Sunday, December 14, 2014

Jamaa el-Fna


The main square of Marrakesh, tucked into the maze of its nearly thousand year old medina. A feast for the senses, crowded and chaotic and overwhelming. By day, home to orange juice stalls, snake charmers, storytellers, monkeys on leashes, musicians, men selling leather, lanterns, lotions and potions. As night falls, host to dozens of food stalls, air thick with smoke, narrow lanes a frenzy of families and couples and cooks.


Declared a "World Heritage Masterpiece" by UNESCO in 2001. A must-see spot to soak in the character of this country. We visited just about daily while in Marrakesh, to people watch and 'window' shop and catch a glimpse of something that we were too distracted to notice the day before. It's utter mayhem, complete craziness, and so very Moroccan.


Saturday, December 13, 2014

Insha’Allah

You hear that phrase a lot here. Loosely translated: God willing. But not the kind of “God willing” we say at home, with a tinge of “I doubt it” or “Good luck” rolled in. Here, it’s sincere. If Allah wills it, it shall be. Our fate, truly, is in God’s hands.

Ask if dinner will be served on the rooftop terrace. Insha’Allah. If the bus is running to Marrakesh this week. Insha’Allah. Heck, even a "See you in the morning” is answered with an Insha’Allah.

I’ve learned that Muslims believe everything is maktub, or “written”, so whatever you wish will only come to fruition if it’s within God’s plan. Using the phrase acknowledges submission to a higher power, and a desire to achieve only what is intended for the greater good.

I find it to be a really nice sentiment. A daily reminder that our future doesn’t lie in each small decision we make. An affirmation there is something bigger than ourselves looking after us, always. A continuous commitment to follow where our instincts lead and trust in the universe, without hesitation.
So many of the notions we must always remind ourselves, especially while traveling. And I hope to take a little more of it away with me from Morocco. 

Insha’Allah.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Action!

If you’ve ever seen a movie set in Africa, Asia, India or the Middle East, there is a good chance at least part of it was shot at Atlas Studios. The biggest studio in the world, it was a fun little stopover for two folks who work in production.

Seeing all of the crumbled, decaying old movie sets out in the middle of the Moroccan desert was a bit of a surreal experience. Egyptian relics made of Styrofoam. Paint chipped hieroglyphics adorned with years of pigeon poop. Grand, ornate and hollow doors inviting you into age-old ruins that are, literally, nothing but a façade. 

We harassed them endlessly about gaining access to the areas where Game of Thrones was recently shot, but the exact location is was unclear. We may or may not have done some trespassing to find it. You'll never know.








Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Views from the Top

It’s funny the things you think about when you’re scaling the side of a mountain.

I’ll never forget the words of wisdom I repeated to myself as we were hiking the hardest day of the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, way back in 2010. Feeling like we may never reach the 14,000-foot peak affectionately known as Dead Woman’s Pass, I decided it didn’t matter if I could make it to the top. All that mattered was that I could take one more step.

This mantra effectively got me to the top, and through many of life’s hurdles in the years that followed. A particularly stressful project. A really difficult workout. Whatever the challenge, I'd encourage myself not to worry about making it to the end. Just focus on taking one more step. As cliché as it sounds, the analogy for life has stuck with me.

Yesterday, while hiking in the mountains of Morocco’s Todra Gorge, I drew another comparison between hiking and life that I found meaningful…

Reece and I were on our own this time, working our way towards a summit where views of the sunset and surrounding mountains were reputed to be stunning. Problem was, there’s no clear trail or signs or anything to guide our way beyond the very subtle path left by nomads and donkeys that follow it into neighboring villages. If we scanned the distance, we could just make it out enough to keep going. But keep our heads down, wary of stumbling on rocks or stepping in donkey poop, and before long we’d find ourselves way off track. Several times I’d look up and realize “Dammit, we were supposed to go THAT WAY!”

Much like life. It’s easy to become consumed with what’s right in front of you, at the expense of your greater goals. Keep your head down and your eyes fixed on your immediate wants/needs/problems/fears, and you could easily lose sight of the path you intend to be on. So every once in a while, look up! Take stock of the world around you. Don’t neglect the big picture. Cause if you’re too caught up in a little pile donkey poop, you may never reach the summit.

Reece taking a detour. (Tiny, top right.)

Me trying to find our way. (Tiny, bottom right.)

It's windy at the top!

Sunday, December 7, 2014

The Sahara

One night.

Two camels.

Three Berber guides.

A million stars.

