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A riot in Morocco.
Tags: Reflections Africa Morocco
Watching a riot begin from the hotel window in Tetouan, Morocco. photos by Nick Wharton.Watching a riot begin from the hotel window in Tetouan, Morocco. photos by Nick Wharton.

Experiencing a Revolution in Morocco

As we crossed the sea border into Morocco from Spain, we had no idea what to expect. We were looking forward to the medieval medinas, delicious food and unique culture and we were anxious to explore Morocco. This was in 2011 and the North African Revolution was in full swing.

It had started in Tunisia and moved its way to Egypt and into the Middle East, but we didn't think that there would be any issues in little western Morocco. In all honesty, we're not ones to shy away from political unrest and the news did not deter us from flying to Egypt two weeks later.

But we thought Morocco was in peace.

We didn't see any signs of the revolution until we arrived in the tiny, quaint town of Tétouan. This was by far our favorite village in Morocco. The people here seemed more welcoming, the medina was smaller and more manageable and the old town gently climbed a hill, disappearing in the distance in front of our hotel room.

Our room was right on the main square with a perfect view of the town and all of the daily goings on of the people down below. Up until around 2 o'clock in the afternoon, everything was completely normal. The market was alive with local venders singing praises for their fresh fruits and veggies. Taxis, cars, delivery trucks and motorbikes hummed back and forth, racing to and from their destinations and children laughed and skipped home from school.

But soon, everything would change.

Thanks to the popularity of social media, a meeting had been organized and planned at the square at about 2:30. Hundreds, and then thousands of people descended on the roundabout that sat in the center of town.

Numerous groups swarmed in circles around one or two men, who screamed loudly into megaphones in Arabic, a language we could not understand. Chants, songs and speeches were hollered out, their bellowing cries amplified through the loud-speakers and ricocheted off of the old city walls. Dariece and I watched from the window or our third story hotel room, concerned because of what we had recently seen on the news from Egypt, but still intrigued by their passionate cheers. 

A protester is taken to a police van.A protester is taken to a police van.There were still children in the streets so we felt as though we had nothing to fear. Suddenly another group of people appeared and they seemed to be supporting an opposing party. They wore mostly white tee-shirts and their chants seemed louder and more aggressive than their predecessors. At this point the women and children started to disappear from the streets and we knew that something was going on. Not long after that, the cheering crowd took on the persona of a mob and started to smash windows. 

We had seen enough broadcasts of the escalating demonstrations in Egypt and Tunisia to know that this was not going to end well. We put on our backpacks and headed for the door, reluctantly paying the owner for our 4 hour stay at her hotel. We then ran down to the street where the mob had broken into our favorite coffee shop and was throwing glasses and breaking more windows. We quickly rushed past them, down one of the narrow back roads and on to the main street that led to the bus station.

Loudspeakers on the streets of Tetouan Morocco.Loudspeakers on the streets of Tetouan Morocco.Just as we thought we were on our way out of town, we spotted another group of people coming towards us. This was no happy crowd and many came brandishing some sort of stick in their hands. We doubled back on ourselves and ran back into the quiet alley, just as the gang rushed by the entranceway where we had just been standing.

They hollered and screamed in a language that we couldn't comprehend, but we could recognise the despair in their voices. We ran back to our hotel and up on the third floor where we asked the hotel lady to again let us check in.

She seemed happy to see us back, not because she could charge us again (which she didn't), but I think she was generally concerned for the foreigners who had fled the scene.

Back in our room, her son joined us and explained some of the chants that were being hollered down below. They cried out against their corrupt government and pleaded for economic fairness. They demanded to be considered equals and described royal riches contrasted by their own personal poverty.

This was the revolution in Morocco, and it seemed to be long overdue.

The crowd became more agitated and eventually started smashing windows around the square. They were even throwing stones up to the second and third floors, breaking glass in the bank and department store across from us. We could hardly believe that this was the same peaceful square that we had so enjoyed just a couple of hours prior.

