Archive for the ‘Travel Journals’ Category

The Road to Boumalne Dades


Back to the story – on the road to Boumalne Dades

It took a long time to plan this trip to Morocco, yet I overlooked many little details.  Like the fact that we’d be driving Morocco’s three mountain ranges.  Between Marrakech and Boumalne Dades, we had to tackle the High Atlas.  This mountain range reaches a height of about 14,000 feet, but we traveled over the Tizi’n’Tichka Pass where the summit is approximately 7,000 feet.

One of the first things we saw outside of Marrakech was storks!  Lots of them flying.  Storks nest on top of minarets, but it must be unusual to see many at a time because other cars were stopped to watch.


We drove through palmeries (A palmerie is a place where there are many palm trees, a source of water, and the land under the palm trees is cultivated with different crops.)


and rolling hills


Our troublesome rental car

Note the mountains in the background.

that soon gave way to barren mountains.

Tizi’n’Tichka Pass

There was something eerily beautiful about this bleak stony mountain pass. At the lower elevations we passed abandoned Kasbahs and the occasional house.

Yet even when an area looks desolate, a person will pop up – tending sheep, harvesting bamboo, perhaps gathering plants or wood.

Berbers populate the mountains and a productive side business for them is selling fossils.  Apparently southern Morocco is a treasure trove of fossils.  We stopped at one stand and after a long while a woman came walking up a steep path.  She spoke not a word of anything we spoke, not even Arabic because Berber is a separate language.  We bought a dish and some fossils and I’m not sure she could even count the money.  Everything in her little store was so dusty that it seemed customers were few and far between.  In several places we stayed, we were the first guests since Christmas, so she was probably not expecting any business.

We could even have stopped for the pause that refreshes.

Our car didn’t seem to be sliding into gear very well, the brakes squeaked, and we were mildly worried, but it took us over the pass and down into the Draa Valley.  Most people stop for the night in Ouarzazate.  It’s not much of a town as far as tourism goes, but it’s growing quickly because a huge movie-making industry is in full growth mode.  There’s a big studio, Atlas Studios, one of the biggest in the world, and we drove by back lots with Kasbahs and other types of buildings.  The Bourne Identity is one of many movies that have been made there.

Being us, we pushed ourselves to the limit.  I figured if we could get to Boumalne Dades we could spend two nights there instead of one in Ouarzazate, then packing up to have only one in Boumalne Dades.  It’s much easier to be two nights in one place. As a result we had one of the very long days that were ahead of us.  Luckily the road system is excellent and the signage is clear.  I had printed out Google maps for everything, which turned out to be a colossal waste of time, as the roads had no names posted and highways were not marked by their numbers.  In Morocco, as in France and Italy, roads are indicated by where they lead, not what number they are, and it is usually in a roundabout when you find out if you’re still on the right track.

The Draa Valley is known for growing roses, and each year there is a huge rose festival.  Rose soaps, lotions and other rose products are sold all over this area.  Also in the valley is the incredible Road of 1,000 Kasbahs.  I had forgotten about that road but as we passed abandoned Kasbahs, one after the other, I remembered what we were supposed to be seeing.  This road is the former caravan route from the Sahara to Marrakech.  Although we didn’t get out and explore any (having done so in the past), it made the road quite exciting.

Old kasbah

Remains of old kasbah behind more modern building

We did stop at the famous Kasbah Ait Benhaddou and took a few photos.  Ait Benhaddou is really a ksar (see commentary on politics) and it’s a UNESCO World Heritage site.  Many movies have been filmed there including Gladiator and Lawrence of Arabia.

Ait Benhaddou

It was a glorious day – lots of driving, yes, but that’s the only way to see the territory sometimes, and see it we did.  The sky was gorgeous and the air was clear.


Next: Boumalne Dades and the gorges.

Goodbye Marrakech; Hello Infrastucture, Politics, and the Road South.


Goodbye Marrakech

Last morning in Marrakech. We had our breakfasts on the roof of the riad, which is quite charming.

Mini tagine dishes

All over the country these little tagine dishes are used for jams, butters, olives, and like foods.  They are quite charming.

Rooftop of Maison Do in Marrakech

This is how it goes in most medina residences – all spaces are used, and terraces on the rooftops are common.  We enjoyed the open air (of course, it wasn’t the hot summer) and little birds enjoyed it also.

I couldn’t resist a photo of the oranges.  Fruits are served for every meal.

Looking out over the rooftops of the medina we saw a sea of satellite dishes. That’s something new for sure in the last 40 years.  Morocco is a wonderful mixture of the old and new.  We may say, “oh, too bad, the satellite dishes are ugly” or some such thing, but I’m sure people are happy to have them.

Satellite dishes in Marrakech medina

Morocco has done a terrific job on infrastructure.

After breakfast Ali took us to the airport so we could rent our car, which is a tiny yellow-ish KIA something or other (without heat as it turns out. And without oil also – we had to put two liters in after the first day, but that’s getting ahead of the story.). The airport is new, or at least renovated, and gorgeous, as was the train station. Ali had us follow him until we were out of town heading the right direction, and we were off to the Southern Oases.

Interjecting a note about infrastructure

This might be a good time to insert a more extensive note about infrastructure. Since Mohammed VI took the throne 10 years ago, he’s been busy. The transportation systems are outstanding from roads to buses to trains. People were waiting for buses everywhere in the most remote rural areas – nowhere is there no public transportation. The airports and train stations are all redone and lovely.

Train station in Oujda, Morocco

We lived half a block from this train station 40 years ago, and it looked nothing like this.

The highways were in good condition and signage was easy to follow.

Road in the High Atlas Mountains

Even the roads crossing the highest mountain ranges were in fantastic condition.

The cell phone network is extensive – we had reception everywhere we were, even in all the mountain ranges. Landlines are no longer being maintained – all is cell. Internet is everywhere. Satellite dishes are everywhere, even out in the middle of nowhere.

Satellite dish can be spotted in this remote residence

The entire country is electrified, and in the rare instance electricity is not available, dwellings have solar panels.


Solar panel on desert dwelling next to nomad tent

In Boumalne Dades, we saw a solar water heater on a rooftop.

Solar water heater

Even on the Road of 1,000 Kasbahs, there are satellite dishes next to the abandoned kasbahs.

Find the satellite dish - Road of 1000 Kasbahs

All the kids go to school -we saw kids with backpacks waiting for school busses on remote, rural roads – and Morocco is full of remote, rural roads.  At lunch times the streets of the towns were thick with bicycles and kids going home for the afternoon recess.

Mid-day break for school kids

The main roads into cities all have street lights, which is something we didn’t see 40 years ago, and if what people are telling us is true, there probably weren’t very many even 10 years ago. Apparently Mohammed VI has been a very busy king.

Road into Ouarzazate

Round points have been constructed everywhere and my husband says the quality of work is good.

