March 19, 2014

Vagabonding Field Report: The Morocco most people won’t see

Welcome to Guelmim, Morocco, the gateway to the Sahara!

Market in Guelmim

Cost/day: ~$24

What’s the strangest thing you’ve seen lately?

Camel meat is a common ingredient in the southern area of Morocco. There are 3 types of camel, and each color has its own function. White camels are special as they can smell water from 30 km. Dark brown (referred to as black) camels are used for work, and the lighter brown ones are used for meat. When you visit a butcher to buy your camel meat, you will find their legs hanging up. Younger camels are used for chops while older ones are more suitable for ground meat. It can be a little disconcerting to see a bunch of legs hanging in the air.

Describe a typical day:

Guelmim, admittedly, doesn’t have a lot of tourist activities. It’s best for those who wish to experience rural Morocco, a slice of life they will never experience in the more commonly visited cities of Marrkech, Fez, Casablanca, etc. However, it is easy to arrange a Bedouin experience in the desert from here. Guelmim is also within easy reach of some great beaches that are not overcrowded and packed full of tourists.

We enjoyed getting breakfast from our favorite cafe (ask for kulshi) and watching the world go by, which is a national hobby. Sip on your wonderful mint tea and savor the ritual that comes along with preparing it. Dip your pieces of bread in the wonderful argan (it tastes like almond butter) until your eggs come out on a sizzling platter. Rip off a piece of bread and use that and a finger to scoop up some egg. It’s a delightful way to begin a leisurely morning.

And no one does leisurely quite as well as the Moroccans.

Supermarkets do not sell fresh foods, so to get supplies you’ll need to visit a few vendors. Spend any amount of time here, and you’ll soon have your favorite vendor for produce, meat, chicken, bread, and so on.

Fruit vendors

Describe an interesting conversation you had with a local:

One of my fondest memories of our time on the nearby oasis was sitting down and chatting with a local about a number of things, one of which included attitudes about dress for women. It was a discussion that really challenged my way of thinking in a way I had not anticipated. It really forced me to reconsider my judgments regarding how women dress there.

What do you like about where you are? Dislike?

I loved the slow pace of life. It was really fun building relationships with all my regular vendors. Whenever I went into town unaccompanied by son, they would always inquire after him. It was easy to feel like you were part of the community, even if my French was limited and I only knew 4 words of Moroccan Arabic, 3 of which had been taught to me by our favorite bread vendor. He was a wizened man who always had a big, mostly toothless smile and who delighted in hearing me use the words he taught me.

I was not a fan of the mini buses and shared taxis. I don’t enjoy being squished into vehicles.

Describe a challenge you faced:

Communication was the biggest challenge. English is not commonly spoken. In fact, I found more people who spoke Spanish than ones who knew more than “Hello!” in English. My French was pretty limited, and many of the locals didn’t speak that language either. But they were never impatient. We always figured out how to communicate, and when we finally figured out what the other was saying, we would both laugh heartily.

What new lesson did you learn?

Never make snap judgments about a cultural norm. You don’t really know what’s behind it, and once you discover the history and its meaning it may not seem so strange, unusual, or awful as you initially thought.

Thanksgiving on the oasis

Where next?

London! I can hear my bank account crying already.

You can follow along or learn more about our adventures on our blog and by connecting with us via Facebook.

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Category: Africa, Vagabonding Field Reports

March 12, 2014

Vagablogging Field Report: Extreme Bungee Adventure in Guatemala

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Cost: $22/adults $12.50/kids

What’s the coolest thing you’ve done lately?

Extreme Bungee!! Get strapped into a harness and shot into the air with up to 4G forces pressing against your body… basically you’re a human catapult. That’s extreme bungee.

Describe the experience:

We are picked up by Lionel who owns and runs Xtreme Bungee. He drives us a few minutes outside of Antigua where he has an incredible human catapult machine set up.

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One by one, all the members of my family (except for the two youngest and me, the pregnant mommy) take turns being shot into the air, reacting with screams and funny facial expressions while G forces press against their bodies and free falls turn their tummies. (The video is hilarious!)

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What do you like about the experience? Dislike?

