Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Taking A Break

I'm taking a break from this blog for a while, but don't worry. I'm just moving my posts to for the duration of my round-the-world trip.

I'll blog here again when the trip has ended.


Touring Naughty-Boo

Two guys leapt to their feet in the guard house at Camping Chez Abba. This popular backpacker/overlander place had been sold out when my friend Anne Marie tried to go here some years back, but I'd hit it at a slow time.

"Do you have a nice room for me?"

The older of the two (and by older, I mean about 32 years old) nodded. "Of course."

They showed me an exhausted hostel type room that had about six beds in it, and an attached "private" squat toilet (if you don't include the giant cracks that showed into the kitchen). But the price was right. I could have the whole room and toilet for $11. The shower block was around the corner. And that's when I realized I was poorly prepared for showing down the hall. I had a mini-towel (quick-drying) and a skimpy nighty.

I didn't think I could shower, though. Towels didn't come with the room and I was reluctant to travel with a wet towel.

The younger man, Musa, offered to help me with anything I needed. He told me where I could catch the "taxi brousse" in the morning (a jitney) and where I could get some pasta for dinner. Then he gave me instructions on how to get to the place of shipwrecks.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Border Day

Bamba was trying to tell me something. He kept motioning at things. The glove compartment. The dashboard. He wanted me to do...what? He'd speak to me in French, because he'd gotten it in his head that I understood French, though I'd repeatedly said that I did not. Perhaps saying this in perfect French isn't a good strategy.

I fumbled around, trying to help him out. He kept putting one hand to his ear. I dug around in the glove compartment and produced some earbuds.


He pointed to his ear again.

Oh, there was a rattle! He wanted me to find the rattle. Bamba was deputizing me. Co-driver.

Friday, March 18, 2011


I was at the Hotel Sahara at 7:30. But there was no car in front. I walked up the stairs and surprised the guy at the front desk.

"I'm meeting a driver..?" I was hesitant. I didn't have my road legs yet.

He nodded. A minute later, I heard a horn.

I looked out. There was the early nineties Renault mini-van I'd seen the night before. But the man in the gallibya and head wrap thing was gone. This guy wore trousers, a gray hooded coat, and a shirt that buttoned down the front. And he was packing stuff into the vehicle. Including...was that a 32" flatscreen TV box he was piling into the back?

"Is that him?" I had doubts.

"Let me see." The front desk clerk looked out the window. He smiled and waved at the man in trousers.

"Yes, that's him. Go on."

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Car or Bus?

My dehydration-illness had vanished in the night, and I approached my morning dose of bread and coffee with enthusiasm, then typed away for several hours in the part of the lobby that the hotel wi-fi reached.

I was working on a new invoice-and-pay system for the job I'd just left. I had been the check signer, and there wasn't anyone else to do it, so I had spent a lot of time gathering up info and sorting out a digital system. It was working out well but taking a lot of time as I made various screw-ups along the way of instituting the new set-up.

Fortunately, I had nothing else to do in Dakhla, which is a dusty Saharan town seemingly at the end of the world. My only real mission was finding onward transport. Not so long ago, tourists were required to travel by military convoy to the border of Mauritania, then recently it was done by private hire, and now, rumor had it that you could just catch a daily CTM bus.

After carefully copying down the French I needed from Google Translate, I walked to the CTM office in early afternoon to inquire about this rumor.

Yes, there is a daily CTM bus from Dakhla to the border. It leaves at 9 a.m. It had been running every day for about two or three months now. It's 160 dirham.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

To Dakhla

Four days of tartine in a row. Gah.

Tartine is like toast, but it's baguette bread, not sliced bread. I'm not a big bread-eater, but it's all that's keeping me going these days. Every day, I get tartine and cafe au lait (lots of lait, unfortunately) for breakfast. Ever since I hit the Africa continent, it's been bread, bread, bread for petit dejeuner.

This is not all over Africa, of course, This is purely a French influence thing. I'm pretty damn sick of bread. Though I must thank the French, as at least the bread is, without fail, delicious. And the coffee is generally decent. I didn't bother carrying my own coffee works this time, just put some little packets of instant into my pack. The Nescafe guys were handing out free samples on the street one day, and my tenant gave me a Starbucks sample, so I have at least eight days worth of potential caffeine in my pack.

Sunday, March 13, 2011


Couscous. I'm over you.'re lovely but please leave me alone. Chicken schwarma? You're pushing your luck. Mint tea? We're still friends.

In the end, I lazed around an extra day in Essaouira. There wasn't much in the way of formal sights. I wandered the ancient medina, walked around the city walls, visited the fish market, bought fresh-squeezed orange juice, and sipped coffee at a little coffee shop beneath the ramparts. My riad was cozy and comfortable. My laundry came back stiff and not particularly clean, reminding me that I needed to start doing my own laundry in the sink. My search for a manicure and the
rumored 200 dirham unlimited data SIM led me outside the medina and into the buzzing modern city which was, with its open storefronts, streetside kebab vendors, and small businesses, a good deal easier to comprehend than the ancient chaotic city of tiny rambling alleyways.

I chose the post office at the center of the medina for mailing home my souvenirs I'd picked up in Marrakesh, thinking they were used to tourists sending home silly crap. They were, and the clerk zealously ushered me through the process, barking orders at a subordinate who was charged with putting my package together. Easy.

One afternoon I wandered down to the pier where the fishermen bring in their catch. I paid 10 dirham to climb up onto a preserved city wall, where I had the view of the Atlantic on one side, and could surreptitiously snap shots of fishermen on the other. My reward was a seagull shitting on my head, so I did get punished for my attempt at photos-without-asking.

And I wandered into the spice market, where a young man tried to sell me perfume in the shape of soap. That seems like a good idea, and it did smell good, but I don't even wear perfume in the shape of perfume. He also presided over pyramids of spices.

"How do you get the spice to make that shape?" I have long wondered how this is possible.

"Magic," he whispered. Then laughed and showed me that the pyramids of spice were window dressing, made of glue and some stuffing covered in spices.

I stayed an extra day in Essaouira, because I was still wrangling the new banking system for the job I just left, and trying to figure out how to pay freelancers remotely, and still processing pages for comic books. And because I'm a little lazy, and I doubted I'd see such a comfortable 20 euro a night hotel again for a long, long time.
And in the end, I bought a coach ticket for Essaouira-Agadir, then connecting Agadir-Dakhla, the southernmost major city before striking out into the desert en route to Mauritania. I'd be traveling for over 24 hours. HELL. But I thought I'd just get it over with instead of breaking it up into shorter legs.

