About Craig Ouellette

Craig Ouellette

Craig Ouellette is a world traveling, independent filmmaker, and karaoke fiend. He has been to dozens of countries, made dozens of films, and sung more karaoke songs than he can count. He hopes the tales of adventure will entertain.


Latest Posts by Craig Ouellette

The Modern Magestic Roads Leading Out of Kuala Lumpur

August 7, 2013 by  

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So I’m riding in a bus through Tennessee on my way to Miami Bay Beach. It’s nice and green. Mountains everywhere. The 6 lane freeway is flowing smooth and fast. The AC is blasting on the bus. A line of Lamborghini’s zips past. Everyone is staying in their lanes. We stop at a real rest area for a pee and a snack…
… oh wait. Are we on the left side of the road? Is that sign in a different language? And did my driver nearly get in a fight with a passenger.  No, it’s not Tennessee, it’s actually Malaysia, starting in Kuala Lumpur. (above)
I’m surprised at how modern everything is. Subways. El-trains. Monorails. Roads that are actually wide enough for cars to go each way. Bullet trains. High rises. Shopping malls with all the boutique stores. A movie theater showing Iron Man 3 (for $4 or $7.50 in 3d). (I almost went but it didn’t time out right!) A surprising lack of smokers. And just about the most diversity I’ve ever seen. When I got on the subway in Kuala Lumpur (KL) the cross section of Malays, Indians, Chinese, Muslims, folks in shorts and T-shirts, in mini-skirts, the combo was pretty awesome.
I landed at the airport and it was as nice as any I’ve seen. I rode a bullet train into town.  I spent my one day in Kuala Lumpur going to the Batu caves, which are a holy Hindu sight with 260 stairs and the largest statue of Murga in the world. There’s also a Dark Cave that has a good eco-tour with a great guide who tells you all about it.
The rest of the day I spent in and around the Patronas Towers. Eventually going up to the sky-bridge and the 86th floor observation deck at sunset. It was cool to be able to have a view of the city, and the mirror image building that you’re in which usually you can’t do that from a big observation deck.
Officially Malaysia is an Islamic country, though there is freedom of religion, so there are many Hindu, Confuscionists, Taoists and even some Christians too. It’s the first place I’ve been that had a sign “No Indecent Behavior” and a silhouette of a couple kissing on the subway. And at the beach. And the national park. Seriously: DO NOT KISS each other. Jeez people. Way to risque!
I took a bus up to Georgetown, which sort of feels like New Orleans. With tight streets and colonial archetecture, albeit British and not French. There are tons of flop houses, bars, reggae places and things to do. At first I thought: hmmmm, not so sure about this, it feels kinda junky. But it grew on me fast. Especially when I found a private room with AC! and fan! and bathroom! for $15USD! wooo! It ain’t a palace, but that AC is cranked!
Met some folks who are biking from Germany to Australia. Yep. And another biker going from Indonesia to Japan. Biking. Crazy! That’d be an adventure. It was fun to drink Tiger Beer and swap stories.
And we also had Nyonya food. It’s a local food that exists pretty much here and is HOLY COW GOOD!! Really tasty. Panang (the island Georgetown is on) is known for it’s awesome food. I’m looking forward to trying more.
TOday I rented a scooter and cruised to the National Park. The scooter guy was this cantankerous Chinese/Malaysian man who was so funny. He talked fast and was crassy. Enjoyed it.
I met some other travelers and we hiked through the jungle for 1 1/2 hours to Turtle beach.  They’re under protection and being prepped for release). Then took a boat to Monkey beach (which had no monkeys). Hmmmm. Couldn’t swim to deep because of jellyfish, but it was beautiful nonetheless.
Malaysia is an interesting place. Looking forward to seeing more. Mountains and the deep deep Jungle.
Top photo credit: Mydestination.com. 

Burning Man by Day is Very Different than Burning Man by Night

September 9, 2012 by  

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So there is a distinct difference between Burning Man at day or night. The day’s are hot (though nice in the morning).  The sun is blazing (except the one day it was cloudy and sprinkled…yep!), and everything is dusty (okay, that’s the same both day or night.  But during the day you have dust storms more often).If you’re afraid to get dirty and be uncomfortable, this isn’t the place for you.  I’m a pretty flexible, enduring guy, and there were numerous times I sat in the shade, sipping a water, sweaty and miserable, thinking “What the hell am I doing here?”.  A lot of people would just lay under their shade structures (possibly on a couch or camp chair) and sleep during the day.  Sometimes all day (there was a gal in our camp that crashed out all day long and partied all night…every night).  On the Sunday, I’d had enough of the heat and sat in my car with the AC on for 2 hours, napping.  It was heavenly.