New round point under construction in Oujda

The old and the new

One of the examples I like the best of how the old and new are mixing, is shown in this photo.  We’re in a Berber tent in the Erg Chebbi dunes in Merzouga, really in the middle of nowhere.  While we were drinking tea, the husband drove up on his motorbike in his traditional clothing, pulled out his binoculars and stared into the desert.  What was he doing?  Keeping an eye on his camel herd.

Some commentary on politics

This too is getting a little ahead of the story, and there will be some duplication later, but I’m including it anyway.  So many people were worried about us going to Morocco in the midst of the unrest in the Middle East and North Africa.  We were certain we would be fine, and also that Morocco would be fine.

The last few days have been exciting and interesting, giving us some new insights into Morocco today. We’ve been from Casablanca to Marrakech, from Boumalne Dades to Merzouga, from Guercif to our old home, Oujda. On the way we’ve had a number of conversations, and every time we’ve asked about demonstrations and unrest, we’ve been told that everything is fine (which basically it is) and everyone loves the King but people want jobs. Although people are working hard everywhere and there are massive infrastructure projects, there are also a huge number of university-educated young people who want work.

As we left Boumalne Dades for Merzouga, we stopped in Goulmima to see the Ksar – an ancient fortified village that is still inhabited by 300 people. Two towers mark the entrance to the Ksar, and the earthen passageways inside are dark. Each “home” has three or four floors, the bottom being a corral for the family goats, sheep, and cows, and worn stairs then lead from floor to floor, ending on the roof where at last there is open air and sunlight. There are holes in the floors to let light down to the corrals at the bottom. In what seemed like primitive conditions we found many satellite dishes, plus the Ksar has been electrified since 1984. Overall, the Ksar was a mystery, however, and we could never have found our way around without Brahim, who offered to guide us. In fact, he insisted on guiding us.

Satellite dishes visible from the rooftops of the Ksar

Passageway in the Ksar in Goulmima

But - the Ksar is electrified

Brahim asked us to lunch at his nearby home, and as we walked he asked about Obama, saying he was “first in the world,” meaning he was the best leader in the world today. It seems everyone we encounter knows who Obama is and admires him. Forty years ago, everyone from our Moroccan friends to our housekeeper to the Berbers in the mountains knew who the Kennedys were and mourned their deaths.

Brahim is 30 years old with a degree in Arabic studies, but he’d like to get IT training. He told us that to get a job you have to know someone or grease palms. However, he loves King Mohammed VI and blames the employment situation and corruption on the ministers. Meanwhile, he does what he can to help his family survive, living in the family home with his parents, siblings and 101-year-old grandmother. She lies on a mattress on the floor and gets up only to use the bathroom.

We pushed on to Merzouga where we had a “quatre quatre,” or 4×4, tour of the desert with Mohammed (called Ahmed) (there are many Mohammeds in Morocco, at least half the male population). As we left our riad we passed a government building and there were demonstrators out front waving flags and chanting while the police looked on unconcernedly.

Demonstration in Merzouga

The problem again is jobs – people want jobs. The country is full of university graduates with nothing to do. For example, in our riad Mohammed – yes, another Mohammed – is a graduate in English literature but he’s working in a riad. Probably not a very practical major for someone in a tiny desert town, but it’s what he liked.

During the 4×4, Mohammed started to comment on George Bush, calling him a crazy man, and was complimentary toward Obama. About his own leadership, he said that Moroccans have no problem with Mohammed VI and respect and like him, but they need jobs. Always jobs. It’s a worldwide problem.

Demonstration in Oujda

Mohammed VI is listening to what the protesters are saying. He’s a smart man – paying attention to what people are peacefully protesting and not letting a situation take hold as in the rest of North Africa. Just that afternoon, when we returned from the tour, we heard that Mohammed VI had made a rare public speech in which he announced reforms and acceded to demands, including that Berber be made an official language. More to the point, he said the Prime Minister will be selected by the majority political party in Parliament instead of by him. He is establishing a committee to recommend constitutional reforms that will be voted on by the population in June, as well as further strengthening the role of women in government and women’s freedoms. He aims to give more power to the individual regions and the courts. It’s a fitting trajectory for the first country to officially recognize the independence of the United States.

Of course, while acceding to “demands” for more political freedom, the King is keeping a firm hand on security. We have passed through many security checkpoints on the roads, and I don’t know if it’s our innocent and charming appearance or the ridiculous little yellow-ish rental car we have, but we are always waved through. We notice that trucks are stopped, sometimes busses, and the police are checking documents. Yesterday, we even saw someone being frisked.

Security checkpoint

I didn’t want to photograph this too closely and be suspected of anything, but you can see the circular sign on the right warning motorists to stop for a checkpoint.  In the distance, you can see stopped vehicles.  We were always waved through, sometimes just saying hello, oftentimes not even stopping, although we always erred on the side of caution.

Next post I’ll write about the road south to Boumalne Dades and the Dades Gorges.  Meanwhile, it seemed like a good idea to address the country as a whole and it’s stability.  Good economic conditions and good infrastructure go a long way in ensuring political stability, and we never felt unsafe for a moment.  There was no reason to postpone our trip so I’m glad we didn’t!

Marrakech: Part Two- the journey continues


Sunday, March 6

This was our only complete day in Marrakech and we thought we’d see more with a guide.  So Mustafa met us at the riad at 10 (we are not early birds) and we ventured into the medina.  First he took us to the Madersa Ben Youssef, a Koranic school founded in the mid-14th century by Merinid Sultan Abou el-Hassan.  It’s one of the biggest in the Maghreb (western North Africa) and holds 900 students. The building itself is unaltered from the original design and it is magnificent.  The details of the carving and tile work are boggling.

Detail from Medersa ben Youssef

The rooms to house students are very small, with three students per room.  The imam has a nicer and bigger room, but not by much.  The rooms have “Berber” ladders – a series of holes caddy corner that you insert a round bar into, then take the one you just stepped off of and insert it in the holes above you, and so on.  Like you’d expect to see on a challenge on Survivor.  That is how students accessed their storage space.

The main courtyard has an ablutions pool, and then the mosque – one for the men and smaller ones for the women on either side.  The rooms are arranged so that some are utilized in winter and others in summer to avoid extreme cold and heat.  There is so much that is important and unique about the decorations and of course, I hardly remember a thing.  Too much information compressed into a short time.

Mustafa then took us through the Berber souks.  While shopkeepers in the Arab souks close up their shops at night, they don’t do that in the Berber souks. They have a gate that is locked at each end and guards are posted during the night.   Souks may seem haphazard but they’re organized by merchandise: the jewelry souk, the leather goods souk, etc.

Metalwork in the Berber souk

Mustafa said that all the goods in the medina were made in Morocco.  The king decreed that there would be no “made in China” or anywhere else because the medina needs to stay authentic.  That may be a UNESCO requirement.  I know Jemma-el-Fna is a World Heritage Site.