The scenic village of Tetouan, where the protest took place.The scenic village of Tetouan, where the protest took place.As night fall came, the crowd grew to the point that the entire roundabout was full of screaming Moroccan protesters and young, over-excited hooligans. The last thing we wanted to do was to head out into the crowd, but we were both starving as we hadn't eaten since lunch. Maybe I didn't have to go, but something told me that I would be safe and I was somehow excited to see the action on the ground floor.

I left Dariece in the care of the hotel owner and her son and went down onto the streets. The moment I was spotted, one of the young protesters rushed over to me and grabbed my arm. I was instantly worried that I had made a terrible mistake.

Luckily this boy was there to help.

"Why are you out here?!" he cried over the deafening chants of the crowd. "I'm hungry, I want some food" I replied in a forcefully calm voice. "Come" he said. The young man held my arm the entire time (a common practice for close male friends in Morocco) and walked me to a small cafe further away from the hordes of The riot police arrive on the scene.The riot police arrive on the scene.people.

I picked up some snacks and a couple of waters and then we both started heading back to the hotel. He seemed ready to shield me from the debris and angry protestors if need be.

He explained to me the horrible situation that Morocco was in and he expressed his honest hope for change. When we got back to the hotel door he bid me farewell and I rushed back up the stairs to be with Dariece, as he rushed back with his comrades.

The protesting carried on into the wee hours of the night, with riots, vandalism and looting. The Moroccan equivalent of the SWAT team showed up wearing riot gear. They pushed into the crowd with their shields and batted a couple of aggressive protestors with their batons.

We also witnessed civilians chanting with the crowd, and then suddenly turning on their fellow protestors and grabbing someone close by.

There were clearly secret police in plain clothing at the riot helping with the arrests. We saw dozens of young men forcefully dragged into unmarked vans and taken away to who knows where.

Some were beaten, some were simply dragged against their will. Luckily the scene didn't escalate much further than this. No tear gas was fired into the square and by early morning the police had managed to get the crowd under control.

Some windows were destroyed and many shop owners would have to pay the price for this political production, but in the end I don't think that too many people were hurt. This was just the beginning of a series of riots and protests that would rally throughout the country for over a year.

Other Cities ToA big crowd was on hand to riot.A big crowd was on hand for the riot.o

We soon found out that on that same night, other cities in Morocco like Chefchaouen, Fez, Marrakesh and Casablanca also had massive demonstrations. All were Street protesters photo by Magharebia.Street protesters photo by Magharebia.following the lead of their North African neighbours and all were pleading for the same reforms. The Moroccan uprising was named after the night that we had witnessed the riots and will forever be remembered as the 20 February Movement.

On March 9th 2011, King Mohammed VI finally responded to the ongoing upheaval in his country and announced his decision to undertake a comprehensive constitutional reform.

Despite the Monarch's new commission to work on constitutional revisions, the protest movement leaders were unconvinced. One thing was for sure, the people rallied and the government leaders who they cried out against had no choice but to respond.

Whether their response was honest and just is another story, but there is no doubt that the people worked together to get the attention of their leaders, and that was inspiring to us as travellers and citizens of the world. Even though we mostly cowered in our third floor hotel room that night, we couldn't help but to feel like we were part of something big.

We witnessed the fear and anger in their eyes and watched as they desperately called out rhyming slogans to get the attention of their rulers. We were scared and excited and intrigued all at the same time, but we were also shown a great amount of respect throughout the whole ordeal. That young man, who escorted me to the cafe, had no intention of harming me or any other tourist.

This was a battle with his country and he just wanted to make sure that I got around safely. That is the memory I will keep from that alarming evening in Morocco. The kind and concerned nature of someone fighting a cause that was beyond my understanding.

We'll never forget that incredible night in the tiny village of Tétouan, and we hope that they have found peace and stability since our departure from Morocco.

goats on the road
Check out Goats on The Road for more of their experiences backpacking Morocco.

