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Finding Morocco in Fez

Fez isn’t the first city people think of when they think of Morocco. I know this because before my recent visit to the country, the first question of everyone who heard about my trip was how long I’d spend in Marrakesh.

I wasn’t headed for Marrakesh at all, but for northern Morocco and Fez, the country’s spiritual heart. Besides being one of the holiest cities in the Arab world, Fez is an intellectual nerve center whose most noted university has been educating people for well over 1,000 years, and, within its medina’s ancient walls, the world’s largest car-free zone. But most of its allure, for me, had not much to do with worship, education, or transportation; it was more corporeal. It was the textures, sounds, smells, and tastes of the medina’s web, a sensory overload I’ve never experienced before. It was in this time-warped cacophony that I found the joys of Morocco.

Strange Headlines in Travel News

Last week was a bizarre one for travel-related news. In India, a pregnant woman on a train thought she was making a routine bathroom visit and instead gave premature birth to a babylet who fell through the toilet and onto the train tracks–and the baby survived. In Egypt, a study-abroad student lost one-third of his body weight after boarding with a host family who, allegedly, didn’t give him enough to eat during his stay. And, tragically, in the waters off the Bahamas, an Australian tourist was fatally bitten by a shark during an encounter in which bloody fish parts were used to attract the predators to tourists who shelled out the big bucks for a cageless dive.

Is Kenya Travel Safe?

As December 27 dawned, millions of Kenyans headed to polling sites to vote for a president. As December 27 drew to a close, I booked an airline ticket from Nairobi to New York. And as the next few days progressed, Kenya plunged into violence that has left more than 650 people dead, so far.

I’ve spent the past few weeks reading horrific tales of bloodshed with the hope that post-election killings will cease any day. I’m not scheduled to visit Kenya for another 5 months, but regardless of how much the situation improves by then, it’s scary to think that what is widely regarded as the most stable country in Africa can dissolve into tribal conflicts and machete attacks at the drop of a ballot.

Photo courtesy of IgoUgo member smokeysf

The Passport Sitch

So, I had to get a new passport this year, which I had known for a while, as I recall noting it when I went to the U.K. last year. But then I forgot. And then I was dreading it. You know the hassle: the paperwork, living without it for weeks, and I don’t know. But just getting it renewed seemed like a mighty burden. Then again, if I didn’t get it done soon, I might not be able to get out of the country for fear that I wouldn’t be able to get back INTO the country. To complicate matters, I had not one, but two international trips to navigate, which all meant that I had better get my passport renewed and fast.

The passport rules actually state that some countries won’t accept your passport unless it is valid for over six months from the date you arrive. I pushed it in Tanzania and Rwanda, but fortunately I squeaked out of both with my imminent expiration undetected. I returned stateside in late June. I was tired. July came and I downloaded the form for renewal and that was, by the way, a really expedient way to get this process started!