One of the most intimidating parts of traveling can be the language barrier. Especially if you don’t know how to communicate when traveling in a foreign country. Everything seems bigger, more urgent, and the confusion that ensues can snowball to the point that you are lost and crying in the middle of the train station being consoled by policemen who don’t understand. Not that I would know how that feels….ahem….moving on.
After a couple of decades of travel, I have put together a guide on how I have learned how to better communicate when traveling. Now I’m the one consoling and helping families, crying women, and even making locals laugh.
How to Communicate Over Wifi
While for some this can be costly, there are a lot of options for finding free Wifi in restaurants/shops, etc. I typically like to book a hotel/hostel that specifically has good wifi, so I can research questions in the local language I may need to ask before I leave.
What I Personally Use to Over Come the Language Barrier:
If you can afford a little portable Wifi device though, this will – by far – be the best investment on your trip. Personally, I use my phone, with AT&T as my carrier – they have an ‘International Passport’ option, where for $10 a day I can use my normal data, Wifi, minutes, and text messaging.
If you are going for longer than 7 days, then I recommend signing up for something a little more affordable like Tep Wireless. This pocket-sized device can be used in over 100 countries, is easily recharged (via MicroUSB Cable), you can pick the plan you want from 1GB/day for $5.95 per day all the way up to 5GB/day at $11.95/day. They also have a customer support chat available 24/7. The best part is that you can rent the Teppy Pocket, and don’t have to fork out $200 to buy it upfront.
Some other options you could consider if you are traveling for more than 8 days that are slightly more expensive but still relatively affordable; especially if you are a frequent international traveler.
Verizon Jetpack MiFi 8800L WiFi Hotspot (around $199 for device)
Verizon charges $80 per month for “unlimited” data, which includes 15 GB of 4G LTE. The battery lasts about 24 hours, is removable so you can just change it as needed. It can connect up to 16 devices at a time.
Skyroam Solis (Around $149 for device)
This one works in over 100 countries and data costs around $9 per day with a secure 4G LTE with download speeds of 500MB. It has a 16-hour battery life and can be connected to 5 devices.
Netgear Nighthawk LTE Mobile Hotspot ($199 for the device itself)
This device is more for AT&T users. It can connect up to 20 devices, has 2.4-5 GHZ Wifi. The battery lasts around 24 hours and can be used with Qualcomm Quick Charge 2.0. What I really like about this one is that you can use an ethernet cord with it as well. It has a full-sized USB port, so you can share files between devices to the internet much quicker (ie/uploading videos etc..).
Coolpad SURF Mobile Hotspot (about $72 for the device)
Wi-Fi 802.11b/g/n connectivity to up to 15 devices by utilizing T-Mobile’s 4G LTE network. So you are limited in certain countries, I would check the coverage map to ensure the device will work. It also only provides about 5 hours of use, and there is no signal strength display.
Huaawei E5770s Mobile Hotspot – ANY PROVIDER
This supports about 10 different devices, can be used with any service provider because it comes unlocked. It provides 4G LTE globally.
Use Social Media To Communicate While Traveling
Now you have several options for WiFi while traveling, you can utilize things like Facebook, Google Hangouts, Skype, WhatsApp to talk to friends at home without using your minutes or texting. Make sure you put your phone on airplane mode and then turn on the WiFi – so you don’t incur hidden fees on your telephone plan.
I think WhatsApp is one of the biggest apps used by those around the world. I used it to communicate with friends in Morocco and to coordinate my driver when going to Lake Atitlan (A very remote area) in Guatemala. So be sure to download that before you go. It does require you to give people your real telephone number, but also has a ‘block’ function if things get uncomfortable via messaging.
How To Communicate When Traveling, and Stay CALM
Whenever I start getting nervous, especially when meeting new people – I have a mantra, “We all poop on the same pot”. For some reason, it puts a smile on my face, breaks the ice inside my head and then I can proceed. If this doesn’t work, then I try my other techniques.
Make it a Game
Making it a game is the best way, for me personally, to remain calm when trying to communicate. I’m prone to anxiety, given my history, so tapping into my creative genius and making it a game is the best way for me to stay calm.
I will typically bring a pad of paper with me and if I don’t know how to pronounce the words, then I draw pictures. Most of the time, showing a picture does the trick. What if you can’t draw though?
There are cards or pre-made quick point cards that people use to communicate things they want. We use these cards all the time when we have a patient on a ventilator. There are certain human functions and needs that are very common and widely recognized. On one side of the card, there can be phrases or even an alphabet; while on the other side, there are photos of what the person needs/wants. So browse on Pinterest for quick point communication cards and I’m sure you will find exactly what you are looking for.
If you say the wrong thing, and they giggle – don’t be offended. For example, there are some languages like Portuguese, where ‘pickup’ can also mean ‘kill’ in a different country. So, anyone, this could be funny, or scary – and could elicit a giggle no matter what country it happened in. So take it in stride, make fun of yourself and thank them for being patient with you.
If they are not patient with you, I still thank them and politely tell them I will ask someone else, and sorry to bother them. I always try to remember that just because I am on vacation, with loads of time, the people I ask for help are taking time our of their day/vacation to help you. I have had people completely ignore me & I still offer a smile and wish them good-day. I have other locals, who walk with me from place to place, stand in line with me and get me on the right train – taking more than 45 minutes out of their day to help.
There are times you won’t be able to find help though. For my fellow Americans, DO NOT GET ANGRY NO ONE SPEAKS ENGLISH!!! There is nothing that will drive away help more, than standing at the hotel, restaurant or ticket line like an American putting their hands on their hips and loudly exclaiming, “Well this is just ridiculous, doesn’t anyone here speak English?” – no one will want to help you if you do. Saying things like this is what gives Americans a bad reputation as being, loud, rude, and snooty. Don’t be like them, please….
Don’t Be Embarrassed
There are so many other things that you could be embarrassed about – like when you think you need to fart, but it is actually a shart. If you don’t know what a shart is, consider yourself blessed – if you’re curious, use urban dictionary to look it up.
The point is, everyone expects you to not be fluent – so if you don’t get the words exactly right, don’t panic. Take a deep breath, laugh at yourself, know how to say sorry in their language. If you get too flustered, or your brain is fried from all the touring or the red-eye – revert to the Kwikpoint card (explained below) or drawing a picture.
Research Common Phrases
The number one thing to remember when beginning to learn a language is to not use big words or long phrases. Start small and use flashcards to memorize them so you aren’t fumbling and it comes second nature. If you aren’t sure how to pronounce something, Google and YouTube are going to work wonders for you. Here are a few phrases you will likely need to know when traveling, shopping, eating, meeting people, and if you run into an emergency.
How long (duration)?
What time does it leave?
I lost my…
I am going to…
I came from…
I leave on…
Bus / train station
I am allergic to…
Where is a doctor?
Where is the pharmacy
Tampons / sanitary pads
Can I drink the tap water?
Bed bugs – or other words for dangerous bugs common to the area
I lost my key
Where is the bathroom?
Do I pay here, or can I have the bill?
Do you take credit cards or cash?
I’m not interested / No, thank you
Do you have change?
Can I try?
Hello, my name is…
Do you speak English?
I don’t understand
Thank you and Thank You so much
Can I help you?
Where is the Embassy?
Use your Resources To Communicate While Traveling
We live in a world full of technology, and advanced communication devices. So it is so much easier to get past the language barrier than ever before. Here are a few resources I personally use to communicate in a different country.
My number one resource is Google Translate that I use on my phone, with the AT&T passport. The reason I like this so much is that you can do a voice to text with it. It also has a conversational function on it, where you can easily switch back and forth between languages and have them just speak into your phone. They check the text to make sure it is what they mean to say, edit what needs to be edited, and then you go back and forth.
This became very useful when I was trying to figure out what the safest way to get my friend to the airport was. It was in Santiago, I speak enough Spanish to get around, but when it comes to safety – you need details. So I was able to use Google translate, to understand how and who would take my friend to the airport. If you use Uber in the city, and the police catch you – you can get a $1000 fine. There were also reports of an unregistered Uber driver pick you up, and then take you to an obscure place in town – where they then rob you. S
I was also warned that I shouldn’t have bought the strawberries from the street vendors, because there was a big problem with diarrhea with travelers there. Apparently, turtles had invaded some of the water sources, and put Salmonella in the water systems – the locals were used to it, but travelers coming in – it was creating a big problem.
If you want something super affordable, can’t speak the language, and don’t draw pictures very well – then I would suggest a Kwikpoint card. This would be the bare minimum that I would take with you in order to communicate. You can get cards with small colorful photos on them, in specific groupings that visually can be easily recognized and understood throughout the world. If they don’t have it in their country, they will likely find someone who can explain it to you – or they can use their own phone/computer to use google translate to tell you.
Find A Common Ground
Let them know you are sorry you don’t speak their language but are trying to make things as easy as possible to have a good trip. This really breaks the ice and lets them know that you don’t think you are better than they are.
There are WAY too many times that I have heard people say, “Doesn’t anyone around here speaks English?” when traveling in a foreign country. This is absurd, and wouldn’t hold up in the USA if someone came and demanded someone spoke Spanish or French. So get off your high horse, realize it isn’t the USA – and so you should at least ATTEMPT to speak the primary language of the country you are visiting.
You have to remember you a VISITOR, not a foreign dignitary or some royalty that should be cow-towed to because you are an American. So check yourself, before you wreck yourself.
Now You Know How To Communicate In A Foreign Country
While you may not be fluent in the language of the country you will visit, now you have the resources to help put your mind at ease about the language barrier. Just don’t give up, be polite, stay calm and realize we are all humans. Invest in a good Kwikpoint card, Wifi, and make sure you can access Google Translate and I promise you will have no trouble navigating the world despite your language limitations.
Choosing accommodation for your travel has gotten more complicated over the years. Often leaving folks confused and worried they will make the wrong decision. Especially with reports of travelers being attacked, personal items stolen, and even the rare occasion of someone being killed. So I put together a guide on things to look for when choosing accommodation for your travels.
