We departed our magical safe haven of Taghazout on a Saturday, bound for the slightly-less sleepy surf town of Essaouria up the coast of Morocco. Fully intending on trekking to the official ticket counter in the Agadir bus station, we found ourselves instead whisked by a safety-vested middle aged Moroccan man to what he promised was the, “Only bus to Essaouria! So cheap!”
Katie and I logged three shuffled strides under our backpacks to equal each of his long, swinging ones and his moustache quivered in the warm noon sun as he kept tossing it over his shoulder to holler at us to keep up.
After forking over a few precious multicolored Dirham bills, he scrawled a ticket for us with a choppy, teeth-marked pencil, shoved it into Katie’s palm and slapped the top of her backpack in a denounced manner. He gestured to a tall, tan man clad in navy blue suede sweatpants and Nikes standing rather amiss on the tiled corner of the street.
“Stand with him. Stand with him, bus to Essaouria.”
The vested man bared his limited teeth at us in what we could only imagine was his version of a warm, relaxing grin, and disappeared amongst the honking taxis back into the bus station.
Katie and I exchanged calm but relatively skeptical glances, and scooted our way over to Suedepants. He looked us over carefully and held out his palm, gesturing for the yellow filmy tickets clutched in Katie’s hand. She passed it over. Suedepants squinted at the single, wavy pencil mark that was disconcertingly the only distinction on the otherwise blank ticket, and grinned at us.
“To Essaouria! Ahh, very nice. Very nice. Now you don’t need these anymore!”
To our collaborated and succinct horror, Suedepants proceeded to dramatically rip our tickets to pieces. This moment will forever exist in my memory as more dramatic than it most likely was; the image of a cackling, toothless man flamboyantly tossing bits of freshly purchased ticket high into the air, his light-colored tongue engaged in blowing flapping raspberries, his hands, once finished with his arduous task, coming to rest in a quick empassioned bout of the Macarena.
The glances with which Katie and I exchanged following this display dropped any hints of relative skepticism in favor of full-on dumbstruckness.
“Uhhhh….” I blubbered.
“Erm…..” Katie gaped.
Suedepants laughed again, and placed one not-so reassuring tan hand on the brain of Katie’s North Face backpack. I’m still not entirely sure why the Moroccan men that we have encountered choose that approach to reassure us, because it never makes me feel at ease.
“Don’t worry, don’t worry. You don’t need these anymore, don’t need these.”
It was difficult to resist the urge to finish his statements with a malicious not where you are going, anyways.
With our soul-pal mind connection, Katie and I emitted the ensuing conversation in flowing iambic pentameter, as is our custom:
Hello, my friend. This bus will take us there?
Across the hills and coast from Agadir?
I know not where this bus for us will go,
Or if, indeed, this voyage we’ll survive.
And if, to Heav’n, our destination lie,
A pleasure was it to journey by your side.
To describe the bus which then squealed in front of Suedepants as “retro” would label it with a quaint and eclectic nature entirely undeserved.
A few more moustached men spilled out of the squeaking door, grabbed our packs and hurtled them into the crevasses under the bus, our only possessions sustaining a month-long voyaging bouncing heartily on top of a sparse number of dusty black duffels.
Suedepants placed his two hands on each back of Katie and I and ushered us into the half-swinging door, up the steep stairs into the interior of the bus, taking a running leap himself in after us.
Keep in mind that the bus did not in fact cease its forward motion this entire time.
The interior was as dusty as the duffel bags; the air conditioning system that the bus company indubitably advertised as highly appealing served to only spit out more stale air.
The colleagues of Suedepants all pointed gruff, wrinkly fingers at each available pair of seats, unsatisfied until we had been offered every combination of seating choice available. As the bus bounced in and out of every pothole possible, Katie and I hurriedly stuffed ourselves into a pair of grey-clothed dingy seats near the posterior of the bus, perhaps subconsciously hoping that a rear location would allot for a hurried escape if things went south.
Our selected seats were both reclined in a position perfectly inconvenient; too upright to allow for a comfortable snooze yet leaned back at such an angle as to force the sitter to engage the abdominals in order to perch properly.
In attempts to free myself from such an unfortunate workout, I groped my hands along the plastic edge of the chipped seat, searching for the little adjustable lever. My search quickly ended as my fingers met a sticky wad of chewing gum resting comfortably on the lever, and resoundly shot back to the safety of my lap.
The rear door of the bus never entirely closed during our jumpy voyage, stubborn in its blatant refusal to adhere to attempts made by Suedepants and colleague. So Katie and I enjoyed a nice, cloudy breeze of dusty road and small bits of sticky wrappers for our four hour jaunt.
We dozed in shifts, the shafts of sunlight abnormal in color as they penetrated the spotty window panes, igniting the stuffy air. The man seated adjacent served the entire voyage with his throaty, booming voice hurling Arabic words aggressively into the small speaker of his flip phone. The woman seated a few rows in front rhythmically rocked back and forth, clutching a wicker basket of eggs, keeping time to the beat of her own colossal humming.
Suedepants & Co. continually paced up and down the narrow hallway, every now and then kicking open the swinging rear door to grab the jackets of more yellow-ticketed Moroccans to pull inside.
Katie and I exchanged more glances, more telepathetic lines:
Can you recall the taste of crispy breeze?
Don’t look back there, I think that might be pee.
I think that man might only have one hand.
With much anticipated relief, our dingy vessel finally peeled into the cage of a bus station, the welcomed “ESSAOURIA” sign clinging to the concrete grey of the structure never read better.
We slapped our legs a bit to start the blood reflowing and to wake them up from their cramped positions, and hurriedly hobbled out of the bus, a shock of fresh, wavy air filtering out the dust from our lungs.
We somehow dodged the attempts of Suedepants to help drag out our packs from the ravines of the bus, and scooted our way as quickly as can be mustered away from the horrid bus.
We snuggled happily into the straps of our packs, a bit dinged but not otherwise suffering harm. Katie wrapped her arm around my pack, and I leaned my head over to rest on top of her hair.
Hello, my friend. How fares your mental state?
I do believe my mind is still intact,
Although my lungs with dust are wholly filled.
I never have before such longing felt
To leave a dingy vessel such as that.
Goodbye, foul bus, of odor and of gum.
To Essaouria finally we’ve come.
Peace and Blessings,
I am perched cross legged on the warm, faded wooden slats, my back resting against a thick cushion the color of sunset, my skin gulping the bright Moroccan sun that directly smiles upon the rooftop terrace of The Surf Hostel in Taghazout. A cup of fresh mango juice is nestled to my right, a bottle of water resting against my foot.
It’s a Friday; a holy day in Morocco. A day filled with a resonation of long calls-to-prayer, the soft Arabic oozing from speakers surrounding the city featuring tones of passion and commitment. Couscous is steaming everywhere around the small surf town, steaming in great heaps in preparation for the day. The crashing of the noon waves against the sparkling shores adds rhythm to the tones, the gentle wind that carries my hair from my face adds to the beat.
My hair is rather crusty from the salt water and I’ve been wearing the same shirt for a while now; we’ve all got this nice resounding cough and the past three nights have essentially been spent in a hostel-wide salty snuggle around a not-quite-loud-enough laptop for movie nights due to massive amounts of body-wracking fatigue.
