3 Travelers Share Their Favorite Budget Destinations

I asked some fellow travel writers what their favorite budget travel destination was and received some great responses.  Here are my two favorite, followed by one of my own. I’d like to continue this theme in the future so if you are interested in contributing please contact me.

Krakow, Poland

photo by Kirstysplodge
photo by Kirstysplodge

Krakow is quickly becoming one of the top European hotspots for travelers. It has filled the void for people that were looking to go elsewhere once trendy, and overly tourist saturated Prague became too expensive. Krakow offers so much to do for travelers on a budget. Since the exchange rate is so good to Americans and food and beer are already cheap, it is a win-win! Check out Rynek Glowny, which is the world’s largest Medieval town square. This beautiful piece of architecture is the meeting spot for most Poles and tourists alike. It is filled with popular bars, top restaurants, cute cafes and chic shopping. After stuffing your face with local fare like pierogies and Zywiec beer, head on over to Wawal Castle. This popular tourist attraction was built in the 14th century and like most of Krakow’s architecture, it has been extremely well preserved. The castle offers a low admission, and in for certain individuals reduced and free admission is available. Check their website for more information. Krakow is a very accessible city as well. Whether you want to trek by foot or take the train, this city has got you covered. I prefer to rent a bike, which cost about 20 zloty per day ($6 US), and ride along the many beautiful streets of this bustling former capital of Poland. But since my last trip to Krakow, they have debuted a new bike program, similar to the one in Amsterdam, which provides locals and tourists with bike rental stations throughout the city. There are about 15 of these “BikeOne” stations throughout the city and more will be introduced this year. Best part about the bike rentals is that you do not have to return it to the same station. Just drop it off at whatever locale you like. This is just a little taste of what Poland’s hippest and lively city has to offer. Four and five star hotels are priced at what most Americans would pay for a two star locale. There are plenty of cheap eats…and drinks. Plus Krakow is one of the best cities to offer most of their attractions at little or no cost you tourists. Flights, which have been notoriously high in the past, have dropped due to the weak economy. While I suggest spring and summer as the ideal time to visit, this city truly is a year round great and affordable European destination.

Andrew Hickey writes TheBrooklynNomad and obsessed with travel. He is constantly on the look out for a great deal to…well anywhere. He has visited numerous destinations around this planet and never gets sick of talking travel. Andrew has written articles and appeared in the travel sections of such media outlets as USA Today, New York Times, MSNBC , AOL, Travel Muse, and Yahoo! You can also follow him on Twitter.

Thailand

Photo by Shane Brown
Photo by Shane Brown

Thailand is one of those places that once visited, will leave you with a special memory etched in your heart. Like a Lucy loves Aaron proclamation on a tree in the botanical garden. Well, it would if you were Lucy or Aaron. For some people it’s the smiles beaming from every local you meet. For others it’s the knock-off shoes and ‘iPood’ t-shirts found in all the shops on Khao San road. For a select few it’s the “entertainment” found in areas like Pattaya, but that’s best left for another blog post. For me it’s the incredible food, made with fresh local ingredients, which you can find in pretty much every market in the country (and on quite a few street corners too). From seafood Laksa’s to Green Curry veggies on Rice, all the staples are covered – and at a price which easily falls within even the thriftiest traveler’s budget. It’s not just Asian fare which can be found on the cheap. The best Spaghetti marinara I’ve ever tasted was from the restaurant attached to a guesthouse on Koh Lanta, in Thailand’s Krabi region (easily reached via a very cheap overnight train from Bangkok). Prepared with fresh seafood brought in by the fishermen that day, it was rich in flavour, pasta cooked to a perfect al dente, and at about a tenth of the price I was used to paying back home. Which of course left me with a few baht to spend on some Singha beers, a couple of cheap DVD’s, and well, you can never have enough ‘iPood’ t-shirts.

Shane Brown considers himself a professional Lion Wrangler.  You can follow his blog on TravelPod. You can also follow him on Twitter.

Costa Rica

Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica
Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica

I’ve heard just about everything about Costa Rica from many different people. From “it’s too touristy,” to “it’s unsafe,” and I’ve found none of the negative things I’ve heard to be true. Once you visit Costa Rica you’ll realize that whoever said those things has never been there to experience the pure beauty that Costa Rica has to offer. I’ve been twice over the past year and an always thinking about returning.  While Costa Rica is maximizing on their tourism industry, nearly everything is still extremely affordable.  The majority of hostels are around $10, and some of the nicest I’ve ever seen, traditional meals can be purchased at “soda’s” for $3-4, and it doesn’t cost much to take in the beauty and nature found all across the country.  I say much, because a lot of land in Costa Rica has been declared part of various national parks and often charge small fees to enter. The advantage is that the land is protected and will be up kept and remain undeveloped. Whether you want to surf some of the best waves in the world, hike up active volcanos, or walk through the rain forest with monkeys at your feet, Costa Rica will delight you.  Just remember to bring some insect repellent.

Jeffery Patch writes Have Pack, Will Travel and does everything possible to see the world while taking vacation from his 9-5 life in California. You can also follow him on Twitter.