From beginning to end, this will be the ultimate guide on getting started when choosing your adventure accommodation and staying safe when you do. Be sure to check out my other articles on Safety while solo traveling as well. It will give a more detailed view of tips on how to stay safe, as well as what to do if you feel you landed in an unsafe situation. So let’s dive in on choosing your perfect accommodation!
Your Destination – When Choosing Accommodation
Is it a third world country or a first world country?
When your choosing accommodations, look at what the place is made of. Maybe it is a wood/grass hut on the beach with opportunities for perfect pictures, but no hot shower – or the toilet is shared and across the village. Make sure you take note of what is included in the room before you book it. There are so many wannabe YouTubers out there – that you can get a general idea from videos on the area and accommodation. Even the poorest countries have a phone and Facebook so asking for a few photos or to confirm certain amenities is in your best interest.
Is it a remote small village or a bustling city?
If it is a remote village will you have a way to get there? Is that factored into your budget? If it is in a bustling city, how easy is it to find your way there and how costly. Is traffic going to be an issue? If it is then the taxi rates are going to be sky-high unless you can get them to agree on a set price before you get into the vehicle.
What type of activities are you going to be participating in?
If you are going to be visiting Macchu Picchu you will want to stay up near the entrance to get there before the crowds. Conversely, if you are only there for a short period of time, is it worth it to hotel/hostel jump from place to place? What if you are scuba diving out in Fort Lauderdale and it would be easier to get to the shop by staying on Singer Island rather than paying for a taxi multiple days to get back and forth. Are there activities at night and places to eat close to your accommodation. When you are fighting Jet Lag, you can often awake in the middle of the night with hunger pains that can have you chewing the arm of your travel companion off or eating the bar of soap.
Is the country conservative or are their citizens heavily restricted with rules?
When I was traveling with a Moroccan friend near southern Morocco, they are still ruled by strict social guidelines. So we had to pretend that he was my brother-in-law in order to be able to rent an apartment. Otherwise, they would have required to see a marriage document prior to renting the apartment. Several of them actually refused when they saw that he had a white American Female in the car. Given their point of view, I can see why several people refused (just in case he was kidnapping me – even though it wasn’t the case). Each place I stayed at also wanted a copy of my passport – which has ALL my personal information on it. So would you be comfortable letting them copy that information? Some places may refuse to rent to you if you are not comfortable giving that information. So these are just some things to think about, especially if you are a solo female traveler.
Are your comforts of home important to you?
It is important to remember that not every destination is going to have an air conditioner you can blast, fireplace you can light up, or even traditional heating. They may not even have a working toilet, or maybe you can sit on the toilet, shower, and brush your teeth all at the same time. We stayed in an apartment in Italy once as a family, where the smell of the sewer was so strong that we could barely shower. So be sure to read reviews and amenities of a location before going, so you can be well informed on what you will have to compromise and if you are willing to do that.
Time of Arrival or Departure – When Choosing Accommodation
Do you arrive at night or during the day?
I typically look for the best deal on Booking.com when I’m attempting to rent a place. I really like the filters you can choose from, and you can easily decide if a hotel/hostel/B&B is right for you all on the same platform.
As the years of travel have come and gone, I have gotten a lot more detailed in my approach when renting an Airbnb, Booking.com place. Sometimes it is the best deal because it is a remote part of the city that isn’t safe to lug my big suitcase and a backpack full of camera gear. So it is definitely something to consider. Another thing to consider is how accessible it is to catch a taxi, the cost of an Uber or Lyft to and from the transportation stations (airport, train, bus). There was one morning in Poland I counted on being able to catch a taxi to the train station and found that in Poland – in the center of Warsaw – no one is awake before 8 am. So I had to get access back into the building I had just deposited my room keys into, so I could get Wifi to call an Uber.
Your Budget When Choosing Accommodation
Does your budget include a fancy place to stay?
If this is going to be a relaxing vacation with lots of beach time, then maybe spending a little more on an all-inclusive resort would be worthwhile. If you are going to be out looking at historic sites in the center of the city, maybe it would be worthwhile to spend a little more of the budget to stay closer to those sites. If you are just looking to spend as little as possible, because you will be backpacking from one place to the next anyway, then maybe a hostel is your best bet.
Do you want to spend your vacation budget on your accommodation or on seeing the city?
The biggest beef I have with spending money on accommodation is that it takes away from my ability to spend money on tours, food and really experiencing the culture. So I tend to personally go for a cheaper (but comfortable) accommodation and then have loads left for tours and activities.
What type of vacation is this for you? Will you spend more time in a hotel (Honeymoon) or more time seeing the sites (on a group tour, or with a bunch of friends)?
If your vacation is going to be a romantic getaway, then I would tell you to spend a little more to have a cozy bed with a view and easy access to come back to the hotel frequently. If you will be in a tour group, they typically include the cost of the hotel, or I would get a hotel that will be close to the majority of your meeting spots.
Your Desire for Convenience When Choosing Accommodation
Does the destination have Taxies or Ubers?
Believe it or not, not every country/city has Taxies or Ubers. There are equivalents available in some countries (see my growing Worldwide Airport Transportation List) but sometimes it is just good old fashioned walking, horse and carriage or a Tuk Tuk. In certain cities in South America, if you are caught by the police taking an Uber/Lyft (like in Santiago) then you can get a $1000 fine. So I would definitely consider how you will get around the city, and to and from the airport when choosing accommodation.
Is there public transport? Is transportation able to handle your luggage?
Once you figure out your mode of transportation to and from the airport, also consider if they will be able to handle the amount of luggage you are planning on bringing. I can tell you right now, a Tuk Tuk will not be able to handle two people with their luggage. When I was in San Pedro La Laguna, near Lake Atitlan – the roads are too narrow for cars in most places, often get flooded in the rainy season. The Tuk Tuks there couldn’t hold 3 curvy women at once, so I had to squat and pray I didn’t break my ankle because my leg was hanging out of the Tuk Tuk.
If you are being picked up in a shared ride, or transfer service (often found on the airline websites when you book your flight) – they may have luggage restrictions to two per passenger or less.
If it is a shared Uber/Lyft or Taxi – you will have to be considerate of other passengers who may not be as prepared as you are – or pack as light as you do.
Your Travel Companions – Questions to Ask Before Booking
Do your travel companions have physical limitations? ie/ Wheelchair, bad knees, chronic pain
Americans are very lucky (and some countries in Europe), in that most everything is accessible to those with disabilities. Even in Scotland, there are things I took for granted in America that they do not have there due to the way the city has grown and morphed over the years. Working in the medical field it was eerie to me to not see elderly on the street – or those in wheelchairs or on crutches – there are seldom elevators unless specifically stated; Hostels, Airbnb, and B&Bs do not typically have elevators.
If you travel with Chronic pain and are stuck on an hour train ride in between the cars because you didn’t realize you had to reserve a seat and not just purchase a ticket – this could result in major pain that could result in a ruined vacation. So be aware of who you travel with, and have frank conversations about tolerance levels and ability to treat pain while vacationing.
What about those with bad joints, or those with heart or lung issues. Can they go up stairs, do they have elevators, what is the air pollution in the city like vs in the country? These are all things to consider and ask both the accommodation and your travel companions about. When I was in Edinburgh, and even in Marrakesh – I was grateful I had my inhaler because I have reactive asthma attacks. I get extremely fatigued, and a sore throat when the air quality is bad. Going up to high elevations quickly, like in Zermatt on the Little Matterhorn, at 15,000 feet – I nearly ended up in the hospital with an oxygen level of 85% because I discovered I was extremely prone to altitude sickness.
Do your travel companions travel light, or over pack with lots of bags?
Again, everything is a little bigger in America vs other countries. If you show up in Japan or China with 2 large bags and a big backpack – you may as well just buy an additional hotel room. Everything is small and jam-packed unless you know what you are getting into and can afford the larger hotel rooms.
Your Activities When Choosing Your Accommodation
Are you going to have a car?
If you are going to have a car, is there parking available at your accommodation? If there isn’t, then you have to look at costs for parking – and if you are good enough at parallel parking. In Morocco, if you decide to drive there, the parking spaces are very very tightly packed. There are certain meanings when you flash your brights or turn on your hazard lights. They even have parking assistants that you have to tip at least a dollar every time they help you, otherwise, you can get punched (saw a legit street brawl between a parking attendant and a local – lots of blood). In Edinburgh, there are no parking areas, unless you want to pay $45-$85 a night at a very limited parking center in the city. In the center of Boston, the parking at any location can be upwards of $60 a night (minimum). So be sure you check on parking availability if you choose to rent a car, otherwise, it can eat your budget rather quickly.
Is accommodation close to affordable public transportation?
If there are no parking areas, is the accommodation close enough to (and safe enough) utilize public transportation? In Guatemala, it would have been cheaper to take the 5-hour bus ride to Lake Atitlan sure. Yet hiring a private ride for $60 for the 3-hour car ride through mountain passes where falling rocks, flooded roads is much safer and more reliable at 2 am.
Your Eating Habits When Choosing Accommodation
Is breakfast important to you?
If you like to sleep in but love your breakfast, then I would make sure you click on the filter option where breakfast is included in the cost, or there is a continental breakfast available. I could eat breakfast food all day everyday if I could. Dinner I just eat Almonds or a protein bar – but in Europe, Lunch and Dinner are some of the most important meals.
Check Local Holidays/Religious Events
This is something I discovered after dating several Muslim men, when they described their countries during Ramadan. A local religious holiday that lasts a month, where stores, and local eateries often close during the day for religious reasons. If you don’t know about Ramadan, I put together a basic guide on Ramadan, and when and why they celebrate. For the purposes of this article though, you need to know that stores will open after sunset/evening prayer, and close in the AM after morning prayer. If you are ok eating all night, and sleeping during the day, there are some special dishes that come out during Ramadan, and are only made during Ramadan that would be worthwhile to check out for all my foodies.
Do you like to eat out?
Are there places nearby that you can eat? If there are places that you can eat near your accommodation, is it the type of food you can eat? Do you have any particular dietary restrictions? If so, then looking at different neighborhoods where those are more likely to be available and have more variety. If you are Vegan, Vegetarian, or have any particular allergy to certain foods – then I would recommend using Pinterest to plan out your eating excursions before you go.
