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The Morning Report

The mornings go like this:

A not-so distant bark announces both the dawn and the passage of a morning delivery truck which speeds along the narrow Scottish road on the other side of the thick hedge that isolates our safe haven of dog love from the rest of the world.

I attempt a last-minute burrow between the piles upon piles of thick wooly blankets, ignited by my body temperature and protecting me against the chilly Scottish morning air in the wood cabin, but am unsuccessful. A huge, wet black nose tickles its way underneath the first layer of blanket and sniffs at my yawning face.

Flo shoves a big paw under the covers and gives me a grand lick as I counter with my forearm. She takes this as encouragement; the other paw jets under the covers to join it’s twin, and Flo’s entire torso flops upon my body.

Newfoundland’s like to snuggle. They like to be held. And by this I mean they like to hold you and perhaps pretend that the sizes are switched and you are holding them. But all three of us know the real story.

They drap their black fuzzy masses upon you in all of their glory, enveloping your face in pounds of thick wooly fur. You anatomically can’t help but bury yourself into the folds upon folds of warm slobbery goodness that is the Newfoundland.

I fall asleep to Flo’s guttural snores and wake up to her massive head wanting nothing but love. I subcome immediately to this, of course, and saunter out from under my beautiful warm covers. Hopping on one foot to decrease Josie-to-cold-cabin-floor ratio as much as possible, I yank on one black rubber Hunter wellie after another and give Flo a squeeze. Together we exit the little cabin and head for the main cottage.

The first thing we do–the three other volunteers and I–is wake the Newfies up and give them breakfast.

This one-course meal is offered in two options: for the younger Newfs we have a delectable full-scoop of small diamond-shaped dog food served alongside a hearty half-scoop of big pillow-shaped Newf food, and topped with the finest white laquered vitamin pill and a big ol’ hug for good measure.

 

For our larger, more furry Newfs, we’ve got a more sophisticated palate: one and a half scoops of Scotland’s finest big Newf chow slow roasted and finished with a squeeze of absolutely appetizing “Dog Chub”.

Friends, it’s as good as it sounds. I would know, because Ishka and Monty like to play “who can spill all the dog food better” pretty much every morning, and I get to be the fortunate official who picks up each piece by hand because I’m too lazy to go grab the broom from the kitchen. So ergo my hands smell like “Dog Chub” for a significant portion of the day.

After Newfie breakfast comes the human breakfast.

Cups of Scottish tea, coffee, and orange juice accompany buttered toast with jam and honey. Sometimes my American side comes out and I slather peanut butter on my toast instead of butter.

And by “sometimes” of course I mean every morning.

Our volunteer task force consists of a fabulous French poet-photographer duo and a boxing Spaniard from Barcelona. Together, under the trusting guidance of the very curly-haired, very Scottish Liath, we pull of the seemingly impossible; attending to the needs and requirements of 15 absolutely full-sized Newfoundlands.

After washing and drying the breakfast dishes, we assume our pooper-scooper places and clean the garden and the kennels. Then we take hoses and attack the floor of the kennels.

The later task is easier said than done: Vladimir and Daisy have this wonderful fascination with the hose, and dancing around trying to purge the concrete slabs of the furry remains of a Newfoundland’s good night sleep is turned into quite the water park as the freezing Scottish hose water reverberates off the massive flat heads of Vlado and Daisy.

Breakfast: done. Newfie droppings: scooped and deposited (hint: don’t drink the creek water). Kennels: shining.

From here we split. Some begin grooming or trimming. Some begin with repairs. Some tackle household duties. It might be hard to imagine, but with so many massive dog-bears lumbering around sleepily, things get a bit dusty.

We have 3 weeks off from Austrian Uni for Easter Break, and to maximize the wonderfulness of so much holiday time, I’ve popped over to the Scottish highlands to learn how to train and take care of Newfoundlands. The 25 hours a week of work is exchanged for the most diverse, vegetable-loving kitchen to be entirely at my disposal and a blanket-shrouded bed in a woodsy cabin. It’s ideal, to put it lightly.

I’ve got a lot of favorite moments. But a repeated favorite is when Monty sprawls in all of his massive glory right in front of the front door and positively disables the oppertunity for the door to swing open because his solid furry head is propped up against it. In order to jettison out of the house, one must firmly grasp the door handle and do everything but brace two legs against the wall to yank it open. Monty’s thick furry body slowly, very slowly slides backwards along the wooden floor as the door becomes more accessible.