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Has Hawaii Become a Budget Traveler’s Dream?

Highway 30 - North/North West Maui
Highway 30 - North/North West Maui

I’ve been traveling as much as possible for nearly a decade and to be completely honest, Hawaii was never really on my mind as a place to visit.

I pictured big high-rise hotels and resorts, families, and overweight German tourists wearing speedos.  And let’s not even bring up how expensive it all must have been.

I can admit that my ignorance clouded my judgment, but one thing I’m sure I had right was about how expensive Hawaii was.   Then this little thing called an economic crisis came in to play.  A year ago I briefly flirted with the idea and a round trip ticket from Los Angeles was $700.  Today it is $235 round trip to Honolulu, or about $330 to Maui.

So we have our first requirement for a good budget destination; cheap airfare.

Next, we’ll need someplace to stay.  The $200+ hotels on the beach in Lahaina probably won’t be feasible.  Don’t worry too much though because Maui has three hostels that I was able to track down online.

There is Patey’s Place in Lahaina which had pretty poor reviews so I chose not to stay there.  In Wailuku there is the Northshore Hostel and Banana Bungalows.  Based off of Hostelworld’s reviews, I opted for Northshore but Banana Bungalows looked decent enough from the outside when I walked past.  I had just read too many horror stories online about them which is why I continued to skip it.  All three places cost about $25 per night which isn’t cheap, but affordable enough given that we are in Hawaii after all.

Wailuku is a sleepy little town with little to offer travelers other than good central point for exploring the island.  It’s easy to get to from the airport and both the Hana Highway (37) and the amazing scenic route 30 are easily accessible.

In fact, my favorite thing to do in Maui was to simply drive those roads.  Everybody has heard about the road to Hana, and it definitely lives up to the hype, but Highway 30 is an amazing drive along the north coast along a winding 1.5 lane road.

Both highways are literally littered with hikes.  So many that you will have a difficult time deciding which ones to do and which ones to skip.  You’ll want to consult your guidebook the night before so you don’t waste precious time that you could be using to be exploring this wonderful island.

Don’t forget the beaches.  Kihei and Lahaina have great beaches for snorkeling or just relaxing and catching some rays.  Both places have plenty of places to rent snorkel gear or surfboard and you’d be surprised how cheap it can be.  A complete snorkel package should run you less than $10 for a 24 hour rental.

So we have our second and third important items for a budget destination;  free or cheap things to do and beautiful nature.

Maui really surprised me by being so easily accessible for budget travel.  You’ll spend your time exploring rather than paying money for tours or other types of entertainment.  I heard horror stories about food and everything else being extremely overpriced but other than one overpriced breakfast wrap I had, everything was priced the same, or cheaper than back home in California.

I know what you are thinking: “there has to be a catch!” Right?

I suppose the only downside to visiting Hawaii is that you really need to have your own car.  I rented a car through Thrifty which cost $179 for 5 days.  I used DiscountHawaiiCarRental which saved me about 10% over using a larger travel search engine.  Add in about $50 in gas and you have a pretty major expense.  This is where it helps to have a friend traveling with you so you can split it.

Not counting food, I spent less than $30 on entertaining myself.  It cost $10 to drive into Haleakala National Park, $6 to enter the Waihe’e Valley Trail and $4 for snorkel gear.  One night I spent another $9.50 on going to see a movie.  Not bad for five full days of never being bored.

I try to keep a fair balance between staying frugal and enjoying myself but I never attempted to be cheap on this trip.  It just ended up that everything that I wanted to do was basically free.

I should thank my amazing guidebook, Maui Revealed.
I typically swear by Lonely Planet, but I picked up this book at the store and then read the reviews on Amazon.  It is packed full of information that other books don’t have and every time I visited one of the more secret places in it, I was either alone, or with only a couple of other readers of the book.  You can’t visit Maui without it.

There we have it.  I deem Hawaii, and Maui in particular, a great budget traveler’s destination.  Thanks to this economy for providing cheap airfare, you can now visit for less than half of what it would have cost last year.  Assuming you like the sun and outdoors, you’ll have a great time exploring the island.

If you would like to see more photos from Jeff’s trip to Maui please check out the photoset on Flickr.

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Costa Rica on 24 Hours Notice – Trip report

When I noticed that I had a rare five days off of work I immediately began looking for cheap flight deals. I’d never been to Hawaii and last time I looked, I found round trip deals for about $400. No luck for that particular week, but I did find a $375 flight to Costa Rica leaving around 11pm on the 4th of July! I booked it without hesitation.

True, I had never been to Costa Rica, really didn’t know that much about it, nor can I speak Spanish well. Sometimes you just have to jump though. I quickly went out and picked up the Lonely Planet Costa Rica Guide and began studying it as much as I could. When I left for the airport less than 24 hours later, I had no idea where I would be going, staying, or doing.

