Morocco Trip Part 3

March 6th, 2012

Let’s keep it going all the way to the conclusion this time (EDIT:  Didn’t make it there.  We’ll get there next time)

More Fes stuff– We went back and visited my old host-family from my abroad term.  That was fun and a complete trip.  They’re remaking their ancient Moroccan home into a riad (a sort-of bed and breakfast in a traditional Moroccan home.  If you go to Morocco, you MUST stay in one.  There is seriously NO other way).  I went to go look at my old room, and it had been destroyed in the reconstruction.  Lame!  Nonetheless, it was good to see them.  Then, we hiked up to the tomb of the Merinides.  (History cliffnotes– the Merinides ruled Fes 700 or 800 years ago).

So, in the middle of our time in Fes, my brother James and I decided to go seek out my old friend Brahim.  I met Brahim on my first night in Fes about five years ago.  Here’s the story:

The Fes labyrinth is formidable for even the most experienced of travelers, and so, as a complete first-timer, I had no chance.  To make matters worse, the kids on the street consider it a fun game to mess with tourists.  “Excusez-moi monsieur, vous cherchez quelque chose?  You look for something? Excuse me!” Invariably, at your wits end, you will take one of these little bastards up on their offer.  Then, they lead you deep into the medina and triumphantly display their brother’s pottery store.  You say, “I don’t want pottery, I need to go to… *looks down at piece of paper* 16 derb ben salem.  Where is that?”  Of course, then the kid will say, “Just up there and to the right”.  And so you get even further lost in the city.

This was my exact experience on my first night in Fes five years ago, and before long I’d been at it for 3 hours.  The sun was going down quickly and I was running out of time to find my house before dark.  My arabic was meager at the time, and my awkward French only served to further identify me as a tourist (there is no love lost between French and Moroccans).  Anyway, I’m standing there looking confused when yet another kid comes up to me with the same old routine:  “Excusez-moi monsieur!” Suddenly, another guy about my age comes out of a rug store on the side of the street and says, in English no less, “He’s trying to hustle you.  Fuck off kid!”  I was pretty stunned.  Then, to me, “Where are you going?”  “Thank you, I’m going to… *checks paper* Derb Ben Salem.” Without a word, this well-dressed young guy leads me the full 20 minute walk back to my house.  Then, when I offered him some money, he gave me a look of absolute disgust at the thought of payment, and walked away.

Later, once I knew my way around the city, I went back to his rug store and bought some stuff from him.  We talked.  His name was Brahim.  We became facebook friends.  Then, the next time I returned to Morocco it was during Ramadan; Brahim and his family invited my friends and me to break fast with them.  A pretty incredible experience, to say the least.

So, to flash forward to this most recent Moroccan excursion:  James and I met Brahim at his rug shop and he had someone serve us tea.  His English was much improved since the last time I hung out with him.  After tea, he brought us to the area where his family’s business makes rugs.  We looked at some rugs and drank more tea (in Morocco, they drink green tea 5-7 times per day.  It’s fantastic).  Then, he dropped us off at a good dinner place and we had yet another delicious tagine d’kefta.  Brahim returned to the restaurant around the end of our meal and sat with us.  When we went to pay, the bill was 130 dirhams (about 17 dollars).  We only had 100 and 200 dirham bills.  Before we could pay with the 200 and get change, Brahim just said “no no that is fine” and put down our 100.  We looked at him confused, but he seemed so confident that 100 was perfectly fine that we followed him out.  The waiter called down to us as we were almost out of the door and said “This is only 100, the bill was 130!”  Brahim says, “Close enough!’  And we walk out.  This was the first sign that perhaps Brahim is actually a huge baller.

Then, we met up with Brahim’s friends for more tea at a local cafe.  It was at this cafe that my brother’s misconceptions of Arabic/Islamic culture were smashed– these guys were sitting around showing each other pictures of their girlfriends on their iPhones.  I shit you not!  It turns out that these guys were college students at various places, including Seville in Spain (where we had just come from).  After tea they invited us back to one of their apartments (which was empty, just us) and we hung out and swapped stories.  Many of the funniest stories were sexual in nature–just because they live in a Muslim country doesn’t mean they don’t hook up.  And, they’re still guys, so they like joking about it.  It really didn’t feel too different from hanging out with my friends back in the USA.  Oh yeah, and when we left the tea place, we didn’t pay then either.  Brahim told us, “its cool”.

