Of Kasbahs Rocked, Peaks Surmounted, and Jobs Forgotten

Thursday, April 16, 2009 | Chefchaouen, Morocco (map)

A few miles from Chefchaouen, Ryan scopes out the view of the Rif Mountains.
Over a recent long weekend, while Jacqueline was back in the US visiting family, my jet-setting friend Ryan dropped in en route from Dubai to New York.

Busy with jobs and life in distant cities, we haven't seen each other nearly enough since our Georgetown days, so it was a good opportunity to catch up. Since the trip was, for Ryan, also a rare chance to escape his desk in Manhattan, I did my best to haul him as far from civilization as I could in three short days.

Thursday evening, after home-cooked Moroccan couscous with spiced chicken, apricots, and almonds, we cruised the neighborhood bars—always an interesting, if not enriching, cultural experience. Friday morning, we made the obligatory tour of Rabat's few cultural sites, visiting the modest medina and the Kasbah des Oudaias.

Tarifa: Envying the Other Side of the Strait

Thursday, April 9, 2009 | Tarifa, Spain (map)

Seafood pasta: Did I really eat this? Yes, yes I did. And it was delicious.
Situated at the southernmost point in mainland Europe, Tarifa is a quaint little fishing and surfing town in many ways the opposite of Tangier, its bustling Moroccan neighbor across the Strait of Gibraltar.

From the ferry port, Jacqueline and I began our Andalusian weekend by strolling to Tarifa's old medina. Its meandering main street led us past haut couture boutiques, shops offering pastries or tourist gear, and sunny open air cafés where Spaniards munched churros and browsed newspapers.

Every local, it seemed, was accompanied by a dog. Large and small, shaggy and short-haired, they lounged in laps or underfoot. All weekend long, we saw them tagging along with their owners, not just along the streets but also into every store, restaurant, and bar. Some were leashed; most ranged freely. And why not? The uptight atmosphere of the Moroccan street was slipping rapidly

First Taste of Tangier: Not So Bad After All

Tuesday, April 7, 2009 | Tangiers, Morocco (map)

Locals leave the mosque in one of Tangier's main squares, beside the old medina.
Many Moroccans think of Tangier the way Americans think of a place like Newark, New Jersey. (Phrases like "the armpit of the country" come to mind.) TV travel personality Rick Steves once called Tangier "the Tijuana of Africa."

In seven months here in Morocco, I have had the same conversation every time I've asked anyone—Moroccan or expat—about the city. Their response always starts with a great sucking in of air, then a slow exhale. Their eyes wander off. "Wellll..." they say, struggling for a word that could describe the city favorably, yet still truthfully. Their face betrays signs of the struggle—there must be something good I can say about the place—before they inevitably shrug and settle, with a liar's smile, on "It's nice."

The reputation of Ibn Battuta's home town seems never to have recovered from its role, in the 19th

Culture in the Capital

Wednesday, April 1, 2009 | Ar-Ribat, Morocco (map)

Cultural offerings abound in Rabat.
Fes has long been known as Morocco's "cultural capital", thanks in recent years to the popularity of the annual World Sacred Music Festival and Sufi Culture Festival, among a number of international spectacles. Unfortunately, none of those festivals took place during our time in Fes, and we took advantage of smaller events in town only too rarely.

So, since moving to Rabat, Jacqueline and I have made a point to get out of the house more and experience some contemporary Moroccan culture. On a random weekday night last month, we met for dinner off a lively square in centre ville before heading to the Royal Cinema for a showing of "Amours Voilées" ("حجاب الحبّ", or "The Veil of Love"). We sat in armchairs in the theater's balcony, flanked by teenage boys who chattered through the film and, with each sex scene, hooted wildly to mask their anxiety. Since its release several weeks earlier, tremendous controversy—all