Dust storm, white out

Brian, (my friend, roommate, and the man who’s been to Burning man 10 times now), says you have to listen to your body at Burning Man.  You may want to go out and see the sights, but your body may say “no way, sit your ass down, drink and chill out.”.  To not listen to your body is a bad choice when the consequences are heat exhaustion, dehydration or worse.

Now, this isn’t to say that the daytimes sucked.  They didn’t.  The mornings were nice (sleeping in a tent, the sun and heat and neighbors force me awake by 10am at the latest every day).  Chilling, eating, chatting.

Then hopping on a bike or walking to some sort of event.  There’s a book of activities based on time and camp, where you can go do anything you want:
Learn to cook?  Check.
Yoga skills?  Check.
Kissing Puja?  Check.
Topless bike ride for breast cancer?  (5000 checks!)
BDSM workshops?  Check.
Photography classes?  Check.
Slave auction?  You guessed it…check.

Yep…you’re seeing this correctly.

So on Thursday I thought “I’m going to the slave auction. “  Some campmates had done it, and they had had fun.  They’d sold themselves as slaves, which basically means you can choose whatever you want to sell:  2 hours of camp cleanup, or a 30 minute massage, or learn dirty Russian phrases for 10 minutes, a full Indian meal.  Basically anything you want to offer, and then the “masters” bid on you, by trading similar items:  A bottle of booze, a shower in an RV, a naked lap dance.  Anything goes.  It’s up to you.  And the slave gets to decide which offer is best.

It was at Uli Babba and the Horny Thieves camp.  They had a whole tent set up.  If you wanted to be a slave, they put these plastic shackles on you with a chain.  I figured I’d slave myself up and offer DJ services, old school hip hop style for someone.  I wanted to DJ while at Burning Man and figured this would be a good way to make friends.

At the Slave Auction

We all pile into the camp.  There’s a full on mermaid sitting on the center platform.  The slaves on one side.  The masters on the other.  It was all tongue-and-cheek and silliness.  They’d call up slaves and explain the services you’d give, and people would bid.  Private showers, hair washing and meals seemed to go a long way.  One set of slaves offered to compliment you for an hour.  Another offered to cook you Indian meals.  When I finally got up there, people enjoyed my “old school hip hop dances”, but when I said I had the music and mixers, but no speakers, my bidding price went WAYYYYYY down.  (Guess everyone’s a DJ at Burning Man).  The only person to bid on me offered me a topless hair washing from 4 women…um, I have no hair.  Not the best deal, but the only one I got.  So rather than be killed, I took it.

I wish the rest of that story was exciting, but when I went to DJ the party (for the woman’s wife), they just wanted to go get drugs and asked if I could come back the next day.  I’d missed a big set of burns on the Playa to show up on time for them, but figured it would be fun to DJ the next day.  So I show up at 5pm on Friday in a big dust storm…and the wife hadn’t come home last night and was still partying someplace.  So the DJing never happened.  Nor did the hairwashing.

Which brings up a good point about Burning Man:  plans are flexible.  Rarely locked down.  In fact, it’s almost impossible to make arrangements to meet people.  We might say “Let’s meet at 7oclock and B, at the Mardi Gras camp at noon.”  (All the streets in Burning Man are labeled from 2 oclock to 10 oclock around the center playa area.  And then go from Esplanade, A, B, C etc back to L).  Well, one or both of us might find something more interesting or more fun, or just plain forget to meet up.  Or we might just be running late, and you’ll be there and think “I guess they aren’t coming” and head off”.  There’s no cellphones, so we can’t be lazy and call and say we’re late.  It really is a “go with your instinct” kind of place and you’re more likely to have fun.

That being said, there were a couple of times I wish I’d actually tried to make plans to meet up and didn’t because I was in such a “go with the flow” mode.  What can you do?

One day I was out by the Temple in the late afternoon and there was a big trailer set up that was actually a wet-plate camera (the kind used in the Civil War).  The folks had built it and were taking pictures.  I got one of me in front of the temple.  It’s so cool.

But they couldn’t finish it up at that time, so I’d have to go pick it up at their camp at some point.
Oh boy.
On Saturday, Brian and I actually hung out during the day.  We hopped on bikes and rode around.  Taking pictures.  Saying hi to people.  We got to the camp and picked up the photo.  It is AWESOME.  It’s printed on metal.  Really special.  A great playa gift.  Thank you.

This is no Instagram

I’d forgotten to bring water (yep, good call!), but they were cool and we filled up with them, took camp photos for them, and head out.
A quick stop at the porta potti, then down the street to a camp called “Mis information Camp” or something like that.