He literally doesn’t wake up for this.

I don’t even know if he can feel it, he’s that Newfoundland.

You can’t hurt a Newfie. You accidentally trod on their paw? There’s about fifteen layers of skin between your foot and their nerve endings, they don’t even notice. You want to take a nap on top of Ruby? Go ahead. Flop yourself down. Besides a palpable “I’m so glad you’re with me!”, there’s almost no response. I mean, it’s not an issued challenge, but just know they’re an insatiably durable breed.

Not only can you not hurt them, but they would never ever hurt you. They may look powerful and foreboding, but not an ounce of aggression or meanness resides in those massive black bodies. There’s too much love, empathy, and snuggles to leave room for that.

Newfoundlands are cute. Like, real real cute. Like, they’ve got so much skin on their face that when you stroke them they assume different facial expressions.

If the full-sized Newfies are delectable and perfect…can you…can you even imagine–my heart thuds to a stop every time I merely think of them–the Newfie puppies?

Proof that there is a God, friends.

Stay tuned for a blog post solely devoted to attempting to portray an accurate description of the Newf pups. They’re that……oh, you’ll read about them.

That’s all for the morning report, loves.

Peace and Blessings,

Josie

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Mapping the Self

Yes, it’s quite functional to wear Hunter wellies in a rainstorm; but why is that I take to the streets in my black gloss boots in times of sunshine and crispy breeze?

In my boots am I a Scottish gardener, taking long, steady strides along the heather and potatoes, the lip of my boots generating a gentle suctioning noise against my calf, the thick, slightly raised heel kicking back against the earth in undertones reminiscent of a knock upon a wooden door. 

The winter is yielding to the spring, and thus the seasonal wind must hurry in order to complete it’s yearly business of bringing chill. I pull my head through the neck of my Patagonia sweater, draping the fuzzy teal material onto my torso. It encases me in a continual hug, the winged sleeves fold over twice to rest mid-forearm, the front pocket beckoning gently for me to snuggle my hands into its safety net. It wards me from the methodical breathing of the morning dawn.

This sweater is the embodiment of mountains; the smell of a pine forest on a misty day, the sound of a singing stream dangling from the rocks, the taste of a crisp apple on the summit and the tool by which the dribbled juice of the apple upon one’s chin can be rubbed away. 

In my sweater, I am not merely warm; I am a bird watcher shrouded in sensation. 

My burlap-brown cross-body Fashi bag is slung across my right shoulder, tucking me into myself and bringing my head to be held high. It houses keys, phone, wallet…all things that could be secured in the pockets of my blue rain jacket. 

But yet I swing it across my right shoulder; for with it’s presence am I an explorer. The cryptic lands that I cross may contain tram tracks and pigeon feathers, but the steady weight of the thick brown strap of satchel against sternum reminds me that every moment is a chance encounter with the spectacular.

It is the raw, unfiltered beauty in persona. The reason why brands are such an important part of daily life, the reason why we choose to use our bodies as advertisements. 

Perhaps my case is singular.

My favorite clothes do not exist as my favorites because of how they fit against my shape; they are special to me for what they represent and how they allow me to represent myself through them. They are my memories and my intentions, my interactions and my discussions. 

It goes past clothing, as all things must. 

Persona exists in hobbies. The reason why, when I sit down to write formally, I turn off the lights in favor of candles and soft yellow lamps, I snuggle into my fleecy slippers, I brew myself a strong cup of coffee, I turn on noir jazz and I always open the window to welcome the breeze. 

I’m not writing. I am a writer and there is a vast canyon of distinction between the two. 

The aesthetic appeals to me, it draws me in and it welcomes me to slip on a new gown for the evening, to signify to myself what part of me I am going to unleash upon the world. 

I secure a bandana firmly against my wavy hair before slipping out for a morning run. It doesn’t do much in the way of aerodynamic usefulness; my bangs still part in the middle of my forehead, the material of which the bandana is made is not conducive to wicking away moisture, and indeed a thinner patch of hair over which the bandana is knotted has developed, albeit small it is nevertheless definitive. 

But yet I secure a bandana firmly before slipping out for a morning run. 

In my bandana, I am useful. I am the riveting echoes of Rosie, pounding away on the hulls of giant steely ships, humming gently to myself as I stride past clean bridges. In my bandana I get to work. 