We bought a coffee table and I’m sure we paid too much but how do you know?  We’re not there long enough to know the market and we have to bargain.  We did buy for less than half of what was originally asked, but still, who knows?  If the table holds up I do think we got a good price.  And what matters is we love the table.  We went upstairs to the workshop and like all the workspaces in the medina, it’s small and primitive by our standards, yet beautiful work is turned out.  There was one fellow up there sawing out table legs.

Our table

The whole bargaining ritual is just that: a ritual.  We stand around and look, talk casually, while the owner points out this and that.  Finally we get around to what we might like to purchase.  The owner runs around and comes back with a rickety plastic chair with a broken arm, and a saggy little straw stool, so we sit.  We talk about the table, he thumps it to show how sturdy and good it is, we see the photo of King Mohammed VI in the workshop and at his desk with this souk owner’s work, and Mustafa tells us this shop does the highest quality work in the medina.  We actually believe him because we can examine the wares ourselves, and I desperately want a large, exquisite trunk with a simple pattern of triangles, for which I have no use.

And so it begins in earnest.  A price is proffered by the owner, in dirhams and including shipping to the U.S.  We react in horror, discuss with each other and make a counter offer which is as ridiculously low as his price was high.  Anguish all around ensues.  The table is thumped some more to show its soundness, the mother-of-pearl inlays are praised for the precision work, and we agree it is excellent.  But we cannot begin to consider the price.  He offers another price, not much lower.  We counter somewhat higher than our original.

The game is on.  Mint tea is offered and we decline.  Mark and I decide what our final offer will be and finally we make it.  It is declined so we get up, thank him for his time and for showing us his fine work, and we walk out the door.  He keeps lowering the price but not to what we want so we continue on our way.  And then he’s there saying done and shaking our hands and we are half-scared that we paid too much.  And certainly, Mustafa will get a cut from the owner.   We get our coffee table, which we actually needed (or at least wanted) and we like it, but we are beset with doubt.

Undyed wool being wheeled into the medina

Undyed wool being taken into the medina


Dyed wool hanging out to dry

Onward to the Saadian tombs, which date from the 16th to 18th centuries.  When the first Alouite king, Moulay Ismael, ascended the throne in the 1600s, he was intent on destroying evidence of all the dynasties before his.  (The current king is from the Alouite dynasty, still in power.) Moulay Ismael, with significant encouragement from the French protectorate, walled off the tombs instead of destroying them since he didn’t want to disrespect the dead. In 1917, the French protectorate opened the tombs to the public.  Mustafa said that preserving history was the only benefit of the protectorate.  Kind of like Mussolini who didn’t have many redeeming features except that he preserved the Roman ruins.  This information comes via Mustafa, who is probably correct.

On the way to the Saadian tombs we passed the King’s residence.  Previously I mentioned that Mohammed VI stays in residences, not the palaces.  I must say that the residence is huge – is there a difference in anything but name?  I took a picture and Mustafa ran around a corner, literally.  He said that the guards dressed in red meant that the King was home, and he’d seen cameras confiscated for photographing the guards.  He didn’t want to be associated with a tourist taking photos.  I got my photo, kept my camera, but only photographed the normal guards, not the ones dressed in red – and they are far away.

Either the king or queen's tomb

Tile detail from the Saadian Tombs

After visiting the tombs we were tired and had used up our three hours with Mustafa, so he left us to lunch and we took a petit taxi to the Majorelle Gardens.

Majorelle Gardens

Majorelle Gardens

What a surprise!  Yves St. Laurent visited Morocco, fell in love with it, and established a residence with gardens that are just amazing.  There is a little memorial to St. Laurent in the gardens, but mostly they are full of bamboo, cacti, all kinds of plants, pools, bridges and benches, plus color – vivid blue, yellow and orange planters.  The colors ought to be garish the way they are used, but they are not.  They are stunning. The entire effect is amazingly tranquil and it was well worth taking a petit taxi out to the area.  We had tea and some cornes du gazelle (wonderful almond pastries shaped like gazelle horns) in the little restaurant in the gardens, relaxed, and headed back to Maison Do.

Detail, Majorelle Gardens

Detail, Majorelle Gardens

We were totally exhausted and washed out, but we walked through Jemma el Fnaa and saw that the huge empty area we saw earlier was being turned into outdoor restaurants and eating stands.  Just like that, from nothing to restaurants with tables, chairs or benches, sinks, cooking areas, etc. in a flash.  This happens every night.

Restaurants in Jemma-el-Fna?

In the evening, instant restaurants!

When we went out later for dinner, the square was abuzz – packed with people, festive with music and vendors throwing light sticks into the air in bright colors, all the snake charmers and other diversions. There were many food booths selling snails and people standing around eating them by the dozens.  Also, I realized that the huge carts of oranges all over Jemma-el-Fna are for orange juice.  Moroccans drink lots of orange juice and almond milk.  We were so tired, but determined to go back to Oscar Progres for dinner.  Finding it at night was not the same as finding it in the day but finally we did and had a dinner we enjoyed.

I find I am saying  “we were tired” frequently.  Traveling at the pace we are used to doesn’t seem quite as doable at 64 as it used to be.  It’s as if, all of a sudden, it’s been decreed that we slow down and consider tours instead of planning for ourselves.  But we pushed on.

Next – to the South and kasbahs, camels and dunes.

The Road to Morocco: Marrakech, Part One


Saturday, March 5, 2011

We took the train to Marrakech this morning.  Barely. I thought we’d be at the station one hour early but we were there barely in time.  Another “Venice” moment, which refers to the time I got up in the middle of the night in Venice, didn’t look outside because I didn’t want to wake my husband by opening the shutters, so checked the time on my computer, got dressed and went to the lobby until Mark was up.  As I blithely said good morning to the desk clerk, I wondered why no one was setting out breakfast. I also wondered why he looked at me like I was insane until I realized my computer was still on California time and so was I.  So this morning, my phone was on daylight savings time but we were not; thus my one-hour cushion was considerably shortened.

Casablanca Train Station

We sat in a train compartment for three plus hours with four Moroccan women.  I think the compartment (we went second class) is just what the compartments on the Hogwarts Express would look like. We did our best to converse but we shared virtually no words in common until a little child walked by and waved, after which we all shared smiles – lots of smiles and nodding heads and the desire to communicate.  I showed the pictures. (see the previous post)

Off the train in the Marrakech station

Can’t tell you how nice it is to walk into an airport or train station and see someone holding up a sign with your name on it.  We found Ali, who drove us to Maison Do, our riad in the medina.   We found out we’re not the only visitors in Marrakech.  King Mohammed VI is here also to check out the progress of various projects.  Ali said that when King Hassan II (the current king’s father) visited, the roads had to be cleared an hour before and after his passage, but with Mohammed VI, he is a man of the people and just goes on through.  Ali lamented the fate of Libya with Ghadafi turning on his own people.  We did notice more police and security than usual since the king is in town, but it certainly was not overwhelming.  The king is staying in a residence and not the royal palace.

