Keith and I bus down to Granada and check into our Airbnb, a small little two bedroom in the Albayzín, the old Moorish neighborhood. It’s a great place. We visit Poë for dinner (my fourth time there). As good as ever. Later we hike up though the neighborhood and I try to find the lookout from my previous visit. After some time wandering aimlessly we stumble upon it - much to my own surprise. There are a lot more people up here this time. Probably because it’s 10pm and not 3am…
The next day we visit the Alhambra. The weather is not as nice as the last time but, still, Keith needed to see it. You can’t go to Granada and not visit the Alhambra.
Soon we are moving on to Nerja, a little beach resort town on the southern coast. It’s the off-season so it’s pretty dead. At night, as we try to find food and alcohol, the place looks like a ghost town. The few people that are there are old white people. Mostly Brits and Americans.
One night we meet up with Chris Stevenson, whom I met on my first visit to Granada. He and some people from his hostel (probably the only young folk in Nerja) meet us for some tapas at a place called Redondo. Chris tells Keith and I about the Nerja Caves. We had never heard of them but decide to put it on our to-see list.
Later that evening on our way back to our flat (again, an Airbnb) we find a place called Vinolito. It’s owned by this little old lady named Carmen. In this tiny bar she is everything: Waitress, bartender, cook. And the food is amazing. I had a tosta with some sobrasada paté… absolutely stellar.
The next day we grab a bus and ride 15 minutes up the hill to the caves. Only a small portion of the massive network of underground caverns is open to the public but even that small bit is grandiose and amazing. Apparently humans lived in these caves thousands of years ago. There are still remnants of their existence; Art, pottery, bones, etc. There are also gigantic stalactites and stalagmites everywhere. After the tour, we don’t take the bus back down but instead decide to hike the couple of miles down the hillside to town. It’s quite a workout but it’s a beautiful day for a walk.
Nerja is quite a beautiful beach town. Keith takes advantage of it by taking a dip in the ocean. I, however, do not. It's freaking cold. Keith is crazy. Nerja has some amazing sunsets too. We make a point one evening to grab some photos.
After Nerja, we hit Sevilla. The city is a lot more touristic than I had thought. There are horse and carriage rides, tons of vendors and cheap souvenir shops everywhere. A Starbucks can be found every quarter mile. We stay in a hostel right in the heart of everything, very near the Cathedral.
We take a walking tour led by an Italian guy named Filipe. There are about seven or eight Americans, not including Keith and myself, on this tour. That’s more Americans than I’ve met the whole time I’ve been traveling. Australians? All the fucking time. You can’t turn around without hitting an Aussie. But Americans? Out in the world? Very rare. Strange how we all amassed on this walking tour in Sevilla. Another American comments the same thing to me.
The next day Keith and I are walking along the riverfront and two women ask Keith to take a picture for them. After some brief introductions they join us on our walk. Maria is in town visiting her friend Luna, who is at University here in Sevilla. Though she’s only been here three months Luna knows the city well. She evens becomes a kind of tour guide for us, taking us around Triana, the old gypsy quarter. She is very knowledgable about the neighborhood.
To leave Sevilla and head toward Tarifa we hire a BlaBla car. It's a website based ride-share. It turns out our driver is a film-maker from Portugal and we have a great two hour ride south with the guy. Pedro is super talkative and passionate about so many things, above all films. He also gives us tips about Tarifa though we don’t plan to stay there very long.
After arriving in Tarifa and checking into our hostel, we are supposed to meet up with Pedro at a bar to get some dinner. We wander through the labrynthine old town looking for the spot. Before we find it we stumble onto Pedro at an ATM. He says he’s glad we bumped into him because the place he mentioned is actually closed. We head to different joint and order way too much food. After hitting another bar for one more drink we call it a night.
The next morning we are on a ferry crossing the Strait of Gibraltar to Tangier.
As soon as we step onto the dock in Tangier there are guys approaching us asking if we need a taxi, or a hostel… or hash. We keep saying “”La-shukraan” or “no thank you” but the men are persistent. It takes a while to shake each one.
One thing I’ve noticed about Morocco is everyone is trying to sell something as their first product and as soon as you decline it they fall back to their second product - hash. The second is always hash:
“Need a Taxi?” - “No, Thank you” - “Hash?”