I arrived early at the Supratours bus terminal, where I was able to leave my bag for 5 dirham. And I went to the nearby coffee shop and turned on my Kindle's wireless, and this week's New Yorker magically appeared on my Kindle.


Saturday, March 12, 2011

On to Essaouira

My night in my warm sleeper passed well, and the tap-tap on the door in the morning meant that the conductor thought it was time for me to get up. My iPhone had told me the same thing, of course, so I was already up and waiting for my 40 minutes overlay in Casablanca.

I grabbed a cappuccino in the train station, tried the wi-fi (as broken as the Beni Nsar Internet had been, so maybe it was system-wide), then moved onto one of those glamorous new first-class trains that Morocco acquired a few years back. I flopped into a big, cushioned seat and relaxed for the 3-hours-and-change ride to Marrakesh. So fast! The trains are good in Morocco.

My final destination for the day was not Marrakesh, but it was the end of the train line. From here to the end of Morocco, it was all buses and shared ("grand") taxis.

But I did want to stop in Marrakesh. I had a mission, to go buy a few trinkets, some folk-art on wooden slabs for the souvenir program I'm developing. But I didn't want to drag my luggage around town. I walked into the information office at the Marrakesh train station.

"Is there left luggage here?"

"No." Ah, okay. So it's more like a US train station than a European one.

I walked to the Supratours bus station around the corner. Not only did they have no lockers or baggage storage, but they also had no tickets left for today. This wasn't surprising—the guidebooks all point out that Supratours is considered the top bus company in Morocco, and you must always buy your ticket the day before. But I had been hoping to get lucky.

I considered my options. I could go to the main bus station and try again. Or forget the trinkets and head to Essaouira on a different bus or in a shared taxi.

But first, one more try.

In the end, I begged the bellhop at the hotel next door to hold my bag for me. I did tip him handsomely, but he seemed to do it out of pity.

Now luggage-less, I walked to the street and hailed a taxi. Good. The guy used the meter without my asking. He didn't know where the hell we were going, but I named the nearest sight (the Kasbah) and that go us close enough.

I negotiated heartily for my trinkets but paid much more than I'd planned too. A British woman overheard the transaction and grabbed the same deal. The artist thanked me for the additional sale, and then the British woman thanked me for the deal.

I walked over to the Djemaa El Fna, the touristy center of Marrakesh. This is what most people think of when they think of Morocco. Snake charmers, vendors, hustlers, henna, and magicians. For me, I was interested in the four dirham freshly squeezed orange juice. And maybe some lunch.

The juice was perfect, but it was too early for lunch.

I got into a taxi to go back to the gare, but the driver demanded fifty dirham.Hey, where's my commission?

"No. Meter."

"Okay, 40."

"No. Meter."

"Okay, 20."

"No. Meter."

He shrugged and motioned me in. He started driving and then said "20."

Whereupon I let loose on him a stream of anger, demanded he stop, and got out. First taxi driver argument of the trip. Not bad.

The next guy used the meter without my asking. Ten dirham back to the gare.

I got my luggage, grabbed another ten dirham ride to the grand taxi station, and bought two places in a Mercedes bound for Essaouira. The usual number of passengers in these cars is six. That's four squished into the rear seat and two into the front seat. This is as uncomfortable as it sounds, so I wanted none of it. I bought the two seats in the front, but my plan to be safe and comfortable was thwarted when I realized there was no seatbelt.

The four teenagers who had bought the back sheet shot daggers at me. They also "entertained" for two hours with their mp3 players on their phones. Joy.

The driver sped to the coast, and just a few hours later, I pulled my pack onto my back and wandered around, hugging the coast for direction, and found the medina, and then my riad.

In off-season, rates plummet. So I'd gotten a gorgeous riad for 20 euros a night. I settled in, showered, then raced up to the ramparts for sunset.


Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Hunt for the Gare

I walked into Morocco following my memory of a Google map I'd looked up the night before. The rain had left muddy the wide, main boulevard that led from the border, and so I walked along the potholed sidewalk instead of traversing the street, which I'd usually do, since I try to avoid climbing curbs and stairs when wearing a heavy backpack.

Lessee, train station should be just down there and to the left.

There were two train stations in the town of Beni Nsar, or Beni Ensar. (Arabic doesn't have standardized English-equivalent spellings, so it's just phonetic.) One was, according to the Moroccan trains website,) "Beni Nsar Port" and the other was "Beni Nsar Ville." The Port one, according to the Google map, was close enough to walk to from the border.

But I try not to be too stupid, so I stopped and asked a Moroccan man in front of a coffee shop.

"Pardonnez, ou est la gare?"

"Du train?"

"Si. I mean, oui. Train."

"Taxi." He waved his hand to indicate a large distance. A second man, next to him, sagely nodded.

Just then a third man, with somewhat bloodshot eyes and James Dean-style hair (in gray), leapt out of the coffee shop.

"Non, non! Train ici!" He pointed around the corner to the left, where the map had indicated.

The three men then had an animated discussion that seemed to end in agreement. They motioned me up to the left, indicating that "Oh yeah, the train is there."

I followed their instructions, which exactly matched my memorized-map. The wide street I turned onto was line with new buildings, advertising money-changing services and travel deals. I crossed the end of the rail line, located behind a large fence, and stopped, puzzled. Ahead, perhaps another kilometer, were the giants lifting cranes of a seaport. Everything seemed right, except that there was no train station. At least the rain had stopped.

An ATM presented itself, so I got some Moroccan dirham—realized too late that a bunch of large-denomination bills wasn't going to be that helpful, like presenting fifty-dollar bills for a pack of gum back home—then headed back, reversing direction and crossing the tracks again. I went into the next building I saw, which seemed to be official. At least, it had an open door and a Moroccan flag on display.

I approached two men at the reception desk. One of them wore a uniform, which seemed promising.

"Ou est la gare?"

"La gare? Du train? Deux kilometers. Two. English?" He waved his hand to indicate a long distance.

"Oh. Can I walk?"

One of the men replied yes, but the other looked at my luggage.