In fact, that continued all the way up until I landed in San Jose. I had narrowed it down to three places, Puerto Viejo, Quepos, or La Fortuna. I took a quick poll from the people sitting near me on the plane and the winner was La Fortuna. So I got off the plane and hopped into a cab heading to the appropriate bus station (I later found out that the bus now stops by the airport but my guidebook was outdated – don’t worry, it has since been updated).

Arriving in Costa Rica
Arriving in Costa Rica

The cab driver warned me to be careful because the area was not very safe. Luckily it was the day time but it was pretty obvious that it was a bad place.

I stood in the long line before I noticed a fellow gringo a few spots in front of me. Somehow we began talking and I found out that Garrett grew up about 20 minutes from me but has since relocated to Utah. Lucky for me, he spoke Spanish well and was able to talk to the ticket seller at the terminal. Turns out that the last bus for La Fortuna had already left but we could board a bus to Ciudad Quesada (about halfway) and then transfer to another La Fortuna bus.

The bus there wasn’t bad but there was no window in Ciudad Quesada so we had to speak to every bus driver at the station. Finally we found the right one thanks to a boy who dragged us and insisted we get on the bus. Honestly, we didn’t know if we would end up in the right place or not but we had faith.

Unfortunately that bus was over packed and we had to stand for over two hours. When we finally arrived in La Fortuna it had begun to rain pretty hard. I whipped out the Lonely Planet and navigated us to Gringo Pete’s hostel. Despite telling me they would have room when I called earlier, they were full. We walked to a couple more places but by 7pm at night they had all filled up too.

It was on the other side of the town (not that it’s a very large town) but I suggested we try Arenal Backpackers Resort which despite being more expensive than any other hostel, was the Lonely Planet’s recommended place to stay.

We were greeted by Diego, a friendly English-speaking Tico who luckily had two beds left. At $14 a night this is probably the priciest hostel in all of Costa Rica but it was a great place to stay. They have a nice pool, covered patio bar and restaurant (with the best and most affordable food I was able to find in all of La Fortuna), and very clean tiled bathrooms and showers. From the street it almost looked like a bar or a club since the patio was so busy.

Shortly after putting my bag away and grabbing a tasty meal at the on-site restaurant, I was invited to go out with a group that was heading to the local discoteca.

The place was booming with an odd mix of Spanish language dance music, American classic rock set to house beats and reggaeton. Nobody minded the $1 Imperial beers either.

Dancing at a La Fortuna Discoteca
Dancing at a La Fortuna Discoteca

After a long night of loud music and dancing we all called it a night.

The next morning I ran into a few people I met at the club the night before and was invited to do a hike to Cerro Chato laguna, a huge lake that has developed inside of a dormant volcano crater.

The hike up the volcano was amazing but difficult. The other three guys who came along didn’t stay back for myself and Anna, a nice girl from Louisiana who had been studying in Costa Rica for the summer. Her and I were slowpokes and took many stops for snacks and water. It didn’t help that I skipped breakfast.

45 minutes behind our c0-hikers, we finally arrived at the lake.  It’s a massive body of water filling the entire crater of the volcano.  After the long hike it felt great to remove our shoes and take a dip.  What is most interesting about Cerro Chato is the fact that there is no inlet nor outlet, yet there are fish living in the water.  Later we were told that the fish likely were dropped by birds flying overhead or that their droppings may have contained eggs.  However they got there, it was certainly an interesting experience.

Cerro Chato
Cerro Chato

After making our way back, we decided that it was still early and took another trail from the bottom to a waterfall.  The walk was very steep but the steps had been formed so that it was easier hike without slipping and sliding your way to the bottom.  A nice outlook provided this wonderful photo opportunity:

Arenal Falls
Arenal Falls

After making our way all the way down, we decided to jump the water at the bottom of the falls.  While it wasn’t the largest waterfall I had ever seen, it certainly was powerful and the force could definitely injure or kill you if you got too close.  We played it safe but it was exhilarating to feel the water throwing you all over the place.

The following day I met up with three college students from Ohio.  They were going back to the waterfall I visited the day before and I decided to tag along.  We did some more swimming at the falls and got a little closer this time.  It was still scary!

I was thirsty!
I was thirsty!

We decided to cross the river and follow the path to wherever it may lead us.  There was another great lookout, a suspension bridge, and even a snake.

Snakes are scary no matter how small they are
Snakes are scary no matter how small they are

Later that afternoon we took a guided tour to see the flowing lava of Volcan Arenal.  It began with a guided, hour long hike where we found howler and spider monkeys, along with learning a lot about the local floral and fauna.  We even came across a large hanging vine and I insisted on swinging from it like Tarzan.

Believe it or not, there are monkeys in the trees
Believe it or not, there are monkeys in the trees
Danger: Volcano
Danger: Volcano

By the time dusk rolled around it was cloudy, as it almost always is there, but we were able to see a bit of lava flowing down the side of the volcano.  The tour was then followed by a few hours at the Baldi Hot Springs.

While Baldi is considerably cheaper than the competing hot springs, Tabacon, it was quite nice.  It resembled a fancy water park with beautifully tiled pools all filled with flowing spring water heated by the lava rocks below the surface.  There were pools of varying temperature, including one as hot as 65 degrees Celsius (149 degrees Fahrenheit).  A few drunk guys we were trying to dare each other to get in.  I managed to stay in for about 5 minutes before I realized I was likely becoming sterile.

