Three hundred and fifty days after our last month away in Europe, Dave and I were packing our bags again, going through the familiar motions and making the drive down the same stretch of highway to the airport, ready to embark on another month on the continent we love so much. This time, though, the trip carried serious significance. This would be the biggest trip of my life to date. This would be the one where I would finally achieve my goal, the purpose of my life for the past four and a half years; to travel to at least 30 countries before I turned 30 years old.
After three easy flights we touched down in Budapest, a city I’ve wanted to visit for years. We took the bus and then the metro into the historic centre. The second we emerged from the station I was stunned by the gorgeousness all around me. It’s common to be smitten with a place when you first see it, but this feeling held steady for our whole four days in Budapest, from the grandest buildings to flower pots lining the streets, from the great Danube and its bridges to multiple neon signs in the shape of teeth.
Even though I have a goal to travel to 30 countries by the time I turn 30, and I have been to many famous places, up until this year I had never been to one of the most famous cities of all: London. Combining London with a trip to Morocco might not spring to mind immediately, but when Dave and I had the choice of either a 13-hour or 24-hour layover, we decided to try the longer one and squeeze in as much of London as we could. Continue reading My 24-hour London layover→
After a spectacular but short visit to the Sahara Desert, Dave and I hopped into the familiar backseat of the Land Cruiser and hit the rocky road once again, destined for Marrakech. We left a different way than we came and were out of the dunes within 15 minutes. The soft sand quickly became horribly hard and bumpy. I began to feel like I was on the brink of insanity. I could feel my brain bouncing around, knocking against the inside of my skull. In that moment it was almost unbearable. I felt like screaming and jumping out of the window. I have major respect for Mohammed and all of the other drivers who are able to make that drive more than once in their lifetimes and to do it with such skill. According to the Sahara Services website, we were driving along an old Dakar Rally route. It seemed like there was more Mohammed wanted to say at many points during our drives together but he just couldn’t find the right words in English, and our grasp of French is minimal.
The route from M’Hamid to the dunes of Erg Chigaga is rocky, the vast landscape stretching endlessly beyond. The air was dry and already hot at 9 am. Dave and I silently bounced around in the back seat of the Land Cruiser, anticipation building. The view of the flat desert was unbroken aside from sporadic glimpses of nomads, slowly passing through with their donkeys and camels in tow. Their journeys seemed endless, out there in the middle of nowhere. I couldn’t help but wonder where they were coming from and where they were going. They weren’t coming from anywhere and they weren’t traveling to any specific destination – their lives were about the journey.
Ten days after arriving in Morocco, after visiting sublime Chefchaouen, the capital city Rabat, dreamy Marrakech and a feverish stay in Fes, all while struggling with minor illnesses that slowed us down significantly, the biggest day of all had come. Uncertain if we would be able to make it or not, we were doing it. We were going to the Moroccan Sahara.
On the morning of our third day in Marrakech I woke up after sleeping for almost 12 hours straight. I felt terrible. The owner of our riad knew I hadn’t been feeling well and when I asked about seeing a doctor, he gave us the address of the Clinique Internationale de Marrakech. We caught a taxi at the small post office near our riad. The clinic was only 15 minutes away, but it felt like we were in the car for three times as long.
I told the man behind the counter that I needed to see a doctor for an ear infection. He asked me for my passport, glanced at it, stuck it in his shirt pocket, and one minute later I was being escorted to an examination room. He didn’t ask me anything else or get me to sign any forms. My Canadian passport was good enough to get me in. I felt extreme guilt as I walked by the packed waiting room, full of individuals and families, waiting to see doctors or for their loved ones.
Our riad is in the centre of the medina, an easy 15-minute walk from Jemaa el-Fnaa. Every time we turn down one of the narrow side streets, somebody offers to assist us, for a small cash sum, to “the big square.” We politely decline and walk on. We know where we’re going. It appears much cleaner than it did in Fes. The streets are wider. The sky is blue and the sun is shining. It doesn’t feel as claustrophobic.
Even though I had traveled to 23 countries by the beginning of 2014 and I have a goal to visit 30 countries by the time I turn 30 years old, I must confess something: I had never traveled solely with a backpack or a carry on bag. Savvy world travelers everywhere swear by traveling light, and I was starting to feel like a fraud. It was time to take the leap.
It can be hard to write about a city when you only stayed there for 72 hours, and spent 36 of those hours bedridden in what started to feel like a jail cell, although it was in fact a palatial room in a gorgeous dar. Fes is a fascinating, sprawling ancient city that boasts one of the biggest urban car-free areas in the world. But unfortunately I walked away from Fes with a bit of a sour taste in my mouth.
Dave and I arrived at dusk by bus from Chefchaouen. We wound our way through the outer layers of the city, closer and closer to the central bus station, through a densely packed and dusty city in shades of beige. One brand new white Ferrari passed us by, extraordinarily out of place. Continue reading Celebrating and struggling in Fes→
As the bus wound back and forth through the Rif Mountains, ever so slowly getting closer to Chefchaouen, the sun had already gone down. I did not get the spectacular welcome view that I had been hoping for, but two days in the blue washed village would more than make up for it.
It was pitch dark by the time we arrived and it felt like the desolate bus station was in the middle of nowhere. After getting ripped off by the taxi driver to the laughable tune of $1.30, we met Carlos, one of the Spanish owners of Casa La Palma, and dove into the winding, twisting, up-and-down, and full-of-stairs town that is Chefchaouen. It was raining that night, and for most of our visit. The cobblestones were so slick I’m surprised I managed to keep myself upright.