Out with the Old, in with the New

Monday, December 29, 2014

It's been a long time since IbnIbnBattuta.com got a facelift, but that day has come. The site has a new look for the new year, and I hope you will agree that it's a big improvement.

Besides an updated header, there are refreshed design elements and content, like a revised "About" page and new "My Travels" page. I still have some kinks to work out, but feedback is always welcome!

All of my stories and your comments from the last decade (and counting) are still here. And now that this burst of coding and design work are behind me, fear not: blogging will resume again in due haste.

Thank you for reading, and Happy New Year.

— Andrew

Rolleicord Photos: The Haïk and the Revolution

Thursday, November 20, 2014 | Algiers, Algeria (map)

Some 50 participants, including women and men, processed down the main street of downtown Algiers.
On November 1, Algerians celebrated the 60th anniversary of the start of their war for independence, and here in Algiers local artists collective "Belaredj" organized a street performance to celebrate the haïk, the traditional women's dress of Algeria.

I was pleased to spend the last day of my 20s tagging along and snapping pictures of the event with my Rolleicord. And, although I still can't find anywhere to develop the film here in Algiers, I just found a chance to do so on a long weekend in Marseille.

As I expected, the results were decent but not spectacular. (And certainly not as strong as those from the last event.) The group had been marching too quickly for me to take proper, well focused shots with my antique camera, whose knobs require significant fiddling to take sharp portraits.

But for all the fumbling it requires, the Rolleicord has its upsides. It attracted plenty of attention from the participants, making it the perfect tool for soliciting portraits. I walked past one woman in haïk just as she was telling a seedy male passerby that no, under no circumstances would she open up her haik and show him her face for a quick photo. But as soon as I passed with my camera, she

Come With Me To The Casbah

Monday, November 10, 2014 | Algiers, Algeria (map)

"Typiquement algérois": The Casbah is the heart and soul of the Algerian capital's traditional culture.
Back in my mom's basement in Baltimore, somewhere in a crate full of foreign coins, postcards, and other odd trinkets that I have accumulated in my travels, there is also a magazine article, its left edge ragged where I tore it from an issue of Smithsonian back in 2007. Called "Save the Casbah", the article is an ode to the famed Casbah of Algiers—and to the community activists, historians, preservationists, and local residents who were then, and are still today, trying to keep the iconic hillside settlement from crumbling into the sea below.

Out of fascination with this part of the world, I saved the article years ago, long before I ever visited Algiers. But living here has given me many chances to explore the Casbah firsthand and get to know its many twists and turns, both physical and imagined.

The Haïk: A Symbol of Algeria's Revolution

Saturday, November 1, 2014 | Algiers, Algeria (map)

One of my shots from the "Moi et Mon Haïk en Ville" event, March 2014.
We Americans only get to celebrate our independence once a year, but Algerians commemorate theirs twice: on the day the country officially won its independence, July 5, but also on the day the revolution against French colonial rule began, November 1. Today marked the 60th anniversary of the start, in 1954, of Algeria's war for independence.

Local artist Souad Douibi, organizer of the street performance/festival I attended in March in celebration of the haïk—the traditional women's dress of Algiers—took the opportunity to hold another such event on this patriotic day. The choice was fitting, given the haïk's central place not just in the aesthetic of 1950s Algeria, but also in the revolution itself. (It turns out a head-to-toe sheet works as well for hiding a guerrilla fighter as it does for hiding a lady. Can't picture it? Go watch The Battle of Algiers!)

As in March, several dozen women, young and old, from around Algiers answered the call to dig out their haïks (or, in many cases, their grandmothers') and assemble this morning for a procession through downtown Algiers. I met them at the

Engagement Shoot: Algeria

Friday, October 3, 2014 | Algiers, Algeria (map)

Alex and Ryan in the Place de l'Emir Abdelkader, on their first day in Algiers.
Although my door is always open, I don't get a lot of visitors here in Algeria.

My longtime best friend Ryan was one of the few people to visit me when I lived in Morocco a few years back, and along with his fiancée Alex, just became one of the few to visit me here in Algeria.

Ryan and Alex's choice to spend their one week of vacation in Algeria apparently raised some eyebrows among friends back home, but made sense to us. Back in our Georgetown days, Arabic obsessed and wanting to get off the usual tourist map, Ryan and I had sat in our dorm room researching the possibility of a summer trip to Libya and Algeria. (Conclusion: not feasible.)

Though those places had seemed so inaccessible then, now that I actually live in one of them, Ryan was keen to finally visit. Alex, who has also studied and lived throughout the Arab world, was similarly curious to see if all my Algeria hype was justified.

House Hunters International, Algiers: Episode 4, "A Year Later, Still So Many Questions"

Wednesday, August 13, 2014 | Algiers, Algeria (map)

Landlord and would-be D.I.Y. superstar Aziz with his triplets, on a visit to my terrace earlier this summer.
A year has passed since I finally quit squatting with a colleague and move into my own apartment in Algiers—only to encounter a series of comical early misadventures. (If you haven't yet, be sure to read Episode 1: "It's Worth It for the View", Episode 2: "MacGyver's Revenge", and Episode 3: "Is It Over Yet?").

There was never supposed to be an "Episode 4". But to this day, circumstances at my humble abode somehow continue to prompt some uncomfortable questions—including, most often, "What the hell am I doing here?"

* * *

Back in November, shortly after finishing the third installment of this series on the joys of renting in Algiers, I packed my bags for a week back home in the US. My timing was good, as here in Algeria the winter's first rains were just starting outside.

Oh, and also inside.

Dalmatian Sensations: Observations from a Croatian Vacation

Tuesday, August 12, 2014 | Korčula, Croatia (map)

Croatia's Dalmatian coast is supremely relaxing. Above, Korčula town.
Coming from Algeria or anywhere else, you can do a lot worse than ten days on Croatia's Dalmatian coast. Here's why:

12 Essential Travel Reads from the New Yorker Archives

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Yours truly in Paris, almost certainly reading the New Yorker.
To produce good writing, you must also consume good writing; that is why I read every issue of the New Yorker magazine religiously, no matter where I may be living or traveling. (If that approach hasn't exactly achieved the desired effect on my own writing, alas it is through no fault of the magazine's writers and editors, who consistently churn out the best content available in print.)

This week the New Yorker has opened its treasure trove. Hoping to entice new readers after a website redesign—and before introducing an online paywall at some as-yet-unspecified date this fall—for the next few months the magazine is offering unrestricted access to its online archives back to 2007, along with an expanded selection of earlier writings.