“Something great will happen because we go in here” Brian said.
So we take off our packs and…oh shit, my camera is gone.
Shit shit shit.
I leave my stuff with Brian and run back to the photo camp.  Not there.
Oh no, it has all my Burning Man pics, plus a trip I took immediately before this to Cabo for a friends Bachelor party.
I goto the toilets.  Look inside.  No camera.
Ugh!
I run back to where Brian was.  “Can’t find it.”
But, at least my driver’s licence was in the case (which is bad if I don’t get it back, but is good if Burning Man is as cool as people say, since they can find me.  (This just gave me the idea that the first photo on any card should be a photo of a drivers licence, or at least email/phone number, so when people scan forward they see it and have the contact info).
At this point I’m pretty bummed.  I’d just bought the camera too.
Anyway, we go back to the toilets, Brian yells really loud “Did anyone find a camera?  Did anyone find a camera?”.

A guy walks up.  “You looking for a camera?”
“Yep.  Did you find one?”
“No.”
“It has a drivers licence in it.”
“Okay, yeah, we have it.”

SWEEET!
I got it back…with crotch, butt and boob photos from the whole camp.
Clearly they didn’t expect us to actually see their faces in person!  They were going to turn it in and then I’d have some laughs at the photos.  Oooops!

Thanks for the camera!

The Playa Provides.

That’s one of the big sayings at Burning Man.  That it’ll provide what you need.  (Or is it what you’re looking for?).  I think it’s more likely the first.  You may be looking for one thing, but need another.  Who knows?  But this was awesome.  Thankful for those folks for being so cool and not just taking it.
That is after all the vibe of burning man.  Supposedly things can get stolen, but it doesn’t happen very often.

Why does the Playa provide?
You could say it’s because there are 50-60,000 like minded people in a small area, all circling about in a gifting mode, and thus it’s likely you’ll meet or find someone with what you’re looking for.  Or you could say it’s something more magical, that there’s something about the energy of Burning Man.  Of that specific place.  That things all happen for reasons if you are living in the moment.

Humanity’s Art, Cars and Burns in the Desert

August 30, 2012 by  

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ART CARS. Brian would tell me about “art cars” before I went.  He’d say you could hop on an art car and ride around, or dance or what not.  But the description and the photos really don’t capture this strange and unique (I think) experience.Art cars are EVERYWHERE at Burning Man.  In fact, once you park your car or RV or motorcycle you are not allowed to drive it anywhere in town, other than if you are leaving again.  The only cars are Art Cars.  These have to be registered and inspected by the DMV (Department of Mutant Vehicles) and if deemed artsy and safe (enough) they are allowed to drive at 5mph or less down the roads, the playa and all around.

What constitutes and art car? Well…

There’s a motorized easy chair. the aforementioned 30 foot long neon shark.

The giant, fireshooting octopus.
golfcarts covered in furry carpet,
Is that a 2 story unicorn with a dance dome and fire shooting out the front?

A dragon (or is that a centipede) type car with multiple segments.  There were two of these that would chase each other around like giant snakes, and at night it was really cool.

A sail barge like Jaba the Hutt’s from Jedi.

A walking beast, that had no wheels and shot fire (I never saw it walk, but it did). One looks like sculpted ivory (of course it’s not), over an old schoolbus with a slide on the side.

Is that a giant dune buggy drag racer?
Robot Heart was a 3 story beast with a giant, you guessed it, pulsing light heart and huge speakers
There was a billowy whale
A giant snail
A space shuttle
what looks like a giant fossilized dinosaur
A dayglow lounge
A wildwest saloon complete with inside and outside portions
And a 45 foot YACHT that would drive around on wheels.  (A real yacht!)

I’m not sure how these are built, or how they get brought here in the fist place.  But I’m glad they are!

I wish I’d taken pictures of all of them so I could remember, but then all I would do for 6 days would be take photos of art cars.  You never know what will come around the next corner.  It could be anything.  From the size of a chair to 60 feet long.  Who knows.  In theory you can hop onto most any of them and ride around, dance, drink, and hop off where you want.  But don’t think they go in any patterns or any logical routes.  It’s wherever the driver would want to go, and that might not be where you want to go.  Either way, it’s a blast!

BURNS

Yep.  It’s called Burning Man.
They burn shit.
Lot’s of it.
Big things (the Man, Wall street, the Temple)
little things.  Hundreds of things.
MUCH of the art out in the Playa was burned on Thursday night.  As in, 30 or 40 sculptures all at once.  I saw the glow and smoke, but that’s when I was trying to honor my DJ offer from the slave auction.

Inubus burns

 

It’s quite a site to watch things burn.  As you get towards the end of the week, more stuff goes up in smoke.  But it’s not all willy nilly.  Anything large is “sanctioned” and is monitored.  They have Black Rock Rangers (volunteers) and the fire department set up a perimiter.  (Keep in mind it’s not a fence or any actual barrier, and people would run across the space, sometimes streak across.  I’m not sure what happens when they get caught…they’re probably just put back in the crowd unless they do it a lot.).