There is also a very scary water slide which people were shooting out of at dangerous speeds.  I love to have fun and do stupid things, but I couldn’t get myself to go down that thing!  Especially since the water they were torpedoing into was only about three feet deep.

We returned to the hostel after the hot springs and hung around the patio bar for the rest of the night.  I spent most of the attempting to flirt in french with some girls from Quebec.  They had one male friend with them who told me, “Your French fucking sucks, but it is cool that you are trying.”  I’m still not sure if that was a compliment or an insult but I knew it wasn’t very good so I didn’t mind.

The next day would be my last day before heading back to San Jose to grab a hotel before my early morning flight.  It was rather clear in the morning and I was rewarded for waking up early with this lovely view of the volcano:

Volcán Arenal
Volcán Arenal

I spent the day lounging at the pool with the Quebec girls and got a pretty nice sunburn.  In the late afternoon I had to run to catch my bus back to San Jose.   I was planning on meeting up with Anna, who was doing the same thing as me.  We were going to meet up and share a hotel or find a hostel but I was never able to find her.  Her bus (from a different part of the country) was rescheduled and she ended up heading somewhere else.  No problem, except she had no way to contact me.

I was hanging around the extremely dodgy part of San Jose, the Coca Cola bus terminal for a few hours too long.  What a scary place.  I’ve been to some sketchy neighborhoods in my day but this was the worst.  There were people shooting heroin in the small alleys next to prostitutes going to town on lonely homeless guys.  Plus, an elderly guy grabbed attempted to mug me by grabbing my backpack shoulder strap and pulling me into an alley.  I pushed him away and headed for a small dodgy hotel whose name I recognized from the Lonely Planet.  It wasn’t very clean, but I was able to lock my door and stay safe for the night.  Plus, it was only a few dollars.  It would do for a few hours of rest before grabbing a taxi back to the airport at 5am.

While this final experience in Costa Rica may sound pretty bad, it hardly put a damper on my trip.  The rest of it was so beautiful that this didn’t even matter.   Next time I know where NOT to spend my night though!

Morocco, not your typical spring break destination

Here is a short article I wrote for Dig Magazine, CSULB’s monthly publication. My day-by-day travelogue is posted here on Have Pack, Will Travel.

“Where is all the sand?” I thought to myself when I landed at Mohammed V Airport in Casablanca, Morocco. It turns out that much of Morocco is actually very dense with forests and vegetation. The Mediterranean climate is much more comfortable than one would imagine when contemplating a visit to North Africa.

“Bienvenue en Maroc! Welcome in Maroc!” I frequently heard while walking down busy streets. Not knowing whether I was French, English, or American, they were sure to cover their bases and make sure I understood that I was welcome in their country.

Continue reading “Morocco, not your typical spring break destination”

From Casablanca to Tangiers – Morocco trip report

    Enjoy my travelogue about my week-long journey through Morocco.  Such an amazing place full of life, language, and culture.  Morocco ranks very high on my list of places I would recommend backpackers visit.

    Time to depart – Morocco/Madrid, Day 6

    We all had to leave pretty early to reach our respective destinations so we had set the alarm for 4:00am.  Perfect timing as the morning call to prayer was just sounding as we awoke.

    It was freezing at that time of the morning but we started packing up and getting ready to leave as quietly as possible so we didn’t wake up any of the other visitors.

    Unfortunately we had a last minute change of plans.  One of the girls had become pretty ill and didn’t feel she could make the 6-8 hour bus ride.  They already had ferry tickets booked from that port, but decided to take the taxi with me to Tangiers as it was only a 2 hour drive and they book a ferry from there.

    Once we were dropped off at the main taxi terminal it was time to say goodbye.  Our driver already grabbed another driver who would take me to the airport so the goodbyes were very short.  In fact, once I hopped in the taxi and started driving away I realized there was so much I didn’t get a chance to say to my new friends.  I am sure I would have enjoyed my trip just fine even if I did not meet them, but spending it with them was wonderful.  It’s amazing how you can meet people from halfway around the world and become instant friends.  We enjoyed several days together and shared moments that will last us all a lifetime.  Then, before you know it, it’s all over and you might not ever see them again.

    Well thank goodness for the internet at least so we can all keep in touch occasionally.

    The airport is about an hours drive from the center of Tangiers so I had a bit of time to chat with the driver.  The only problem was the language barrier.  Tangiers, being so close to the tip of Spain, has a heavy Spanish influence and many people from Tangiers speak Spanish.  Of course, the driver spoke Arabic, but to my surprise he didn’t speak French!  Nearly everybody speaks Arabic and French in Morocco.  Being from Southern California, I understand Spanish pretty well, but I don’t speak it all that great.  The same went for him with French.  So for an hour we talked about all kinds of things, Morocco, food, my trip, where I was from, and even American politics.  But the funny thing was that he continued speaking in Spanish, and I would respond in French.  It was the best we could do and we both understood eachother fairly well.  It was amusing to say the least.