Do you cook your own meals when vacationing?
If you do have severe dietary restrictions, or like to eat a little healthier while traveling – then choosing an accommodation near a supermarket may be worthwhile. Try your hand at local cuisine, or even eat with locals through EatWith.com where you can schedule a meal with a local and other travelers, take a food tour, or even learn how to cook like a local.
Will Your Personality Fit Your Accommodation
Are you a quiet hermit type? Are you outgoing and lazie faire? Are you refined and love that luxury life?
If you don’t like chaos, or can’t sleep through drunk people coming in and out at all hours of the night – then a Hostel is not for you. Do you like to be social, but still want your privacy and a relaxed environment? Then a Bed and Breakfast may be for you. Do you love luxurious surroundings, and value your sleep above all? Then a higher-end luxury hotel might be the best choice.
When staying in any location, it is important to know if you have the only key to the house, apartment, or room.
If you don’t, then I would suggest to my Solo Female Travelers that you demand this, or just look for another accommodation. If it is a Bed and Breakfast type home, where other people will be staying, this is fine, but you still want to ensure that you will be safe while you are sleeping – and there is lockbox for your passport.
Will you be alone or with other people?
If you will be alone in a dangerous neighborhood, then I would suggest getting a hotel closer to the city – and make sure there is good lighting on the street. Using Google maps street view is a good way to take a look at the neighborhood you will be going.
If you will be staying with other people, such as in a hostel, do they have lockers you can use? If so, are there locks you can rent, or do you need to bring your own lock?
Is the community gated/barb wire fencing?
When I was staying in Guatemala City, there were a lot of reports online that theft and muggings were common with tourists. Arriving late at night from San Pedro made me a bit nervous, as I didn’t properly scope out my accommodation. Driving into the complex though, provided a lot of ease of mind when I saw that there was a security guard, cement fencing with barbed wire on the top, and good lighting in the streets. So it really depends on the safety level of the country you are going to, how cautious you need to be, and how much research you need to do prior to finalizing your booking.
There are certain countries where tourists have to stay inside a compound for safety reasons. So for my adrenaline junkies out there, make sure that you understand the risks. If there is a safety advisory by your state/country department for that particular country – and you decide to go anyway; it could limit their ability and willingness to help you if you decide to ignore those warnings.
Do they have safety measures for fire hazards, flooding, earthquakes, hurricanes?
If you are staying in a wooden bungalow in the Maldives, and a hurricane blows through while you’re there – because the prices were cheaper in the rainy season – do they provide, or have a safe spot or emergency evacuation plan/supplies to aid their guests? This is something that happened to a friend when in Jamaica, and they had to fend for themselves until the communities were stabilized. Luckily they were in a hotel, not a bungalow, and had some granola bars to tide them over while electricity was restored in the kitchens.
Getting Travel Insurance is a great way to ease the mind.
I typically will use World Nomads as my Travel Insurance for medical evacuation or any emergency needs/delays/cancellations. Something you will have to ensure with medical, natural disaster, or political unrest evacuations – is that the fine writing often says ‘will evacuate you to the nearest USA location or airport’. Well that doesn’t help you much if you are vacationing in South America, and they send you to a hospital in Atlanta – but your house is in Oregon. Medical Transport on a ventilator from one area of the USA to another is done by helicopter with a specialized team and starts at $15,000 depending on the team needed and flight time. So if you are from the USA, or are purchasing the insurance through your own country – I highly suggest you read the fine print on this particular portion.
Will you need to get vaccines prior to going?
If you are a US Citizen, there are certain vaccines that are mandatory if you visit a country where a disease is prevalent.
Some of the vaccines can be out of stock or on back order – so it could take months until you receive it. Be sure to check with your local health department on these specialty vaccines.
Getting the vaccines within a certain time period PRIOR to your departure is imperative. Your immune system needs time to work, and what if you have a bad reaction? The earlier you can do it the better is what I highly suggest.
Are there animals or insects that could come in while sleeping? Do they carry diseases? Does the accommodation have mechanisms to prevent this?
If you are terrified of snakes or creepy crawlies coming into your room at night – then any tropical environment, even Australia may not be for you, unless you stay in a place where this can’t happen.
If you are in Africa, having a mosquito net is essential as many parasitic diseases including Malaria are transmitted there.
If you are staying in a grass hut in South American, there is a bug called the Kissing Bug (bites near nose/eyes/mouth at night), that transmits a parasite that can live in you for decades before showing up as a major heart issue.
In hostels, there is a growing issue with Bed Bugs. I was attacked by Bed Bugs in a Hostel in Prague a few years ago. I had 32 bites all up and down my arms, legs, chest and even a few on my face. Little did I know that I was allergic to the bites, and ended up swelling at each bite, felt like I was hit by a bus for the entire time I was backpacking through Europe.
It isn’t just hostels though, Bed Bug reports in New York City were up by 40% in 2018. If you bring those little bastards home with you, guess what….it can cost anywhere from $1600 to $5200 to get rid of them. Often it results in you having to replace furniture, beds, clothes and other items that they squeeze into and lay hundreds of eggs. So consider yourself warned, research how to spot bed bugs, and make a rule that you put your bags outside the room until your inspection is complete. It only took once, to learn this very painful and difficult lesson.
Are there restrictions on staying with those of the opposite sex?
I touched on this previously when I was traveling with a local in Morocco. But I bring it up again here because some countries do not allow you to stay with the opposite sex unless you are married or have the same last name. So just inquire, before you book if you are concerned.
Is the destination friendly to the LGBTQI community? Would you be allowed to stay in the same room as your partner?
This one, unfortunately, is still not accepted worldwide. While the courageous individuals who are traveling to the more close-minded countries, and are helping to try to educate on this particular point – I would advise you to research this extensively. While I don’t really feel it is necessary to call out specific countries, I wanted to put this in this guide – because it can pose a security risk to members of the LGBTQI community.
A good resource for those in the LGBTQI community that want to travel is ‘Dopes On The Road‘ – this website will give you Safety Tips to Consider, questions to ask, and how to plan a honeymoon as a LGBT.
What about racial discrimination?
While I am a white American female, I do have plenty of inspirational women of color that I highly admire and look up to. One such person is, Glo, from the Blog Abroad – who is very frank, honest and open about facing discrimination while traveling and how she handles it. Another great resource for what it is like to travel like a black man is Erik Prince from Minority Nomad. His goal is to be the first black man to travel to every country and would be a great resource because so far (as of August 2019) he has visited 90 countries. Because of my own ethnicity, I think it is a subject that I regrettably have been ignorant of for my readers. So to those who are concerned about this, hearing it from a white woman isn’t going to ease your mind – so look up Glo and Erik – you won’t regret it.
I know these are a lot of questions to process and take in, so it may feel like information overload. This is why I broke it down into bullet points because once you choose your destination, know your budget, and limitations or preferences of the people you travel with – it will be easy to skip over some of the questions.
I tried to include every question I ask when approaching a booking, or choosing an accommodation (traveling with my dog is a whole other article that I didn’t address). So if you are trying to book something luxurious, then you will have a guide – if you are finding accommodation in a busy city or a remote village in Africa then you will have a resource to remind you of how to best approach it and make the most informed decision possible.
Would you include any tips/tricks or advice to those who are just starting out booking their own accommodation?
Driving in another country can be a scary thing when you are doing it for the first time, but when you are responsible for any damage that might happen while in that country…..makes it even more scary. My first time driving internationally was when I went to Scotland on my first Solo Trip. So here are a few things to look for when renting a car either at home or abroad.
Renting the Right Car for Your Skill Set
Stick vs Manual —- Large vs Small — Car vs Motorbike. These are all questions to consider when renting a car. In European countries, many of their cars are stick shift, and personally I do not know how to drive one well without grinding the gears to oblivion. In many North American countries, they opt for the manual transmission – so you need to look at which car is right for you and the availability of that particular brand of transmission in the country you will be visiting. For example, renting my car in Scotland – they only had four manual cars available for the company I chose. I had to rent the car several months in advance, because there was a festival going on the week I was there and happened to get the last manual transmission left.
It may be a simple question – but a large vs small car for where you are traveling can make a huge difference. If you typically drive a compact car, and have 6 friends coming with you on your trip that requires a large suburban/van – your going to have a difficult time adjusting to the maneuverability and inability to see the surrounding cars/area when turning, backing up etc…
There are some countries and even cities where having a motorbike vs a car is more practicle to get around traffic and find parking. If you aren’t conifdent in your motorbike skills though, get a car to have the added protection. They are called donor cycles for a reason my friends, especially in the USA it is hard for cars to see motorbikes on our huge roads- not like in Europe.
Look at Mileage Limitations
This was very important for me when I was in Scotland, as I was planning a road trip up to Culloden, near inverness, then to Dunrobin Castle, and up to John O’Groats and back down the NC500 to Edinburgh. It was a lot of driving time, and also a lot of miles on the car. It was important to find a car company that allowed unlimited miles. Some companies charged you after going over a certain amount of miles, which would have turned out to be an even bigger bill when I returned the car. So save yourself the extra bill and make sure your rental car has unlimited miles on it.
Look at Gas requirements
Most companies require you to return your rental car with a full tank of gas. They will offer to have you fill up the car at their station, but this is just another way to put some extra change in their pockets. Be sure to fill up your car before you bring it back.
The next question I would ask is, how common are gas stations between the locations you are traveling. Here in the United States, you can drive for several hours without seeing a single gas station (or sometimes a town). If you are in a snowstorm, or a hot and humid environment – the extreme weather can be life threatening. So be sure to notate how far each gas station is. When I go on road trips, I always make sure to have a quarter tank of gas as my emergency gas supply – that way, it gives me a few hours to find the nearest gas station.
Do They Require a Credit Card or a Deposit?
When I first went to rent a car on my own, it was such an exhilarating feeling— I felt I was finally an ADULT! They asked for a Credit Card, and I proudly told them I did not own one but had a Debit Card. With the straight (I call it a Bitch Lady) face, she told me there would need to be a temporary $400 with drawl from my account. WTH! Being young and dumb at the time, I quickly realized this would leave me with very little spending money or food money on my vacation. Luckily my friend was with me and had a credit card she put on file and no deposit was required.