How Ali maneuvered his car into the medina is a small miracle.  Besides narrow streets, people, bicycles, and donkeys, there are dozens of motorbikes zooming by.

Donkey cart in Medina

Somehow, everyone manages to squeeze through without incident.  Even Ali, however, couldn’t get the car into the small lane the riad was in.

The street our riad is on.

The front door to Maison Do

A riad is a traditional residence organized around a courtyard planted with trees and flowers, and you can look at Maison Do on this site:  From inside, we can hear children playing in the evening and the call to prayer, which is broadcast throughout the city five times a day.  While the lanes of the medina look nondescript, behind the doors there are many gorgeous homes decorated with tile, colored lanterns, carved and decorated woodwork and plaster. The colors are bright and beautiful.

Lantern hanging over the courtyard

Tile in the riad, Maison Do

Our room looked like it was out of Arabian Nights.  Describing the room is best done with photos, but we liked it very much.

Entrance into our bathroom

We headed out into the medina intent on lunch.  I needed food – my margin of error this morning cut out breakfast.  I bought a sandwich on the train – really a roll with some cheese inside – but it didn’t do the trick. Yolande, the French owner of Maison Do, sent us off to Oscar Progres, a Moroccan restaurant on the other side of the medina.  When we found it we realized we were in a local establishment not much frequented by tourists.  It was hard to find and not on the common path.  Refreshed, we headed out into the madness.

Jemaa-el-Fna is the famous square in the Marrakech medina.  In fact, it’s a World Heritage Site.  It’s huge and filled with water sellers who no longer have a function other than posing with tourists, snake charmers who never did have any other function but entertainment, women sitting under umbrellas offering henna tattoos, and all manner of colorful characters.

Cobras in Jemma-el-Fna

The streets of the medina are where you want to linger looking at everyone’s wares, except that if you even slow down a little you’re beset by vendors who have great sales pitches and stick like leeches.  You can’t blame them; it’s their living. You have to develop a careless banter while you look, and marginally engage in conversation while you actually do what you want.  Today, it was tiring.  Tomorrow, we are braving it again to buy babouches from Mounir, someone we talked to quite a while today in his shop, and hands of Fatima, necklace charms that keep evil forces away.  Plus – we have a guide and he will run interference.  When you have limited time, a guide is the way to go.  Except you have to set the parameters ahead of time – because all the guides will want to take you into showrooms from which they will get a cut of the sale.

The fun for me is seeing all the food – spices, olives, fruit, oranges, everything colorful, arranged so beautifully.  Photos are a little tricky because many people still do not want to be photographed.

Dried fruit




We found our way into the poultry market but we didn’t need chickens, turkeys, rabbits (not poultry, I know), ducks or eggs.

Poultry market

The egg stalls had literally thousands of eggs apiece from little blue mottled eggs to chicken eggs to giant (they seemed giant), duck eggs.

Thousands of eggs

We noticed that wherever meat was being sold, cleaned, or cut up, cats gathered.  Some are sad, scrawny creatures.

Cats waiting for a handout

A little kitten sits forlornly by a meat case.

On the other hand, we found a cat on the bed in our room that is gorgeous but a bit wild. Yolande, the French woman who owns Maison Do, rescued him from the medina.

The cat at Maison Do

We returned to Maison Do and took long naps.  Perhaps we are finally caught up on sleep.  We had dinner in the riad – taglne aux poulet avec citron et olives  (chicken tagine with preserved lemons and olives, a tagine being a sort of stew) plus a huge plate of vegetables.  That made it feel just like home.  Sliced oranges with sugar and cinnamon for desert and of course mint tea.

Tomorrow we bargain and buy.

The road to Morocco


It’s been a long time since I’ve blogged.  I guess you could call it “blogger fatigue,” or the lack of any desire to express myself.  Part of the reason I’m starting again is to give my creativity a nudge.  More like a giant push, really.  Another part of the reason is that my blog was ill-defined, jumping all over the map, and it’s circled back to photography.  What I like best is photo essays, or essays with photos – depending upon the ratio of words to pictures.  I fear the words often win because I’m a wordy person.

A good place to begin again seems to be with my recent vacation in Morocco, my “second country.” I have dual United States and Irish citizenship, but I lived in Morocco for two years as a Peace Corps volunteer, and it really does feel like home.  This was our first trip back in 40 years, and this is the first installment in how it went.  It starts with Eric Whitacre and Justin Beiber.

Morocco, March 4, 2011: Casablanca

Back in Morocco after 40 years. We’re in Casablanca which is a huge, noisy, industrial city teeming with people and traffic. So far, things seem to be much the same, only bigger and more crowded.  Compared to the rest of Morocco, Casa doesn’t have much to offer to the tourist. In a series of mad taxi trips, we saw what there was.

The flight over was long – from the time we left our house to the time we arrived at our hotel, it had been at least 30 hours.  I did sit next to a really neat person on the L.A. to London leg.  His name is Eric Whitacre and he’s a composer, musician and conductor.  You can Google him. His wife is an opera singer and they are opening a show at Disney Hall on June 25.  He’s going to give me two tickets – can’t wait! Check out the link for Whitacre, and especially the Virtual Choir, embedded below, which is quite an internet sensation and now getting air time on talk shows.

Justin Beiber was also on the flight.  We followed him off with his bodyguard and entourage, which was rather small.  He himself looked so small and so young, and I was so tired, that I couldn’t imagine the life of constant traveling, being on stage, having paparazzi at every turn, and giving your life up for fame.  I do understand the money part of it.

Justin Beiber

We weren’t happy with our hotel when we checked in at 9:30 p.m.  I had reserved a “budget” hotel and now I know that for the first night, I should reserve an extravagant hotel that I’ll be very comfortable in.  Mark agrees. I hardly slept – the blankets were scratchy and heavy, and we had two towels.  Period.  Two microscopic bars of harsh soap.  And it was cold.  But I can’t complain too much because I was prepared – having brought my travel towels, bathtub puff ball (whatever those net things are called), Kleenex and my expandable camping cup.  The most valuable thing I brought turned out to be my silk long underwear! And we had plenty of hot water, which is not always the case in the lower rung of establishments.  Nonetheless, I never sleep very well the first night somewhere, and last night was no exception.