"No. You should take a taxi. It is only ten dirham. Catch it right over there." He walked me to the door and pointed at a gathering of petit taxis. (In Morocco, little taxis take passengers within town, but grand taxis—Peugeots or Mercedes—travel long distances and cost more.

Defeat. I thanked the nice government officials and caught a taxi.

"Gare du train, s'il vous plais." I said it with confidence, as if I had some notion of where I was going.

The driver nodded and set off. Partway there, I realized I didn't have any small bills to pay the fare. Shit.

But it worked out. When we pulled up to the brand-new, sparkling Beni Nsar Ville station, I offered him my one-euro coins—two of them. That's twice the fare in dirham, so the driver was quite happy with this. And as a bonus, I didn't have to carry euro change around anymore.

I walked into the station and was surprised to see that the gare was bare. I mean, really bare. Like it had just been finished yesterday and no one had moved in yet. The kiosk had no occupants, the counters were mostly unoccupied. There was a security guard, bored on a bench, and one ticketing agent, chatting on his phone behind glass over a counter.

He hung up when he saw me, and enthusiastically undertook my case. Here was a good chance for me to remember the French I'd taken in ninth grade. I'd unfortunately not gotten around to picking up a Lonely Planet French phrasebook in my rush to get through everything at the end of my time in NY/NJ. I was going to regret that repeatedly as I traveled on.

"Je vais a Marrakesh. Un billet, s'il vous plais?"

Eventually, we established that I could have a sleeper on the overnight train to Casablanca, connecting there to Marrakesh. There were no couchettes (shared four-berth compartments) on this train, but there were private rooms.

"May I have one?"

"Of course."

He made a few calls. "The Internet is down." I heard him ordering my ticket, and then the phone cut out. He called again. Near the end of the process, his cell phone battery ran out. He reddened. He removed the battery, clipped it into a charger, and plugged the charger into the wall.

"We wait."

We waited.

After a few minutes, a friend of the ticket agent dropped by. A process was initiated, in which the friend's phone was dismantled, and the SIM swapped out with the ticket agent's SIM. The agent finished the booking process on his friend's phone, and then they swapped back.

I had my ticket.

For four hours hence. I've arrived early so as to have the best chance at booking a sleeper. But the station had no services—no left luggage, no kiosk selling water, nothing but a few toilets. So I sat, bored, appreciating the situation of the security guard and ticketing agent, who sometimes sat together staring at the wall, and sometimes apart.

And eventually, when I got onto the train, I knew I'd be helpless. Where was the right car? Who worked here? I'd been through this on Moroccan trains before. In time, I'd find my cabin and nestle into my tiny closet, alone, warm, and safe for the night.

But first, one more thing.

"I tried to leave from Beni Nsar Port..." I'd told the booking agent.

"Ah, the station that only exists on the Internet." He'd given me a mischievous grin, but no further explanation.

The mystery of the reputed Gare of Beni Nsar Port shall remain a mystery.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Crossing the Border

I rose to meet Melilla with a cheerier mood than I'd had when I went to sleep. Hotel breakfast was a few slices of toast, a coffee, and some orange juice. Oh well, it was free.

I went straight to tourist information, looking for info on where I could get the meningitis vaccine. I'd balked at the $140 they'd wanted in the States. My last had been in Kampala in 2005 and had long since expired. I'd intended to get it in Malaga, but had been overcome by crushing weight of responsibilities and it hadn't happened.

The tourist information woman looked at me blankly, so I went to two places I'd looked up online. En route, I gazed up at the architecture along the main street. A man named Enrique Nieto, a disciple of Gaudí, had designed many of the art nouveau/modernisme buildings.

Unfortunately, the nice surroundings had little bearing on my mission. Which was a failure. The two places I'd looked up were closed and deserted. The clinic I found on my map sent me to a private clinic, which sent me up a hill. Halfway up, I quit and went back to my hotel for lunch.

In the afternoon, I got antsy. Time to go to Morocco.

I caught the #2 local bus to the border for .75 euros. It started to rain as I walked across the border. Three men tried to sell me the free forms that I needed to go through passport control, but I waved them off and hurried on, eager to get out of the rain. A security guard directed me to the passport control point, where a man asked: "Have you been to Morocco before?"

"Yes, but not on this passport."

He punched a few buttons on his computer.

"Three times you have been to Morocco."

Astonished, my mouth gaped. I recovered. "I didn't know you could see that on the machine."

"The machines know everything," he said. "One day we will not even need borders, because it will all be on the machine."

He stamped me in and I walked through the mud onto the streets of Beni Nsar, Morocco.

Saturday, March 05, 2011


I felt a tiny jolt of excitement as my ferry pulled into the port of Melilla. A crowd of women in headscarves buzzed about the exit door, anxious to disembark after eight stir-crazy hours on the Mediterranean.

I was jetlagged and exhausted, but this was significant. Setting foot onto the African continent, even the Spanish part, meant that my trip had started. (It also means I'm really far behind on designing my site, but one thing at a time.) And Melilla was new to me! I'd never been to a Spanish enclave on the African continent before.

Following the crowd onto the gangplank, into the ferry terminal, and down an escalator, I soon found myself in front of the old city walls.

The road alongside them curved along and led me to my hotel. I'd booked somewhere decent, knowing I'd still be playing catch-up on the wi-fi in my room.

I checked in and got a room number. #328. The hotel room stunk of old sewers. I don't know if you know what that means but it's common in old cities that never quite updated their plumbing. The bathroom had new tiles, and the floor was covered in fake wood veneer, but Hotel Anfora shows it age. I wrinkled my nose a little. I don't mind this in a cheap room. But a 45 euro a night room?

It could have redeemed itself if the internet had worked. I noticed that the signal was locked, so I traipsed back to the elevator and down to reception for a password. Back upstairs. The signal was one bar. I couldn't get on. Back down to reception. I got a new room, where the signal would work better. Okay, now we're getting somewhere. I got off the elevator on the third floor and had to laugh. The room was about five doors down from the old room. Needless to say, this scheme did not work.

Never mind. I was hungry. I threw the laptop in my bag and rushed out to find dinner. It was 10:30 p.m. but people eat late in Spain.

In short order I learned that Melilla was and wasn't Spain. Almost no restaurants were open. How could this be? In fact, almost nothing is open. Why, it's against the Spanish constitution!

After rushing around searching for a cafe (I foolishly hoped for one with wi-fi), I went back to my hotel and caught the elevator upstairs to the restaurant.

