Lost in Tangier

Before leaving the U.S., I had booked a night at the Riad Arous Chamel, located in the middle of Tangier’s Ancient Medina. The night before we set off from our house in Spain, Chris and I both entered the location of the hotel into our Garmin Fenix GPS smart watches. Upon arrival, our goal was to go straight to the hotel to get our bearings. We knew exactly where the hotel was and it couldn’t be easier with the help of our technology. Or so we thought.

The game began as soon as we set foot on the African continent. Taxi drivers and vendors selling various Moroccan goods were camped around the ferry terminal exit. As we passed the menagerie, several determined taxi drivers approached us insisting that they take us to our destination. The three of us developed stone cold expressions and rarely looked around without intention. The best way to make yourself vulnerable is to look lost or confused.

The medina is only a ten minute walk from the port, and the highway we walked along was fairly clean and well kept. In fact, we were the only ones walking from the port to the medina.


An older man, possibly bearded and wearing a dark brown djellaba, had been standing on the side of the road and began walking along side, greeting us stating, “I show you to Kasbah.” My dad repeated “No” as we hurried to get away, but he stubbornly remained at our side repeating, “very welcome, very welcome.” As we passed a currency exchange center, my dad urged us into the building, later explaining that if he kept following us to our destination, he would expect us to pay him. After checking the exchange rate, we were ready once again to try to evade our friend. We met him again, he was obviously waiting for us, but we escaped after being persistent despite his assertive “Very welcome, very welcome.” We continued walking quickly and with confidence, as we didn’t want to be perceived as lost tourists. Without knowing what lay ahead, the three of us bravely charged into the labyrinth of narrow alley-ways. The ancient buildings were decorated with plaster, cracked and peeling off around doorways and windows. With every corner we turned, we were greeted with the eyes of men and boys dressed in djellabas and kaftans. Open doorways revealed that much of the buildings contained men working looms, weaving textiles of all sorts. As we continued to explore, gangs of boisterous young boys shouting and laughing ran past us, and a boy crossed our path holding a notebook and binder paper that contained Arabic writing. I concluded that it must have been schoolwork as he was showing the paper’s contents to an old woman dressed from head to toe in cloth.


Continuing to plunge ever further, Chris and I glanced at our watches every thirty seconds or so to make sure we were on track. Every so often, I heard a “blup, blip!” as my watch beeped and vibrated to alert me that we were on course. Occasionally, we stopped so that Chris and I could compare our watches to make sure that they were in agreement as to which turn would be the best to take. In times like these, local men would approach and linger deciding if they should offer assistance. Our serious expressions probably deterred a few of them.

DSC00831 -1 resized_watermark

I also began to notice that coughing was as constant a sound of the hustle and bustle, as were the motorcycle engines.

We decided to turn up a street made of concrete steps because we recalled seeing others that were wearing backpacks and looked like tourists coming from that direction. We found ourselves carefully watching our steps to avoid the cats and kittens that had sprawled themselves about the stair steps and didn’t seem at all concerned about being stepped on. In the U.S., this would have been a big problem, but it seemed like the locals were completely used to what seemed to us like a cat infestation. This path eventually lead to the Kasbah and a chance for us to catch our breath from the claustrophobia I felt from the medina’s narrow passage ways that occasionally smelled of sewage.

In the Kasbah’s parking lot, a sandy patch of dirt, we were relieved to find a map fastened to a post that gave us some sort of idea to our current location relative to where we had entered the medina. As I pulled out my phone to compare my downloaded offline google map, another man dressed in a djellaba who had probably overheard our conversation approached asking, “Looking for Riad arous chamel?” I wasn’t quite sure what he had said, so I repeated the hotel’s name back to him to confirm. “Follow me” he said, “I take you there.” He made a waving gesture with his hand, “Follow me. Everybody stays there. It is very close.”


We didn’t really have another choice so we shrugged our shoulders and began following him. We passed a few men resting in the shade of an awning that approved of our choice of guide, exclaiming, “Ah, you have Mohammad! Mohammad is a very good guide!” After a few minutes of walking and several phlegmy coughs of our guide, we began down streets that I recognized having passed through earlier. He finally stopped and pointed at a small plaque that was a few inches above my eyes. Riad arous chamel. We had walked right past it! Multiple times!

Our guide now took the opportunity to ask for payment. He held out his hand and my dad reached into his bag and placed three euros on his palm. “How about ten? three? This is nothing. Ten.” “Okay, four euros.” The man became slightly emotional and I began to feel bad for him. The exchange didn’t last long and after realizing that my dad could not be budged, he accepted his payment of four euros with a smile and walked away after patting my dad on the back. After seeing how happy the man was as he walked away, I now understand that to the Moroccan people, the enjoyment of bartering is valued just as much as the monetary payment they receive.

The door to the riad was dark brown, and heavy. We attempted knocking, but there was no response. My dad noticed a box with buttons to the upper right in the wall next to the door. He pushed the button and a staticky voice answered. He replied with, “we have a reservation.” The door automatically unlocked and my dad looked at me with a worried expression and asked, “Are you sure you want to stay the night here?” “I think we should go and look around some more.” I insisted that we at least go inside and see what it looks like.