Why do certain movies leave us with a racing heart and a desire to go save something, anything? Why do certain songs make us want to rollerblade down steep hills and climb silos and drive with reckless abandonment?

How can I feel so classy, when I haven’t showered in an unacceptable amount of days and am the product of a long, long train ride back home? But yet here I am; nestled on the navy blue print seats, a paper mug of Earl Grey tea steaming on the table to the left of my keyboard, my feet tucked up underneath me, the dancing countryside winking softly as the sun puts itself to bed for the night. 

Why do we get tattoos? Why do we wear Hard Rock Cafe tshirts? Why do we drink San Pellegrini and strap on high heels? Why do we prefer hardback books and marble statues and eating with forks?

Efficiency…usefulness…necessity…preference. Persona. It keeps us accountable to instincts that are appropriately distanced from animalistic behaviors. Our effort to map out ourselves, our efforts to choose the way that we want to interact with our world. 

Peace and Blessings,

Josie 

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Hopping The Wrong Train; Or, We’ve Got A Trend Here

The day was ours.

A forecasted 67 degree day, cotton balls of wispy clouds fluttering lazily along an ocean of playful, winking blue, the sun declaring eternal friendship, the breeze giggling joyously as it danced among the blossoming trees.

Austria was lit by the spring; the finger-numbing chill of winter replaced by light jackets and thick green grass.

With an affinity for both this kind of weather and each other, the trio of jubilant Rrona of the land of Kosovo, soul pal Katie and I decided to spend our Sunday throwing the middle finger to the course books and popping on over to a jolly great mountain for a wee day jaunt.

Oscillating in our excitement and pleased with ourselves for setting a definitive time to meet at Hauptbahnhof, we forgot to solidify properly in our minds the station from which we had found a decent trailhead.

Naturally, what ensued was that we zipped down south for 45 minutes instead of the much more appropriate north.

I like to think it could happen to anyone.

Rrona, Katie and I stepped out on the platform, the red ÖBB train whipping our hair as it bucketed out of the station, and were immediately met with…perhaps one hill off there in the distance, a nice little lake to the left hand side, a rather tall and sprucey forest.

We exchanged glances; somehow, in our excited conversing on the train ride to this moment, we had not noticed the lack of mountains as we jetted through the countryside.

Extreme, palpable laughter ensued, as it always does with Rrona and soul pal.

We grabbed hands and with as much eagerness as shown to dismissing our homework, we skipped together onwards, determined to fully enjoy the sun, outdoors, spring and each other.

After finding a massive chess set located outside of a wee Volksschule and delighting ourselves with a game of chess–perhaps rivaling that of the elementary school kiddos who also amused themselves with the set–we ambled into the greatest, tallest field of spruce and pine forest. And if I knew more trees by taxonomy they would have been included, too.

We spend our sunny Sunday in happy, blissful company; munching on chocolate cookies and hummus sandwiches, taking naps on the slope of a thickly grass-carpeted hill in the beaming sun, popping over to the little Austrian Gästhaus for a pint before catching the correct 18:02 train back home.

My advice? Well, it’s three-fold. First, try as much as possible to find yourself in the company of the magnificent Rrona of the land of Kosovo and wonderful soul pal Katie, because you will never laugh quite as hard at yourself and the situations you will find yourself in. Secondly, find yourself on the wrong train more often.

Thirdly, don’t get hit by cars when you’re biking. But I’m told that’s a given.

Peace and Blessings,

Josie

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So Many Questions

My left hand rests on the thin stem of the wide-lipped wine glass containing a comfortable amount of 2014 Chianti Classico; the fingers of my right hand stretch across the hard keyboard, the clicks and chinks of which ooze palpably throughout my small Austrian room transforming me into the screenwriter that Ewan McGregor plays in Moulin Rouge. 1940’s crime and noir jazz shyly slinks into my mind, shrouding me in a veil of husky inspiration, a desperation and urgency for the words that are welling up in my mind to relieve themselves in Courier New 12pt font.

I have no desire to distinguish between paragraphs; to hit the enter key is an almost shame, splitting up these words that belong to no one but themselves, hacking through flow to craft categories of significance that don’t exist until vomited onto paper.

I do not buy into…talent…when it comes to writing. I believe in those who believe they were selected to be writers and those who believe they have a different art form. We give ourselves too great a significance when it comes to art; we are the vehicle for the creative genius but we do not exist as the genius ourselves.

Otherwise, how could we stand such pressure? Such pressure of top-notch performance every time we attempt our art? No. It cannot be up to us.

