Sunday, May 21, 2006

Kevin of Arabia

Sometime in the next couple of years, I’d like to take a trip to North Africa or the Middle East. I think it would be a fascinating vacation: I’m curious about life in the Muslim world and I enjoy going places where American tourists rarely go. Yet, at the same time, I’m not the most experienced world-traveler and my grasp of other languages is pretty shaky (I speak a little Spanish and understand some French). I don’t think I’m ready for a hard-core journey into the heart of the Sahara yet. Maybe someday, but as of now I’m researching four cities which seem to be more-or-less accommodating to the amateur adventurer. Let me break down the pros and cons of each for you:

Casablanca, Morocco

The upside:
–Huge, beautiful, cosmopolitan city with a well-developed tourist infrastructure
–Morocco is the setting for many of my favorite Paul Bowles stories
–Can wander the streets pretending that I’m Humphrey Bogart
–Is conveniently located near Rabat, Tangier and Marrakesh
–Hotels for twenty-five bucks a night
–A short ferry ride away from Spain, a country I had a torrid one-night stand with last year and now carry a big ol’ torch for

The downside:
–Have weird fear of winding up in Moroccan prison.
–Have you ever read those Paul Bowles stories? They’re pretty scary...
–Not really a fan of Humphrey Bogart
–Me attempting to buy a Moroccan train or ferry ticket with my bad French (and even worse Arabic) is a situation that could, presumably, lead to me being sent to a Moroccan prison
–What kind of hotel do you get for twenty-five bucks a night?

Tunis, Tunisia

The Upside:
–Tunisia considered the most liberal Arab nation
–Full of sun-deprived Europeans on holiday
–The ruins of Carthage are nearby
–You can find flights there for, I’m serious, like $550. Nowadays, you can’t even get to Chicago for that.
–Hotels for twenty-five bucks a night

The Downside:
–“Most liberal Arab nation” unlikely to be mistaken for a Mediterranean Sweden
–Full of sun-deprived Europeans on holiday
–Small country wedged between Libya and Algeria. Conventional wisdom holds that it is not wise to get too close to either Libya or Algeria
–Hotels for twenty-five bucks a night eerily common in North Africa

Beirut, Lebanon

The Upside:
–Known as “the Paris of the Middle East”
–No longer a war-torn, brutal hellhole
–Great museums, fascinating historical sites, amazing nightlife and stimulating cultural offerings
–I like Lebanese food
–Has bad-ass nickname: “The City That Would Not Die”. You think Minneapolis will ever be called “The City That Would Not Die”? Hell no! They’ll call it “The City That Froze To Death” or “The City That Is Passive-Aggressively Glaring At You” or something like that...

The Downside:
–Is cheaper to go to the Paris of Europe
–Things there occasionally still explode
–Perhaps not the best time to be an American fumbling around that part of the world
–“The City That Would Not Die” implies that there are people who tried really hard to kill it

Cairo, Egypt

The Upside:
–Can make an expedition to see the pyramids, the sphinx, the temple of Karnak, and all that what-have-you
–“The Cradle of Civilization”, they say
–Well-equipped for clueless tourists
–Would like to take a boat trip down the Nile River sometime before I die

The Downside:
–Will be baffled by elaborate baksheesh protocols
–Too many clueless tourists
–Not as cheap as other options

What do you think? Have any of you been to any of these places? Ideally, I'd go to all of them, but I don't think that'll be possible for a long, long while. Give me some recommendations if you have an opinion. This is still at least a year or two off, so I’ve got time to plan and learn Arabic and all that...