Everything is relative. I love that element of this world. The same event seen again never feels the same because some other element of your world has shifted and changed – altering how that event feels and impacts you. It’s in everything from the fabric of time and space through to what a food tastes like relative to the last thing you ate.
Its funny how often it arises while travelling. I think it is due to the sheer length of time we have been away but there are often moments when someone will say “I liked the food in Vietnam better” or “I like trains better than driving” or Zoe’s beautiful sentiment after months of having a car and our own space and direction:
“Dad….when are we going to do hard travelling again?”
For some bizarre reason she pines for crowded Chinese buses, sleeping with her head on our lap or waking in the cold, dark Polish morning to struggle her way to a bus stop or train station. Driving around in a car is too soft for her.
It’s all relative.
So I hadn’t realised how nice and “safe” things had become until we made the call to come to Morocco. We have grown so used to living out of a car that not having the comforts of home doesn’t really bother us anymore. We have all grown used to eating outside at every meal, going to the toilet in the woods, going days without showers or literally months without a proper bed. These things don’t really bother us – until it rains. Then everything becomes hard and uncomfortable and I find myself longing for a roof, a kitchen, a bedroom – or as Mel keeps saying: “I just want to be able to get out of bed in the night and walk on carpet to a toilet”.
One thing that gets tiring is the midnight toilet run. Getting up, unzip the tent, find the shoes, the torch and then reverse the whole process without waking Mel (usually impossible). This is every night.
But still it seems OK. It’s only in the rain that it is somewhat painful and annoying. And every time I find myself annoyed I imagine a Syrian refugee sleeping at Budapest train station or on a Greek Island beach and everything seems so stupidly convenient and easy again.
So we have been going well. Moving well, smoothly. Europe feels safe and familiar enough so that I can drop my travelling guard a little. You know that were something to go wrong – with health or the car – then the greatest difficulty is the language barrier. Apart from that everything will get sorted out pretty quickly.
It is nice because it allows you to just relax and soak it all up – the warm welcoming joy of Spanish streets, Portuguese beaches or achingly beautiful ancient towns. There are tourists everywhere, you can walk into a supermarket that is almost identical to home and purchase anything you could possibly need. Though I still feel a little nerdy and self-conscious holding up my phone taking pictures of food packages so I can use Google Translate to know exactly what I am buying.
Then Morocco appeared and before we knew it we had tickets booked and were on the boat. Suddenly everything shifted. Everything was edgy again. I knew nothing of Morocco and how it worked. We were about to share a border with one of the most lawless countries in the world (Algeria) and be connected by land to some of the world’s most nightmarish internal conflicts. Will we be safe? Do they have supermarkets? Can I get a gas canister to cook with? What food will the girls eat? What are the roads like? Will we be able to get the car repaired? And most concerning of all can I get ice to keep my insulin cold?
Mel and I had a chat with the girls and warned them that for the first few days we may not be that much fun. We will be concentrating hard, struggling to learn the ways quickly so we can then relax and explore without being consumed by the logistics of day to day living.
And it all began before we had even driven our car off the ferry. No ordered, line by line exiting of cars under the firm direction of a uniformed ferry staff member. No – as if to say “Welcome to North Africa” as soon as the ferry ramp descended people started leaving queues, edging in front of people and – most amusingly – blaring their horns at the stopped cars in front of them as if the person in front was stopping just for fun and was actually able to exit the ferry.
Then through the endless checkpoints with very important policemen waving some cars on, stopping others. There were so many that after the third we thought “Were in! Customs wasn’t too hard!!”
Then we actually got to customs and we took our place in long lines alongside poor little Toyota and VW sedans groaning, buckle wheeled beneath 5 feet high stacks of goods piled on top of home made roof racks or simply the roof itself.
I was expecting Indonesian like officialdom in which police seem to relish their power and control over you. Looking at you slowly through aviator sunnies, with overly shiny shoes and perfectly creased shirts, pondering documents and shaking their heads solemnly when they find an irregularity (which means they can squeeze you for money). But instead there was this unexpected friendly familiarity. Apologising because they didn’t know more English, filling out our forms for us, then casually and playfully checking our solid stash of beer and red wine (“Is this wine any good?” the customs official asked) that we had purchased in a fit of inspired planning before we entered a dry Muslim country. Then with a smile and a wave we headed for the last exit point before we were set free. A young policeman looked at us and our documents seriously and then asked Mel what her name was, then what my name was, then when and where we were born before breaking into a huge cheeky smile (as if to say “good on you for getting the questions right!”) and said “Welcome to Morocco!”.
