First Days in Addis: Dealing with Diplomats

Saturday, January 30, 2010 | Addis Abeba, Ethiopia

Debebe shows me the Holy Trinity Cathedral in downtown Addis Ababa.
Next time we'll make sure not to visit Addis Ababa during an African Union summit.

Our first three days in Ethiopia's capital have been dominated by the presence of several hundred dipomats and heads of state from around the continent. Roads are blocked, hotels are full, and ATMs are tapped. The upside is increased security: a policeman or soldier with an AK-47 is stationed every 50 feet along each side of every street in the city, ushering along the VIP motorcades and civilian traffic.

Despite the unexpected disruptions posed by the conference (which apparently occurs here three times per year), Jacqueline and I got off to a great start in Addis. Our first cab ride was fortuitous; we found a very friendly, English-speaking driver named Debebe, who was happy to be paid to tote us around the city for an afternoon.

Lessons from Backpacking, and More Yet to Learn

Tuesday, January 26, 2010 | New York, NY, USA

On my first backpacking odyssey, I was all smiles and sunburn. (Ilha do Ibo, Mozambique)
Lots of people look down on "backpackers." The label brings to mind lazy, dreadlocked, pot-smoking, genie-pants-wearing, hostel-slumming, ocean-bathing, direction-less European twenty-somethings. Perhaps there are some stiff northern Europeans among them too—more put together, perhaps more evidently destined for success than their Latin cousins, but nonetheless still bumbling around the globe with only a sack on their back.

Like all stereotypes, these are in part derived from some truth. But skeptics, don't knock backpacking until you've tried it—and I mean in a part of the world where travel is difficult and requires an enormous amount of discomfort, sacrifice, and adaptability. I'll explain:

The first time I really hit the road on my own, I tossed a few pieces of clothing, books, and my much-abused digital camera into my backpack and set out for three weeks in East Africa. Mind you,

With Haiti in Mind, Thoughts on Giving Back

Monday, January 25, 2010 | Baltimore, MD, USA

Roadside scene (Kigali, Rwanda)
Last Tuesday, Jacqueline and I were in the thick of our planning for our upcoming trip to East Africa, when the earth beneath Haiti trembled, swallowing up much of what little hope existed there.

In the days since the earthquake, I have been closely reading the accounts emerging from Port-au-Prince and the surrounding countryside, plus the development blog chatter about the quake's aftermath and its implications for Haiti's future.

Soon after the earthquake, Jacqueline and I began to wonder if we were doing the right thing. Shouldn't we scrap our East Africa trip plans to go volunteer in the rebuilding effort? As I read more, however, I realized that assisting on the ground wasn't even a realistic possibility, and might not be for some time, due to the almost complete collapse of Haiti's already minimal infrastructure.

Best of Morocco Blog Awards: Vote for Ibn Ibn Battuta!

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Best of Morocco Blog Awards Excitement! Ibn Ibn Battuta has been nominated for the "Best of Morocco Blogs" in the "Overall" category! Go to to cast your vote (it's super quick—no registration required).

While you're there, help out Jacqueline, whose blog Vie au Maroc was nominated in the "Personal Blog" category. Thanks for the support!

Best Photos from Morocco: Urban Scenes

Friday, January 22, 2010 | Morocco

A biker speeds through Marrakech's covered souq.
Now, the moment you've all been waiting for. No more landscapes, snake charmers, or chickens. These are the iconic images that define Morocco: its walled cities, ornate medersas, soaring mosques, and open-air houses.

While almost half of Morocco's population still lives in rural areas, the cities have long been the country's vibrant heart. They are the site of its most impressive monuments and markets, and of its most vivid colors. Being a fan of great architecture, I absolutely loved examining the intricacy of many of Morocco's ornate sacred spaces, which feature prominently in this collection:

Best Photos from Morocco: Animals

Thursday, January 21, 2010 | Morocco

Catnap in a cactus (Essaouira, Morocco)
Animals are some of my favorite subjects. Though they don't sit quite as still as buildings, they're nonetheless far easier to shoot than humans. As living, breathing beings, animals often give viewers the same sense of warmth that a photo of a person can give.