Even though they didn’t charge her for the rental car, I felt completely mortified that I had to rely on someone else for this simple thing. So to all those rental car newbies, this is your fair warning.
What are the extra fees they tack on?
The extra fees they tack onto the car rental can be quite absurd. They can charge you for extra mileage, a tank that isn’t quite full, picking up and dropping off at different locations. There are even extra fees for picking up your car at the airport vs within the town.
The initial price of your car rental may beat the competitors, but they will make up for it when you go to pick up your vehicle at their desk. This is why I like to call the company and ask them, or email them and have them state what the fees I should expect to see on my bill upon check out. Then I can print out what they said, and show it to the desk if they try to charge me for something that was not mentioned beforehand.
The fact is, they are able to get you with those hidden fees when your standing at their desk, in a foreign country or state – all other cars are rented/leased and you have no choice but to proceed with your rental car.
If you do want to take the risk with the seemingly cheaper options, a good rule of thumb is to add about $300 to any rental car fee. This will cover any additional fees or deposits that they require.
Shop Around For Rental Car Insurance
Not all healthcare is created equal, and neither are rental car insurances. Getting the insurance from the rental car company might seem like a good, and convenient option at the time – but it is likely going to cost you your life savings. When we rented a car in Scotland, they tacked on another $400 to our bill for insurance purposes. The thing is, I got home, called my insurance company at home and they covered rental car insurance internationally….. this was very frustrating for me.
I also found out later, that because so many rental car companies require a credit card; the credit card companies have started offering rental car insurance as well.
Take a video or photo of any Damage on the car prior to leaving the Rental Company
This is imperative, because I have heard horror stories of rental companies claiming damage to the car that present before it left the lot and my friends were stuck with the bill. My suggestion would be to take a video, or photo of the person who checked you out; along with any photo/video or damages present inside or outside the car.
Take a photo of the miles driven before and after, and ensure the correct mileage is written down before leaving the lot. That way they can’t tell you that you drove more miles that you actually drove, and will avoid the extra fee.
What Are the Restrictions For the Car?
It is a good rule of thumb to not go off roading with your rental car, unless it explicitly says you are allowed to do so. If you are in Hawaii on the Road to Hana and a portion of the road is not paved – you go a little too far over the edge and the car slides off the road. What about wanting to have a beach party, or drive onto a grassy area because there is no parking. Your car gets stuck, an axle breaks or any other number of horrible situations – most car rental insurances will not cover any damage to the vehicles in these particular situations.
Be careful where you drive your car, and take a careful look at your itinerary and what the rental insurance covers. There is nothing worse than having to pay out of pocket, especially in foreign currency for damages to a car.
Can you cross the border with their rental car?
If you are planning a road trip across Europe, and want to go to more of the off the beaten path places – is the car rental company able to accept the car in a different country? The answer I have typically encountered is a resounding no.
While there are buses, trains, and other quick transit for your backpacking needs through Europe – some countries do not have as reliable of transporation. So be sure to know the rules when crossing borders. A cheaper option might be to hire a guide, like I did in Morocco – where we were able to go to places the large buses just can’t go- and take his car off road.
Will it fit you and your luggage?
While the compact cars are fabulous on the budget, the car you rent may not be the best one for you and your luggage – especially in Europe. So make sure you know exactly what type of car your will be driving, and if it will fit your required luggage.
Bring your own extras
While it is convinvient to just utilize what the Rental company has as far as the ‘extras’ there are a few other things I would suggest bringing with you. Firstly bring your own music. There is only so far you can travel away from a large city until you lose music. Most cars are equipped with usb ports, and even third world countries have radio where you can plug in some of those old school transmitters for your phone. Next, I would bring your own gps. MOST of the time your phone can be a good guide, but when I was in Scotland it was nice to have two options because sometimes you lose signal in between mountians or in the really rural communities and need the satellite gps as backup.
Even at home I forget to bring sunglasses, when your driving in a new country (or even on the ‘wrong side’ of the road) it is stressful! So bring sunglasses to protect from the deadly glare. Some friends of mine have suggested getting an electronic toll pass rental. This is not just true for the toll roads, but also having one for trams and buses – many in Europe are electronic & very easy to recharge rather than getting cash from an ATM that can have a service fee to buy multiple tickets.
Find your perfect Vacation Vehicle
Europa Car is the one that I tend to use, while it is associated with an Affiliate link – and they have some hidden fees. They really were kind to me both of the instances I rented a car from them in Scotland.
There are a lot of little tidbits in this article, but after experiencing what it is like to rent a car at home and abroad I feel these guidelines have helped keep me safe and save money.
If you have any tips on what to look for when renting a car, feel free to add them in the comment section below. Happy Travels Friends!
This post may contain affiliate links, for more information read our full disclosure The travel industry is throwing around this term: Responsible Tourism or Sustainable Tourism. So what does Responsible Tourism mean? Each year we travel, consume, photograph and share on our social media channels, exposing friends and family to expand their knowledge of the cultures of the world.
Responsible Tourism is a multifaceted approach, which includes:
Minimizing negative social, economic and environmental impacts while traveling
Generating greater economic benefits for local people and enhancing the well-being of host communities
Improving working conditions and access to the worldwide industry
Involving local people in decisions, markets, and trade that affect their life and chances at life.
Making positive contributions to the conservation of natural and cultural heritage, embracing the diversity.
Providing more enjoyable experiences for tourists through more meaningful connections with local people and a greater understanding of local cultural, social and environmental issues.
Provides access for physically challenged people
Is being culturally sensitive, encourages respect between tourists and hosts, and builds local pride and confidence.
There are many different ways that this can be addressed and focused on. The Culture Trekking Community is one that focuses on numbers one, five, six and eight. Creating a community where ideas, religions, cultural idiosyncrasies are both shared, respected and embraced. As the Community grows I want to improve awareness on environmental impacts as well as fight the uphill battle of having more meaningful human connections. Today I will focus on the latter.
Where the idea started for my own Responsible Tourism:
The video was quite graphic when I saw this 2 years ago, but it really impacted me in so many different ways. The moral of the story is…..you don’t know what you don’t know until you educate yourself on how small choices like using single-use straws can impact the environment. I now carry a reusable metal straw in my purse at all times. This video is where responsible tourism started for me….watching this turtle in so much pain made me feel like I needed to do more for the environment.
It isn’t just the plastic straws, it is garbage that is left strewn about in all the different places that I visit. I remember walking behind someone in Yellowstone National park…..they dropped a wrapper on the ground (a large one). I was so frustrated by this because they had a bag they could have easily slipped that wrapper into. I picked it up and gave it back to the tourist, who naturally acted like they dropped it by accident (even though I watched them look around before dropping it). It is not that hard to slip those wrappers into a pocket, a bag, in your shoe….anything but on the ground. Taking a few more steps to ensure your rubbish gets into the proper receptacle is not as hard as you think…..as Nike says ‘JUST DO IT’!
Another video that truly impacted me was one man in India, who returned to his home to find the beach he loved filled with garbage. He knew he had to do something so he started knocking on doors and aims to be that change he wishes to see in the world. Take a look at the video & then I want to think about how much of a difference we could make if each of us committed to picking up 3 pieces of trash wherever we travel to. What about taking an extra garbage bag on a local hike in your hometown? We could all use a few more squats in our day, right?
Why am I showing you all these videos? A picture is worth a thousand words (or so they say), but I feel that videos are the way to make an impact that can create change. What is better than a video? Visiting a place like the Washed Ashore Gallery in Bandon Oregon (several displays are located throughout the United States, see the Washed Ashore Exhibit Locations for more information) can both teach our generation and the generations below us how to protect our earth and save our oceans.
Traveling can be an exotic thing full to the brim with activities that will make your friends envy your life & maybe even despise you a little. The more I travel the more I realize that I want to make a difference in the world, no matter how small it is. Ecotourism and Volunteering for cleanups and service can help connect our communities, open minds and hearts, and help start the change we wish to see in the world.
Supporting Companies with good causes:
Save the Baby Turtles!
A Blogger friend of mine in Fort Lauderdale Florida was able to participate in the nighttime protection of hatching baby turtles. These baby turtles get confused by the city lights and instead of going into the ocean (following the moon), they follow the city lights. This leads them to be run over or crushed by bikes, cars or fall into holes they cannot get out of. What these volunteers do is once the baby turtles hit their 10-foot periphery line, they gather them up in a bucket and take all the confused little fellas to the ocean where they set them free. They also move beach chairs and sandcastles to allow for the mothers to come to the beach easier and lay their eggs. Check out her post on Saving Baby Sea Turtles and how you can help or participate!
Soul Flower Clothing Company
As soon as I found this clothing company, I know I had found my tribe. Just look at their tagline:
Soul Flower is a natural clothing brand for kind souls and free spirits. Mindfully made with natural fibers and heartfelt art, we design our threads with kind vibes from start to finish. We seek inspiration in the simplicity of everyday life – in nature and in music, in free-spirited adventures and in like-minded souls. We create clothing in a way that supports our planet, spreads a positive message, and most importantly — helps you express yourself.”
To all my big headed ladies out there (I’m talking literal, not egotistical) – this is the place you should get your headbands! Every time I wear these headbands I feel a little better about myself, I read the inspirational message printed on it and cannot help but feel inspired to finish out the day with a bang! Plus, let’s be honest, sometimes a girl just needs a headband to decrease the stress of doin’ da hur….ya feel me? To get your headband:
The other items I have personally tried and fallen in love with so far are the yoga pants and shirts. If I’m being honest, I wear the pants EVERYWHERE! Not just because the pants are comfortable, but because they have the most adorable prints on them that inspire me to continue to be Eco-friendly in my day to day life & inspire me to live a simpler life to help have less of an impact on the environment. I wore the shirt for two days in a row people! I know that’s gross but it has been so hot over here, and it is so light, airy and cute with the little leaves on it… I couldn’t resist
Personal Note: It is sooooo hard to find cute and comfortable clothing as a curvy woman — so to find a company that caters to my desire to be eco-friendly and embraces those of all shapes and sizes really just gives me warm fuzzies and I want to shout out from the rooftops how much I appreciate and love them for this.
