Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Home Sweet Home

Hello world. It has been far too long since I have sat down to look at my blog and as I do it tonight it is with a heavy heart. I love looking at all of my pictures and reading what I have written. Pieces of me are sewn in all over this thing and I can't believe I have neglected it for so long. So, I'm vowing that soon I will start re-writing my tales form Spain with the help of the handy-dandy-notebook I kept and scrawled in at all times while abroad.

I'm currently a busy bee taking classes this summer and pinching myself every now and then that I am home or is it that I wake up from a very vidid dream about Spain and have to convince myself that it wasn't all a dream, that I truly did live in Seville for 4 whole months? Either way, life is as incredible as ever and I am enjoying every minute of it.

I have to get up early tomorrow though so I am off to bed but will leave you, whoever you are that still checks this thing, with what I wrote awhile back on the 1 month home mark. Enjoy!

I have been back home in the land of the free for 1 whole month. It is unreal to see that the passing of time can actually fly. 1 month ago I was getting ready to sleep in my big bed with my family all only a few short steps away. I was relishing being close to them and having all of the amenities I had missed back. I was unable to take a long hot shower simply out of habit. (Don't worry I have gotten that back to normal now hah). 1 month ago I looked around my room or out my window and everything felt right. But things felt right in Seville and well, things feel right here in Columbia now too.

Tonight I snuggle down into Kathryn's bed (I'm subleasing from a friend) and call it my own, even though I share it with Paige too. I look around "my" room and see the same objects and items that sat around in Spain. We move, all of us, my purse, computer, toothbrush and pictures, together. We migrate to our next "home" and set up shop for however long the universe has allotted.

It's an odd feeling realizing you can belong more than one place. Odd knowing that with minimal possessions I can make a new home just about anywhere. However, upon further inspection you can see that it's not so much that you alone, with a few possessions, can make a home, it's the people that you make a home with. It's sharing a meal of hotdogs and peas with 3 girls and laughing through it together (and then sharing granola bars afterwards for a "real" dinner). It's laying out in the asphalt parking lot in the hot summer heat after classes or driving to get McDonalds' 49 cent cones late at night and pow-wowing in the living room when someone needs to talk. It's making time for a skype session or phone call (now multiple times a day) with my mom or driving to and from Columbia and St. Louis with my sister.

Because, while there are a million incredible places to live in the world, a home has nothing to do with exact location. A home is made up of those who our heart has collected along the way, some we probably aren't even aware of yet. There can always be changes to the home but the basic layout was built long ago by powerful loving hands and we can move around as much as we like because our real home, it's mobile.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Spain's Ireland - Ronda

March 5th brought on a lovely Friday where about 20 of us decided to participate in a little class excursion to another Spanish city, Ronda. We woke up early and scrambled to arrive at the location that had been set only to wait for bout 45 minutes for our director, Paula (pronounced Pow-la) and the bus to show up. We were not happy campers as we clamored aboard but we all had the excitement of adventure quickening our heart so there could be no real harm done. If I remember correctly, and bare with me here because this was quite some time ago, the ride there lasted about 2 and a half hours, probably a little more. We were heading east along somewhat of the same roads we traveled towards Granada but on a different type path. The drive was beautiful, as always, and I was witnessing my little slice of heaven, which is the Spanish landscape.

After winding though the hillsides for a while we came through a break in the hills and there was our final destination, perched up on a mountaintop, with a shell of cliffs making it a striking fixture on the horizon. The day was not sunny and bright, which was normal for the still rainy days we had been experiencing, so there was hint of fog lingering from early morning which made it all the more mysterious. I knew little, if any history on the city, other than it rested on a throne of jagged cliffs and that it was breathtakingly beautiful so I was anxious for both the views and the new-found knowledge that was only a short distance away.

I had never been on such a trip with few students and no real “leader” so I was a bit confused as to how the day would unfold. We arrived at the bus stop and all headed straight into the “Cafeteria” which has both a different pronouciation and meaning than we are used to but still associates with food. However, here it was more of a gas-station type feel with a tad bit more class. This description is of no importance though, so we all wasted no time in ordering our “café on leche” or coffee with milk and stopped for a few minutes to enjoy our little pick-me-ups. As we ventured out into the city, which really seemed much more of a small town, Paula directed us to a main road and then cut us loose until our appointment with a guide at the world famous bull fighting ring.

Since the majority of the group was girls (19 females, 1 male) we decided to spend this free time shopping and luckily, our lone wolf was a fan of the activity. This would be a great time to introduce one of the most entertaining characters I have encountered on my Spanish adventure, Ryne (rhymes with wine). Please be sure to read that correctly because this strapping young lad does appreciate being referred to as “Ryan.” Yes this an understandable and way-too-common mistake, but try to focus on the pronunciation so you can give his fabulously unique name the respect it deserves. His lovely Minnesota-trained voice has given us one too many quotes to giggle about. A group favorite happened in Granada when he said “I’m getting ten shades of silly tonight!” while my personal preference remains, “Girls and vodka is like cat and catnip…” These are just a few of the heavily accented quotes of wisdom that have been bestowed upon us and I intend to pass these wise phrases on to whoever is plagued with enough boredom to listen, aka you. ☺

Moving onward, we nosed around form store to store in search of the perfect boot and while many tempted our eye, none were dubbed “the ones.” So we continued our wandering until we came to a major intersection and we viewed to the left a bridge which stretched over these amazing cliffs. I had become so wrapped up in the stores, streets, and Ryne that I had almost forgotten a major aspect of our visit, the views. So, the minor group we were traveling with quickly headed in the newly desired location to gape in amazement at the beauty we found and take 15 pictures each of the same view.

Then we met everyone outside of the bullring and Paula had a surprise for us, she had a bull-fighting type costume for us to wear, with a gun? Not sure it exactly added up be she quickly dressed Tricia, then me and we all took turns posing for pictures in the outfit. It was certainly entertaining!

Having a great time!

So awkward

Work it Lo!

Being bulls?

Once we all go into the huge bullring, the largest in the world, we met up with our tour guide and everyone opted to have her speak in Spanish. This, was not good news for me but I did manage to mildly follow along. Plus, I was just having fun taking pictures as always. The building was awesome and we got to see horses, but no bulls, oh well. We went out to the center of the ring and it felt like we were on stage or something with the huge ring of stadium seated seats all facing us. We ventured down to the museum and looked a bunch of old matador outfits, some even with blood still stained from their fatal blow from a horn of a bull. Pretty creepy, yet kinda cool at the same time.

How could we not?

See my hidden message? :)

The guide then lead us a bit around the city as she pointed out buildings and locations all in Spanish I just soaked up the views. The architecture was beautiful, the shops quaint and the green hillsides were a jeweled emeralds. It sprinkled on us a bit throughout the day but nothing we couldn’t handle. However, I couldn’t help but wonder what all the views would look like with a sparkle of sunshine. Although the drizzle and fog added mystique. We learned that back in the days they used to keep prisoners down in the cliffs and I was easy to see how unpleasant that would be and the creepy factor was really big too.

Our next stop was the Bandits Museum. Yes, you heard correctly, we went to a museum full of history on famous bandits. Again, I lagged behind to take pictures of some of the “displays of bandits” which were quite hilarious so I enjoyed laughing to myself. I ended up grabbing my brother a gift there and I feel completely safe in listing it since he will does not and will not read this blog, so I got him a scary little dagger. Blake, my perpetually different brother, likes to collect weapons and even has a “weapon wall” in his room. This may sound alarming, and in all reality it probably is, but it has grown to a pretty impressive collection starting from when he was little and wanted a sword when we were vacationing in the Cayman Islands. And, I must admit while I have enjoyed making fun of him for this interest, I now see the draw to it. It was really, really interesting and kinda fun! Again, I feel that I can admit this because there is no threat in my secret being discovered by him ☺ ha ha ha Blake Mikel

Moving on, we were then granted more free time to shop and see the sights before meeting back at the bus station. So we did exactly that, we shopped a bit and I bought myself a new little pair of earrings and some post cards. Then we decided to settle down for a cup of coffee at this beautiful café right under the bridge that offered a breathtaking view. It was surreal sititng there and feeling the wind whipping around these cliffs and hearing the water that was trickling through the rocks down at the bottom. We all decided that although we had not been to Ireland, this would have been very similar as far as we were concerned.

With our stomachs rumbling we decided to venture out for some real food and came across a little place that looked like it would suffice. So we settled in and ordered some sandwiches. It is always fun to sit around and eat with friends because you learn so much more about them. Ryne talked about his girlfriend and we each tried to give some advice. We shared stories about one another and laughed a lot. We are really all starting to become comfortable around each other and it is fun to finally hit that level.

Afterwards, we started out for our trek to the station stopping to peek in a few stores every now. We got back on the bus and most closed their eyes for the ride home. But, as always I watched the landscape movie and was sad to say goodbye to the beautiful “Spanish Ireland.” It was a really fun trip and I would highly recommend venturing there to anyone who ever gets the chance. Sooo pretty, although we missed Katrina who was galavanting through Amsterdam!

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Morocco 3rd and Final Installment

We had to wake up super early Sunday morning and pack everything up. Katrina and I were running a bit behind but still managed to enjoy a miniature breakfast. We also grabbed a quick second to take a picture of the cool pool. Had the weather been more cooperative our hotel would have been beautiful. After a piece of toast and a large cup of coffee we waved goodbye to Kabila and set out for Tetuan before we were to catch a ferry home.

