatically shoo them away, just in case they are really only trying to help. but then, 90% of them just end up trying to yank you into the next shop if you aren’t harsh to them. argghh!

anyways, check out the new casablanca gallery i uploaded.



while eating breakfast at an outdoor cafe today, we saw this crazy fight between a german shepard and a cat. the crazy part was that it was actually the cat that was attacking the dog… and the cat was winning, until some person intervened. it just kept leaping at the bewildered and scared dog. i swear, the cats here are nuts!

anyways, this entry will be super short as i dont have much to mention today. we spent the day just relaxing, walking around on the beach, and eating. rough life eh? we tried to go get wind surfing lessons, but one place ran out of boards (despite the fact that they told us to be ther at 2pm for a lesson), the second place didnt have anyone there that would help us, and the third place was 1.5 times the price of the others. here we are in “windy city africa” as essouiera calls itself, and yet we just cant get to windsurf. damn!!

well, tomorrow we get up at the crack of dawn to catch the 6am train to casablanca. here are some photos of the last few days.


side note….

a little sidenote about essouiera…. there are all these odd looking dogs here. they’re all short and long. basically, they all look like they are part weiner dog and part something else.. and the “something else” varies. we came to the conclusion that someone must have brought a male weinerdog to this town, and it mated with all the other random species of dog, producing these random half-wienerdog puppies of all different kinds. the really weird thing is, today we saw one that looked like it was half doberman and half wienerdog! errrr, how the hell does that work? how does a little short male wiener dog get a huge doberman to hook up??

after thinking it over, i decided that there could be only one explanation, and i used my incredible graphic skills to draw this picture of how it all happened.


we’ve spent yesterday evening and today in essouiera, a small coastal city in the west of morocco. let me tell ya, IT’S SO NICE!! this town is great. it’ really chill and laid back, the people are wayyy more friendly and less pushy, the beach is great, the whole town is cute since it’s painted white w/ blue trim, and it just overall is so great. after the hustle and bustle of marrakech, fez, etc etc, it’ so nice to just relax. the last day and a half, we’ve had no hurrying, no hassles, no anything but a nice time. there’s definitely something to be said for cities on the coast…. they always just have such a nice feel, and this one is particularly interesting because it’s chill, but has the moroccan flare thrown in… it’s an interesting combination.

today we walked down the beach and went to this place that gave kite-surfing lessons (where you are strapped to a surf board, but propelled by a huge kite that you hold), but it turned out that the lessons are super expensive… 300$! but, they offer intro windsurfing lessons for a lot cheaper, so i think i might give that a shot tomorrow! the rest of the dqy we just wandered around town and took it all in. there is a port in town, and that area is pretty crazy w/ all sorts of people rushing about and selling tons of different fishes straight off the boat. we ate at a place where you choose your own fish and they grill it for you. the fish was pretty good, but the prawns we got were too difficult to deal w/.

when it came time for the sun to go down, caryn noticed this perfect terrace on top of a four story hotel to watch the sunset. we kicked it up there, sipping our mint tea, and enjoying the view. ahhhh, life is nice!

btw, i dont know if i’ve mentioned this yet, but morocco is *full* of cats. they’re everywhere. tons qnd tons of them. i guess cats are considered holy in the koran, so moroccans dont harm them and they just reproduce like crazy. it’s pretty cool cause everywhere you turn there are tiny ity bitty kittens running about!


pigeon pie diet

10/15/04 continued

after getting back from the desert (and showering), we decided to all go out to a fancy dinner since it was natasha and yan’s last night in morocco. we found a place listed in our guide book that was supposedly very nice, and went out to go find it. the tricky part was that it was deep in the medina, and there are no street names there. the guide book said that we just had to find this one random street and then follow signs or ask random locals to direct us. i thought it was really cool that we were heading out to find this mysterious restaurant hidden in the middle of a maze, but what i hadn’t expected, was just how nice this place would actually be.

we walked in the doors to the smell of roses, and the carpets of this place were covered w/ rose petals all over the place. the person at the door walked us in through two huge doors to the dining area which was dimly lit and looked super fancy: rose petals everywhere including on the tables, a really cool looking fountain in the middle of the room, highly decorated walls, and two guys playing moroccan music quitely in the middle of the room. it really looked like we had just stepped into a palace. heh, the waiters here would even change out your ashtray *every time* that you finished one cigarette.

also, for the first time since we got to morocco, the moroccan food was really really good. we got to choose from a set menu, and everything i ate was absolutely delicious. even the couscous, instead of being bland and boring, was excellent. the only problem was that for some reason, none of us was really all that hungry, and they brough us a *ton* of food. soooooo much food. so much that i think we probably wasted more food than we actually ate. one crazy thing we ate was pigeon pie. literally, it was a flaky pastry w/ pigeon meat inside. as is always the case w/ pretty much anything, the pigeon meat tasted like chicken.