The first day, like a zombie, I managed to get up and out, although I fried my new travel hair dryer because I forgot to turn the current switch.  I really should not do anything in the morning.  We took a taxi to Paul, a tea house (excellent) where we had breakfast; then we took a taxi to the Habbous District, but the cabbie dropped us off at the wrong place (which I was fairly sure of), so we got another taxi to go to Hassan II Mosque, and then the same driver took us to the Habbous for real.  That made three taxi rides back and forth across this very big, noisy city.  Man, my nerves were jangled.  The taxi driver we got after the one who took us to the wrong place insisted on waiting for us everywhere and we couldn’t shake him.  It actually turned out to be a good way to do it. At the end, after we had him drop us off at Place Mohammed V, he wanted to be paid like a tour guide, and we couldn’t understand each other, so I have no idea if he ended up happy or mad.  I thought he wanted more and my husband thought he was thanking us for being generous.  I am just glad there are many dirhams to the dollar.

Place Mohammed V

We walked around Place Mohammed V – that’s where the Feb. 20 protests were held in Casa. But there are no indications of unrest anywhere and that’s what we expected.  We’ve been talking to people and no one has anything particular to say about it.

Details of the Day

King Hassan II, who was king when our daughter Karen was born in Rabat, built a mosque – the second biggest in the world.  I’m sure he would have made it the biggest, but that one is in Mecca and it’s probably not a good idea to trump Mecca.  Anyway, it’s huge and impressive and beautiful but we couldn’t go in because – bad planning – we were there on Friday.

Mosque Hassan II

Detail from Mosque Hassan II

So the taxi driver, who had waited even though we had told him to go, took us to the Habbous, which is the “new” medina, or the medina that was constructed during the protectorate, so it’s not terribly exciting or interesting, but both the new and old royal palaces are in that district. (I didn’t want to go into the ancien medina because in Casa, it’s run down and not particularly safe.  It’s considered to be the breeding ground for terrorists, or what terrorists originate from Morocco, which are hardly any at all.)

We did see the juxtaposition of old and new in the Habbous, as we did all over Morocco, such as this man with his donkey cart and the woman carrying the mattress on her head.

Man and donkey cart

Woman with mattress (?)

We also saw rows and rows of babouches for sale.  These slipper/shoes are traditional and are still worn.  We brought some home – those of the first quality should last a good four years.


Thanks to our taxi driver, we got to spend time in the old Royal Palace. We did not request that he arrange this, but he talked to soldiers at one entrance, turned and told us, “Closed.” At least we think that’s what he said.  He didn’t speak English or much French, we only speak a tiny amount of Arabic, so when we were all in agreement about anything, I’m not sure anyone knew what we had agreed upon.

We walked around a corner to another entrance and the soldiers on duty there let us in, telling us ten minutes only.  When we came out, the soldiers were getting a talking-to from their superior who was not at all happy that we’d been let in.  We’re glad they did. The building is in fantastic condition and the decoration, carving and tile work were as good as we remember from the Alhambra. Mark said the quality of the workmanship is much better than that at the new Hassan II Mosque.

Inside the old royal palace; photo of Mohammed VI on the wall

Old royal palace detail

Old royal palace detail

Plaster carving, old royal palace

Tile mosaic, old royal palace

The biggest reaction we’ve had so far was right here in the Hotel Guynemer.  We were showing the desk clerk photos from when we were in the Peace Corps in Oujda in 1971, and soon six or seven other employees were gathered round.  We showed them photos of us with Jennifer, who was two at the time, and Karen, who was born in Rabat, and our Moroccan friends. Then we showed them photos of Karen and Jen’s families, and our daughter Kim’s also even though she didn’t have the Moroccan connection.  Just like we laugh at old pictures and old styles (I’m thinking avocado green and harvest gold appliances, shag carpets, macramé, etc.) the Moroccans started recalling past trends. One pointed out the dress Zohra, our housekeeper, was wearing and commented on how old the style was.  Another pointed out the pattern on a banquette and remarked that he had one just like that 40 years ago. And they all laughed about a white enameled platter that food was being served on and said everyone had one of those 40 years ago.

We’re heading out to dinner soon, and it better be good so there is a redeeming feature about the start of this trip.  If I sleep well tonight, all will be well.  If not, don’t know what tomorrow will be like as we take the train to Marrakech.  I’m sure it will be fine.  As long as the jet lag is gone.  At least I know how to wrangle the blanket tonight and that I should wear my long underwear to be warm enough.

P.S. Dinner was outstanding at Al Mounia.  It was walking distance, right around the corner.

Next: the road to Marrakech.

Haleakala Crater, Maui. Happy birthday to me.


Day three of Art Every Day Month, and I have to ask the question:

Am I endangered?

The question of the day was Will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I’m 64.  I am 64.  I am 64? Are we sure about that? I don’t feel 64, but then I don’t know what I’m supposed to feel like at 64.  I don’t look 64, but then again, what am I supposed to look like at 64? The fact remains that I am now 64.

Being in Maui for any birthday is amazing and I’d like to do it again.  If there were a mecca of youth, this might be it, and not only for young people.  Relaxation, endless ocean to watch, endless beaches to walk on, water to sail on, swim in, surf on – it’s all like an elixir.  However, I was going to have a rather arduous day on my birthday because my husband and I were riding a horse to the bottom of the Haleakala Crater.

This was by choice of course.  There was a crater. I had never been to a crater, much less in a crater, and the somewhat expensive option of riding a horse down and up was available.  Who am I to pass up that option? I like riding horses and horses do what I want them to.  My husband isn’t so hot on the idea and horses do not do what he wants them to do, but he’s a good sport and so we had reservations and set out.

It’a a two-hour drive from Ka’anapoli to Haleakala through the Up Country.  And up and up to 10,000 feet. I don’t like heights and by the end of this road I could barely hold in tears.  I hear the view was incredible but I kept telling Mark, “Drive, don’t look.”  Here’s the view from the top.

Time for adventure

We met Doug, our guide, and the six other people on the trip. Doug assigned horses and he gave me one named Cowboy. He almost did it hesitantly so I speculated on what kind of horse this Cowboy was.  We all mounted, had the stirrups adjusted, and set out on the Sliding Sands Trail.

Here’s a few facts:

Haleakala is referred to as the world’s largest dormant volcano.

The floor is 7.5 miles wide and 2.5 miles long.

The floor is 3,000 feet deep.

Haleakala originally was 12,000 ft., but water erosion carved out two valleys that eroded into each other.

The National Park was established in 1916 and covers 27,284 acres.

Non-native species like goats were threatening the ecology so the entire rim of the crater was fenced – all 32 miles.

Barren scenery

Right away the scenery was barren yet lovely – sands of different colors swirled together to form a funnel shape that changed from every angle.  I fell behind as I stopped Cowboy to take pictures.

Doug was worried – I was falling behind because I couldn’t handle the horse.  I assured him that Cowboy was doing everything I asked of him – it was me that slowed us down.  Cowboy had decided to accept me and do what I wanted, as long as it was reasonable.  He had turned his head and looked me right in the eyes for a few moments and I KNOW that horse was taking stock of his rider.

