Archived entries for Africa

Marrakech

Over the weekend I had a chance to visit Marrakech for a second time this year — after many years of it lingering on my must-see list — and once again it did not disappoint.

Moroccan breakfast delights (baghrir, harcha) in the Atlas Lounge at Casablanca Mohamed V Airport:

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Sunrise:

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My hotel:

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Boarding at Marrakech Menara Airport:

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Atlas Mountains on departure from Marrakech:

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Marrakech, Morocco

Daytime in Jemaa el-Fnaa, the main square of Old Marrakech:

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Nighttime in Jemaa el-Fnaa:

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In the Medina:

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Le Jardin Majorelle à Marrakech

No trip to Marrakech is complete without a visit to the incredibly colorful Majorelle Garden, owned by Yves St Laurent until his death (and the place where his ashes are now buried).

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Marrakech International Airport

After arriving into Marrakech from Paris on Royal Air Maroc, I was greeted with this terrific weather and a fantastic terminal:

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The Egyptian Museum

Cairo’s most famous cultural institution, the Egyptian Museum, is a must-see. The place is filled chockablock with every imaginable Egyptian antiquity. With its crammed displays and somewhat dingy interior, it feels like you’re exploring a dusty old attic. No cameras inside, though!

Simonds

All the guidebooks on Cairo seemed to recommend Simonds, a European-style cafe on Sharia 26 July in Zamalek, so I went there each morning for croissants, cappuccinos, and French-language newspapers. The place didn’t disappoint: the ancient, olive-skinned baristas were incredibly friendly, effortlessly going back and forth between Arabic and French as so many in Cairo do.

The “no smoking” signs were clearly being disregarded, despite there being seven of them in the tiny cafe. Every patron was smoking like a chimney.

Cairo Tower

Every city of a certain size boasts a large phallic structure, and Cairo Tower is it in this town. Soaring more than 600 feet into the sky from the middle of the Nile, Cairo Tower, the tallest structure in Egypt, offers an incredible vantage point for all of the city’s vastness.

The view from the top, looking north:

And looking south:

Cairo Marriott Zamalek

In Cairo, I stayed at the Marriott in Zamalek, the upscale neighborhood on an island in the Nile. The hotel centers on the 1869-era Gezira Palace built for Empress Eugenie of France and other dignitaries when they came to Egypt to celebrate the opening of the Suez Canal. While I’m sure there is a range of rooms, I was lucky to land a “Diplomatic Suite” on the 16th floor with two (!) balconies looking north and south down the Nile. At $125 a night, the price couldn’t be beat. I was super excited when a waiter in the fabulous garden courtyard told me, “Your Arabic is very good.” I clearly fooled him: it pays to know four or five words in any local language…like na’am (yes), laa (no), shokran (thanks) and insha’allah (god willing!).

The hotel entrance:

My Diplomatic Suite:

The view from my room, looking across the Nile:

Cairo

I made it to my fifth continent this week (Australia and Antarctica remain) as I flew from Istanbul to Cairo for a few days of exploring the largest city in Africa and the Arab world (estimates peg it at nearly 20 million)!

I worried that Cairo would be so big and chaotic that I would feel tense and unsafe and unable to relax, even with my trusty travel companion, Mr. Xanax! A friend in Istanbul said that if I thought that city was chaotic, I hadn’t seen anything yet. But Cairo ended up feeling surprisingly relaxed, completely safe and very friendly. Coming from Istanbul, where the streets are littered with beggars (many of them children from eastern Europe, my friend lamented) and many streets are so deserted at night that they can feel a little sinister, the constant bustle and relatively hassle-free nature of Cairo was actually refreshing.

Cairo seemed incredibly civilized: on numerous occasions, I saw police sipping tea and noshing on croissants while they stood guard on street corners (OK, so in America they eat donuts and eat coffee, but this just seemed so much classier…). Newsstands were everywhere, and everywhere people were reading the papers — whether Arabic- or French-language. Each morning I’d pick up Le Monde from an affable Arabic and French-speaking vendor on Sharia 26 July, his cigarette struggling to stay in his mouth as he mumbled up a storm. One time, when I walked past him later in the day without my paper, he remembered me and asked me where it went (I’d long since read it and tossed it)! And he made a strong sales pitch for other French publications he thought I might like. Caireans try to separate you from your money in many charming ways.

