Breaking all the rules

This anecdote falls squarely under the “Do as I SAY, not as I DO” category.  I can rattle off a litany of Safe Travel tidbits  (and have many times!) and honestly, I mean them all and generally use them.  Like this one, for example, is just common sense:  Don’t walk alone late at night in a quiet part of a strange city.  Clearly a no brainer, and frankly I still stand by that advice.   Except I totally did exactly that tonight…..    

I had the best intentions of arriving in this new city of Chefchaouen in the middle of the afternoon, but I dragged my feet leaving my hostel this morning (more on that later) and missed the first bus I wanted to take.  The bus I was on arrived a couple hours late – of course – meaning that it was after 9pm and very dark when I finally stepped off and collected my bag.  I really don’t know what happened to the other passengers, but they seemed to all vanish away from the bus depot in moments, although I never even saw a single taxi.  I was alone in a deserted lot on a quiet street with small groups of locals clustered on corners a few blocks away.  Great.  I took a second to weigh my options and check in with my “gut feeling” of the place while walking over to a tiny market stall that was still open.  Thankfully I was given a wifi connection long enough to get google map directions to my hotel, thinking that I could have an idea for how much a taxi would cost.  Seeing it was only a 30 minute walk and a seemingly simple route, I took one last look around for a taxi, then said a little prayer and off I marched into the darkness.   I kept my guard up and was über alert the whole way, but I felt safe.  Along the walk I had a few guys ask if I was ok and if I needed a ride, but thankfully I was able to point to my map and politely decline.  I really think they were genuinely trying to help me, though, except maybe for the one that told me to come back and smoke hash with him!   Finally arriving at my hotel was a relief, but a bit embarrassing too: the first time I’m staying in a nice hotel and I show up as a sweaty mess scruffy backpacker…..   All’s well that ends well, right?  But still, don’t do this! 

This photo is NOT my own, but thanks to a Google Images search I can still show you exactly what my walk looked like.

Wow, this is going to be a long post – I still have more stories to tell! 

I mentioned already that I was lingering at my last hostel in the morning so I’ll back track a little now.  I started the day in the city of Fez in a fantastically cozy hostel, and was in a comfortable food coma from my breakfast of bread, cheese, and pastries. As I was starting my second cup of coffee my new little buddy Ethan joined me.   We had spent most of the previous day in a pleasant break from each travelling alone, after meeting earlier at this hostel.    Within moments of introducing himself to me he asked “so, what are you running away from?” (Perceptive little brat! 😉)  I clumsily dodged the question and changed the subject, he graciously allowed me to, and a friendship began right then.    In case you’re wondering about my use of diminutive terms for him, it’s because he’s 8 years younger than my baby brother, but none the less I had fun playing the role of grizzled old sage for a day.       This is what I love about travelling alone – the people I connect with!  I’ve spent time in every place I’ve been so far with some really incredible people and I’m so grateful for these new friendships.

T.I.A. 

T.I.A.  Have you heard that acronym before?  It means “This Is Africa” and is generally said with a small grin and shrug of the shoulders when something goes wrong.  Power cuts out and the tv blanks during the final tie-breaking penalty kicks on a game everyone is watching with baited breath?? TIA.

Most of my journey so far has been remarkably smooth sailing, but I’ve had a couple of my own TIA moments lately.  And really, what can you do but shrug and  smile anyway?  The more I see it, the more I appreciate that attitude, since getting worked up can’t solve anything and would only add to my frustrations in the end. 

For instance.  I’m on a train trying to get to the city of Fez in the Northern interior of the country from Essaouira along the South coast.  I knew it would be a long trip, but I’m always overly optimistic with these logistics, assuming that all I need is a novel or two and some junk food to keep me happy.  Booking the trip proved a bit difficult as the website would never show the train’s schedule.  (That should have been a warning for me – but I missed it).  I finally gave up and walked around the city until I found a station, bought a seat on the next morning’s departure and was pleased with myself for figuring it out.    4 hours into the journey, the train stops in the middle of nowhere.  Recorded announcements played in Arabic and French apologizing for the delay and asking us to stay patient for twenty minutes every half hour or so. If a reason was stated for the stall, I missed it.  So my easy 11 hour trip is already 14 and counting.   Plus, nibbling on my snacks while I read didn’t work either, as it’s Ramadan and I didn’t feel good about crunching away surround by people fasting.  I’m hungry and grouchy, but when I look around everyone else seems perfectly content…..  Maybe I can absorb that attitude….  TIA.

And last night at dinner, as I was sitting on a terrace near the ocean and just finishing my fish I felt / heard a splattering of drops. I looked up surprised that rain started only to realize I had been marked by a seagull…. 😫  They say it’s good luck, right???    It sure felt like there must have been some luck involved as our was the only occupied table. That bird could have had any other target and yet I ended up the ‘lucky’ one.  Gross.  But, TIA! 


A few days in Tamraght 

The past few days have been really great, if I do say so myself.  I’m in a little town called Tamraght right on the coast and have spent my entire Saturday as a beach bum.  Now, just before the sun sets, I’m sitting in the common room of the hostel watching the Germany vs. Italy soccer game with 5 other people while we wait for dinner to be served.   

Here’s what caught my eye in town:


Yesterday was much more action packed than today’s low-key lounging. It started out Thursday, when another couple at this hostel mentioned they were planning on going for a hike and invited me to join them. I would have said yes regardless; as an added bonus Lexi and Cody turned out to be a ton of fun and it’s easy to be friends with them!   So anyway, Friday morning after our second cups of coffee (Lexi and I have that in common) the three of us and another 2 Italians made our way to Paradise Valley.  The name sums it up nicely.  A 45 minute drive from here through arid foothills is the start of an easy hike into a vibrant valley full of banana trees, argan, and lavender.   A few kms later brought us to the most stunning series of natural pools.   We saw a few other people early on, but we kept hiking and ended up at our own secluded oasis. 


 
Sunshine, clear warm water, and daredevil dives from way too high.  Thankfully everyone walked back out again without the need for a neck brace, but I have to admit the safety nerd side of me had a few internal panic attacks.  For the record, though, I need to let you know that even I jumped off the rocks!!!    No big deal….  ğŸ™‚

Friday evening finished off with us on the rooftop back at the hostel, swapping stories and laughing until long after dark. So good!

(not quite) Fearless

After a few days getting my bearings in the city, it’s time for a change.  I booked a day trip to hike Cascade Ouzoud. 

Careening along the Atlas mountain range on our way to the second largest waterfall on the continent. I’m trying to figure out when I became such a scaredy cat. I remember being 21 and backpacking in Bolivia I was on the official “World’s Most Dangerous Road” curving down a mountain. I actually sought that out and thought it was hilarious. Now almost 12 years later I’m envisioning the worst while I watch the wheels of our van send gravel flitting down the cliff side from a road that feels eerily similar. Maybe it’s because the shape of this tourist van strikes a mild resemblance to an overgrown golf cart, all boxy and with a high roof, that’s increasing my heart rate. (As I learned a couple weeks ago, those things tip over when you least expect it!!) 
Still in one piece, my little group of 8 other travellers and I began the hike to the waterfalls. We met a local guide, a leathery man named Rashid that could scamper up and down the mountain in circles around the best of us. Along the way he would stop at a tree here and there to tell us in French what it was and how old. I know it was just to give us a chance to catch up with him, but I did appreciate learning that there are 800 year old olive trees here.
And then the falls came into view. Incredible. Our stunning oasis complete with little swimming hole was even better than promised, and I couldn’t wait to get into the water. 

 Now here’s where the Fear part comes into play again…. Just as I was getting to the water’s edge I saw a commotion. Two local teen guys on a homemade pontoon boat were trying to fish something out with a plank from their boat – a WATER SNAKE. This is seriously my #1 fear and you’ve probably heard me say that before. (Any old snake is bad enough, but a snake in the water is just so much worse for me! They can slither up so fast and your whole body is at risk not just an ankle or something!)

I saw them get it out and flick it to the rocks nearby, so I knew that one was gone, but there could be countless others out there….      Surprise ending, guys: I still jumped in the water!! I almost can’t believe it myself, and am stupidly proud of that little feat. (So I maybe stayed in and swam only 2 minutes, or less, but it still counts!!) 

The rest of the day was pleasantly uneventful, dodging macaque monkeys on the hike out and persistent vendors back in town.