Nick Wharton is half of the couple behind Goats On The Road, a website designed to inspire others to live a financially sustainable, location independent lifestyle. Masters at making money abroad and turning their travels into a way of life, they've been on the road since 2008 and have explored some of the least visited places on earth, finding adventure wherever they go. They're also full time contributors at Travel Pulse and Credit Walk where they share their stories and expertise of long-term travel. Follow them on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and YouTube.

Read more stories about Morocco on GoNOMAD


Dye pots in FA(c)z. Photo by Janis Turk. Click on image to return to Janis Turk's article about Morocco.
Watching a riot begin from the hotel window in Tetouan, Morocco. photos by Nick Wharton
Painting the town blue in Chefchaouen, Morocco. Photo by Ann Banks. Click on photo
Djellabahs for sale in Chefchaouen, Morocco. Photo by Ann Banks. Click on photo to return
Man in a local market in Morocco. photos by Kathryn Weir. Photographing Magical Morocco: Tips
Mud brick houses in Bougomez. Photos by Ann Banks . Read More about Morocco on GoNOMAD
to Janis Turk's article about Morocco.
Turk's article about Morocco. Read more GoNomad stories about Morocco:
Djellabahs for sale in Chefchaouen, Morocco. Photo by Ann Banks. Click on photo to return
Painting the town blue in Chefchaouen, Morocco. Photo by Ann Banks. Click on photo
Painting the town blue in Chefchaouen, Morocco. Photo by Ann Banks. Click on photo to enlarge
story about Chefchaouen. Read more articles about Morocco on Travel:
Saharan Soccer: Traveling with Children in Morocco By Cass Erikson "Y ou're taking your
with Gazelles in Morocco - Page Two By Janis Turk Days passed in a whirlwind of happiness A much like
further across than you need to. Morocco So I started to think about Morocco. Marrakech is reached
Tags: Helps Stephanie DiCarlo

Find the Volunteer Trip Suited for You with Trip180
Volunteering in New Orleans. Stephanie DiCarlo photo.Volunteering in New Orleans. Stephanie DiCarlo photo.
When we think of travel, oftentimes we see it as something the world will give us; sightseeing tours and new delicious food, beautiful places to relax or explore, hotels and planes and souvenirs. Most of the time, travel is synonymous with ‘vacation.’

There’s nothing wrong with traveling for a vacation, but another question that might be useful to ask, especially for the ready traveler, is what can we do for the world? It can be a daunting question, but the fact is, there is a lot that one person can do to improve lives abroad.

Where to start

So where do I start? you might be asking. As someone who’s been faced with this question before, I know that simply googling ‘volunteering abroad’ can yield vague and overwhelming results. Luckily a new website called Trip180 can help you connect with the perfect volunteer organization.

All you have to do is make an account to get started, and then you can easily narrow down what you want to do and where you want to go, even how much it costs. The steps are stated simply on the site:

"A nonprofit posts an opportunity on the site, you browse through and apply to the opportunity of your choice, you and the nonprophit chat directly about the offered experience, the nonprofit approves you, you transfer fees to the to the non-profit, and finallly, you can travel with a purpose!"

Cater your volunteer experience specifically to your abilities

The site helps to match you with the perfect volunteer experience-- whether you want to help youth and children, community development, education, wildlife, hunger, human rights, or the environment. There really is no limitation on what you can do, which makes it easier for you to decide what it is that you think you can most contribute to. 

One user and blogger, a university student, had the desire to travel and help abroad, but found that volunteer traveling was as expensive, if not more expensive, than luxury traveling.

Without the funds to do this, she found herself incredibly disappointed, but when she found Trip 180, the site helped match her up with opportunities that matched her finances. “I can safely say that Trip180 provides high quality (and low cost) travel experiences,” she said. You can find opportunities to volunteer “without feeling defeated by your budget.”
When I was a university student myself, I took several volunteer trips down in New Orleans, Louisiana, traveling all the way from Boston to help the city recover from the lasting problems of hurricane Katrina.  I found it easy to resonate with the problem of money.