Once the barrier is set, people start to gather round.  It all seemed random, people would say “Oh, they’re burning Inubis at 9pm”, “Wall street’s been postponed because of wind/problems/issues until 9 or 11 or tomorrow”.  Seeing anything burn, seemed to be a bit of a… “wow, what are those people waiting for?” and going to check it out.  Other than the MAN (Saturday night, show starts at 8pm (or is it dark?  Or 9pm?, or when the weather cooperates.  One year it was delayed 4 hours because of wind and dust).  The Temple:  Sunday at 8pm (or is it 9?  10?  This year was earlier than past years, but it was later than planned…:)  You get the idea.

Barrier’s set.  People have gathered around.  Glowsticks.  Lights.  Art cars make a wider perimeter, and with the exception of when the temple burned, all play their music, so depending on where you are, you will have a different mood and feeling for the burn.  Electronic.  Ambient.  Hip Hop.  Country (yep, some country).

Wall Street Burns

Then there’s a spark, and FIREWORKS!  At least the big ones like Inubus (an egyptian styled statue), Wall Street, the large EGO letters, and the Man all had fireworks.  My first burn was Inubus.  I was impressed by all the fireworks.  Then the fire spreads and burns.  The show could be 5 minutes, or in the case of the Man 45 minutes.  It goes until the structure has collapsed and there is nothing left to fall down.  Then the barriers are lifted, and you race in…

THE RIVERS OF HUMANITY

This years Man was the tallest of all so far.  80+ feet including the base.  The crowd gathers an hour or more before hand.  I got about 10 feet from the front.  People had set up tarps and coolers.  The front folks sit down and you wait and chat and laugh.  Brian and I had talked about meeting up afterwards.  He said “It’s going to be nearly impossible.  YOu don’t understand the chaos after the man falls.” But we set a place to meet and he was off to photograph the fire conclave Burning Sensation.  (You can check out some of the photos here: www.ErzenDesign.com  http://www.erzendesign.com/burning-man-2012-night)

Around 8:30 the fire conclaves start to spin.  There are 25 or 50 of them, completely circling the man.  They have all worked on routines and shows for months or even the entire year for this 15 minute window.  Conclaves can have up to 50 people, including the safety folks, and she shows are pretty impressive.  Burn Academy (who I camped with) did “the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse”.  They had folks on stilts, burning swords, girls with these burning frames on them.  It was really cool.  Burning Sensation (which was right next to them) did a sexy, salsa dance to start with (But they had burning staffs they encircled each other with), and there was a dude with a FLAMING WHIP!  Indiana Jones would be proud.

After the routines, the man goes up.  (if it were a movie, the Man would go up immediately, but it’s real life so there is safety prep and positioning required :).

The man starts with fireworks.  TONS of fireworks.  Like 4th of July in Chicago over the lake fireworks.  Like Boston Pops fireworks.  (Okay, I’m exaggerating, but it’s an impressive show).  His leg starts burning first, and then it spreads.  Gets bigger and bigger.  Then there was a GIANT EXPLOSION that shot a fireball out and around!  The whole thing begin to burn so enormously that all the folks in the front got up and ran back and away, and the area where I was everyone stood up and were ready to bolt.  Huge smoke and dust tornadoes begin to spin away from the structure.  Everyone on that side must have moved, because the smoke and plumes of dust would have been nuts.

Then the man collapses inside the structure.  Everyone cheers!
And then it burns and burns and burns and burns…and at some point a fireball shot out and landed on my friends from Burn Academy!  Holy Shit!  They put it out fast, but how crazy!

I shot a video of the whole thing.  It’s 25 minutes long, and then I stopped.  I think I should cut out some of the duller parts to give an idea of what it was in 3 or 5 minutes.  Being there is very different from watching a video though.

It’s funny that I think that.  I love movies.  I make movies.  But direct experience is still the best when it comes to things like this.  My words, photos, videos.  They give you a glimpse, albeit a contained, shortened, easier to digest glimpse.  But seeing the man burn (and all of these things) is different when you are there.  It’s like skydiving…the experience of it is TOTALLY different than watching videos.  Don’t get me wrong, I think the power of a good movie is that it DOES give you the direct experience, the emotions and fears and joys of the characters involved.  But that is movie magic, and rarely happens.

Back to the burn!
When the structure fell down there were a couple of standing pillars still burning.  Everyone was on their feet, wanting to charge in, but the rangers and firemen were keeping the mass of humanity back.  The throngs would pulse closer, but not break free…

…until the dam fell.

One person broke the line, another dude (naked!) charged in, and then the whole thing went.  CHAOS!  As 50,000 people stormed in towards a giant raging fire pit.  They fell in, dancing, cheering, and flowing around the burning madness.  It was very much still a fire.  (It burned through the next day, they always let these burn themselves out.  You don’t put them out).  The people flowed counterclockwise in a river around the man.  It was amazing.

Curtis and Cameron smoking their last cigarettes before quitting!