Then, one of the guys who had been educated in Seville, spoke up, in English: “I don’t think Osama Bin Laden was a real person.  I think he was invented by the US Government”.  Oh boy.  We proceeded to have a very cordial conversation in which I politely poked holes in his massive Jewish/USA conspiracy theory to attack Muslims.  Suddenly, some of the concerns many Americans hold about the Islamic world came to life in a very real way.  There are two things to keep in mind here, though– first, the conversation was extremely cordial.  It was a political conversation among amicable people.  Second, some of the people in the group of Moroccan students weren’t buying it either.  As in all things, nothing is black and white.  After a 30 minute conversation (and one in which James desperately wished he spoke Arabic and could participate haha) my conspiracy-theorist friend bid us adieu and we returned home for the night.

The following day was our last morning in Fes– we got breakfast with Brahim (again, we didn’t have to pay).  James said that the previous night he’d seen Brahim slap the cafe-owner with a 100 dirham bill (5 times our actual tab).  In short, Brahim is a boss.  We bought some totally sweet Moroccan blankets, and headed out of town for the 7 hour train ride to Marrakech.

On the train, we had a coach that was a revolving door of interesting people (almost entirely young women).  Conversation began when I offered them some of my water in Arabic, and then we ended up talking about all things–politics, religion, dating, etc.  In all places on earth, the difference between educated and uneducated people is clear.  It was really cool to meet so many people who were educated.

Anyway, this was a TON of text and no pictures!  So, I’m going to leave this up for a part 4 with more pictures and descriptions of our time in Marrakech.  And THEN I’ll be done.

Hope everyone is well!


Spain and Morocco: Part 2

March 1st, 2012

Let’s pick up where we left off.

To go from Seville (in southern Spain) to Morocco is actually more challenging than one might think, despite the proximity of the Strait of Gibraltar (which only takes about 45 minutes to cross on the fast ferry; and trust me, you want to take the fast ferry).  In fact, it is so time consuming to take a bus from Seville to Algeciras, catch a ferry, spend a night in Tangiers (my least favorite city on Earth), then catch a train the next day to Fes, that James and I decided to take a train back to Madrid for a night and catch a flight the following day.

So, James and I returned to Madrid and had one quite fancy (if not all that delicious) meal in the city.   The restaurant (I don’t even recall its name; wouldn’t go back) gets a 10/10 for presentation but probably only a 6/10 for actual taste.   However, since blogging is ALL about presentation, here are some food-porn photos for you to enjoy:

Some filet thing on a bread with vanilla mousse on top. Tasted pretty good.

Weird spinach + something almost pate like dish with a shrimp on top. Wasn't a big fan.

Then, after a night in Madrid (which was more-or-less uneventful as we were pretty tired), we hopped a flight the next morning to Casablanca and immediately hopped on a train for Fes, which arrived four hours later.

Suddenly, we were back in one of my favorite places on Earth.  If you don’t know anything about Fes, I recommend reading this and getting familiar.  Cliffnotes:  it is a still-functioning medieval city, complete with handmade goods, local farms and butchers, narrow streets too narrow for two donkeys to pass (no cars here), the heart of Moroccan cuisine, a UNESCO world heritage site, and home to the oldest still-running university in the world.  The old Fes Medina, over a thousand years old, is also considered among the most densely populated places on the planet, as well as being a labyrinth of monstrous proportions (read:  I’ve spent months there and I still get lost all the time).

Our first night in Fes involved us eating our first Tagine d’Kefta (there would be many, many more).  In fact, I have so many photos of Tagine d’Kefta’s that I don’t know which is which, so I’ll just post one.

A tagine d'kefta is a spiced meatball stew in a tomato-base with eggs. One of the greatest things ever.

Dinner that first night was at the Kasbah restaurant by Bab Boujloud (fun note:  Bab is the word in Arabic for “door” or “gate”.  So, it kinda makes sense that Ali Baba opened the magic gate–his name means roughly, “Ali the Door Guy”).  Bab Boujloud is a pretty epic gate into the old city:

Bab Boujloud, the southern entrance to the city. I didn't take this photo, hence the quality being somewhat decent.