While the magazine consistently produces fascinating content on every subject imaginable, today I would like to recommend, in no particular order, a selection of the New Yorker's best recent pieces on travel, adventure, foreign cultures, and other themes explored in this blog. Enjoy these favorites while they're available:

After Epic World Cup, Gavin Reflects on Brazil

Monday, July 21, 2014 | Brazil (map)

Festive street decorations in Salvador da Bahia
In ten great posts over the past few weeks, guest blogger Gavin Lippman has shared his experiences at the 2014 World Cup with all of us back home. Today, Gavin offers his final reflections on the trip.

The World Cup has ended and it will be another four years before 32 teams restart the chase for glory, this time in Russia. So as the summer rolls on, talk of the Cup fades away, and I depart my role as a guest blogger for Ibn Ibn Battuta, I wanted to share my thoughts on the World Cup and Brazil.

* * *

The World Cup is an event truly unlike any other. The closest comparison would be a hybrid between March Madness—because of the unpredictability and sheer passion—and the Olympics—because of the nationalistic fervor this competition generates. But even this hybrid would fall a distant second behind the World Cup. While TV, the Internet, and social media can give you an idea of how things

In Germany, Cautious Optimism Finally Pays Off

Saturday, July 19, 2014 | Stuttgart, Germany (map)

Gavin personally hoisted the (replica) World Cup trophy amid the celebrations in downtown Stuttgart.
For the past few weeks, guest blogger Gavin Lippman has been writing about his experiences at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. Check out his tenth entry below, and follow all his posts here.

After almost two days of travel, I arrived back in Stuttgart safe and sound.

It took a few days to recover from my jetlag and reacquaint myself with the German language and wildly unpredictable weather, but after three weeks on the road in Brazil I was happy to be back in my house. Best of all, I didn’t miss any World Cup matches because I traveled on the rest days, and arrived in time to watch Germany in the quarterfinals. I now threw my support behind my second home, hoping that one of my teams could maybe take home the winner's trophy.

* * *

Ten days and two wildly different victories later, I find myself watching Germany take on Argentina in the World Cup final. How did we get here, you ask? We almost didn't. Andrew’s adopted home team, the Desert Foxes of Algeria, nearly pulled off the upset of the tournament in the Round of 16

Following the Cup from Iguazu Falls, a South American Crossroads

Sunday, July 6, 2014 | Iguazu Falls, Brazil (map)

Guest author Gavin at Iguazu Falls: Living dangerously, or just trying to dry off in the sun?
For the past few weeks, guest blogger Gavin Lippman has been writing about his experiences at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. Check out his ninth entry below, and follow all his posts here.

It was so tough to leave Rio de Janeiro, I almost didn't make it to Iguazu Falls. I wanted to explore more of the city, lounge on the beaches, and keep relaxing. After the USA qualified for the World Cup's Round of 16, however, I briefly considered returning to Salvador to see the match with my Naval Academy friends, but flights were crazy expensive and I had already lined up a visit to Iguazu. "How often do I get to see one of the largest waterfalls in the world?" I thought as I boarded the plane to continue my Brazilian journey further south.

After lounging on beaches in balmy summertime weather, it was easy to forget that I was in the Southern Hemisphere, where it is currently wintertime. But I was reminded when I arrived in Iguazu. I had heard it would be a little chilly so I had packed a light jacket in my backpack thinking that would be enough... boy was I wrong. The moment I stepped off the plane, I felt a biting cold wind. When I arrived at my hostel and found everyone there bundled up in sweaters and jackets, huddled in front of a TV watching the Costa Rica vs. Greece match, I knew that I had made my second error of the trip. (The first had been to think I could make a 2:30am flight after a 6:00pm USA match.) "No journey is without its challenges, but damn, this waterfall had better be worth it!" I thought as went to sleep that night.

Six Days in Rio de Janeiro, No Stone Unturned

Friday, July 4, 2014 | Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (map)

Guest author and converted Brazil enthusiast Gavin posed on the Selarón Steps in Rio.
For the past few weeks, guest blogger Gavin Lippman has been writing about his experiences at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. Check out his eighth entry below, and follow all his posts here.

I finally reached my guest house in Rio after a long, hectic day of travel that included a missed flight, a run-in with ESPN's Ian Darke, and a trip to Rio's second airport to retrieve my bag. After a week in the smaller, more isolated cities of Natal and Manaus I was happy to be back in a large city with plenty to do.

The name Rio de Janeiro brings many things to mind: Sugarloaf mountain, and the legendary Christ the Redeemeer statue perched atop Corvocado mountain. The districts of Rio, like Copacabana (home to a beautiful beach and even more beautiful people), Ipanema (another beautfiul beach in its own right, made famous by the legendary song "The Girl from Ipanema"), and Lapa and Santa Teresa (home to the Lapa arches, Selarón Steps and a huge party scene). Rio is also a huge sports hub, both for soccer—it is home to Brazilian powerhouse clubs Fluminense, Flamengo, Vasco da Gama and Botafogo—and adventure sports like hang gliding, paragliding, hiking, cycling, and rock climbing. But leading up to the World Cup, the press focused much more on the city's negative side, particularly the crime and drugs prevalent in its slums (favelas), giving the sense that Rio is a real danger zone.

To get a true sense of what Rio is like, I decided to venture into the favelas, try some adventure sports, take in a World Cup match at the legendary Maracanã stadium, hang out on the pristine beaches, and mix it up and party with the cariocas.

Ibn Ibn Battuta, 10 Years On

Saturday, June 28, 2014 | Algiers, Algeria (map)

Andrew in downtown Algiers, September 2013.
Amid the Algerian cultural musings, the occasional gelato-infused vacation update, and the recent World Cup guest blogging, I wanted to pause briefly to mark a milestone and to thank everyone who reads, reflects on, and sometimes even responds to the stories I share here on Ibn Ibn Battuta.

Hard as it is to believe, this month marks 10 years since I first started writing this travel blog.

Over the past decade, Ibn Ibn Battuta has known multiple platforms and designs, from its humble beginnings in a ratty notebook to the site you see today, but I have worked hard to steer its content in pursuit of a constant goal: "to show armchair travelers back home what they're missing and why I travel". That's how I have long articulated it, but in truth it is also more than that. For me, this blog is about opening eyes to the world in which we live, a world of which I have been lucky to see more than most, and a world that—if more people could know and celebrate its diversity—might be a better place for us all to live.

At some point between my first entry (warning: clicking that link will take you to an awkward picture of 19-year-old Andrew) and today, I began telling myself that I was writing this blog for me alone. (Well, almost: "Even if only my mother reads it, I will keep writing!") More than anything else, that philosophy has kept me at it, stubbornly, for the past decade. And I expect it will continue to serve me.