The heat was insane.  If you were on the inside of the river, it was 5 feet between you and a 50 foot square of burning wood.  It was HOT.  Really HOT.  Blistering hot.  But if you had just one person between you and the flames it wasn’t too bad at all.  (I guess people make good insulation…hmmm, that’s a weird statement. :).  I don’t know how the naked guys and girls could stand being that close to the flames.    I ran into some friends from camp, snapped their pics, and just enjoyed the absolute insanity of the whole thing.  This was participation done burning man style.

It was all joy and joined humanity for one celebration.
For this moment the world was in perfect balance.

Awesome.

Touched By A Mountain Gorilla

January 10, 2012 by  

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This isn’t me, but wish it was. Reminded me of my encounter with Marika in 2008. Enjoy the video. It gets going around 1 minute in. Awesome.

http://www.wimp.com/mountaingorilla/

You can’t have that experience sitting at home. :) Travel.

Hot Web Rubdown by Moroccan Man on a Marble Floor

November 22, 2011 by  

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So I’m laying face down, ass up (but skivvies on), on a marble floor. The room is hot, steamy, and there are three or four other men in skivvies getting hot rubdowns by other half naked Moroccan men. They scrub with hot water, some sort of soap and a rough brush that scrapes off the dead skin from my body. And boy, who knew there was so much of it! There’s also something called a “massage”, but it’s more like a twisted, half yoga-half chiropractic twisting session. It did feel good, but there were times, as I was being lifted against the half naked man’s legs, that I thought “Oh my god this hurts, I hope I don’t pop out of place!”. I didn’t.

The main rubdown room was in the back. It has no lights other than small holes in the domed ceiling. There’s another room you walk through, that has some sort of open shower stalls, though no one was in these. The front room of the bathing area is cooler, and is the rinse room. And through a door, and a VERY low ducking under a ceiling, you enter the entry way, which is a 50 foot tall starred dome, with star shaped vents that have sun streaming in.

This is a Hammam. A traditional Moroccan (and Turkish too, I think) bath house. The one I was in is hundreds of years old, and is the place you go to really get clean. It was probably more important back when there weren’t showers and plumbing, but it is still an important part of Moroccan life. Naturally, the men and women have completely separate hours. It would be a bit impure (And really very counter to the whole way Muslim’s do things here) to be getting a hot wet rubdown from a man while topless women were getting hot wet rubdowns from other topless women right next to you.

But that’s how it works for the gals too. I met two Belgian gals on my birthday, and they described their experience, and it was remarkably similar to mine. Though they didn’t mention anything about the strong smell of cigarettes on the attendants breath. Maybe they didn’t have it.

It was really fun, strangely enough. And I haven’t felt that clean in a long time. He cleaned everything but my crotch and butt crack. (But he got the cheeks!).

So for my Birthday, on Monday, I went down to the Djeema El Fna, the 1000 year old square at the center of Marrakech. I had some street food, enjoyed the jovial, fun, playful way the vendors try to get your attention to eat at their stalls. They mostly have he same menu (minus the one with the goat heads), but the food did vary in tastiness. I never could find my buddy Mike. He stayed at a different hotel, we set up time to meet and somehow missed each other. A strange way to end 10 days of good travel together. Never did get to say thanks or goodbye.

So I hung out with other travelers. The aforementioned Belgian gals. And an Aussie who looked a lot like Jesus. And a fun Italian guy with a great laugh, who was only there for the dinner parts. We chatted, we swapped stories, we laughed of the Moroccan sales method, and I told them it was my birthday and I was determined to find a beer in Morocco.

Judging from stories of the Australian couple in Fez who, on a search for alcohol, were sent down back alleys to an unmarked door. They were let inside and the men (all men) sitting inside drinking looked up guiltily at the door like teenagers caught by their parents. Around the corner in the next room was the “bar”, where a man showed them a bottle of wine while looking around to make sure no one was watching. He wouldn’t let them hold it either. And when they bought it, they were ushered out a side door into another alley.

OR, the two Belgian gals, who were led to an equally dark alley and door, and when they entered… it was all women! Who knew, women in Morocco drink. So they ordered beers (Flag Special) and sat down. Then realized that these women were sure dressed provocatively. And there were indeed a couple of men in the room, and…oh, Hookers! A whole room full. They had no problems, were not assumed to be hookers, enjoyed their drinks and left.

So, I figured, this i going to be one hell of an awesome quest down the back alleys of Morocco. Leading to adventures, strange tales and odd happenings. So in French, Florine (tall belgian girl) asks the waiter “where can we find some beer?”. He says “At the end of that street there is a hotel called Tazi. They have the only bar in the Medina.”

Well that was easy!

So we went. Had three beers. Talked lots more. I had a Moroccan man say “Fuzzy wuzzy was a bear, Fuzzy wuzzy had no hair, Fuzzy Wuzzy wasn’t fuzzy was he?”. And he wanted to know what it meant…um, ok.