the following morning, i ended up really regretting the dinner from the night before. well, actually i’ really not sure if it was the fancy dinner, or something completely different, but i woke up at 5 in the morning in some major pain. my inside felt like they were going to explode. for the rest of the day, all i could do lay around in pain and also run to the bathroom every once in a while. ugh. it was such a rough day. finally around 7ish, i felt good enough to leave the room, and we had dinner w/ yan and natasha who were about to leave on the 9 oclock train. to placate my stomach, we avoided moroccan food altogether, and instead opted for pizza 🙂 .

it was at this point that i started feeling really disenchanted w/ morocco. it’s funny how being sick can really strongly ruin your impression of a place temporarily. on my thailand trip, when i got sick, i really really was disgusted by thailand for a day, and then the following day it was better. same thing here. that night i was feeling so negative about everything. the food that was unexciting and could make you sick, the unfriendliness of a lot of people here, the dirtyness, the fact that everyone around you constantly hassles you and tries to make money off of you.

traveling in a third world country can definitely be rough, and sometimes it can be really difficult to deal w/ the people. especially in marrakech, we found that a lot of the people we interacted w/ were very unfriendly, unhelpful, and really seemed like all that they wished was that we a) buy something from them and then b) get the hell out fo their country. we really got the feeling that although a lot of these people depended on tourism, they really had great disdain for tourists. also, the tactics that a lot of people her use to make their living can be really unnerving. we’ve been lied to, had people practically refuse to give us our change when we paid for somehting, had cab drivers refuse to turn on the meter, had people grab at us, had people follow us unrelentingly, etc etc. on one hand, i understand that a lot of moroccans are very poor and need any extra few dirhams to get by, and i also understand that if some loroccan use aggresive tactics, then a lot of others must as well in order to compete, but it still can make life here incredibly frustrating and sometimes infuriating. at any moment, we dont know if the person we’re talking to will help us or figure out a way to screw us over.

for instance, the following day, we went to the bus station ( after a meal at mcdonalds, heh, i felt so guilty eating there, but i had to take a break from moroccan food!) and after purchasing tickets for the bus, we walked over to the bus. there was a bunch of guys standing by the bus and they told us that we couldnt take our packs on board and that we had to give our packs to them to tie to the roof of the bus. uh-oh. now, these packs contain every thing we own right now, and we really didnt want to give them up. how can we know if these guys really work for the bus if they have no badges etc?? but the guys insisted, and we handed over the packs. afte taking our packs, the guy demands 10 dirham each for putting our packs away. huh?? the bus tickets were only 30 dirham, and he’s trying to charge us anotherd third of the price, just so we can bring our bags? begrudgingly, i hand him a 50, and then instead of giving me 30 in change, he just gives me 20 and starts to walk away!!!! i ask him for the rest of it, and he just keeps playing dumb, no matter how many times i repeat that i gave him 50 and if the cost is 20, he owes me 30 back. finally after a while of arguing, he just hands me another 10. no “oops sorry i miscounted” or anything. nothing but a glare. ugh!

yeah, that’s a real minor incident, and we did get our bags returned safely in the end, but when stuff like this happens constantly throughout the day, it’s tough to keep upbeat. luckily we’ve been able to ignore it most fo the time, and other than the day that i got really sick, i haven’t let it get me down.


off to the desert

10/13 desert trip day 1

after being on the move day after day, when we got to marrakech, all we wanted to do was take a few days to relax… but instead we booked ourselves onto a 3 day trek to the desert for the following morning at 7am. ouch! to make matters worse, when i woke up the following morning, i felt absolutely horrible. i must have eaten something that didnt rteally agree w/ my stomach, and i was in major pain. i considered not going on the trip and losing the 100$ i spent on it, but i couldnt help think that i’d end up really mad at myself if i ended up feeling better a few minutes later. so in the van i went w/ about 14 others.

the beginning part of the trip was supposed to be really cool as we drove through the hight atlas mountains. breath taking views etc etc… but as i was feeling nauseous to begin with, all thge turns ans twists of the road made me feel even worse. i couldnt even look at the scenery, and instead just lay down on the seat praying that i wouldnt throw up. the first two stops of the trip, i didnt get to enjoy either, and felt completely awful. eventually, our driver drove all over town to find me a pharmacy. so nice! talking to the pharmacist was very confusing and soon i ended up w 4 different kinds of medicine. i ended up only taking one of the medicines, and soon my stomach settled down a bit.