I go airborne

The trail was switchback after switchback – we were descending over 3,000 feet.  Loose lava and other irregularities were scattered throughout the trails so we just had to trust the horses’ footing.  The next picture is not of the trail, but of the tyes of rocks the horses had to deal with, sometimes in profusion.

There were numerous “step-downs” where the horses had to do the equivalent of going down a steep step full of lava rocks and tricky footholds.  I (and probably everyone else) was telling myself that the horses do this several times a week, and the Pony Express company wouldn’t do this if it wasn’t safe.

Cowboy and the others needed some urging, and there was one step-down that Cowboy refused to negotiate.  Since I was the one in control, I gave him a swift kick and he complied.  He just did it his way. He solved the problem by jumping over the step.  I wasn’t expecting to go airborne but I stayed on. He was that kind of horse.  Independent.  A problem solver. Willing to take risks.

Have you seen the Michelin Man?

I should mention that it is cold up there at 10,000 feet.  It can be lovely on the crater floor and in the 30s at the top. I had on my winter jacket, three other layers, plus gloves.  With all that plus my fannie pack on my side, I felt like the Michelin Man.

The landscape was barren as one might expect.  But the shapes and colors make up for any lack of vegetation.

We passed some beautiful cinder cones.

We were so far away! I so hoped the trail would take us closer, and it did.

Of course, we weren’t that close, but I wasn’t using my 18-250 lens.  I had a (shoot, senior moment and I’m not home to look) much shorter lens.

En garde -the Silversword

There’s a flower called the silversword that lives only in the Haleakala crater.  We just missed bloom – should have been blooming through October but it’s been a dry year, so bloom ended early.  From a distance, it appears as if swords have been wrapped in tin foil at the base and set upright.

The wild goats drove the silversword to the brink of extinction, but the 32-mile fence around the crater’s top has been successful at keeping goats out, and the plant is making a recovery.  As many plants do, at least desert plants, the silversword has a long life and abrupt death. It grows for 50 years, then blooms, sending out a 9-foot stalk with rust, yellow, and reddish flowers, sending out its seeds as fall approaches.  Having completed its job, the plant dies.  We did see one silversword that was intact but the bloom had lost color.  The silver leaves are usually turned up, like the little plants in the above photo.

(If you’re interested, you can find a short entry on another interesting plant – the stinky corpse plant – here.)

Chow time

We continued, reached the bottom and stopped for lunch, which was provided –  nice croissant sandwiches, cookies and fruit (I sensed Costco), and punch.  Plus one chocolate muffin sitting all by itself.  It turned out that the muffin was for me, and on top was a note that said Happy Birthday in Hawaiian! On my 64th birthday, at the bottom of Haleakala Crater, I got a birthday song.  Pretty fantastic, if you ask me.

We ate on the crater floor at the end of this trail:

This was my view.

We had company.  There are chukars down there – lots of them.  Doug said they circle the fringes of the lunch area, find their targets, and come in for the attack.  We weren’t bothered by the chukars- we had a wasp problem.

Going back motivates the horses

The return trip was the same as the trip down, except the horses seemed to have an easier time going up (they were also more motivated), and we had shed the warm clothing.  It was afternoon, and as we climbed upward the clouds came in.

Doug said that we had magnificent weather – the wind could have been blowing, the temperature could have started at freezing, it could have been cloudy.  But if anyone wants to travel with me – I have fantastic weather luck on trips, and I’m not jinxing it by saying that.

We got more views of that wonderful swirling sand.

By the time we reached the Sliding Sands Trailhead, we’d been on those horses around 4.5 hours, and it felt like it.

Time to laugh at me (with me, actually)

Ok, now I will let you laugh at me.  I am too short to get on a horse without standing on a rock or bench.  That means getting off is hard too.  Maybe I am too old as well as too short, who knows? But for the last dismount, I told Doug that I was going to do this one gracefully.  So I put my leg over, slid off and landed on my butt. Everyone was worried – was I ok? But I was laughing so hard I could barely get up.  So much for being graceful.  There was a time when I would have been embarrassed.  Thank God I’m beyond that.

We were sore (me not so much) and getting our land feet back.  We were both exhausted so we drove back to our little condo, must have eaten something for dinner, and collapsed.  Possibly my best birthday aside from the surprise party my daughter gave me for my 60th.  That will always reign as the best birthday possible ever.

Maui after Lele: Beaches and Guitars (Day 2 – Art Every Day Month)


For Day Two of Art Every Day Month, I’m offering a travel log.  It’s from our recent vacation to Maui.  This post features nature’s art.

October 13, 2010

We’d been going at it pretty fast and hard, so we determined to rest today.  We headed to the lounge chairs by the ocean and sat a while.  Or I sat, Mark dozed and read.  By noon I was recharged.  Whether Mark was recharged or not, he’s a good sport so we decided to drive down to South Maui to see the beaches.

Between Lahaina and Kehei, which starts South Maui, we pass beach after beach along the road.  These parks are little more than a very wide shoulder or maybe a traffic lane, but they have grassy areas, BBQs, and tables.  There are always people here, and on the weekends they arrive as early as 6 AM with lawn chairs, tables, canopies, and get set for the day.  Sticking with the cemetery theme, some of these parks have cemeteries also.

Another thing you see is surfers.  Always.  I don’t think we saw a beach without surfers except for something like the lava beach in Ke’eane.  Mostly you see people doing that standing thing where they stand on a board like a surfboard and paddle their way around with a long paddle.  I know it must have a name, but I think the name is pretty close to standing paddle or something.

So we made our way down to the Ke’alia Pond National Wildlife Refuge and walked on the boardwalk for a while.

I was interested in the Hawaiian stilt, which is  endangered. We spotted some – they have pink legs –  and moved on.

We returned to the car via the beach.

Next trip I want to spend a whole day moving from beach to beach here.  So many I wanted to see but you know how sometimes you get tired of reading guide books so you just drive? We just drove to see what we could see.  If we were the snorkeling types we would have snorkeled to see what we could see – which would have been spectacular.  The underwater Molokini Crater is here and I guess just full of fish of all kinds.

We found Big Beach – Oneloa, which is in Makena State Park.  Oneloa means “long sand” and the beach extends almost a mile so it is long sand, indeed.  We stopped several places along this beach to walk, look and sit in the ocean.  I had forgotten I was never going to sit in the ocean again because of sand accumulation.  Made me feel like I had a full diaper.  Along the whole Mailea and Makena shore you can step into the water and snorkel right there.

So that was good.  At least we found Maui’s best beach according to many unnamed sources.  And we drove on down to La Perouse.

La Perouse is accessed only with determination.  La Perouse Bay is named for the first European navigator who landed on Maui, French Admiral Jean-Francois Galaup Compe de la Perouse.  He first arrived in 1786 and found a well-populated area.  Now, it’s rugged lava flow.  Remains of the old coastal settlements can be spotted – basically they look like shapes outlined with rocks.

