Questing began about a thousand years ago. Knights Errant, or roving/wandering Knights would choose a quest, sometimes in the name of their lady love, and search, against all odds and obstacles, for the object of their quest, however misguided. Sir Percival searched for the mythical Holy Grail his whole life. Don Quixote conquered unconquerable foes in his effort to rescue the virtuous, Dulcinea.
My quest, possibly misguided, in the tradition of the greatest, all be it, fictional Knights, is to eat at one McDonalds in every country I visit.
As many of you know, I have a love for Big Macs. It began when I was fourteen, playing baseball for a team sponsored by McDonalds. Every time I got a base hit I got a coupon for something from McDonalds. A base hit got you fries. A double got a hamburger. A triple, a Big Mac. And, a home run was a value meal.
I was pretty good. I got a lot of Big Macs and value meals. I was hooked–for life. Now, I can’t pass International Golden Arches without thinking about those days, and my Quest.
Keep in mind, I have the greatest respect, well, maybe not the greatest respect, but respect nonetheless, for Morgon Spurlock. I’m not trying to be Morgan Spurlock. In fact, I believe Morgan Spurlock was wrong. Nevertheless, I recognize the authenticity of his quest.
My quest, much like Sir Percival, may take the rest of my life. I am hoping, that my quest won’t take my life–I really don’t eat at McDonalds all the time. I intend no disrespect for local cuisine. In fact, some of the best food I have ever eaten, is local, cuisine.
Did you know that every McDonalds in every country not only offers the traditional McDs menu, but also has some local food offering–like, the Generous Gina Burger, here in Malta–see–outstanding local cuisine.
I have not yet been successful in visiting McDs in every country, because, I have yet visited every country. And, not every country has a McDonalds. It may also be noted that my Squires in training do not share the same commitment to the quest that I do. Sancho Panza still lives and I’m working with him on that.
Questing tally–68 countries, 42 McDonalds.
Best McDonalds–Singapore (although South Las Vegas is right up there).
Worst McDonalds–Caracas, Venezuela (sorry Venezuela, I know you’ve got problems, but, so does your McDonalds).
A group of ex-pats, on assignment in Paris, we met each day at a sidewalk cafe near Montmartre to commiserate, and she came among us.
At first, we didn’t notice.
“I’ll have the foie gras,” my friend said. “I’ll have the croque-monsieur,” my other friend said.
“I’ll have the jambon-beurre,” I said. “I don’t have much time, today,” I said.
“Come on,” they said. “A French meal is a cultural experience.”.
We laughed. They said this every day. Three-hour lunches were not uncommon. I would often sit and watch the afternoon light soften into postcard Paris evenings.
“Alms,” she said, her voice soft, barely audible above the noise of traffic and street musicians.
My friends did not hear, or pretended not to hear. They continued their tales of exploits and conquests, stories not yet written, not yet published.
“Alms, she said again, closer.
I lost the train of conversation as I watched her slowly shuffle over the cobblestone, her cup held out, rattling the few coins she had collected, her cane tapping out of rhythm.
“Votre nourriture, les messieurs.” A waiter placed our food on the table and hurried away.
“Allez-vous en,” my friend said, “Go away.”
“Je ne parle pas français,” my other friend said, as if not speaking french would relieve us of guilt.
The woman looked up. She looked at me. She was old and bent, crippled, and dirty.
“Homeless,” my friend said.
“Smelly,” my other friend said.
Our eyes met. Suddenly, I could not tell how old she was.
“What is your name?” I asked, not sure why.
“Angelique,” she said. Her eyes sparkled. “It means…God’s messenger.” Her voice was light, airy, tinged with a french accent, but with no hint of age.
“Do you have a message for me?”
“Oui,” she said.
“What is it?” I asked, feeling this moment held deep meaning.
She kept my gaze, then her eyes traveled down over my Columbia shirt and pants and she looked at the cobblestones. It was as if the full moon had set. I could no longer see her eyes.
“Alms,” she said softly. “L’aumône pour les pauvres.”
The moment was gone.