But after dedicating thousands of hours of work on this blog, I must admit to feeling a little thrill every time someone comments on the site or on Facebook, offering encouragement or challenging me to provide more detail, to explain further, to go deeper. Thank you to all of you who have found my work valuable in the past 10 years—to both those who have read in silent reflection and those who have shared feedback.

In my travels, I have learned much over this decade that I hope will make the next one even richer. Thank you for reading, and safe travels.

Notes:
  • Looking to explore some of the last 10 years' best entries? Check out my "Best Of" page.
  • Remember that I am always happy to hear your suggestions about what you would like to see more of on Ibn Ibn Battuta. Don't be shy!

In Algeria, A Historic World Cup Already

Friday, June 27, 2014 | Algiers, Algeria (map)

Jubilant supporters filled downtown Algiers last night after Algeria clinched a berth in the next round of the World Cup.
While guest blogger Gavin has been sharing some great updates from Brazil over the last few weeks, I've also been watching the World Cup regularly here in Algiers. Besides cheering for the US team, I have joined my Algerian friends in exuberantly supporting their beloved Fennecs. (I wrote earlier about the Algerian supporters' rather excessive affection for their side.) Through the tournament's first stage, the Algerian team have shown themselves to be lovable underdogs, bouncing back from an uninspiring loss to Belgium to smash South Korea in their second match.

Both games might as well have been played on public holidays here, given how little anyone in the country managed to work. Before taking off early to plant themselves at home in front of the TV, most people here in Algiers seemed to spend their mornings swapping projections about the team's prospects or relaying reports from friends among the 7,000 Algerians who headed to Brazil to support the team (on the government's dime, of course).

When, in their début against Belgium, Algeria drew first blood on a penalty kick, the city outside my

USA vs Germany Recap: A Loss, But We'll Take It

Thursday, June 26, 2014 | Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (map)

Fraternizing with the enemy: Gavin (middle) watched the US-Germany match with Ben and Simone at the FanFest in Rio de Janeiro.
For the past few weeks, guest blogger Gavin Lippman has been writing about his experiences at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. Check out his seventh entry below, and follow all his posts here.

Because I currently call Stuttgart, Germany home, I knew the USA-Germany match would be an interesting one for me at this World Cup. Moving to Germany in 2012 was one of the best things that happened to me, in part since it gave me the chance to leave eastern North Carolina—where I wasn't really happy—to start fresh. It would probably be an understatement to say that I have embraced the German culture and atmosphere. My Facebook page is full of updates in German and pictures of me in Lederhosen, and I have made wonderful friends there who have introduced me to so many new things. After summer festivals, late-night parties in the clubs and the streets, soccer matches, and two Christmases in small-town Bavaria, Germany has truly become my second home and I am thankful for that.

However, ... make no mistake: the USA will always be my home, my country, and my #1 soccer team. When meeting new people here in Brazil, I tell them "I'm from Baltimore, but currently live in Germany." When they say, "Oooh, who are you cheering for in the USA-Germany match?", the expression on my face says loud and clear: "Are you serious? It's USA all the way."

View from the Stands: Triumph, then Tragedy, as US Takes on Portugal

Wednesday, June 25, 2014 | Manaus, Amazonas, Brazil (map)

Gavin and the boys representing the red, white, and blue before Sunday's Portugal matchup.
For the next few weeks, guest blogger Gavin Lippman will be writing about his experiences at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. Check out his sixth entry below, and follow all his posts here.

While I enjoyed Manaus and my experience in the Amazon, there was really only one reason I was in the city: Sunday's USA v. Portugal match.

After the euphoria of the US victory over Ghana in the opening match, it had been tough to wait almost another week to support the boys in red, white, and blue. There were some great games in the meantime (Iran nearly stealing a point from Argentina, Costa Rica shocking Italy, and Germany's pulsating draw with Ghana) yet when I returned from the Amazon on Saturday night, it was clear that Uncle Sam's Army had descended on Manaus to face the next challenge: Portugal.

The US had much at stake in this "Rumble in the Jungle". Because of Germany's 2-2 draw with Ghana the night before, a victory would mean a (once-unfathomable) chance to top the so-called "Group of Death" and secure a spot in the next round. Portugal, after a tough loss to Germany, needed a strong showing to have any chance of advancing. In 2002, the American underdogs had kick-started a run to the quarterfinals with a victory over heavily favored Portugal, and since that time the US has come too far as a soccer nation to be so easily written off again. While the US team had gained confidence from its opening match victory, Portugal's beating at the hands of Germany had left them without volatile defender Pepe (red-carded for an idiotic headbutt) and

From Manaus, Gavin Heads into the Amazon

Sunday, June 22, 2014 | Manaus, Amazonas, Brazil (map)

Gavin's shot of sunset over the Rio Negro, outside Manaus.
For the next few weeks, guest blogger Gavin Lippman will be writing about his experiences at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. Check out his fifth entry below, and follow all his posts here.

As the plane made its final descent into Manaus, I peered out the window. Despite an overcast sky and rain, I could still see the vast dense green blanket below, pocketed with lakes and rivers. When I stepped off the plane, the blast of humid air confirmed it: I was in the Amazon rainforest.

A quick glance at the map can offer some sense of how far Manaus is from the other World Cup host cities. But the maps don't do justice to just how vast Brazil really is, and make no mistake—Manaus is in the middle of nowhere. It is accessible only by plane (a 4-hour ride to São Paulo, Rio De Janeiro, or most other major cities) or riverboat; there are no roads leading in or out of the city. Lastly, temperatures are always a balmy 85 degrees Fahrenheit (29 Celsius), with serious humidity.

Despite these obvious obstacles, Manaus was selected as one of the World Cup host cities—and immediately became the destination where no team wanted to play. England manager Roy Hodgson said as much before the Cup draw, setting off a war of words with the city's mayor. When the draw came, not only did England draw a game here (which they lost, 2-1, to Italy, in a match where every Brazilian heartily cheered against England) but so did the USA, for our key second group match

In Natal, a Key Win for the Red, White, and Blue

Tuesday, June 17, 2014 | Natal, Rio Grande do Norte, Brazil (map)

Know thy enemy: Gavin got to know some Ghanaian fans before the match.
For the next few weeks, guest blogger Gavin Lippman will be writing about his experiences at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. Check out his fourth entry below, and follow all his posts here.

When the 2014 World Cup draw took place back in December, I, like every other American soccer fan, anxiously awaited our fate. Whose group would we fall into? How far would the team have to travel? Would we have the bad luck to draw a game in the steamy Amazon rainforest?