Also I’m pretty sure that I used my shampoo to wash my clothes today, but in accordance with the theme of most of my hygiene, I’m not entirely decided.
I absolutely couldn’t dream of a better place to spend these past 5 days.
It’s been capital to set up camp for “so long” after being squashed in a van for rides of 10+ hours the entire four days prior to us landing in Taghazout. From the moment we set foot in Agadir, the last stop before reaching Taghazout, the scene was different.
So much less intrusive than Marrakech, one could walk around the small rather Western-dominated surf town of Taghazout without the continual grapple for business, picking one’s way alongside droopy friendly dogs slobbering through power naps in the sun and little kittens with wide bright eyes chirping behind.
After nestling in for some How I Met Your Mother, Katie and I popped back down to Panorama Beach with our absolutely capital buddies Sarah and Ryan to gaze at the fading sun setting against the frothy Atlantic, the bobbing surfers braving the point sillouhetted against the pink illumination.
From there we moseyed to a little outdoor cafe, meeting up with our Frenchie hostel mate and two German travelers, chowing down into some veggie burgers, couscous and tajine.
We dallied through topics of cruise ships and waves, German festivals and childhood television, life and love and strange-to-us Moroccan practices.
And as we recline against the backs of the chairs, our bellies satisfied and the pleasing dusk wind massaging the face, a tiny little black and white kitten creeps up towards our table.
She goes initially for Sarah, sensing her to be the most cat-loving of the group (of which of course she was not incorrect). Sarah welcomes the little kitten heartily into her lap, and more symbolically into her heart, falling in love with the tiny head and the bright, open eyes.
We scoot her scraps of Ryan’s fish tajine, sneaking it into her paws before the jolly owner could stop us, subconsciously teaching our newfound little pal how alright it is to hop up on tables and beg from tourists which I’m sure was appreciated.
Ryan recognized the little chick as the culprit who sneaked onto his chest during a rooftop nap at the hostel, nuzzling her way onto his face and promptly sneezing loudly into it. This was confirmed by the amount of times she sneezed on each of us respectively around the table.
We finish our after-dinner mint tea, pay for the delicious meal and meander back to the hostel.
Atchoo follows close, darting alongside us, stopping only to peck at a few scraps.
She jaunts merrily into the hostel with us, and none of us think twice about it; at this point in time, there were two dogs, a more-often-than-not stoned rabbit rescued from the meat markets by some Aussies, and a tortoise found at Anchor’s Point aptly named Tajine that had found a home in The Surf Hostel; Atchoo would be a welcomed edition.
In this situation, she was the real master puppeteer; we bent to her will, following her as she surveyed the many floors of the hostel, peeking into the board room and her attempts to sabotage the kitchen. She didnt get along so well with Roxy, the sweetheart of a blubbering white lab, but Atchoo was clever enough to know how to place herself.
She snuggled in with the group of us as we cuddled on the couch and watched some surfing videos, enraptured by the glow of the laptop screen.
Honestly, I’m not entirely sure what came about with Atchoo. She ran off sometime during the videos, perhaps to find a quite nesting place in the hostel or return to her meanderings and manipulations on the streets. Now that she knows how effective her charm is, there’s no telling what will ensue.
Taghazout, you were a grand oasis in a crowded, over-tourist-populated stretch of country. Thank you for your gentle waves, for your loving inhabitants, for your magical peace. You gave us serenity and sun and friendship; what an excellent choice of a stop.
Peace and Blessings,
Life slowly illuminates as the dusty red Sahara dunes lazily charge with the rising morning sun, embracing the world from the underbelly, quelling the brisk 05:30 morning breeze. The blackness is retreating from behind; however, the tightly suctioned desert turban and my rather puffy eyes from the sandalwood smoke of last night’s Berber campfire work twofold to prevent my intentions of engaging my oblique muscles to watch it.
My right thigh is rhythmically heated by the sticky breath of the snotty camel in line behind me, his over-stretched nostrils often resting against my knee cap in a surprisingly comforting manner.
The camels greeted us well this morning with huge, guttural bellows and flails of slobbery foam. The entire scene screamed of Star Wars: from the Tusken-raider grunting of the camels, to the Mos Eisley dunes of the Sahara, to the draping cloaks of the desert guides pointed at the top in a hood, reminiscent of the droid-sellers.
Coupling the fantastical aura with the magnificence of the full moon silhouetting the massive dunes led to a magical night of newfound friends chasing each other around the dunes, rolling down them in memory of childhood hills, and star gazing into the void of an oasis of peacefulness.
Katie and I peaced out of Marrakech for a four-day-three-night jaunt to the dunes in Morocco; first to Zagora, then onwards to Merzouga.
It took a full day of driving full-speed through the Atlas Mountains in a bumpy passenger van before we reached Zagora and hopped on our first camels. Fortunately, Katie and I have the innate ability to entertain ourselves, much to the chagrin of our Berber, relatively-toothless driver.
Zagora, as described so beautifully by the turbaned, Moroccan Chris Rock who we met outside of a couscous cafe in Errouha, is the “coca-cola desert of Morocco”. It was a grand first experience, and spending the night in a Berber camp under the stars after a drum-featured campfire is my idea of a good night any time.
But Merzouga was where it was really at.
Massive, expansive red dunes. The spray of sand whipped over the crests much as the shadows of clouds pass over a meadow on a windy day or the lazy snaking of whispy snow over a highway.
The dunes were great, the guides were hospitable and welcoming, the camels made my already sore obliques ache from laughter.
But, much as the trend is, it was the people that made it all so magically delicious.
Thus far, Katie and I have met so many wonderful people at each hostel that we’ve stayed at. In Fez, the brilliant ultra-smiling duo of Michael and Sarah from Virginia and Switzerland, powerhouse Elena from Berlin, super wonderful Lindsey and Lauren from the States. In Marrakech, meeting Daunte for the first time, along with Marco of Italy and DJ Jerry of San Fran. The Swiss girls of Dominque and Noelle and the Brazilian Luis heading to Zagora. Many many others, locals like our beautiful philosopher guides and the women who work with Argan oil. The beautiful Julia, an Agadir local who taught us the lay of the public transportation and how to say goodbye the Moroccan way, after giving us her phone number and instructing us to call her anytime we need to use the bus system again.
The tribe we trucked out to Merzouga with was pure magic. There would be no one else I would spend 22 rather nauseous hours trapped in a Moroccan van with a driver who wouldn’t let us stop for lunch, squashing our protests with his own chuckling replies of, “today is Ramadan for you. Ramadan, Ramadan.” In a sing-songy voice reminiscent of Gollum’s mutterings.
Daunte, and ode to you, you beautiful, shameless voyager. I know there’s an apostrophe somewhere in your flowing name, so apologies for that. This chick has been traveling on her own around Southeast Asia and beyond since September, with an insatiable love for people and a hilarious bluntness. She says exactly what she’s thinking and what she means, I don’t know if I have ever met such a wonderfully shameless inclusive person before.
Juliette, a magical curly-haired Coloradan who has done about as much adventure as one can possibly. It was absolutely brilliant chatting with you and sharing adventures, 1000 well-wishes on your studying in Cape Town.