A warm fire.

A full moon, to a sunrise.

And us.





Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Kinda gives new meaning to the term "road kill"

When your bus pulls over to the side of the road and you are greeted by this:


Right alongside this:


Grab some meat from the butcher, walk it over to the griller, and he'll toss it back at you with a pile of bread and some sweet mint tea.

And yes, it was delicious.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Chefchaouen

We went to Chefchaouen to see the beautiful blue city of Morocco.

Everyone else goes to Chefchaouen to get high.

We didn’t realize before we arrived in this stunning little town, that it’s basically the birthplace of hash in Africa. Or kif, as they like to call it. We were the only two people in our entire hostel who weren’t off our rockers. And we couldn’t walk five feet without someone very aggressively trying to sell it to us. They were incredulous at our lack of interest. In shock that two white folks with backpacks on their backs weren't there to get high. Wait, you don't want any? Like, at all??

We had offers to visit a local farm… To go to the village and watch them make it… The fun is seemingly never ending for folks who like doing illegal drugs in foreign countries. Call me an old lady, but I’ve seen enough episodes of Locked Up Abroad to take a pass. And lets just say when you live in California, Morocco is the last place you need to be smoking pot. Frankly, the never-ending sales pitch got pretty irritating.

Still, Chefchaouen was in fact beautifully blue.



But if we were to ever return, I'd go prepared.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Funky Old Medina



We are pretty open-minded travelers. And the things we’ve seen on the road have made our outlook on life increasingly positive. Knowing how lucky we are, witnessing incomprehensible beauty, meeting the people we do…  It’s difficult to be negative when you’re blessed with the perspective that travel gives you.

Because of this, there really hasn’t been anywhere in the world we’ve been that we don’t like. Even towns that aren’t great will always have a silver lining. That one meal we had. That one person we met. Some redeeming quality will rise to the surface of every place we visit.

Until… We went to Tangier. I’m sorry. But for the first time ever, we just couldn’t find anything to like about this city. And I think that’s saying a lot, considering how many places we’ve been. The vibe is unmistakably shady. We may or may not have been followed once or twice. There was no real charm to speak of. Plenty of hassle to go around. And the only other tourists were confused cruise ship passengers.

We tried not to judge. To embrace our surroundings and dive in with an open mind. But neither of us could ignore how sketched out we felt. And our #1 rule of traveling is: If we aren’t into something, move on. It pained me to leave feeling like I hadn’t given it enough of a chance. But after just two nights, it was time for us to go.

Granted, our experience could very well be circumstantial. Much like that time we encountered nothing but assholes in Wellington, New Zealand. Or had a travel meltdown and never left that café in La Paz, Bolivia. There are times when surely if a few details were altered, our opinion of a place would be very different.

Our first greeting with Tangier was at night, which is never a good thing. It rained, non-stop. And we went in with expectations based on it's nickname - "The Tijuana of Africa". Each time we ventured out, we couldn’t wait to get back to our hostel. Which, as I write this I realize, WAS our silver lining. We seriously loved our hostel. Super comfy bed, incredibly kind staff, absolutely delicious breakfast, and a pleasant rooftop overlooking the medina. So, there you have it. Guess we’ve still never really been anywhere in the world that we just don’t like.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Change of Plans

We weren’t originally planning to leave Europe on this trip. We figured we’d divide the two months that fell between Meghan’s wedding (in England) and Christmas (in Florida) fairly evenly amongst Spain and Portugal. But a funny thing happened to us in Spain.

We got tired of it.

I know. Even the notion of this is blasphemous. Tired of Spain? What?? I feel like a horrible human being even writing that statement. But we’d pretty much had all of the food and booze and late nights and sleeping in and wandering around not actually doing anything that we could handle. I must sound like a crazy person. It was so flipping beautiful. So much fun. So delicious. But we felt like spoiled, indulgent jerks sleeping until noon, spending two hours over our morning (afternoon?) coffee, strolling around all day taking photos, sipping wine, and eating more tapas than any two people ever need to consume. And my pants would have to agree.

We’re used to roughing it a bit when we travel. Shlepping our bags around humid, third world countries. Living for mere pennies on the dollar. Seeing sights we could only imagine and encountering cultures that change our perspective on our own. We don’t feel guilty going months without work when we’re out experiencing such strange and unique and foreign places, collecting a lifetime’s worth of crazy stories, forming friendships with fellow vagabonds from around the globe, all while spending a fraction of what we would at home. When prices start to rise and life starts to feel like one long spring break, it comes time for us to re-evaluate.

So, re-evaluate we did. After five glorious, unforgettable weeks in Spain, we decided it’s time to step a little out of our comfort zone and check off a place that’s been on our bucket list for years.

Morocco.

It promises unseen landscapes and an unknown culture. Confusion and frustration and magic and mystery. Some outdoor adventures, some physical and mental exercise, some personal challenges and shared growth. The type of travel that together, I think we do best.

I can’t reiterate enough how amazing Spain has been to us. The decision is by no means an indication that it wasn’t everything we hoped for and then some. I can think of few places in the world better suited for a vacation. When you have just a few weeks and want to unwind and indulge in some of the best this life has to offer, before going back to the daily grind. But I think the things we seek are a little different when we’re, well, traveling

I wouldn’t be surprised if after a few weeks navigating our way around Morocco, we’ll need a vacation. And I’ll know just the place to go.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Granada, Spain

Granada is that girl you’re dating that you never introduce to your parents. You first met on Calle de Elvira late one evening, and thought she was a little sleazy. Rough around the edges. Not to be trusted.

Everyone said she’s so great, but you aren’t sure how to feel. You don’t want to fall too easily. Yeah she’s mysterious. But also a little shady. Admit it, you’re intrigued by her. And with good reason.

Sure you could go out with beautiful San Sebastian. But the whole time she’s sitting across from you at dinner, you’ll be thinking about Granada. Hey, go ahead and give sophisticated Barcelona a whirl. But you’ll soon grow tired of her thinking she is too good for you. Even though she’s probably right. And you’ll probably sneak into the bathroom to see if Granada texted you.

Maybe she did, maybe she didn’t. She’s elusive that way. She’ll take you flamenco dancing in a cave. Show you views that are to too beautiful to be real. Get you high on shisha. Make you dizzy in her maze of streets. She’s a tough one to tough to figure out in the beginning. But as soon as you discover her best spots (tapas bars, that is) and dig deeper into her gypsy soul, there will be no turning back.

For photos of our one-week affair with Granada, click HERE.



Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Madrid!!

In the Spanish capital we…

Celebrated this guys birthday!


Strolled miles through the city streets.


Ate a lot of jamón.


Brushed up our Donkey Kong skills.


Stayed in a converted metro tunnel.


Found Fat Spiderman.


Fell in love with this market.


Indulged on chocolaté con churros.


Got up close and personal with Pablo Picasso's Guernica.


Spent a beautiful day in the park.


And stayed up really, really late.


For our album of pics from Madrid, click HERE.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Tastes Like Freedom

Where do you go when you just have to have a $13 box of Lucky Charms??

Taste of America, of course!!



Your home away from home for all things packaged and processed!

Saturday, November 15, 2014


18 days. 16 cities. 1,300 miles (500 with Irish company, and 800 on our own)!

We navigated confusing highways. Did our best to avoid exorbitant tolls. Got lucky with nonsensical parking signs. Screamed at our navigation system. Apologized to other drivers. Laughed in the face of one-way streets. Perfected the art of the roundabout. Used our windshield wipers, a lot. All with ME behind the wheel!!

And in Madrid, our Spanish road trip came to a close. Next stop: The bus stop!

video




Friday, November 14, 2014

The thing about GPS navigation systems...

is that they don’t work underground.

I was pretty nervous about driving in Madrid. From my first visit years ago, I recalled massive multi-lane boulevards packed with traffic and gigantic lawless roundabouts, neither of which I cared to traverse in a tiny stick-shift with a dubious insurance policy.

Still, we opted to return our car at the Atocha train station, just blocks away from our airbnb apartment. Upside: No timely/costly transportation from the airport. Downside: Risking life and limb on four motorized wheels in the heart of the city.

Question: Have you ever experienced an entire freeway system, complete with interchanges and exits, UNDERGROUND? Me either. So imagine my surprise when we casually enter a tunnel, and don’t see the light of day again for 15 minutes. That’s enough time to get really, really lost, as my GPS freezes worthlessly.

Each time we’d find ourselves back at street-level, the navigation system would re-calculate our route and inevitably send us underground again. Then, dutifully, stop working. We drove around like this for well over a half hour, as the minutes until our car was due ticked by. It was SO much fun, let me tell you. A real riot.

We finally managed to escape the maze and, hallelujah, find the train station. And that’s when the fun REALLY started!