Sure enough, my fears were justified; the USA was drawn in Group G, this year's "Group of Death". While my friends' reactions were mostly negative ("Oh shit, we're going home early" was common), I saw our draw as a positive. We had long been touting our improvement as a soccer nation, we had a top level coach and a team that impressed during World Cup qualifying matches. If the USA could make it out of the Group of Death, I figured, not only could we attract more fans to a growing game in the States, but the team might also finally earn international respect.

Spain v. Netherlands: An Orange Wave in Salvador

Sunday, June 15, 2014 | Salvador, Bahia, Brazil (map)

Gavin joined the Dutch fans in rooting on their beloved Oranje in Salvador.
For the next few weeks, guest blogger Gavin Lippman will be writing about his experiences at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. Check out his third entry below, and follow all his posts here.

After less than 24 hours in São Paulo, I flew Salvador, the capital of Bahia state. While today Salvador is known as "the friendly city of Brazil", its history isn't quite so happy; Salvador was a major hub for Brazil's slave trade. Today it still has a high concentration of African-Brazilians, and has become a cultural hub. Brazilian dance style Capoeira originates in Salvador, where the music is heavily drum-based, making it easy to lay down a beat and start a street party.

That is exactly what happened the day of the World Cup's opening match. By lunchtime, the excitement was already evident in Salvador when drum group Olodum began a performance in a central square. (Check these guys out, they are legit. They were in the Michael Jackson video "They Don't Care About Us".) By 3PM the square had evolved into a sea of yellow, green, and blue as everyone—Brazilian or otherwise—was sporting Brazil's colors. (I had always suspected that at the World Cup, the host nation becomes everyone's de facto second-favorite team after their home country, and this was definitely the case with the Aussies, Brits, and Americans I was hanging out with.)

In São Paulo, Slowing Protests and Growing World Cup Fever

Thursday, June 12, 2014 | São Paulo, Brazil (map)

Highlights of Gavin's tour of São Paulo on the eve of the World Cup opener. Next, he's on to Salvador for his first match!
For the next few weeks, guest blogger Gavin Lippman will be writing about his experiences at the World Cup in Brazil. Follow his posts here.

After starting my day at 3:00 AM in Stuttgart, I finally arrived in São Paulo at around 5:00 PM local time and was able to get a little rest. The next day—yesterday, my first in Brazil—I had only six or seven hours to burn in São Paulo before catching my flight to Salvador, so I decided to hire a tour guide to show me around the city by car.

My guide, Diego, arrived promptly at 8:00 AM at my hostel. After introducing himself, he said to me, "I hope you don't mind, sir, but I looked for you on Facebook so I know what you looked like, and I really enjoyed your blog post about your trip!" I laughed and said that wasn't a problem, and we started our trek around São Paulo. Diego was a lifelong "Paulistano" who also dabbled in freelance journalism and public relations and I was curious to see the city from his point of view.

São Paulo is a huge, sprawling city. While it seems like skyscrapers just shoot from the ground all around (à la New York or Chicago), there are actually still some buildings relatively intact from the

Guest Post: Bound for Brazil, with Great Expectations

Monday, June 9, 2014 | Stuttgart, Germany (map)

Gavin has been excited for this trip for months. He finally heads for Brazil tomorrow.
For the next few weeks, guest blogger Gavin Lippman will be writing about his experiences at the World Cup in Brazil. Follow his posts here.

Growing up in West Baltimore, I always dreamed of one day leaving to see the world. But I didn’t act on this dream until later in life. I just got my first US passport in 2010, but didn’t use it until 2012, when I moved to Germany. Once I arrived in Stuttgart and started making friends, I was amazed to learn how well traveled they were. Taking long vacations and exploring the world was the norm—the Maldives, Southeast Asia, South Africa, Australia, and more. I was not only amazed, but also inspired to stop talking about traveling and start going places.

Two years, two continents, and 17 countries later, I now have some amazing trips under my belt. But something is still missing. I had never been on a long journey before, a trip where I packed a backpack and just took off for a few weeks. I considered lots of destinations for an extended vacation, but when I remembered that the World Cup would be held this year in Brazil, I knew that’s where I wanted to go.

World Cup 2014: Andrew in Algeria, Gavin in Brazil

Sunday, June 8, 2014 | Algiers, Algeria (map)

Left to right: Andrew with not enough World Cup fever, Algerians with too much World Cup fever, guest blogger Gavin juuust right.
Someday I will fulfill my lifelong dream of attending the World Cup but, alas, 2014 will not be the lucky year. After watching regularly as a kid, cheering along to every match in open-air bars in Tanzania in 2006, and fist-pumping silently at my desk back in Washington in 2010, I will again be watching the tournament from afar when it starts this week in Brazil.

This year, however, I will get to do so from Algeria, which, as the only Arab country to have qualified for the Cup, bears the hopes not just of a nation but a whole region. I have closely followed the Algerian team's march toward Brazil, and was in the streets of downtown Algiers amid the jubilant crowd of firework- and flag-wielding fans back in November when the Fennecs (a Saharan desert fox, and the team's mascot) clinched their spot with a win over Burkina Faso.

As with all that touches on their national pride, Algerians take their football seriously—and to serious extremes. Two fans were killed in the melee outside the ticketing windows before the final

One Nub Down, 9.8 to Go, and Life Goes On

Friday, June 6, 2014 | Algiers, Algeria (map)

Life giveth thou the finger, and life taketh it away. (Detail of x-ray taken after the accident.)
On Monday, the first anniversary of my move to Algiers, I woke to howling wind and rain, unusual here this time of year. I scarfed breakfast, quickly showered and shaved, and dressed to head to the office.

Ducking the rain and juggling an umbrella and several bags, I left my apartment and dashed across the terrace to the building's stairwell. As I reached back to close the metal terrace door behind me, a fierce gust of wind suddenly heaved the door shut. I jerked my hand back and almost escaped it, but for the end of my middle finger, which the door neatly severed, just at the base of the nail.

In a fit of curses and coursing blood, I ran downstairs to my colleague's kitchen and plunged the throbbing finger under the faucet, wrapped it, and made for the clinic next door.

No doctor present. "But she'll be here soon if you'd like to wait."

No thanks. We drove to a well reputed clinic just outside town: "Nothing much we can do except bandage it up."

Soon I was home in bed, downing weak painkillers and antibiotics, trying not to think about the pain as I came to terms with the fact that I would now have a permanently shortened left middle finger.

The Price of Looking Good and Eating Well in Paris

Thursday, May 15, 2014 | Paris, France (map)

Luxurious breakfast at 61 Berthier
Back in Paris earlier this month, I finally had a chance to develop film, see the lady friend, and catch up on several months' worth of missed cheese and sausages. Oh yes, and blow lots of money on new clothes.

This time, you see, I finally felt like I was starting to figure out Paris.