I’m not sure what I was expecting, maybe some great insight from deity, delivered through Angelique, God’s messenger. Perhaps an answer to the perplexing question of what I should really do with my life. I don’t know. I did not receive the grand message I was hoping for.
The old woman held out her cup, expectantly.
I took a coin from my pocket and dropped it in. It clinked against the other coins. She looked up again.
“Merci beaucoup,” she said. “Dieu vous protège.” Once again, her eyes were bright, blue. I nodded and she ambled away, clinking and tapping.
“I think Paris should do a better job with the homeless population,” my friend said.
“I agree,” my other friend said.
“Alms,” I heard her softly say. “L’aumône pour les pauvres.”
Addae opened his eyes. Dim light was filtering through shutters but the sun was not yet up. His little sister, Echo, was sleeping quietly on a mat beside him. He could hear noise outside. Momma and Lale, Addae’s older sister, were preparing the morning meal. Poppa would already be out gleaning grain in the fields, but would return in time to eat before catching a tro tro into the city for work.
Addea jumped up and ran from the hut. He loved to run. He would run everywhere. This morning was no exception. He looked at the sky. It was pink.
He ran faster.
He would wash himself at the village well and race back before the sun touched his hut. Addae’s name meant Morning Sun. Momma said he earned that name by making her wait all night for delivery.
Addae arrived at the well only to find that Raziya and her mother were already there. Raziyah was two months older than Addae. She was fast, for a girl, but Addae would never concede that she could out run him. He must have slept too long.
“Greetings, Addae.” Raziya’s mother smiled at him.
Addae bowed his head. “Good morning, Auntie. Hope you slept well.” Addae was still breathing hard, making it difficult to speak the greeting. Raziya smiled. Addae frowned.
Raziya’s mother drew a pitcher of water from the well and poured it in a bucket. “Does the morning sun withhold its smile from our humble village?” Raziya held the bucket for her mother.
“No, Auntie.” Addae grimaced.
“That is not much better. Come closer, Addae.”
Addae approached Raziya’s mother. Raziya scowled.
“Today is an important day. You must look your best.”
“Bow your head.”
Raziya’s mother poured cool water over Addae’s head and torso. He sputtered, scrubbing his head, then his chest with his hands. He wiped the water and sleep from his eyes and smiled for the first time. Raziya and her mother smiled back.
“I thank you for your kindness.”
Raziya watched Addae as her mother once again dipped the pitcher in the well. Addae looked up as morning rays touched tree tops.” He must hurry, he thought. “God’s blessings, Auntie.”
“God’s blessings, Addae.”
Addae sprinted from the well, down a dusty path. He wove between huts with great speed. When he rounded a corner and came upon his own hut, he stopped, abruptly. Something was different.
He looked to the sky. In spite of not being first to the well he had raced the sun and had won. Morning rays had not yet touched his hut.
“Momma? Poppa?” he called.
No one answered.
The charcoal fire was burning, serpentine smoke snaking in the gentle morning breeze, and there were cakes on the fire. The clay oven was lit and bread was baking, but neither Momma, Lale or Echo were close by.
Addae entered the hut.
Momma? Lale? Echo?
He heard something outside and ran out of the hut.
Addae jumped. Momma, Poppa, Lale and Echo were all there smiling and laughing as the morning sun washed over them. Addae laughed too.
“Greetings, my son, and birthday wishes,” Poppa said.
“Greetings, Poppa, and thank you,” Addae replied.
“We have a gift for you.”
“A gift?” He could see no gift.
“For your birthday,” Echo said, as Poppa drew a bundle wrapped in brown paper from behind his back. Addae’s eyes grew big and Poppa laughed. The paper crinkled as Addae took the package from Poppa.
Addae beamed then tore into the package. When the paper fell away, he held up a brilliant blue, long sleeved polo shirt with three stripes on it and the word, Adidas.
“Put it on,” Momma said.
“It is Adidas,” Poppa said. “It will make you fast.”
“Addaedas,” Echo said. “like you.”
Addae put the shirt on over his naked chest and they all laughed. It was much too big.
“He will grow into it,” Lale said.
“He will grow out of it,” Momma said.
Poppa smiled. “Run, Addae. Run, before the morning sun climbs too high.”
Behind the scenes
The boy in the photograph was very proud of his Adidas shirt. He told us it made him fast. He received it for his birthday. His parents bought it at a store in Accra which sold used clothing donated from the United States. In Lubumbashi, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, I saw one child with a Los Angeles Lakers jersey . I live near Lone Peak High School in Cedar Hills, Utah and was surprised to see a boy in Sierra Leone wearing a Lone Peak High School jersey.
I have been to Africa many times. It is a continent of contrasts not free from turmoil or strife. Yet, in my travels throughout the continent, I have been blessed by many people of kindness, faith and love. The story above is based on a visit to the village of Yamoransah, Ghana. There I met a family I grew to admire in a very short period of time. Their lives are much different from my own. Yet, we share a common desire, to see our children grow up in the light of the morning sun.
It seemed like I’d been walking for hours. I couldn’t tell. I lost track of time, long ago. There were signs that others had been here before me, tracks in the salt, but I was alone.
I thought I heard something and stopped to listen. Were my ears playing tricks on me, inventing sounds in the stillness that weren’t there? I couldn’t tell.
My pounding heart was the only sound. All else was stillness. Oppressive, silence.
I was alone.
I began again, and the muffled shuffle of my shoes in the salt beat eighth notes to the sixteenth notes of my heart.
I was thirsty. I needed water.
I had run out . Yet, I could see it on the surface of the salt, shimmering, teasing, taunting. The closer I got the farther it seemed to be.
If I could just make it to the mountains.
Splashes, suddenly. The sound was refreshing. My steps disturbed a sea of glass. The mirage had not retreated. It was real. The surface stretched for miles. My footsteps sent expanding ripples across the glassy mirror, distorting the sky below me.
I took two more steps and stumbled. The salt gave way to mud beneath it and my shoes remained behind. I fell to my knees and my pants sucked up water, wet coolness, rising slowly up my thighs. I watched the khaki darken with curiosity, as if my clothes were trying to suck waning life back into my body.
Somewhere inside my head I sensed, maybe even knew, I should not drink this water. It renewed these salt plains. But it was so blue, so clear, and the need was so great. My lips were cracked and my tongue was dry.
I could not resist.
I cupped my hands and scooped up the water. It felt cool on my skin, wet. I opened my mouth and slurped it in. Again, in my head, I knew. I should not have done this.
I was consumed by greed and the reaction was violent. I sputtered and spit. My throat burned. When the brine reached my stomach I retched.
Falling forward, my body pushed a large wave across the glass and I broke the surface. The water was not deep. Just enough to cover my face. Salt surrounded me and I looked upon my body, reflecting through the glassy side of a mirror.
When these waters withdraw, others will find evidence that I have been, preserved by salt.
The Bonneville Salt Flats near the Bonneville Speedway as seen from the air.
Wind blown lifeless vegetation hints at soil beneath the Bonneville Salt Flats.
A thin sheet of glass like water mirrors the surrounding mountains of the Bonneville Salt Flats.
The setting sun turns the white salt golden on the Bonneville Salt Flats.
Tire tracks mar the salt near the Bonneville Speedway. Drive at your own risk.
In many areas of the Bonneville Salt Flats, the layer of salt covering the earth is very thin and in need of replenishing.
A thin sheet of water covers the Bonneville Salt Flats, replenishing the layer or salt for which the speedway is famous.
In spite of harsh conditions, life will not be denied to the salty plants of the Bonneville Salt Flats.
Turning donuts in the salt is the perfect circular activity on the Bonneville Salt Flats.
Seasonal water covers the Bonneville Salt Flats replenishing the salty surface.
The setting sun glistens on the water covering the Bonneville Salt Flats.
Water covering the Bonneville Salt Flats forms a near perfect mirror for the surrounding mountains.
A distant rocky mountain reflects on water covering the Bonneville Salt Flats.
It can be difficult to determine where the earth ends and the sky begins in the perfect reflections of the Bonneville Salt Flats.
Water covering miles and miles of the Bonneville Salt Flats is only a few inches deep.
Baked by sun and blasted salt, the road surface leading to Bonneville Speedway is in constant need of repair.
Mountains rise out of the Bonneville Salt Flats.
Windstorms, dust storms, sand storms and salt storms can be common occurrences in Western Utah hear the Bonneville Salt Flats.
A lonely road leading to the Bonneville Speedway crosses the submerged salt flats.
The setting sun turns the white salt golden on the Bonneville Salt Flats, as seen from above.
The Bonneville Speedway on the Bonneville Salt Flats used to be thirteen miles long. Now it is only seven. It is not known if the cause of the shrinking salt is due to the depletion of the aquifer as a result of nearby mining, or, from seasonal heavy rains. Nevertheless, the land speed records which have been set in years past must now be accomplished in shorter distances, as time may be running out on the Bonneville Salt Flats.
I purchased a DJI Phantom 4 drone about two months ago. I’ve been having a great time flying and shooting aerials. I have a lot to learn. The drone has some great features and I’ve only scratched the surface on how to use them.
Here are some shots from a recent trip to Crescent Cove, California.
When we went to Crescent Cove, I was nervous to fly over water. My drone took off and zipped out over the ocean and there was a feeling in the pit of my stomach that nearly compelled me to bring it home before it dropped into the depths and was lost forever. Fortunately, I didn’t bring it right back.
In order to legally fly a drone in the United States, you must register your drone with the FAA and take the FAA part 107 sUAS certification test. The test will not be available until August 29, 2016, but a link to a study guide is available:
When I purchased my drone, I registered it with the FAA, online, for a cost of $5. It was easy. I plan to take the FAA Part 107 certification test as soon as it is available.
Even though I’m following all the required regulations, I still get nervous when I fly. I’m not worried about the regs, I’m worried about crashing. I don’t want to loose my drone. I’m hoping that the more I fly the less worried I will be about crashing, but, I know some good pilots who have crashed drones.
The more I fly the more confidence I develop and the better I get. It definitely takes practice and time in the air to gain that confidence. The phantom 4 represents a real investment and I don’t want to loose it, and, I will keep flying in an effort to gain more confidence and skill.
In the meantime, I’m having a great time and capturing some cool images and video. Let me know what you think.
I enjoy watching the Olympics. I’m especially pleased to see the Olympics in Brazil. I was able to visit Brazil just prior to World Cup. It was a crazy, cultural and colorful experience. I witnessed strikes, mobs, gunfire and incredibly beautiful and colorful scenery. The food was amazing. I ate things I had never heard of. I met friendly people and heard styles of music that were filled with life and celebration. My experience in Brazil was amazing.
My friends in Brazil would not take me to the Favelas. They said it was too dangerous. They didn’t want me to get hurt, or robbed. They didn’t want me to see the poverty, overcrowding, pollution and social problems associated with the Favelas.
Nevertheless, the problems were there. I could feel it in the city. I could feel it in the tension among people. It was present in the bus strikes, the police strikes, the metro strikes. It was seeping out of the Favelas.
We were eating lunch at a restaurant near the harbor. Suddenly the lights in the restaurant went out. The restaurant owner told us we had to leave. They were closing. The mobs were coming. The police were on strike and the mobs were looting and robbing.
We had to go.
Now, the Olympics are in Rio and the world celebrates the games. However, many Brazilians, proud of their country and culture, are excluded from the celebration. They can’t afford it.
Hopefully, these games will be a celebration of the the Olympic spirit which inspires all of us, regardless of country and culture. And, hopefully, that same spirit will help to elevate the quality of life in Brazil and shed light on problems which afflict us all, not just those in Brazil. Perhaps these games will move an immensely complicated people to search for answers to the growing social ills that color the lives of a very colorful country.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Recife, Brazil Temple
The sun sets on a broadcast radio tower in Recife, Brazil.
A bright red leaf in Recife, Brazil.
Bright colors are a part of the Brazilian landscape, ever for graffiti taggers.
A Brazilian Voegol Airlines 737 sits in the rain while we wait for the storm to clear.