“Need a Hostel?” - “No, Thank you” - “Hash?”
“Fresh Fruit?” - “No, Thank you” - “Hash?”
Hell, even little kids come up offering to sell you hash… I wish I was kidding.
Morocco is a challenging but wonderful place. It’s a bit of culture shock when you first get there but once you get used to it and figure out how to deal with the incredible onslaught of peddlers it’s a very invigorating place.
In our hostel we meet some great people. Two guys in particular, Ben and Javier. Both are from the States and, from what I gather, at some point made some money in various ventures out in California. Each in their own way, they have been traveling the world extensively for years - Blows my measly one year trip out of the water.
We also meet up with a woman that I found through Couch-surfer. Lamiaa could only meet up with us briefly so we met for dinner at one of her favorite spots in the "New City" - the rest of the city that's outside the medina. I have a great pastilla (one of the best I had in the whole country). Lamiaa is a very warm and friendly person and very interested in the arts and film-making. It’s a shame we didn’t have time to hang out with her more.
We end up on the bus to Chefchaouen with a German named Bastion who was in our hostel in Tangier. Once in Chefchaouen, Bastion leads us to the medina. He was here a few years back and kind of knows his way around. He also has a friend here. Keith and I meet up with them that evening, and Youssef takes us to the only bar in town. We order some beers and they bring these amazing little fried fish along with it. Reminds me of the tapas in Spain. These little fish, battered and fried whole, are insanely amazing. I can’t get enough.
The next morning we meet up with Bastion and Youssef for breakfast. Again Youssef leads the way and we end up at a little shack on the edge of the medina. There is no sign, no indication that this is a restaurant or anything. It’s just a roll-up door that reveals a man inside hovering over one gigantic pot on a single burner. He makes one thing and one thing only: Baisara. It’s a split pea soup that, apparently, is a common breakfast dish here. It’s absolutely amazing. One of the best meals - definitely the most authentic - that I have in Morocco and that’s saying a lot.
Bastion and Youssef head out for a two day hike through the Rif mountains. They invite us but, because of our schedule, we just can’t do it. We explore the azure city of Chefchaouen over the next two days. It’s beautiful. Coated in all shades of blue, the old stucco town is gorgeous. You feel like you have stepped back in time. In addition, it is much more laid back than Tangier. The shop owners are a lot less pushy. Less people hassle you on the streets. Don’t get me wrong, it still happens just not to the insane degree as the port city.
After Chefchaouen, we catch a bus back to Tangier to grab the night train to Marrakech. Onboard, we go to sleep in the grimy, salty Tangier night and wake up in the dry, desert, Marrakech morning. It’s quite the transition.
We check into a hostel and immediately book our 4 day desert excursion. We meet a girl named Isabella who is on going on the desert excursion too. The three of us explore the medina briefly that night.
The next morning, we head off to the excursion. It’s a long ride with a few touristic stops along the way. Around sunset we reach the town of Zagora and hop on the camels for a 45 minute ride into the desert. Man. I never knew how excruciating a camel ride would be. I swear I get a camel with a very unpadded saddle. The ride is bumpy and by the time we reach the camp I am sore as shit.
At the camp, our Berber hosts offer mint tea and everyone introduces themselves. Soon we have dinner. Afterwards the Berbers start a fire and a drum circle is started. It’s a wonderful night despite being quite cold. The most amazing thing for me is the sky. We are so far from light pollution that an insane number of stars are visible. More than I have ever seen. The Milky Way is not only visible but vibrant! After some time around the fire I wander about five minutes away from the camp into the pitch black desert. I sit down in the sand and stare up at the cosmos. I meditate on it for some time. No matter what else happens on the excursion this makes it all worth it… even the goddamn camel ride.
The next morning we are back on the camels to head back to the bus. I get a different camel and I swear this one is more padded. It’s not nearly as bad as the night before.
Back on the bus we head a few hours back north and stop in a small town for lunch. At this point the Four-day excursion people separate from the Two-day people. The Two-dayers will head back to Marrakech and the Four-dayers will get on another bus. We say good bye to Isabella who only signed on for two days. We have also befriended two Spanish girls, Cecilia and Raquel. They are on the four day excursion like us so we figured we’d be put on the same bus but we were actually separated. At all the touristic stops we run into each other though.