Perhaps it’s the Chianti. Perhaps it’s the copy of John Steinbeck’s East of Eden that rests definitively upon it’s front cover, the contents of I have finally, wholly completed reading. Such a read prompts such a mental probing of humanity as to render the reader a different, more aware individual. Aware of the complexities of human nature.

It’s a near stream of consciousness. These thoughts that are categorizing themselves into paragraphs against their own will. My fingers long to forgo punctuation; to favor the endless rambling sentences that echo the masterpieces of Joyce. Why subdivide something that doesn’t exist in divisions, that is wholly connected and formulated. Why add exclamation and question marks to words and sentences that long to express themselves with complete detachment of human interference?

I don’t think in punctuation; why write in such?

One might call what happens in my mind overthinking but I treat that much as I treat over-exaggeration. It doesn’t exist until we give it existence and then classify it as something negative.

How can you over exaggerate.

The slow, rhythmic saxophone yields to a muted trumpet. The far left candle flickers out, the wax rebels and melts onto the black wick.

Why does aesthetic matter so much? Why is it so vital to be immersed in a persona? Is that inauthenticity? Is that charade? Why must I snuggle my way into my thick patagonia hoodie and sit cross legged upon my black swivel desk chair, wine or a strong cup of tea towards one side and jazz from the front? Why is the candle so indicative of my writing?

Am I even allowed to publish this? To showcase such an intimate portrait of my mind? That the aesthetic “stream of consciousness” is the king of my thoughts? In one day I have so many questions over everything I encounter that my fingers and thumbs would most certainly demand to be amputated by how much googling I would have to do in order to figure out the answers to all of my questions.

If we’re all striving to be so individual, how is it so comforting to discuss what we have in common?

No man is an island. But then what have we marooned ourselves upon?

I meant to write about Budapest, the magical city to which we traveled last weekend in order to rekindle a love of the Hungarians that graced my life this past semester. To write about our rainy, cafe adventures. Or perhaps our lack of sleeping. Or the beauty and rawness of sublime unyielding friendship.

But, as I have mentioned before; I get to select the tea that I drink and the jazz music that I listen to. Nothing more.

It’s not a lack of control. It’s the presence of acceptance.

Naw, that’s simply me pretending like I have control.

The trombone of Alex North gives way to the smooth, finger-snapping Warren Barker Orchestra. The middle candle wax topples into the wick, extinguishing the second flame; the rightmost candle dangerously close to following suit.

The flickering green light that lights the stairwell adjacent to my window finally becomes more and more delayed; metaphorically indicative of my late-night state of mind.

Away I go.

Peace and Blessings,

Josie

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A 62 Hour Journey Home

Friday, March 4th: the quite relatively tan and avocado filled adventure duo of Katie and Josie shall fly out of the Tangier Airport approximately 17:45 bound for Frankfurt. Austria isn’t too atrociously far from the bustling metropolis of Frankfurt, Germany. It will be easy, they thought. Just get back to Graz, they said.

Flying intercontinentally between Africa and Europe subjected a mere 2 hours and 21 minutes from the lives of the duo, a grand round of applause for the Ryanair flight team for making it to the continent a zippy 24 minutes ahead of schedule.

We touched down on Friday night, local time 21:06. In our infamously optimistic ignorance we fully expected to be nestled between the sheets of our respective Austrian covers by Saturday night.

Well friends, Saturday night came, as it tends to do. And yes indeed, we were both fully present for the occasion. Unfortunately the so-longed-for Saturday night covers were exchanged for the hard cement ground outside the Pescara, Italy train station, huddled together in a daze of post-pizza hums and under the carefully judgemental eye of the train station guard, humorously pacing back and forth within the train station itself, clearly visible from the outside windows upon which Katie and I reclined as he continually denied our entrance into his protected domain. A much different experience, as one might imagine.

Sunday night also came, as is also its fashion. Katie and Josie; present and accounted for. Much to our continual chagrin, the so-longed-for Saturday night covers were again exchanged with Monday night sharp rappings on the exterior door of a large white shed, disconcertedly situated in the middle of a Slovenian city park behind a crowd of tall pines; our only assurance being the single piece of white printer paper boldly declaring the words “HOSTEL” in italicized 72pt Times New Roman font tacked to the hard plastic door upon which our knuckles were getting quite the bruising from repeated knocking.