At 35,000 feet, the rising sun strikes our aircraft wing before lighting the Amazon rainforest.
Don’t miss seeing the beautiful gardens and arboretum in Curitiba, Brazil.
Even bus stops offer a bit of high-tech refuge from the elements in Curitiba, Brazil.
In downtown Sao Paulo, Brazil, classic architecture mixes with modern contemporary, even with streetlights.
Is it a warning or a reminder?
Sao Paulo high rises illustrate the modernity of contemporary Brazil.
The the phone booths in Brazil are colorful.
Surrounded by the wealth and design of Sao Paulo, Favelas represent the contrast of incredible poverty in the modern world.
Over crowded and polluted, this Sao Paulo Favela is one of the most dangerous places in Brazil.
This 19th century light house welcomes sailors to the Recife, Brazil harbor.
While beautiful, and colorful, Brazilian bays, beaches and rivers are dangerously polluted.
The setting Brazilian sun glistens on the waters of recife, harbor.
A father and son fish the waters of Recife, Brazil.
The setting sun illuminates the clouds over Atlantic Ocean near Recife, Brazil.
Colorful riverfront shops and apartments grace the shores of Recife, Brazil.
Net fisherman ply their trade in the bay of Recife, Brazil.
Recife, Brazil sunset.
Recife, Brazil sunset.
Recife, Brazil sunset.
Sao Paulo Brazil has a colorful mix of ethnicities.
This indigenous street vendor is happy to make a sale in Olinda, Brazil.
Product placement? Or just an ad for Adidas?
Brazilian boys wait for the right moment to jump in to the Beberibe River, in Recife, Brazil.
Watch out for sharks and don’t go in the water in Brazil.
Even though the beaches in Brazil are beautiful, they are extremely dangerous.
The quaint and colorful main street of Olinda, Brazil.
The marketplace of Olinda, Brazil is a quaint and colorful experience.
Airboats are really loud. If the alligators we were searching for couldn’t hear us coming, they couldn’t hear.
As I put on my sound dampening ear protection, I was pretty sure any, or all, wildlife on Boggy Creek would be gone, scared away by the sounds of a giant airplane prop spinning at a million rpms. When our boat pilot punched it, the airboat jumped, skipping across the water.
We skimmed across sawgrass marsh and into Boggy Creek where the vegetation was thick. The airboat glided over lily pads, grasses and anything else as if it were sliding on ice. Occasionally the undergrowth would part and reveal that we were, actually, on water.
Certain parts of the vegetation were thicker. It looked like dense growths of mangroves, vines, lily pads, grasses, cat tails and other greenish, brownish, orangish stuff had coalesced to form floating islands. As we glided deeper and deeper into the swamp, the vegetation and the floating islands grew thicker.
When our boat pilot cut the engine and the props spun out, the stillness was deafening.
“Look there,” someone on the boat whispered.
A small alligator, maybe 2-and-a-half feet long, scurried over and under branches, and brushes and bushes, then froze. He seemed to know we were watching. Perhaps by not moving he thought we would get bored and go away.
We did–go away. The pilot fired up the engine and we roared off in search of other dragons.
Flying through boggy creek on an airboat is great fun, but the real excitement comes when you stop. In the stillness of the bog and the quiet of a stilled motor, a marvelous world unfolds. The bog is teeming with wildlife. Rare birds, exquisite bugs, unique vegetation, and alligators all share a wetlands eco-system of tremendous diversity.
Boggy Creek flows into Lake Tohopekaliga, at the very north end of the Kissimmee River, with its system of interconnecting lakes. Not actually within Everglades National Park, Lake Toho and the marshes of Boggy Creek share many commonalities with the Florida wetlands park, including alligators and crocodiles.
Within Everglades National Park numerous rare and endangered species share a protected habitat relatively free from urban encroachment and environmental neglect. Outside the park, just miles from the entrance, no such protections exist. The iconic wetlands outside the park are threatened by over-development and pollution. The eco-system, both inside and outside the Glades, is intimately connected. Unfortunately for wetlands wildlife, there are no doors at the park entrance.