Here's the secret: the City of Lights is really just one big conspiracy to make Americans feel our clothes are all several sizes too big, before presenting us with endless—and endlessly expensive—options to overhaul our unfortunately baggy wardrobes. (This is more or less what I've been doing for the last year, in the course of a number of trips, to the detriment of my bank balance.)

But once the French have you swaddled tightly in unflexing fibers (I've had little luck finding more comfortable "stretch" garments here), then they hit you with the food, making it even harder to breathe in the shirt that fit—by French standards—back in the store, but now clings to your abdomen less like a shirt than like a second skin. Duck confit, croque-monsieurs, baguettes, tarte tatin, lardon-laden salads, moules frites, more cheese than you could ever imagine... I fall into this bottomless pit of Parisian indulgence every time, without fail.

Rolleicord Photos: Visions of Rome

Monday, May 12, 2014 | Rome, Italy (map)

Rome overflowed with a rag-tag richesse unlike anywhere I had visited.
You can do a lot worse than a long weekend in Rome. That was what I learned back in March when I finally made my first trip to Italy. (See my previous entry "Roma!" for details.)

Though I had to wait (impatiently, of course) until last week to develop my film and see how my Rolleicord photos turned out, I was pretty confident that there would be some solid ones, given how rich Rome's textures are. From the cobblestones to the sidewalk cafés to smartly dressed locals to the omnipresent gelaterias, there's hardly an inch of the city center that isn't dripping with Old World charm, and oozing casual sophistication.

Not that I minded seeing Italy live up to its stereotypes: on the contrary, it made for easy picture-taking and even better eating! Enjoy a few of my favorite shots below:

Rolleicord Photos: Algiers Haïk Festival

Tuesday, May 6, 2014 | Algiers, Algeria (map)

"Haïk Selfie": A candid shot of participants at the Algiers haïk fest.
After four months of snapping away with my Rolleicord and waiting impatiently to see the results, in Paris this weekend I finally got a chance to visit my favorite photo studio and develop a mounting pile of film. (A lucky 13 rolls!) I was giddy to see how all 13 would look, most especially those I took back in March at the haïk festival in Algiers. (For background, see "Celebrating the Haik, and Debating an Algerian Icon", or in French "Traduction : Fêter le Haïk, et Débattre une Icône Algérienne").

I'm quite pleased with how some of the shots turned out—in particular, the "Haïk Selfie" above, which is undoubtedly my favorite photo so far this year. My thanks again to the organizers and friends who generously invited me to photograph this event.

Below, a selection of my photos from the festival:

Introducing Sfarjal

Monday, April 28, 2014

"Sfarjal: Creative inspiration and mental stimulation, by Ibn Ibn Battuta"
Readers of this blog who have been with me since this post back in 2008 will know that the quince—or sfarjal in Arabic—is my favorite fruit, and a very peculiar one as well.

So it came quickly to mind last year when I was looking to name a new side project: a Tumblr blog for cataloging all the intriguing, thought-provoking, disorienting, and just plain weird bits of inspiration I run across online and off.

Sfarjal is now where I stash articles, videos, commentary, photographs, music, artwork, and more—generally hewing to this blog's mission to share stories, information, and perspectives from around the globe to encourage more people to think freely and travel widely.

Ibn Ibn Battuta will continue as always, albeit without monthly reading lists for the time being. Enjoy Sfarjal.

March 2014 Reading List: Big Thinking Edition

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

It's been a good month for thinking outside the box. (Photo source: Forbes)
Who wasn't writing about Crimea this month? No surprise that it was the talk of the town, of course, but I can only read so much about Russia before depression sets in. I'll save you the trouble. Ninety percent of the ink spilled in March boils down to this: Putin is a thug, and when nobody was able or willing to defend it, he snatched a vulnerable region with nice beaches off his southern borders. At least I can sleep well knowing my country would never do the same.

Luckily, I also read some great pieces on big thinkers in March. Here's my pick of the month's best:

A Star in a Bottle (Raffi Khatchadourian, New Yorker)
March's most awe-inspiring article. Meet ITER, a mad scientist's dream so audacious in its ambitions that it's hard to imagine how it even saw the light of day: a 23,000-ton, $20 billion nuclear fission reactor in southern France that—if its science proves sound (still an unresolved question), and its construction is ever completed (not easy, when weighing the interests of 35 competing "partner" nations mired in a global recession)—will swirl hydrogen faster than the speed of sound to temperatures ten times hotter than the sun's core, potentially solving Earth's energy shortage for the next 30 million years, yet generating almost no waste in the process. Whoa. But the most enduring takeaway of many "eureka" moments for me when reading this account? Current renewable energy sources are so many orders of magnitude behind humanity's needs that if this "star in a bottle" doesn't succeed, we might not survive much longer.

What's Gone Wrong with Democracy (The Economist)
Do not skip this article on the most important question of our age: how do we want our societies to be governed? To explain the stumble in democracy's forward march in the last decade, the authors propose and explore several strong hypotheses—from the 2008 recession, to the rise of China, to the explosive growth of technology. Their prescriptions to revive democratic progress didn't impress, but I remain an optimist on this front and expect the picture to start looking much better as economies rebound.

Why Wu-Tang Will Release Just One Copy Of Its Secret Album (Zack O. Greenberg, Forbes)
"Somewhere on the outskirts of Marrakech, Morocco, inside a vault housed beneath the shadow of the Atlas Mountains, there sits an engraved silver-and-nickel box with the potential to spawn a shift in the way music is consumed and monetized." Curious yet?

Bill Gates: The Rolling Stone Interview (Jeff Goodell, Rolling Stone)
The world's richest man spends his time and vast resources pondering modern society's biggest challenges: climate change, disease, poverty, and ignorance. (Yes, I certainly am jealous.) This interview offers a welcome look inside the mind of a big thinker with the means and the will to improve our world on a grand scale.

Three Years of Strife and Cruelty Puts Syria in Free Fall (Anne Barnard, New York Times)
March marks the third anniversary of Syria's descent into a staggering state of human misery. Where do things stand today, how did we get here, and why can't we seem to end this disaster? Barnard quantifies the tragedy with some stark figures, but solutions are still elusive.

A Map of God's Countries (Emma Green, The Atlantic)
Results from Pew's survey of 40,000 respondents in 40 countries asking the question "Is it necessary to believe in God to be moral and have good values?" No surprise, us atheists are in the (goddamn) minority.
(Source: The Atlantic)
This is What American-Themed Parties Look Like Around the World (Matt Stopera, BuzzFeed)
Apparently people in all the countries I've visited have been holding these parties without my knowledge, perhaps ashamed to have a real American present to call them out on their gross inaccuracy and political incorrectness. Note to all of you: I don't care, this looks great. Invite me.

