My Inspiration

I find that the really good part of being "trapped" in Planet Earth, and the one that makes me want to jump!, is that we get the chance to explore the many wonders and awe striking phenomena of nature -which can sometimes really bring tears to my eyes and move me in very special transcendental ways- plus, we have the benefit of having at our disposal an immense array of human production, from architecture to gastronomy, from design to literature, every aesthetic manifestation of our great creative potential; art in its different forms can occasionally have that divine little thing that makes me feel flabbergasted, touched or even changed. I hope to share some of the "God on Earth" practical experiences that I've collected during my travels through this humble blog.

25 abr. 2011

Goodbye Laos, Hello Vietnam

I would have liked to visit many other places in Laos and give you a broader scope of this country, unfortunately, time and money weren’t limitless and I had to make some choices. With the consideration that traveling through Laos was going to be somewhat complicated and would represent a lot of time, I decided to make the jump to Vietnam. Nevertheless, I want to clarify that I would love it if you could tell me about your experiences in Laos (where else did you go, what did you see), there can always be a next time.

So now it is turn for me to write about Vietnam. Before I planned my visit to this country, I had only thought of Vietnam in association to war, bombs and injustice. That was the only thing I knew about the place and the only thing that made me indifferent to it as a travel destination. Fortunately, I am the kind of traveler that likes to document myself before launching my adventure and I read about all the countries located in Southeast Asia, including Vietnam, before deciding where I wanted to go. Vietnam sounded very attractive to me on paper. It has all the mystery and exotic qualities of a far and unknown land. What I read about Vietnam lead me to believe that it had the potential of a novelty extravaganza, and I had to go see for myself.

Vietnam turned out to be a multilayered cultural explosion. It really takes you to another world where you can communicate with many realities I’d bet you’d never seen before (if you come from the western world). One of the interesting destinations that have a check on all this excitement triggering factors is Sapa, a tinny little village surrounded by Hill Tribe Villages, an opportunity to get in contact with a life completely different to the one we live in modern Mexico City.

And the journey through Vietnam begins!

Here is my first article of the Vietnamese series "Sapa & Surrounding Hill Tribe Villages in Vietnam"........ yuhu!!!! I get excited all over again.

22 abr. 2011

Wat Xieng Thong, Luang Prabang Laos

Wat Xieng Thong is one of the biggest and most beautiful Buddhist Temples in Luang Prabang. Once you get there it is almost impossible not to feel the need to photograph every building, every sculpture, every wall and every detail. It is absolutely amazing to see all the work and creativity Laotians put into their worshiping temples.

Wat Xieng Thong

18 abr. 2011

Laos: Luang Prabang

Luang Prabang is a charming little town in Laos that has all the ingredients of a fantastic travel destination. It has the natural beauty of a southeast tropical environment; it has the fantastic, mostly religious art that extrapolates to every creative expression; it has the rich gastronomy; it has the loveliness of a well designed city; and it has many different activities in which to enroll. If you are a food enthusiast, you can take a cooking course and learn how to make traditional Laotian food. If you are into sports, you can rent a bike and peddle around town or even do mountain biking. If you are an adventurer, you can take tours into the jungle. If you are fond of the fine arts you can visit the many extraordinary Buddhist temples or go to the royal ballet. If you want to buy nice Laotian arts & crafts, you have plenty of formal commerce and street markets to shop around.
Besides all of that, Luang Prabang has a very pleasant old quarter encompassed by two rivers, in which you can also take boat rides. The accommodation and food offer is amazingly extent for such a little town. It has a huge variety of guest houses and little hotels as well as restaurants, bars and cafés –including several alongside the river- where you can have a great variety of romantic breakfasts, lunches and dinners. All in all, Luang Prabang is arguably one of my top Southeast Asian destinations.

If you’d like to read and see more of this destination, go to my “Visual Travel Guide to Luang Prabang, Laos” my latest published article. Enlace

17 abr. 2011

Chefchaouen, Morocco

Chefchaouen is a very small town located in the Rif mountainous region of north Morocco. It is right in midst of Jebel Bouhachem Nature Reserve and Talassemtane National Park. This is what I call a village in a natural environment. The air is fresh, the view is green and fertile, the streets are tranquil and quiet and there is plenty to explore for the trekking lover. Apart from that, Chefchaouen is a charming town with a Berber-Jewish-Spanish-Muslim mix, which you can appreciate in the architecture and coloring of the buildings. It is one of a kind in Morocco, no other village is similar. It will only take a couple of days in your itinerary and it is worth the time. The only down fall is that you have to get there by bus or car. It is not the most accessible place to visit but that comes along with a cleaner, more natural environment, a more authentic experience, and less tourists; you'll have to balance out the pros and cons. Do not connect from Tetouan, the hustling there gets too intense and it is quite uncomfortable; I would advise you to pick some other destination to connect instead (try Asilah or Souk el-Arba du Rhab, I haven't been there but maybe they turn out to be an amazing experience; what I know is that almost no tourists go there, let me know how it went!) Finally, I present to you the 9th and last article of the Moroccan series "Chefchouen, a Hispanic dot in Morocco", where you can read more about this unique little town.