As we returned to the dock, storm clouds gathered above the lake. Lightning flashed, thunder cracked, the skies broke and the rains poured out. The downpour lasted for only a few minutes, but was powerfully cleansing.
When the rains stopped, the air cooled, the sun broke through clouds, calm returned and blue skies once again reflected on the mirror-like waters of Lake Toho. And, for a moment, the airboats were quiet.
This alligator is about a year old. Where there are small gators, the big ones are out there too.
Reeds, marsh and wetlands line Boggy Creek and Lake Toho.
Many exotic and rare birds find refuge in the wetlands of Lake Tohopekaliga and Boggy Creek.
The sawgrass marshes of Lake Toho are filled with beautiful colors.
Colorful vegetation of Boggy Creek.
This baby alligator hides among the lily pads of Lake Toho.
The lily pads surrounding Lake Toho act like floating islands for vegetation and wildlife.
Lilies in bloom in the marshes of Boggy Creek.
Raindrops and flowers on Boggy Creek.
Raindrops beed on fluorescent green leaves.
Raindrops on lily pads.
Boggy Creek Airboats–they’re fast, and fun.
Boggy Creek flows into Lake Tohopekaliga, near Kissimmee, Florida.
Fatima scowled as she handed a steaming cup of mint tea to her sister. Jamila accepted the tea as Fatima settled her bones on the river bulkhead.
“I am not so old as you, sister,” Jamila said, sipping her tea. The tea fragrance carried them back to fall harvest in their mountain village. As young girls, Fatima and Jamila had worked long hours in their father’s fields.
Now, fall was gone and the damp winters of Rabat pained Fatima’s arthritis. They sat in silence, sipping their tea as the green black waters of Bou Regreg sludged past.
“I do not know why we still come here,” Jamila said.
“Because our husbands do not like it,” Fatima replied and they laughed. There are few satisfying rebellions for a Muslim woman and Fatima and Jamila practiced them often.
“What did the doctor say?” Jamila ventured.
“Youssef is too stubborn to tell me,” Fatima said. She savored a sip of tea. “But I know.”
“How do you know this?” Jamila realized when she asked the question that she shouldn’t have asked the question. Her cheeks colored and Fatima laughed.
“You are too modest, little sister.”
A gusty breeze fluttered the silks of Jamila’s hijab and she drew the scarf tight under her chin. “Mamma had a remedy for such things,” Jamila said, not looking at her sister.
“I know,” Fatima said. “I have been mixing the herbs with his breakfast meal for weeks.
“You have?” Jamila looked up at her sister, eyes wide.
“What our men don’t know…,” and the sisters giggled as girls.
“Has it helped?” Jamila asked and the women laughed again.
“Shush,” Fatima said. “The Imam will see us laughing.”
“As will the All-Seeing-Eye.”
Fatima shivered in the moist river air as the culture of silence settled on the women. She sipped her tea as a lone seagull squawked above.
“How does Saïd at University?”
“Good. Good. He’ll be home in another month.” Jamila watched a fisherman rowing a worn wooden boat against the current. “And how is Asmae and the babies?”
“The babies are noisy, and hungry,” Fatima smiled. “I love having them here. Asmae says that Hakim wants her to come home.”
“It is too soon.”
“That is what I tell her.”
“She must rest, and feed her little ones.”
“So says the Prophet.”
Jamila took a sip of her mint tea and frowned. “My tea grows cold.”
“As do my old bones.”
Fatima and Jamila both twisted their bodies and stood up as old women. When the Adhan call to prayer echoed across the river they looked up to the minaret.
“The Muezzin is in good voice today.”
“He always sounds good on those days when we aren’t required to be there.” The sisters exchanged guilty smirks.
“You bring the tea.”
They smiled and embraced.
The mournful Muezzin’s call echoed across the cobblestones as the sisters plodded toward home.
On assignment, I flew in to Rabat, Morocco, on a private jet. As our team proceeded through customs, the agents held us up.
What were we planning to do?
What were we planning to film?
Where would we be going?
Moroccan media is tightly controlled and monitored by the Government. King Mohammed VI takes a personal interest in the message of his country. Foreigners can’t be trusted to portray an accurate or truthful picture of life in Morocco.