What is the Funniest Joke in the World? (Alva Noë, NPR)
Different cultures, different senses of humor: for anyone who has traveled widely, this is no surprise. Most interesting is researcher Scott Weems' analysis of 1.5 million votes from people around the world on their favorite jokes. I'm encouraged to learn that the winning joke (cited in the article) is satisfyingly morbid. Maybe there's hope for humanity after all. :)

And for those who haven't yet, check out my posts from March:

Around Algiers: Navigating the Invisible City

Tuesday, April 1, 2014 | Algiers, Algeria (map)

Exploring beneath the surface of the Algerian capital is a slow task of relationship building.
Outside of its famed casbah, Algiers is hardly the warren of tunnels that some other North African cities are (I'm thinking of Fes here), but it does have its secret passageways.

The capital's narrow roads zigzag circuitously along steep hillsides, flanked by apartments or walled-off villas that make many streets feel like narrow concrete chutes. Occasionally, as you crest a hill or pass a gap in a wall, you get a fleeting glimpse, between the bougainvilleas, of the sea stretched out below like a smooth blue carpet.

* * *

In the US, we have worked for centuries to flatten social barriers, to allow citizens to navigate their cities without special keys, access controls, or passwords. To move from one geographic location to any other in an American city, usually you can walk or drive unhindered. Maps are truly a representation of the geographic possibilities one can experience.

In Algiers, by contrast, geography is not as it appears on a map. Rather, it is an interlaced reality of physical and social barriers. In this city where interpersonal relationships decide all, what one needs

Traduction : Fêter le Haïk, et Débattre une Icône Algérienne

Saturday, March 22, 2014 | Alger, Algérie (map)

La défilé sur le chemin au centre-ville en haïk et 'ajjar. (Une photo numérique que j'ai pris ; les photos Rolleicord viendront.)
La traduction française de mon dernier post, "Celebrating the Haik, and Debating an Algerian Icon":

Hier j'ai eu la chance d'être parmi une petite armée de photographes officiels pour un événement culturel unique ici à Alger : la deuxième fête annuelle du haïk, la tenue traditionnelle des femmes algériennes qui aujourd'hui ne paraît que rarement dans les rues de la capitale.

Des participantes de l’adolescence jusqu’au troisième âge—celles qui se souviennent de l’ère quand le haïk était quasi-universel à Alger—se sont enveloppé de voiles blancs brochés ainsi que de ‘ajjar, triangle de dentelle qui cache en partie le visage. (Cet ensemble est spécifique à l’Algérie et est particulièrement emblématique de la capitale et de sa célèbre casbah.)

Il y a quelques semaines, lors de la visite de ma sœur, j’ai rencontré plusieurs photographes talentueux qui exposaient au musée d'art moderne d'Alger. Ce sont eux qui m'ont invité à les accompagner hier pour photographier l'ouverture : une scène de 12 femmes en haïk qui recréaient "La Cène" de Da Vinci dans la cour de l’Ecole des Beaux-Arts.

Celebrating the Haik, and Debating an Algerian Icon

Friday, March 21, 2014 | Algiers, Algeria (map)

The procession winds downtown in traditional haik and 'ajjar. (A digital photo I snapped; Rolleicord pics forthcoming.)
Cet article est maintenant disponible en français : "Fêter le Haïk, et Débattre une Icône Algérienne"

Yesterday I had the good fortune to be among a small army of official photographers for a unique cultural event here in Algiers: the second annual celebration of the haik, the traditional garment of Algerian women that today is only seen rarely on the capital's streets.

Women as young as teenagers and some old enough to remember when the haik (pronounced "hay-yek") was practically a uniform in Algiers participated, donning the brocaded white shrouds as well as the 'ajjar, a triangle of lace used to partly conceal the face. (This ensemble is unique to Algeria, and is particularly iconic of the capital and its famed casbah.)

A few weeks ago, during my sister’s visit, I had met several talented photographers who were exhibiting at the Algiers modern art museum. It was they who invited me to yesterday's event and arranged for me to join them in photographing the opening: a scene of 12 Algerian women in haiks recreating DaVinci's "Last Supper" in the courtyard of the city's fine arts college.

Roma!

Thursday, March 20, 2014 | Rome, Italy (map)

This bella donna looks to have been cruising Rome's streets for quite a few years.
Recently I joined Rebecca in Rome for a long weekend, which we spent walking from restaurant to gelateria to restaurant to gelateria. I ate in sufficient quantity to bring eternal shame (or pride, depending on your point of view) upon all my ancestors before me and descendants hereafter. But this was, at long last, my first trip to Italy, so I don't feel particularly regretful about my gastronomic excesses.

In the rare moments between mouthfuls of succulent gnocchi, chianti, or gelato, Rebecca and I had plenty of time to catch up and to explore central Rome.

My favorite experience, however, was a solo walk I took one sleepless early morning. Rolleicord in hand, I meandered along the undisturbed streets, empty but for the occasional delivery man or jogger. I passed a deserted Trevi Fountain and Pantheon before arriving at the ruins that stretch out beside the Coliseum. That was where I heard a faint buzzing noise overhead, and looked across

Guest Post: Stepping Out Into Algiers

Sunday, March 16, 2014 | Algiers, Algeria (map)

The guest author Maggie exploring Algiers with her favorite big brother
A guest post by my sister, Maggie Farrand

It wasn't exactly how I had planned to arrive in Algiers. I had envisioned a much more elegant, carefree entrance, where I would gather my luggage and manage the airport crowds feeling relaxed and ready for three days of vacation.

Revisiting my breakfast on my two-hour flight from Rabat, being told by the flight attendants that I was the first person ever to cry on their flight, and then suffering through a 45-minute line at immigration with my head spinning and a slight fear that they wouldn't let me in... well, that was how it really happened.

But I made it, arriving safely in Algiers after a two-week work trip next door in Rabat, Morocco. I enjoyed my time in Morocco, staying in Rabat for the first time (even if I spent most of it in the office), but I admit I had my eye on the next stop of my itinerary: three full days with my older brother, Andrew, in Algeria.

February 2014 Reading List: 'From Russia, No Love' Edition

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Photo source: "Beyond Sochi: Photos of Russia by Russians" (described in list below)
While choosing not to watch this month's Olympics in Sochi, Russia, I had plenty of time to stay current on my reading. As uncertainty mounted in Ukraine, here are a few of the most thought-provoking pieces I came across in the last month:

Inside the Iron Closet: What It's Like to be Gay in Putin's Russia (Jeff Sharlet, GQ)
A troubling, detailed account of the Russian LGBT community's many struggles toward acceptance.