14 abr. 2011

Casablanca, Rabat & Tangier

Morocco has three mayor cosmopolitan cities: Casablanca, Rabat and Tangier. All of them are located in the north part of the country, next to the Atlantic Ocean; all of them are clearly French-influenced and have lost some of the old Moroccan Arabic traditional charm other inland cities like Marrakesh, Fès, and Meknès have preserved; but not all of them are worth visiting. The ugly duckling in this case is Tangier. It has all the downfalls of the classic border town, somehow obscure and with a gloomy atmosphere. Aesthetically speaking, it isn’t a pretty city; it is gray and has no particular points of interest. I find it an uncomfortable place to be as a tourist and wouldn´t recommend it.

On the other hand, Rabat is a pleasant, modern, quiet, easy going town, soft on the tourist, and a happy, light experience for the visitor (Morocco is generally in the intense side of travelling). It has nice streets, lovely restaurants and cafés, and plenty of attractions and interesting places to explore, including some of the most important monuments of Morocco, which I describe in the 8th article of the Moroccan series dedicated to these three cities.

Last but not least is Casablanca, the generally romanticized city that is Platonized by people around the world as the love story setting; we tend to imagine Casablanca having all the necessary elements that make it the natural scenery of the most romantic love story of all times. Well, I am sorry to disappoint, but this is not the case. Casablanca is not romantic. Casablanca is much grayer than I’d hope for, and much less green than I would expect a lovely romantic city to be. As a whole, it is not an alluring place to be in, most of us have seen concrete building agglomerations in several other countries in the world and we are not looking for that while travelling. BUT, here comes the big “but”, Casablanca has one marvelous monument, a single building that comes to its rescue and makes the stop all worth it: the beautiful most modern Mosque in the world “Mosque Hassan II”, an extraordinary piece of religious art I effusively recommend to see in person, to fully admire its magnificence and color.

Here is the 8th article of the Moroccan series "Cosmopolitan Cities of Morocco: Casablanca, Rabat & Tangier" a visual mini-guide.

12 abr. 2011

Fès (Fez), Morocco

An interesting fact about Morocco is that each and every destination has a marked uniqueness to it. With the exception of Tangier and Tetouan -which were really not worth it-, all the other places we visited bring some amazing fact about this country to light. I have to say that if you are planning to visit Morocco, Fès should be included in your itinerary for several reasons. This city gives life to the third biggest medieval city in the world: "Fès el-Bali". It is quite astonishing to explore Fès's old city and witness people living and going about as if they still were in the fourteenth century. In a way, it is a living museum, a Moroccan Arabic time trip to the middle ages. Fès naturally preserves a distinct Arabic identity, which is evidently so in the old city el-Bali, but also applies to the French influenced ville nouvelle, where you definitely know that you are not in France, you are unmistakably in the heart of the Moroccan Muslim culture. For every curious traveler interested in Moroccan culture and its art, this is a very attractive destination. Fès also has one of the best tanneries in Morocco and is big on leather work crafts (babouches, purses, wallets, etc). While wandering around the medieval city, you'll see many artists at work making beautiful creations out of different raw material (not only leather but silk, metals, wood, etc). Another highlight related to their traditional artistry, is the theological college of Fès el-Bali, a beautiful display of Morocco´s laborious and delicate interior design. Here is the seventh article of the Moroccan series dedicated to Fès, a visual guide to The Living Medieval City of Morocco:

7 abr. 2011

Moroccan Arabic

I thought that a little Moroccan Arabic orientation might be useful for those fellow traveling enthusiasts that are planning to visit Morocco. With this in mind, I decided to write an "extra" article on the Moroccan series, dedicated to the language in this country (which would be the sixth article of the series I have commented about until now). Ensha’llāh (if God wills), it will be of some help. Here's the link to it:

6 abr. 2011

Meknès & Volubilis, Morocco

Meknès is a city located north of Morocco in the junction point that binds the east with the north and south of the country. It is a city that remains much more Moroccan in ambiance than Rabat or Casablanca, which have turned into cosmopolitan cities. Meknès has as its highlight the ethereal beauty and exquisite interior design of Moroccan traditional architecture and Muslim costums, harmoniously brought together in the quiet building that houses Moulay Ismail's Mausoleum. This is such a unique place to visit that it even made the cover of Lonely Planet's guide to Morocco in the edition I travelled with (6th). Meknès has a relaxed city-like atmosphere that allows you to wander the streets freely and almost feel as an anonymous passer-by again -which is a difficult thing to attain in a Muslim developing country where tourists are regarded as a gold mine. It is a good place to accommodate in your schedule between places that are frantic in comparison (i.e. Marrakesh, Tetouan). As almost every Moroccan city, Meknès is divided into its old part or Medina, with its corresponding exotic souqs (markets), and the new part of town called Ville Nouvelle. The latter has one of Morocco's best museums "Dar Jamaï Museum". As usual in this detail oriented culture, the museum's building in itself is quite alluring but it also has interesting exhibits of jewelry, ceramics, rugs, textiles and wood artistry. In addition, the Ville Nouvelle has a big Mosque, which is closed to non-Muslims but fortunately supplemented with a theological college or medersa called Medersa Bou Inania, which does have access to the general public and exemplifies the elegant tile & wood work of Moroccan artists. To top it all up, Meknès has nice french influenced cafés to spend the afternoons in and delicious Moroccan eateries where you can explore the middle-eastern flavors of their rich gastronomy.