You don’t just have to participate in environmentally friendly activities at destinations you visit. You can start being environmentally friendly to companies just like Soul Flower. Check out Soul Flower Summer Specials today!
Other Ways to be a Responsible Tourist:
Be Respectful of Religions and Cultures:
Look at local customs and rules when entering churches across the world. Do not make derogatory jokes or compare those within the country to something you deem as ‘more sensible’ or ‘better practices’. Do not impose your beliefs on those within the country unless prompted to. Respect the cultural idiosyncrasies of what is considered ‘normal’ for that country.
The bottom line is, just because something, someone, or a country as a whole does something different than what you know to be normal — doesn’t mean that it is wrong. There are some exceptions where it endangers basic human rights, practices, or harms/mutilates any animal or human being (obviously). Even if you do see something wrong, intervening as a tourist could land you in jail – be careful, be cautious and if you have a concern about the country/destination use a guide that you can ask questions about what is appropriate or if you can do something/intervene without landing yourself in jail.
Be Respectful of Shop Owners Overseas:
Do not take photos of products, items, or anything in different countries that could affect their livelihood. Do not get offended if they ask you not to take photos, there is a reason! Unnamed countries citizens will visit these economically struggling countries and take photos of their products and produce them at a fraction of the cost, but they are not authentic products.
Moroccans, for example, rely on their skill and artistry of furniture, clothing, architecture, woodworking to profit from their craft and provide for their families. How many times have you visited a country and thought, ‘Oh I can get that back in my own country, I don’t need to buy it here’. This is why it is so important….so many countries rely on tourism and the money it brings in to put food on the table. So please….before you take a photo in a store, ASK the owner if it is ok.
Be Aware and Educate Yourself on Regional Issues:
Human trafficking, terrorism, and so many more unsavory things happen in this world. I have too much of a tender heart to focus in on the negative all the time, so rarely listen to the news – but I do search for those individuals who have the capacity to handle situations such as this. I support them, I share their stories and donate when I’m able to.
It is important to be sensitive to cultural and religious practices (as part of Responsible Tourism) that help to positively define a culture, but that never means we should tolerate those who continually violate the basic human rights of food, safety, and shelter.
With having experienced Rape and sexual assault myself, the topic of sex trafficking is a very passionate topic for me. Operation Underground Railroad is a team of individuals of highly specialized individuals who have years of experience in special forces, law enforcement working proactively since 2013 with local governments that I wholeheartedly support. This is a video that had me in tears for how grateful I was to the men & women who do this. Please support them in whatever way that you can…. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c_CgQcNkUlw&feature=youtu.be If you would like to Donate to O.U.R. please feel free to do so, if you are unable to donate, then try and Volunteer for O.U.R. to help aid in their efforts.
Small changes can make a big difference:
Wear environmentally friendly products:
Keep any soap while camping at any location away from runoff areas (at least 100 feet).
Bury or pack out your human waste. Look at the requirements for each camping spot you visit for their rules and regulations.
Wear environmentally and Ocean friendly sunscreen as this often washes off the ocean, causing damage to coral and marine life.
Bringing your own straws, skip the straw at Starbucks. If this doesn’t make sense, please keep watching the video of the Turtle above until it does.
Get a recycling bin or start a recycling group in your neighborhood. (More information below on recycling that could be available in your country).
Make a list of low-cost companies that produce Biodegradable Products and keep a list. Hand the list out to anyone who uses straws, show they alternatives. Don’t force it down their throat — educate with KINDNESS! Honey works better than vinegar when trying to entice people to change their daily habits or companies to change the status quo.
Utilize the Reusable Grocery Bags:
This is such a simple change that we can all do (especially those of us in the States). In most other countries they are charging for the plastic bags, yet when we implement it here to try and help support the environment….everyone loses their minds! They tried to do this when I lived in Texas and I would stand there and see with my own eyes, these grocery baggers get verbally assaulted for doing their job and charging for the plastic bags. Come on people…..be better than that……do better than that…….realize that this isn’t just about YOU and YOUR needs, but for the betterment of humanity and animals. If you still aren’t convinced that plastic bags are a big deal, watch this video of the whale found dead with hundreds of pounds of plastic bags in its stomach. If that doesn’t convince you, well…..I don’t know how to help you become a better human being.
I need some advice myself on this one….grrrhhh….. I have all the reusable bags I can handle. I start daydreaming on the way to the grocery store, then out of habit, forget to take the reusable grocery bags I brought off the garage wall where I put them so I wouldn’t forget them. If you have some advice on how to remember these things…..let a girl know in the comments below.
A Call to Action for Responsible Tourism:
Here is a great resource if you would like to participate in Ecotourism on your next trip: Ecotourism.org
Straws:The Last Plastic Straw is a great website for a list of all the different types of straws, where to get them and how they are better than the plastic straws. There is also a site completely dedicated to Living a life without plastic, this is where I get my reusable metal straws (bamboo and glass is also available).
Home, Pets, Cleaning supplies and more:Life Without Plastic gives you so many bamboo or steel options that can replace many of the household items that have or contain plastic. Gift certificates, gift registry, and points program are also available on this site to help you invite friends to the #noplastic movement.
Recycling throughout the world: Recycling in the States (contact your city councils to arrange this), Recycling in Australia, Recycling in Canada, Curbside Recycling available in New Zealand please check your local city councils, Recycling is also available in the United Kingdom for each household (mandatory supply of bins from government), Spain also has recycling available in some areas, and the Netherlands actually pays you to bring in your recyclable materials (typically at grocery stores).
IF YOU HAVE RECYCLING IN YOUR COUNTRY AND IT IS NOT LISTED HERE, PLEASE LIST THE RESOURCE OR WHO TO CONTACT BELOW 🙂
A Must Read Plastic Free Blogger: If you are like me and feel a little overwhelmed by how many things in your home contain plastic, visit Beth Terry: My Plastic Free Life Blogger. She will teach you, take you step by step through the process and show you how to live a plastic-free life.
Worldwide Plastic Pollution Coalition – Now NO ONE has an excuse to not participate in reducing their plastic use. This is a global alliance of individuals, organizations and businesses working together to stop plastic pollution.
How To Tour Responsibly:
We have such a duty to protect creatures who outlived the dinosaurs, are essential to our planet’s ecosystem – the Sea Turtles. We don’t have to start being Eco-friendly or participate in Responsible Tourism practices only when we are traveling. Get involved in the activities now, one goal or plastic straw at a time.
Be respectful of religions, people, cultures, and races as long as they do not infringe on basic human rights to live life peacefully, safely without fear of bodily harm and can provide for basic human needs of shelter, food, and water.
Get involved in volunteer programs locally where you can help end human trafficking, gang violence, opioid epidemics, and so much more. There seems to be an Instagram hashtag or Facebook group for everything these days. If you have any suggestions for local groups you are passionate about, please let it in the comments below with a link to their site. Teach those around you, share the information on your social media platforms….it just takes one rock in a pond to start a ripple that turns into a wave. Be that change you wish to see in the world.
How do you like to contribute to Responsible Tourism?
What is the most important thing to you regarding Responsible Tourism?
The History of the Berber People The Berbers have been in North Africa since at least 3000 BC according to scholars. Morocco is made up with the majority of Berbers, 10.4 million (40%) of the population. These can be divided into three main groups with different dilects: the Riffians, the Chleuh and Central Moroccan Amazigh; 2/3 of the Berber people actually live in rural and mountainous areas, most being farmers. Traditionally, Berbers raise sheep, cattle and goats; some work in flourmills, do woodcarving, quarry millstones, and make pottery or jewelry. Women generally do the cooking and caring for the home and children, weaving, and pottery. Today many Berber people work in Spain or France as migrant workers and send money home to their families.
Family and Culture of the Berber People
A traditional word used in the Berber language is ‘Fard’, a word which literally means “The individual is nothing without the tribe”. The immediate family comes first and they are the most important thing to these wonderful people. Most of the time family members live together and most stay close to home, women children and extended family actually end up working together closely in their own homes.
If you ever visit one of these families, be prepared to eat more food than you will ever want to eat your life (ie/bring a walker because your belly will be so full it will become difficult to walk afterward). The Moroccan culture, and especially the Berber people hold their guests in very high esteem, hospitality here is taken VERY seriously.
If you look into some of the religious beliefs of the Berber people, interestingly they actually believe in a spiritual dimension, or ‘Baraka’ or the positive power of the saints. It is a major source of what has inspired most artisans in Morocco and often is what helps to create the traditional designs of the Berber people.
Baraka can infuse itself into all things, at different levels, such as jewelry, talismans, ceramics, textiles; it can also be in artistic vocabulary (like song & dance), suffuse itself in plants like henna and oleander, sandalwood, saffron, and myrrh. So what is Baraka exactly and why is it so prominent in this culture? Baraka traditionally thought and used to deal with the darker forces of life, curing illnesses and protecting oneself against the evil jnoun (spirits) and the evil eye.
For example, I say an adorable little boy on the street in Marrakech, and told the mother ‘oh he is sooooo cute’ and smiled and motioned that I wanted to pinch his cheeks. The guide I was with told me to say Baraka, which would deter the evil eye, because it is very common for mothers to be superstitious that you will jinx their children by doing this — so saying this word can avoid the curse of the evil eye. Another example is of a Berber woman dancing in Jamma el-fna with a certain colored scarve over her head to get rid of a certain demon or bad spirit that could be plaguing her life. (See video above)
Symbols of the Berber People
The Berber people commonly wear different symbols and say different words to help protect them from the evil eye. Berber women commonly would wear tattoos, jewelry and henna with different patterns to help protect themselves; now with many converted to Islam where tattoos are forbidden, they weave the symbols into the textiles, jewelry and henna even to this day. So if you see the designs of henna drawn on the hands and the feet of a bride, this is something that is both protecting and nurturing for the marriage that has been used and evolved throughout the centuries of use.
