Morocco travel tips


For those of you considering a trip to Morocco, here are a few random tips:

– DO get a Maroc Telecom SIM and 200 (or 100 or 50) dirham card for unlimited Internet while here. Maroc Telecom has excellent coverage and this deal can’t be beat. I paid the equivalent of 25 dollars for unlimited calling, texting, and Internet for a month. (And DON’T go to the Maroc Telecom office for this, go to a market vendor. I wasted useless hours at MT office)

– DON’T take a ferry from Tanger MED port, it is nowhere near Tangier. If you need to get to Algeciras, take the ferry from the actual port in Tangier to Tarifa, then take the free bus.

– if you visit Fez, DO stay at Riad Al Bartal

– If you visit Tetouan, DON’T stay at El Reducto

– if you are visiting Fez, be aware that most things are closed on Friday. You may want to give yourself another day

– DON’T convert money, just take out from ATMs

– DO hoard as many small bills and coins as you can. Large bills can be hard to use and get change for. You need the small bills especially for taxis

– Speaking of taxis, it seems near universal that a 20 dirham note (about $2.50) will get you just about anywhere in Tangier or Marrakech. DON’T argue with a taxi driver, just give them 20 and walk away.

– Google maps are best in Fez, still quite useful in Tangier and Marrakech, less so in Tetouan and Chefchaouen

– DO speak or learn to speak French, it is very useful

MTA tip


Hey, for my fellow New Yorkers: Ever been bugged by a bunch of extra subway cards that you can’t do anything with because they have some odd amount of change on them, or because they are expired? They seem to pile up and are wasted money, because the MTA vending machines don’t allow you to combine the money on several cards. They only allow you to add money to your existing card, which in many cases may be on its last legs or damaged (unlike BART machines, which allows you to combine and issue new cards). The MTA sort of counts on this inconvenience I suppose, because they raise many millions of dollars every year from unused fares.

Fortunately, I discovered recently that you can get old cards combined at any manned booth. You still have the risk of dealing with a surly booth person whose tv watching, phone calls or newspaper reading you are surely interrupting with your petty service needs, but it can be done. They will, however, only combine four cards at a time, requiring you to go to another booth to combine more. (At least that was the story I got from the ill tempered man at the booth at 16th street the other day) So at the end, I had recovered about 30 bucks from expired or small change cards, not bad at all.

How to improve on AT&T revenge…


A couple of weeks ago, I blogged about a way to get free SMS text messaging on your phone using Google Voice, Gmail and Yahoo mail. Fortunately, last week Google updated their sync capabilities to add push, so we can now do away with the Yahoo part and have Gmail push directly to the phone, and reply directly in Gmail to the received SMS messages. It requires that your Gmail be setup as an Exchange account on your iPhone however. Here are the steps:

1. Follow the instructions in my last post to setup Google Voice and forward SMS to your Gmail account in the settings, but do NOT set up Gmail or Yahoo mail account on your iphone. If you do already have them setup and don’t use them for something else, feel free to delete them.

2. Go to Google Sync page and follow the instructions for setting up your Google account as an Exchange account.

3. Voila. SMS messages will be pushed to your phone via Google sync, and you will be able to hit reply and compose free SMS back to the sender via your Gmail account. An even more perfect way to have free sms and avoid the ridiculous AT&T rates.

The other great thing about Google Sync is that it also gives you the ability to sync your contacts and calendar for free (largely doing away with the need to pay 100 bucks a year for a mobile me account).

How to get back at AT&T, just a little


Price gouging offends common decency. We see examples of it everywhere, from banking ATM and transfer fees, to ridiculous “exchange rate” fees when out of the country, to late fees and rate changes on credit cards. But one of my biggest gouging pet peeves involves the crazy prices AT&T (among others) charge for SMS services. (To get an idea of how ridiculous, check out this excellent article on the subject.)

Well, today, thanks to Google Voice, Yahoo mail, and a little tinkering, I now have a decent replacement working on my iPhone. For free. Yes, for free. Here is what you need to do:

1. Set up a Google Voice account.

2. Make sure SMS forwarding is on from your Google Voice to your Gmail account (under Settings – Voicemail & SMS)

3. Set up a Yahoo mail account, and configure your iPhone to connect to it. (the reason this is necessary is that Yahoo mail is the only one that will push notifications to the iPhone, the others need to be checked manually or at intervals)

4. Go to your gmail account, and (under Settings – Filters) set up a filter for any message from “*” to forward to your Yahoo account.

Et Voila! you now get SMS notifications on your iPhone, for free. There is only one drawback, and it is minor (for me, at least). To respond to an SMS, you will need to do so from your Gmail account (also set up on my iPhone) as the “from” address will not work for a reply from Yahoo’s servers.

On a side note, if AT&T were to decide to charge something reasonable for unlimited SMS (like 5 bucks a month even) I would happily pay it. But their $20 a month fees are outrageous. They only do this because iPhone users are trapped on their shitty network.