Gates of Fez

Founded in the 8th century, Fez is the intellectual, cultural and spiritual center of Morocco. The Medina, or Old City, is one of the best preserved medieval cities anywhere. Today, the pungent, labyrinthine Medina pulses with daily life much as it has for over 1,000 years. The Medina consists of the larger and older Fes el Bali, parts of which date to the 9th century, and Fes Jdid, which originated in the 13th century. Fes el Bali is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Some of the most interesting sites in the Medina are the many gates that pierce the ancient city walls. Here are just a few: Continue reading

Frankincense, from Oman to the World


Frankincense, the wealth of ancient Oman, flowed from the scared trunks of scrappy little trees on the wadi flats and mountain sides of misty Dhofar. The prized scent intensified as the resin dried and hardened.Then it was sent out by land and sea across the known world.

Dhows, the traditional sailing vessels of the region, carried frankincense to ports in Africa, Mesopotamia and India. While great caravans of 1,000 or more camels walked 2,000 miles north across the unforgiving Arabian Desert to ports on the Mediterranean Sea.

Camels can survive weeks without food or water, drawing on the fat stored in their humps. When necessary, they ate grains they carried or whatever they could find to graze on. Caravan drivers ate food packed by the camels, hunted, and shopped where they could on the way.

Tribal territories around the routes carved their share of the trade by charging tolls for passage and selling supplies.

Overnight camps were set up in the open desert or at caravanserai, the truck stops of the ancient trade routes. Song and dance around the fire recapped the highlights of each day’s journey, celebrated a step closer to completion and energized the company for the next leg.

The frankincense trade goes back at least 5,000 years. Egyptians and Mesopotamians were crazy for it, and the Greeks and Romans after them. It was used in religious ritual, in cosmetics, in medicine, even to embalm the dead. Today it’s used in pretty much the same ways and Dhofar still produces some of the highest quality frankincense in the world.

In Dhofar, you can visit remains of the ancient frankincense trade at Sumhuram and Al Baleed, both UNESCO World Heritage Sites near Salalah in southwestern Oman.

Check out our Oman tours at

5 Things to do in Trinidad de Cuba

1. Walk around the city center
Trinidad de Cuba was founded in the 16th century but it really took off in the 18th century when it became a highly productive center of sugar production. Neoclassical, Moorish and Baroque colonial buildings line the cobbled streets, ghosts of a gilded age. Some are perfectly restored, many more are faded and worn, but still beautiful. Trinidad claims to be the best preserved colonial city in Latin America. It could be true. Continue reading

Revisiting Trinidad de Cuba

My first time in Trinidad de Cuba was in 2003.

There have been some changes since then, as the city has taken on a much more tourist friendly attitude and is reflected in the increased number of shops and restaurants.

Trinidad de Cuba, the province of , Sancti Spíritus, was founded December 23, 1514, by a rich Basque landowner from central Cuba. It has been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1988.

The main economy is tobacco processing, but tourism is an increasing source of income for the residents of Trinidad.  In years past, Trinidad was a cultural center with theaters and music schools, and a haven for silver and goldsmiths. Today, there are, of course, the tourist shops, but also some very good street markets where you can find some authentic Cuban handicrafts, including textiles.

We visited a number of the old villas or palaces, which are now museums and then walked across the plaza to the Santísima Trinidad Cathedral, which is the largest operating church in Cuba. It is very ornate, with many side alters dedicated to various saints and the Virgin Mary.

In some free time I walked from the Iberostar, which is a 40-room, boutique hotel on a wonderful plaza, and had a quick meal at a tiny private restaurant. My meal was a large ham, egg and cheese sandwich and two Cristal beers, a local Cuba brew. My total cost: 7.50 Cuban Pesos, which is about $9 US. But it was my bar amigo who was most interesting. He told me he was a “professor.” I asked of what, and he said “tourists.” Meanwhile, the well dressed bartender (and owner, I imagine) was rolling his eyes. I think the “professor” was making a bar-to-bar study of the visitors who came to Trinidad and his podium was the bar and his lecture was to anybody who would listen. Still, he was extremely friendly, and as I left he wished me a great stay.

Back at the Iberostar, our group had decided to stay in and have a pizza party, featuring some very good pizza (thin crust). I begged a few slices and was impressed, and I am from Chicago, known for pizza.

All of Trinidad is a living museum, and it is frozen in time, because of the shifts of economy during the Industrial Revolution of the 19th Century, so everywhere you go you are walking on old cobble rock streets, passing ancient houses with red tile roofs, and listening to the music, which is everywhere.

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Speaking of music, I have noticed now that every meal seems to come with a band. And every band come with a $10 CD. Some people like that and some don’t. I don’t mind it too much, but like home, I sometimes pay them to go away.

The one thing about Trinidad is that they do need the soaps, the lotions and the medical supplies that we bring. There is such a lack of things that we can easily buy at dollar stores or that we get from hotel stays. You just wish you could bring more, because more is always needed.

I stepped outside the Cathedral and an artist was doing pen and ink drawings of the plaza, and he asked me “when it will all end.”  He meant the United States imposed travel and trade embargo.  I shrugged. “Soon?” I said with doubt.  Fifty plus years now, so who knows.  “Yes,” said the artist, “that would be good.”  We both knew that “soon” in the political world can be decades.

If you see nothing else in Cuba, see Trinidad.  It is so beautiful and the people so friendly. You will love it.


Guest blogger Rich Davis is the Ya’lla Tours Midwest regional sales manager.
He is currently escorting a group in Cuba. Internet connection from Cuba is spotty, so I don’t have Rich’s photos yet. I wanted to get his post up to stay as current as possible, so included some images from previous trips. We’ll do a post of Rich’s photos in the near future.