    The Tangiers airport was small but hectic.  There were no assigned seats on the EasyJet flight and despite being in the first bording class, I was not able to get through the rush of people until the very end.  The Spanish passengers who must have all been on holiday were quite rude and didn’t seem to care for the airport’s procedures.

    The flight was only about an hour and I soon arrived in Madrid.  I found a payphone and called Vicky, a girl from Lithuania who was now living in Madrid.  I met her on CouchSurfing and she told me to call her when I arrived.  She was unable to host me, but recommended an area where I could find a cheap and safe place to stay.  I took the metro there and found a private room in a two-star hostel for 50 euros.  It didn’t seem to pricey at the time but once I did the conversion I realized it was about $80!

    Vicky and I planned on meeting up around 9:00pm to grab a drink and do some sight seeing.  Until then, I enjoyed my nice clean room and took a HOT shower.  It was nice to have a private room, bathroom, and hot shower for a change.

    Since I had an early morning flight and was only in Madrid for the night, I ventured out to see the city.  I was given a nice walking map at the airport and it came in very handy.  I walked all over the area near Puerto del Sol just gazing at the beautiful buildings, cobble stone roads, and amazing statues.  There was a food and music festival going on in one of the squares so I listened to a great jazz band and was tempted to try some fresh prosciutto (ham/bacon, a specialty of Madrid).

    I was quite hungry and decided to get dinner before meeting up with Vicky.  Madrid has more restaurants in such a small area than I have ever see before.  The choices were virtually limitless and I had a hard time deciding on what to eat.  Once I found a menu that looked good I grabbed a seat on the patio and did some people watching.  I was disappointed to find out that they were already out of the paella dish I wanted to try.  I was tempted to go somewhere else but I didn’t and regretted it.  My meal wasn’t very good at all.  A chicken and rice dish with a half-cooked egg yolk cracked over the top.  It wasn’t horrible, but it wasn’t great either.  Unfortunately it upset my stomach later though so that was disappointing.

    I did some more walking around and ran across Cervantes statue in one of the parks.  Something about it really struck me.  Maybe it was that I had just finished reading Don Quixote a couple of months prior.  Or it could have been how my professor had told us about this exact statue that was erected for the great Spanish author.  Whatever it was, I had completely forgotten that it was there and found it only by chance.  Don Quixote was an amazing book and Cervantes a wonderful writer.  My only wish was that I was profeccient enough in Spanish to read it in its native language.

    It was time to meet up with Vicky so I headed to Puerta del Sol where all the young people hung out.  I found Vicky and we decided to go grab a drink.  We sat down in a bar that was playing some loud electro music and after one mojito for her, and one diet coke for me, we decided to leave.

    Vicky was fairly new to the area.  She moved there from Lithuania to study.  I was impressed that she could speak Spanish and English fluently, not to mention her native language.

    Madrid really is a wonderful city to just simply wander by foot.  We did that for a while and she pointed out a few popular landmarks to me.  Eventually we decided it was late and she asked where I was staying so she could take me there.  I told her that I had my map and had already mastered the city, so I insisted on walking her home and then making my way back.  Anyway, it offered me a bit more sightseeing before I had to leave.  OK, I got a little lost on the way back when I put my map away, but that’s OK.  Whenever I realized I didn’t know where I was, I just pulled the map out and figured out my location.

    Finally I returned for the night and fell asleep quickly.  In the morning it was time to pack my bag and take the metro back to the airport.  The week had flown by and I had an amazing time.  I wished I could have stayed longer but I had to get back to my job and school.

    Madrid at night
    Madrid at night

    Enjoying the Rif mountains of Chefchaouen – Morocco, Day 5

    4/2/08

    After our wonderful night we awoke and decided to go see what was available for breakfast in the square.  There are a handful of small restaurants all which must cater to the tourists of Chefchaouen.  At the time, we were about the only ones.  We saw one or two other small groups that obviously weren’t from around there and the patios at the restaurants were pretty much deserted.

    Each place staffed an English speaking employee to recruit people who walked past.  They all seemed to offer the same small selection for breakfast so we sat down at one and enjoyed some fresh orange juice, a selection of bread and jams, and a cup of coffee.  The girls opted for mint tea.  Even though my teeth were rotting from all the sugar in the mint teas I had already drank that week, I probably should have ordered another cup as well instead of coffee.  It’s the official Moroccan drink and you should really enjoy it when it’s available!

    Lauren & Lizzie in Chefchaouen
    Lauren & Lizzie in Chefchaouen

    After eating the girls wanted to walk around the shops and see what was for sale.  Rob and I decided that we MUST check our email so we went to the internet cafe.

    When we were finished getting our internet fix we walked back to our room and ran in to Youssef again.  He invited us over to where he lived (right next to the small hotel we were staying at).  We sat down in his modest place and started talking.  His walls were lined with rugs that he wove.  Although our tastes obviously differ, many of them were very impressive and I could only imagine the time it woudl take to complete just one, let alone the dozens he had.