We pushed the door open and went inside. The interior was dimly lit and smelled old, but seemed clean. We stood in a tiled gathering area with ornate decorations and after waiting in silence for several minutes, were eventually greeted by a young, French speaking woman and older French speaking gentleman. We told them we had a reservation under Bjornson. “The reservation is for two.” He pointed out in a thick French accent. “Yes, but we ended up bringing a third person.” “There are only two beds, I will have to get another bed.” “Yes, that is fine with us” I nodded. The girl, instructed us to follow her upstairs to our room.

We decided to catch the 6:00pm ferry back to Spain.

Hawaii – The Big Island

We spent a week on the island of Hawaii and were lucky enough to stay with our friends at their condo in Kona. If you are planning on taking a trip to the big island, Kailua Kona is definitely worth considering to use as your home base.

In this article, I lay out our itinerary and each place we visited in detail.

Kailua Kona

Magic Sand Beach

Magic was our go-to beach and we spent most of our beach time here. This is a great place if you want to snorkel and body board. We consistently saw sea turtles here too.


Kahalu’u Beach Park

Kahalu’u provides calm, crystal clear water for snorkeling, making it easy to float on the surface and watch as the colorful fish go about their day. This was also the best place we found to experience sea turtles up close. However, I recommend that you arrive to this beach early as this is when the water is at it’s clearest.

Kahalu’u snorkeling at about 10:30 a.m.
Hawaiian green turtle basking at about 11:00 a.m.

Kua Bay

Kua was another of our favorite beaches. It’s a white sand beach that’s about a half hour north of Kona. This beach also has a permanent food truck and public rest rooms making it perfectly suited for a day trip.



Kamanu Charters Manta Ray Night Dive

The manta ray night snorkel was the highlight of our trip. We checked in at 5:00 p.m. to meet with the charter crew and to put on our half wet suits. Our crew was made up of the captain, Jay, and crew members Bobby and Megan. The ocean in Hawaii is warm, but half wet suits were recommended because the total in-water time lasts around 45 min.

It was about a 6 mile ride north along the coast to reach what locals call “Manta Heaven”, a half mile off the coast from the airport.

Once at Manta Heaven, crew member Bobby told us about the Manta Rays. The most important thing to understand is that manta rays are harmless. They have no teeth, stingers, or sharp protrusions of any kind. This is supported by the fact that they are filter feeders, trapping planktonic copepods in special gill filaments called gill rakers. As a side note, he explained that there is high demand in the Chinese market for manta gills. The Chinese believe these organs filter impurities from the body, but there is evidence proving that this is not an effective practice and that there are plenty of modern alternatives. Mantas could face extinction if something isn’t done to stop this practice.

Bobby explained that mantas weigh between 50-100 lbs per foot and eat around 13% of their body weight each week. There are two manta species: Manta birostris & Manta Alfredi. The largest and most rarely seen is Manta birostris with an average wingspan of 22 ft.

We used surfboards modified with UV lights placed underneath to attract the manta ray’s primary food source: planktonic copepods.

Copepods scooped up from beneath the UV lights.

The boards were also equipped with PCV handles that we held so we didn’t drift apart from the group as we floated on the water’s surface. All we needed to do was hold on and float while breathing through the snorkel.

Once the copepods reached a high enough concentration around the UV lights, the mantas began getting closer and closer until they almost brushed up against us. We were advised not to touch the rays as it would result in removing the mucous layer that protects their skin from the environment. They fed by doing back flips in order to catch as much food as possible.

Manta Ray Snorkel
The route followed by the catamaran to “Manta Heaven”

To ‘Akaka Falls and Waipio Valley

Our route from Kona to Akaka Falls and Waipio Valley and back.

The drive from Kona to ‘Akaka Falls took us about 2.5 hours, but felt half that because of how interesting the landscape was to watch as we drove through.

‘Akaka Falls

The ‘Akaka Falls trail is paved and only a half mile long. The falls make a great sight seeing pit stop. This is also a great place to see anole lizards and gold dust day geckos.

Waipio Valley

The trek to Waipio beach from the parking lot is not for the faint of heart. The road down is extremely steep with a 45 degree incline. However, the view is spectacular and there are apparently wild horses that roam the area.


The hike back uphill from the beach was exhausting. With the combination of heat and humidity, I don’t think I’ve ever sweated as much as I did then in my entire life.



On the last day of our trip, while shopping for souvenirs, Teddy and I decided to have a light lunch because we knew there would be a great deal of food later that evening at the luau. We settled for a small bar-style restaurant called Chill’n on the Bay and ordered two fish tacos each. It was a relaxing afternoon as we watched the day geckos scurry about and approach our drink glasses every so often to lick off the condensation.


Hawaii state parks logo

Snorkel Bob

Kamanu Charters link


Manta Rays Endangered by Sudden Demand from Chinese Medicine


Costa Rica: A Musical Expedition

We spent a total of eight days and traveled over 400 miles along Costa Rica’s west coast with a group of talented highschool choir students. I summarize our trip by describing what we did in each town, what we saw, and the people we met.

“I looked out my window as our behemoth of a bus went over a bridge and realized that we were above a river overpopulated by crocodiles. We traveled along several cliffs allowing us to see many coves that dotted the shoreline. It was easy to imagine a pirate ship anchored in the distant bay.”

Continue reading Costa Rica: A Musical Expedition