We stay at a hotel that night. Our roommate is a guy from Japan who is currently studying in Iceland. Hiro is a great photographer and I start following him on Instagram. We search for the girls that night but they are apparently at a different hotel.
The next day is a long ride to Merzouga. We get there a little before sunset and jump on the camels for an hour and half ride into the Sahara desert. “An hour and a half! That’s twice as long as the last time Keith!” I gripe, dreading the journey.
Keith just keeps repeating his mantra, “Stay loose in the hips!”.
“Damn you Keith, it has nothing to do with my hips! I got not padding on my ass!”
Sore hind-parts aside, the journey through the Sahara is picturesque. The dunes are amazing, huge, awe-inspiring as the setting sun sets them ablaze.
We finally reach the campsite which, unfortunately, is much less organized than the last one. Maybe it’s just the sheer number of people here - close to 50 guests as opposed to the 15 or so from the previous desert - there is no mint tea, no communication about… well, anything. Also there is a group of about 20 folk who are apparently all friends and they kind of take over the place and are not very inclusive of the rest of us - the outsiders as I start to refer to us. We are even placed in tents on the outskirts of the camp. We bump into Cecilia and Raquel before once again being separated as they split us into groups for different shifts of dinner. Yet another thing that makes this camp much less intimate and warm than the last one.
Around the fire that night, the large group of friends are drinking and being very loud. They all have cameras. Flashes firing every five seconds. So much so that I start to think, “You’re not experiencing this at all. You’re just documenting it. You don’t get it.” Granted I take photos along the way. But I moderate it. I make sure I put the camera away and try to be in life, living it, not outside trying to document every fucking second. In the end yes, photos help bring back memories, but if you never experience it in the first place, what can it remind you of? A superficial gloss of some time when you stood on some point in space? That’s so empty, so shallow. I love my camera, but you gotta put it the fuck down sometimes.
The final straw for me comes when I lay back to stare up at the stars. In my periphery flashes fire constantly. Then some jerk-ass comes over and starts snapping photos of me! Flashing right in my face. I stand up, “Fuck this shit!” I storm off.
After a few minutes I come back and say to Keith, “I going to climb that dune and get the hell away from this.” I point to the behemoth of a dune behind the camp. Keith agrees and suggests we invite Cecilia and Raquel. I say sure, but I figure they are into the fire and drum circle and won’t want to join. We ask them and they respond with a “Hell yes! We want to get away from this shit!”
We start to climb the gigantic dune. About 15 minutes up, exhausted, we plop down. We stare up at the stars and commiserate about the god-awful scene at the camp far below. These girls are on the very same page as Keith and I.
We look up the dune toward the top. It is so far away even though we climbed so much. “I really want to get to the top.” I sigh.
“Let’s do it!” Raquel says.
My determination renewed with those words, I start clambering up the sandy dune. The sand is so soft, loose and deep that every step is a struggle. We press on. Every 5 minutes or so we collapse and catch our breath. We look up each time. Damn. The top seems no closer. No closer at all. This cycle repeats for what seems an eternity. We start to lose hope. Finally at some point, at which we are now stopping every 30 seconds and I’m starting to think this was a horrible idea, I pull my headlamp out of my jacket pocket and shine it up toward the top. I clammer up a bit more, stop, and shine the light up again… For the first time the top actually looks closer! Excited, I burst forth climbing on hands and knees. “It’s close! Very close!” I shout back to the group. I clammer, collapse, recover, clammer, collapse, recover. I’m inching closer. Progress is small, but it’s visible progress.
I finally reach the top and collapse on the ridge, my heart beating out of my chest. I’m not sure if I have ever felt it beat so hard. For a moment I actually think, “What if I have a heart attack right here, what if my heart just gives out? I’d be done for. No hospital out here. This would be it.” And as I stare up at the stars the next thought that comes is, “Man, I’m actually OK with that…”
Needless to say, I don’t die. I catch my breath and hear Raquel below. I think she is about to give up. I stand up and she is only about ten feet below. I wave my hands to give her perspective on how close she is. “You’re so close! Come on!”
She clammers the last bit and reaches the top. Keith and Cecilia are close behind. We all lay down on the ridge and stare up into the desert night.
A shooting star streaks across the sky and the clamor of the camp fades…