    He offered a coca-cola and we politely accepted.  He ran downstairs and was gone for several minutes.  When he returned sweating, with two ice cold coca-colas in hand, we were a little confused as to where he went.  He told us he ran down to the store to buy them for us! We felt terrible and apologized.  We assumed he had them on hand and that’s why he offered them to us.  Again, he told us that it was not a problem and that we were his guests in not only his home, but his city and he wanted to make us feel welcome.  Such a kind gesture is unheard of where we come from so Rob and I were extremely touched by the generosity shown by Youssef.

    He asked what we were planning on doing for the day and we told him that we were going to walk around and see the city.  He told us there were some great hikes up the hills and he would love to show us.  Even if we wanted to turn him down, I don’t think he would have let us so we gladly accepted and went off to find the girls.

    Rob, Jeff, Lizzy, Youssef (our new friend, guide, host, etc)
    Rob, Jeff, Lizzy, Youssef (our new friend, guide, host, etc)

    We began to walk up a pathway that overlooked an area of a stream that was built so the locals could wash their clothes.

    Locals washing their clothes in the fresh spring water
    Locals washing their clothes in the fresh spring water

    We continued hiking up side of the hill and were soon rewarded with beautiful views of Chefchaouen.

    Lovely views of Chefchaouen
    Lovely views of Chefchaouen

    Eventually we reached what Youssef called “Spanish Mosque” but I believe it to also be called the “Destroyed Mosque” based on the guidebook.  It was a very small structure, maybe 10 feet x 10 feet, with narrow stairs that went up a couple of stories to provide a wonderful view of the valley down below.

    View from the the top of the destroyed Spanish Mosque
    View from the the top of the destroyed Spanish Mosque

    After taking in the views for a little while, we headed back down the path and walked down the other side of the town with its blue and white washed walls that are often synonymous with Chefchaouen.

    Taking a break
    Taking a break
    Blue and white washed buildings of Chefchaouen
    Blue and white washed buildings of Chefchaouen

    When we made it back to the main square, we decided to tour the kasbah and old prison.  A quick 10dh donation to enter and we began the several story climb to the top of the prison which offered a great outlook over the city.

    View of a mosque from atop a tower in the in the Kasbah
    View of a mosque from atop a tower in the in the Kasbah
    Me in front of the museum in the Kasbah
    Me in front of the museum in the Kasbah

    We were all pretty hungry after the hike and went to a restaurant that Youssef recommended for lunch.  He had a pretty bad cold and decided only to have some tea despite our encouragement for him to eat (we really wanted to treat him to lunch to pay him back for all the help and generosity he had shown us).

    Surprise, surprise.  I had another chicken tagine.  Trust me, these are to die for.  So flavorful and juicy!

    Chicken couscous tagine
    Chicken couscous tagine

    Rob, Lauren and Lizzie needed to purchase bus tickets for their trip back the following day so we walked to the station with Youssef and he helped them purchase the correct tickets.  They were heading to one of the port towns several hours away to take a ferry back to Malagra, Spain.  I was going the opposite way to Tangiers to take a flight back to Madrid, Spain so I decided I would just hire a taxi when I needed to leave.

    With their tickets out of paradise in hand, we headed back to to our rooms to clean up.  Youssef invited us for dinner again.  We were surpised they would want our compay again but we agreed only one condition.  That they allow us to purchase the items needed for dinner.  He was hesitant but agreed.  We felt it was the least we could do.  We gave them 100dh, about $13, and it fed nine or ten of us.  Not a bad deal I’d say!  My only request was that for us to have chicken, since I’m a chickentarian and I really wanted to have a filling dinner.

    Fresh produce for sale in the medina
    Fresh produce for sale in the medina

    I was quite surprised, and a little disturbed, when Mohamed, the man responsible for all the cooking, came home with fresh chicken, feathers and all!  He went up stairs to prepare it and I was a little freaked out but put it behind me quickly.  I guess I didn’t realize that the supply of frozen chickens would be sparse in Morocco!

    Dinner was wonderful again.  We had the tasty chicken served over a bed of rice that was full of flavor.  The effort and quality put into food there is really amazing.  They love their cooking, that’s for sure.

    It had been a long day and we were full.  We ventured back to our rooms and hit the hay.  There was no question that our final full day in Morocco had been wonderful.  We were able to spend some time in a beautiful town that was pretty far off the beaten path, meet some great people, and best of all, enjoy some amazing food!

    Journey to Chefchaouen – Morocco, Day 4

    4/1/08

    I was planning on staying in Fes for most of the week and taking day trips to the surrounding area. I suggested visiting Bhalil and Volubilis to Rob, Lauren, and Lizzie and they seemed interested. After some thought, they decided to head to Chefchaouen, a town in the Rif mountains, and invited me. While I was looking forward to seeing the Roman ruins in Voulubilis, I decided that Chefchaouen did sound very nice and that I’d prefer the company of my new fronds than trekking it solo. So we packed up our things and headed for the CTM bus station.