Shall I recount the tale of our 62 hour journey home from Morocco? I am afraid to say that I have almost no choice in the matter. It’s too juicy to not be expressed in archaic language and elongated run-on sentences.

Katie and I planned and prepared our voyage to and around Morocco a full and appropriate 2 weeks in advance to take off; despite the tiny ratio of planning to backpacking time, we were quite thorough in our preparations. Not only did we plan and book how to get to Morocco, but we also planned and booked how to get back.

If you had happened upon a reading of the first Moroccan adventure post, “Not Even to Morocco”, you would be familiar with the disruption of expectation concerning how to get from Graz to the Frankfurt airport, due to a miscommunication in which airport Ryanair flew out of and the bothering fact that a secondary surprise airport even existed in Frankfurt; the correct one of which of course we were not bound for. So getting on the Ryanair flight to Fes included showing up at 4 in the morning and finding out we must wait for 2 hours to catch an hour long bus to chart us to the retro Hahn airport.

I digress, you can read about that below.

Having bought return tickets before realizing our mistake, we found ourselves at the conundrum of having invalid bus tickets for our purposes. We would simply not have enough time to make it back to the Frankfurt main airport in order to take the night bus to Munich; thereby missing the connection to Salzburg and likewise to Graz.

So, one relaxing and lounging Tuesday afternoon in sleepy Essaouria, Katie and I brewed ourselves strong mugs of mint tea and perched upon the thick cushions of the Atlantic Hostel rooftop terrace and researched a second way to get home.

We found that the most efficient way to return would be to catch a 13 euro Ryanair flight from Frankfurt Hahn airport to Pescara, Italy on Saturday at 12:25. From Pescara, we would board the 3:00am Flixbus to Udine, Italy, wait 45 minutes, and then continue our voyage from Udine to Graz.

Refunds were situated, new tickets were purchased, stress was relieved, smiles ensued; more tea was brewed.

Things were going as planned: we entered the Frankfurt Hahn airport, found some truly capital blue hard plastic benches upon which we could wrap ourselves in scarves and burrow into the scooped chairs for the night. Friday night passed as one might expect for a night spent in such a manner, and we emerged from a tossed 3 hours of sleep to some cheap McDonald’s airport coffee the next morning.

Things commenced with the pattern of going as planned: we boarded the flight to Pescara around noon, finding ourselves backpacked-up and roaming around the beautiful downtown area by 2. To our utmost happiness, a large bustling chocolate market greeted us from the moment we entered the square, and as we munched on true Italian canolis, we knew that these 11 hours of which we must find means to entertain ourselves would pass well and in a fashion echoing our Munich layover.

We zipped to a small market, purchased some Italian wine, meandered some more, found delicious pizza, and made our way to the shores of the Mediterranean. We chucked our travel weary packs down upon the soft sand, excitedly wiggling out of our socks and shoes and digging our slightly crusty toes into the grains. Katie and I reminisce gloriously on our past month together, passing the bottles of wine and exchanging words on how much we appreciate and love the other.

At 9pm, we take back to the streets, searching for a sturdy gelato stand to conclude our truly stereotypical Italian meal. We clamber into a small shop and emerge successful in our searching; cafe and Oreo gelato for Josie and dark chocolate orange gelato for Katie. As we sit and people watch on the terrace of the shop, a band of four Italians, all roughly our age, come and sit down in our vicinity. Our fondness for other humans takes control, and Katie and I found ourselves immersed in a miraculous conversation with the Italian equivalents of Russell Brand, Cedric Diggory, Michelle Monihan and Tyler from Fight Club.

They grab us by the hands and gallop us off to their favorite hole-in-the-wall wine bar and purchase a bottle of Chardonnay; we pass it around, basking in our new friendship and learning tricky rather racist Italian phrases.

More Italian buddies come to join the group, and we bustle our way to an outdoor market concert venue where an Oasis cover band is riling up a group of 70 or so beautifully dressed Italians. We jump up and down and dance wildly amidst the throng of leather jacketed gorgeous human beings, our large packs bobbing up and down from their perch on our backs.

In hindsight, we probably should have been more self conscious of the fact that we had been wearing the same clothes for the past three days and that the showering hadn’t been all that consistent. But in the light of our friendships, it was absolutely trivial.