Rabat is the capitol city of The Kingdom of Morocco. Casablanca, made famous by the movie, is the country’s largest city. For more than a thousand years, the Western Kingdom of Morocco, or Marrakesh, was a powerful African dynasty.
Morocco is one of only three countries which have both a Mediterranean and Atlantic coast. From the 16th through 19th centuries, Barbary Pirates attacked ships and traded slaves along the Berber Coasts of Morocco, Algiers, Tunisia and Libya. In 1805, the United States executed a marginally successful military action against members of the Ottoman Empire in an effort to destroy the pirates and free American slaves. With European colonialism seeking to dominate much of Africa, political and economic tensions grew during the latter part of the 19th century. Moroccan independence essentially ended when France signed a treaty designating Morocco as a French protectorate in 1912. The French governed Morocco until 1956 when Sultan Mohammed V successfully negotiated Moroccan independence.
With Mohammed V’s succession to the throne, the spirit of independence and the power of the Monarchy re-emerged in Morocco. Mohammed V ruled for just 5 years. His son, Hassan II, became king upon his father’s death. Hassan II died in 1999 and his son, Mohammed VI, ascended to the throne.
As King, Mohammed VI has implemented progressive changes in Morocco, adopting a new constitution reducing the overall powers of the Monarchy while implementing a Parliamentary government with an appointed Prime Minister. Yet, Mohammed VI still wields tremendous power and controls much of the country’s resources. He personally owns the country’s phosphate mines, which account for 75% of the world’s reserves and he has a net worth greater than the Queen of England.
According to the World Health Organization, poverty remains high in Morocco. While Mohammed VI has placed modest emphasis on reducing the widening gap between rich and poor, civil rights abuses, government corruption and economic distress account for an increasingly disaffected populous. On the world stage, The United Nations has criticized Morocco for military action and occupation of a Western Saharan region populated by the indigenous Sahwari people who claim Western Sahara belongs to them.
As we stood in the customs office, the agents explained that we could not bring our equipment into their country. We must return our equipment to the airplane or we would not be allowed to enter. So, we shlepped our heavy black pelican cases back out on to the tarmac and stowed them on the plane.
I keep a camera in my backpack.
Politics and customs agents aside, a highlight of my visit to Morocco was eating lunch at a traditional restaurant which required ritual hand washing before eating. I held my hands over a beautiful ceramic basin as the Maitre d’ poured warm water from a hand painted glazed pitcher. Another waiter provided a warm towel to dry with. I don’t remember much about the food, but, as we were leaving the restaurant, the Maitre d’ repeated the washing experience by pouring warm rose water over our hands. The scent was strong and pleasing and stayed with me throughout the day.
Now, when I catch the scent of roses, I am transported back to that tiny restaurant in Rabat. I hear the call to prayer echoing across the ancient city and I want to reach in my backpack and check to see if my camera is still there.
Two women pause for a moment of reflection on the banks of the Bou Regreg River in Rabat, Morocco.
In the 10th century, guards of the Almohads could look out over the mouth of the River Bou Regreg from the parapets of the Kasbah of the Udayas and watch for invading armies.
In Rabat, Morocco, beautiful gardens have been restored to their former ancient beauty inside the Kasbah of the Udayas.
There are several ways out of the Kasbah of the Udayas in Rabat, Morocco.
The Moroccan flag flies over the palace grounds of Mohammed VI, King of Morocco.
Back alley shops are common in Rabat, Morocco, where Mom and Pop wait for customers.
Built in the 10th Century A.D.,cannons of the Kasbah of the Udayas in Rabat, Morocco would fire on Barbary pirates as they sailed up the Bou Regreg River.
An alley market in Rabat, Morocco boasts a wide variety of merchandise.
A lone man watches the waters of Bou Regreg river for signs of fish, while empty boats rest on the opposite shore.
The town of Salé rises across the river Bou Regreg from the capitol of Rabat, Morocco.
Military police guard the palace of King Mohammed VI of Morocco.
