Moroccan Skiing, and Apes on Ice

Monday, January 26, 2009 | Michlifene, Morocco (map)

Three things you never thought you'd see in the same photo: Arabic, snow, and an ape.
Some reports online (which definitely don't merit a link) tout Mischliffen—a ski resort south of Ifrane—as "the Moroccan Aspen". To be fair, on our visit last Saturday we did find Mischliffen nestled in a natural alpine wonderland, but one of considerably less dramatic heights than its Rocky Mountain counterpart.

Mischliffen's two ski trails—one modest and the other more so—empty into a large bowl at the hill's base, where hundreds of Moroccan kids and teens spent the day sledding on wooden fruit crates nailed to sawed-off ski halves. Often several of them would join together in a train at the bowl's lip and slide downward, screaming hysterically, until their formation suddenly dissolved into a mass of tumbling bodies, with sleds skittering away in every direction. (No, these are not the "apes on ice"—that comes later.)

A Mountain That Can Be Climbed, But Never Conquered

Saturday, January 17, 2009 | Jebel Zalagh, Morocco (map)

Seen from Bab Guissa, Jebel Zalagh arcs like a stony spine on the horizon. From the summit, the Atlas Mountains' snows are visible.
I didn't think much of Jebel Zalagh (جبل زلاغ) during my first few months in Fes. It was just the mountain north of town, and I had plenty of exploring within the city itself to keep me busy. This week, however, with no more Arabic classes to fill my days, the peak took on a new allure.

Before heading out, I spoke to several friends who had made the climb before. Their advice was slightly unsettling—on the way up the mountain, watch out for territorial farmers and their even more territorial dogs.

Is there a certain path I should take? I wondered. Not really, they said. Just head for the radio towers at the summit, and look out for the dogs. Oh, and also for the thieves at the top who stole our friend's backpack.

Great, I thought. One of those trips.

Paris: A Week of Living Right in the City of Lights

Thursday, January 15, 2009 | Paris, France (map)

Our New Year's Eve spread contained quite a few ingredients that we just can't find back in Morocco.
After four months in Fes—a medieval city in every possible sense—Jacqueline and I needed a break. Over New Year's, we spent a week in Paris, reconnecting with Western civilization through a seven-day hedonistic binge (well-deserved, we felt) of gastronomic delights, French wines, and—most exciting of all—bicycling.

Vélib', Paris's citywide bike sharing system, has reinvented the city with a simple model: pick out a bicycle from one of the 1,450 stations (roughly one every 300 meters throughout the city), ride anywhere you please, and return it to the nearest station when you're finished. Using the system costs at most a few Euros per day, making it an ideal way to commute or, for visitors like Jacqueline and me, to bounce around town quickly and simply.

The system makes Paris feel much smaller and more manageable, and other major world cities—

Marrakech: The Devil I Don't Know

Sunday, January 11, 2009 | Marrakesh, Morocco (map)

I didn't stop long to snap this picture, as this snake charmer's assistant was probably sneaking up behind me with a slithery surprise.
When Jacqueline and I were planning the itinerary for my mom and sister's recent visit to Morocco, I was nervous to include Marrakech.

Sure, the city gets constant raves as an exotic-but-luxurious tourist destination (The New York Times just named Marrakech #13 on its list of "The 44 Places To Go in 2009"). But many days I already feel like we live in a tourist trap (see Two Tales of a City: The Realities of Tourism in Fes). So why travel to an even bigger one? Better stick to the devil I know, I reasoned.

But what would their trip to Morocco be without a visit to Marrakech? Crowds or not, we couldn't justify skipping it, and in the end, I was glad we didn't.

Safety in Numbers

The hordes of tourists I anticipated in Marrakech were, indeed, present in full force. A few times

Moroccan Hoop Dreams

Friday, January 9, 2009 | Fès, Morocco (map)

Basketball in Morocco? Who knew? Here is yours truly in hot pursuit, as Hajj watches on.
When I arrived in Fes in September, one of the first activities in which I got involved was a local pick-up basketball game. I looked forward to the afternoons spent running up and down that court among the friendly, ragtag bunch of Moroccan players.

Since we moved to a new neighborhood and the temperatures dropped, my attendance trailed off. But I wrote an article about the game and some of its main characters, which was published yesterday in The B, The Baltimore Sun’s free daily. While it emphasizes the hometown angle of my experience, I hope readers everywhere will find the article enjoyable. It is currently in print around town and will remain available on the paper’s online blog, or you can read it below: