As I was on my spring break–my break, my way–I took an unhurried departure to Malaga. Not that I didn’t want to get there and the gorgeous beaches, but I just wanted to relax and not dash about on a schedule as we all have to do in our every day lives. Plus, with months of whirlwind weekends, I was always rushing. It wouldn’t be a vacation if I couldn’t chillax.
After a lingering breakfast and a last call stroll, I grabbed a high speed train to Malaga which would save time, even though it was a lot more money. When I got to the train station, I was surprised by a line along the platform. They were scanning all the bags right there, including carry ons. Eventually, I made it on and was impressed by how clean and spacious second class was. I had a forward facing single window seat, and gazed at the rolling hills of Andalucia as they sped by.
If my life is the Truman show, there is a lot of footage of me riding on trains. All my years of travel have culminated in this intense climax. So many of my hours these past two years have been spent gazing out train windows, watching the scenery shift as my mind would do the same. There is something so therapeutic and transformative about travel. In fact, when I thought I was going to get my PhD, I played around with the idea of a thesis related to travel writing and this very concept. Part of this value, I think, is the idea of being in transit. My friend Denis studied abroad for a year in Cambridge, and he fondly recalls the long train journeys as his favorite part of touring the continent. “You’re in between, neither here nor there, and it’s total freedom.” It’s true. Nobody to answer to. No schedule. Nothing to do but just relax, listen to music, read– truly your time.
I was almost a little disappointed when I arrived after a short train ride because the journey was over for today. I was also disappointed because it was raining. On my spring break in sunny Spain. Yet, I know that expectations breed disappointment. And, hey, a rainy vacation in Spain is still a vacation in Spain!
I found my way to the bus stop and planned to snag a bus close to the hotel. But since it was pouring rain and a bit chilly, I thought I’d take advantage of affordable cab prices and treat myself. Soon I was in my room on the top floor of the hotel with a balcony overlooking the beach. I think this was about 70 euros a night. I love Spain!
I posted this photo while enjoying the view and anticipating sunshine.
Eager to explore, I dropped my bags off and took a walk around the quaint neighborhood to get my bearings. On my way back, the sun came out and I saw a rainbow right over my hotel! Joy.
On the way back into the hotel, I asked the concierge about booking a trip to Morocco. I have never been to Africa, and I learned from Rick Steves that it would be so easy to travel to Morocco from this region. A day trip via ferry. How could I not go?
A lover of independent travel, I also like the convenience of a group tour, especially when it’s a whirlwind tour and to a place, a country . . . heck a continent I have never visited. After checking the weather forecast, I wanted to go tomorrow and they were able to book me at the last minute. I saw cheaper prices with Viator (40 euros or something), but I decided to go with the company recommended by the hotel. After they booked me, I found out it was the same company name. Yet, no worries. I was going to Morocco tomorrow!
I did yoga in my room via yogaglo.com, a sweet detox twisting flow which helped me get rid of even more of the pre-vacation tension. I twisted while watching the sky grow dark. I then took a stroll out for some snacks for tomorrow’s bus ride, and curled into bed.
The next day, I awoke at 5:30, and was most upset about missing the big breakfast spread. The company offered hotel pick ups on the route to Tarifa, the point just across from Tangier, although my hotel was along the coast in the other direction. So I hopped in a cab to the meeting point. I had read horror stories online about the meeting point– long waits and many difficulties finding the spot. But it looked like this was the only gig around, so if I wanted to go — I went with them. Plus, they had my money.
After carefully ensuring I knew where to go, I was at the spot as promised at 6:00am. It was dark. It was cold. Some other folks nearby were waiting for a bus. I wondered where they were going at this hour. I checked my watch. I kept checking my watch. A few minutes later, a man came up to me. “Are you going to Morocco?”
“They told us 5:30. We’ve been waiting 45 minutes. They are not coming.”
“Well, they told me 6. And it’s only a bit after that. They will come.”
“You give us hope! Thank you, you give us hope! We were about to leave!”
“If it makes you feel any better, I overpaid for the trip because I booked directly with the hotel.”
“We should make up the difference for you. Everyone chip in 5 euros.”
“No, no . . . ” I couldn’t stop laughing. And just like that, I had made new friends for my journey. Another reason I love group tours.
Finally, finally a bus pulled up and we hopped in. The driver and tour guide were very nice, just insanely late. We snoozed and rested while we watched the sunrise along the coast, the bus popping over to pick up folks along the Costa del Sol. Some folks complained about this online. But, this is how to keep the tour so cheap. ($105 US on Viator). No worries. Still a steal.
I sat near my new friends. One of them was a young lady, Genesis, fresh out of college teaching English in Madrid. An expat like myself, we bonded over the experience. She was traveling with her parents who were there to visit from Oregon. It’s fun to travel alone, but it’s also fun to share the adventure with someone, especially fun and sweet likeminded travelers.
After passing gorgeous rolling hills, soon we were in Tarifa, walking through border patrol and onto the ferry. I half snoozed and half dazed out the window sea as the high speed boat bobbed up and down towards the hills of Africa.
I tried not to get seasick, pinching the trigger point at the top of my ear cuff. This trick may have saved me from vomiting like nearly everyone around me back in 2012 while escorting a group of my NYC Public high school students to Capri. We were on an EF tour, and we were in Southern Italy, visiting the island for the day. The water was so choppy that all of us were seasick and the ride was unbearable. I closed my eyes, turned up the music to drown out the sounds, and sat near the window for fresh air and to dull the stench of vomit. This ferry ride was much smoother. However, my new travel friends definitely were feeling seasick and popped ginger.