Haleakala last erupted in 1790, and La Perouse visited again after the eruption and found the settlements had been destroyed.  The bay was also bisected by lava.  In the next photo, if you look to the lava beyond the palm trees, you’ll see where the great lava flow bisected the bay.

We drove what is called The King’s Road and this one barely qualified as a road.  We stopped at a few lava tide pools and poked around but didn’t see much marine life – one little fish and one anemone – unlike the California tide pools we are used to.  This is where Molokini is, the offshore volcanic crater that is teeming with marine life.

The “beach” is lava and rocks.

The area has been turned into an offshore refuge and we encountered a sign warning us to please not bother the spinner dolphins as they rested.

We didn’t bother the spinner dolphins, nor did we even see them.  We didn’t look too hard because we had to get back for our guitar show.  We took a last look at the beach and left.

We concluded the day by attending a slack key show.  Slack key is a method of playing guitar that originated in Hawaii.  The show was put on by a slack key master, George Kahumoku Jr., who plays a 12-string guitar.

The gray-haired man is George. Slack key refers to open tunings – whatever those are.  I believe the strings are tuned correctly and then some strings loosened.

Anyway, we were lucky because this was the 7th Anniversary Multi-artist Show.  In 2006 this show was recorded live and won a Grammy Award for best Hawaiian album.  It also won in three of the four subsequent years.  The Grammys were there and it was fun to hold one.

The show was wonderful – casual, friendly, informal, and musically excellent.  All the great masters were there.  It was a lovely way to end the day.

The next day was my birthday and our horseback ride to the floor of the Haleakala Crater.

The Feast at Lele


We had a choice: Old Lahaina Luau or the Feast at Lele?  Lele is the old Hawaiian name for Lahaina. Both top notch reputations, but the Feast at Lele focuses on the food, so of course it was a no-brainer.  Gosh, it’s worth a flight to Maui plus the $110 cost to do this one again.  The brochure describes it like this, and it’s spot on: Featuring a sit-down dinner of five epicurean courses from the Pacific island nations of Aotearoa, Tahiti, Samoa, as well as Hawaii, the Feast at Lele is a royal tour of the cuisine of Polynesia sharing the spotlight with music and dance from these four Pacific Islands.

The chef, James McDonald, has two highly-rated restaurants in Maui plus his own farm in Central Maui so he can grow his ingredients.  Fresh is as fresh as it gets. So we headed to the beach.

The setting for this is beyond fantastic.  You enter, are given a lei and Mai Tai and shown to your table.  Since there are two of us, we had a table for two.

Parties are seated together so you don’t sit in rows with strangers. We were second row from the front, but the tables are arranged such that everyone can see the entertainment perfectly.  However, had I known, I would have tried to get a front row table for photography reasons.  Every picture I took was governed by the people in front of me as well as the light, which would have been just that much better in front.

All my photos had to fit between these two people.

We faced the ocean with a long wooden stage in front of us.  Immediately we knew this would be a superb experience.  We had two waiters, one for food and another for beverages.  The bar was open – we could have as much as we wanted of anything.  We chose the wine pairings with the courses, but I wish I could have tried each one of the specialty drinks.  They would have brought them if I’d asked, but…maybe I should have.  There were so many pretty ones!

First – Hawaii.  The food: Kalua Pork slow roasted in an underground oven and shredded; Pohole fern shoots and Hearts of Palm salad; seared island fish served with a mango sauce and tropical fruit salsa.

I cannot tell you how exquisite each course was. Mark laughs at me – he doesn’t care much about food, and when he sees me transported he thinks it’s funny.  He’s also bewildered about how I can savor every bite.

The entertainment began as two men walked out from each side – of course in costume and character – met in the center, blew the conch shell, and then walked off toward the ocean.  Geez.  Atmosphere. The woman who narrated was beautifully lyrical.  There were three or four dances, men and women apart and together, hulas, costumes.  I was in nirvana.

The Narrator

First performance - Hawaii

First set - Hawaii

First set - Hawaii

We were not rushed.  The second course took us to Aotearoa – the old name for New Zealand, and focused on the Maori.  Here’s the second course: sea bean duck salad with poha berry dressing; kuka patties: fishcake with salmon, mussels and scallops served with a manuka honey corn relish; harore kumara: roasted mushrooms, orange sweet potato, onions and garlic.  Again, I savored every bite as Mark looked warily at the mushrooms and fish patties.

Second set - Maori

The Maori have facial tattoos called moko that were used to symbolize one’s genealogy and personal identity.  The costumes and makeup for this section were exquisite.  The men did the Haka, a war dance that was used to intimidate enemies.  They stuck out their tongues so far to look fierce that I thought I was watching Kiss.  The women danced, again to perfection.

Next we went to Tahiti. Fafa: steamed chicken and taro leaf in coconut milk; eiota: poisson cru, or marinated fish; scallops on the shell.  I still am savoring the light, subtle coconut taste in the steamed chicken.  And I so trusted this chef that I threw my fish hesitations away and ate ceviche for the first time.  And loved it.  But about that coconut milk taste – I really truly can remember the exact taste.  Perhaps because it was so light and subtle, which I am not, so sometimes forget about its effect. A  reminder that less can be better than more.  I usually operate under “if some is good, more is better.”

Third set - Tahiti

Tahitian dance is inexplicable – it may take physics to understand it.  Of course, I cannot hula hoop, so watching the women wildly swing their hips while their upper bodies stay still leaves me speechless.

The Tahitian dancers at The Feast at Lele were costumed and made up to perfection.  I could not believe the night I was having!

Finally, it came down to Samoa.  Palusami: breadfruit cooked with young taro leaf in coconut cream; supansui: grilled steak served with a soy, ginger and guava glaze; fresh shrimp with avocado and papaya in a passion fruit dressing.  I was still exclaiming at every new taste and Mark was still bewildered.  How could food be so exciting? The Samoan dancing was very rhythmic with lots of hand slapping, and then there were lyrical dances.

Could this be coming to an end?  I couldn’t have eaten much more so I suppose it had to.  But we could have had an eating break and started again!

Dessert – caramel macadamia nut tart; papaya coconut haupia pudding; fresh tropical fruits; and vintage chocolate truffle served with an excellent port.  And, on my plate, happy birthday was written in chocolate syrup.  (I think I must have told everyone it was my birthday when I made advance reservations because I got several more greetings.) There were last Hawaiian dances, and then it was gone.

Last Hawaiian dances plus closing fire dance

It was over.  I could have done it again the next night.  Did I say how exquisite all the food was? And the entertainment? I could not believe the night I had just had.  I have more incredible meals to talk about later, but nothing could match this.