And as someone who loves to travel, my past experiences have inspired the desire in me to volunteer abroad in the future, which, now that I know about Trip180, seems a little less difficult to achieve. When you do it once, you’ll definitely want to do it again. 

It's about what you can do for others

While the goal of volunteering is certainly to help others, there is so much you yourself can get from it. It’s insight into other cultures that you would never find from simple sightseeing alone.
trip 180Volunteer for the environment.Volunteer for the environment.“Whether you want to build a community hospital in Haiti, help the scientists in the Brazilian rainforest, teach the children of Cambodia or help protect the reefs of Costa Rica there are thousands of nonprofits out there doing something you are passionate about who are in need of your skills, time and energy,” said another blogger for Trip180.

And while you volunteer, programs also offer tours and sightseeing so that you still can be a tourist-- while helping people at the same time.

During my time volunteering in New Orleans, we worked hard to help rebuild houses and meet the people in the communities we were serving, while also taking time to explore a city we’d never been in. However, it’s safe to say that the best, and most meaningful, part of a volunteer trip was seeing the difference I was making, even if small, in someone else’s life, whether it be one person, a community, even animals or the environment.

And if you’re part of an organization, there are ways to get connected through Trip180 to alert travelers of your program, and recruit them!

It's a unique experience

Volunteer travel is a unique kind of traveling that will change the way you see people and the world, and Trip180 is a fantastic resource to help you get started in finding the trip for you. Trip180 is partnered with organizations dedicated to teaching, wildlife, health and medicine, and more-- just search for it yourself!

Do it by yourself, do it with a friend, whatever suits you. Go the Europe, Latin America, Asia, Africa, or somewhere in your own country! The purpose of Trip180 is to help you find the volunteer trip that’s right for you, and will help you give back to the world. Volunteer with youth.Volunteer with youth.

As two girls who go by the name of the ‘Travelin’ Chicks,’ said about their volunteer trip to Cambodia, “And as time goes by you begin to realize that what they gave you is actually more than what you ever gave them.”

Learn more about Trip180 at their website.


Stephanie DiCarlo is a graduate of the University of Massachusetts Amherst and has a Bachelor's degree in English and History, as well as a specialization in creative writing. She also writes for the young adult literature magazine Ultimate YA and she likes to travel and eat good food. You can follow her on Twitter at @ccioSteph


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Volunteering Directory . David Peters was born in England. He lived aboard a 50-foot sail boat for 6 months
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Playing chess at Military Park, a  highlight of Newark New Jersey.
The Reading room at Military Park, a highlight of Newark New Jersey.The Reading room at Military Park, a highlight of Newark New Jersey.

Why Are We Going to Newark?

In praise of a much maligned New Jersey City's Museums and other attractions

“Why are we going to Newark?” Sari asked as we approached Broad Street. Are you in for a surprise, I thought, confident that Military Park, the first stop on our downtown tour, would deliver.

With a recently completed $3.5 million makeover of the park,residential towers going up on Broad Street and retailers like Whole Foods poised to move in, downtown Newark has more to offer than ever. But few would expect to find chess, poetry, a monument by a famous sculptor and a host of things to see and do within a couple of miles.

At Military Park, little kids can manipulate soft playground equipment while older children and adults can play board games or ping pong or visit the “reading room,” a nook stocked with newspapers, books and magazines that silently urge passersby to sit awhile. “This is really nice,” Sari said.

So nice that the state chapter of the American Planning Association just named Military Park one of New Jersey’s “great places,” adding that it has gone from “a worn out, wasted space” to downtown’s “outdoor living room.” Ben Donsky, who led the redevelopment and is VP of the partnership that runs the park, thinks of it as Newark's town square.

