Inktober 2017 "Monster Eye" Mandala Inking Video

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Decorating a Hand Drum with Traditional Henna

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Hi there! So, I just got a new frame drum (my first, I'm fascinated by them, I really want to learn to play) and wanted to decorate it with a tribal style mandala with traditional henna. I used a cone to draw with filled with Jamila henna made with lavender eo. Maybe someday I'll make a video of me playing... IF I ever get good enough, lol. :P Let me know if you like it. Enjoy!

Monsanto, Portugal : A Village Built in Stone

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Monsanto is one of my favorite villages in all of Europe (that I've visited, of course). It is literally built into the gigantic boulders that sit on the side of a mountain. It's ancient and awe-inspiring. A little out of the way to visit for a short stay in Portugal, but worth it if you're staying more than a few days, there's even a bus tour that takes you here plus a bunch of other villages with castles and ruins. (btw, the mountain is bigger than it looks in the photo, you can spot the red roofs of the village on the top left hand side and the castle is right at the top above it.)

I'll just let the pictures speak for themselves... enjoy and let me know if you have any questions. Oh, and here's a couple of links if you'd like to know it's history, etc. Monsanto, Portugal Wiki & Monsanto -

This is the unassuming lone mountain that holds Monsanto, one of the coolest villages in Europe! 

bonus: this is a photo of my son, straight from the camera, showing his "aura" lolol. *really, right from the camera like this! 

-xoxo deb.

Northern Morocco : Tangier and the Coast

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Entering Tetouan. Deceivingly gorgeous. ;)

Ok, I'm gonna be real about travel here. While we (myself and travelers in general) tend to post just the beautiful photos, cause duh, they're beautiful, travel sometimes is a pain in the ass. Crap happens that we gloss over because we want to remember, and to convey to people, that our trip was optimal, awesome, and nothing other than a blissful experience. :D  This blog post is about my Morocco experience only, but this concept applies to any trip really, anywhere you go. There's always issues and hassles and things that go awry... just some places are harder to gloss over than others, lol.

Traveling in Morocco can be difficult. Not necessarily when you travel with planned tours or to resort destinations, but when you travel like I, and many others, do. Where you land in a country and do what the locals do... or TRY to anyway, lol. 

Morocco really is gorgeous and rich with history and culture, but you have to look hard sometimes to find the beauty and you have be able to overlook the difficulties and not so "picture perfect" times. 

** I'm going to edit to say that I really did love Morocco and would recommend it to anyone, as long as you're not a super high maintenance traveler, lol. The wonder of walking through all those ancient places and experiencing the people and culture, and finding the, sometimes hidden, beauty makes everything worth it. :) 

The Medinas (old towns) are amazing and filled with history and I am completely in awe looking at buildings that have literally stood for thousands of years and I love watching locals, a lot of the time dressed in traditional dress, going about their everyday lives in an environment that I consider a tourist destination. And while the history and culture truly is incredible and you really can see beauty everywhere, the Medinas are pretty darn dirty (some more than others.) There's usually quite a bit of trash (among other unpalatable things) and the "streets" are tiny and packed with people and vendors with their wares spread into the walkway making it very difficult to walk -- it can be quite overwhelming sometimes. You also get hassled by shopkeepers as you pass and while at first it's novel, by the end of the day you want to scream at them that you actually might stop and look if they didn't bug you to death! Oh, and I can't forget the helpful (read annoying and relentless) citizens offering to show you where some place is or give you a tour... for money of course. Oh, one thing I did not see though, anywhere in Morocco, is children begging (actually I saw only a couple of beggers the whole trip), so that's a plus. I hate seeing kids begging in the streets!

--I will say that there are some differences from city to city. For example, Chefchaouen, while a little dirty in some parts, was quite opposite of Tangier and the other Medinas that I visited. I did not visit other large Medinas, like Fez, Marrakesh, or Casa Blanca though, so I'm just assuming they are more like Tangier, please tell me if I'm wrong! :) Also, I'm not sure how things are in the "new" parts of the cities as we didn't visit them.

