My World Journey, Month 2: The Fast Track to Africa

The month of May, the second month of my global journey, has been electric. I’ve traveled at what feels like lightning speed—and it has been both exhilarating and rewarding, and absolutely exhausting.

My travels have taken me from the cool, verdant hills and Western cities of Portugal to the epic desertscapes and ornate Arabic architecture of Morocco, and on for a quick trip to the ancient city of Cairo, Egypt.

Lisbon, Portugal --> Marrakech, Morocco

Lisbon, Portugal –> Marrakech, Morocco

I’ve stayed at least one night in a total of 10 cities between these three countries. The pace I set for myself when I traveled in Spain, a total of only six cities in four weeks, seems leisurely by comparison—yet at that time, I felt like I was moving quickly.

Now I have a whole new definition of traveling fast.

Caroline's birthday!

Caroline’s birthday!

BUT, to be fair, I knew going in that it would likely be a fast and furious month.

In Portugal, I was joined by my friend Caroline, who flew in from Ireland for a super quick 4-night mini vacation: two nights in Porto, two nights in Lisbon. And we squeezed every minute out of those five days, doing a wine tasting journey into the countryside, sightseeing around the cities, drinking delicious wine and eating far too much.

We even managed to fit in a little birthday celebration! It was wonderful to catch up with my friend who I hadn’t seen since she left San Francisco the previous year.

Lucky for me, I’ll get to see her again in August for her Dublin wedding! (That story, along with my related excursion through Ireland and England to follow in a few months…)

Lisbon at night

Lisbon

For the three weeks in Morocco, I met up with my San Francisco friends, Colin and Maria, in crazy Marrakech where we rented a riad for a week to use as a home base for day trips into the surrounding areas.

Colin, king of the dune

Colin the Dune King

I had traveled with Colin before, to Peru, and knew that he was an excellent trip planner—and also that when he ventures halfway around the world, by God, he intends to see as much as humanly possible. (And honestly, my vacation philosophy had always been pretty much the same—with only 10 days of vacation per year, I’d always had to move fast.)

The tradeoff for me is that I get to sit back and let him drive. My friend of nearly eight years, Colin is a tall, lean and soft-spoken engineer with a penchant for sarcasm and bad puns. Unlike me, he actually enjoys figuring out the logistics of where to go, how to get there, what sights to see upon arrival and how to get to them. He appears to have a photographic memory for maps, and an excellent inner compass; whereas my inner compass is either broken or never existed in the first place, and maps adamantly refuse to stick in my mind.

As a bonus, he happens to be keen on picking up languages, and speaks some French and a little Arabic (I speak neither; every time I tried, my brain stubbornly bent itself back toward the Spanish I’d been speaking the month prior), so that was immensely helpful.

The first week was a whirlwind.

From lively Marrakech, we did a hiking day trip to Setti Fatma in the Atlas Mountains, and a two-night trip to the gorgeous beaches of Agadir and the cute fishing town of Essaouira. Then we were off for two extremely long, hot days of death-defying driving to get to Merzouga on the cusp of the Sahara Desert for an utterly unforgettable overnight camel trek into the desert with our amazing Berber guide, Mohammed.

Our night spent playing on the dunes and sleeping in the Berber camp under the stars was one of the very best experiences of my life. However, it wasn’t a very fitful sleep, as the flapping sound of the tents, intermittent light gusts of sand blowing over me, and a mint tea-filled bladder that I was reluctant to empty due to mental images of unseen scorpions and desert snakes waiting to lunge while I relieved myself—kept me awake much of the night.

Neither Maria or I had been sleeping very well, and the rapid pace of our travels was starting to take a toll on us.

On top of sleeplessness, Maria had been suffering from stomach problems nearly every day (from too much bread, which she was not used to, she later realized), as well as motion sickness in all of the buses and cars, and an injured ankle had her limping for about two days. I had been feeling good other than one day of ‘Montezuma’s Revenge’ from eating some fruit, I suspect, and also had some sort of rash or maybe flea bites on my hip that was a bit uncomfortable. But it was the lack of quality sleep, down time, and time to write and edit photos that was getting to me. Colin, as ever, was perfectly fine.

The turning point into exasperation seemed to set in after the desert trip as we took another long overland voyage by car to Fez. It more or less came down to a battle of the travel philosophies: Maria and I desperately craved time to stay still and relax, while Colin, a man who loves nothing more than constant motion, felt frustrated when we weren’t off doing things.

Celebrating Maria's birthday in Tangier

Maria’s birthday dinner in Tangier – a much needed night out

There was never any real arguing and nobody ever raised their voices—but, frankly, three weeks is a long time for three people to be cooped up together in a boiling hot third world country. And you can’t please all of the people all of the time.

During the final week of our journey, we traveled to Fez, Chefchaouen, Tangier and Casablanca—but I had begun to virtually stop caring what city we were in, or what there was to see in it. I hit the switch on ‘hermit mode’ in order to catch up on things and write something I was proud of, instead of slapping something together quickly.

And…I just badly needed to rest.

As a result, I hunkered down indoors and ended up experiencing precious little of those last few cities. Colin and/or Maria were left to sightsee on their own—and in the end, it was probably good for us to get a little space from each other. Luckily, I did manage to get some nice shots from most of them when I finally emerged from my cave to eat and walk around a bit (I didn’t have enough time to truly get to know, or write anything about these places, sadly):

Beautiful blue Chefchaouen

Our stunning riad in Fez (which I barely left)

Our stunning riad in Fez (which I barely left)

A peek into the Grand Mosque in Tangier (I was not allowed to bring my estrogen inside)

A peek into the Grand Mosque in Casablanca (I was not allowed to bring my estrogen inside)

Early on May 28th, I hugged Colin and Maria goodbye (despite the trip’s slight challenges—we did have tons of fun together). They headed back home from Casablanca to San Francisco, and I flew on to Cairo.

Looking back on those three weeks in the top left section of Africa, I gotta say that, while I have seen some beautiful countries in my time, and even though I blazed through it at a (to me) mind melting speed, Morocco is probably THE most stunning place I have been to date. I truly didn’t think that the beauty of Spain and Portugal or Zimbabwe could be topped, but Morocco has done it with its colorful cities; its ancient, romantic Arabic architecture; and its pure, untouched countrysides, coastlines, and of course, the magnificent Sahara Desert.

I rarely say I want to return to a place I’ve already visited (there are simply too many places to see on this Earth, and so little time to see them), but I will not close the door on Morocco. The sand dunes and chaos may just see my face again one day…

Sand jump

On a side note: In Lisbon, Caroline kindly took with her (to be returned when I see her in August) the bulky, too-large bag given to me by my friend Kevin, that I’d been hauling around with me, along with a few heavy items I realized I didn’t need. So now I am down to just TWO SMALL CARRY-ON BAGS!! I feel lighter than ever.

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Stay tuned for my next post, in which I’ll tell the story of my, uh, ‘interesting’ experience in Egypt… 

Also: I always have such a tough time deciding which photos to include in my posts — so many that I love can’t be included or my already lengthy posts would just be absurdly long. BUT, if you’d like to check out the other eye candy from my adventures thus far in Africa and Europe, simply click HERE.

4 replies

  1. Hi Kirsten,

    I have been reading your blog posts and just wanted to say that they are very engaging! Your journey “around the world” is very cool and I love all the little vignettes. The story of your guide who drove you to the desert in was hilarious.

    I remembered you saying that I should comment on your blog when I told you about how I read your SF Muni blogpost, so I figured I would leave a quick note.

    Keep it up and I will continue my lurking (with the occasional comment :P).

    -Elizabeth

    Liked by 1 person

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