we drove on and on through the moroccan countryside and it was awesome to take in the scenery around us. the earth in the southern part of morocco is red, which makes it contrast spectacularly w/ the green of the plants we would see and the blue of the sky. the small towns as we drove were made up of these boxy red buildings w/ cutout window holes and would often be in the mddle of nowhere or up high in the middle of the mountains. we drove by these places quite fast and the driver would pass any car or motorcycle or donkey that got in his way. his driving was actually a little scary. he also blasted this moroccan music, and as he only had 4 tapes, by the end, we knew practically
every song. actually, part way through the trip the eject button broke, so after that, it was only one tape over and over for the rest of the ride! at one point, we drove down this road that was full of locusts, and as we drove the locusts would fly up and crash into the windshield. i dont know if you’ve ever seen a locust before, but it’s an enormous nasty loking grasshopper that is about the length of your hand from wrist to fingertip. YUK!

when it was almost night, after driving for hours and hours, we finally got to our destination: dades gorge. we stayed at this cute hotel in the middle of the red walls fo the gorge. the area was extremely beautiful, and we really psyched to be there. unfortunately, it got dark soon, and then we had the usual mint tea (yum) and got to know the other people in our tour group a bit. they served us a moroccan dinner w/ the usual moroccan fare: couscous, tagine which is a stew, and the moroccan bread. ya know, to be honest, i haven’t really been all that impressed w/ moroccan food. dont get me wrong, it’s
definitely not bad. it’s decent. but really, it just doesnt excite me. the couscous is usually fairly flavorless, and the tagine is often more bones than meat… and the meat that is there, isn’t too good. plus, the vegetables in both of those dishes are usually boiled or stewed, and i’m not really a huge fan of stewed mushy vegetables.

the hotel where we stayed that night, like all the hotels and restaurants in the gorge, was powered by a generator. i woke up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom, and after patting the walls for a few minutes searching for the light switch in the pitch black, i finally clicked the switch… and nothing. they turn the generators off at night, so the whole hotel is absolutely pitch black. if you happen to have not brought a flashlight (we had one) you’re stuck fumbling for the (yucky) toilets in the dark. the electricity was turned back on at 5am or whatever thogh so they could play the morning prayer call over the loudspeaker. ugh!! i think it’ really cool that they play the call to prayer 5 times a day…. it definitely adds to the atmosphere, but being woken up every single day at sunrise…. ughhh.

10/14 desert trip day 2

the second day of the trip, we woke up early yet again and soon were off on the road. our first stop was at this small berber village. we had a guide lead us through the village and he told us a little about how the people live there. it’s funny, the one thing that yan and i mainly keep wanting to take photos of here are the people. for the most part, the locals in their traditional garb are much more interesting to us trhan the scenery etc. unfortunately though, it’s surprisingly hard to get phtos of people here. most of them really dont want to be photographed and wag their finger at you or literally hiss at you to stop. women especially wont allow anoyone to take pictures of them, and finally we found out why today. it turns out that what they are really afraid of is that someone will turn their photo into a postcard or put it in a book. if a photo of them gets out to the public, their reputation will be destroyed and they will never be able to marry!! harsh, eh?

i know i’ve already mentioned this before, but this country is soooo full of donkeys. they’re everywhere. in the countryside, in town, on the roads, in the villages, everywhere. a lot of the donkeys we saw today were hauling *huge* loads of plants… so much in fact, that all you could see was the donkeys head and tail peeking out of either end of the plants… they basically looked like chia-donkeys! in this town, a lot of the locals knew that toursits desparately want to photogrpah them, so the locals will wander up to you and ask for money in exchange to photo them. this guy below, was asking us for 10 dirham…. 5 for him, and 5 for the donkey… heh.

once we got to the center of town, our guide took us to a carpet shop where a berber told us a little about his family’s traditions. the berbers are an old nomadic tribe that lived in morocco for centuries until the arabs took over. nowadays the population of morocco is part arab and part berber. this guy told us about how half of his family lived in the village and their main task was making carpets. the men would shear the sheep and take care of them, and the women would weave the carpets. making the carpets is a tradition handed down from generation to genration by the women of the family and it’s a difficult task taking about a month to make a carpet (they only spend a few hours a day making carpets in between cooking etc). the rest of his family lives up in the mountains hearding goats and sheep. thay come down from the mountains once a year or so to kick it in the village before going back up. it seemed so crazy that there are people in this world who still live this nomadic lifestyle!

after a few more stops ( i cant remember what they were) we finally go to the most interesting part of our trip. the road putters out near a small town called merhzouga ( roughly 50 km from the algerian border) and the we drove through the desert. after driving for abit, we reached the dunes. they looked so dope!!!! huge dunes, all of them the deep red color that the dirt is made of. we were all really excited to finally get to the dunes… and then we saw the camels. a long line of camels just sitting and waiting for us. we really couldn’t believe it. so surreal… here we were in the sahara desert and our camel caravan was awaiting us.