    When we arrived we were told that all the buses were sold out for the day and that we should try the station located in front of Bab Boujeloud, the entrance to the old medina.

    There is one thing to understand. CTM buses are generally what tourists take, and are priced higher than the buses for the locals that we were about to use. On a positive note, they were only a couple of dollars.

    When we arrived at the station we were told that there wasn’t a direct bus and we had to go to Ouezzane and “see” if there was another bus to Chefchaouen there. Without much choice, we paid for our tickets and spent an hour or so grabbing lunch at one of the vendors at the station. Supposedly I had a chicken sandwich. To be honest, I’m not sure what kind of meat that was in the bread but it was definitely tasty. The cook was very friendly ad patient with my mediocre French but wanted to practice his English by complementing the beauty of our female companions.

    Shortly after finishing our meal we were approached by a man who said he was the driver and told us our bus was boarding soon. He took us to the bus, loaded our bags, and then demanded 10dh for each bag. We paid and took our seats. After sitting there for about 30 minutes and never seeing him again, we realized he was just hustling us for some change. The small amount was so trivial that we just laughed that somebody would go through so much trouble for pocket change.

    The bus wasn’t the most comfortable and broke down twice. I’m not sure what was wrong but the driver managed to fix it after a few minutes.

    A 20-something Moroccan man struck up conversation with us after hearing that we were going to Chefchaouen. He said he lived there and we would need to take a taxi because there was no bus going there that afternoon. We were a little hesitant to trust him but we went ahead and accepted his help in finding a taxi. He negotiated a very good deal for the taxi and asked if he could ride with us. We were happy to share it with him and we covered the cost. For over an hours drive up a small mountain, I think we only paid about $10-15 between the four of us. The only bad part was that the four of us had to squeeze in the back seat

    Eventually we  arrived in Chefchaouen and mentioned that we were going to find a room at Pension Znika.  Our new Moroccan friend Youssef, told us that he lived next to Pension Znika.  We didn’t quite believe him, as we have already had our fair share of people doing anything they can for a tip, but we were too tired to try and navigate Chefchaouen with our guide book’s map and we let him take us there.

    After walking up several hilly streets we finally arrived at Pension Znika.  Youssef came in with us and spoke to the owner.  After a short conversation, he told us the price for two rooms which was considerably cheaper than the guide book listed.  We each paid about $7 per night. I thanked Youssef and went to give him a tip for his help.  He immediately told me that he would not accept and that he was just being a friend by welcoming us to his town.

    After that, he asked if we would like to go get some tea with him after we got settled and cleaned up.  We agreed and went up to our rooms.  Pension Znika is in a very nice small pension with a handful of colorfully decorated rooms.  The best part is the roof terrace and its beautiful view of Chefchaouen.

    View from the roof terrace of Pension Znika
    View from the roof terrace of Pension Znika

    We met back up with Youssef and went out for some tea.  We spent a good hour or so asking him many questions about Morocco and Chefchaouen.  When we were finished, Youssef insisted on paying  for our drinks.  I believed he was being genuine but there was no way we would let him do that.  As we were finishing, he asked if we would be interested in going to his place that night to enjoy a tagine for dinner. We couldn’t believe that this guy who we just met could be any more friendly and welcoming.

    We of course obliged and after a short walk around the main square, we headed over to his family’s place.  We realized by his “family” he actually meant his good friends.  Since they don’t have their own families there, they spend most nights together enjoying dinner and company.  When we arrived, we were surprised to see an American couple who another one of the guys had met and invited over.  There were at least 10 of us enjoying dinner.  We had a giant tagine with beef and an amazing an interesting base of peas and other vegetables and tasty juices.  I personally don’t eat beef so I enjoyed scooping up the peas with my bread and dining on that for the night.  It was very interesting sharing one big plate of food with everybody using nothing but our hands.

    Remember, when in Morocco it’s polite to use your right hand ONLY for eating.  You can imagine what the left is commonly used for.

    We must have spent several hours at dinner.  Everybody was incredibly nice.  Some of the guys spoke good English, some did not.  There were three languages going around the room, Arabic, French, and English.  In fact, the man responsible for the cooking started speaking some basic Japanese to me since I said I knew a few words.

    Probably the best part was the corny jokes that one of the guys was telling.  Meeting travelers is obviously a common thing for them and he likes to have each one tell him a joke or cheesy pick up line.  My favorite was, “Do you know how much a polar bear weighs?  Enough to break the ice.  Hello, my name is Abdulsalam.”

    We were cracking up to say the least!

    Dinner in Chefchaouen
    Dinner in Chefchaouen

    When we returned to Pension Znika all four of us were in awe of how our day had transpired.  Stressed beyond reason earlier, we ended up having an amazing night with some extremely friendly people.  It turned out to be one of the most memorable nights of my life.

    We were wide awake so we quietly went up on the rooftop terrace and gazed at the stars for about an hour.  The sky was so unbelievably clear.  Nothing like what I am used to at home.  It was truly breathtaking.

    Night in Chefchaouen
    Night in Chefchaouen

    Exploring Fes – Morocco, Day 3

    3/31/08

    With some new travel partners I was excited to get on with my first real day of enjoying Morocco.