 Cabs and public transportation are an issue everywhere! Taxis will way overcharge you if they can and we westerners are a timid bunch (well, at least I am) and won't argue with them (it is just a few dollars difference and that money means more to them than to us, so I just feel bad arguing -- btw, this goes for haggling also, I just can't seem to bring myself to do the hard haggling when shopping like all the tour guides suggest.) The taxis work a bit differently than we are used to also. There are petite taxis which are small, run in town only, and they usually have meters - you just have to make sure they turn them on! There are also grande taxis, they make the longer trips. They are larger, older cars, almost never have air conditioning and the cab drivers will not make the trip until their car is filled with people (you do have the option of buying extra spaces to have the cab to yourself). So going to the airport, or anywhere really, will be miserable, hot, crowded, and smelly (hot, sweaty bodies). Trains are actually pretty good, I hear, they just don't go to all places (they do not go to Chefchaouen for instance), public buses are a decent option, just have limited times and no air conditioning, but are fairly safe I'm told! Tour buses are a great option and not too expensive, you just have very limited times (they go into and out of Chefchaouen one time per day for example). 

We rented a car, which I was reluctant to do at first because I'd read stories about police pulling you over and demanding money on the spot, etc. While this might, or might not, be true in remote parts of the country, it was not true in larger, more populated areas. I was assured by our Airbnb host (who was a young local guy) that driving in northern Morocco was completely safe and fairly easy parking, gas, etc. I do have to say that the highways in (at least Northern) Morocco are fantastic! Very well maintained and usually beautifully landscaped, easy signage and navigation. The road to Chefchaouen (off the highway) is much smaller and less maintained and up a mountainside, but it still felt completely safe. It was amazing to have the freedom of a car, we visited more places than we would've been able to with public transport or tours, and it was easy and cheap, gas is not expensive there. We drove all around the northern coastline and stopped at a couple beaches briefly, along several look-out spots, and had no trouble finding parking. We did book hotels that had free parking, of which there were quite a few, and had no issues EXCEPT trying to make our way into the Medina of Tangier (yikes, that was crazy!) Renting a car wasn't too expensive either, I think we would've spent almost as much being constantly ripped off by taxis, lol, and we did rent with a known rental agency, Avis, just because I felt better relying on them if there were any issues (which there was not) We even had to drop the car off at about 4am and that was no issue, just parked the car in the main lot and pushed the paperwork and keys inside the glass of the rental counter. Easy-peasy! :)

Be prepared for cultural shock! Tetouan... a little city by the coast halfway between Tangier and Chefchaouen, has a small version of the famous Fez tannery. Since we couldn't make it to Fez this trip, I really wanted to see it, just because Fez's tannery gets talked about so much and there are some amazing photos of all the pits filled with coloful dyes, etc. I was determined to stop by Tetouan briefly to see the tannery. 

We didn't want to spend a lot of time because we'd just left Chefchaouen and were on our way around the coastline headed toward Tangier, so we didn't go to the main Medina... we went to the old souk (outdoor market), where the locals go, which is on the other side of where the tannery is located. OMG... This is not for the faint of heart people! I, who am not usually fazed by these things, hardly made it through. So much so that I forgot to take any photos... well, truthfully, I'm not sure if I even could have, it's made up of super narrow pathways packed with people. Along the pathways are different sections; fish market, meat market, veggie market, household, etc. and each section has it's unique stench and sights to behold. Honestly, I had to hold my breath through most of it, the amount of animals and animal filth in those tiny pathways is incredible. You are constantly dodging people, people pulling carts, bikes, goats, puddles of some unearthly muck, merchants with their wares (meat, veggies, colanders, etc) laid out into the pathway... it was a definite "experience". I actually feel bad talking about it like this now, I'm sure the locals are basically happy and this is normal for them, but for me, I think actually, it's just culture shock, if I went again I probably wouldn't think it was so bad. After the fact, I'm kicking myself for not taking photos or documenting the experience somehow, but at the time, I 

Oh, also, you are constantly harassed by men wanting to guide you through the medina or show you around or give you a tour! and they DO NOT let up and will follow you. You really just need to be rude or downright mean to them, but it's just too hard for me to do that, we are conditioned to be nice to people! We did meet a man at the entrance to the tannery who was actually nice, spoke very broken english, but fairly fluent Spanish, and insisted he didn't want any money, just happy to show us the tannery. We relented because we were exhausted of traveling through the muck and he was actually nice and literally standing in front of the door to the tannery, lol. In honesty, he didn't ask for money but we gave him a few dirhams anyway, and we were happy to. 