Oddly in a place where drinking is so hidden (though technically not illegal like it is in Kuwait), they sold us our last beers as they were closing and said we could drink it on the street. So we walked along, drinking beers to the Djeema El-Fna. We did slip them into pockets when we got within sight of the big Mosque though. We know enough to not be THOSE tourists who essentially give the finger to the mosque. Not going to that, that’s not cool.

And when I headed back to my hostel, I fully expected to get offered hash and pot about 10 times, since I had been offered it tons of times in Marrakech. But I wasn’t offered it once. Without the scooter traffic and shops and noise, it’s almost like I walked back in time hundreds of years as I cruised through the alleys.

The next day was a rainy, walking tour of some palaces. Some shopping. Some more eating in the square, with Monkeys climbing all over me (for a tip of course).

The final day was the Hammam rubdown, and a final tour of Marrakech, where I got way off the tourist track. And the touts seemed to pick up to take me to the tanneries and other places, but I politely declined “No thank you, I’m just exploring”,
and they would be insistant “Just a quick look, no pressure.”
And I’d say, what turned out to the be magic words: “I’ve been here for three weeks. I’m good.”
They would smile the knowing Oh-yes-you’ve-seen-all-our-techniques smile, and say “Welcome Morocco. Have fun.”

 

If you need to get the touts to go away, politely decline, then say (whether you have or not), that you’ve been here for 3 weeks, and they will leave you alone willingly. (Now don’t ALWAYS do this, as you’ll miss out on some fun adventures (see the jewelry buying in Meknes for instance), but if you’re not in the mood, you now have your magic spell to use.

The walking, wandering led to a cool photography museum, with pics from 1870-1950 Morocco. And strangely, a lot of things looked almost exactly the same. And many things were different. It was a great way to end the trip, with this sort of time machine into the world of Morocco before. Some really cool images. Back in the day, the female coverings (which I’m blanking on the name right now) were all white. Completely white. Like ghosts. Now they tend to be black if it’s a total covering, except the eyes. Though if it’s not that complete, the colors vary wildly and the clothes are very beautiful.

And I had a cobra put around my neck. And other snakes too. And took pics with the snake charmers on the square. It was fun to do, and of course required a tip. But it was “Good price, Moroccan price”.:) (After I talked them down from 200 MAD (That’s $25USD, ) to 50 MAD (Tha’ts about $6…still a bit pricey, but what the hell. When am I going to have a cobra on my neck…)
I asked “Isn’t it poisonous?”,
They said “Yes, yes, very”.
I said “How do you make it not bite? Has it been devenomized?”
Them “Yes, very poisonous.”
Hmmmm…..

And so that’s the scoop. That’s the journey. That’s the adventure…

But wait, we’re not done. There’s one more story to be told…

Fez: Bargaining With Your GUIDE!

November 10, 2011 by  

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Ahhhh, the Fez Medina, a wonderful, crazy, busy, friendly, alien, hostile, relentless, bustling, angering, joyful, tasty, stinky maze of madness and humanity. Fez is the largest intact ancient city of it’s kind in the world. And it is ENORMOUS. 150,000 people live in the twisty turny maze of the medina. World class leather, carpets and pottery are made. A wall that’s 30 feet tall and 30 plus kilometers long surrounds it (and that’s just part of it). It’s been there for 1400 years or something. The “new” part is 700 years old. It is INSANE.

And I was there on the goat holiday (it’s still going. Reports vary from 3 days to 10 days. Guess it depends on home much money you have or how religious you are, how many days you take off). It really is AMAZING. So cool to walk around. To see, hear, smell. Awesome.

But one thing that doesn’t stop for any holiday is the Touts.

Now, if you’ve been to other countries, you konw the touts. The Men (it’s always men), ranging from 12-35 (or older sometimes) who come up to you and welcome you, tell you they love your country and then insist on:
1. guiding you someplace you don’t want to go
2. guiding you someplace you know how to get to
3. taking you to the a. tanneries. b. pottery lane c. carpet shop d. berber pharmacy
4. say your hotel is closed, but they know one who isn’t
5. take you to a restraunt, shop, taxi stand, cafe.

And they don’t take no for an answer (well, the annoying ones don’t).

So you get this head down mentality that keeps you from engaging with the NOT annoying people who live and work in the Medina. But they find you anyway. And here are a few tales of Fez.

TALE 1: “YOU GOT A PROBLEM WITH ME?”

So I’m out touring fez for my second day there. Enjoying sites. I head out to Barj Nord, a big fortress outside the medina with views of the sprawl. And meet some Polish tourists. Chat a bit. Generally I’m not bothered. I goto an old tomb on a hill with a great view again. There’s a berber man there, he welcomes me, offers to show me his carpet and his hats. He’s nice, it’s pleasant. I don’t buy a rug, but buy a nice knit hat for 5 bucks. He warns me of pickpockets.