We pulled in at arrivals. We pulled in at departures. We pulled into the taxi waiting area. We pulled into long-term parking. Every visible entrance of the station lead us to the wrong place, and every time we exited we’d be dumped into the largest roundabout in the city. When common sense didn’t get us there, we turned back to technology and entered every possibility we could think of… searching by the name of the train station, the name of the car rental facility, via points of interest, via “rental car return locations”. Nada. By now we had five minutes until we’d be charged for a late return, and I was ready to just throw my hands up and drive off a bridge.

Moments before we ended up on the evening news, we spotted a teeny, tiny, adorable little sign pointing us to where we needed to be. We screeched into the lot with seconds to spare. Nobody at the facility spoke English, so they were spared my angry tirade. We dusted off our hands and walked away from that car feeling at once light and free. Nothing but the bags on our back and our own two feet. 

And those f*ckers charged me for the extra day after all.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Road Trip Days 10-11: Segovia, Spain

Guys. Can we talk about the aqueduct of Segovia for a minute? What’s that, you aren’t familiar with it? Well, let me tell you a thing or two.

It’s only THE most important Roman civil engineering work in Spain.

It was built in the FIRST CENTURY. Or maybe the second. They aren’t sure. Either way, that is REALLY FREAKING OLD.

Up until recently, it was STILL USED to transport water to the city. That’s like, almost 2,000 years of functionality.

It is nearly A HUNDRED FEET TALL at its highest point.

It's made from about 25,000 granite blocks, assembled WITHOUT MORTAR. And the damn thing is still standing today.

Mind. Blown.

If you want to see more shots of this historic wonder, and the fall-fun-photoshoot we had in Segovia, click HERE.




Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Road Trippin' Day 9: Ávila, Spain

If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like inside a living, medieval fort, go to Ávila. If you want to run rampant in it basically all by yourself, go in November. And if you think it’d be awesome if it were lit up like a fairy tale at night, well, you’re in luck.

We are so lucky to have stumbled upon “The Town of Stones and Saints”. More than anyplace else we’ve ever visited before, it truly made us feel as if we'd been transported back in time. Walking along the top of the fortress walls shooting pretend arrows at unsuspecting enemies. Brandishing non-existent swords as we lurked the eerily quiet streets. Storming its gates in suits of invisible armour. We ran around like little kids playing make-believe all day and night. Well, little kids who drink a lot of wine.

While Ávila is technically part of the Castilla-León region of Spain, it was so amazing that I felt it deserved it’s own set of photos. And it might be my favorite little album. To see our fun times in what has been described as “the most 16th-century town in Spain”, click HERE.

Oh this old thing? It's just the largest fully illuminated monument in the world.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Castilla y León

We spent four days making our way through Castilla & León, the large flat region of Spain that divides the mountainous north from Madrid’s urban sprawl.
  
For a small handful of photos from the city of León, Astorga and Salamanca, click HERE.




Monday, November 10, 2014

Next up: Anything!

We hatched a very exciting potential new plan today. Well, by we I mean I, and by hatched I mean presented it to Reece. And he loved it! He may have given it a standing ovation. Or maybe I imagined that part.

But if there is one thing I know about plans, it’s that they never turn out the way you think they will. And we change our minds a lot. So we’re not going to elaborate too much right now.

All I will say is that it’s pretty freaking cool to have been born in a time and place where our lives can take just about any darn direction we choose. It’s a tremendous privilege that we all stop to appreciate very rarely. The world is our oyster! And I want to see it all.

Hello. Step into my adventure planning office.

Starting his day off right.


Sunday, November 9, 2014

Salamanca Surprises

We've got a little system for booking hotels during this, the so very low season in Spain.

1) Find the place we want online.
2) Arrive, with no reservations.
3) Negotiate a price much lower than we would have gotten if we booked ahead.

Sometimes, this backfires. Like when you get to Salamanca and it's dark and you're exhausted and it takes forever to finally figure out where you can park in the city and you shlep your stuff several blocks in the cold to your hostel of choice and ring the buzzer repeatedly and nobody answers. The friendly sign on the door provides a phone number to call if you want a room, which would be quite useful if you had a phone. Guess it's so slow, they don't bother showing up if there are no advance reservations.

Sometimes, this pays off. Like when all of the above happens, and then you find yourself another hostel on the fly and it's even cheaper and more centrally located and you open your balcony doors and find this:

Surprise!
You've just won quite possibly the best view in all of Salamanca!

Just pondering the meaning of life from my room's terrace
in the most beautiful plaza in all of Spain.