You shouldn't leave Meknès without visiting the Roman Ancient Ruins of Volubilis where some beautiful remains have been miraculously preserved. Here is where the unbeknown and undeservedly fame less Roman big coloured mosaics of Volubilis lay. The site is located in the midst of what appears to be very fertile isolated ground. The natural scenery is clean and green, besides exploring the archaeological treasure, you'll enjoy breathing the fresh air that comes from the mountains.

Here is my fifth article of the Moroccan series related to the imperial cit of Meknès and its neighbouring Archaeological Site Volubilis:

2 abr. 2011

Marrakesh, Morocco

Now we have come to the renowned exotic city of Marrakesh. This is where you'll experience the whole Moroccan adventure to the extreme: you will admire the traditional Moroccan architecture of the old city; you will be captivated by the sublime beauty of the immense catalogue of Moroccan arts & crafts; you will enjoy the street food culture in the famous square of Djemaa el-Fna; you will enjoy the mint tea specialty at its many cafés; and above all, you will have intense contact with Marrakesh's inhabitants. As a tourist, no matter your ideology or where you come from, you are likely to spend a big amount of time at Marrakesh's famous markets buying all kinds of alluring items, the degree of fun you'll have while doing so depends on your charming skills. We really made the effort to communicate with the locals in a nonchalant way, doing our best to articulate a few words in Moroccan Arabic, making fools of ourselves, just joking around and trying to charm up the people so that they could feel at ease with us; we learned the basic questions, statements and numbers and used them to enhance our bargaining skills. It turned out that this was the perfect attitude to acquire and resulted in very good laughs and enjoyable times. I am sure you have heard about the harassment some people suffer while dealing with traders in Morocco (and specially in Marrakesh), I do not say we didn't sometimes feel very uncomfortable, but everything changed when our attitude toward our different encounters changed, and this interested attitude as a visitor was a good addition to the antidote against negative stuff.

Here is the fourth article of the Moroccan series related to the sophisticated, intriguing, multi layered city of Marrakesh:

1 abr. 2011

Ouarzazate, Morocco

Before heading to the Sahara Desert, our last stop was Ouarzazate, a very traditional Moroccan town located between the humid, red earthen mountainous regions of abundant green vegetation and the more arid palmaries -date palms primarily- which appear before the landscape turns more and more desert like up to the great Sahara. Upon arrival, our first impression of Ouarzazate was one of deserted streets, with one or two faceless masculine passers-by dressed in long black djellabas (flowing men's gown, ankle-long and with a hood); no warm acknowledgments, no women to be seen and a gloomy atmosphere. Luckily, we were wise enough to remain open minded and explore this bizarre town that presented us with some very exotic and interesting moments. We loved the old Moroccan Citadel, the folkloric gang of craftsmen (form Berber to Jewish, all men) and the luxurious yet cheap Hotel Riad Salam in which we rejoiced after staying in a couple of dark, filthy ones in a row (sometimes there is no other option money can buy and, lets face it, accommodation inadequacy is one of the main downfalls of travelling in a developing country).

We had some unforgettable heart-warming meals, both in sophisticated restaurants with elegant upholstery and soothing music (there is a very good one near the Ensemble Artisanal), as well as in humble tin-tabled plain little eateries (it was precisely in one of these that we tried for the
first time the kefta aux oeufs (lamb meatballs with eggs) and fell heels over head in love!

Our final impression: Ouarzazate was a memorable experience full of first-time moments and surprises. It might not be a beautiful town in itself, cause there is no urban aesthetic, but the inhabitants are very interesting, the food is superb and it offers a curious and beautiful array of crafts in addition to the Old Moroccan Citadel, which is practically still alive and a beautiful architectural piece of art.

In addition, getting to Ouarzazate by car allowed us to see the beautiful landscape transition of Morocco's natural richness. Since we were there in December, we even got to see the snowy mountain peaks from afar.

Here is the third article of the Moroccan series related to Ouarzazate:

Sahara Desert, Morocco

I reckon that the natural wonder that impacted me the most while visiting Morocco is without question the Sahara Desert. It is beautiful, it is intriguing, it is inspiring. The vastness of its great dune sea delighted me on a sensory level and it sort of mystified my soul. Standing there, engulfed by the harmonious yet hostile ecosystem I once again found myself asking "How? How? How?!" It is just so perfect. As William Langewiesche (author of Sahara Unveiled, a Journey Across the Desert) says, today there are very few places as huge and as wild, the Sahara is a difficult place to know. It might make a journey in and of itself, but for those who are travelling through Morocco it is totally worth even that superficial glimpse of its outskirts. Just observing the deep blue sky and the golden brown incredibly fine sand is a pleasure.

Here is the second article of the Moroccan series dedicated to this natural wonder: