Hi there. How are you today?
Sorry I haven’t written in a while.
I could site as many excuses as there are beautiful beaches, sunsets, and tropical flowers, but today I will site only one:
I decided to do other things instead.
I decided to spend four glorious days basking in the sun on my favorite Caribbean strip of sand, one celebrating the birthday of a dear friend, and two whimpering in bed waiting for my fever to break.
But still, I’m sorry.
Now I am writing to you from my laptop precariously placed on my tray table next to a can of club soda (one of the few things I’ve managed to ingest since my most recent stomach tsunami). Out of my window I’m watching each stunningly rugged Latin American country pass by. A volcano here, a coral encased island there. And I realized that I have been keeping something from all of you.
While often I write about my insights, my inspiration, my growth from travel, rarely do I tell you about my actual adventures. Today I am beginning a new series where I will (do my best to) recount my specific travel experiences around the world.
I hope you all enjoy!
This American Girl in Morocco: Part 1, The Ascent
I entered the crowded bus station with trepidation, painfully aware of my gender. Men stooped, hovered, squatted, stood on each step, each bench, each patch of pavement. Bus drivers shouted the names of destinations with the speed of auctioneers.
No one was eating, but the warming aroma of cumin, cinnamon, coriander, and freshly baked bread permeated the air mingling with the ripe stench of sewage and farm animals.
I will never forget that smell.
I was quickly beginning to wonder if my spontaneous decision to purchase a bus ticket from Seville to Algeciras the night before, then hop the morning ferry to Tangier without a semblance of a clue of how to arrive at my hostel in Chefchaoeun, with extremely limited French slash nonexistent Arabic, and an oversized rolling suitcase, was a good idea.
To my relief and good fortune, Spanish predominates French in the Northern part of the country. To my greater fortune I spoke the universal language of young foreign girl with green eyes.
I was directed to a ticket counter with more patience and kindness than I imagined anyone would be afforded in August, midday, during Ramadan.
For those who don’t know, Ramadan is a holy period celebrated by Muslims all over the world once a year. Religious participants abstain from smoking, eating, having sex, and drinking anything including WATER from sunrise until sundown. That takes some serious discipline.
After being asked twice, translated through my bus driver and “bodyguard”, if I was married, I scanned the station for fellow backpackers. Four men, two clearly German the others regionally ambiguous and all as overtly self-aware as I was, stood across the bay. I sweetly asked my bus driver, who in the last half hour had become my companion and confidant given my limited selection, if they were also headed to Chefchaoeun.
Like an eager schoolgirl, he asked which one I fancied.
Two hours later we were halfway to Chefchaoeun. The Germans and formerly regionally ambiguous now confirmedly Mexicans and I were in the midst of exchanging travel stories. With his perfect English, extensive travel experience, and decisive attitude, the Mexico City born twenty-year-old studying in Zurich had quickly replaced the bus driver as my new best friend.
As we stopped in towns decreasing in size as rapidly as Spain on the horizon behind us, the seats began to fill, but the bus’ capacity did not. Old men in traditional Moroccan garb with few remaining teeth crouched in walkways while women toting fragrant oranges, fresh bread, and the occasional live chicken held onto nearby benches until another passenger offered a seat.
The vast expanse of arid hills and valleys consumed my vision. We continued up switchbacks through the Rif Mountains and with each turn my anticipation grew concurrently with my terror of becoming another Moroccan bus collision statistic.
Why do I Google such morbid topics before going on trips?
When we arrived outside the medina walls of Chefchaoeun, I felt like I was waiting to enter a mythical castle created in my dreams. In my journey through Portugal and Spain, a special light entered the eyes of anyone who spoke of this town. Most called it their favorite place in all of Morocco.
I wondered many things before walking through those walls.
Would I feel comfortable with the travelers I had hastily picked up along the way?
Was I entering a dangerous territory, or a warm and loving one? I heard rumors of both.
Did I make a mistake venturing all the way to Morocco instead of continuing through Spain?
Could I possibly feel the sense wonder here that I had already felt in Central America?
What I did not begin to imagine was that my introduction to the enchanting blue city would begin with a fist fight.
To be continued…
Note: Ok, so there are no pictures. I’m sorry for that. I did not take any pictures at this point because, well, I was a bit out of my element. However, I promise promise promise there are many amazing photos of Chefchaoeun and Morocco yet to come, just be patient.
Thanks for reading!