Ottomania (Elif Batuman, New Yorker)
Didn't realize that Turkish soap operas are critical cultural reference points for a huge part of the world's population? Guess again. The New Yorker's shrewd Turkey correspondent strips back the layers of often competing identities underlying the popular Ottoman-era drama "Magnificent Century". Insights abound on Turkey's history, current politics, and complex relations with its neighbors and former vassals. Gated, but very highly recommended.

A Syrian Woman's Kitchen in Shatila (Nawara Mahfoud, New Yorker)
A very human snapshot of daily life for Syrian refugees in Shatila, a Palestinian camp in Lebanon where many have settled, stressing already limited access to resources.
(For those seeking worthy political commentary on Syria, see this Economist piece for an essential point: "As long as Bashar Assad thinks he is winning, diplomacy will fail.")

Chronicles of the Veil (Laila Lalami, Los Angeles Review of Books)
Another excellent piece by Laila Lalami, this one on the unintended consequences of Western efforts to "save" Muslim women without first understanding their local contexts, with an exploration of the awkward narratives that feed such efforts.

A Dictator's Guide to Urban Design (Matt Ford, The Atlantic)
Inspired by the recent uprising in Kiev, this piece reviews autocrats' urban planning schemes to discourage dissent and organized protest, from Paris to Pyongyang to Tahrir Square.

Why Do Japanese People Wear Surgical Masks? It's Not Always for Health Reasons (Casey Baseel, Rocket News 24)
More oddities from the most peculiar country on earth—and a topic of interest to frequent travelers accustomed to seeing masked Asians shuffling through airports worldwide. Surgical masks apparently double as warming devices, fashion accessories, modesty aides, and even alleged weight loss devices.

How Would the Media Cover the Superbowl If It Were In Another Country? (Joshua Keating, Slate)
Sweet satire, sweet perspective. It's true, America.

Why We Still Need French (Rob Wile, Business Insider)
A necessary (though admittedly lousy) rebuttal to an even more asinine argument that the French language is useless in our modern world. D'accord avec moi? Then don't miss the Beginner's Guide to Franglais, which includes such gems as le footing, un hard-discounter, and une recordwoman.

Beyond Sochi: Photos of Russia by Russians (Grant Slater, NPR)
These photos were perhaps less successful than the artist intended at rewriting my existing stereotypes of Russia, but they were nonetheless an interesting look at a country I know little about.

In This Video, It's the Men Who Are Constantly Harassed by Dominant Women (Shirin Jaafari, PRI's The World)
A French filmmaker flips the script, with thought-provoking results.

#SochiProblems = #HumanProblems

Wednesday, February 12, 2014 | Algiers, Algeria (map)

Source: Twitter user @JoannaRieke
As I did in 2008, when the Olympic Games took place in Beijing, this year I have decided not to watch the winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. However small my political voice or economic purchasing power may be, I do not want to be registered as one of the millions consuming commercials from sponsors of an Olympic Games in Russia, whose government is solely responsible for the misery that exists within its own borders—including the rightly decried new law persecuting homosexuals—and is also largely to blame for the ongoing bloodshed and destruction in Syria. Putin is a thug, and I refuse to support him or his ilk, however indirectly.

Nonetheless—or perhaps for those very same reasons—I, like many, have been pleased to hear how the Sochi Olympics have stumbled out of the gate.

And stumble they have. While quite a bit of it is exaggerated, for the last week the internet has nonetheless been awash with images and stories of Russia's failure to ready itself to host this event, all wryly documented under the banner #SochiProblems.

Most prominent was the failed light display in the opening ceremony (a debacle that, though

January 2014 Reading List: All over the Map Edition

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Earth from above: near Vieques, Puerto Rico. (No relation to this month's reading list.)
So many great stories from around the world this month. I found it hard to pare down this list.

There's No Place Like Home (Garrison Keillor, National Geographic)
A perfect meditation on home from one of America's greatest storytellers. Beautiful.

40 More Maps That Explain the World (Max Fisher, Washington Post)
A sequel to his previous piece in the same vein. Fascinating and worth perusing.

Traveling While Black (Farai Chideya, New York Times)
I probably learned more from this piece than any others this month. A fascinating look at the (vastly different) dynamics that black Americans face when traveling inside and outside our country.

The White Ghetto (Kevin D. Williamson, The National Review)
The National Review isn't a source I'd usually recommend—or even read, for that matter—but this article on Appalachia that a friend suggested to me is well done, if you can look past the occasional right-wing social commentary and focus on the tragic saga of this much-neglected region. (Admittedly, I was much more easily hooked after watching Justified.)

It's Enough to Make You Cancel Your Reservation (BlogDramedy)
[Facepalm.] I'm a few months late to this one but OH MY GOD the things people complain about when traveling. "The beach was too sandy"... "No one told us there would be fish in the water. The children were scared." ... "I was bitten by a mosquito. The brochure did not mention mosquitoes." It gets worse from there. And then there's #19... you have to read it to believe it.

A Sunday Stroll Around the World (Paul Salopek, New York Times)
Dispatch from journalist circumnavigating the globe by foot, with insights on how our modern reliance on cars has reshaped our views of our world.

Jeffrey Wright's Gold Mine (Daniel Bergner, New York Times)
An actor's struggles to strike it rich—and bring local communities along with him—in Sierra Leone. Evidently it's easier to call yourself a "son of the soil" than to be one.

Should the West have governed South Sudan? (Chris Blattman)
Patronizing? Yes. Imperialistic? Probably. But there is historical precedent, and given the recent violence in South Sudan, more and more people are wondering if the world's newest country can stand on its own.

A Speck in the Sea (Paul Tough, New York Times)
Smart survival by a lobsterman off the Montauk coast.

The Looming Narco-State in Afghanistan (DB Grady, The Atlantic)
If you thought for a second that the 13-year-and-counting NATO presence in Afghanistan had made the slightest dent, read this and be disabused of your foolishness. Depressing.

Inking Myanmar's Identity (Hereward Holland, Al Jazeera)
"Taboo no more, tattoos are making a comeback in the fast-changing southeast Asian country."

Shopgirls: The Art of Selling Lingerie (Katherine Zoepf, New Yorker)
How little dignity are women in Saudi Arabia afforded? Buying lingerie from women vendors is practically revolutionary. But that slow revolution marches on.

Searching the Internet for evidence of time travelers (Robert J. Nemiroff, Teresa Wilson, Popular Physics)
What would a travel blog's reading list be without an article on time travel, in particular a genuine scientific attempt to identify time travelers? Sadly, the authors of this study came up empty... this time.

