Read This Book: Vacilando

Vacilando is a lighthearted and artful account of a transformative month I spent in Morocco in 2014. What started as a blog turned into a long essay, and then morphed into a compilation of vignettes amounting to a book. I self-published it because, well, that’s what we do these days. The stories within Vacilando will make you laugh, maybe even cringe. One reader told me it made her cry. If you like feeling things, this might be a good go for you. Each chapter starts with a relevant drawing I made in lieu of taking photographs. I find that spending time…

A Month in Morocco (Final Entry): My Foreign Home

I asked the shop owner if she wouldn’t mind explaining the significance of the Portuguese rooster motif. She locked her arms on the checkout counter and leaned forward, eyeballing me over her glasses. “Yes, I would mind. It’s a stupid story. If you really want to know, it’s on a poster in the corner. Have at it.” I read it, and she was right. As I walked back to the counter she asked if I was American and with a wink told me she liked that Americans don’t leave our soap at home. Her name was Paula, and we ended…

A Month in Morocco: Hijacked

As I sifted through a pile of second-hand sweaters on the sidewalk, two children, maybe eight or nine years old, extended their dirty hands towards me. One wore a tank top and greasy cut off khakis, the other was dressed in oversized shorts and a coat branded across the chest with orange letters J-A-C and K-E-T split by the zipper. Both held an empty plastic bag. As they begged for one dirham, the equivalent of about ten cents, the sweater vendor shoo’d them away. Before disappearing into the evening crowd they dug into a public trash can and chucked garbage…

A Month in Morocco: To Be a Better Man

I napped while the train rolled north along the west coast. As the steel wheels lumbered along rust-pitted tracks, I dreamed of men shouting at me in Arabic. I woke up confused—and a look out the window made me think of Baja. Trash fires dotted the sandy, barren stretches while kids on ratty bicycles rode along the parallel tracks, throwing rocks. The ocean was flat and calm, only an occasional white breaker proved that life existed outside my empty train car. My journey through Morocco had been a joyful indulgence and it was only a month ago that I was…

A Month in Morocco: When in Rome…

I arrived in Volubilis at 8am. The heavy Mediterranean fog mixed with smoke from brick factories shrouded the ghostly columns on distant hilltops. Not until I was about to leave did the clouds finally burn off and offer a panoramic view of the 2300 year old ruined city that once housed more than 20,000 people. The sun brought to life intricate bath mosaics and mythological artwork. From a high point, the urban layout was obvious—an arched main entrance merged into a long stretch for commerce and trade which fed into a neighborhood of modest, and then pretentious structures. Though only…

A Month in Morocco: Vacilando

In the Fez train station I read Steinbeck’s Travels With Charley while occasionally looking up to watch people. Transportation hubs always offer a sense of relief. They’re filled with temporary people from all around the world and the expectation to comply with local customs is largely eschewed. The three shops in the station are bathed in neon and have westernized names: Smoothie Rail, Venezia Ice, and The Rail Shop. Here, I feel nothing but safe. I am cleansed by the fear that comes from foreign travel. My survival in another place’s strangeness gives me super powers. I become socially apt,…

A Month in Morocco: Topped Off With a Kiss

It’s 4:30am when my bus arrives in Fez. A taxi brings me to the hotel I stayed in two weeks ago, but a scribbled note taped to the locked door says they’re full. I’m not surprised— it’s Christmas Eve and I’ve already noticed an influx of tourists. I shoo a couple cats off the stoop and nestle into a corner that smells like piss. I’m desperate for some sleep. I wake up to a man hovering over me, speaking French. I ask him what he wants and he says, “Oh, English? You need a room, English man?” I say I…

A Month in Morocco: Meat Perfume

I had five hours to kill before my bus arrived and I spent most of that time sitting in a shop talking with Samir. I had met him five days earlier when I first arrived in Erfoud. He sold me a Touareg turban then linked me up with the trekking company that took me into the Sahara. Samir was a hawker, but unlike other hawkers I had encountered, he didn’t discard me after our transaction. Samir’s shop was tiny. He explained that most souvenir shops were government-owned and stocked with a generic inventory. He worked on 100% commission. To compensate…

A Month in Morocco: And Then I Got High

I made it clear to Mohamed that I wanted to walk to the home-stay destination in the Black Desert and not ride a camel. Three days prior, the short ride from the chateau to the Sahara camp had been excruciating and I wasn’t about to do it again. Having ridden camels on two continents I can say with absolute certainty that my anatomy isn’t suited for such means of transportation. I prefer a direct connection with the earth even if it is slower-going. He told me it would be four, maybe five hours of walking and I was overjoyed. He seemed…

A Month in Morocco: The Sound of Africa

My Sahara guide’s name was Mobarak, but he asked to be called “Black Stars.” He was a kind, hospitable man with a peaceful aura. On our first day at camp, Black Stars passed tous his grandmother’s wisdom, “If you need something, ask. If you are too shy to ask, that’s your problem.” After dinner, Black Stars recommend we leave camp and look at the desert sky. He said there was no need to bring a flashlight because in the Sahara, “Night-ears. Day-eyes.” If we got lost, just stop and listen. We bundled up and headed into the pitch. I walked…