Morocco: The Southern Circuit

Wednesday, October 24, 2012 | Skoura, Morocco (map)

Rooftop terrace at sundown at the Hotel Jardins de Skoura, in the heart of the oasis
Much more to come on Algeria, but for now a change of pace.

Back in May, after two months on the clock in Algeria, I was eager for a break. The lady friend and I rendez-vous'ed in Marrakech and quickly set out on a drive across the Atlas Mountains' highest pass (the deservedly infamous Tizi'n'Tichka) to the Skoura oasis.

From there we wound our way up and down the Dadès Gorge, past the rose fields of Kalaa M'gouna to the Todra Gorge—Morocco's answer to the Grand Canyon.

A day of sucking dust on the patchy road south past stray camels, roadside wells, the oasis of Zagora, and miles of treeless sand brought us to the desert outpost of Mhamid. We spent the next

Algeria: A Beginning

Tuesday, October 9, 2012 | Algiers, Algeria (map)

A street corner in the famed casbah of Algiers.
In the year and a half I spent in Morocco, I heard frequent talk of Algeria, the forbidden land to the east where no sane Moroccan—and certainly no Westerner—would dare to tread.

The streets of Rabat, Casablanca, and Marrakech were and still are filled with ominous rumors about Algerians. If you believe the stories, they are a greedy people, an uptight people, a cold people, a violent people, and certainly not a people one would ever want to visit. (Not that Moroccans can do so easily; their border with Algeria has been closed since 1994 over numerous grievances between the two countries, particularly the Western Sahara conflict.)

At the same time, I only knew one or two people who had ever visited Algeria, so getting a second opinion was difficult. And so, with no shortage of ominous rumors in mind, I arrived in Algiers for a work trip back in March prepared for two months among utter barbarians.

Vieques Vacation

Sunday, April 29, 2012 | Vieques, Puerto Rico (map)

A view along the malecón boardwalk in "downtown" Esperanza, Vieques.
Last month the lady friend and I needed a break from work, and took a few days off for a long weekend in Puerto Rico. After a night in San Juan (where we discovered the excellent vegetarian spot Verde Mesa—highly recommended) we took a small prop plane from the capital to the island of Vieques.

We found Vieques to be a peculiar sort of paradise. For decades, the US military used the island for target practice, and its eastern half still remains off-limits thanks to the presence of unexploded ordnance. The nine thousand residents mostly live in two main coastal towns, Isabel Segunda and Esperanza, with a scattering of homes and guesthouses located in the interior. The locals are predictably laid back; many own horses, but simply let them roam the island's forests freely, and round them up when they want to take a ride. (The wandering horses—and Vieques' extremely

Steps Forward, Steps Backward

Saturday, February 25, 2012 | Tenadi, Mauritania (map)

At Tenadi, several hours' drive from the Mauritanian capital, two colleagues pause for the view atop a sand dune.
In the Middle East and North Africa, 2011 began with a bang that never let up. A transformational revolution in Tunisia sparked uprisings across the Arab world that, in one way or another, touched every country in the region.

The sudden explosion of the Arab Spring—which saw once dormant populations shock their rulers by gathering in the streets to demand a new political order—is a tremendously positive development for a part of the world that for so long seemed by turns stuck in the mud or actively regressing. Since the initial uprisings, however, the horrific violence, political roadblocks, and other deterrents which various regimes have deployed are a reminder of just how difficult a task the citizens of these countries still face.

The current year—a turbulent one already—is only reinforcing that conclusion. Just two months