Posted on June 16, 2019
It was the 15th of December 2015. I sat at the window seat of a tiny Ryanair jet and traced our progress as we glided thousands of meters over the Strait of Gibraltar towards Spain. Two months earlier I had found myself on a ferry in the middle of the same strait headed in the opposite direction with Matthew, my brand new travel partner. I’d had no notion of the life-changing adventure to come; the lessons I would learn about trust, fear and gratitude, the courage I would discover in the ferry car hold upon arrival in Morocco, trembling as I gripped a hitchhiking sign; or that I would fall in love with you, with the gold-haired wonder next to me and with Life again and again. I leant my head against the side of the plane and my eyes filled with tears as you disappeared behind me. My heart both swelled with gratitude and cracked with longing.
I’ll admit, I was terrified when we first met. I was broken-hearted and still in the aftermath of a three-year relationship. I’d left home six months earlier at twenty-two-years-old to conquer myself and I was exhausted from the never-ending conflict. Although I hadn’t seen him in years, my old friend Matt showed up on my doorstep in Lisbon as if from nowhere and the idea to meet you was born.
I watched the headlights fly past from the backseat and questioned over and over, “Why the hell did I let Matthew talk me into hitchhiking?
I was excited, but scared. Not everyone had good things to say about you. My dad said, “Moroccans are violent people,” and my cousin told me how some locals tried to buy his fair-haired girl friend. I’d read about women who’d been groped at and catcalled in the medinas, street hustlers who stopped at nothing to con people out of their money and rumors of harassment that terrified me. I sat bolt upright that whole first car ride that Matt and I hitched from Tangier to Meknes. My mind obsessed over the worst possible outcomes: would I be groped, robbed or even raped? I watched the headlights fly past from the backseat and questioned over and over, “Why the hell did I let Matthew talk me into hitchhiking?” I put all my trust in your son, Ismail as he plunged the dark blue minivan through potholes scattered across the national roads. We weaved between cars at death-defying speeds and rocked from side to side on the minivan’s suspension like a yacht in a windstorm. I thought for sure I would die, but your children looked after me, Morocco. You must have chuckled when I stepped out of the minivan in Meknés, wide-eyed and shell-shocked. You already knew everything would be just fine, even perfect, didn’t you?
I fell in love with you again and again.
You introduced me to Fés next and that was it – you had me on your hook. From the near-death experiences with donkeys that careered down the narrow medina alleyways, to the grubby street cats on every corner, to the light beams cast down through the rafters – you held me captivated. Even the hustlers who shouted, “I give you good price, Moroccan price!” at every bend were magical to me.
From then on I fell in love with you again and again: the moment I scrambled to the top of your sandy peaks in Erg Chebbi and was confronted with the incomprehensible expanse of caramel Sahara, or the tenderness that followed with a travel partner who became my Beloved; all the nights that I made love under your bedazzled sky in Todra Gorge, and the nights I lost count of shooting stars as my eyelids drooped with blissful drowsiness; when I drank atay with Ahmed, your nomad son, in his Berber cave above the gorge and seriously considered his offer to buy his baby goat; the time I danced at a Berber wedding in front of a room packed with local women in Tamttatoucht who laughed and clapped and called me zweena – beautiful. But it was only when we hitched a ride through the High Atlas Mountains in the back of a pickup that I was overwhelmed by the sensation that I was exactly where I needed to be. My knuckles turned white from clutching the sides as my partner in crime and I skidded around the corners of roads that wound above 2000 metres. I laughed out loud at the number of dropped jaws we sped past and my heart exploded with each villager who laughed back. I couldn’t help but grin at your irony when we finally arrived at Lake Tizlit’s serene sapphire surface after the craziness of that ride. As I lay naked in the tent and listened to the raindrops kiss Lake Tizlit just outside, I finally understood what you meant to me.
There is nothing to fear at all, only missed opportunities.
You see, Morocco, you did more than just show me your beautiful places. Our relationship goes beyond the physical. You taught me how to trust. Despite language barriers, your children invited me into their homes without preconceptions of race or gender. They rescued us when we were lost in the flat nothingness of the desert and bundled me onto their mules when my limbs were swollen from the High Atlas altitude. We shared colourful mountains of couscous and had lengthy hand-signed conversations about life and love. I played with your grandchildren and learned that laughter is contagious in every language. When your sons and daughters saw that I was living out of a backpack, they offered me tea, eggs, tagine, a ride in their truck or even a place to sleep.
More than anything, Morocco, you healed my broken heart. You showed me that everything is as it should be in this divine, organized chaos. You showed me that to be free is to let go of all expectations. There is nothing to fear at all, only missed opportunities.
Head to my Gallery to see more photos of this epic adventure!