We bid them a farewell around 2am and head to the train station on top of the world. The tight fisted police man gestured to the cold cement outside the train station doors and told us that we could “wait for the bus not inside my train station” here. It was a miracle that Katie and I found ourselves on the 3am bus to Pescara with all of our baggage and packs accounted for; despite the rigidity of the cement ground, the lack of sleeping took precedent and both of us fell asleep for a time waiting, wrenching ourselves to a grinding alertness at the capital timing of 2:53am.

Things further appeared to be going as planned: we reached the bus station of Udine at precisely the aforevisioned time and waited our expected 45 minutes until the bus that would charter our final leg would arrive.

Unfortunately, as it happens, this day was Sunday, March 5th: it was not the Wednesday, February 22 that we had mistakenly bought the bus tickets for.

And thus here is where the adventure began.

Katie and I, in spasms of throaty sleep deprived giggles, sauntered into the Udine train station in abhorrantly high spirits for the situation with a single task:

Alright. How do we get back to Graz as cheaply as possible before our classes start on Tuesday morning?

We found an 8 euro train ticket to Trieste, waited the necessary 48 minutes until arrival, and then in Trieste happened upon a 6 euro bus ticket to Ljublijana. We jaunts around the beautiful coastal town for two hours and then meandered back to the bus station, snuggling in as we bumbled across the Slovenian countryside admist the sunset. 

We arrived in Ljublijana with high expectations of making a connection to Graz; but to no avail. The time was 22:13 at this point, the last train to Graz having left only an hour ago. No matter; this fact could not extinguish the fledgling fires of adventure that raged within the chests of Katie and I as we figured out how to get just that much closer to Graz.

We boarded the train to Maribor, Slovenia, after a very friendly Slovenian husky call of “Go to platfurm 12 na-ow. You ‘ave see-ven minoots” from the wonderful ticket saleswoman. Side note: every Slovenian person I have been so fortunate to encounter I have nothing but absolute palpable love for. If you are Slovenian, I probably love you too. 

We arrived in Maribor to find that our best option was to catch the 8:33am train to Graz, as the current hour was quite late. We pawned the wifi from the Illy cafe outside the station, and found the aforementioned white shed hostel.

After a good 10 minute pounding on the plastic white door, the most unexpectedly pleasant and wonderful Brazilian man, clad in his pajamas, answered and escorted us to the cleanest and most comforting attic double room, thick goosey pillows and comforters beckoning us from the beds. Despite the initial rising feelings that this could perhaps be the residence of a serial killer and indeed we might have deserved our fate to stumble so aimlessly into such a poorly executed ploy to attract desperate voyagers, Katie and I had such a wonderful grand night tucked up in our attic. And indeed, the room was most gloriously nicer than all of the hostels in Morocco and our own respective Austrian flats combined.

We popped over to the train station the following morning, our high spirits still radiating through us. We purchased cheap tickets to Graz, had the most markedly entertaining language-barrier conversation with the cafe woman that I will never forget, and hit our beautiful Graz around 10:30.

One might imagine this unexpected turn of voyaging events to be quite horrid; indeed, it probably was.  But due to our high levels of infamously optimistic ignorance, we didn’t see it that way. It was the height of adventure, train hopping from city to city, trying to get closer and closer to Graz as cheaply as possible, not having necessary obligations until Tuesday.

There was absolutely no way that our adventures could have concluded in a more appropriate fashion.

Peace and Blessings,

Josie

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To End as We Began

Friday, February 3rd: 2:13pm. Our budget-fare Ryanair flight bounced to a halt upon the breezy, palm-tree enclosed airport runway of Fes, Morocco. I ducked out of my seat at the back of the plane and clambered down the rear steel steps, forcing myself not to run as I go to meet the descending Katie from the front steps. 

With our hair whipping around in the warm wind, we locked eyes and uttered little squeals of excitement, embracing each other wildly in an excited swaying manner, unfathomably impressed with the warm temperatures of Morocco as compared with the chilly winter Europe that we so recently escaped. 

A Moroccan taxi driver apathetically holding up a piece of white computer paper with Jozzie Rosell scrawled in black ink met us at the front of the Fes Airport, gesturing to the clean white sedan parked across the lot. He hauled our packs into his trunk, giving it a firm slam, and opened the back doors for us. 

Katie and I tucked into the back seat, still breathless, still only communicating in small squeals. 

We took off along the palm-tree laden road, our eyes consumed with the vast amounts of green. Suddenly we began to pass sights previously unseen by the pair of us; goats chowing down on the top leaves of branches far beyond my personal climbing abilities, women and children scrubbing at robes and shawls on washboards outside the house, rows and rows of vibrant oranges hanging juicily from untrimmed trees. 