In addition, animals are wonderful subjects for travel photography, because they can lend a photograph such a vivid sense of place. To most viewers, no image evokes the Middle East as immediately as that of a camel. Show us a kangaroo and we think Australia, a lion East Africa, or a bison the plains of North America.

Wildlife in Morocco is limited, but I managed to snap a few good shots of animals—both wild and domestic—throughout the year:

Best Photos from Morocco: People

Wednesday, January 20, 2010 | Morocco

A student checks his sideburns in his room at the Medersa es-Sahrij, a religious school in Fes.
The best and most iconic travel photographs almost always capture humanity in a striking way. That's because people—and the interactions we have with each other—are the most interesting aspect of travel.

Capturing people, their emotions, and their stories through photography is no small feat. And unfortunately, it's not my strong suit. Perhaps after too many awkward incidents in the Middle East (a region where shutter-happy Western tourists are frequently viewed with suspicion, if not downright animosity) I now hesitate to shamelessly approach people and ask to snap their picture. It's something I'm working on, and in the meantime, I'm perfecting the art of shooting indiscreetly from the hip.

Here's some of our best people shots from Morocco:

Best Photos from Morocco: Rural Scenes

Tuesday, January 19, 2010 | Morocco

Near Essaouira, a farmer and beast of burden head home for the evening.
Exploring Morocco's countryside, its coasts and mountains, ranked among my most enjoyable experiences during our time in the country.

In contrast to its reputation, the northwest corner of Africa isn't all desert. (And in fact, much to my regret, in 15 months I never even managed to visit the Sahara, or many of the sites in Morocco's arid south). But the country's rugged mountain ranges and miles of undeveloped coastline alone make it worth the visit.

Please enjoy:

Best Photos from Morocco: Introduction

Monday, January 18, 2010 | Morocco

Dessert at Fes et Gestes salon de thé: sliced oranges with a hint of cinnamon.
After promising to share the best photographs Jacqueline and I took during our 15 months in Morocco, I sat down to actually select my favorites, and discovered that I had about 6,000 photos to sift through. (These were the ones we had deemed worth keeping, of the 8,000+ that we originally snapped... not including our side trips to Europe.)

I sought out the technically stronger photos, the aesthetically pleasing ones, and those that seemed to convey a sense of the place—after all, such is what distinguishes "travel photography" from plain old "photography". After hours of brooding over my selection, I managed to narrow down the list to 75 photos that I consider to be the best from our time in Morocco.

Update: All four collections are now posted. I'll leave it to you to decide whether I followed my own advice on travel photography. See Urban Scenes, Rural Scenes, Animals, and People.

How To Take Better Travel Photographs

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

At the Medersa es-Sahrij in Fes, Morocco, my friend Ryan leans in for a water shot.
Back in DC, on a balmy Saturday afternoon in the spring of 2005, I was strolling around Dupont Circle (probably trying to avoid studying for finals). Then a sophomore at Georgetown, I would soon be heading off for Syria and Jordan. So, I stopped into Claude Taylor's travel photography shop to browse for inspiration among his vivid photos.

Inside, in the chair beside the usual cashier, sat the man himself. I perused the stacks, picked out a photo or two, and struck up a conversation with Taylor as I made my purchase. I explained my travel plans, and asked him, did he have any photography tips? (With no fancy camera or training of any sort, I figured I could use all the help I could get.) His answer was brief and immediate: "The two most important things you can do to take better pictures," he said, "are to get closer to whatever you're photographing, and to take more pictures."

Ibn Ibn Battuta is Now on Twitter!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Tweet, tweet. (Seagull in Essaouira, southern Morocco)
In addition to RSS, Facebook, and e-mail, you can now follow Ibn Ibn Battuta on Twitter!

Follow @IbnIbnBattuta to make sure you don't miss any of the adventures—and please, pass the word along!


A New Look, for a New Year of Travels

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Church tower and moon (Melilla, Spain)
It's 2010, and Ibn Ibn Battuta is still going strong.

However, it's high time for some much-needed design upgrades. I've made a few tweaks to the blog's look already, as you can see on the homepage. To streamline things further, I'll be introducing a few more changes over the coming weeks... then it's off to Ethiopia!