Posted on December 29, 2019
Travel forces you to grow, there’s no doubt about that. Travel ripped off my clothes and scrubbed me raw like a Moroccan woman in a local hammam, splashing the sleep from my eyes as she flung buckets of tepid water at my face. It didn’t force me to grow in a #travelphotooftheday #livingmybestlife kind of way. No sir. Travel took me apart and taught me a motherlode about freedom, including that it wasn’t an escape from myself.
Let me explain.
I was 22-years-old when I boarded a one-way flight to Lisbon and put Table Mountain and the rest of South Africa in my rear view mirror. After many late night ‘study sessions’ as an armchair adventurer of Instagram, I binned a promising future in medical research and left my family, friends and boyfriend of three years. To say that I was terrified beyond my wits would be an understatement.
Up until then, much of my life had been like stumbling around in a dark room filled with inescapable traps of self-doubt, insecurity and paranoia. I longed to learn how to let go, be free, experience raw, breathtaking adventure and answer the question that had become too loud to ignore: Who am I? With my pink Moleskin diary and analogue camera in my backpack, I was all set for carefree adventures. Or so I thought.
People laugh when I tell them this, but it’s the honest truth: I thought that by ‘leaving it all behind’, my mind, negative thoughts and anxieties would stay behind too.
Those first few months abroad were the toughest of my life yet. People laugh when I tell them this, but it’s the honest truth: I thought that by ‘leaving it all behind’, my mind, negative thoughts and anxieties would stay behind too. In April 2015, I began a five hundred kilometer pilgrimage across the north of Spain, hunching my forty-six kilo frame under the shadow of a twelve kilogram backpack. Yet it was the immeasurable weight of anxiety and heartbreak that made me stumble, always postponing harmony to the next town, to the end of the day’s walk or to the bottom bunk. Over six months I traveled in Portugal, hiked across Spain, taught English in summer camps in Italy, and explored the turquoise beaches in Corsica and Sardinia. Yet wherever I was, I was convinced that happiness lay in Budapest, under the Northern lights in Norway, or back home in a relationship. Here I was, thousands of kilometers from home, free to go wherever I wanted, yet still I felt more trapped than ever. After six months, I ended up in my uncle’s spare room in Lisbon, exhausted from the never-ending conflict with myself (“why can’t you just be happy, dammit?”) and unable to leave the apartment.
You see, the glorification of travel is driven by the idea that quitting your job and traveling the world will bring the ultimate freedom — freedom from insecurities, anxieties and responsibilities. The yellow bikinis and crystal blue waters of Instagram convince us of this constantly. And so we cling to travel as our way out, our “I know I’ll be free if…” card. I know I did. And coupled with that, we tend to confuse happiness, peace and freedom with ideas of pleasure, constant gratification and the removal of obstacles. But long-term travel is not an escape from life, nor is it constantly gratifying, because while you may be able to escape [insert burdensome commitment here] for a while, you cannot escape the mind, life or its challenges.
Your mind’s conditioned patterns will travel with you until you have the courage and wisdom to see them, accept them and let them go… over and over again.
It’s true that travel is a life-changing experience: exotic landscapes put your place in existence into perspective; interactions with people of different cultures instill a deep understanding that all human beings are born equal and gratitude flourishes as a result of becoming intimate with the world and her people. But you can never outrun your problems. (Trust me, I’ve tried. A lot.) Your mind’s conditioned patterns will travel with you until you have the courage and wisdom to see them, accept them and let them go… over and over again. No plane ticket will do that for you.
It was only when I relinquished all control and stopped resisting Life that I was able to flow with it. I finally understood that it was my own clutching and splashing at solutions outside of myself that brought on the swell. When I was able to quiet my tantrum and reign in my limbs, the movement of water subsided until all that was left of the tempestuous ocean was a pond. The stiller I became, the smoother the surface, reflecting all the things around me I wasn’t able to see, including myself. I exhaled a deep sigh and felt the ghost of weight leave my body, realizing that all I’d searched for in my grasping had been here all along. I’d just been too busy making waves to realize it. This wasn’t a once-off flash of realization. It’s something I relinquish again and again.
It’s already you, baby. You have everything you need.
I once heard the analogy of learning as ascending the spiral staircase of a lighthouse: as you go up, you see things from different perspectives, observing all the facets. As I climb through life’s lessons, I keep learning that real freedom is not a matter of geography or circumstance and can’t be acquired through searching, striving, or achieving. Travel made me realize that I don’t need it or anything else to be free. In the moments that I feel trapped, whether abroad or at home, it’s always because I believe there’s something I have to do or a circumstance I have to create, whether it be through yoga, meditation, a perfect relationship or success, to ‘become’ free. But really, freedom is our nature. It’s already you, baby. You have everything you need. And with that there is only one thing left to do: just be. Consciousness occurs as effortlessly as breathing. And therefore so does freedom.