Posted by: escapethecube | January 28, 2009

Things Moroccans Like

After Chefchaouen, we made our way south to the coastal town of Essaouira. A beautiful walled city that sits on the Atlantic ocean. We spent a a few days enjoying the seafood and relaxing before heading back to Marrakech for our flight to London.

After experiencing the odd differences between American and Moroccan culture over the past couple weeks, we have decided to put together a list of odd things that Moroccans love/obsess over/drive us crazy. Enjoy!

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1. Their king
Pictures hang over every doorway and office desk (multiple copies per household).

2. Tree climbing goats
Yes Virginia, they do exist . . . and can be seen throughout the country side mid foliage.

3. Selling hash

4. Selling you anything

5. Winter without central heat

6. The saying, “See you later alligator”
Common phrase directed at American tourists when departing.

7. Upcharging travelers

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8. Pointed hoodie robes

9. Non alcoholic beverages

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10. Mint (sugar) tea

11.Clanging metal objects together and asking for money
It never fails. The minute you sit down to enjoy some mint tea or other non alcoholic bevy, a team of gentleman in pointed hoodies start banging old bicycle parts together to the beat of “home on the range”. Before promptly asking for money.

12. Selling Kleenex and asking for money
Why Kleenex. I have no idea.

13. Simply asking for money

14. Not having correct change

15. Not hanging out with your spouse

16. Obama

17. Nescafe

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18. Beating ones donkey

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19. Honking scooters

20. Slinging children on your back
Entails balancing the infant on your back as you lean forward and slinging a small blanket around your back and tying it off quickly before the infant falls.

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21. The full extension

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22. Construction paper napkins
They are nonabsorbent, uncomfortable, and utterly useless.

23. Sexually active cats
They are loud and everwhere. Clearly Bob Barker and “The Price Is Right” was never broad casted in Morocco.

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24. Day old bread
Dry, chewy, tasteless, and served with everything . . . or even as an entire meal.

25. Mustaches
Enough said.

26. Plucking string instruments
(see clanging metal objects for money)

Chefchauoen


With smooth cobble stone streets lined with sacks of exotic spices, thin alley ways painted in light shades of blue, and the smells of fresh couscous and lamb billowing from every local restaurant, it is not hard to imagine why the Riff mountain town of Chefchaouen in northern Morocco is a sought after destination.

However, Chefchaouen’s beauty is not its primary attraction. In fact, most of the town’s rug shops and restaurants seem only to be “fronts” for the real source of revenue . . . marijuana. Thats right pot, hash, dope, hashish, mary jane, or whatever you want to call it is not only prevalent and easy to obtain, but the main source of this small mountain town’s existence.

Located on the edge of Morocco’s marijuana growing region, Chefchaouen is a much sought after destination for those looking to “score some cheap hash at good price”. Never mind the fact that it is extremely illegal (landing you over 10 years in Moroccan jail), the towns dependence on its revenue keeps the local authorities entirely at bay and invites anyone and their brother to become a product dealer.

During our visit, we were unable to walk through town for more than ten minutes at a time without being aggressively assaulted with direct sales pitches like, “Get high before you die, my friend?” or “kef the reef? I get you good price!”

Direct and persistent pitches are the strategy with the local dealers and it is not uncommon to be followed and badgered for 2 – 3 minutes at a time while walking through town. “No” would seem to translate pretty easily into both French and Spanish (the other two main languages spoken in Chefchaouen, besides Arabic), however our attempts at a polite refusal provoked little reaction. As it so happens, two bearded, dirty, backpack bearing, 20-somethings seem to fit the perfect “target market” profile.


Alley way chefchaouen

Alley way chefchaouen




Tossing ourselves in to a Muslim society has prompted its share of questions. What is being yelled from the mosque speakers multiple times a day? What is up with the long ropes and pointy hoods? Do they ever get sick of mint tea? But most intriguing, especially in Chefchaouen, is the level of contradiction caused by their strict dress code, persistent prayer, and perversion to alcohol . . . yet reliance on marijuana revenue to sustain their livelihoods.




Although invasive and annoying, we did not let the “hard” sales tactics ruin our time in Chefchaouen and spent an entire day hiking deep into the Riff mountains. Past local villages and rushing mountain streams, we were offered a glimpse of life as a rural Moroccan. Young boys herding goats, donkeys weaving down trails strapped down with tea leave branches, and women collecting tall grass for basket weaving – all working in the same manner as was done 100 years ago.


While our daily activities of sipping mint tea in the square of the Medina (walled portion of the town) and listening to the call to prayer has remained constant since our days in Marrakech and Fez, the remote mountain location and pure beauty of Chefchaouen has provided our first jaw dropping experience and in turn affirmed our beliefs that this trip would bring us to some amazing locations.
Amazing not only in its shear exotic beauty, but in its extreme difference from home.