Almost instinctively we clasped hands, savoring the moments of exploring this culture together, beyond thankful for the presence and strength of the other. 

For the durander of our 20 minute drive from the airport to our hostel, we remained hand-in-hand; the beginning of month-long adventure together, symbolic of our mutual intent to support each other and to explore culture together. 

Friday, March 3rd: 2:02pm. A tall, dark Moroccan man rapped on the cold wood door of the Melting Pot Hostel in Tangier, a thick buzzing from the reception desk opening the door to allow for his passage into the narrow tiled corridor. 

“Cab”, he said simply, using his index finger to gesture back to the entrance he just stepped through, eyeing the packs that lay at Katie and I’s feet. We exchanged solemn glances and hauled our packs back up to our shoulders, pausing to fervently thank the beautiful Moroccan hostel employee that sat smiling behind an old wooden desk before we ducked out the door to follow the driver. 

He opened the trunk of his clean yellow sedan and grabbed the packs from Katie and I’s shoulders, hauling them into the trunk and giving it a definitive slam. He walked around the car and opened the back door for us, gesturing for us to enter as he took his own position behind the wheel.. 

I crawled in after Katie, scooting easily on the clean plastic seats. 

The day was a windy cloudy one, billowy thick rain clouds squeezed the sunlight back into the sky releasing furious shuffles of chilled wind around Tangier. Despite our escape from the wind, we remain breathless; the fact of the matter was that our month in Morocco was coming to a definitive end, and neither of us could wholly believe such a fact would come into existence. 

Our driver took off along the narrow streets of the cobblestoned Medina, passing underneath tiny arches and barely dodging casual strollers as he squealed around corners. 

We began to pass sights now wholly familiar to us; the pointy robbed shopkeepers peering behind high stacks of candy bars and boules of round Moroccan bread, scraggled whiskered cats slinked around the feet of hijab-clad Moroccan women, stopping to sniff at small bits of fish that littered the cobblestones from the fish markets. 

We passed high, beautiful swaying palm trees, dancing to the tune of our bouncing cab; we swung by tourists happily sipping on freshly squeezed orange juice and seeking refuge from the weather underneath old stone archways. 

In our breathlessness, we instinctively clasped hands, savoring the last moments of our exploration, beyond thankful for the presence and strength of the other. For the durander of our drive from our hostel to the Tangier airport, we remained hand-in-hand; solidifying our immense satisfaction with the proceedings of the last month that we got to spend in adventure, warmth, and fresh orange juice. 

Little did we know that our adventure would not conclude with a simple flight out of Morocco, but would linger onwards for the next 72 hours as we picked our way back home to Austria. 

Peace and Blessings,

Josie 

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Not Bad, Just Hungry

“No, NO. Take ONLY 4. 150 Dirhams for only 4. No 6!” Our steely haired taxi driver hollered repeatedly at our cluster of quizzical, tired hikers, spent from a full day of clambering along river crossing stones and dancing up tree roots in the heat of the sun on our trek to the waterfalls outside Chefchouen.

We exchange hard, impatient looks amongst ourselves, frustrated with the stubbornness of the robed, wrinkled man to allow the friends we met up with at the trail head to the waterfalls to join in on our taxi ride back into Chefchouen in order to both secure a ride back for them and make the fare cheaper for all.

“This car holds 6, EASILY, if not more,” we declared, gesturing firmly to the full back seat, rapt with seat belts galore.

Our Berber driver shook his head angrily, his peppered whiskers glinting in the fading sunlight.

“FOUR,” he shouted, his finger quivering as he jabs it in the direction of the four original car occupants he drove the 40 minutes to the waterfalls 6 hours ago.

I crossed my arms defiantly, frustrated with the amount of money-minded business men we have encountered in our travels, who seem to care only about maximum extraction in favor of genuine humanity. My growling stomach and throbbing feet added nothing to the situation.

After more rough phrases and impatient jabs, we finally weaseled our way into a 6 person cab ride, nobody very happy despite the fact that we got what we wanted and our driver got 50 extra Dirhams out of it. Huffy silence ensued as the car doors slammed.

I was entirely in the mood for a good, car-ride-length moody pout, hoping to project my pungent disapproval over the obsession for money palpably into the bony skull of our driver seated a row in front of me. Rather to my disinterest, my pout was lifted when I witnessed the following.