I stayed at the historic palace Cairo Marriott Hotel and spent a lot of time wandering Zamalek, the neighborhood surrounding it (on an island in the Nile) that has long been home to Cairo’s diplomatic corps and many of its wealthy residents. The winding streets were filled with surprises at every turn: big old homes, many dusty, decaying and falling down on themselves but all clearly with good bones, plus the Embassies of Brunei, Sri Lanka, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Colombia, the Dominican Republic and more (none of which I could photograph, thanks to Egypt’s rigid policy of no-photo-taking of any government buildings). There was even a Fauchon outlet next to the Embassy of France! Cafes and tiny bookstores dot the side streets of Zamalek, giving the place a sophisticated (while still very dusty and decaying) feel.

I also did the pyramids, which I’m glad I did so that on future trips to Cairo I can skip Giza entirely and concentrate on exploring the vast city itself. That said, they were impressive and HUGE — but overrun with tourists. If you think the pyramids are out in the middle of nowhere, think again. Photos of them are smartly taken to avoid including the encroaching city and suburbs, which butt up against the Giza Plateau on which the three Great Pyramids and the Sphinx stand. (Impressively, the pyramids can also be seen from downtown towers, in the distance on the city’s western outskirts.) We had a bit of excitement on our day at the pyramids: a man managed to climb all the way up to the top of the second largest pyramid (which has had its top lopped off), and could be seen pacing on top. My guide said a military helicopter would come and whisk the man away (presumably to some not nice jail).

Downtown Cairo was very neat and incredibly European in style. Many streets could pass for Paris, if they weren’t so dusty and grubby (most development and cash in recent years has flowed to newly built sections of Cairo, further from the city center). It makes sense: the Europeans had an enormous influence on the development of the city. Ismail the Magnificent also played a hand in its development, ordering the building of a European-style modern downtown. But interestingly, many streets, with their Art Deco architecture, look like South Beach instead of the Middle East.

As you can imagine, in such a huge city, the streets are lively and interesting with coffee shops and shisha houses doing a brisk business at all hours:

Cairo traffic is the worst I have seen anywhere on the planet. There are no traffic lights (or if they are, they are disregarded) and there certainly aren’t any traffic cops or crosswalks. Crossing any street in Cairo requires one to contemplate his life ending. I didn’t take cabs at all — I walked everywhere — because I was so scarred from the ride into town from the airport. The ride out was even worse: the driver sped through city streets at speeds in excess of 120 kilometers per hour, weaving across many lanes of traffic (but somehow never needing to use his brakes) all while pointing out various sights along the way (“There’s Hosni Mubarak’s house!” / “There’s the October War exhibition.”) I vowed that if I survived, I would never return to Cairo because I really pushed my luck on that ride.

Related: Photos on Flickr

Turkish Airlines IST-CAI

The bright and airy Turkish Airlines CIP Lounge in Istanbul is one of the best airline lounges around. Check out how spectacularly they light the art!

My flight on the Turkish A321 was great. I’m always impressed by how European airlines still offer a full meal service (in all classes) even on short hops like our 90-minute flight across the Mediterranean. I was in their short-haul business class, which like most European airlines does not offer a larger seat or more legroom but simply offers a blocked middle seat. At least the food service is still unique to business class! The food was quite tasty on this sector:

Crossing the mountainous southern shore of Turkey:

Cutting the flat northern coast of Africa:

Approaching Cairo:

A great book on Rwanda

we_wish_to_inform_you_0218I just finished reading the book, “We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will be Killed With Our Families: Stories from Rwanda,” a very depressing volume by New Yorker writer Philip Gourevitch about the 1994 genocide in which 800,000 people were killed over 100 days, most by machete.

The author described what took place during those hundred days as “the most unambiguous case of state-sponsored genocide in an attempt to exterminate a category of humanity, a people, since the Nazi Holocaust of the Jews of Europe.” And it all happened as the world watched and did nothing.

The stories told in the book are truly unfathomable. Out of all the heartbreaking passages, one line lingers. The author was describing driving through the capital city, Kigali, after the massacres: “The only thing living was the wind,” he observed.

I’m obsessive about Africa and I think everyone should learn more about it.

“The best reason I have come up with for looking more closely into Rwanda’s stories,”Gourevitch wrote, “is that ignoring them makes me even more uncomfortable about existence and my place in it.”

The cheetahs have been rescued

My mom would call these beautiful cheetahs the cutest damndest things. They are the two cubs US Marines found being held captive and abused in Ethiopia. Thanks to an American rescue mission, they have made their way to a new home on the grounds of the African nation’s presidential palace in Addis Ababa, where a number of other rescued animals are living.

They had been forced to fight for the entertainment of restaurant patrons in a town hundreds of miles from the capital city; one of the three-month-old cubs, nicknamed “Patch,” had been blinded after being kicked in the face. A soldier who accompanied the babes on their flight to Addis said they purred the whole way and “really brought the soft side out in the troops…they were all cooing over the cats like children.”