The Kasbah restaurant has terrace seating overlooking the gate.  It’s a really phenomenal view and experience in general to be sitting up there.  Of course, the food is all incredibly cheap (5 dollars a plate is very common in Morocco, even at relatively touristy places).  As we were finishing our meal at the Kasbah, a big cat started eyeing our table.  James and I did our best to shoo it away, but it was pretty persistent.  Eventually we just figured it would just sit there eyeing us forever, but it didn’t.  Instead, it leapt up onto our table and snagged our remaining chicken.  Welcome to Morocco.  Fortune favors the bold!

The next day, we toured the city, got thoroughly lost, and eventually ended up at our desired location, the most wonderful restaurant in Morocco.  It has two names: Palais de Fez (Palace of Fes, in French) and Dar Tazi (House of Tazi, in Arabic).  Given my preference for Arabic over French, I always just call it Dar Tazi.  Dar Tazi is legitimately high-end and wildly expensive by Moroccan standards (even expensive by US standards at $50 for the full meal).  That said, I cannot stress enough how *worth it* it is.  I ordered my favorite there (I’ve been many times), the prix fixed meal with Moroccan Salad, Pastilla d’Semek (fish pastilla, a rare adaptation of the traditional pigeon-or-chick pastilla), and fruit for dessert.  James assumed that the “Moroccan Salad” has the same meaning as the word “Salad” and was looking forward to seeing his dish.  When they brought 14 different dishes, together comprising the “Salad”, James was pretty excited (even though the food can indeed be overwhelming).  Here’s a great photo showcasing the pastilla and the salad:

Pastilla in the foreground, salad dishes in the background. Again, forgive me for eating most of it before taking photos.

Then, during our meal, one of the more incredible elements of Arabic culture caught us by surprise–the call to prayer began to emanate from the city.  It starts at the Qaraouine mosque, the largest and most centrally located mosque in the city, and spreads outward like water ripples until over 300 unique voices are calling the faithful into prayer.  From the Dar Tazi’s hillside terrace, you can hear them all clearly.  It is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.  Breathtaking.


View from Dar Tazi

We spent the rest of the day walking off the ~2 lbs of food, checking out the Qaraouine mosque (we can’t enter; non-Muslims cannot enter mosques in Morocco).  Here’s another quick Qaraouine pic:


Qaraouine Minaret

This last photo was taken from the terrace of the Nejjarine Square museum.  Nejjarine Square is a small public space in Fes that, in ancient times, used to receive camel caravans and provide lodging for weary travelers.  It has since been turned into an ancient artifacts museum.  James and I had a great time drinking tea on the terrace in the sunshine, as well as exploring the museum itself.

Nejjarine Museum


Anyway, there are many more stories to tell, including a) the entrance of Brahim; b) the crazy Jewish conspiracy guy; and c) all of Marrakech.  And of course, more food.

Part 3 coming soon!


Seville and Morocco: Trip Report Part 1

February 26th, 2012

Hi Guys,

So, not long ago, I went on a trip to Seville, Fes, and Marrakech.  Here’s the story.

I was an Arabic major in college and speak the language pretty well.  I did my abroad term in Fes, Morocco, a place that I ultimately fell in love with for its culture, history, and the kindness of its people.  Morocco is a particularly awesome place given that it’s incredibly exotic yet safe and accessible for Westerners.  As a result, many of my friends have wanted to visit the country, and many have asked me to guide them in exploring the country.  I have a hard time saying no.  My brother, James, had work in Dublin and a few weeks to travel afterward, and asked if I wanted to do a Southern-Spain-and-Morocco trip.  Given that Seville is one of my favorite places on Earth, this one was too good to refuse.  So, I booked a ticket, met him in the Madrid airport, and the adventure began.

Our first day in Seville was spent wandering around the city and enjoying the beautiful sights.  However the real highlight came at our first meal.  Enter Robles Placentines.  Rarely in life do we get to experience food that melts faces; I can count the number of meals on one hand that fit this description (TarTar Lounge in Cannes, Dar Tazi, and only a few others).  So, we sat down, unsuspecting, at Robles Placentines for a late lunch.  First, enter some beautiful sangria.  Then, enter the greatest tapas I’ve ever tasted.

DISCLAIMER:  Food often looked so delicious that I forgot to photograph it before I’d finished half of it.  Please forgive.

Bacon-wrapped shrimp and pork filet with bacon.  The bacon-wrapped shrimp was a clear favorite.  The other top pick was the lomocito filet with jamon serrano on top.  Absolutely phenomenal.  Here is a link to the google map location in case you’re ever in Seville.