He did a pretty good job of explaining the tannery, how it worked and taking us up on a section to get a view of the city and the city wall. The tannery itself is pretty small and only a couple people working and was not filled with colorful dyes. It was full of trash and you could hardly breathe from the stench (which WAS expected because of how they process the leather.) Then we bee-lined out of there! It's actually near the palace so leaving through a different door on our way out we saw several police and asked them for the quickest way to exit. Whew! Worth seeing? I guess, would I do it again? Yes and No, I do wish I'd documented the path we took getting there somehow, it's jut impossible to explain, but it really was awful. I might try to find a different way to get there, I think you can come from above, through the main Medina, and it wouldn't be so bad... but then again, sometimes the bad experiences make the best stories and most vivid memories! :D 

The coastline of Morocco is gorgeous! Beaches seem to be beaches anywhere in the world. Filled with umbrellas and frolicking children, teens huddled in the surf, the only real difference is what they sell on the beach (btw, the US doesn't have the custom of guys walking the beach selling things to eat, but it is the custom just about everywhere else I've been) In Morocco, they sell fluffy donuts and a hot (yes, hot? on the beach) chickpea thing, it's like pureed seasoned chickpeas, cooked in a large pancake and they cut you off a piece to eat. Weird, Tiago liked it ok, I didn't really. I did like the donut though, lol. :D

It's very mountainous in Northern Morocco, so the trip around the top was through hills and mountains, and I swear some of it looked more like what I imagine Southeast Asia to look like. I couldn't get a great shot, just a quick pic through the car window, but there were rolling hills completely covered in lush vegetation. It was gorgeous! It was also pretty cool looking across the ocean at Spain, it really is close!

Tangier... I really wanted to go to Tangier because I'm fascinated by it's history! In reality, unless you're hardcore into it, it's hard to make your way to all the "famous" places. Watch Anthony Bourdain's Parts Unknown Morocco for a really good glimpse of all these places, he has the staff, resources, and funds to do it right, lol. We actually only had 2 half-days there. Late afternoon and evening on arrival and the next morning before we had to leave, so it wasn't so easy, or more accurately, we didn't really feel like killing ourselves trying to get to the most well-known spots. We just took it easy, enjoyed our very amazing Riad (bed and breakfast), had a good dinner, and did a little shopping in the morning. 

Tangier itself isn't too bad. The medina is fairly large and filled with tiny pathways and there are a few "grungy" spots, but you don't get hassled by sales guys too much and it's fairly pleasant. Be warned though, you WILL get lost... criminy, the Tangier medina is a labyrinth! You can't really get actually lost as it's all inclosed in city walls, but you can definitely go in circles and completely miss your intended destination. That isn't actually too bad though, you get to see a lot of local life and some cool stuff you might not have seen otherwise. It's just really hot and quite stuffy (well, very stuffy, suffocatingly so at times) in some areas (in late July anyway). And it's all uphill... actually everything in Northern Morocco is uphill, my thighs got a major workout! Walking around the medina is pretty incredible though, no matter the issues, it's awe-inspiring thinking about how long it has been a thriving city... thousands of years. You are actually looking at buildings and pathways that have stood there, fairly unchanged, a part of generations of peoples lives for longer than my brain can grasp. Tangier was founded in the 5th century BC... honestly staggering to think about that.

I also love how they take advantage of height, with all the buildings packed in so tight, the only way to get sun is to take advantage of roof-tops and terraces. There are plenty of restaurants with roof-top eating, most Riads have terraces, and as you look around you can see everyone makes use of roofs, even if they weren't intended for use. also see tons of satellite dishes which kinda ruins the romance, lol, but such is modern living, even in ancient cities! 

This is the one place where our rental car, while still the best option, was kind of a pain. Our riad had free parking, but it was offsite (which they don't mention) because they actual riad is smack in the middle of the medina and not accessible by car. Getting to that lot, which was just outside the medina gate, is an adventure! GPS was a bust, our phone maps get everything about these old towns wrong. After our GPS guided us up several wrong, and very much NOT meant for cars, streets, we just did it the old fashioned way and looked at the map (on our phone, who has paper maps anymore, lol) So many tiny streets! We had trouble trying to figure out which were meant for cars and which were not... some of them you'd swear were not, but actually were, and that is scary; teeny, tiny lanes filled with people, and you practically have to run them over before they move out of the way, lol (and yes, they really were meant for cars cause we saw others go up them!) It's very, very nerve wracking, both of us white-knuckled the whole time. And, honestly, I don't know who has it worse, the driver or the navigator! The pressure....... hahaha.