Tom and Melanie, you might be my favorite couple ever. The just-outside-of-Dusseldorfian duo who let Katie and I speak German to you and did the best you could with replying to us. I don’t know if I’ve ever laughed before as much as I did with Tom adding “brother” in Berber after every sentence with our driver from the back of the van.
Scott, your insane 12-month “vacation” around the world is nearly incomprehensible and intensely inspiring. Thanks for giving me the deets on Nepal and sharing book-love. Never cut your hair, keep looking like Leo DiCaprio.
The Belarusian couple with the wonderfully positive enlightened attitudes on all aspects of life, the intimidatingly adventurous solo Japanese kindergarten teacher, the Hungarian family from Vienna. You’re all top notch, it was an absolute honor to trek with you.
Desert memories will forever be couple with images of friendship, campfires, tagine and bellowing camels.
Peace and Blessings,
The great, legendary Atticus Finch told Scout: “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view … until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”
I can’t seem to understand Marrakech because I can’t seem, for the life of me, to be able to consider its majesty from it’s own point of view. Almost it feels as if it doesn’t quite have a distinct enough point of view for me to grasp.
Granted, it’s still a city in Morocco, a country I have woken up in for the past week daily not believing my grand luck; still a culture where vibrancy is swimming into my soul alongside the waves of streaming sunlight; still a place where market vendors sell dates and figs and olives from brightly colored, high-ceilinged stalls thereby making my heart race with aesthetic excitement.
But Marrakech has been different for me than Fez. Much different.
I’m trying not to compare it with Fez, because I neither am an expert on Morocco by any means nor do these kind of places exist in anything but their own spheres of incomparable majesty. But Fez is currently my only Moroccan experience with which I could base any proceeding experience; there is a much different feel there than in Marrakech.
There are gobs upon hoards of tourists and people in Marrakech, extrapolated by the fact that our lovely little Riad is located grand smack between the Koutoubia Mosque and the Jemaa el-Fnaa market square, perhaps the most tourist-populated areas in Marrakech.
The square features multitudes of snake charmers, orange juice vendors, sunglass-sellers, and Moroccan women demanding payment for the henna that they scraped upon your hand without your blessing and with your explicit protestings that, “it’s really beautiful, but honestly I cannot pay for this, I’m not sure why you just took my hand”.
It was the most viscous experience picking our way through the square; the hoards of young men purring, “Mhmm, very nice” were suddenly replaced with hoards of young men shoving paintings and watches into our faces, hollaring, “just look!”
We would pass a stand, filled to the brim with beautiful Moroccan pieces, colorful jewelry and ornately decorated silver. Instead of being able to stop and admire the artwork and craftsmanship, we would immediately be pounced on by the seller, overwhelmed with his desire to sell to us.
I know, I can feel that there is so so much beauty in Marrakech. That it is a city of good people, and rich culture and majesty. One can see that from the breathtaking architecture of the Mosques that reign across the skies and the luxurious palm trees that line the gardens.
But I can’t help but feel a sense of…inauthenticity. As if most of it is just a show for tourists, just to get money. And because of this overpowering aura, I don’t feel as if I can jump into Marrakech’s shoes and appreciate it as it deserves to be appreciated.
Part of that is the fact that I know so very little about it’s history, and also that we’re so very frugal that we don’t want to spend our precious DH on overpriced museum entrance fees.
After a long, contemplative dinner on a beautiful rooftop terrace overlooking the bustling, carnival-like main square, Katie and I sauntered back to our magical Riad armed with some delicious patisserie and snuggled in to learn.
Learn about Muslim culture and traditions; about the belief systems in Islamic law and the rich beautiful history of Northern Africa. About all of the questions we amask throughout the day naturally, that we don’t seem hurried to find answers for.
We watched a few documentaries on Moroccan history and Islam, by no means tapping into the gorges of information available on the topics, but dipping into it enough to determine that the more you know about a place, a person, a situation….the more that you love it.
We have one more day in Marrakech before we hit the desert. Hopefully armed with some newfound Northern African lore and legend, we’ll be able to experience the grandeur of Marrakech from it’s own shoes and not the shoes that are geared towards snubbing money from tourists.
And if not…there is always the chance to retreat back to our perch on the couch cushions of the rooftop terrace of our hostel, ducking under the large canopy to escape the high 70-degree Moroccan day, reclining against pillows, sipping on water, munching on dates and basking in each other’s company. There’s always that.
Peace and Blessings,
If I were to do justice to a description of our initial introduction into Fez, Morocco after a mid-day landing, you and I would both be here for years as I burst forth with written feelings of love and respect for this beautiful, beautiful community of passionate Moroccans.
I am going to quell my temptation to describe our beautiful hostel; the magical Germans, Americans, Canadians, Moroccans, Moroccan-Americans that we have met and fallen in love with and shared Moroccan tea with and curled up on blanketed cushions against tiled walls lit on fire by the Moroccan sunlight streaming in from the skylight.
I didn’t quell very well.
Saturday morning, February 4th: 70 degrees of fluffy white clouds against a breathtaking blue sky. A magical gent of an older Moroccan man comes to our hostel to escort Katie and I amongst the intense labyrinth that is the Fez Medina, the largest Medina in Morocco
He begins our time all together with a huge freckled smile and peace radiating through his big brown eyes, telling us his philosophy of love and respect and community and grounding.
Why he loves people and why he has been leading people through the Medina for the past 33 years.
The Medina was…breathtaking.
The roasting bread, fresh dates, springy rosemary and avocados, freshly squeezed orange juice; the smell of weaving wool and tanning hides and the earthy smell of chickens clucking around. Cats would duck in and around your feet, dancing alongside you as you jaunt through along the 12th century cobblestones.
Our beautiful guide knew everybody; we found ourselves meeting parakeet vendors and tanners and saying hi to shop owners. Passing by the world’s oldest library (857) and the oldest University casually, stroking the smooth intricate tiles that lined the walls of the Medina.
It would be a post on its own to describe the Medina in adequate detail and the people that we were so fortunate to meet.
After spending a magical 2 hours or so reclining on the couch cushions in the hostel, listening to Cat Stevens and chatting about adventures with our other backpacker pals, we take back to the streets with a magnanimously glorious Berlin chick.
We jaunt to the bus station and back, weaving through hoards of sweatpants-clad young males hollaring, “You need husband?” And found our way back into the depths of the Medina, meeting up with a jovial American couple.
A cafe geared towards backpackers and cross-cultural communities–Cafe Clock–was hosting a cinema night in the labyrinth of their own cafe; the five of us climbed tiled steps and clung to iron railings and picked our way into a high-ceilinged sandstone room with theatre chairs.
We ordered fresh fruit smoothies, espresso, milkshakes and lattes and snuggled into together in the tiny cozy room to a projection of The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind with French subtitles. Absolute bliss after an entire day spent meandering amongst dusty throngs of bustling merchants and customers.
After the movie, we sauntered upstairs to the rooftop terrace and perched ourselves on thick cushioned benches, breathing in the cool night air and talking for a good three hours about everything from previous adventures to life in our own cultures to Trump and politics.