If you see photos of the Amazigh women/Berber women, you may find some with the tattoos I previously mentioned. These tattoos were traditionally placed by the family on the face as a sort of rite of passage (usually around the time of her menstrual cycle) signifying her transition into womanhood.
This would typically happen in groups, with several girls being tattooed at once, making it a very social activity. Now that Islam is so prominent, you typically do not see tattoos on the faces of any Berber woman under the age of 30.
There is actually a museum in Marrakech called, ‘The Tiskiwin Museum’ – where you can see some of the preserved arts of the Saharan people, and Berber people of Morocco. There is also a book to help you see what the different designs of the Berber people actually mean by -Cynthia Becker Phd called ‘Amazigh Arts in Morocco + Women Shaping the Berber Identity’, such as circular motifs in pink and red, colors categorized as light, resembling the sunlight, are embroidered over other motifs. They hover like the sun above the other designs, creating a composition that resembles the natural world and its plentifulness, connecting women to fertility.
Traditional Berber carpets contain distinctive patterns and colors and are woven from sheep wool or camel hair.
The materials are hand washed and naturally dyed from saffron yellow to wild mint green and from pomegranate and henna. These carpets are known for their strong geometric designs, and have been dated as far back as the Marinid era (Berber dynasty). Carpets in the middle Atlas generally have a traditional diamond grid. Even the wool itself is thought to have a protective power.
Berber weaving is highly dependent on the female culture, and is passed down traditionally within the home. The young learn from the old, and are expected to learn all the different ways to weave & loop, and the different patterns, color ranges, and symbols. Historically women wove carpets for their families, and the men traditionally produced carpets that were more specialized as professional master weavers. Each tribe has a signature pattern and commonly tells a story, revealing acts of ceremony, or designs that related to fertility and protection.
The Music of the Berber People
You may hear Chaabi Music while you are in Morocco, and this is actually a common folk or ‘pop’ music that is very common at celebrations and markets. Typically an instrument known as a gimbri (sinter or hajhuj) a guitar with three strings and 4 chords typically played. The gimbri has a low bas like tone, and was borrowed from the popular Gnawa traditional music that is typically known as mystical and used in healing rituals commonly.
Gnawa music was brought up from Sub-Sahara African areas and is common in Morocco amongst the Berber people, especially in Southern Morocco. Other instruments used are the Lira (a flute made of bamboo),
a Bendir (a drum played with the fingers) which has a snare stretched across the back that produces a buzzing sound when played,
a Darbouka (single head drum held under one arm),
and the Qraqeb (or karkabas)– this is a set of Metallic castanets or a type of symbol, originating from when the slaves would clang their chains together to make music & now has been adopted into traditional Gnawa music.
Overall I find the Berber people to be kind, intelligent, family oriented, hospitable, positive, vibrant people full of life that I think most of the Western World has forgotten how to live. So if you have the privilege to meet someone who is Berber, ask them of their heritage and be sure to visit them on a Friday when the family gets together for some Couscous 😉
As Always….Happy Travels, Happy Tales and See you on the Flip Side.
Before we began our hike to Akchour, I didn’t really know what I was getting myself into. I had just arrived in Chefchaouen the night before with my friend Omar and his friend Medi, after a nearly 2-hour drive from Rabat. I had been traveling through Morocco for 2 weeks with very little sleep and was completely exhausted when I started this hike. So my first tip is to do this hike when you are well rested and hydrated. If I had done this any other day, not while I was feeling ill, dehydrated and exhausted – it would have been a Moderate hike with beautiful surroundings. That being said, here is my personal experience when hiking to Akchour and some of the tips and mistakes I made when doing it.
It was cooler in the mountains than I expected, so make sure to bring a jacket (especially if you were sunburned from Marrakech like I was). There were a few clouds resting on the mountain side which gave this place even more of a mysterious and magical feeling than before. When you come to Chefchaouen, you feel as if it is the calmest place on the planet. The locals are very welcoming to tourists and incredibly helpful. The locals don’t get irritated with travelers like other popular destinations I have seen or lived in.
We went to grab dinner at the old Medina, hiking up the narrow passageways to the center of town. Omar picked a café that had quite a few locals in it and we sat down to order our Tagines. I ordered a Vegetable Tagine that really hit the spot.
This was my first mistake: I didn’t eat any protein the night before the hike to Akchour waterfalls. We left the Medina and headed back to our guest house to get some much-needed sleep so we could wake early the next morning and start our hike to Cascades D’Akchour.
Omar kept telling me, “the hike to Akchour waterfalls is hard Janiel, its 1 hour and 30 minutes hike” — well he looked about the same physical shape I was in, and I had been working with a trainer, so I thought, “Oh, I’ll be fine, he doesn’t know what he is talking about.” That was my second mistake….. We left for Akchour and had a little trouble finding the way, but after asking several locals the correct roads to take, we were able to arrive in time to start (and finish) the hike.
Traveler tip: You can catch a Grand Taxi in the center of town but try and get a local or the hotel/hostel/guest house personnel to negotiate a good price for you. A fair price would be around 250 Dirham (with tip included), which is around $25. Just make sure they are willing to take you back into town as well. Bring extra cash with you for the return trip to Chefchaouen and for some important items I will explain later, as well as your own towel, a jacket or sweater, and a water bottle.
The road to Akchour passes through some of the most beautiful country I have ever seen in all of my travels. I literally filled my 64 GB memory card with hundreds of images of this breathtaking scenery. Once we got to Akchour, it was fairly easy to find the trail. There are plenty of locals there to point you in the right direction (but don’t expect many of them to know English). We started hiking up the canyon (where the sign points to Akchour), and the first thing that immediately impressed me was the endless swaths of green and the waterfalls that seemed to appear around every corner.
I know you may think that I keep showing you the same waterfall over and over, but each one of these waterfalls is uniquely different and special in their own way. Each waterfall had a swimming hole, that is quite deep, and on a hot summer day is great to pause you hike and take a quick dip to cool off.
Traveler tip: The hike to Akchour waterfalls itself is said to take around 2-3 hours. That is, if you are use to the high altitude of the Atlas Mountains and can tackle the steep elevations of the trail. Yes there are steps you can use, the trail is well maintained; but the steps are made for tall people…..not short people. So be prepared, its like when my trainer has me doing box steps onto the 24″ box step, for 2 hours.
At the first hour of the hike to Akchour waterfalls, I felt like I was getting a good workout. Then we started to get to the steeper portions, and I started to lag behind my giraffe-like friends, who at one point I was cursing in my head for their ridiculous height.
TALL PEOPLE JUST DON’T UNDERSTAND HOW MUCH HARDER IT IS TO GO UP THE GIANT 24″ -32″ STEPS! It takes us a lot more effort and energy! (ok, rant over) — I know I’m not in the best shape, but I had been working out really hard and felt like I could tackle this. They were going really fast up the hill for me, so be sure to hike with people who go at your same pace.
Omar tried to be patient, but Medi was not as patient, and I felt like the weak link. So if you go hiking, make sure people know if you like to go fast or slow and split into two groups. In defense of Medi, his English was not that great, and I think was a little shy to talk to a single American woman when he was a married guy.
I was positive the whole trip, but the last hour up the canyon I really thought that my legs were going to either give out, or I was going to pass out. I didn’t realize how hard it would be, even Omar started to get tired by the end of it. My legs felt like Jello, my mind growled, “I’m going to die in these mountains, just like the Spanish did when they tried to invade. I don’t think Morocco has helicopters that can transport me out of here. I really don’t know if you are going to be able to stand once you get to the end, and if you are able to, how the hell are you going to make it back without needing to be carried”? While this may be a tad bit on the dramatic side, I think the travel fatigue had set in full force. I had been traveling for two weeks non-stop and had Montezuma’s revenge set in the week before.
There were some blessed spots along the way that leveled out & I wanted to just linger longer in these areas to soak up the beauty and take more photos. Alas, this was not possible to do, as a storm was coming in and we had to get there and head back to travel to the next destination. Omar tried to make me laugh, and entice me with the food at the end, but I was NOT in the mood & poor guy… I just told him I wasn’t able to talk about food right then.
We finally arrived at the Cascades D’Akchour, and it was soooo cold! The storm winds had started to set in, and I was quite sweaty so I got cold very quickly. Omar was so excited to show me the waterfall, it truly was beautiful and I just sat in one of the chairs enjoying the relief of making it to the waterfall.
Traveler Tip: Please eat a hearty breakfast & take water with you before you hike to Akchour waterfalls. There are areas along the way that you can buy orange juice and water at the local cafes, but I didn’t bring any cash with me thinking, ‘oh I will be fine, who needs money when you are in nature’.
Omar is a hilarious and kind human being, he just laid back in the water taking selfies like he was in a hot tub. He also had a Cigar that was given to him that he had been saving for an entire year, just to come and smoke in these waters and take a selfie, lol. He really lives his life to the fullest and tries to bring everyone around him on his grand adventures.
The water had to be around 40 degrees F, very very very cold, especially after a hike. I didn’t really want to hike back wet, but Omar convinced me, ‘You don’t travel to a country like this, do that hike like you did, and not reward yourself with this amazing swim. Don’t waste an opportunity like this, this is when you create good memories’. Well, he sold me on the idea, and I went in for a dip. If you decide to swim, I would recommend just wearing wicking material & go in fully clothed, it’s nice to have the cool clothing on you when you are hiking back.
The swim was great, and I stayed in about 15 minutes because it was actually making my legs feel so good. It was like a natural ice bath for my exhausted legs, and I really really appreciated that the next day. (If you think I’m exaggerating about this hike, there were some other Americans there that came up and looked about the same way I probably did – completely knackered. It’s not just about your fitness level– these mountain valleys are the reason the Spanish Armada was defeated here).
We got done swimming and had this wonderful tagine that was cooked by the locals right there. They were so nice and let us sit by their stoves to keep warm for a bit. We ate our fill, drank the delicious mint tea & decided to head back down the mountain to get back into Chefchaouen before dark.