Kids playing chess at the park.Kids playing chess at the park.“Urban parks are there for people to use, and we need to give people reasons to use them,” Donsky said. So the park’s calendar is packed with activities: tai chi, author talks and tours at lunchtime; instruction from members of the Newark Chess Club between 4 and 5 pm; line dancing, poetry readings and occasional concerts in early evening--and family yoga on Saturdays for as long as the weather holds out.

The sword, filled with flowers at the Military Park.The sword, filled with flowers at the Military Park.Whether you take the NJ Historical Society’s guided tour or stroll through the park yourself, you can’t miss the monuments. Cannons on the south end bring to mind its use as a training ground for soldiers in the 17th century; a bust of JFK, high on a pedestal, sits nearby.To the north are statues of two men—a war hero and a legislator—with Newark connections. A colossal bronze by Gutzon Borglum of Mount Rushmore fame takes center stage.

“Wars of America,” erected in 1926, features 42 people, including Borglum himself and his wife and son, and two horses, with an 80-yard Tudor sword at its feet—a representation, Borglum said, of a nation “answering the call to arms.” 

Originally used as a reflecting pool, the sword lay dry for 20 or 30 years, Donsky said. “So we decided to repurpose it as a floral display.” When the flowers wither, it will be filled with evergreens and lights—ample reason to return for a winter visit.

The Newark Museum

Leaving the park, Sari and I crossed Broad Street and walked less than a half mile to our next destination: The Newark Museum at 49 Washington St (the suggested entry fee is $12 for adults and $7 for children, seniors and students; Newark residents pay no fee).While Sari grew up in a New Jersey suburb and visited the museum once years ago, she, like many others I’ve talked to about it or brought here, had no idea of its scope or size. “Isn’t it small?” asked my cousin Harriet, a lifelong New Yorker, when I suggested devoting several hours to a museum visit. The opulent Newark MuseumThe opulent Newark Museum

Uh, no.

Since 1926,when the museum moved here from the library down the street, it has expanded in various directions. Additions include an old YMCA to the south; the Ballantine House, a restored mansion that was home to the eponymous brewers to the north;and a third building to the west. A redesign by the architect Michael Graves deftly connected all the pieces.

All told, the complex has some 80 galleries, with major collections of American,African and Asian art and antiquities; a science hall and planetarium, currently featuring companion programs about comets, asteroids and meteors;and a one-room schoolhouse, fire museum and sculpture garden in the rear. The museum’s Tibetan collection, begun with a 1911 purchase from Christian missionaries, is one of the oldest and most comprehensive. Dynamic Earth exhibit at the Newark museum.Dynamic Earth exhibit at the Newark museum.

If you don’t have time to fully explore the Tibetan galleries, take a few moments to view its star attraction: an 
authentic Buddhist altar consecrated by the Dali Lama (or go to the museum website for a virtual tour). For me, standing quietly in front of the lavishly patterned altar, created by a Tibetan painter who was an artist in residence in the late ‘80s, is a form of meditation. At its center sits a Buddha in a yoga pose, surrounded by offerings of fruit, flowers, water and lights.

The Ballantine House, too, has a too-good-to-miss exhibit. Called Party Time, it’s in the opulent dining room.

At first glance, it looks like a lavish dinner party. Look again, and you notice that the guests are dressed in African prints and seem a bit tipsy, as they sit, sprawled out, arms splayed or feet on the table and drinks askew. Most importantly, neither the guests nor the waiter, who carries a peacock on a platter, have heads.

Unusual art at Ballantine House in Newark.Unusual art at Ballantine House in Newark.The Nigerian artist Yinka Shonibare started making headless figures “as a joke,” he said in a video), a reference to the beheading of the rich in the French revolution.The installation is “a metaphor for the gap between the wealthy and the not so well off,” he noted, but it’s also fun, not to be taken too seriously.And the perfect place to end our visit.