I loved watching my kids and husband as they experienced something new and faced (and overcame) fears and uncertainties in order to create great memories, build confidence and have unexpected fun!

I did not like the music that was played at the site. It was in English and inappropriate for children. However, the owner has since stated that he will be more aware of that in the future.

Describe a challenge you faced:

Convincing my oldest son that he could not have more than two turns!

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What new lesson did you learn?

Giving children an opportunity to get out of their comfort zone and try something new is ultimately what travel is about. It helps their confidence to grow, and expands their minds.

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Where next?

Next we’ll be heading to El Salvador.

See more family travel adventures on my blog, or connect with me on Facebook.

Rachel Denning Lake Atitlan 500

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Category: Central America, Family Travel, Vagabonding Field Reports

January 15, 2014

Vagabonding Field Report: Sydney to Cairns, Australia

Cost/day:  $50

What’s the strangest thing you’ve seen lately?
A duck-billed platypus. Though sadly, it was only in the zoo. My friend and I were constantly on the lookout for one in the wild and we were let down big time to never come across one.

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Category: Vagabonding Field Reports

January 8, 2014

Vagablogging Field Report: Antigua Guatemala

antigua guatemala

Cost/day: $40/day

What’s the strangest thing you’ve seen lately?

Sidewalks! Living in Latin America for the past year and a half, sidewalks are unseen and non-existent… but not in Antigua, they have sidewalks to walk on, even if they are skinny and crowded.

Describe a typical day:

In the morning we head out to walk around the city’s (cobblestone) streets. We explore the cathedrals and other colonial buildings, and gawk at the nicest McDonalds we’ve ever seen. Later, we visit the large local market to shop for produce and to eat lunch. In the afternoon we watch a procession celebrating Dia de los Muertos.

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What do you like about where you are? Dislike?

I love the overall cleanliness of the city, and the colorful homes and buildings. Antigua takes pride in it’s city. I didn’t dislike anything about our visit.

Describe a challenge you faced:

Trying to decide whether to stay an extra day so that we could do some extreme bungee action. (We decided to stay.)

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What new lesson did you learn?

The city life can be a refreshing change after living in remote places for awhile. It’s good to have a mix.

Where next?

Next we’ll be heading to the border of El Salvador and Guatemala.

See more family travel adventures on my blog, or connect with me on Facebook.

denning family

 

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Category: Central America, Family Travel, Vagabonding Field Reports

December 25, 2013

Vagablogging Field Report: Christmas in Nicaragua

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Cost/day: $32/day

What’s the strangest thing you’ve seen lately?

It’s ‘strange’ to observe the traditional celebrations of another culture as an outsider. Our family of seven is currently observing the holiday traditions of León, Nicaragua (and Las Peñitas, the nearby beach town.)

Describe a typical day:

The atmosphere in the city of León is becoming more festive as Christmas approaches. When we drive in (from Las Peñitas where we are renting a house), there is definitely and increasing hustle and bustle. Many weekends are busy with celebrations, starting with Griteria which is on the 7th of December. Shops are setting up selling fruit (especially apples and grapes), toys and other holiday trinkets.

Nicaragua christmas

leon nicaragua

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Describe an interesting conversation you had with a local:

Our family was invited to the home of a local Nicaraguan family, where we visited and learned about local customs and traditions. Some of them include making a traditional dish called pollo relleno (stuffed chicken) that has potatoes, carrots, and raisins (another Nicaraguan family shared this dish with us on Griteria and it was very good!)

Nicaraguans usually celebrate more on Christmas Eve, having a meal with family and friends, opening some presents, and perhaps lighting fireworks. Christmas Day may be spent at the beach. (We drove into León on Christmas Day to watch Frozen — in Spanish and 3D — and there were few shops or vendors out.)

The family we visited showed us much love and kindness, and even gave gifts to my unborn child.

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A typical Nicaraguan home

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What do you like about where you are? Dislike?

We love the colonial experience here in León — lots and lots of cathedrals and historical buildings. We love the beach and surfing (the family is just learning) in Las Peñitas. This is a great area!

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Not a lot that we dislike. Costs are generally cheaper here than in El Salvador or Guatemala (except for apples!) Housing is a bit more expensive however.