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Zimbabwe: A forgotten land on a forgotten continent

The genocide in Sudan, where millions have been displaced and hundreds of thousands may be dead, has faded into the background of mainstream news sources, and the latest crisis in Zimbabwe is barely making a blip. In the past three weeks, the homes of 300,000 or more people have been destroyed in the capital Harare and other cities, urban farming has been banned, and millions of lives uprooted as Pres. Robert Mugabe carries out “Operation Drive Out the Rubbish,” a strategy he claims is meant to clear the nation’s cities of criminals and chaos.

“Why?,” Newsday asks in an editorial today. “Simple: These are the very people who voted against him in a sham election, potential enemies who, he feared, would revolt against his tyranny. With famine devastating a nation that once was Africa’s most productive agricultural exporter, Mugabe is now shutting down flea markets and roadside kiosks across the country to cripple the black market, the only functioning segment of Zimbabwe’s economy.”

Below, from the BBC, shots of townships being cleared of homes and residents in Harare.

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readers’ forum on the BBC site offers up some heartbreaking perspectives on the situation, and of the world’s response to the upheaval. “Why is it that the world would be outraged if this sort of thing was done under the apartheid regime?,” one writer asks. “I cannot understand how our neighbours think it is OK that blacks oppress other blacks. Zimbabweans need help, but nobody cares enough.”

• Let’s hope next week’s Live 8 concerts in Berlin, Johannesburg, London, Paris, Philadelphia, Rome, Tokyo, and Toronto (well, Barrie) are not just feel-good events but ones that provide meaningful and lasting exposure for the problems facing the African continent

Canada Takes Lead on Darfur Support

In Addis Ababa yesterday, Canada renewed its pledge to Darfur, becoming the world’s largest donor to thegenocide-torn region of Sudan by offering up roughly $205 million (USD). The United States has pledged about $145 million.

“At least 180,000 people have died – many from hunger and disease – and about two million others have fled their homes in Darfur to escape the conflict between rebels on one side and government forces and pro-government militia on the other.”

In one of the finest travel series ever, the Boston Globe travels to Sudan and touches on the crisis, of which the group Save Darfur says, “Not since the Rwanda genocide of 1994 has the world seen such a calculated campaign of slaughter, rape, starvation and displacement.”

Canada Takes Lead on Darfur Support

darfurIn Addis Ababa yesterday, Canada renewed its pledge to Darfur, becoming the world’s largest donor to the genocide-torn region of Sudan by offering up roughly $205 million (USD). The United States has pledged about $145 million.

“At least 180,000 people have died – many from hunger and disease – and about two million others have fled their homes in Darfur to escape the conflict between rebels on one side and government forces and pro-government militia on the other.”

In one of the finest travel series ever, the Boston Globe travels to Sudan, and touches on the crisis, of which the group Save Darfur says, “Not since the Rwanda genocide of 1994 has the world seen such a calculated campaign of slaughter, rape, starvation and displacement.”

Memories of Vancouver

It’s so tough going back to work after vacation, especially to a place that is so much warmer and so much more pleasant than Boston. The Vancouver Sun reports that today the West Coast city is expected to break the record for the sunniest February in history. If you’ve never experienced Canada’s pacific paradise, you must. I promise–there’s no snow, and people don’t live in igloos.

Get a glimpse into life in the City of Glass through my new travel article, “Vancouver: Canada’s Beguiling Pacific Paradise.”

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A man in Hamilton, Ont., is facing first-degree murder charges for infecting two of his sexual partners with HIV, the first such HIV-infection prosecution in Canada.

“Con-Job” Condi Rice and her Commanding Clothes.

In Darfur, three prominent Boston women see horrors firsthand.

Ontario approves same-sex law that transforms the definition of traditional marriage.

Congo, with 4 million dead, watches the world aid Asia

As the death toll from Boxing Day’s tsunami continues to rise in southeast Asia, a renewed focus is being placed on war torn Africa by some in the media, with a few asking why Asia is getting all the international aid when 1,000 people are dying each day in Congo, and untold numbers in Sudan.

• Also in the news today, Rwanda’s lessons yet to be learned, an Op-ed from Don Cheadle, star of the new film, “Hotel Rwanda.”

Congo, with 4 million dead, watches the world aid Asia

As the death toll from Boxing Day’s tsunami continues to rise in southeast Asia, a renewed focus is being placed on war torn Africa by some in the media, with a few asking why Asia is getting all the international aid when 1,000 people are dying each day in Congo, and untold numbers in Sudan.

• Also in the news today, Rwanda’s lessons yet to be learned, an Op-ed from Don Cheadle, star of the new film, “Hotel Rwanda.”



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