Retracing Mao Zedong's Long March—by Motorcycle (Adam Century, The Atlantic)
Confucius Comes Home (Evan Osnos, New Yorker)
China sets aside one Great Man at the same time it re-appropriates and repackages another.

Egypt's Revolution That Was (Hammonda)
The Revolution in Winter (Steve Negus, The Arabist)
Just how far Egypt has fallen is finally sinking in.

The Sun Offers No Wisdom (Erik Gauger, Notes from the Road)
Dusklands (Robin Yassin Kassab, Pulse Media)
A pair of wise travel reflections from Morocco. Also be sure to see my "12 Essential Questions for First-Time Visitors" from this month.

Ibn Ibn Battuta: Now on Instagram

Monday, January 27, 2014

If you can't beat 'em, join 'em.
Ibn Ibn Battuta is now on Instagram at @ibnibnbattuta. Follow for new and previously unseen travel pics.

Morocco: 12 Essential Questions for First-Time Visitors

Monday, January 20, 2014 | Morocco (map)

Andrew Farrand at Medersa Ben Youssef (Marrakech)

While I have been fortunate enough to travel widely, many people know that one of the countries where I've spent the most time is Morocco.

As a result, the travel-related questions that family, friends, and readers of this blog ask me most frequently are "Should I visit Morocco?" and "What should I see and do when I go to Morocco?" I'm always happy to try to answer these questions as they arise, based on my experience in the country. But it seems that listing all my main suggestions in one place might provide a useful starting point for anyone considering a Morocco trip. So without further ado...

La Charente: Escaping to 'the Iowa of France'

Sunday, January 12, 2014 | Chadurie, France (map)

The Logis de Puygâty was just the remote and rustic paradise we were looking for.
From Christmas in Lisbon, I flew to France to spend New Year's week with Rebecca, who had found what we hoped would be the perfect year-end getaway—a countryside inn in southwestern France with nothing but miles of forest and vineyards between it and the nearest town.

We took the train from Paris to Angoulême (the aforementioned nearest town), where we stocked up on locally made goat cheeses, wines, hams, olives, and other treats at the central market before driving south.

We had been fairly certain that the inn, the Logis de Puygâty, was going to be wonderful, but we weren't prepared for it to be quite this wonderful.

After shooing out some lingering guests from a wedding the night before, the American co-owner Max and his Belgian partner Pierre welcomed us and showed us to our "house", a spacious two-story building across the courtyard from their own home. The entire property, Max said, was built in

November-December 2013 Reading List: Better Late Than Never Edition

Friday, January 10, 2014

The passing of Mandela (source: globalnews.ca)
It took me a little extra time to get through them all, but there were some very interesting reads in the last two months of 2013. A selection of my favorites:

Coming of Age in the Syrian Conflict (Alice Su, The Atlantic)
When I was studying Arabic in the Levant I remember culture clashes being plentiful for both the foreign students and the locals. Now throw in Syrian refugees, and you can start to imagine how surreal the situation is today. A powerful piece on the impacts of war. (Also not to be missed: What Do you Miss Most? Syrian Refugees Respond by Rochelle Davis and Abbie Taylor in Jadaliyya)

The Sochi Project (Rob Hornstra & Arnold van Bruggen)
The culmination of five years of research by photographer Hornstra and writer van Bruggen, The Sochi Project takes the form of a documentary film and an extensive online exposé of the hypocrisies and tragedies behind this year's winter Olympics in Russia.

Bashar Al Assad: An Intimate Profile of a Mass Murderer (Annia Ciezadlo, The New Republic)
Given all I've read about Assad in recent years, I did not expect to learn as much from this profile as I did. A fascinating look at the evolution of the dictator's twisted psychology.

Will Turkey's Erdogan Cause His Own Downfall? (Dexter Filkins, NewYorker.com)
One of the most important countries in the Middle East today is on shaky legs—here is why.

Meet the Guy Who Circumnavigated the Globe Without Taking a Plane (Chris Jones, Esquire)
Poor title; in fact, British-born Graham Hughes didn't just circumnavigate the globe, he visited every country on the planet without taking a plane. An evidently quirky character, he had some interesting reflections from his four-year odyssey, which began in Uruguay and ended in South Sudan. His biggest headache? "Visas." (Amen, brother.) Biggest lesson learned? "You can’t judge a people by the actions of their government. The friendliest country I went to, by a mile, was Iran."

Federal judge rules that TSA, FBI can detain and arrest you for carrying Arabic flashcards (Scott Kaufman, The Raw Story)
How low will America stoop?

The Lies Nelson Mandela Taught Us (Chris Roper, Mail & Guardian)
I read, and learned, much about Mandela in the wake of his passing, and found this piece among the best. In it, a veteran South African journalist tries to come to terms with the greatest "white lie" that every great leader (and a good many more) tells: you are a special people, and your country is exceptional.

Abu Zubaydah and the Banality of 'Jihadism' (Terry McDermott, Al Jazeera America)
"The world is full of dangerous goofballs, but we can't treat them all as threats to civilization."

Disciples of St John the Baptist Under Attack (Carlos Zurutuza, Al Jazeera)
On the little-known plight of the Iraq's Mandaean community.

16 People on Things They Couldn't Believe About America Until They Moved Here (Michael Koh, Thought Catalog)
It's always thought-provoking to read these reflections about one's own country: "By and large, people do not carry cash" ... "People don’t really care about the FIFA World Cup even though USA qualifies" ... "That American foreign policy is a very inaccurate reflector of public consensus" ... "Grinding. The dance form." And that's just the first one!

Auto Correct: Has the Self-Driving Car at Last Arrived? (Burkhard Bilger, New Yorker) and
The Love App: Romance in the World's Most Wired City (Lauren Collins, New Yorker)
The future is here! From the New Yorker's annual technology issue, two fascinating reports on the way our world is changing, from transport to romance.

How to Travel: Some Contrarian Advice (Ryan Holiday, Thought Catalog)
Take long walks, visit holy sites, try to avoid guidebooks? Sure. Don't check luggage or recline your seat in the airplane? Not so much. While I don't agree with all of them, they are interesting suggestions. (From earlier in the year, but I just discovered it.)

* * *

December brought some great year-end photography wrap-ups that are well worth sharing. Consider The Atlantic's "2013: The Year in Photos" (Part I, Part II, Part III) and Reuters' 2013 news photos of the year. Also worth a mention: standouts from the 2013 National Geographic Photo Contest, and the vivid "Photographing Favela Funk" series from the New York Times' Lens blog.

Final items of interest this month: maps of the most-photographed locations on Earth in 2013, courtesy of Instagram and Google, and a fun and challenging map-based game, GeoGuessr.