Newark's Ornate Public Library

The next stop—the main branch of the Newark Public Library at 5 Washington St—harkens back to a time when the city itself was well off. From the outside,the library appears stately and austere. Enter and you quickly realize it’s museum-like. Pause in the vestibule to see the bronze and marble sculptures. Then walk in and look around—and up. You’ll see multiple arches, a sweeping marble staircase and a center atrium, topped on the fourth floor witha stained glass laylight. The building, dedicated in 1901, was designed to resemble a 15th century Florentine palazzo.

The sThe Fountain of Knowledge in the library.The Fountain of Knowledge in the library.econd floor features a glass-encased gallery, exhibiting the works of an African American book illustrator on one visit and the foods of Latin America on another. A triptych, “The Fountain of Knowledge,” covers the wall opposite the stairs.

The mural, which shows the Greek god Apollo dispensing water from the fountain, was commissioned in 1927, but covered by wood panels for decades. The reason? No one is sure, but some say it was because of objections to the nude figures. “Rediscovered”in the late 1980s, it has remained unveiled and proudly naked ever since.

My favorite place in the library is still the children’s room, tucked to the side on the first floor and looking just as it did when I was a kid. But Sari loved the dramatic interior design. “What a great place to sit and read,” she said, noting that shehad added it to her short list, along with the Library of Congress and the New York Public Library, of libraries worthy of a return visit.

Ironbound shopsIronbound shopsDining in Ironbound

By now, it was time for a snack. With the opening of The Burg, the restaurant charged with bringing happy hours, gourmet burgers and salads to Military Park, delayed until the end of the year, we set off for the Ironbound.

Named for the railroad that borders the district, it’s a gritty Portuguese and Latino neighborhood with crowded streets and dozens of restaurants and bakeries. Iberia Peninsula, a favorite of mine, is on Ferry St, the district’s main thoroughfare, about a half mile east of Penn Station.

The portions are huge, so two can easily share an entrée and a couple of appetizers. Or, if you’re a meat lover, try the rodizio and watch the waiter shave meat off long skewers and pile it high on your plate. For dinner on a recent visit, I ordered mariscada in green sauce and my husband had bacalhau, salt cod, served with fresh-baked bread, salad, and a pitcher of sangria—and took home enough food for another meal.

Nova Alianca

We skipped dessert, opting instead to browse in the shops, then stop at Nova Alianca, a bakery a block or two away. Two delicious cream-filled,sugar-dusted pastries or tarts and coffee will cost about what you’d pay for a single dessert at the restaurant.

If it’s entertainment you’re after, downtown Newark offers several choices. On Friday nights from 7 to 11 pm, you can listen to jazz at The Priory—a club housed in an old Catholic church on West Market St about a mile and a half from Military Park. Call 973-242-8012 late in the week for the lineup. Reservations aren’t required and there’s no cover charge, but you
 will be expected to order drinks and light bites from an appetizer menu.

Another option: See a hockey game or rock concert at Prudential Center, home of the New Jersey Devils, a few blocks south of Military Park. Or see what’s happening at NJPAC, elegant but understated in brick, exposed steel and glass. “An iconic marble monument to culture was not going to cut it,” said Lawrence Goldman, president of NJPAC from its inception until 2011.“It had to be the people's art center." 
Jazz at the PrioryJazz at the Priory

A Double Problem

In thinking about putting a performing art center in the city, Goldman recalled, “we had a double problem—persuading suburbanites that 
they could enjoy a cultural experience in Newark and convincing Newarkers that it was relevant to their lives.” They succeeded in doing both.

Today, NJPAC, just across the street from Military Park, has arichly varied slate of events: a speaker series whose lineup includes former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, the nation’s largest poetry festival, plus theater, dance, rhythm and blues, jazz, opera, and classical music. Also on the agenda are outdoor concerts in the summer and jazz brunches at Nico Kitchen & Bar, the sleek restaurant at NJPAC.
The revitalization of the area was part of the mission from day one, Goldman said. With plans for One Theater Square, a residential and retail tower adjacent to NJPAC in the works along with other downtown upgrades, that goal is finally being realized.