without much delay each person in our group hopped on a camel, and we were off. the camel that i was on had a *huge* hump and was actually very uncomfotable (especially compared to the comfy camel i got the next day). the camel caravan slowly trudged through the desert and we took it all in. it was so cool!!! so, the camels were really loud. they were constantly snorting belching, and even more constantly… pooing. like literally, it seemed like they would poo every 5 minutes. i dont think i’ve ever seen an animal like that before… actually, by the end of the trek, the sun had set and it was dark when we got to this really gravely area at the end… and after dismounting it turned out that all the gravel… was actualy camel pellets! ew!

the camp in the desert was very basic. instead of being a tent, it was actually pretty much just a covering made out of bunch of blankets propped up by sticks. we would be sleeping in the open air… air that we soon realized was swarming w/ bugs. when our guide turned on the lantern, bugs of all shapes and sizes came running and flying… moths, giant locusts, and *huge* freaky looking scarab beatles. i hate bugs, and was really nervous about sleeping out in the open. heh, randomly enough, after a bit 2 cats ran into our camp and starting eating the bugs like crazy. cats? in the desert?

all of us hung out for a bit and played cards. it was fun to just relax and kick back w/ the people in our group. for dinner, our guides cooked us tajine (moroccan stew) and we ate it moroccan style, with our hands. after some more cards, we all crashed out and i kept waking up fearing attck of the locusts….

10/15 desert trip day 3

we woke up the next morning at the crack of dawn, to an impressive sunrise and red dunes. what a way to wake up!! of course, i was almost too sleepy to enjoy it, but it was still really cool. we all hopped back on the camels and treked back to where we left the van the night before.

our guide

after breakfast, we all got in the van for the long-ass drive ahead of us. we were gonna drive from 9:30 to about 7PM. ugh… so much driving time. it sucks cause although the 3 day trip was really fun and we got to see a lot of really cool stuff, we spent a huge portion of those 3 days just sitting in a van. plus, to make matters worse, this van *poured* exhaust inside itself. we were literally living in black fumes. actually, when we showered after the trip, the water turned *black* even after rinsing our hair twice!

and that wasn’t the only sketchy part of the trip. on the third day, the day we had to drive 9 hours back to marrakech, it turned out to be the first day of Ramadan. ramadan is the most important muslim holiday, and it lasts a month. for that month, muslims are not allowed to eat, drink, smoke, or have sex from sun up to sun down. well, our poor driver was really sleepy and even the day before had been kind of nodding off behind the wheel. this day, he had to do a 9 hour drive… on no food, no coffee, not even water! we were all kind of scared for our lives as he looked insanely tired… but luckily we made it back with no accidents.

it’s funny, we totally expected that during ramadan, everything in morocco would shut down during the day, but that’s really not the case. since there is such an influx of tourists here, a lot of the cafes etc stay open during the day and you have no problem finding food. i do feel really bad for the people working there though… it must be so hard to spend all day working w/ food when you can’t eat it. it turns out, that although morocco is lax on its rules for tourists during ramadan, turkey and jordan (we’ll be there during ramadan too) are much more hardcore. in turkey you get a ticket if you are caught eating during the day, and in jordan… you get thrown in jail for a day if you are caught eating!! yikes!

finally, at 7pm, we arrived back in marrakech all in one piece but very tired….



we got up today, early as hell, to catch the 7am train to marrakech. we were all hellza tired, and we tried to sleep as much as we could on our 7 hour train ride. of course, the train was super uncomfortable, so it was hard to sleep. the scenery that we saw in between naps was really cool though. tons of red colored land followed by yellow dessert followed by goat herders etc. every once in a while, we would pass by an oasis and all of a sudden, everything was green and lush and there were palm trees everywhere…. it was like all of a sudden taking a break and being in hawaii. it’s so weird that this could even exist in the desert.

upon arriving in marrakech, we checked into our hotel which is sooooo much incer than the last one, but more expensive (20$) per a double room. marrakech is really nice. the town seems a bit more laoid back than fez, people seemlconservative, and all the buildings are built out of red stone. it seems much nicer than fez… but more touristy for sure. the medina here isn’t as exciting as the one in fez, not as hectic, but to make up for it, there is this one huge square that every night fills w/ crazy performers, smoky food stalls, snake charmers, performing monkeys etc. this square is really cool.

well, the internet place is closing, so i gotta log off. tomorrow we start a 3 day adventure!! we are taking this tour into the desert of morocco. we’ll be seeing sunsets/sunrise by camel and all this other really crazy stuff! should be cool…\\