Birds carve out ideal homes in the ancient Hassan Tower of Rabat, Morocco.
Imperial symbols adorn the marble floors of the Mausoleum of Mohammed V in Rabat, Morocco.
Friends? Brothers? Men of Morocco.
Moslem women rest on stone benches outside the Palace of Mohammed VI in Rabat, Morocco.
A Moroccan woman rests on the painted iron grate overlooking the tower of Hassan in Rabat, Morocco.
Two Moroccan men discuss the matters of state, outside the palace of Mohammed VI in Rabat, Morocco.
10th century Moslem influences inform the architecture and staff of the Mausoleum of Mohammed V and the Palace of Mohammed VI.
The official flag of the Kingdom of Morocco.
Built of red sandstone in the 10th century, Hassan Tower in Rabat, Morocco, was intended to be the tallest minaret in the world.
Signs and flags everywhere indicate that the official name of the country is The Kingdom of Morocco.
The official flag of Morocco flies over stone pillars, remnants of the walls of Hassan Tower, in the palace court of Mohammed VI, King of Morocco.
The 10th century minaret of Hassan Tower rises above stone pillar remnants in Rabat, Morocco.
The Mausoleum of Mohammed V is the resting place of the late King of Morocco, along with his two sons, King Hassan II and Prince Abdallah.
An official Palace Guard on horseback in traditional costume guards the official residence of King Mohammed VI.
An aged Moroccan woman conducts business by cell phone in Rabat, Morocco.
Ceremonial Palace Guards in traditional costume, stand watch on horseback over the official residence of King Mohammed VI.
The air was dry–bone-dust drifting on a desert draft. A storm was coming, you just couldn’t see it yet.
I could hear an engine–distant but closing. The angry sound broke a stillness the desert was reluctant to give up.
A Border Patrol agent looked like he was cruising main on Saturday night, one hand on the wheel and one arm out the window–low and slow, The mud caked SUV stopped rolling and a red dust cloud wafted across the sun.
“What you boys doin’ out here?”
Grit ground in my teeth and I spat. “Taking pictures.” I held up my camera.
“Nice night for it,” he said. The sun was setting, but it wasn’t night yet. “Best be careful.”
The way he said it, I wondered if I should call my attorney. I nodded, not agreeing, just nodding.
“Ghosts,” he said, shaking his head like I knew what he was talking about, “don’t leave no tracks.” He looked down at the dirt and I couldn’t see his eyes. “They like to cross the border after dark.”
He continued to study the sandy ground for a long moment. Then he looked up. Our eyes met.
“Watch yourselves,” he said.
A coyote howled in the distance.
“Ghosts,” he said again. He tipped his hat and the SUV lurched forward. Tire tracks appeared where tires used to be and a new dust cloud buried their trail.
As the SUV disappeared into the desert, the sun touched a mountain and set the sky on fire. Quiet fell on falling dust.
My friend came out of the brush with his camera and tripod.
“What was that about?”
I thought I knew, but I wasn’t sure. I could hear movement in the brush. Footsteps, maybe.
“Ghosts.” I Pressed the cable release on my camera. The mirror popped up and the shutter opened. The sound was louder than I remembered. “They like to cross the border after dark.”
Lightning flashed on the horizon. The sound of a distant jet called from above. The coyote howled again.
We stayed there taking pictures until long after the light was gone.
Desert grasses and rock monuments catch the late afternoon in the Arizona desert not far from the Salt River.
The painted Arizona desert.
Arizona sunset near Marana, Arizona.
A crescent moon rises after sunset over the Arizona desert.
The sun sets over a cilantro farm on the Pima-Maricopa reservation.
Evening breezes waft the aromatic scents of cilantro across the valley as the sunsets on the Pima-Maricopa reservation.
Arizona highway? Jost a dirt road in the desert.
Painted mountain sunset in the Arizona desert near Marana.
Saguaro lake on the Salt River, Arizona.
Saguaro lake on the Salt River, Arizona.
A saguaro cactus stands tall in the Arizona desert.
Saguaro cactus populate the painted Arizona desert.
A saguaro cactus stands tall in the Arizona desert.