We spent the rest of our time in Seville trying other classic Spanish foods– Paella, Zumo (Spanish orange juice), Spanish ham sandwiches, but nothing came close.  So, on our last day, we returned to Robles and it was even better than the first time.  Incredible.

Seville is also a beautiful place to walk around and sight-see.  The Andalusian history and art is so persuasive in the city’s personality and architecture.  Here are some photos that explain what I mean.

Classical Spanish guitarist on the sidewalk

Plaza de Espana, massive and peaceful in the morning

Alcazar, the royal palace in Sevilla

The history of Alcazar is particularly interesting to me as an Arabic major.  First, the word “Alcazar” literally means “The Palace” in Arabic.  Secondly, this region of Spain was conquered and then reconquered and then re-reconquered so many times that the palace facility kept growing larger and switching faiths.  So, along with the pervasive Islamic themes (square rooms, central water features, open air chambers), the place is also littered with Western paintings, tapestries, and other pieces of artwork.

After reaffirming Seville’s place as one of my favorite places in the entire world, it was time for James and I to set off toward Morocco.

More on that later!


What happened to BalugaBay? Also, quick life recap. Holla.

February 22nd, 2012

Sup guys,

I know it’s been quite a while since I updated my blog.  Also, you may notice that all of my previous blog entries on balugabay are gone–in short, the blog was hosted through DeucesCracked, they decided to no longer host blogs themselves, and I didn’t really understand the process I needed to save my stuff, so voila! it’s gone.

In a sense, it’s a pretty kick-ass metaphor for what’s been going on with the poker world in general.  We had our money with full tilt, it didn’t do too well, anddd…. its gone.

Well, we have the option of blaming (easy to do), languishing (even easier), watching NetFlix (awesome, but eventually my patience ran out), watching Game of Thrones (awesome, give me more), or finding something productive to do (really???).

Yes, really.

So, my life has now become two lives– my poker life and my non-poker life.  Let’s do them both, one at a time:

Poker Life

 1) I relocated to Canada to play online poker.  I ran 40BI under EV immediately.  Lol.  That’s okay, though.  I don’t live in Canada anymore (I moved to San Francisco), but I maintain a residence there and sometimes return and play poker.

2) I published Easy Game 3rd Edition and have received quite positive reviews.  It’s really awesome to hear feedback from so many people telling me that my work has helped them understand how to think more effectively, play better poker, and enjoy the rewards of winning.

3) I’m knee-deep in an awesome poker-related project based on my experiences traveling abroad and meeting other poker players.  I’ll write more on this in the future.

4) I’m working on another book, this time about theory of tournament play and the difference between cash games and tournaments.  Before black friday I became increasingly interested in tournaments, did a lot of work and studying, and almost immediately won a 100k gtd for a beautiful 29k of money that now resides in a safe at Chris Ferguson’s house.

Non-Poker Life

1) I’m getting close to launching an awesome business with my older brother and another person I met through the pokersphere.  The idea stems from a conversation my brother and I had about wanting to own a very large, very ballin’ yacht, but neither of being able to afford it.  So, we brainstormed ways to afford it, and came up with a pretty good idea.  Again, will produce more once the site is closer to going live.

2) I just took an awesome trip to Spain and Morocco with my other brother.  Seville and Fes were major highlights!  I’m doing a full trip report that will probably be up later today.  The outcome of the trip might result in me opening a Moroccan rug shop in the USA. Maybe.

3) Big UPS to my man Molson, president and founder of Kikbo for his brief story in TechCrunch.  Entrepreneur doing things amazingly well.  What a boss.

4) Getting set up in San Francisco is taking up a lot of my time, but I look forward to doing some more blogging (including  starting another, totally non-poker related blog), experiencing the city, being warm (finally), and learning some new tricks.  And, of course, eating great food, listening to good music, meeting gorgeous and intelligent women, etc etc etc.  Life’s not so bad.


Anyway, that’s all for now.  BalugaBay will remain my poker-related blog, as well as the source for most of my general life-ramblings and to-do’s.  I have some exciting trips planned for my future, including Spring Training in Arizona, Israel in May, NYC in June (with possible Dartmouth visit!), and then I have a hankering for some Panama or some Colombia or something like that.  Of course, if we get our FTP money back that would just be icing on an already very delicious cake.

Alright y’all, catch you soon!