Once I had a little food in my stomach, and stopped being so ‘hangry’, I was able to keep up with the guys pretty well. Took plenty of photos on the way back down, and couldn’t believe how good I felt after taking the dip in the waters of the Cascades D’Akchour. Still, to this day, I keep telling Omar, how magical and truly healing I feel like those waters were for me.
I have never been one to hesitate on things like that until some experiences in Dallas changed me into something I didn’t recognize myself as being. But for some reason, ever since my hike to Akchour waterfalls, the spontaneity came back to me, and it was the first time I felt happy and like giggling (like the old me), in nearly a year. So if you are ever looking for magical waters in Morocco, this is the place to be, in my own way I have now named it the ‘Fountain of Youth’. Because when you leave, you really feel like you have become the young, free and spontaneous self again. Happy Travels my friends, and don’t hesitate to go and see this wonderful Fountain of Youth in Akchour. The road is hard on the hike to Akchour, but it is worth it in the end.
**The purpose of ‘Ramadan Made Simple’ is to educate, not offend. To those who are of the Muslim faith, feel free to comment and help educate us all, and Rhamadan Kareem to you**
From all the movies I have watched of Muslims bombing Americans, treating women poorly & the mysterious secretive nature of the religion — to be honest I started to become afraid of Muslims & those who wore Hijab’s. So me, being who I am, set out to face my fears and educate myself on what the truth was. I don’t like to give into the mainstream media, and I’m not a ‘follow the crowd’ kind of personality.
As fate would have it, I started working for a Muslim doctor in Las Vegas, and ended up rubbing shoulder with his friends & colleagues who were also from the same religion. He was actually from Pakistan, and after 2 years of working for him & with a nurse who converted to the religion, I learned a lot & my perspective radically changed.
Bottom line, they are human beings, who find passion in their religion that gives them a sense of community – when many do not treat what they believe with much respect. No matter what religion you come from, there will always be the ‘few’, who skew the perspective of the ‘many’. Being a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (aka: Mormon, as the public calls us- see LDS.org for more on this), we also have a problem with this aspect and many assuming we are part of the “Sister Wives” – which couldn’t be further from the truth. I think this is why I wanted to learn more, because I know how it feels to be misunderstood, and have people assume things about me that aren’t true.
Quiet frankly, it is hurtful & makes me feel more isolated when people don’t bother to ‘seek first to understand’ instead of just Ass-uming. So after several years of observing, learning, reading (yes, even read ‘The Koran for Dummies’ lol)
What I Learned About Rhamadan:
1- It Is Deeply Religious
It is a deeply religious time for them, which is celebrated as a family. And follows the Lunar Calendar, which means it is a few days earlier each year. This year it begins on 5/27/17
2- Preparation Is Extensive
Days of preparation happen beforehand, each country is different in what they prepare but typically involves special dishes rich in calories and electrolytes that help sustain them throughout the day. (Below is Harrira, a traditional soup made for Rhamadan that is a Tomato base with spices and is very very delicious)
3- Timed By The Sun
Rhamadan begins and ends with the phases of the Sun and coincides with their calls to prayer. The Morning prayer of Fajr (must eat & hydrate for the day BEFORE this prayer); and Maghrib (eat til you are sick, and celebrate the day with family & friends). For local times on call to prayer (for education, I found this App for Iphone and Samsung)
Fajr: it is a prayer & intention of the heart, you fast to show your obedience to Allah (God) and submit your will to his for your life.
4- Why is it required?
Rhamadan is one of the 5 pillars of Islam, or one of the 5 major lifetime commitments that they believe is required by God to be rewarded for in heaven. It is also the Lunar calendar month in which the Quran (their Holy Book) was revealed & in a way is a world-wide celebration for showing God how much the appreciate the direction it provided them.
Note: If you read about when their Prophet Mohammad was inspired to found this religion & belief system, it was in a time of a lot of turmoil – where women were sold, bought, killed. Pagan beliefs were rampant & it was a call to leave that aside and live life as a higher law and it ended up saving thousands of lives within the region because of its founding.
My Soap Box:
Whenever a life is saved, I am deeply grateful to whatever source helped to save it. Working in the medical field and seeing the frailty and emotional struggle with physical ailments; consoling those who have lost a loved one — it takes a lot out of me emotionally.
So realizing this bit of history, made me particularly grateful to their Prophet Mohammad for providing an avenue in which lives could be saved during its founding. While I know that their are lives lost in the current situation with terrorists and bombings, this is not the first time that lives have been lost in the name of religion. Christians have slaughtered those of the Jewish faith, Romans caught Christians and put them into gladiator pits and drug them behind chariots for sport and their are centuries of people doing this over and over and over….in the name of religion.
This does not diminish the pain or the loss experienced by those that have lost their lives in the battle against terrorism; it is a cruel, hateful & heart-breakingly evil thing that is happening in and to our world. But the best way to battle that, at least in my opinion, is by education, reaching across the isle and showing forgiveness, spreading understanding not spewing words of hate that further isolates us from our fellow human beings. History is going to keep repeating itself until we as the human race can stop labeling, self labeling, identifying others as ‘bad’ ‘wrong’ or ‘crazy’, just because they believe something different than us. #endofsoapbox
5- Practicing Discipline
They feel that abstaining from food is a way to practice discipline and restrain for the human desires of this life. Muslims believe (similar to Mormon beliefs) that the body is a vessel that was given to us by God to allow our spirits (or celestial bodies) come to Earth and be tested with all the associated trials that come with being human. (We are spiritual beings having an earthly experience, not the other way around). So in a way, it is their way of proving to God that they are focused on improving their spirituality & hope (if done correctly & with true intent of the heart) that he will accept their fast. In accepting their fast, they will be rewarded when their life is over. It is also a way for Muslims to appreciate all that God has given them, to feel what it is like to be hungry and thirsty all day; so as to soften their hearts to the hungry and sick. Which strengthens empathy, which in my opinion is something we definitely need more of in this world of ours.
6- Are There Exceptions During Rhamadan?
There are those who are exempt of course!
Children generally don’t participate until they hit puberty, but because most of them want to be ‘a grown-up’ they end up at least doing a meal or two with their family.
Those on menstrual cycles & women during childbirth
The elderly or those with health problems
My thoughts: totally reasonable, and glad there are exceptions honestly, and after researching it, these individuals have the option to just go and feed the poor one meal a day for each day of the fast to substitute for what they can’t do themselves.
7- There Are Six Things That Make Fasting Invalid
Intentional Eating or Drinking
If someone eats or drinks due to forgetfulness, a mistake, or coercion, then his fast is still valid and should continue to fast.
If you choose to eat or drink, for any reason, then your fast will become invalid.
My thought: reasonable, as a Mormon we fast once a month at the beginning of the week, with the same idea.
If one is overcome by the urge to vomit, and vomits unintentionally, then he should continue to fast.
My thought: well who would want to eat anyway if they are vomiting.
If someone chooses to vomit, for any reason, then his fast will become invalid.
My thought:if they are vomiting intentionally, well they likely need a lot more help and should get the reason for vomiting intentionally looked at (ie/ Binge and purging is a serious issue that should be addressed by a Psychologist and Nutritionist)
Intentional Sexual Intercourse
If one has sexual intercourse while fasting, then he must perform kaffaarah, expiation of the sin. (Fasting continuously for sixty days or if unable then one should feed sixty poor people).
My thought: women will love this idea, lol, but if you think about it, sex puts your mind into a dirty lustful place. So if the idea is to clear the mind and have it more in-line with the thoughts of God; well abstaining from sex is likely not the best thing to be doing during your Holy month.
Menstrual or Childbirth Bleeding
The fast becomes invalid during menstrual or post-childbirth bleeding. Even if such bleeding begins just before sunset, the fast of that day is invalid and the day must be made up at a later time.
My thought: this was a little irritating to me, mostly because I hate my menstrual cycle and don’t feel women should have to fast longer because they are on the cycle. But on the flip side of this thought, its likely better to not fast when you are on your menstrual cycle and just delay it, because you are likely to already be bitchy & then to add Hangry on top of that — well there would be no more Muslim men left if they had this deadly combination. Just my opinion, take it or leave it. Regarding Childbirth, I totally agree, no woman should be fasting when growing a human being in their belly; it would be harmful for the child.
8- The Three Day Festival Is Amazing
The Holy month of Rhamadan ends with a 3 day festival (massive amount of food and several parties) called Eid el-fatir. And who doesn’t love a party 😉 In the end I came to appreciate a small part of what makes up Islam and its people, and have learned so much from my friends who are part of this religion.
I haven’t met one Muslim yet who hasn’t been warm, kind, inviting, and patient with me and my questions (which at times I know were slightly rude and racist– my apologizes).
Taking Time To Understand
So as with anything in our lives, if you are afraid of it, seek first to understand — and in the end you will be able to make a very personal & educated decision on if those fears you had were founded or not. It is ok to disagree, it is ok to get angry at the attacks that are happening by these terrorists & protect your lives/livelihood and families; but its not ok to lump an entire religion into one package.
So my takeaway? Its a month of reflection, giving thanks, abstaining from our animalistic human natures & coming closer to our divine nature. Developing our spiritual selves, helping those that are less fortunate & remembering the history of how human kind was drastically changed by a book called the Quran.
I have tried the ‘give up something for lent’ & now after studying and reading all of this (ok and participating in some of the parties associated with this), I might just have to give it a try in my own way. Focusing on my spiritual side and realizing that I am a spiritual being having an earthly experience.
I hope that this article has been informative to those not of the Islamic faith, and I truly hope my Muslim friends feel I have given honest opinions in a way that has not offended them or what they believe, to you I say Rhamadan Murbarak & Rhamadan Kareem 🙂
Rhamadan Murbarak (Congratulations its Rhamadan, or congrats on the month of blessings for this month)
Rhamadan Kareem (Have a generous Rhamadan, or generous in the way of have generous blessings from God this month)
If you have ever been to Morocco, you may have seen the uniquely clad Berber people. Full of color, pom poms and traditional Islamic garb – yet the traditional clothing often has more meaning than you know at first glance. The Berber, or Amazigh, have come from a rich heritage of art, color and dance that they believed has provided protection. It is called the Art of the Free People, or the Amazigh – as they were never fully conquered by the Spanish or the Muslim invaders.