The waiter told me (I think--my Spanish is pretty limited) that the restaurant closed in 15 minutes. My voice cracked as I said "So I can't get food?" It had been a long day.

He took pity on me. "Sandwich?" I nodded. "Y papas fritas?" "Si, por favor."

I didn't know what kind of sandwich but I didn't care. Then, just to see if it would work, I pulled out my laptop.

Moments later I was downloading my email while munching a toasted ham-and-cheese sandwich with fries.

Melilla could have a second chance. Manana.

Thursday, March 03, 2011


I threw my old jeans and purple sweater into a bag and went down to the used clothing bin I'd seen outside the El Corte Ingles department store, in front of the Citibank.

I tossed in the bag. That had been my plan, to wear old clothes on the plane to escape the New York winter, then to ditch them in Malaga, Spain.

For a moment, I hesitated. My plan had also been to throw out my winter coat there too. I'd selected carefully, choosing a thin coat I hadn't worn in years. And it struck me that I'd bought this coat from Mango in Barcelona in November of 2004, when the nights got chillier than I'd expected while living there for a few months. From Spain and back to Spain. I'd had to buy an XL size, which had struck me as absurd. In 2004, I was thinner than I'd been since I was 17 years old, due to eating like a Spaniard and living on a sixth-floor walk-up in Barcelona. But Spain has inconsistent sizing.

What if I needed my coat tonight in Melilla, the Spanish enclave I was boarding the ferry to in a few hours? What if it was chilly on the ferry?

I took off the Mango coat, checked the pockets, and tossed it in the bin. I heard it slip in, the gentle slide of fabric against steel. There. No turning back.

I got my daily max out of the Citibank ATM…I was stocking up, knowing I'd go through cash quickly once I got to countries with no ATMs. Then I crossed the street into El Corte Ingles and went up the elevator to the sixth-floor post office.

After spending all morning laying out my possessions and discarding bits and pieces, I'd come to what seemed like a tolerable weight for my backpack. In my rush to make the plane on time, I'd brought too much stuff and much of the wrong stuff. The Pumas I'd opted for weren't working out—too thin, no support. This was bad when I had on my pack, but I hadn't run across anything better during my afternoon whirl around Malaga yesterday. I'd be in sandals soon anyway.

I'd also brought the wrong messenger bag. My old one wasn't quite big enough for my MacBook (I covet the MacBook Air, which is light and sleek and powerful, but I don't cover it enough to buy and ruin a new one on this dusty trip), and so I'd bought a new one. A Crumpler brand named the "Considerable Embarrassment." Seemed like a good idea at the time. A built-in padded compartment neatly swaddled my MacBook, and there were all kind of zippered and Velcro pockets. I'd left my laptop sleeve at home and brought the Crumpler.

By the time I'd arrived at Newark Airport, I regretted the shoes and the bag. The bag was too heavy, the shoes too weak. By the time I got to Spain, I knew I had to do something about both.

The shoes are still on hold, but I'd purchased a new laptop sleeve at El Corte Ingles and now headed up to the post office to mail Michael Kraiger a gift. A nearly new Crumpler bag, conveniently full of my office key, my office access card, and my car and garage keys and door opener (that's not part of the gift).

The post office visit, like any post office visit anywhere, was excruciating and took ages. I started to worry at about 12:15. My ferry was scheduled for 2 p.m. The postal workers didn't seem phased by my anxious checking of my phone for the time. (I'd look at my watch, but I hadn't worn it. Come to think of it, where was my watch? I'd gone to the trouble of cleaning up my 2001 Timex Expedition and getting a new band. But I was still telling time with my phone. Where did I put the watch?)

Eventually, the package went and I hobbled—rushing as much as one can when hobbling on thin soles—back to the Hotel Ibis to pick up my backpack. It was nearly 1 p.m. How early does one need to arrive for a ferry? At least it's from Spain to Spain, not from Spain to Morocco. Officially, I mean.

I hurried down to the port, noting that my backpack was still much too heavy and my shoes still a problem. I ran through my possessions in my head, wondering what was going into the used clothing bin next. Or could the problem be me? Was I weak after five years of sedentary desk-job living? Was my weakness the reason I couldn't carry a reasonable amount of clothing and Doxycycline around the world?

Sweating, I arrived at the port.

Construction blocked the way.

So I made a big loop around and got into the port. And boarded the ferry with 45 minutes to spare.

The ferry was skankier than I'd expected. Not like the catamaran I'd been on a few years ago out of Algeciras. A cockroach scurried around the ladies room. The cheap seats, which I'd booked, were mostly broken, stuck in the reclining position.

I settled in for the eight-hour journey to Melilla. The fast ferry runs in the summer but this was low season. The ferry was barely populated. And this was my first downtime in days. I'd been frantic for so long, winding down my job, getting my possessions out of my apartment, chasing my passport which had just arrived in the nick of time from the Embassy of Mauritania, and here I was with eight empty hours ahead of me.

I fell asleep instantly. My last thought being this: I know where my watch is. I'd had it in my Crumpler bag. I mailed it to Michael Kraiger.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Too Much Junk

The last few days were a whirlwind of no sleep, frantic day job working, and panicked packing. In the end, the kitchen faucet broke and I had a nice visit with the plumber (who replaced it), I contributed $42 to Jersey City by spacing out on the alternate-side parking times, and I threw everything into my car which I parked in my garage. I called a taxi to take me to Newark Airport and carried way, way too much with me.

A night on a partially empty plane (empty seat beside me!), a transfer in Zurich, and a scramble to try to find the Ibis since I hadn't had time to look anything up left me showered and ready to go hunt for a meningitis vaccine in Malaga.

But I have way, way too much stuff with me. Must cull.

Monday, February 28, 2011


One difference between my 2001 trip and my 2011 trip is the camera gear.

That's what I carried to Africa for my safaris in 2001.

And here's my camera set-up for 2011. I might take my Zoom audio recorder too. I have all my stuff laid out on the floor and need to see how much weight I'm taking so far before I decide.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

More Ghana


Today I started reading about the next country on my itinerary. Togo. And then I looked ahead a bit, into Benin.

Aha. There's a big stilt village in Benin. Much bigger and not as out of the way as the one I was interested in on my Ghana leg.

So I'm revising my Ghana itinerary already. Now it's:

April 6: Kumasi to Cape Coast.