I get back to the medina just fine. Enjoy lunch and head back to my guesthouse (DAR FATIMA, I recommend it. They are super nice and fun). I walk in and, as manifesting works… there are 2 American girls sitting in the living space! Yahoo!!!!!! YA-FUCKING-HOOOOO!!!!! :)

Well we chat, they just came from the desert. I ask of the tour, there’s was WAY cheaper than what I was about to book. Hmmmm… They were led to Dar Fatima by a guy named Mohammed (not the same Mo as I met before…oh wait, I havne’t told that story yet. Well, in another email). So me and the girls decide to go explore and maybe grab some food in a bit (it’s like 5:30, so it’s dark). Well there was some confusion with Mohammed, because he was going to take them around, but they’d said they have no money, he seemed okay with that. Wanted to “practice his english. He’s a student” (That is clue number one my friends…)

So if I’m going to go with them, he will charge me 150 Dhm (that’s almost 20 bucks) to join them, but they are free. Well…that’s stupid. I know where I’m going and just like to explore if I don’t. But I’m going out at the same time, so we walk down all the steps from Fatima and go outside.

As soon as the door closes, Mohammed leans forward agressively toward me and says “You got a problem with me?”
I have NO IDEA what he’s talking about. “YOU GOT A PROBLEM WITH ME?”
I have a habit when shocked of smiling or sort of laughing…well, you don’t do this to a Moroccan man.
Me “Are we really going to have this conversation? What are you talking about?”
Him “You have a problem with me”
Me “Really, you wait till the door closes and now you say this?”
(I’m thinking…I have no idea what to do right now and no idea what is going on…)

Well, we’re on a little alley in the medina of Fez. A couple folks walking by stop. The girls have NO IDEA what is provoking this. And honestly, I’m so annoyed by all the fucking touts I kinda want to have him swing at me so I can drop kick his ass with some Tae-Kwon-Do!

Sonja tries to figure out what’s up. Explain that they were just in the desert, and went trekking etc etc. Another guy standing there, and his girlfriend motion me over and we start talking. He doesn’t know what’s up, and I feel like he said something about me taking money from Mohammed. (I mean, I KNOW Mohammed is leading them to shops, but if they want to go, they want to go, that’s fine).

Sonja comes over and says, “It’s okay, he understands”. And then he lights up a cigarette, as Sonja and Leah rush through what they did and the costs. It was rediculous. Then he says “How much you pay?” I say “The guy says it’ll be 320 Euro.” Mohammed “No no no. You book with me and I can do it all for 200 Euro. I was just in desert. I’m a guide”.

REALLY? You threaten me, then 5 minutes later want my business. Come on!!!

Anyway, no more tensions there. End up walking with them a bit. I knew they would get harrassed, but I had to go a different direction, or there would be more problems. They were fine. Said Mohammed claimed I was “in the mafia”. Yep. I’ll put out a contract on you, don’t you know it!

Well, the night just keeps getting better. I walk all the way to the main gate, where I knew I could get some good food. I ate alone, because my new friends were being annoyed by the “guide”.

On my way back, it was maybe 8:45pm. Getting late in Morocco time. Shops all closing up. I had to walk the main “road” (it’s maybe 8 feet wide) to a side one and then I would head through a passage to my hotel. Problem is…I’d never walked BACK that way before. So before leaving the cafe I looked on the map, saw some landmarks I could memorize and use, and head out…

I’ve got a bottle of water, I’m walking focused. I don’t really answer folks when they ask the ever coming first question “Where you from? Welcome Morocco. Your second home Brother.”

But then a (maybe drunk, maybe high, maybe just annoying) guy comes up.
“You want to goto Tanneries? To pottery? Buy good stuff?”
“No thank you.”
“I take you, Tanneries You come.”
“No, I’m good.”
“It’s right up here, you come, Good deal”
“No”

I turn around (because I KNOW I’ve gone too fucking far down the street, and more guys are sort of appearing).
So I walk past another couple

“Where you from?”
“LEAVE ME ALONE.”
I never looked back
“FUCK YOU! FUCKER! FUCK YOUR MOTHER! FUCKING ASS HOLE!”Etc etc etc

Now I KNOW I’m in a bad place. I do not have a clear idea where to go. I know even if I PICK the right side alley, it is not close. Maybe 300 meters of quiet alley and dark passage. Then I have to open the fricking door, which isn’t easy to open.

This is not cool.

I can’t leave it alone, so I say (not really very loud) “Glad you practiced your English” as I’m walking away

Other people on the street (thank god they were there) started to look at what was going on. I pass the bank (and know that the alley is right next to it from the map). So I do a hard Left, glance quickly to see if I’m being followed…I’m not.

