Q I'm traveling to Marrakech and Essaouira for 10 days with Mom and Dad. While the days will be spent investigating souks and enjoying Moroccan culture, I'm interested in finding places where I might be able to meet local gays, however under the radar they may be. Do you have any tips? Fareed Hamzah, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
A Gay Moroccan men generally live in the closet. Though relatively liberal when compared with other Muslim nations, Morocco is a male-dominated Muslim country, and homosexuality remains a criminal offense. All sex, gay or straight, happens behind locked doors. If you're expecting to find open tents full of naked Arab boys like in a Jean Cadinot film, you'll be sorely disappointed. Paradoxically, many men in Morocco have had sex with other men (more as a matter of hormone-driven convenience than of romantic attraction) but do not identify as gay. But if you walk anywhere alone, you will definitely get hit on by young men hoping to trick for cash. This is the unfortunate consequence of extreme poverty, and it is not a safe option.
Marrakech is a blast in the evening and has supplanted Tangier as the happening city. Hang out in Jemaa el Fna, the main square, where you'll find street performers, food stalls, and general merriment. In mellow seaside Essaouira, there isn't a lot to do other than touring galleries, sipping mint tea, dining on seafood, and just plain relaxing.
Of course an underground gay culture exists in Morocco--would Paul Bowles have stayed in Tangier for 50 years if there hadn't been one?--but short-term visitors won't easily penetrate the veil of secrecy. You'll need an insider to show you around.
Consider booking a trip through Heritage Tours, a New York-based, gay-operated company that guides first-rate, custom-tailored trips to Morocco. It can arrange personalized tours of the major sights for Mom and Dad and also advise you, with the help of local gays, on the ins and outs of gay culture in Morocco, such as it is. Call Heritage Tours at 800-378-4555 or 212-206-8400 for information.
Q I want to go on a cruise, but I don't want to go on an all-gay cruise since I'm afraid it may be a floating circuit party. On the other hand, I don't want to wind up on a ship full of old, conservative straight people. Are there any cruises that are mixed? K. Clarke, Minneapolis, Minnesota
A Gay cruises are not necessarily floating circuit parties. If you wanted to spend seven days quietly playing bridge or knitting in a deck chair, then you could do so uninterrupted on a gay ship and be entirely segregated from twirling dancing queens. Don't forget, these ships are huge, and there's lots to do on board. But if you prefer a mixed cruise, there are indeed tour operators who book small gay groups on otherwise straight cruises, to great success. Contact Pied Piper (212-239-2412, 800-874-7312), Ocean Voyager (973-439-2777, 800-321-8264), and Above and Beyond Tours (760-325-0702, 800-397-2681).
Q My girlfriend and I are considering an eco-tour of the Galapagos Islands. I'd like to go in the fall, but I'm worried about hurricanes. What's the ideal season to visit?— Izzy Chaison, Portland, Maine
A Ecuador lies smack-dab on the equator, so it isn't subject to hurricanes. (Tropical storms are born near the equator, but they travel into higher or lower latitudes before becoming serious.) From January to April, warm ocean currents bring comfortably hot temperatures, but there's the possibility of torrential downpours. The rest of the year is drier, but can be overcast and temperatures cooler. The best time to come is when the cycles are changing: March and April, November and December.