April 7: Cape Coast.

April 8: Accra.

April 9: Accra. (visa stop)

April 10: Accra to Lome (Togo).

Friday, February 25, 2011


I'm a bit frantic. Today I worked on sorting out filing some compliance documents for the work 401k, tracked down our unemployment percentage for the new payroll service, threw a bunch of stuff away, and brought home more boxes. I'm trying to get my trinkets and books out of my apartment, since my tenant is going to become two tenants in a few months. They'll need space.

And on the train, I read about Ghana. I'm no expert, but I think I have enough info to plan a trip. We're still pretending I'm racing around, because I need to understand the minimum time it will take me to cross Africa before I start factoring in longer stops.

April 4: There's a 7:00 a.m. bus on Sunday and Thursday to Kumasi, Ghana. Unfortunately, April 4 is a Monday. Let's face it, odd of me getting there precisely that day are slim. Anyway, I can use this as a guide. There are other buses, and if nothing else, there's the shared minibus for 2-3 hours to the border, walking across to Paga, Ghana, then hopping another minibus 90 minutes to Bolgatanga, then to Tamale (2.5 hours) and then staying there or getting another bus to Kumasi (7 hours—early start day).

April 5: Kumasi, Ghana. Kumasi is a city famous for its crafts.

April 6: Kumasi to Takoradi, 5 hours. That's in the west, along the coast. But that's not the end of the day. After that, I get a minibus from Takoradi to Beyin (3-4 hours), in the far west. Because that's the launching point for the trip I'm taking the next morning.

April 7: I'm not really going April 7, because I'm unlikely to be on this precise schedule by then. And that's good, because today's destination isn't open on Thursdays. I'm heading to a stilt village named Nzulezo, which is an hour away by canoe. The trip must be booked in Beyin, where I also have to pay for the canoe trip. The canoe goes through wetlands to the stilt village. I'll have a look around and then the canoe takes me back to Beyin. Then it's back to Takoradi, then on one more hour to Cape Coast.

April 8: Cape Coast is a nice coastal town with an old castle. Sounds like a nice place to spend a day.

April 9: On to Accra, which is only three hours away. There doesn't seem to be much to see in Accra, so my time spent there will be determined by how many visas I need. And then, it's 4.5 hours by bus or minibus to the border with Togo.

*You might notice that I'm not going to Mole National Park. I'm thinking of going on safaris a bit later, if at all. Living in a national park in Uganda kind of spoiled me.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Productive Procrastination

I'm in full-on panic mode. I don't even have my passport back from the Embassy of Mauritania yet.

The best way to deal with this would be to get to work.

Instead, I made business cards tonight.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Introducing...Marie's World Tour 2011

I spent my Saturday night moving a ten-year-old site from one server to another, and updating links that have probably been broken for seven years. What did you do?

Saturday, February 19, 2011


I finalized my ticket today.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Mali and Burkina Faso

I'm having a harder time planning as my virtual weeks progress. That's because I don't have my passport back yet--it's at the Embassy of Mauritania at the moment. I hope. I don't really know where it is. I should probably look into that.

I am hoping to get more visas before I leave NYC on March 1. I've been collecting visas for months now, but have to get many visas at the last minute or else they'll expire before I arrive in the country giving me the visa.

And because I don't know how many days I'll need to acquire visas en route, I can't plan that precisely after Bamako. Will I be in Bamako a week while I collect visas? Or just two days? And then will I be able to hook up with a small group and a private vehicle when I get there, or will I be spending days on buses?

I won't know until I know, so I'm now into estimating territory.

Let's say I arrive in Bamako, Mali, on March 21. That's a Monday. I could then work on getting visas for Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, then head off to play tourist as of Thursday night.

Then stops I want to make in Mali are:

-Segou (3 hours by bus from Bamako).

-Djenne (that's the home of that big mud mosque you see in photos of Mali).


-Dogon country, via Bandiagara.

I'll just call it ten days, and then I'll head from Mopti to Bobo-Dioulasso (via Bla) in Burkina Faso. I'm estimating arriving in Burkina Faso on April 1, and hoping it's not a joke.

April 2: I'll spend in the town of Bobo-Dioulasso, Burkina Faso.

April 3: I'll take the bus early to Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. I'll spend the rest of the day there, then I hope to proceed on April 4 to Kumusi, Ghana. Except I might have to hang around a few more days to get more visas.

So that's where we'll start next. With me arriving late to Kumasi, Ghani. The bus website seems to indicate that I'll be traveling from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. So Kumasi. Let's look at Kumasi next.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011


Why don't I have the Burkina Faso book? I don't remember now.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

A Hitch

I'm subletting my apartment soon, so I need to pack up some stuff in boxes, get my car out of my garage, and put the boxes into the garage, then put the car back into the garage.

But I've hit a snag. All that snow isn't snow. It's ice.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Revised Timetable

I woke up this morning thinking "What am I, crazy?"

I couldn't bear to contemplate that last leg from Tahiti to Auckland to Tokyo to LA to Houston to Lima to Santiago to Easter Island. Not when Easter Island is four hours away from Tahiti by plane.

So I sucked it up, as the kids, they say. I sacrificed Christmas.

Because my round-the-world ticket is on frequent flyer miles, the only flight available out of Tahiti later than Dec. 4 was on Dec. 25. I'd initially refused that flight, because I didn't want to miss Christmas after ten months away and after just missing Thanksgiving. But then I woke up with a moment of clarity, thought "My mother won't mind having Christmas on Dec. 27 or 28 or whatever," and I rearranged my itinerary again.

So now I arrive in Tahiti on November 21. That's too early. I can barely afford Tahiti.

I have some down time to do...something. Then I can go to Easter Island. Flights are $550 roundtrip and only go on Wednesdays. So I can spend one week in Tahiti, one in Easter Island, or two in Easter Island, or one in Easter Island followed by one in Tahiti.

Then I can go on the Aranui 3 freighter cruise around the Marquesas. But sacrificing Christmas, I can go on the special Marquesan Arts Festival trip. The festival happens once every three years. I hear it can be tough to get a room during this festival. Good thing I'll have a berth on a ship. Just a berth. I'm too poor to stay in the cabins. I have to stay in the dorms. This goes from Dec. 9 to 23.

Then on Dec. 25th, I'll start the long trip home. Tahiti-Auckland-Tokyo-Newark, arriving on Dec. 26th.