Helen Lippman

Helen Lippman
 is a freelance writer based in Montclair, NJ. She was born and raised in Newark, which is still her favorite city.

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Train is a book about modern train travel. Here, Amtrak train waits to depart.
Tags: Railroad travel India United States Luke Dowley
Tom Zoellner’s book “Train: Riding the Rails That Created the Modern WorldTom Zoellner’s book “Train: Riding the Rails That Created the Modern World
Traversing this World on the Rails That Connect our Cities and Coasts

Tom Zoellner’s book Train: Riding the Rails That Created the Modern World - From the Trans-Siberian to the Southwest Chief describes the authors adventure across the country and the world using the rails that in years past connected coasts, industrialized lands, and prompted growth and economic prosperity.  His first hand accounts give the reader insight into the lost glory that once surrounded the world of train travel, and the beauty that has withheld the test of time.  

Zoellner’s adventures range from coasting through plains in India to winding through the Andes in South America.  Each story highlights how the train system has changed since the height of train travel, and exposes some unique cultures that can be found while rattling along the railway. 

The New York Times called Zoellner’s book “
an engaging attempt to recapture the power and poetry of train travel.”  Train: Riding the Rails that Created the Modern World - From the Trans-Siberian to the Southwest Chief is sure to keep you engaged and inspire you board a Train adventure of your own.

An excerpt from Train

Two nights later the Cardinal chuffed up at the Charleston station an hour behind schedule.  I shoved the last of my pasta dinner at Laury’s into a Styrofoam carton, paid the bill in a hurry and scrambled onto the train with about ten seconds to spare -- only to get immediately shooed out of the club car by an irritated steward, though it wasn’t quite closing time.  He just wanted to go to bed.

I tried to feel a little sympathy.  Amtrak service employees are lucky if they can catch three solid hours of sleep a night.  I retreated into the rear coach and found a window seat next to a thin lipped man wearing sunglasses, looking a bit like the wanted poster for D.B. Cooper. 

He gave one-word answers to my questions, though he smiled and shook his head when I offered him one of Amtrak’s small pillows, covered in a synthetic-crinoline slip.  I rested my head against the glass and watched the old chemical plants of the Kanawha Valley, lit up like war monuments.  This acrid region was at its apex in the fifties, but some money was still left here in the business of pesticides, caustics, solvents and plastics.

The smeary red-and-yellow lights of a Quick Mart store hurtled past, and the brief sight made me homesick in a way I couldn’t name.  I closed my eyes until we got to huntington, West Virginia, the river city named for Collis P. Huntington, the California entrepreneur who had been a director of the corrupt old Central Pacific and also controlled the C&O in the 1870s when he built a massive division point here and named it for himself.
Many of Amtrak's lines still follow lines established in decades past.Many of Amtrak's lines still follow lines established in decades past.

The Cardinal swayed and rocked at about ten miles an hour crossing what seemed like an island sea of parallel tracks, all glistening in the light from the high stalks of security lamps.  This was a huge classification yard for coal, and nearly deserted. 

Beyond it was a courthouse and a radio antenna blinking reassuringly in cherry red.  All is well.  All is well.  Then we were back into a patch of woods, and it felt like a scene from World War II, a sooty forest in central Europe, where uniformed guards with Same Browne belts and vicious dogs were lurking nearby, waiting to demand passports and drag away the unlucky. 

The Forest of darkened sycamore trees opened up into a vista of the plain of the Ohio River, this wide and depressed tar-papered spine of a younger America.  Coal barges were still sending their carbon loads downriver to utilities that used Mississippi water for coolant. 

This was not the border of wartime Germany, it was the border of Ohio, but going over felt like a significant crossing nonetheless.  I watched little farming towns pass by in the silent of the night before I gave up, inserted earplugs and popped a sleeping pill that I’d tucked into the watch pocket of my jeans
An old American steam locomotive.  An old American steam locomotive.