But I just walked into that alley. And NO ONE is around.

I quickly debate turning back onto mainstreet, going up to gate and hanging at cafe. But really, if they sit and wait, I’m fucked.

So I go for it.
I don’t run, I walk, senses tuned to sounds of footsteps behind.

I slide under the passage, out onto Fatima’s alley. And up to the door. Look back…

no puruit.

Open door. Slide inside.
Fuck me.

SO…

I’m a bit frazzled. Fatima’s daughter wants to know if I’ll be doing the 320 euro tour so we can call the guide for the pick up tomorrow. I say “I need to calm down”.

I chat with Leah and Sonja, we tell stories of Mohammed and the “Fuck your mother” guys. And I think “I’m not going on this tour. It’s way too expensive and I’m in no hurry…but I’m getting out of Fez”.

So I have.
We toured the Jewish quarter and saw a few quick sites this morning. Had some great conversation. Ran into this Aussie couple I chatted with yesterday and then went our separate ways. Emails swapped. New friends.

I rode a grand taxi (a full size Mercedes, painted a certain color depending on the city, that goes between towns. They ALWAYS put 6 people plus the driver in them.) So it was me and another guy in the front seat. Cool…I had my arm out the window as we headed into the LUSH GREEN MOUNTAINS. Um, this is Morocco? Yep, cedar trees and other evergreens. Very pretty. Past the french inspired town of Ifrane. Very cool, kinda wish I’d stayed there. But got to Azrou.

Pretty mountains. Very nice people. The hotel guy is fun, we chat (in rough English) about travel, America, Los Angeles, his trips etc. I met another traveler at the restraunt (though I was by far the ONLY one here for awhile). His name is Mike. He got fed up with Fez and headed out today too. We’ll go hiking tomorrow.

No Touts, though one guide came up to me with his friend, they had a book of testimonials and a photo book a Dutch couple had made for him of their trek. He told me what we could do, said “Just a proposal. No pressure. If you want to book, let me know later”. And they left me be. And I climbed on this cool huge rock pile that’s like 100 feet of volcanic awesome that overlooks the town, the mosque, the full moon and the fading sunlight.

Sweet.

Travel Philosophy: What I Took From “The Beach”

March 27, 2011 by  

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So as many of you know, I tend to mention the book and also the movie “The Beach” in my blogs and emails about travel. Some people have asked if it’s my favorite book (movie) of all time…

… and it is neither. Though I do quite enjoy both versions of the story. And that movie, in addition to some articles in National Geographic Adventure Magazine (RIP), are what made me aware of the backpacking culture beyond just Europe. And sort of kicked off my desire to see these off the way places, in addition to realizing I could do it within my budget. (As I always like to say, Travel doesn’t have to be expensive.)

But one of the main things that I took from “The Beach” is actually a philosophy that has served me well, very well, in my travels abroad (and in the states. And even in my own city when I remember to use it here.) And so thanks to Alex Garland (who wrote the book), John Hodge (who wrote the movie), and my buddy Leonardo DiCaprio (for saying them), here is my travel philosophy when backpacking:

“Trust me, it’s paradise. This is where the hungry come to feed. For mine is a generation that circles the globe and searches for something we haven’t tried before. So never refuse an invitation, never resist the unfamiliar, never fail to be polite and never outstay the welcome. Just keep your mind open and suck in the experience. And if it hurts, you know what? It’s probably worth it.”

I usually put it in a list at the front of each travel journal when I leave to put myself in the right travel mindset.

1. Never refuse an invitation
2. Never resist the unfamiliar
3. Never fail to be polite
4. Never outstay your welcome.

Just keep you mind open and suck in the experience. And if it hurts, you know what, it’s probably worth it.

So there you go faithful team. Hopefully that’ll keep you on the right track to having some new adventures as you travel the globe.

River Rafting in Costa Rica

November 11, 2010 by  

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I realized I didn´t tell you about the awesome white water rafting on the Rio Pacuare. Even though it cost 99 bucks and the rafting part was only 3 1-2 hours it was still totally worth it. The canyon is amazing! Jungle lined slopes and cliffs towering above. Waterfalls pouring down the sides. One that even fell right into the river and you float right next to it. I´ve got a great video of it that I´ll try to post.

The rapids are 3´s and 4´s, and I think everyone of them is fun. The water was big, so big in fact that 2 days before they had to cancel the trip. But fun big. It was wild, but not to rocky. One of our guys fell out on this crazy big wave rapid, and I had to reach over the edge to pull him in as we were crashing through this huge standing wave. It was awesome. He actually rode the wave outside the boat, and I just hung on. Then reached over and pulled him in.

Apparently, this is the river they used when filming that cinematic masterpiece CONGO. Since that is a regular renter for everyone on this list, be sure to watch the white water rafting part and check out the scenery.

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