I'm giving up Christmas for Easter.

Friday, February 11, 2011


I've made my itinerary, more or less, with the help of a couple of amazing reservations agents at Star Alliance.

I couldn't get myself out of Tahiti anytime between early December and Christmas. So I am going to try to get to Easter Island from South America instead. The run from Tahiti to Lima is pretty brutal, and then I'll still have to get to Santiago after that.

Click here to see what is almost certainly what I'll end up doing. Unless I can get a ticket later out of Tahiti down the road, like if more seats are released.

Monday, February 07, 2011

A Solution

Will I get to Kayes from Georgetown in one day? If I have to stop short of the Senegal-Mali border, wouldn't that lose me an entire day as all the transport onward to Bamako would be gone by the time I made it to Kayes the next morning, on the late side?

I read my Rough Guide to West Africa on the train today. I came home and opened up the Lonely Planet Mali PDF chapter on my computer. I went to and check the latest on the trains. I read the Lonely Planet Thorntree forum.

All reports agreed.

Kayes to Bamako=pain in the ass.

The train from Dakar to Bamako has been out of service for some time, but the Kayes-Bamako leg is running. Scroll down on this page to read a glowing review of that train journey.

And then I read this, from May, 2010. Eh, not so appealing anymore.

I scoured the guidebooks and the Thorntree. Everyone agreed. Bus or 4x4 from Kayes to Bamako? 12 hours. If you're lucky. The road is being built still, and some of it isn't quite done.

Then I found this, written recently, in December.

The road seems to be finished.

Or if not, pretty close.

March 21: Kayes (or border area) to Bamako. Overnight in Bamako at the Sleeping Camel. Yay! Now I get to get onward visas and then wander off into Mali.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Gambia to Mali

I've been distracted by the incredible events in Egypt. At first I thought the protest would be put down quickly, and then it wasn't, and then the Internet went off. Blip. Just like that.

That's when I realized that this wasn't just another protest. I tuned right into Al Jazeera English online, and was riveted for days.

But MariesWorldTour 2011 is only 23 days away, and I need to get back to planning. I booked my first night in Malaga, my ferry ticket, and my second night in Melilla. There's no way to book the train tickets in Morocco from here, so I have to hope I get a couchette rather than having to spend the night in a reclining seat. And then I'll be in Essaouira.

So far, I've found good hotel rates on,,, and even Expedia. I have some various point balances that will help me get a room here or there, but once I am south of Morocco, I won't be using many pre-booking sites.

Last we checked, I was planning the end of Week Three.

Well, I was obviously tired when I was working on March 20th, because it doesn't work the way I had it at all.

Here's the right way to get to Mali from Georgetown, Gambia.

March 20:
-Ferry off Georgetown back to highway. Catch shared taxi or minibus to Basse Santa Su, Gambia. (One hour drive.)
-Basse Santa Su to Velingara, Senegal. One hour.
-Velingara to Tambacounde. 2.5 hours.
-Tambacounde to Kidira border. 3 hours. Cross border to Diboli, Mali. Border closes at 6 p.m.
-Diboli to Kayes. 2 hours.

Easy in theory, right? The problem is that there is bound to be a lot of waiting for various forms of transport en route. So I may not make the border by 6 p.m. The guidebook does list a hotel in Kidara, so I'll just have to see how far I get.

Perhaps I will be in Bamako by the end of March 21. I'll look at that tomorrow.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Week Three:

What day will I arrive in Senegal? Who knows? I'm going to finish my entire trans-Africa plan before I decide which option to choose in Mauritania. I'm starting with Option A, and then I'll add the corresponding number of days if I go with one of the other options.

I know it doesn't seem like I'm staying anywhere long. That's because I'm first trying to sort out the bare minimum I could comfortably get by with. Then I'll go back and expand the trip to fill whatever time is left.

March 12: Early trip from Nouakchott to the notoriously irritating Rosso border post. The ride down there is 3.5 hours (204 km) in a shared taxi. The border is crossed by boat or ferry, and there are a number of unexpected fees suddenly added on, as well as helpful "guides" eager to be employed. Sounds likes a hassle, and the Lonely Planet's memorable line about Rosso is "The town is full of hustlers and garbage." There's the lower-key Diama border not far away, but it is isn't clear that I can get there on public transport. After crossing through the hell-border, I get into another share taxi on the Senegalese side and head to Saint Louis, which is 106 km and two hours away. My goal for this day might be this campground, Zebrabar, or I might stay in town, like at this or this.

March 13: All day in Saint Louis, which will probably include an excursion into the national park.

March 14: Saint Louis to Dakar, 4 hours.

March 15: Sightseeing. Ile de Goree.

March 16: Dakar to The Gambia. Six hours. Overnight in a posh resort on the coast.

March 17: Sleep at that posh resort.

March 18: Maybe I'll take a day trip to Banjul and the Roots island and sleep more at that posh resort.

March 19: I'll go along the north road, which was re-paved a few years ago, from Banjul to the Wassu rocks, 20 km northwest o of Georgetown. Mini-Stonehenge. Then to Georgetown. The distance is 300 km, but most of the information I've found is for how long the ride took when the road was a mess.

March 20: Numbers get a little vague here in my guidebooks. I'll need to get out of The Gambia and into Senegal, which shouldn't take too long. From there, it's 200 km to Tambacounda, and three hours from there to the border of Mali at Kidira. From Kidira, I go to Kayes, and from there to Bamako.

Of course, nothing is telling me how long these legs take, so I'm going to estimate arrival in Bamako, at the Sleeping Camel, at March 22.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Week Two:

March 10: This is where I'm not sure what to do. I cross the border from Morocco/Western Sahara early in the day. I can then stop once I cross the border, and stay overnight in Nouadhibou, Mauritanitia. Or I can proceed to Nouakchott, then to Senegal, where I am going to stop for a bit. Maybe here.

So I have four options. Like this.


March 10: Overnight in Nouakchott.
March 11: Nouakchott.
March 12: Early rise and cross into Senegal.