Food. The food in Morocco (well, where we visited anyway) is not really anything to rave about. It's hard to find anything other than tagines and kabobs anywhere you go, but they are usually pretty good and I'm not a foodie anyway, so no big deal to me. Oh, everyone does rave about the fresh orange juice, but, while yes, it is super fresh and it tasted good, it's usually served room temperature and just doesn't feel refreshing to me. Cheap though, so there's that. :)

We also stopped very quickly at the Hercules Caves. We got there super early in the morning (which I recommend for just about any travel) before the horde of tourists showed up which was great because we actually got some photos that weren't filled with peoples heads, lol. We ended the trip making a quick drive to a beach town called Asilah. Very quirky place, everyone rode around in pink horse drawn carriages, musicians paraded through the streets, and the tiny medina is where we actually found the best souvenirs of the trip.

Anyway, all in all it was an amazing trip. The car rental was a great choice (I definitely recommend renting), the Airbnb in Chefchaouen, with Naomi & Mohamed, was a great choice (we shared the space with the them and we honestly felt like we were visiting old friends, it was awesome), the Riad in Tangier, Dar Sultan, was a great choice (it was gorgeous, the place is basically one big photo-op, we were met with tea and cookies on the terrace on arrival and had a huge breakfast spread in the morning, and everyone was super friendly and it was right in the Medina -- all for about $60). 

Basically, when traveling to Morocco, you just have to prepare yourself to what you'll actually encounter and I thought I'd make a post that actually talked about that and not just how amazing everything was and how friendly all the people were (although most of them were) lolol. 

Hope you found this helpful. If you have anything to add or any questions, just comment.

-xo deb.

Tetuoan - when I finally thought to take a photo. This is a very clean, wide street.

Tetouan gate, from the tannery

A decent shot of the Tetouan tannery.

Some stage of prepping the leather. My eyes were burning from the stench!

It's amazing that people still process leather this way!

This is a better representation of what the tannery looked like, although still not the worst part.

Another stage of prepping the leather. This guys like... "this is my life"...

This is a great one, this guy is making the regional traditional hats. It was super dark in there, I had to adjust the photo a lot.

Tetouan Palace. Look closer! Look at the actual size of that door compared to the people! Wow!

One on the highways. Most were lined with there intricate street lamps.

Your average beach... anywhere on the planet, lol.

Beautiful water! Yummy donut. :D 

That's actually a part of Spain there! the tip of Northern, well, Africa not Morocco, called Ceuta, is actually Spain.

That's actually the country of Spain in the background there.

So hard to see here, but these mountains were lush carpets of vegetation. Looked way more tropical.

Tangier - old and new.

Tangier - From the rooftop.

A perfect pour - tea on the terrace at our Riad - Tangier

Great shot in our Riad - Tangier

Look, my pants match! :D - Tangier, outside the Kasbah

So cute! A residential path - Tangier

Shopping - Tangier

Texture! - Tangier

A brass shop - Tangier

This is the Petite Socco, not as cool as I thought it would be, lol. That's my travel romanticism showing again. - Tangier

Locals shopping - Tangier

Lamps - Tangier

I adore this shot - Tangier

oh, I adore this one too! - Tangier

Sunset from our rooftop restaurant - Tangier

Calls to prayer! It really is mesmerizing hearing these ancient calls as you're sitting within the walls of an ancient city! 5 times a day, from every mosque!!! - Tangier

Caves of Hercules - People say the mouth of the cave is in the shape of Africa... I see a guy yelling. lolol.

The entrance to the Caves of Hercules

The Cave of Hercules is huge partly because for centuries it's been carved out to make these, grinding stones. You can actually see layer upon layer of round cut-outs in the cave walls.

lolol... mode of transportation.

Another mode of transportation. There's another version of the regional traditional hat, this one has colorful dingleberries all over it. :D - Asilah

Yes, this little beach town was filled with these hot pink carriages! Hilarious. - Asilah

Musicians - Asilah

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