By the time we got to Cincinnati, I was fast asleep, and when I awoke, Indiana was showing itself off in a rolling portrait of pin-neat barns and square fields, the very picture of American probity and cleanliness, as if in direct rebuke to the demonic chemical scenes of the night before. 

Oh, traveler, this is where you want to be, the farms seemed to announce, though their fields were all sprayed with ammonium nitrate and potassium.  This is the heart of the country. 

I squinted at the D. B. Cooper look-alike.  He was still in his sunglasses and overcoat and staring ahead motionlessly; it was impossible to tell if he was awake. 

Woozy and nearly thrown off balance by the sea motion of the cars, I stepped over him carefully on the way to the club car for a cup of coffee.  But I was awake enough to imitate the mariner’s walk I’d seen Amtrak conductors make during rough stretches: extend the feet slightly outward, spread the legs a little more and walk like a penguin.

In a blue vinyl booth was a young man with a resolute beard and a bare upper lip.  A fat pen was clipped to his white shirt, which had sparkly buttons with purple glitter.  He was wearing a black coat , the usual garb for Anabaptists, and his hair was curled in a loose pageboy.
Many developments around the world were dictated by the railways pathMany developments around the world were dictated by the railways path
The Plain People

Trains through Pennsylvania or the Midwest are almost always carrying at least a few families from the various sects of Amish, the “Plain People,” believers in a renegade form of Protestantism who settled in America in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.  None of them are left in Europe. 

They can be courteous to outsiders, though they stay mostely on their guard when in public.  I said hello, and he offered it back,  His name was Noah, a freelance carpenter, and he was traveling with his wife to see relatives in Nebraska, wish a stopover in Chicago.

“I don’t like cities,” he said with a shy smile.  He had a thick voice, accented with some sludgy German.

“Tell me something.  I’m honestly curious.  I know that Amish tend to avoid technology.  You ride in horse buggies and no phones.  But why are trains ok?”

“Oh trains are ok.  We can even ride in cars.  We just don’t own them.”

“Why do you choose the train?”

“It’s cheaper than paying someone to take us to Nebraska.”

That seemed hard to argue, and he wasn’t inclined to offer any elaboration.  We sat in companionable silence as morning Indiana gleamed around us.  Noah went back to his reading, which was a pulp stock magazine called Olden Says, with a mailing sticker on it.  He was absorbed in a short story called “Tom Swift and His Electric Rifle.”

Across the aisle a man sat wit his laptop open, a flash drive plugged into its side.  His young son sat on his lap.  The Browser page was set to an Amtrak route map, in which the father was trying to inspire some interest.

“Chicago,” he said pointing.  “See that?  Chicago.”

“I don’t want to go there,” said the boy.

Tom Zoellner

Tom Zoellner grew up in Tucson, Arizona and graduated with a B.A. in history and English from Lawrence University.  He has written four other books in addition to Train, including The Heartless Stone: A journey Through the World of Diamonds, Deceit and Desire and An Ordinary Man, the biography of Paul Rusesabagina, a New York Times best seller, whose story was later captured in the dramatic film Hotel Rwanda.  Zoellner now works as a professor of English at Chapman University and lives in LA

Buy this book on Amazon Train by Tom Zoellner 

Luke Bio Pic lnd thumb

Luke Dowley is an editorial assistant for and is currently entering his final year as an undergraduate student at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.  

Biking across Albania. Melissa Adams photo.

Biking Across Albania
A photo gallery by Melissa Adams

The biker group assembles before the ride in Albania.The biker group assembles before the ride in Albania.
A shepherd by the roadA shepherd by the road

Read the story about the bike trip in Albania
Porto Eda in Saranda on the Albanian Riviera.Porto Eda in Saranda on the Albanian Riviera.
Lake Ohrid Lake Ohrid
Roman ruinsRoman ruins
Horseback by the road,Horseback by the road,
Jumping off rock into the sea.Jumping off rock into the sea.
A winding road in the countryA winding road in the country

Read Melissa Adam's story about biking in Albania
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