The four hour flight from Buenos Aires to Ushuaia gives passengers amazing views of Patagonia and the snow-capped Andes mountains that stretch all the way down through South America. Flying in, it’s hard to imagine there is a modern city anywhere in the vicinity.
Ushuaia is considered the southern-most city in the world. Battling with Puerto Williams, Chile (officially not a recognized city) for the title, Ushuaia is connected to the rest of Argentina by Route 30 and a small but modern airport. Even five minutes from landing, there is absolutely nothing in sight other than most impressive mountain range in the entire world.
From a scary taxi ride through Casablanca to a truly magnificent piece of North African architecture, my visit to Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca was wonderful. This mosque is the second largest in the world after Mecca and is one of the few mosques that allows non-Muslims to enter.
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.
There were an unbelievable amount of monkeys swinging all around us last month in Manuel Antonio. They came right up to us but luckily didn’t attack. I was afraid they could smell our snacks in my backpack!
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.
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.
Entering 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.
After 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.
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.
He 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.
Despite 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.
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.
Four flights and 18 hours after departing Los Angeles, I finally arrived in Morocco. I landed at Casablanca airport and immediately walked out of the terminal to get a taxi into town.
The first thing I noticed is how green the area is. There were lots of trees and vegetation. It was much more beautiful than the barren desert I had imagined.
This would be my first experience utilizing my French here in Morocco. I’ve been to Paris and Quebec, but both times I was not very fluent (I’m still not fluent, but I can get around well and carry on a basic conversation).
“Combien aller au terminal de CTM s’il vous plaît?” I asked.
“Deux cent cinquante (250dh),” he said.
The sign said 230dh but I didn’t care to argue. The difference was less than $3 and it’s a long drive. The guy I spoke to grabbed my bag and then took me to another man. It turns out that the second gentleman was actually the taxi driver and the first guy just wanted to help with my bag to get a tip. I gave him a whopping 10dh (about $1.50). I could already tell that everybody here will try to nickel and dime you to death. The thing is that they are literally getting nothing more than nickels and dimes from you. It hardly seems worth the hassle they go through just to get some pocket change but, c’est la vie… en Maroc!
I was astonished how beautiful the countryside is. So many fields, trees, hills, etc. My favorite sight was all the kids playing football (soccer to us Americans). It seemed that every mile down the road you’d see at least one group of kids playing in a random overgrown field, behind a building, or even in the street.
When we got closer to town I started to notice the beautiful French architecture. It really was impressive. But soon enough we entered the city and were caught up the traffic that seems to come second nature to all large cities. Actually, the traffic probably wouldn’t be so bad in Casablanca if the drivers just followed the rules of the road. I guess in Morocco they’re really just guidelines. Every taxi I took centered their car over the lines that divided the lanes. They would also pass other cars in the middle of intersections and while going around traffic circles. Everybody loves to honk his horn as well. The funny thing is that they wave and smile when they do it, unlike here in the ‘States where we tend to point a special finger in the air and yell obscenities.
After about thirty minutes we arrived at the CTM station. He assumed I was departing on a bus and dropped me off near the departures. This confused me though because I wasn’t sure exactly where on my map I was. I began walking in the direction of the hotel I chose form my guidebook but it was difficult to pinpoint my exact location. They are slowly changing the streets from their French names to Arabic ones. So even though my map was made only a few months earlier, some streets weren’t correctly labeled on it. For example, the king recently renamed two of the biggest squares in Casablanca. He changed Place Mohamed V to Place des Nations Unies and the old Place des Nations Unies to Place Mohamed V. Yet some people still refer to the new Place des Nations Unies as Place Mohamed V so things can really get confusing. Can you tell?
Eventually I landed on Rue Abdallah and found the hotel I chose, Hotel Touring. The owner was very friendly and put up with my French. The best part was that the room was cheaper than listed in my book. I paid only 125dh (about $17) for a room with a shower. The owner told me, “Votre chambre est sur la premiere étage.” Well I forgot that in France (and apparently Morocco) the first floor is what we consider the second floor in the States. They say “ground floor” for the lowest level. So I said, “c’est sur la premiere étage? Merci!” and then proceeded to pass the stairs and walk down the hall. He quickly came out and said, “non! Premiere! Premiere! Vous comprendrez?” So I embarrassingly walked back to the staircase and thanked him. This small hotel even has a small prayer room facing Mecca for the employees and guests to pray in. My guidebook called it a mosque but it isn’t much more, to me at least, than a small room large enough for three or four people to say their prayers in. Pretty neat though.
I dropped off my things and decided to explore the area. I was extremely thirsty so I set out to find a bottle of water. I stepped into a cafe and one quick glance at a can of Coke Zero made my mouth water so I purchased it.
Out on the street I heard somebody yell, “pas sucre!” which means “no sugar!” in French. A man with some missing teeth came up to me and kept exclaiming, “pas sucre! Pas sucre!” while pointing to my can. I don’t believe that diet sodas have been very popular in Morocco until recently. Looking at most people’s teeth can reaffirm this.
“Où vous êtes de?” he asked.
“Je suis d’Aux Etas Unis,” I answered.
He exclaimed, “Oh you speak English! I am learning. Can we talk?”
In America we certainly don’t stop people on the side of the street very often just for conversation but he didn’t give me a choice. A bit odd, I thought, but what the heck.