Coming next – Beaches and a slack key guitar concert

Rainbows, fish and sunset sails


Rainbows and fishes

Every day in Maui – every single day – we saw a rainbow.  We awoke to one of the most beautiful rainbows ever, and it was so accommodating that I even got a good photo on my Blackberry, which has a tiny camera.  ‘Twas an auspicious start to the day that we would go to Maui Ocean Center Aquarium with Susan, Mike and family.  We’d already been to their condo the night before for the first of two parties Susan gave.  They had over 80 people come to Maui for Becky’s wedding, and Susan prepared her usual magnificent food for whoever had already arrived.  We also celebrated Mike’s birthday – and mine.

Back to the aquarium.  It’s a lovely, small aquarium that showcases the local fish.  It’s quite manageable in size and has a restaurant and the best gift shop we saw.  In fact, I did all my shopping there.  The fish are so colorful and every little detail of each fish is so astonishing you wonder how it could be possible.  All these fish are just off-shore, 100 feet out, and people snorkel like crazy.

If I didn’t have a fish phobia, I’d be out there snorkeling every day.

I really got a kick out of these three fish peeking around the corner.  I know it’s just his gills, but couldn’t you swear that the middle fish was smiling?

There was a walk-through tunnel but I had to zoom out of it.  I got so dizzy! Did get some great shots of the rays on the way through.

So we had a splendid time and headed to Lahaina for our sunset cruise.

On the water

The fish phobia is unfortunate, because I like being on the ocean as much as I like anything.  I love to sail, and I booked us on a Mai Tai Sunset Cruise with Paragon  We motored out, got the sails up, and I lay down on the trampoline-part of the catamaran –  the rubber pad – and pretended I was young, thin, all plastic-surgery perfected, beautiful in a perfect bikini with good looking men around me as I sunned casually on the Mediterranean.  Really, I did think that, but I didn’t spend much time on it.

The Mai Tais were weak – was there any liquor at all?  But then, on a relatively small boat, they wouldn’t want tipsy people propelling themselves off the sides, so I understand. I did what I like best.  As we hit the trade winds (I just love saying “trade winds”) I stood in front with the wind whipping my hair, the ocean splashing me – and I did get wet – and it was exhilarating.

It was a glorious sail.  Instead of the sunset, here it is reflected off the mountains.

Maui Tropical Plantation and Iao State Park

The next day was more a miss than a hit.  Susan wanted to go to Maui Tropical Plantation, where she’d been before and had an excellent experience, so the family members who were present, plus us, went to Central Maui and hit the tram.

It was so dull – the coconut husking demonstration was interesting, learning about the plants was good, but all the other things the tour book promised, and that Susan saw in the past, did not happen.

The lei-making demo, the pineapple-cutting demo and so forth.  But they had a good restaurant and we ate.  In the photo are Susan Kern and her first grandchild, Ruthie.

The other gang headed back because four-month old Ruthie was pretty much directing their schedule, but Mark and I went up to Iao State Park.  It’s very green and lush and has a feature called The Needle which is iconic.  What it really is described as is the phallic stone of Kanaloa, the Hawaiian god of the ocean.

Interesting plant stuff we learned

Banana trees are really a flowering plant.  Each stalk, or tree, produces one bunch and dies.  More stalks could grow from the base of the plant.

Coconut Each coconut has a pattern on an end that the demonstrators called a monkey face.  I think they said the best place to insert something sharp to get at the milk is the ‘nose’ but don’t quote me.  Only the young, green coconuts are used for pipas – the coconut with the straw in it for drinking.  I just love pipas.

Sugar cane:  It takes three canes to make a cube of sugar.  The plants are harvested by burning the fields to get rid of the dry leaves; the canes are left and then cut off.  They have to be processed relatively quickly or they lose sugar content.

Macadamia nuts: It takes 300 pounds of pressure per square inch to crack a macadamia nut!

Shave Ice at Tom’s Mini Mart

I was ecstatic.  Turned out we were in the general area of Tom’s Mini Mart, where the guide book had promised me the best shave ice in Maui.  Shave ice is fantastic.  It sounds like it should be called “shaved ice,” but mostly the “ed” is left off.  It’s not a snow cone.  It’s ice as light as snowflakes with such flavorful syrups poured over it, a scoop of ice cream in the bottom (sometimes you have to ask), and it never gets hard and icy.  I was determined to find Tom’s.  The navigation gods were with us because somehow we found the town and the store although we had no map or GPS system.  It was in a little average to run-down neighborhood and the name barely showed, but there were lots of people on the sidewalk eating shave ice.  Now I’ve heard that Tom’s Mini Mart has been on the food channel, so I’m glad we went to the extra trouble to find it.

Coming next – The Feast at Lele

The Forbidden Road and Pineapple Wine


Ignoring Advice

Being somewhat adventurous, we took the advice of our Ka’anapoli (we actually stayed in Ka’anapoli, up the road from Lahaina) condo owner and took the back road to return to Lahaina.  She said the car companies do not want you to drive that road because of the primitive conditions, but if you are daring enough to risk a break-down with no help, take the road – it’s not that bad.  And it wasn’t.  It was sparse.

That side of Maui, the south end and lower west coast, is basically desert.

The ocean was still there and it was still blue, but not as stunning as the Hana side.

A couple of wild goats ran across the road in front of us, chukars were running about, and we passed ranches, cattle in the road, a natural lava arch,

cinder cones – or something that looked like a cinder cone,

as well as wind-blown cliffs and lava flows.  We did have one particularly interesting stretch of road, at least in its configuration.

It wasn’t possible to drive completely around so we ended up heading up country and running into the Tedeschi Winery.

Pineapple Wine

Yep, Maui has a winery and produces pineapple wine.  They also produce a few varietals that they mix right there with grapes from California.  So that wasn’t very exotic.  But we tasted several varieties of the pineapple wine as well as bubbly, and a couple were quite good.

Up Country

Up Country is one of the regions Maui is divided into.  We were on Kula Highway and there were several places I wanted to see there, but we couldn’t find them, weren’t looking too hard, and we were tired.  The lure of those lawn chairs at the sea wall was getting stronger and we went home.  Home to our little Ka’anapoli Condo.  We’ll have more Up Country coming when we go to the crater.


We did need lunch, however, before returning because were hungry and Kula Highway brought us out by the airport.  A sign said Pa’ia was only four miles so we headed there for lunch at the Pa’ia Fish Market Restaurant, which was recommended by Cristina, nephew Kent’s wife.  Good meal, walked the streets, went back.

Pa’ia has coast on one side and sugar cane fields on the other.  Central Maui is full of sugar cane fields.


Gosh, it felt good to get on my swimsuit, sit by the sea, dip in the pool.  Mark enjoyed it too – my non-aquatic husband.  I’ve turned into the kind of woman who doesn’t mind if strangers see my flabby arms, drooping flesh, pasty legs,  bumps and bruises. And I have all that and more.  Not sure I want my friends and family to see me that way, but they probably have a pretty good idea of what I look like anyhow.   That’s how it is.  At least my feet look OK.

Coming up –  sunset sails, aquariums, and more