Describe a challenge you faced:

Not having enough time to practice surfing this week, before we head to Costa Rica. :)

What new lesson did you learn?

It’s often those with less that are the most generous and giving. Time and again we are amazed by the liberality of people in developing countries.

Where next?

Soon we’ll be headed to Costa Rica where we will be having baby #6!

See more family travel adventures on my blog, or connect with me on Facebook.

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Category: Central America, Family Travel, Vagabonding Field Reports

December 11, 2013

Vagabonding Field Report: Giant Kite Festival – Sumpango, Guatemala

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Cost/day: $40/day

What’s the strangest thing you’ve seen lately?

GIGANTIC kites made from tissue paper, tape and bamboo. Incredible and beautiful!

Describe a typical day:

Awoke this morning at The Homestead, ready for our trip to explore Guatemala before heading south to El Salvador. First stop? The Giant Kite Festival in Sumpango, in celebration of Dia de los Muertos. The atmosphere at the event was similar to that of a fair or carnival, with food stands and kite flying competitions, but the most incredible part was gawking with head bent upward toward the sky at the colossal, colorful kites.

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Describe an interesting conversation you had with a local:

There were people from all nationalities and backgrounds in attendance at the festival… many Guatemalans, but also European, American and Australian tourists. Unfortunately, the only talking I did was to order food or ask for a bathroom… other than that I was gazing and taking photos.

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What do you like about where you are? Dislike?

I absolutely loved seeing the beautiful kites. They were works of art, and must have taken hours and hours to complete. What a labor of devotion and appreciation for a holiday that honors one’s ancestors. I disliked seeing them almost destroyed by the wind, after all the work that went into them. I wonder what they do with them after the event?

Describe a challenge you faced:

Our biggest challenge today was trying to decide which delicious food to eat. Ohh, and we did get stopped as we tried to leave town, by dancers in the street. 

What new lesson did you learn?

I learned greater appreciation for the artistic abilities of the Guatemalan people. In the past, I haven’t necessarily considered this culture as being ‘artistic’, but the kites were truly masterpieces.

Where next?

Next we’ll be headed to Antigua, Guatemala… one of my favorite Guatemalan cities!

See more photos and video of the Kite Festival, or connect with me on Facebook.

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Category: Central America, Family Travel, Vagabonding Field Reports

November 27, 2013

Vagabonding Field Report: Largest Market in Central America – Chichicastenango, Guatemala

largest market central america chichicastenango

Cost/day: $40/day

What’s the strangest thing you’ve seen lately?

Ancient Mayan religious rites being performed in a Catholic cathedral… a unique blend of religions that tells stories about a part of the world with a conflicting history. 

largest market central america

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Category: Central America, Family Travel, Images from the road, Vagabonding Field Reports

October 20, 2013

Vagabonding Field Report: What to do when your road trip throws you road blocks in the Four Corners, USA

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Cost/day: $100

What’s the strangest thing you’ve seen lately?
Fulford Cave sits in a national forest near Eagle, Colorado. It’s huge! The entrance is an awkwardly-angled pipe, but once you’re past the uncomfortable wiggle down the aluminum ladder, the cave opens up into several enormous rooms, passages and even a waterfall. I climbed and explored for around three hours, and  didn’t even reach the halfway mark. Places like this are astonishing for how well hidden they seem. Walking around the forest, you’d never suspect there’s such a cave right under your feet.

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Category: Vagabonding Field Reports

October 16, 2013

Vagabonding Field Report: Thailand

Cost/day: $25
What’s the strangest thing you’ve seen lately?
The fire shows that happen every night on Koh Phi Phi Don were crazy. And the partying. People are jumping ropes that are on fire, juggling fire, and swallowing fire.
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Category: Vagabonding Field Reports

October 2, 2013

Vagabonding Field Report: Celebrating life in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico

Rain in San Miguel de Allende

Cost/day: $40

What’s the strangest thing you’ve seen lately?

All of the donkeys or burros that are on the streets.  I am not used to that.  It’s a bit of old world Mexico, and I love it.

Donkeys in San Miguel de Allende

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Category: Vagabonding Field Reports
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