I was so giddy with excitement. It’s been 9 years since my last new continent (Asia: Japan, March 2005). At this point in my travels, new countries are getting rare. And Africa always seemed so exotic, so far off. I’m not sure if I ever knew I’d go.
When the ferry docked, I kept thinking, I’m in Africa, I’m in Africa! I waited at the door as it lifted and I got my first glimpses of the sunshine, crowds and chaos of Tangier. Every step was a rush. My senses were overloaded as I tried to take it all in.
We walked onto a tour bus where an excellent and captivating guide explained the various neighborhoods as well as the history of modern, cosmopolitan Tangier as shown in this video I recorded:
I tried to imagine what it would be like to visit on my own, to stay over night and to really discover. What would the rest of Morocco be like? What about Fez? Or a trip through the Sahara on a camel.
In the middle of the bus tour, we stopped to ride camels near where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Mediterranean Sea. The location was pure beauty, bright turquoise water crashing against the jagged cliffs in the foreground, and sandy hills in the background. The caravan of camels were there waiting for us in this orchestrated tourist attraction.
I felt bad because they were tied up by rope at the ankles. I hoped they had a good life. I hope they were treated well. I didn’t see any mistreatment while I was there, although I felt kind of guilty. But I was also really excited because I was going to ride a camel! And not even at the zoo.
I was the first one up! I walked straight up to it, and before I could hand my camera off to someone, the guy asked me to climb onto the hump of the seated creature. I thought I would fall off, and I almost did as he teetered rose to his full height while the guide led him in a giant circle around the parking lot. As I was the first up, many folks took photos and videos, so while I have no documentation, it lives on in someone’s album somewhere. I went up so fast that Genesis didn’t even see me ride. She later said, “I would have taken pictures.”
That’s ok. The moment lives in my mind. And it encouraged me to take camel selfies. He seemed to love it.
I was so excited, pure adrenalinen rush of elation. I also realized how much I adore camels. They are so darned cute, and there’s just something about them. When I my ride ended and my camel was kneeling again, I slid off on a camel high. Then I met the baby.
On our whirlwind tour, minutes later, we were sipping hot green tea outside overlooking the coast. I was originally sitting alone, then Genesis and her parents invited me to sit with them and offered to take some pictures of me in front of the stunning background.
We chatted and reflected on our awesome day so far, and then boarded the bus again.
We were toted to the Medina, with a brief photo op stop to watch a snake charmer tame a cobra followed by some opportunities to wear another non-poisonous snake. I just watched. We entered the Medina. In the old city center, we stayed close to our guide, like ducklings, as he wound through tiny alleys deliberately winding like a maze to help locals flee from intruders.
We had an excellent lunch of local dishes while local musicians played for us. Touristy? Absolutely. But a fun flavor of Morocco? Absolutely.
Emerging from lunch, we were bombarded with men trying to sell their wares, from necklaces to leather purses. If you looked or made a comment, they took it as an invitation to try their sell. This was not new during our time in Morocco. But this time . . . they had pictures of us, candid photos of us watching the snake show. Genesis’s father and I didn’t want to lose the group and didn’t have time to haggle the exorbitant prices down, but now reflecting, why didn’t I buy one of those cute, candid photos of Travel Kristin in Africa? I mean, I have spent $15 for a blurry photo on a rollercoaster. Why not a few euros for this unique shot?
I would have pasted it here. And it would make me smile.
After, we had the opportunity to browse a carpet shop. I was not buying a carpet. They threw many beautiful patterns on the floor, but how would I get that on Ryan Air? They hear that too much, so they kept offering “free shipping” but . . . I didn’t even know where I would be living next year, nevermind know where I’d put a beautiful Moroccan rug.
While waiting for others in the shop, I wandered to the first floor where I eyed a pair of red leather toe loop sandals and managed to talk 20 euros off the price. I don’t like to haggle, but I’m good at it because I don’t often feel like I MUST have anything. Ambivalence helps. I named my price and got it. Hmm. Maybe should have tried lower.
We headed out of the medina with a brief stop at the local oven for fresh-baked bread. Our guide handed the warm, delicious morsel as I savored each bite. In Morocco, families make their own bread and bake it in the local oven, picking it up later. Did we eat someone’s bread? Was it planned for us? In any case, delicious.
Soon we were on the ferry and Out of Africa. Did it really happen? So fast. Just a taste. I know that technically I was in Africa, in Morocco . . .but I can’t really count it until I truly explore it. But what a nice peek and treat.
* * *
The long ride along the Costa del Sol– little England / Ireland — allowed us to rest and reflect, high from the new experience. I continued chatting with Genesis and her lovely parents. When we exited the bus, they invited me out to dinner with them, where we sat along the cobblestone streets for a delicious al fresco meal. in enchanting ambiance
Genesis studied in Malaga one summer, improving her language. She shared stories of her time here, and we shared travel adventures and dreams as well as the longing of missing friends and family back home. I was grateful to have new friends to share the evening with. We hugged goodbye, added each other to facebook, then I strolled back to my hotel room for another sweet evening of yoga.
This post is getting long so more Malaga next time. 🙂