Around 10:30 or so we pick our way back to the hostel, stopping by a little shop to purchase a late dinner of bread, ramen noodles and pringles. We end up running into a jolly Swiss man buying cigarettes, and spend a good half hour talking with him about his three weeks in Morocco.
We go back to the hostel and sit around the table together, sharing our late-night hodgepodge of a meal and watching YouTube videos of German political comedians, and overall just basking in a really spot-on day.
Katie and I slept in a smidge and found ourselves tucking back into the Medina to buy bananas and crumpets for breakfast the next morning around 10. We then took ourselves on a dance up to the ruins lining the walls of Fez, breathing in the surrounding Mountain landscapes and resting in the out-of-city air.
Whilest having a date-pit-spitting contest, we reflected on what’s so glorious about Fez and the little bit of Morocco that we have been exposed to.
There’s such a wonderful tradition and culture of rest. So many people sitting outside of cafes, sipping mint tea and sharing meals together, sitting in the squares in blanketed lawn chairs, resting together.
It’s not in a lazy way, there’s not an aroua of laziness. One can tell that the people of Fez work very hard, but moreso that they are truly passionate about what they do. The weaver that we met was the fourth generation weaver in his family to work in this beautiful inner-Medina shop. The perfumer and argan oil maker was a miraculous woman who taught herself essential oils and let herself love the feeling of beauty that came from the high quality argon oil. Our guide himself could see himself doing nothing more enjoyable than taking his “daughters” through the Medina and sharing community.
There’s mindfulness. And respect. And pride over one’s culture, but actual, well-founded pride. Pride not based on meaningless things like borders, but on a cultivated community.
Katie and I book our hostel in Marrakech and rest for an hour or so in the glorious afternoon lazy breeze. We take back to the streets, arm ourselves with special soap, hair clay, and a scrubbing glove and hit the Hamman.
It’s a bit…abrupt…to walk into a place where suddenly a lot of naked members of your same gender are seated cross legged on the tiled floor, deligiently scrubbing the skin off their respective bodies in the foggy sauna-esque dome. The air is thick and humid and perfumed with the fragrance of cleanliness, and suddenly, in the aroma of tradition and absolute lack of self consciousness, any feelings of awkwardness merge with the hot steamy water down the drain.
After a surly hour and a half scrub, we find ourselves suprisingly really drained of energy. We saunter out of the steamy building and grab a beautiful cup of freshly squeezed orange juice, gulping down the sweet, Moroccan pulp and feeling on top of the world from the cleanliness and the peacefulness of the Hamman.
After forcing ourselves to march zombie-like to the bus station in order to purchase our tickets for the next day, we head back to our hostel and curl up under the blankets with a hearty potato sandwhich-compliments of Back Home Fez–and a viewing of Indiana Jones and the Lost Ark, both of us dosing to sleep around 9:30.
Fez is magic. Truly, truly Moroccan magic. I hope to someday return and get to know it better; I know we merely scratched a surface of it’s enormous, untapped beauty.
Peace and Blessings,
We begin our voyage in the usual way; Katie and I endlessly debating the meaning of life and happiness and joy, both of us operating on far too little sleep for the topics we were maneuvering through as we find ourselves bouncing through landscapes and mountains too vast and magical for our own comprehension.
Graz to Munich. 2:34pm. Radical 50-degree sunlight snuggling into our smiles and a warm wind whispering through our hair.
We take to the Munich town, arm in arm, drawing glances from passerbys on account of our infectious giggling that’s wracking our bodies as we can’t believe our luck.
First of all, we’re going to be spending an entire month backpacking through Morocco. Second of all, as luck would have it (and the Flixbus schedule), we found ourselves with a hearty 8 hour layover in Munich. Thirdly, that 30-degree-Fahrenheit-rainy-day projection for Thursday, February 2nd was given a sound middle finger by the sun and the warmth.
We dance along the market stalls, in and out of perfectly organized cathedrals, bouncing past street performers and statues and breathtaking buildings.
Except it’s Katie and I, so we never find ourselves speechless.
There’s something conceptually reinvigorating about a good bout of sunlight. About the waves upon waves of warmth wiggling into the joints and rendering the blood vicious. About being surrounded by good hearted Munich people in a city not suffocatingly crowded by tourists thanks to the off-season of February.
We skip our way to a large outdoor market and duck in and out of stalls hosting aged wine, delicate cheeses, an abundance of vibrant fruit. We pick out a bundle of grapes from a fresh fruit stand and select an array of olives from a massive olive stall.
To make our dinner picnic complete, we saunter to a bread tent, tucked away on the outskirts of the market. Wafts of freshly baked wheat weave their way into our hearts, and the smiles of love from the sellers cheer us heartily as they present to us the loves of bread with which they have injected so much care and concern.
Katie asks directions to the English Gardens, and we are directed towards the owner of the tent, who then immediately takes us in hand and begins to tour us around her tent. She points out the myriads of homemade, vegan ethical spreads that she has dedicated her life towards making; the wild garlic oils that can only be collected 4 weeks out of the year, the herbs and spices that she has painstakingly tendered and planted herself, the recipes she has so carefully crafted to be as environmentally loving and artificially free as possible.
She’s a gem, a wonderful, vibrant woman full of joy over the production of her hands, content with herself and her work and overflowing with a desire to share her life’s passion.
She gives us directions to the English Gardens and we press hands together, mesmirized by her passion and the mutual delight of our newfound acquintence.
Katie and I grab some Munich beers and fresh pepper goat cheese and mosey our way to a garden, snuggling into the dark wooden benches and listening to soft music as we break hearty German bread together with our cheese, fruit, olives and love for everything around us.
The sun begins to nestle its way down into the earth, and a soft chill begins to tuck it’s way into our gloves. Feeling jazzed, we pop up from our perch and meander back into town, intent on killing the remaining 4 hours with a hearty trip to a cozy Munich beer garden for a pint.
Along our way of perusal, we happen upon a glorious Burmese Mountain dog, slumped next to an energetic, magically friendly woman waiting for a friend. Meeting all three of their acquaintances in broken German-English, we ask for a recommendation for a good spot of Munich beer; in true, magical fashion they personally escort us to their favorite beer hall and we fill the Munich air with conversations of life and travel.
We part ways with these two everlastingly youthful dames and dance our way into the what exactly comes to mind when one thinks, Munich beer hall.
Katie and I slid into a bench next to a few Asian guys, and are greeted by a Liederhosen clad man one-handing two freshly tapped liters of beer. Slapping them in front of us with a gruff, “Genau”, Katie and I hoist our charges into the air and scream alongside the multitudes a sturdy “PROST!”
Two hours later–and after a most peculiar conversation with the Austrialian Andy Serkis–Katie and I dance, literally now, back to the Munich Hauptbahnhof, running into street musicians along the way and congratulating our impeccable day.
Our bus takes us from Munich at 10:30 to the Frankfurt airport, docking at the bustling hour of 4:40am. We zombie our way into the airport and drag ourselves to a small man in a lonely booth electrically labeled “INFORMATION”.
“Entschuldigung bitte?” Katie squeaks and points to her flight ticket. “Wo ist Ryanair?”
The man gives us two blinks and then dully says, “Ryanair is not here.”
Katie and I exchange glances and nervously chuckle to each other, certain this man is telling us some sort of joke. “Wie bitte?”
“Ryanair is not at this airport. Hour away. You can take taxi. Or do whatever the hell you want”.
I paraphrased here, but essentially it was that brief and emotionless.
Eventually, in our 4:40 states of mind, we come to realize that our fight is not out of Frankfurt Main–the airport in which we found ourselves currently situated–but out of Frankfurt Hahn Airport, an airport convienently an hour away.
In true Katie-Josie fashion, we stresslessly saunter to another guy, ask for directions to the bus, book tickets for a 7:15 bus to the Hahn airport, and take power naps and high five each other for it all working out.
We get to Hahn by 9, sip on cheap delicious coffee for an hour, meander our way easily through security, and toast carrots and crackers for a further hour and a half before boarding our flight to Fez.
Not even to Morocco yet.
Peace and Blessings,
I don’t know what it is about purposelessly oscillating along the lightly snowy trails which hug the chatty Mur river, dancing past cyclists and hand-holding dog owners in the brisk January noontime sun–the sanctifying, scotch-drinking voice of Gary Sinise narrating John Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley through the left bud of my half-working headphones–that promotes a welling state of optimal mind digestion.
By this, I mean that I acknowledge that theories of neurotransmitter manipulation brought forth from the radiation of the sun exist and that there also exists various psychological theories of noise.
I just don’t know them.
When I write–be it my daily morning entries, or blog posts, essays, poems–I exhibit this…trend…of diving so deep within my mind, that I lose track of all outside perceptions and sensations. I emerge from such experiences as one might emerge from long car-nap or a viewing of Interstellar.
I chalk it up to be my annoyingly decisive inability to multitask.
I don’t believe that any of us can truly multitask, but most of us at least possess the qualities to fake it.
Not I, unfortunately.
The past two weeks have been saturated with end of semester essays; consequently my mind has been possessed with hoards of alien thought-armies stretching from a formulation of theories over the rise of proletarian theatre throughout 1930s American working class society to the evolution of criminality as showcased in Shakespeare’s Macbeth.
Demonstratively palpable has been my inability to garner thoughts outside of these realms. And also construct sentences that are normal in contemporary syntax. Apologies over the latter.
I’ve missed this.
I’ve missed sitting down at my wide-stretching linoleum desk, nestled up against an expansive three-paneled window overlooking the beautiful gardens of my Austrian back-door neighbors, a cup of steaming mint tea on one side and my watch cast off my wrist, flung to the other side of the table.
I’ve missed wiggling my way into my slippers and unleashing a cacophony of Thelonius Monk jazz from the warehouses of my Spotify account.
I’ve missed perching myself cross-legged upon my black wooden rolling chair, wheeling myself closer to my desk and setting myself up on a fresh Google doc to type an intended blog post that will inevitably evolve itself into something completely unintended on my end and undoubtedly stretch past the word limit.
I’ve missed starting five sentences in a row with the same words.
As John Steinbeck’s unbelievably human themes wove their way in and around my heart through Sinise’s seductive voice–which, by the way, Gary if you’re out there: I know you’re at least 4 times older than I am, but if I you give me the absolute honor of your introduction I will buy you dinner–I mused upon my own levels of humanity.
Steinbeck set off across the country to reinstate himself with the patterns of his soul; something I myself longed to do.
Blog post time, baby.
Let’s find something in that bamboozler of yours that doesn’t fester rank with Marxist vocabulary and musings on the murders by Macbeth, or dishearteningly uninspiring thoughts about how the ambiguously daunting majority of your beautiful enlightened international friends will be departing forever to their respective countries in one week.
I distinctly told myself that I would not base blog posts on overbearingly arrogant topics such as, “I know it’s been a while….” or “Whelps, I’m back!” Or “The post you’ve most actively been yearning for, after weeks of disheartening and dishumanizing silence”.
I foster no illusions of grandeur over my own blog-posting-impact.
Do recall, though, that I am actually not in control over my own posts. I get to choose what tea I drink while I write, but that’s about everything in my power.
Although I sincerely love you buckets, these blog posts are more than just for you, dear impassioned and beautiful reader.
They’re also for me to realize and visually encounter the contents of my mind.
They’re for the little “Creative Genius”–that exists within us all–to nudge me gently and tell me what’s up. Why I feel the way that I feel. Why I project the way that I do. Why my socks don’t match and I forgot to take a shower.
It can boil down to the importance of ceremony, the irreproachability of habit, the satisfaction of visual production, the blah blah blah….
Hemingway summarized it this way: “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”
That’s the same man who gave me, “Always do sober what you said you’d do drunk. That will teach you to keep your mouth shut”, so Hemingway is king to me.
It feels good and acceptable and necessary to bleed; to remind oneself that passion and intention and breath and life merge together in the soul. What is life without the blood? What is passion without true camaraderie? “And shall we make our griefs and clamour roar, upon his death?
Damn, in seeps Marxism and Macbeth again.
In hopes that this overtly empty blog post, devoid of the usual adventuring accounts, will not detract you from further inquisition into my upcoming blog posts, I release my words to the ‘net.
My beautiful Alaskan soul-pal, Katie, and I are departing to Morocco in exactly six days to meandering amongst the nomads and drink good Moroccan mint tea. Ergo, the adventuring accounts will resume in due time, my friends.
Peace and Blessings,
The wind bellows and whips the frosted snow into my face, a child with a tantrum, burrowing deep into my cheeks and releasing tidal waves of free flowing frosty tears from my eyes. My rubber Sorrell hiking boots–my truly faithful steed in my Austrian adventures purchased for $16 in the local Kansas second-hand shop–slip on the ice encrusted rocks, and the black €1 gloves do nothing to dam the waves of cold that dive into my fingers as they plunge into the banks of thick snow to stop my fall.
The Austrian hikers that I come upon are all pleasantly whistling tunes and cheerily hollaring “Gruß Gott!” against the blowing wind as they dance by me with their professional hiking poles and boots made for the icy conditions of the Schöckl mountain.
Despite the quite obvious amount of discomfort I should be experiencing–as I am quite wholly unprepared for winter hiking and should probably be massively discouraged from embarking on such excursions–I find myself whistling an equally merry tune and bellowing “Servus!” in return whilst I scrub my fingers forcibly together in attempts to defrost them from their current state of abhorrent uselessness.
My own positivity surprised me.
This I say not to my own accreditation, or to glorify myself in any way. It simply astounded me that I was actually having such a grand adventure, when so many obvious less-than-grand things were wracking their way through my body.
My parents had departed from Europe on Tuesday, and come Thursday I was already feeling that itch of escape from the confinements of daily routine in Graz, despite having spent the last fortnight skirting from Vienna to Poland to Berlin and back.
Thursday came; so did regional bus number 250.
€6,40 and my heaviest coat later, I found myself bumbling up the Austrian frozen countryside, bound for the 1,445 meters of vertical earth that is the Schöckl mountain.
Whilst sauntering my way up this dome of blisteringly freezing majesty, I reflected upon my positivity.
Why was I enjoying myself? Why was I doing this to myself? Why was I here, carting only a half filled water bottle for the entire day of hiking, and not tucked away safely in my slippers back in the warmth of my flat, doing something actually productive like writing essays and eating peanut butter?
It is with desperate hope that you do not cast me away as arrogant. I’m not better at suffering. I have so much more to learn about discipline, and delayed gratification and minimalism and simplicity.
But I did genuinely find myself in a state of enjoyment. And this state vastly outbalanced any glimpes of suffering.
While my eyes lost themselves in the beautiful contrast of the hearty brown pines against the oblivion that is the snowy mountain ground, my mind wheeled.
I do this, I do these things, I do what I do because I envision how I am going to feel about myself after I do them.
Yeah, for sure. You can stop running now. But how are you going to feeling after you’ve gone just one more mile? How are you going to feel after doing one more hill repeat?
Yeah, for sure. You can eat whatever you want. But how are you going to feel after you choose to eat mindfully and plant based? How are you going to feel after opting for carrots and bananas and peanut butter over simple carbs and sugars?
Not just physically. I’m not just talking about how I am physically going to feel after saying either yes to more suffering or no to delicious delicacies.
I’m talking about respect.
How am I going to feel about myself?
Today has been spent alternating between creating presentations to finish out the last month of the winter semester and establishing my role in where I want my 2017 to take me. So this idea has been festering in my mind for the past 11 hours.
There’s something fundamentally different between being motivated and being driven.
Being motivated looks like waking up when the devil blares bloody murder from the alarm clock, strapping on your running shoes and shimmying into your winter gear. Being motivated looks like getting to the door, cranking open the handle, feeling the sharp and cutting wind jackknife itself across your face, and immediately sauntering back to the covers, nestling back into the folds of warmth and comfort.
Being driven looks like opening that door and embracing the hurt and the pain and the instinct to run as far away from both of those feelings as possible, because you know that you are going to bloody respect yourself after you get out that door.
So my resolutions for 2017? To cast aside an attraction to settle for motivation in favor of deepening my drive.
Peace and Blessings,
The process of flying from Vienna to Berlin on Wednesday, December 28th sapped a good 3 years off my life.
My parents and I spent four days in Vienna for Christmas, and then planned to go onwards to Berlin (with an jut to Poland for two days) for the durander of the holiday season.
Flying from Vienna to Berlin on Wednesday, December 28th is a long, drawn out story on it’s own ( one that I actually wrote, but then deleted after it began to approach 600 words and the whole, you know, it not being the point of this blog post).
Just know we finally go to Berlin.
After grabbing bags, we swiveled our way to the EuropeCar desk and engaged a very serious, dry German man in a conversation within which my father attempted to speckle in humor (all of which was promptly ignored).
Because of plane delays and other shenanigans, we reached Dwie Wieże, our quaint and cozy apartment situation in Międzyzdroje, Poland, 2 hours after I had said we would.
Ergo, we were met with a firm and securely locked gate and no way of communicating with the owner.
Before the gravity and relative hopelessness of yet another unintended voyage barricade had begin to set in, suddenly we heard a bark resound through the empty peaceful streets and a man stepped out from the warmth of a Bed and Breakfast next door with a dog at his heels.
He motioned us over and asked in a husky, Polish accented English:
“Are you the guests of my neighbor?”
The undoubtedly disheveled travel-weary looks on our faces fortunately did not have the effect to turn the man away, and he welcomed us into his home for tea and freshly baked Polish cake while he called his neighbor to come and check us in.
The dog was called Yoko, named after the Japanese multimedia artist and peace activist, and I cannot impart to you the majesty of the personality of this dog.
Instantly she ran to me and thrust her face into my hands, resoundingly licking as much as she could get her tongue on and curling her body to encircle my leg with as much of her fluffy surface area as she could muster. It was as if my body were the negative end of a magnet to which her entire being was drawn to, she had absolutely no reservations concerning what kind of person I was; Yoko couldn’t have cared less if I wanted to be loved by her, because it was going to happen anyways.
I sank to my knees and hugged her firmly, letting her thick, fluffy face bury itself into my neck and behind my hair, feeling the warmth of her oscillating body, too excited to be stilled, chase away the cold of the evening and the frustrations of the day.
She radiated pure light; this creature contained no trace of selfishness. No trace of malintent. No trace of evil.
I felt healed by her. The day had been long and intense, and I had lost faith in my ability to plan and travel well. But yet the warmth of Yoko drove away all of it. All of the disappointment and all of the bickering.
As she wagged her way around to my parents to impart her love upon them, too, I looked at her fully. I looked at what she represented and symbolized.
People to her were not guilty until proven innocent.
They were opportunities with which to exchange love and excitement for life.
Before you jump to your feet and shout, “No Josie! Don’t go hug every stranger you can find!” and shake your fist at my seemingly declared ignorance of the evil that does exist in the world, I beg you to not misunderstand me.
I’m not advocating this literal approach, I understand that there are acceptable things that dogs can do that Josie cannot.
It’s what Yoko’s actions symbolized that were so important.
I believe in my gut instinct, I believe in my ability to subconsciously feel out situations and judge the status of safety in each of them. I have a good head on my shoulders, and I’m smart when it comes to being safe.
But I’m not afraid.
The draw towards traveling for me is not so that I can see places. It’s not so that I can check something off a bucket list that I can present to other people and force them to acknowledge how cool I am.
I enjoy traveling as a means to meet people and to experience their life, and I want to make people feel the same way that I felt by Yoko
She didn’t look at me as a stranger, that I needed to win her trust before I could have her affection. That I needed to prove myself before she would accept me.
She treated me as if I were completely pure and completely innocent of any malintent. She gave me a blank slate, to be whoever I wanted to be, to start fresh and to breath in the beauty of non judgement.
I firmly believe that the way we treat people can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. If I am treated as a problem or a burden, a little subconscious part of me whispers into my actions, “why not be an issue if that’s what they expect?”.
If I am treated warmly and with copious amounts of green tea and freshly baked Polish cake, that same little subconscious part of me whispers into my actions, “the world is good to you, let’s be good to it”.
It’s smart to be attentive. It’s smart to be wary of situations or people that create a discomfort within the gut instinct. It’s smart to be observant.
But the way that we treat people can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. And the way that we treat people begins with the way that we think about them.
Why do we choose to function within a cycle of hatred over people we don’t understand? Ignorance is a choice. It’s choosing to surround yourself with only like-minded people who don’t challenge your way of doing life.
That’s what blows my mind over what Donald Trump is advocating so hard for, and what people are responding so well to.
He doesn’t know the people that he is inciting so much hate towards. And yet he’s encouraging others to join him in his ignorant and blind hatred. And they are!
If we think of people as if they are problems and burdens then inevitably we are going to treat them as such. And then what’s the point of them acting differently? Suddenly we are stuck. In a cycle of blind, unfounded hatred and distrust.
Let’s give each other a blank slate.
And when we mess up, which is going to happen, let’s give each other a blank slate.
And when we fail each other, which is going to happen, let’s give each other a blank slate.
And when we hurt each other, which is going to happen, let’s give each other a blank slate.
It’s not just forgiveness. It’s letting people return to innocence. It’s non judgement. It’s simply letting people change and develop in the exact same way as you hope people will let you do.
The more that you understand and know someone, the more you love them.
Peace and Blessings,
The devil howls from inside the radiator, echoing around the lamp lit low-ceilinged walls. I untangle myself from the duvet and swing my legs over the side of the springy couch, sliding my socks against the soft carpet to the window. After a foggy, huggingly damp day, the Vienna midnight sky has parted to reveal a blanket of sleepy stars.
I crank the handle to the left and the window creaks open. A breeze squeezes its way through the tall surrounding 18th century apartment buildings and nuzzles through my hair and over my skin in a way that can only be expressed as delicious, dancing around the stuffy room and sharpening my surroundings.
It’s midnight, and of course I am awake. That’s what happens when you go to bed at 7:30.
My body–much to my delight–chose a few days prior to revisit the formerly repressed incident of the 2007 Taco Bell Food Poisoning, rendering it’s inhabitant, yours truly, solely interested in being immediately unconscious after any intake of food.
My parents had flown from the United States for an intended fortnight holiday in Europe, releasing me from any obligation to complete the 18 hour journey for myself. We spent three days in Graz–mostly of which featured a fetal-positioned Josie writhed on the couch after spending a night getting friendly with the bathroom–and then skirted over to Vienna for the four days sandwiching Christmas.
From Vienna would we fly to Berlin, rent a car, and drive the Autobahn at top speed to Miedzyzdroje, Poland; a hopping tourist destination in summer on the north coast of Poland and blissfully devoid of bathing suit clad Europeans during the depths of the winter. After retreating to Poland for two days, we would drive back to Berlin and explore history.
The Viennese breeze.
The flat that I had found for us on Airbnb was nestled amongst the traditional 18th century apartments of Vienna, a 10 minute walk from breathtaking Parliament buildings and national libraries.
A bit sticky from the heat of the satanic radiator yet much refreshed from the influence of the night breeze, I grab my copy of The Fellowship of the Ring, meander to the bathroom and draw myself a bath in the porcelain tub.
Thoughts of cleanliness purge the remaining feelings of illness from my body, scents of antique stores and old books waft from my copy of The Lord of the Rings, the words placing me amongst hobbits wandering through adventures.
I am Bilbo, resting after a long day of charting unfamiliar territory, my feet sore from darting around strangers and buildings, all seemingly taller and grander and more breathtaking than I.
I am the still water, capable of movement, capable of dancing and swirling and swishing and swooshing, yet completely contented with the current state of my passive being.
I am a thinker, friendly with the lonely midnight sky, familiar with the stars, handsy with the night breeze.
My sensitive stomach renders me needless and utterly content.
I float, uncrowded, swallowing the moment.
They say that 4am is the philosopher’s hour; when the dregs of late-nighters finally find the pillows and the ambitious and highly motivated still slumber for a final hour, they say 04:00 is for those with thoughts too breathtaking and bottomless for sleep.
It’s this hour.
It’s this moment.
It’s submerged in this porcelain tub, thumbing through the rough grainy pages of an adventure novel, breathing in the seeming exclusivity of awakeness.
Perhaps it was the elimination of multitasking that created such a perfect, unscriptable bath. Perhaps it was the complete absence of claustrophobia.
Whatever it was, Vienna, you made me feel as if I were a part of you.
Peace and Blessings,
Saturdays in Graz. Laden with basket-carting old women and lads with linen sacks, dashing off for a gentle peruse through the massive farmer’s markets sprinkled throughout the city. One finds hoards of moseyers, meandering throughout the sunny streets, ducking into shops and emerging with sticky fingers and the remains of freshly baked sticky cinnamon buns, diets be damned.
I don’t find myself in Graz on a Saturday very often, and so whenever I do happen to join the moseyers, I’m always quite shocked at the enthusiasm of the Saturday atmosphere.
Yesterday, following a morning of a really capital jaunt along the trails of the mountain Plabutsch, I took up my own burlap bag and joined the ranks of the stroller-pushing family men and the riding-boot clad lasses at the farmer’s market.
It’s a well-choreographed dance; the Austrians seem to know exactly how to maneuver the rows and rows of tables offering freshly baked bread, locally grown Styrian winter vegetables, christmas cookies, beautifully decorated pine wreaths, and homemade Austrian schnapps.
They seem to know exactly how much time to spend choosing the right bundle of kale, what increments of coins they should present to the vendor for ¼ kilo of carrots, how much conversation is too much.
Unfortunately I was the awkward last-minute-addition to the dance, and was doing more of a hip-hop freestyle instead of the previously agreed upon waltz. No matter; soon I picked my way home, armed with a half loaf of freshly baked Brauenbrot (“brown bread”), local Styrian Waldhonig (forest honey), and a bundle of locally grown assorted Gemüse (veggies).
The only three items written upon my “Saturday to-do’s” were: 1. Nice long trail run (check) 2. Farmer’s market (check) and 3. Create the most magical dinner possible (scheduled for much later in the day, quite obviously).
Having done all that I already planned and it being only noon, I figured I might meander back home, snuggled up with a cup of green ginger Tazo tea and finish my book or something pleasant and Saturday-esque.
Muah. So much wrong.
On my route home I pass a Friday-to-Sunday flea market, housed in this large, rather dimly lit warehouse, filled to the brim with brightly colored oil paintings, stacks of china tea cups, racks of shoulder-pad clad jackets and books with titles such as, “How to Survive the Impending Nuclear Attack” and “The Proper Way to Maintain an Afro”.
My first weekend in Graz I danced around this magical treasure trove, retreating home armed with a few beautiful 1977 calendar posters, but I hadn’t been back since.
As I passed the building, I saw through the windows a large gathering of people. Curious, I tip-toed closer to the window, making eye contact with an older gentleman who then promptly burned a fair number of calories motioning for me to come inside and join.
My curiosity heightened, I entered through the squeaky automatic door towards the gesturing 80-year-old man with the whitest hair I have ever seen, who then begin to speak very rapid, very throaty Styrian German, absolutely none of which I was able to comprehend.
With a nervous giggle, I squeaked: “Auf Englisch, bitte?” In English, please?
This to which the kind gentleman gave a booming chuckle, patted me on the shoulder and replied, “Ohhh, jaaaaa auf Englisch!”
Then proceeded an explanation, half in a less-Styrian German and half in broken English about the raffle auction that was taking place. He told me that one buys 12 tickets for 10 euros with a very strong possibility of leaving the auction laden with treasures, and that his gift to me would be one of his numbers.
Grün achtundfünfzig. Green 58.
I stayed at the flea market for the next two hours, hooting and hollaring alongside my new 75+ year-old friends to whom my new pal Herbert introduced me. None of whom spoke that much English, save this absolutely capital old gentlemen who spoke 13 languages fluently. He was in the German construction business and spent 35 years traveling through the world working on sites, living for a few years each in Morocco, Sierra Leone, Sri Lanka, Kenya, Indonesia, Nepal, Canada, and numerous other places.
I met Cynthie, who has an extreme passion for faux-fur hats (she showed me all of her pictures).
I met Ronald, a short very wrinkled old gent who shared his “traditional Styrian pastry” with me.