(See below for video tours of Chefchaouen and the Riff Mountains)




Posted by: escapethecube | January 18, 2009

Welcome to Morocco- “Yes we can!”

Marrakech Market

It comes at 5:48am. As I lied awake, shivering in my (unexpected) 30 degree hostel room, anxiously awaiting the morning prayer call. I was uncertain what to expect (our warning from other travelers is that it will “jolt you out of bed”), only a day removed from the United States and a following a restless night spent trying to sleep in the arcade room at London Luton airport, I was extremely anxious for our first full day in Marrakech.

The call was certainly louder and much longer than I expected. For about 15 minutes, prayer chants from mosques echoed (eerily) throughout the old town. It is almost as if each mosque is competing with the others to see who can most loudly proclaim the beginning of a new day. Allen, myself, and our Danish roommate Patrice sat up momentarily for subtle recognition before rolling over and sleeping for another 3 hours.

Marrakech lifestyle is a dramatic change of pace for a couple guys who have been softened by a comfortable American lifestyle for the past 2+ years. However, it is a welcome change. The old city (medina) is comprised of hundreds of unmarked meandering alleys each lined with shops that contain one of the following: spices, garments, meat, or nuts. Every shop is manned by a gregarious Berber salesman who comes in from the mountains daily to peddle goods to the few tourists who visit this time of year. Needless to say, we were often lost and I was dangerously close to purchasing an old Arabic robe while Burt became entranced by the authentic Berber swords. Thankfully, both of us used our better judgement.

Our days have been spent wandering the alleys, stopping on the hour for mint tea, smiling in response to shouts of “Obama” and “Yes we can!” and waiting for evening to fall so we can experience the infamous Djemaa al-Fna, one of the most eclectic and exciting open air markets in the world. A blend of an normous food court, outlet mall, and entertainment plaza, the Djemaa is the highlight of our Marrakech experience. We gave many Dirham to the snake charmers (think flute + dancing cobra), Arabic storytellers, and, most of all, the food stalls. Our first night involved a stew of sheep brains, sheep heart, and cow tongue with a side of boiled snails at our favorite spot, stall 118. The dinner, in which you sit side by side with locals and watch the cooks boil your sheep brains, cost a total of 25 Dirham ($2.50). We made friends with the cooks as a result of our intrigue in the food but, probably moreso, because of our unsuccessful attempts at taking candid photos of one of the cooks who was certainly the Moroccan version of our friend Samic (see photo below). Needless to say we will be back to stall 118 before our flight back to London in a few days.

Marrakech has been a great beginning to our travel adventure and acted as a bit of “shock treatment” to get us out of the comfy mindset of home. Our beards are growing, clothes are smelling, and our girlfriends have nothing to worry about as we are growing more unattractive by the day.

Next stop: Fes en route to the mountain town of Chefchaouen.

(See Below: Morning Prayer Call and Moroccan Samic)

Who knew Blake Samic had a Moroccan twin (far right)

Who knew Blake Samic had a Moroccan twin (far right)

Posted by: escapethecube | January 17, 2009

Welcome to Escape the Cube!

“Traveler, there is no path. Paths are made by walking.”
– Antonio Machado, Cantores

Welcome to Nick and Allen’s travel blog! The intention of this blog is to keep our friends and families up to date with our travels and provide us with a platform to convey our thoughts, emotions, and stories from the road. At the very least, our postings should provide the occasional cheap laugh.

On January 7, 2009 we departed the U.S. with little more than a couple one-way flights, backpacks (30 lbs worth of “gear”), and lofty intentions of seeing the world. Opting against pre-booked flights, lodging, and tours in lieu of a “seat of your pants” approach, our travels have a loose itinerary and an undetermined duration. While appearing adventuresome on the surface, this is really a product of our procrastination, lack of organization, and overall indecisiveness, but should set the stage for some interesting stories.

Although this trip may be viewed by some as a spiritual or personal quest to discover our life’s passions and future direction, I assure you our motivations are not that inspiring. Instead, this trip developed from a passion for travel, that could not be fulfilled with twice a year excursions outside the corporate office, and an understanding that there is no better time than the present. In our minds, the trip’s success will be measured by returning home with nothing more than an empty bank account, dirty clothes, and a lifetime’s worth of memories.

Our blog posts will come as frequent as allowed by development of interesting content and availability of internet access. We will also be posting additional pictures via google’s picasa.com and video via vimeo.com.

If you would like to keep up with our postings as they are published, feel free to sign up for our RSS feed to receive postings through your reader of choice or through email. This can be done by clicking on “Entries(RSS)” under “Subscribe” to the right.

You can also contact us directly by email or through comments on our postings. We welcome both compliments or critiques, but please keep the comments “family friendly” as we may have viewers of all ages!

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