    The hostel put on a small breakfast consisting of pastries and cafe au lait. The pastries were very tasty but it’s always difficult for me to transition from the typical hearty American breakfast I eat at home.

    Dominique, Rob, Lauren and Lizzie and I decided to explore Fes el Jedid, the new medina of Fes. While it is called the “new” medina, it is anything from new. Built about 900 years ago, the medina is a walled medieval area where most people live, shop, and eat.

    It wasn’t a very far walk so we passed on taking a cab. Before arriving at the entrance to the medina, we passed the king’s palace with it’s beautiful tiled walls and towering carved doors.

    2388724797_a56f511c68_oEntering the medina is like stepping into another world. The walkways are thin and often difficult to navigate with the crowds. You had better be prepared to hug a wall when a donkey cart comes rolling through!

    You’re presented with an abundance of sights, sounds and smells. Fresh foods are being cooked in a stall next to a shop specializing in rugs or finely woven silk. The goods are amazingly beautiful with the exception of freshly butchered legs of lamb and the occasional head as well. That was certainly a surprise.

    The new medina was less threatening than expected. The guide books warn of unofficial guides looking to hustle you or rude shop keepers whistling at passing girls. We had a few people try very hard to get us into their shops, but we didn’t have any problems.

    2388719553_7a85dfcb2e_oAfter exploring the winding streets of the new medina we headed to the Jewish cemetery and paid 10dh to enter. Fes once had a very large Jewish population and nearly every one of them who died there were buried at this cemetery. Bleached white headstones mark the above ground graves and a few small mausoleums have lit candles that look like they had been burning for weeks. At the far end was a wall which offered us a great view of kids playing football down below.

    Kids playing football in Fes, Morocco from Jeffery Patch on Vimeo.

    After the cemetery we headed back to the hostel and had Abdullah help book us an official guide to tour the old medina in the afternoon.

    The girls decided to buy some snacks for lunch at a small shop but Rob and I opted for a bigger meal. We found a street front cafe and took a seat on the patio. For about $4 or $5 I had a salad with a plate of chicken kabobs, fries and hummus. It was quite tasty and the price was certainly fair.

    Back at the hostel we met up with three people from Scotland who had also hitch hiked all the way to Morocco. They asked about joining in with us on the tour. Dominique decided to go at it alone so we had a group of seven. The tour guide didn’t seem to mind. It was much cheaper being split seven ways so at the end we gave him a pretty decent tip.

    Fes el Bali, the old medina, was fascinating. It was much larger than the new medina yet the walkways were much thinner. It is built on a hill and there is no method to the layout of the hundreds of streets. I would have been extremely lost without a guide.

    2388722707_0536401d5a_oHe took is to a mosque/madressa which I was surprised to be able to enter. It was small, but so unbelievably detailed that I was in awe.

    There were so many sights to stop and look at but eventually we made our way up to where the leather tanneries are located. We visited a shop where we were shown some leather goods (the story of any tour in Morocco will likely involve being taken to a shop). After a short sales pitch we were walked to the back of the shop where there was a wonderful view of the tanneries below. Unfortunately the work had already ceased for the day but the smells coming out of the pits was powerful and unique.

    Through out the tour we taken to several shops. While none of us young back packers were planning on purchasing anything we enjoyed the short demonstrations we were shown. It was interesting to see their techniques up close and in person. The mint tea at the rug shop was quite tasty as well.

    2389558930_2a64795801_oDespite not planning on purchasing anything, several of us bought some scarves from a silk shop. Not only did they show us how they wove them, but they then proceeded to dress me up in one and show how a desert crossing Berber man would cover his face from a sand storm. I didn’t think the look was very fashionable for me, but I found a couple that my sisters would like so I bought them each a nice silk scarf.

    One thing I was looking forward to was picking up some spices for my tagine recipes back home.  We visited a big spice shop and I picked up a bunch of Ras al-Hanout to smuggle back in.  The girls all got some henna done on their hands as well.

    Lauren gets Henna in Fes el Bali, Morocco from Jeffery Patch on Vimeo.

    Before the tour came to an end we samples some fresh almond filled pastries. They were amazing!

    When we finally returned to the hostel for the evening we were all starving. We found a restaurant that was recommended to us not only by our guidebook, but a random stranger on our way. I’m pretty sure he wanted a tip but I don’t think any of us gave him one for reaffirming our choice in dining.

    As every other meal I had so far, the food was wonderful. Chicken, golden raisins and some vegetables cooked in a tagine, served over fresh couscous. So juicy and full of flavor.

    The food took a little longer than expected though so I went back with two of the other guys to make sure the hostel would keep the doors open past the 10pm curfew to allow the rest of our group to pay the bill.

    Unfortunately they got lost on the way back and the security guard went to sleep. We had to wake them up when they arrived around 11pm and he wasn’t very happy!

    Several of us stayed up and hung out on the patio again and met some other people who were also staying there. Long night of chatting with people from all over the world. It’s always interesting who you can meet halfway across the world.