Captivated by Marrakech

Into Jardin d'Issil

Into Jardins d’Issil

About twenty minutes outside of Marrakech, at the end of a dirt road separating the Moroccan desert from long aisles of olive trees, is Les Jardins d’Issil.  The twelve acres of meticulously landscaped and maintained gardens are the backdrop for a series of Lawrence of Arabia-style tents, complete with toilets, showers, beds, and air conditioning.  Butterflies drift across the paths between flowers, and birds chatter in the arches of bougainvillea.  Jardins d’Issil has a ten hole mini golf course and a pool, but our preferred place to relax at the end of the day was the restaurant’s patio (which caters amazing meals) with a glass of red wine surrounded by the soft glow of Moroccan lamps as the sunlight dwindled on the horizon.  The combination of sun and wind create the perfect temperature during the day and nights cool down enough for long pants with a short sleeved shirt.  Sarah called it “glamping”, glamorous camping, and that’s just what it was.   Continue reading

Sacré bleu! Canalboat Part Deux

Aine fighting off a fever on the train to Agen

Aine fighting off a fever on the train to Agen

Here was the plan, simple and elegant, designed by veteran travellers- Sarah, the kids and I would arrive in Paris at 6:30AM and sort out transportation to Agen, France, while Adrian’s plane comes in at 10:00.  Adrian Vibers me once he’s landed, we rendezvous at the train station, and we’re off to Agen where we meet my parents who guide us to the canalboat for a week excursion.  Wine, cheese, and salty, cured meats on deck while we coast through locks and canals of southwest France?  Mais oui!  Here’s what really happened- both kids were running fevers (Áine threw up on Sarah in flight), Adrian’s plane arrived an hour late, the internet was not working in Charles de Gaulle Airport for Viber, the annual French strikes stopped the trains to Agen and every transportation alternative was different and undecipherable depending on who you ask.  Zut alors!  Here was the solution- I procured directions to another Parisian train station, power-walked the airport to scour for Adrian (only to find him headed my way), scooped up the family and headed to a minibus that whisked us to Gare Montparnasse, hoping to catch a train there.  And here, mes amis, is the coup de grâce- we made it to Montparnasse at 12:20, racing for a 12:25 boarding and were informed that the train was full and we would not be allowed on.  So with a wink from the conductor, we rammed our oversized luggage onto a train we were 70% sure was going to Agen and hopped in without tickets. Soon, we were speeding south through the French countryside.  My parents never heard from us that day, so it was with fleeting hope they waited at the Agen station for the last Paris train to arrive, from which we disembarked, disheveled and exhausted, but intact and ready for a glass of wine.   Continue reading

Into Africa’s Rugged Interior

Looking out onto the Congolese jungle

Looking down on the Congolese jungle from the air

Rwanda.  For my generation, the name still conjures horrific images of a ferocious civil war and the genocide of what many estimate a million people.  After a military victory ended the brutality, Rwanda seemed to drop out of the media and fade from attention.  Unsurprisingly, this small, central African country has never come up on my travel radar until living in Nigeria, where a few intrepid teachers and expats have returned with wondrous stories of mountainous landscapes and exciting creature encounters.  The weeks of school since winter vacation were monotonous enough to be devoid of blog fodder, and we were desperate for a commercial break from Lagos. Our travel agent this trip was our friend Darlene, who researched a number of tours until she landed one that would fit our group of five adults and four kids.  Soon we were flying east over the rainforests of Africa, which began as a vast ocean forest of green, then wrinkled into the central African mountains, spread below our plane like a disheveled emerald blanket.  I swear Adrian and I had every intention of looking through the itinerary before we left, but the frowns of disapproval from Darlene and Sarah when we didn’t know what we were doing day to day were worth it.   Continue reading

Dear Indonesia,

Sleeping to Doha

Sleeping to Doha

Two years ago we came to you, a wayward orphan family escaping American suburbia to start a new chapter in life, and you took us in.  We brought little and had few expectations, and you generously nurtured and provided for us.  Our children now consider you their home.  Because of a job offer we couldn’t refuse, it’s time for us to move on.  I typed this to you on our flight back to New England for the summer.  Sarah and the kids were sound asleep with the rest of the passengers under the dim, backlit glow in Qatar Airway’s fuselage.  Just a few hours before we had our last meal with friends at La Piazza and said a tearful good-bye to our Indonesian family, Iin and Atik, after rushing to fit the last of Áine’s stuffed animals into the empty corners of our eight oversized suitcases and get to the airport on time.  When the plane took off, I couldn’t get myself to look out the window as you faded into the distance. Continue reading

Gili Air: One Last Indonesian Getaway

 GoPro footage courtesy of Caitlin Doonan and Brent Wingers.

What Gili Air is all about

Sarah has become both our financial advisor and our travel agent, which make for strange bedfellows.  We were looking in the face of our last vacation in Indonesia, an extended weekend holiday for the Ascensions of Jesus and Mohammed, just days away.  Our decision on what to do had become something of a cold war- I wanted to get out of Kelapa Gading and Sarah was advising against it.  We have big plans over the next few months, and Sarah’s purse strings were tightening.  Brent and Caitlin had already booked for their stay on Gili Air and what a better way to ruin a pre-wedding getaway than to invite a family with two overactive kids.  The more I tried to convince Sarah, the more she hesitated, so I resorted to my secret weapon- I sent Caitlin and Brent to sell the idea in the library while Sarah was working.  By the end of the day, we had plane tickets and a place to stay. Continue reading

Seeking Solace on Indonesia’s Secluded Island Jewel

KeiWhen you are getting battered from all sides long enough, a small voice tells you at some point its time to stop swimming upstream, step out of the river and get your head together. As Chinese New Year approached, a four-day weekend for our school, I was mulling around a few travel options. Sarah had already decided to stay home with the kids but was graciously encouraging me to go somewhere, perhaps tag along with some friends and sort myself out. I just couldn’t quite put my finger on what I needed. The morning before vacation began, I woke up with a nagging urge to just drop off the planet. I opened my computer, dove to the Lion Air website (a cheap Indonesian airline that covers much of the archipelago), clicked on their routes map, and looked for their most remote destination.  Straight across the country from Jakarta, just south of the Papuan Bird’s Head Peninsula and on the northern edge of the mystical sounding Arafura Sea, was the word “Tual”. The spick of land was so small, the labeling dot spread completely over it.  Damn it, that’s where I would go.  After getting clearance from Sarah, who was already rubbing her hands together at the potential for reciprocity through Internet shopping, I bought my surprisingly cheap tickets after work to fly out the next night. Continue reading

The Mainland Trilogy 3: Thailand

The juxtaposition that is Bangkok

The juxtaposition that is Bangkok

My last visit to Bangkok was in 1997.  I was backpacking my way home east after a two-year stint in Malawi and meandering south through Thailand, heading down into Malaysia to then drop off the edge of the peninsula into Indonesia.  My fellow wayfaring friends and I were staying in the Bangkok backpacker haven Khaosan Road.  I was immersed in my 20’s and lacked anything remotely resembling responsibilities.  My arrival into Bangkok this time was not quite the same.  1997- hoisted up my backpack, bring it on!  2015- limped a cart overflowing with luggage and a ripped bag of snacks, leaving a Hansel and Gretal trail through international arrivals with two peanut butter-faced kids being corralled by two disheveled parents. Continue reading