Bright-eyed, dark-locked Jonathan of Wales, a being of meditation and mindfulness, gingerly folded his extraordinary long legs into the short front seat, wrapping his bony arms around his sunset orange backpack, the top of his sproutedly curly pony tail brushing against the fuzzy roof.

We took off along the curvy road that lined the mountain pass, barely dodging the plaguing pot holes, our crotchety driver honking not-so-gently at the passing motorcyclists.

Jonathan turned to him.

“I’m sorry,” he said humbly. “And thank you.”

He reached into his bag and pulls out a half-opened stick of lifesavers. He peeled back the crumpled metallic wrapper to expose the next chalky white circle, extending it to the cab driver seated adjacently.

Grumpy driver looked a bit stunned, much to my satisfaction. He took one, and a brief shadow of a smile worked its way into his wrinkles.

Choukran. Thank you,” he huffed.

The stuffy air of the whisking cab dissipated a smidge. Minutes passed and a conversation on psychology and Spanish culture commenced amongst us the backseaters for a spell, our frustrations lifting almost without our permission.

Again, Jonathan reached for the lifesavers. Again he peeled back the wrapper, popped a white candy in his mouth and extended a second towards the driver.

The smile was more pronounced this time.

Choukran,” he whispered.

The honking lessened a smidge and and pot holes got a bit softer.

Our cultural-themed conversation lightened and became more breezy. More minutes passed.

Jonathan peeled back the rest of the wrapper, popping another life saver in his mouth, and again reaching out his hand in extension.

“Last one?”

Choukran.” He smiled.

Being angry and frustrated solved absolutely nothing; it didn’t make me feel less cheated, it distanced even further our driver from humanity. It’s the same issue that we faced in Marrakech. The hoards of sellers intruding upon our being by shoving sunglasses and plastic watches into our faces and trying hard to “show us the way” everywhere in order to squeeze out our money rendered it almost impossible to treat them as anything other than objects of annoyance.

As much as I am sometimes drawn towards pouting, it’s not satisfying or helpful to treat people as objects. Maybe it’s because I realize how seriously easy it is to start treating all of humanity in such a manner. It’s terrifying to imagine oneself as existing objectively.

I know that it’s a bit of an issue of culture, that there exists differences between societies of individuals. But that tends to be an excuse for the way that we can treat each other.

It doesn’t feel good to be an object. To be dismissed as a greedy scoundrel. To be waved away as easily as one might shoo away a summertime fly. Although there are so many semi-toothed men wheezing, “Hasheesh?” shamelessly at us from the Medina alleys, I don’t want to believe that they don’t feel the burden of dismissal as we brush past them silently.

Because if I can believe that they don’t care about our open rejection, our refusal to acknowledge their presence and their business, what is it that separates any of us from succumbing to the same disinterest in mattering?

There was so much peace that radiated from our driver when Jonathan extended an ever so magically symbolic life saver. It was so easy, so simple, such an easy act of humanity. Such a buoyant reminder that we, despite differences in religion, gender, ideology, upbringing, modesty, tradition, ideals…have needs and desires in common.

To be a part of a world that contains only individuals who are greedily seeking their own good is to be part of an empty shell of nothing. This kind of world flourishes when we treat people as such. It’s the self-fulfilling prophecy.

Perhaps what impressed me the most about the entire situation was how pleasantly more efficient it was to solve a spoiled mood with a bit of sharing. It took nothing other than stepping down from a high, lofty position of self-righteousness and treating someone like a human. How powerful that was to witness and infectious to imitate.

Peace and Blessings,

Josie

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The Adventure of the Moroccan Off-brand Bus

Katie and I left Taghazout on a Saturday, bound for the slightly-less sleepy surf town of Essaouria on the west coast of Morocco. Intending on trekking to the official ticket counter in the Agadir bus station, we were instead whisked by a safety-vested middle aged Moroccan man to what he promised was the, “Only bus to Essaouria! So cheap!”

We 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 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 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,
Josie

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Atchoo, the Masterpuppeteer

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,

Josie

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Regarding Backpacking Friendships And Foamy Camels 

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,
Josie

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Days 3-6: Marrakech

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,

Josie

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Days One-Three: Fez

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.

Anyways.

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.


Katie and I made a reluctant farewell to our guide and grabbed loaves of freshly baked bread and oranges for a sunny picnic and people-watching on the streets of Fez.

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,
Josie