We flew along perfect motorways, through burned, hot treeless landscapes with me slapping the wheel every few minutes yelling “Were in MOROCCO!!!!” and Mel smiling at me with that “Alright – here we go!!!!!” look in her eyes.
We skipped Tangier for a quieter coastal location and pulled into a twilight zone like beach side hotel – completely deserted except for a young gardener and the pre-requisite array of Moroccan cats, dogs and goats. We were back in Asian travel mode with concrete floors, bad beds, smelly toilets and doors that look like you could open them by blowing on it.
Suddenly I got the same, bowel turning doubt that stuck me our first night in Dili, over a year ago. I recall landing in Dili and after the excitement and work of getting to a hotel I sat on the bed with Mel and thought “Now what do we do?”. It was this strange mix of doubt, uncertainty, culture shock and fear that almost made me feel like getting on the first flight back to Darwin.
Once again it hit me. Everything seemed hard, I didn’t know where we would eat, how I would get ice for the insulin or what the hell I wanted to see in this land. I wondered how the girls would react. Would they hate this type of travelling after the simple, touristic ease of Europe? In short I was overwhelmed with the nagging question of: “What the hell are we doing here?”
But as we did in Dili we took action, moved and all of that faded. We got out, drove into town and walked. With the first ancient Kasbah walls and winding alleys everything just seemed right again. This land was rich, amazing and waiting for us. The people smiled, helped us and (most importantly) served us steaming hot, short, strong coffees. (Brother- this land has changed me and I may give up my cappuccino and join you in your penchant for strong, half filled piccolo lattes when back in Melbourne town)
Suddenly we had adjusted back to this reality – the one of dust filled streets, donkeys, teeming market places, noise, hustle and a stark disparity between the haves and the have nots. We discovered where you buy ice, where you get a SIM card, that you need cash everywhere, what food is good and how to drive (Quietly defensive yet without the urgency and recklessness of Asia – and I am LOVING using my horn rampantly all the time again)
We discovered the security and benefits of the bargain priced campsites all over the country and have now met three different European couples all touring around Morocco in a similar direction. While we are yet to do the grey nomad thing and all convoy up – there was an unmistakable joy of pulling into camp last night and being welcomed from two different directions by our different friends who themselves had just met.
This land is simply incredible. Everything about it from the teeming streets to the breathtaking mountains. It has only been a week and we have swum in rivers, hiked up impossibly carved gorges, driven through endless fields of marijuana, walked over ancient Roman mosaic floors and of course scoured the dreamy, Dr Seuss like alleys of the villages. The other day as we entered Chefchaoeun (the famous “Blue Village” perched on a mountain side) on foot I was completely swept away. I lost all sense of ability to describe it and just staggered from alley to alley shaking my head saying “This is INSANE!!! I can’t describe how INSANE this is!!!!”
And just for the record, the photos below are not altered, doctored or falsely colour saturated. That IS what you see.
We are heading South now towards the edge of the Sahara, then West through the madness of Marrakesh before emerging on the coast to play on the beaches and surf one of the best right hand point breaks in the world. Then a freeway dash North back to the ferry.
Everything on this journey seems to be closing in on me. Just yesterday I booked and paid for the flights home to Australia. There is a unmistakable finality creeping in that has eroded this funny adolescent sense of unlimited time and possibility that has been the norm on this journey so far. It has been so long that the notion of coming home was as vague as the notion of where we may journey to if we chose. Everything was possible, anywhere was within reach, nothing would be missed. But now it is different. We have a pretty firm plan for the last few months. We know our exit dates from Europe, we know what day we fly home and what we will see and not see before we get there.
But instead of a sadness or fear it has made me acutely aware of here and now. That I cannot waste a second and everything must be soaked up. Because I WILL be back in Australia soon. I will be going to work. I will be driving on the left hand side and making school lunches or dropping the girls off at sport or a friend’s house. I will feed the dog again and take her for a walk. And now will be a memory that I take out and ponder over and look at like some childhood treasure.
Walking out under the stars last night (on my toilet run) and looking up at a unfamiliar constellations, I stopped and stood amongst the trees. Like some unworldly reminder of where I was the call to prayer started echoing out across this valley. More melodious and less abrasive than the Indonesian prayers. This haunting, beautiful sound that reminds you of where you are and that there is no way on Gods earth that I could be anywhere BUT in another land. I stood there under the stars and it all came in on me. The foreignness, the rush, the sense of place, of being somewhere completely new and of course that one day soon this will all end. Mel joined me and we smiled. It is good. Very very good – and all journeys end. Which is also very very good.