March 10: Overnight in Nouadhibou.
March 11: Board the iron ore train in the afternoon. The wagons are free and these guys make it look fun. But I'm aware of how inappropriate it would be for me to travel that way, plus it would be cold and filthy. But this woman did it. The experience and safety probably depend on who you ride with. The luck of the draw. Or you can buy a ticket for the passenger car, which seemed perfectly reasonable until I read about there being no windows and women being groped. Nothing like cowering in a corner on a cold train for 12 hours so that I can disembark at two in the morning, jump into a shared taxi, and continue for a few hours drive.
March 12: Early morning arrival in Atar.
March 13: Desert trips.
March 14: Desert trips.
March 15: Bus to Nouakchott. (Six or so hours.)
March 16: Nouakchott.
March 17: Early rise and cross into Senegal.


March 10: Overnight in Nouakchott.
March 11: Bus to Atar.
March 12: Desert trips.
March 13: Desert trips.
March 14: Atar to Choum by shared taxi. Choum to Nouadhibou on iron ore train (see above).
March 15: Overnight in Nouadhibou.
March 16: Bus to Nouakchott.
March 17: Nouakchott to Senegal.


March 10: Overnight in Nouadhibou.
March 11: Afternoon video and photo of the chaos as everyone jumps on the iron ore train, but don't get on myself. Then head to Nouakchott.
March 12: Nouakchott.
March 13: Early rise and cross into Senegal.

I guess it comes down to how interested I am in the desert and the iron ore train.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Week One:

I'm trying to assess how long I'll need to traverse the African continent starting in March. I have it roughed into my schedule as needing about 12-13 weeks, but of course, that's not based on much real information.

I sat down last night to try to work out how long I really need.

And only got as far as Mauritania before falling asleep.

Here's how it works out so far.

01 March, Tuesday: Fly out of Newark.

02 March: Arrive Malaga, Spain at 12:30 p.m. The daily ferry to Melilla (the Spanish enclave in Morocco) leaves at 2 p.m. so I won't make that. Overnight in Malaga, which is just as well since I'll have jetlag.

03 March: Morning look at Malaga and last-minute kitting-out. 2 p.m. slow ferry to Melilla. There's no fast ferry in the winter. Set foot on the African continent at 9:30 p.m. Overnight Melilla.

04 March, Friday: Walking tour of modernist buildings in Melilla. Afternoon city bus to the border. Catch train at Beni Nsar at 1925, and head down to connect with the sleeper train at Taourirt. Overnight on couchette ($42) or in private cabin ($73). Seems to be impossible to purchase tickets from outside the country, so I might have to take what I can get. Which might be a seat.

05 March: Arrive Casablanca early morning, transfer to Marrakesh train. Arrive Marrakesh, and transfer there to the Supratours bus to Essaouira, which should get me there for lunch. Overnight in Essaouira. Maybe at Le Grand Large, which is on sale on Expedia.

06 March: Essaouira. Second night.

07 March: Essaouira to Agadir bright and early in a shared taxi. Catch a nice bus (again, I'm aiming for the the top-end but might have to settle for what is available) to Laayoune. There's a 1000 bus out of Agadir that arrives at Laayoune at 2000. Something like Hotel Jodesa sounds fine for a night of a late arrival and early departure. I'm tempted to make one long go of this two-day bus ride, but I think it's too early in the trip and too soon after the night on the train to stomach a 21-hour bus ride. Maybe I'll do it.

08 March, Tuesday: Laayoune to Dakhla. Eight or so hours by bus or shared taxi. I'm supposed to carry about five spare copies of my passport to hand out at checkpoints, to make the process go faster. Overnight in Dakhla. Visit Hotel Sahara to arrange for a lift to Mauritania, about 350 dirham.

09 March: Maybe I'll just sit tight in Dakhla for a day. Sleep, eat, wander around.

10 March, Thursday: Dakhla to Nouadhibou, Mauritanitia. Overnight in Nouadhibou?

or...proceed on to Nouakchott, to Auberge Menata.

This is where it gets confusing. How into comfort am I? How lazy? How much energy do I have? If I stop at Nouadhibou, it will be for one night, and then the next day (March 11), I'll take the (in)famous 12-hour iron ore train to Choum. It arrives in the wee hours, and then I have to bum a ride off someone to Atar. By this point, I will probably be exhausted, but I'll need to find someone--maybe a taxi driver or a tour operator--to take me to the local version of Uluru/Ayers Rock, which is called Ben Amira. Or maybe I'd just see that from the train. I need to read up more on Atar. I'd stay in Atar the night of March 12, when I'd probably be completely exhausted, then head to Nouakchott the next day, staying at Menata on March 13 before heading south 3.5 hours to Senegal.

No wonder I gave up last night. Each step requires a lot of reading. I'm going to have to plan this in stages.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

More Gear

I want to have a tripod for night shots, but I don't need much of one.

These are my three lightweight tripods. I'll probably take the lightweight one next to the hippo. But I might throw in the screw-on one too. It fits on any water bottle.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Gearing Up

Let's talk about travel packs.

Conventional wisdom says to take a bag that can convert from wheelie bag to backpack. And I wish conventional wisdom were right. But conventional travel wisdom also direly warns you against taking jeans on the road ("Heavy! Take too long to dry!") and advises you to buy all kinds of hideous lightweight khakis for travel.

Long ago, I worked out that the best stuff to take with you on a trip is pretty much the same stuff you'd wear out of the house at home. I don't mean heels or business attire. Just whatever you'd wear to meet a good friend for coffee. That's what you want to travel in. And do take a pair of jeans. Throw it in the bottom of your pack and forget it's there until you have to go out at night. A pair of jeans is warm and also can double as stylish. Your country isn't the only one where everyone wears jeans.

Back to my bag. Also known as that f*cking albatross. Luggage is a nightmare. There's no way around it. Want to check something out during a stopover? First, you need a place to securely stash your bag. Having a fight with a taxi driver and want to throw money at him and run? Too bad your bag is locked in his trunk. Stop in for a coffee at Starbuck's? Oops, sorry I didn't mean to hit/trip everyone in the room with my luggage.

Can I do the no-baggage challenge? No, I can't. That's fine if you're traveling for a short time, but I'm not, and anyway, I do like taking my camera and my laptop and a change of clothes, so if you want me to do that, um, how can I put this? Screw off. Go do your own trip and leave mine alone.

My current pack is one I bought online in 2000. It's an Eagle Creek "World Journey" (women's fit) and weights 6 lb, 3 oz when empty. That includes the zip-off daypack. The daypack is just can't zip it on and stuff it with something heavy, or you'll tip over, but you can wear it on your front to balance out the weight on your back, or carry it on the bus while you main bag goes in the hold or on the roof (don't forget to put the rain cover on it for the roof, to avoid dust). And you can pod-bag with your daypack and a collapsible extra bag. That is, you can stash a pod somewhere, like in a hotel luggage room, while you run off with your pared-down bag on a short excursion.