Eventually I realized that he just wanted to practice his English. He started out with the basic formalities: “How are you? Do you like Morocco? Where do you live? How old are you?” The conversation quickly died when he ran out of things to say in English. I watched as he searched his brain for something to say. Eventually he came up with, “I like horses.” I decided we didn’t have much else to talk about and told him I had to leave.
A few minutes later another man stopped me, also commenting on my Coke Zero. His English was much better and he gave me his address to come visit him and his family if I had time.
While these encounters were very friendly, I realized I would never get anywhere if kept getting stopped every block. I threw the can of soda away and oddly enough, nobody else stopped me to chat.
I found pay phone (they’re located in small shops with several private booths for customers) and called two friends who I had made on CouchSurfing.com, a social-networking website for world travelers. They had offered to meet up and have some dinner with me while I was in Casablanca so I called to see where and when we should meet. The place they chose was easy enough to find on my map but it was quite far, so I opted to take a taxi. The fare was 10dh (about $1.50) and took me across the entire city. What a steal. In New York City you can’t even get into a taxi without immediately paying $2 or $3!
I arrived at the Twin Centre in the heart of the city and waited around for my friends. The Twin Centre is two skyscrapers and looks huge in the Casablanca skyline but pale in comparison to even the smallest towers in large American cities. At the bottom is a three-story mall that connects the two buildings. It is a popular place for young people despite having very few interesting stores.
I waited for over an hour because my clock was set incorrectly. It turns out that the entire world doesn’t observe day light savings time on the same date. Whoops.
Eventually I met up with the three guys I chatted with online, Abdel, Hichem and Mostafa. They brought two other friends so we had quite the group. I felt very flattered and welcomed by them. How many people arrive in a city on the other side of the world and have five people waiting to spend time with them?
We introduced ourselves and we began to walk down the road. I didn’t ask where we were going but instead enjoyed the conversation. Hichem was quite versed in English and I later found out he works for Reuters News Agency and has traveled quite a bit. After walking for quite a while I noticed the minaret for the Hassan II Mosque. I had planned on coming back the following morning to see it during the day but I was pleased to be introduced to it by my new friends.
Built overlooking the ocean, the Hassan II Mosque is truly magnificent. It is the second largest mosque in the world (some say third, I can’t figure out the truth), behind only Mecca, and holds 25,000 worshipers. It is also the only mosque in Morocco, and one of the few in the world, that allows non-Muslims inside.
While we were enjoying the view, the final call to prayer began. It was loud, but beautiful. I asked my friends if they wanted to pray and told them that I didn’t mind waiting somewhere for them.
“No, but thank you for asking. We pray and attend mosque often, but in Casablanca, we aren’t very traditional.”
It was dark by this point and the light at the top of the minaret, which shines towards Mecca, was glowing brightly.
We continued on our walk and eventually ended up at a small cafe that they frequent. We sat down and they ordered me some mint tea. I had heard about it but was afraid it would be too sweet for me. Boy, was I wrong. It was amazing! My mouth is watering right now just thinking about it!
We must have sat there for at least two hours talking about our travels, language differences, what we do for work, and our educations. The thing that struck me the most about them, with the exception of the well-traveled Hichem, was how curious they were about America and the rest of the world. They told me that they don’t get to travel often because it is very difficult to get a visa to most places. I think that is something Americans take for granted. We can go nearly anywhere without a visa yet much of the world does not have the same luxury.
It was quite late by this point and I was starving for food. I was enjoying the company very much, but I had expected to eat dinner much earlier and I was beginning to feel sick. They decided to finally get up and we continued to walk around the town. Soon we came upon another small café and sat down at a table outside. They asked what I wanted to eat. I had no idea so I said I would have whatever they are having but that the only meat I like to eat is chicken. They all ordered some chawarma. I had no clue what was in it but it was pretty tasty.
After eating we decided it was time to part ways. The only problem was that I had no idea where we were. I figured I would just grab a taxi but Mostaffa told me he lives near the area I am staying and would walk back with me. I thought that was incredibly nice of him and of course I accepted. Mostaffa’s English was not the best compared to the rest of the bunch, but he was very eager to talk and practice. I found out he was a huge fan of rock and roll. Mostly the classics like Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, and even Johnny Cash. He told me that he plays guitar and can play a lot of Dylan songs. It was one of those moments where I realized that even though we can live on opposite sides of the planet, practice different religions, and have cultures that are vastly different, we still have many things in common. It’s funny how music can bring so many people together.
Along the way we walked through part of the medina where many of the locals live. I was surprised to see quite a few young people out playing football in a cement park. It reminded me of the basketball courts in New York City. Even though I don’t play, I found myself wanting to just go run around with them and kick the ball a bit. Immediately the ball came flying at me due to an errant kick. I kicked it back towards them but it hit a telephone pole and came bouncing right back to me. I guess I’m not the most talented soccer player!
Eventually we arrived at the street for my hotel and I realized where I was. I thanked him for his generosity and told him I hoped to see him again.
Even though there wasn’t much in Casablanca for me to see as a tourist, I found myself overwhelmed by the kindness of these strangers who welcomed me to their city. I was certain that had it not been for them I would have had a disappointing night in Casablanca. While it is likely one of the only Moroccan cities most Americans can name, there aren’t many reasons to visit. I was glad my new friends gave me a reason to be there, if only for a day.