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.