Nevertheless, I had high hopes that the world of luggage had improved over the last decade. If so, I could shave off a few pounds. Every ounce counts on the road. Believe me.

And I read a few articles that were like OMG GET A WHEEL/BACKPACK CONVERTIBLE NOW, I INSIST! So fine, maybe they're lighter?

No. Smaller capacity and two pounds heavier. That's a shame. I can't add on two pounds. I wouldn't mind wheels. My knees aren't so great anymore and I'm a lot lazier than I was in 2001. But lazier also means not carrying an extra two pounds for ten months.

But what about regular backpacks, I though. Perhaps they'd slimmed down.

No. I can save about five ounces, but that means less tough fabric.

I guess I'll stick with my old backpack then. And as my pal Ray pointed out, I can always buy a new one halfway through when I'm in Bangkok.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

The List

Leaving a job where I'm the main (and only) upper management authority in the hemisphere has turned out to be a little complicated. I seem to endlessly sign my name to slips of paper in the process of altering the banking, contracts, and authority on each aspect. To top it off, I have at least 209 pages of material to generate this month, and then there's the freelance gig that had to be sent to the printer this week.

And in case I didn't have enough to do, I also had to get through the start-up procedures on a comic book and graphic novel packaging partnership I've set up with a friend. We had to learn everything there is to know about corporate structure, settle on a structure, learn about the legal aspects of getting that registered properly, and then traipse down to the Brooklyn County Clerk to get our paperwork filed and notarized properly, get a Federal ID Number, set up the books, then take various slips of certified papers to the bank, sit around, and sign our names for a while longer.

Then there's teaching. Yep, every Tuesday.

Now I have some other looming problems. Like subletting my apartment. Except the bathroom is deteriorated to where I think it's going to be a problem. The old caulk pulls away from the bathtub walls and is covered in mildew. So water might leak into the walls. And some of the tiles have come loose. I need to get the bathroom redone, but the man I was going to hire to do it had a family tragedy, so I may end up scrubbing it clean, caulking, and hoping for the best.

Then there's my own taxes, Federal, State, and property. And the corporate taxes, which I have to get all the materials together for. And I have to generate the 1099s for my company and finalize the 2010 books. Small (really small) business is fun.

I also have to get my visas, which is an ongoing project, and I'll have to scan and convert the guidebooks not available for Kindle, so that I don't have to drag heavy books around the world.

I have all kinds of little things to do too, like finalize my plane ticket, research hotels and the route, figure out what luggage and shoes to take, get old computer gear out of my garage and to the electronics recycling center, make a bag that I can take around the world, sort out gear and clothing, learn some French for West Africa, and oh, maybe I need to do this.

Build a damn website., remember that? The main point of this RTW project? Right now, it's ten years old.


So yeah, unless you want to do my taxes, rebuild my bathroom, or make a website for me, leave me alone, okay?

Friday, January 21, 2011

Slushy Beauty

For a brief moment this morning, the snow outside my window is beautiful. Dogs are romping in it and children stand and stare, mouths agape.

But I'm about to venture out. Soon I'll be cursing what is likely to be slush within an hour or so.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

RTW Roulette

I have the basis of my Star Alliance frequent flyer mile round-the-world ticket.

It goes like this:

1) Newark-Malaga (Spain)
2) Cape Town-Madagascar

3) Madagascar-Bangkok

4) Bangkok-Tahiti

5) Tahiti-New York.

I get six stops and one open-jaw. The last leg home doesn't count. Or maybe it does.

I get a different answer every time I call. Yesterday, the consultant put me on hold and checked with Star Alliance. They said I have four stops and an open jaw scheduled, and that I'm entitled to two more stops.

Other consultants, during other phone calls, have said that I have either five or six stops already.

I have no reason to believe that one person answering the phone knows anymore than any other person. Therefore, I have no idea how many stops I have so far.

I tried to get yesterday's helper to walk me through what else might be available to me as a stop.

"No, no one on Star Alliance goes to Vanuatu or Tonga. No one goes to Fiji. You can't go to Yap without backtracking. In fact, I'm pretty sure you can't go anywhere and I'm tired and I already answered your one question about the number of stops and I have to pee, so will you please hang up and leave me alone?"

Okay, I made up that last bit. But, uh, you already backtracked me out of Madgascar and Tahiti where there was no other way out, no different from Yap or Tonga, and I can see perfectly well that Continental Micronesia goes to Yap, and that Air New Zealand goes to the other places, and if you'd look at the goddamned map, maybe you'd suggest Sydney or Perth or freaking Manila or Bali or Auckland but yeah, that would take a lot of work, wouldn't it? (Marie steams and manages not say this on the phone.)

I guess I'll try again and hope to get someone different on the phone. Two of the people who helped me so far were outstanding.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

A High Bar

So my friend Denise had a birthday. That's not so unusual. It happens about every year or so.

What was unusual this year was that right before her birthday, I got a Groupon offer for a half-price cupcake class in a former funeral home in the East Village.


We worried we'd get snowed out, as plenty of snow fell the night before, but by afternoon, the snow had transformed Manhattan into a city of slush, so getting to cupcake school was no problem.

We were assigned to mix up banana cupcakes with a couple from Fordham Law School. We learned how to scrape, how to pace adding in the flour, and how you want to add the banana at the opposite end of the process from the flour. We took home the valuable tip to use an ice cream scoop to measure the batter into the baking cups. Two other groups made vanilla and chocolate cupcakes. All of these went off to bake while we wrestled with cream cheese, butter, and sugar to create buttercream frosting.

The hard part was frosting the cupcakes. Here's how the professionals frost:

I guess it takes practice. Ours looked like this.

And at the end, after our group had frosted more than a hundred cupcakes, we each got to take nine cupcakes home.

Which sounds like more fun than it is. I shortly found myself staring at nine cupcakes and wondering what the hell to do with all of them. A few of them are still in the fridge at work.

Cupcake school was outstanding. I am not sure I retained all the info, but Denise and I had a fine afternoon. Later, her kid sat her down and told her that they were the best cupcakes she'd ever made.