There Are Different Amazigh Clans
Each color of the flag has a meaning, and corresponds to the aspect of the Tamazgha, the territory inhabited by Berbers in North Africa. The blue symbolizes the Mediterranean Sea & the Atlantic Ocean; the Green represents nature & the green mountains; the Yellow represents the ‘Free Man’ which is the meaning of the Berber word ‘Amazigh’, the Berbers own name for themselves. The Red is the color of life, and also the color of resistance.
This is particularly significant and a huge source of pride for them and their community, they are one of the few people who were able to defeat the Spanish Armada invasion & especially were resilient in resistance in the Mountainous regions in the North. If you ever see a Berber who is from the North, the men are MASSIVELY TALL, I’m talking 6’4″, and its not just one of them, its the entire town. Go to Chefchaouen, you will see what I mean.
So why is knowing this about their history important? It has helped their traditions survive the test of time, those traditions of using symbols especially and the stories that are behind them. Although most converted to Islam, there is still a very prominent underlying influence of traditional beliefs about things such as: The evil eye, demons that can possess you, pagan worship of fertility gods, and deep protection in implementing color and the type of medium they use to do it.
For Example, metal workers, they will typically have the symbol ‘X’ or scissors. Their occupation is treated with fearful respect as metal keeps away jnoun or the evil eye.
Another example is those symbols commonly found in the traditional Berber Rugs. These rugs are typically woven by the women in the home, the techniques are passed down from mother to daughter, and sometimes to the sons. The sons then become master weavers and sell their rugs to tourists or other visitors to help support their family. Depending on the location within Morocco that you are in, the ‘Traditional Rug’ will change in its symbols and colors that are used. For example in the North, you may see a lot of Blue rugs with Diamonds; in the South you may see a lot more squares & Red colors. Below you will find the Symbols and their meanings.
Symbols of the Amazigh
Other symbols used, may be in the concrete work or metal work found on houses, above the doors or on the gates to a home. Here are some of those symbols and their meanings:
1-The Star of David
Typically found on a Jewish home within the communities. The Jewish fled to Morocco during the Spanish Reconquest & many settled in Chefchaouen. So you will see Jewish stars scattered throughout the city and above the doors of certain homes that symbolizes the couple in the house, but then it is often combined with a Scorpion symbol to ward off the evil eye.
2- A Rose With Four Petals
This particular house actually belongs to a Christian family. At the bottom in form of two signs, face to face, a symbol of love of those which live in the house.
3- Without a Star and Religious Membership.
This symbolizes the love of the couple, and the flower represents their offspring.
4- The Five Snakes
The snakes guards an eye on the top. This is a Muslim house, and the flower represents the couple living in the house being guarded by the snakes and the evil eye.
5- A Flower with Five Petals and Seven Leaves on the Stem
This is the symbol for a Muslim family
6- A Flower with Eight Petals
This is the symbol for a Muslim house, with the symmetrical fan like symbol at the bottom indicates the love of the couple within the home.
7- The Star Of David with Branches Crossing
This is another symbol for a Jewish family, and the branches crossing at the bottom symbolized the love of the couple within the home.
An Oval At The Top With A Date in the middle, and eye to stop the evil eye within the branches from harming the family within.
8- The Rose with Eight Petals
Thus Arab & Muslim, with two branches of symmetrical olive trees which symbolize that the couple lives there peacefully. The olive-tree is actually the symbol of peace throughout Morocco (as well as in Isreal- for my Christian friends, think of the significance of that in some of your Bible stories).
So as you can see, with all the symbols that were being placed on doors, clothing, jewelry, rugs, clothing — they were symbols for faith, love, and protection. Every color has its meaning, and use in their culture, but typically it revolves around strength, fertility, and protection.
But the thing that was most surprising to me is that they also put the symbols for fertility and magical rites on their faces as tattoos. This was strange to me at first. The more I studied their meanings and culture the more I thought about how beautiful the idea was.
Diversity of culture is what I feel is slowly starting to disappear from our world, as the internet makes information more available, and travel is more affordable; it is very important that we not try and change others & cherish who and what defines them as a culture and a people.
Understanding The Amazigh Through Art
The Amazigh, or Berber people in Morocco may be in danger of losing their language, unique practices, and one of a kind Artistic ways in the future. Learn what you can, approaching a culture like this with an open mind and a desire to learn is what makes them have pride in their own culture. It helps them to be a little more excited about their heritage, thus preserving the stories, art, and heritable trade that is passed down through generations.
They are a people full of love, life, and joy and are eager to share it with the world. Those Berber who understand how unique their heritage is, are becoming more protective of wanting to continue those traditions in their own children. Tourists can support this by going on cultural tours, interacting with the Berber Community and buying the artwork, clothing, and crafts that have been handed down through the centuries.
First it’s pronounced Chef- shouw-en & is known as the Blue City of Morocco…..but most of the time you just see the photos of the one blue alleyway that has flowers, and a girl sitting on it in a pretty dress posing like the 50 other girls in line to do the same thing. But there is so much more to this city that a pretty photo opportunity! Chefchauen is close to Tangier and was founded in 1471! Crazy right?!? It was a fortress used to fight the Portuguese invasions of Northern Morocco. Along with the Ghomara tribes of this region, many Jews actually ended up settling here. The Jewish people were fleeing the Spanish Reconquista during Medieval Times; the Jewish people who settled here began painting the houses blue here to match the sky to serve as a reminder to lead a spiritual life (this was after they settled here from escaping the atrocities of Hitler during World War II). The city is not only unique in its blue buildings, but also in the hand crafter articles available in this region such as traditional hand woven Berber rugs where you can literally watch them weave it in front of you. These Berber rugs and their patterns are handed down from one generation to the next, the mothers teach their children & the men typically become master weavers and open their own shop. I bought one such rug, that in the United States would typically cost $3500 (easily) and it only cost me $200 & is full of color and life with blues, purples and yellows dancing in geometric patterns across it.
The master weaver I bought the rug from was extremely generous, in that when I bought this rug he also gave me a smaller rug as a thank you gift! Something to know about me is that accepting gifts is extremely difficult for me, it literally makes me feel like I have birds and worms crawling in my stomach & am unable to make eye contact with the person giving the gift. So for this man, who reported to me that he spent 3 months making this rug I had bought, was selling it for $200 USD, I really felt I was almost stealing it from him. My guide and I talked with him for some time, and he was so excited at how happy I was about the rug for my new townhome. I thanked him multiple times, and then he said this, “The most important thing to me, is that you leave my shop happy”. Well naturally my eyes became all misty, and didn’t know what to say. One thing I know you can count on in Morocco, is that when someone says something like this to you, they actually mean it. The craftsman ship of their products here are amazing & the shop owners here in Chefchaouen are the kindest & most genuine people you will meet. This is one thing about having anxiety, or PTSD. When you endure trauma, it is very hard to trust strangers again. I use to be able to trust strangers unequivocally, I would pick up hitch-hikers, just to have someone to talk to in the car on a long drive. But after my trauma, it was hard for me to go outside without feeling I was exposed or vulnerable to any person I passed. This place, Chefchaouen, it helped me see that there were still good people & genuinely good people in this world. To have a stranger care about my happiness like that, it helped some part of me that I felt was too broken to heal start to heal. By the time I left this city, I felt happy, happier than I have felt in a long time. There is something about the mountains, the blue buildings, the calm nature of the city (which may be from the Hashish, but I love the vibe), the food and especially the WONDERFUL PEOPLE, that helped me put some of the pieces inside me back together. The market in the center of the city is the best place to spend your evening, it has a lot of cafe’s restaurants and souvenirs. When you pick a café, make sure that there are plenty of locals filling it up, that means that the prices are reasonable and the food is excellent. Don’t expect service to be quick here, its typically & painfully slow. This is important when you are hungry and feel like your stomach is going to start chewing its way out at any minute and the whole table gets hangry. If this is the case, there are sandwich shops scattered throughout the city that are delicious, and also a freshly made yogurt shop that is to die for! The guy literally makes the yogurt right in front of you, and it looks like this big bowl of white goop, but oh man, it is so delicious. A bowl of white heavenly yogurt that fills you up and calms the stomach. The shop is naturally very crowded, so you have to kind of gently push your way to the front and get his attention to order a bowl of this heavenly delight. You can find this shop on the street from the town center that leads up the steep alleyway into the medina near the mosque (see alleyway in above photo). You won’t regret it, believe me.
While we are on the topic of consumption, let me offer you a piece of safety advice when visiting this place. Marijuana is cultivated and grown here all over the hills, so if someone offers you hashish, I would suggest not trying it unless you are adventurous. But let me give you fair warning, as many drugs as Snoop Dog has done, when he came to Morocco and tried it, he reportedly said, “D@^#, that’s strong stuff”…..so consider yourself warned 😉 We only had one day in this city because of time constraints with other locations I wanted to visit, like the nearby Akchour, which I will address in another post. So I feel the time I had there was far too short to really drink the city in. So I will be going back to Chefchaouen, and when I do, I will not only hike in Akchour but visit this amazing cave I was reading about online.
It is one of the deepest caves in Morocco right near Chefchaouen called Kef Toghobeit, which I really want to visit this next year when I return to this beautiful city. It is actually not only the deepest cave in Morocco, but also the deepest cave in AFRICA measuring 12,854 feet in length and 2,369 feet in depth! I love spelunking, it makes me feel like a real explorer, just have to remember to bring either a guide or some really long string if I decide to explore this one.
Remember how I mentioned Akchour, well this is a tiny little Berber village that has a 1.5 hour moderate hike to some gorgeous waterfalls & you are rewarded with fresh mint tea and tagines at the end. It is a right of passage to swim in the water, and it’s waters are frigid and invigorating! Stay tuned for more on my hilarious adventure hiking to these water falls.
I can’t say enough about this city, in the short time I had there, it was nothing short of magical. So now I’m thinking of retiring there at some point, Inshallah….. Chefchauen Location/Map: ]]>