Herbert introduced me to Julia, a beautiful, rather round 60 year old woman of whom Herbert called “his American beauty” because of her size (Herb was giggling the whole time, but Julia did not look as pleased).
Carla was an ancient Spainish Austrian with a talent for the accordion; she graced our ears with a few tunes all of to which Herbert sang and danced along.
Green 58 did not get called; however, two of Herbert’s other numbers did.
“Ich give you Geschenk!” I give you present! He squeaked excitedly, as he loaded an entire set of crystal plates into my arms and a large hand-carved angel centerpiece. Baffled, I thanked him heartily.
He promptly took them back from my arms and sprang away to the other side of the market, returning with a very brightly colored 70s backpack into which he loaded my “presents”.
“Ich set deinen Geshenk hier, ja?” He said eagerly.
Herbert told me of his travels with his wife to New York and of her flawless English. I told him of my skirting off to Italy and Bosnia and the Czech Republic, not caring that my German was broken and grammatically less-than-correct.
At the conclusion of the raffle auction, I thanked my new friends heartily with great smiles and firm handshakes, thanked Herbert for everything–to which he replied, “You tell your parents you have new boyfriend!”–and staggered back home, laden with this new neon plastic backpack.
I think this qualifies Herbert to be my sugar daddy.
The entire day was a reinforcement of my love for the elderly; for those who maintain an excitement for living and a long resume of life experiences to show for it. To those with youthful energy oscillating up and out of 80-year-old wrinkled bodies. To those with a lack of self-consciousness and a plethora of smiles.
I realized how universal a well-placed smile is.
How eager people are to hear my broken German, because at least I’m interested enough in communicating with them.
How miraculous things happen when one actively runs out of plans and doesn’t say no.
Herbert. Cynthie. Ronald. Julia. Carla.
If you ever read this, please know that you are the grandest of souls. I have learned a plethora of love and life from you, and that your energy is more enthusiastic than mine is most days. Thank you for letting me butcher the German language into your ears, thank you for replying in methodical and slow Styrian German back.
Peace and Blessings,
I awoke early on Sunday, December 11, having accidentally fallen asleep reading The Hobbit the night before, feeling buoyant in the amount of rest imparted and energetic in the literary residue of Tolkien.
A 55-degree Sunday (12 degrees Celsius for my metric pals) in the middle of December. The washing machines completely occupied, the majority of the city closed anyways and the homework can wait until Monday. Pair that with an insane amount of energy, and we find Josie popping over to Hauptbahnhof for a 44-minute train to Leoben, clad in Sorell hiking boots and munching on cashews.
I had no inkling of an idea concerning how the day would play out; loosely googling “winter hiking spots in Styria, Austria” had somehow directed me to the good chance of trail heads spouting from Hafning near Trofaich, reachable by bus from the Leoben train station.
My arsenal housed half a wedge of brie, a pear, a few chocolate cookies and a package of unsalted cashews. My hiking gear was minimal, definitely not “winter worthy”; a light down jacket stuffed into my backpack alongside a pair of 1-euro black fleece gloves made up the backup gear to my Patagonia sweater I wore over a long sleeved shirt and black leggings combo.
Armed with a very vague notion of when the last Sunday bus departed from the station, I arrived in Hafning at noon and simply set off in the direction of the mountains.
Back in October, when my magical pal Katie and I were hiking through the Triglav forests in Northern Slovenia, we stumbled upon a contemplation of our perfect forest.
Both of us came to the conclusion that we had not yet found “our forest”; the one forest that we felt truly and deeply connected to on a soul-level. The one forest that had not been made for us, but that we had, somehow and in a sense, been made for it.
My friends, on Sunday December 11th, I found that forest.
Or rather, it found me.
I began my journey by rather aimlessly meandering down this one-lane country road, snaking around the base of looming mountains and trees and tucking in between Austrian cottages sporting ducks and hens clucking around the mossy gardens. The first somewhat-path-like trail I came up against, I took.
I’m fairly certain it was an old logging trail, the residue of tracks established by the tons and tons of weight of logging equipment chartering freshly de-rooted trees.
Minutes after my nearly vertical trek, I found myself speechless from more than physical exertion.
I was standing, small and yet somehow still significant, upon a soft mossy springboard encompassed by impossibly tall green-nettled pine trees, the scent of fresh cool air mingled with pine cones and dry forest floor wafting through my hair and into the pores of my very skin.
It was irrevocably silent.
Silence I have not felt perhaps in my entire existence.
Silence that was inclusive and welcoming.
Silence that invited me to join in the festivities of an empty and pure mind.
The air was cool and delicious and the breeze that caressed my hungry skin was warm and comforting. Every breath of this air was an honor, every intake was ambrosia.
For three delicious hours, my boots found their own way over white rocks and springy dirt on a raw yet well-loved trail which danced alongside playfully magnificent woods, beautifully and imperfectly spaced apart with the mossy green of life carpeting the undergrowth.
How can anyone say winter is a time of death, when this forest and this mountain exists?
The end of my hike featured an hour of vertically scrambling up snow-packed paths, clinging to the side of the cliff with my cheap fleece gloves. Just as my legs were beginning to wobble with the raw exertion of such a vertical ascent, I found myself perched on the top of the world.
No picture could ever do it justice.
The depth, the raw dimension of what I was witnessing…it made my head swim and my eyes dance with tears. The majesty of this view was something my brain could not even comprehend.
Finally coming to terms with dramatic oncoming of the early winter sunset, I eat my wedge of brie and slices of pear, blow the wind and the mountains a sturdy wet kiss, and begin the descent.
Exempting the direct descent of the first half hour off the peak of the mountain, the trail existed in such a beautiful decline as to offer me no choice but to let inertia take lead and give way to unfettered running.
So here I found myself, the sun setting on the most gloriously-temperatured December day, having had practically no human interaction, utterly having thought out of thoughts, wolfing down gulps of pure pine air and running down this mountain.
I have no concrete idea of how exactly I got up the mountain in the first place, no real notion of what time it was nor what time the last bus would leave.
Somehow–and I mean that in the most dramatic useage of the word–it all just worked.
My boots felt their way back to the old logging trails, dispatching me back on the beautiful one-lane country road a half hour before complete darkness. I meandered gaily back to the Hafning bei Trofaich bus station, the last bus to Leoben departing in three minutes.
Arriving warm and sleepy back in Graz, my body buzzing with the exertion of a seven hour hike, I duck into a long hot shower and warm up a pot of last night’s homemade vegetable soup. I prop my feet up on a wall and breathe into the glorious feeling of blood draining from my ankles as I listen to the majestic tones of opera music and treat myself to The Hobbit once more.
I don’t know if I will ever be able to find my forest again. Perhaps it only existed on December 11th in that Sunday, 55-degree state of mind. Perhaps it was only shown to me because I was completely alone and completely allowed to be completely mesmerized.
Perhaps because I had thought myself so utterly out of thoughts to let feeling and emotion have free reign.
Perhaps because I experienced the rawness and scathing beauty of being completely immersed in the moment.
Whatever it was, it is my absolute and dearest hope that whoever is reading this find it, too.
Peace and Blessings,