Bina on the bed

Would have been a glorious pool with some sunshine

Yummy tea

Goodbye Kabila!

This should help with perspective, this is what was across the street from our hotel.

Driving in the bus I caught a glimpse of something I saw the first night but had written it off to a sleepy mind because I was sure it wasn’t possible. However, there they were in a full costume, or I guess uniform, of red wearing a long cape, hat, silver buttons, badges and tall black boots. I couldn’t get a full view since we were cruising past them and I was disappointed but sure enough about half a mile later there was another one pacing by a wall and so the next few miles went accordingly. What was behind that wall and why was it so important that these decorated guards stand watch? This remains another one of my unanswered questions but it was really cool to see. I had never pictured anyone’s military or security wearing such outfits. As we were pulling into the city of Tetuan there were more policemen, or military men, I’m not really sure which, standing by the road, although not in the full cape uniform, serving some purpose I’m sure, but I just couldn’t figure out what it was. It was a bit intimidating having their presence be stamped so permanently on the landscape and I realized maybe that was indeed the very purpose.

Also, while we were pulling in I got to see Muslims praying towards Mecca. They were outside, down on their knees with their foreheads pressed to the ground. I’m taking a class about Islamic culture so it was unbelievably cool for me to witness this and at least somewhat be able to understand the meaning. For me to be able to see them in prayer and not wonder, or think it was weird, but to have knowledge behind such actions and respect them for their faith was a really neat moment for me.

When we piled off the bus we were split into two groups with different guides to go see the old Jewish market. Again, I had no idea what to expect but was still shocked as to what we saw. The “market” was just a labyrinth of streets filled with people selling just about everything from scrap metal to spices.

Guards in the distance

There were many “drive up window” type ordeals where you could go up and peek in to see what the person was selling but mostly you could gather what was being sold simply by glancing their way. There were old woman sitting on the corners selling herbs laid out, or barrels of fruit. I cannot tell you how many butcher shops, or meat stores we went past. As I mentioned before there were tons of chickens. There would be crates stuffed full of them or pins, then there would be three tied together by the feet just lying in a bunch or you could see the whole bird plucked of its feathers and hanging from walls and of course, there were eggs. It was quite disturbing to be able to see literally the entire lifecycle of the bird in one little store and once you got past the initial gag reaction it was I guess, kinda cool. To say that I saw multiple dead animals would be a complete understatement. (Mom, Paige you would guys would have never been able to even enter this market. Dad, Blake you would have LOVED it…typical)

Entrance into the Old Jewish Sector - where the market is

It rained a bit so the tarps were helpful

Selling herbs. Also, that is a typical dress outfit with the hood, that we saw frequently.

What we winded through

More winding

Beans, rice etc

Crates of chicken

More chicken

Whole life cycle almost...

We kept venturing through the winding streets until we happened upon a Jewish synagogue. There was loud music being played and our tour guide (who by the way told us he is often confused with Michael Douglas… haha funny guy) stopped to peek in. He, of course, knew people (so famous and popular) and they invited us in. However, this was somehow not ok and we were a bit confused until Mr. Douglas explained that it was a special time because there were circumcisions taking place. It took everything in me not to bolt down one of the narrow sidewalks in the complete opposite directions. No, no, noo thank you I would most definitely NOT want to witness such an event. I was ready to scurry on but apparently we were in no hurry as we were told about the building and God knows what else because my brain was way tuned out. And then, low and behold, we had waited long enough to hear louder music, cheering and then a father and son emerged… Needless to say the little boy was not a happy camper.

Mr. Douglas in front of the temple doors

And there's the unhappy camper!

After that somewhat traumatizing experience, we kept wandering through the streets until we found yet another “rug store” where we got basically the same show of rugs, tapestries etc. Apparently this is a huge business in Africa. The show, as before, lasted a bit too long and I was ready to escape but I found myself kind of wanting to buy something simply to help the business. However, I couldn’t justify any of the purchases and was sorry to leave empty handed.

Our next stop was the pharmacy, which was like no pharmacy I had ever seen. We sat around the store in a stadium type set up that had walls lined with jars of everything imaginable. The show started (and trust me when I say these presentations were every bit of a show with jokes and pizzazz galore) and jars were passed around for us to smell and look in. There were cooking spices, which I had never thought of being found in a pharmacy, that we were told were hugely rare and expensive in America so we should buy them here... This might be true but I figured my Mom would want something more than some curry. There was lip gloss that could be used for anything from cold soars to zits which didn’t sound promising nor did the majority of items that we were shown but when he finally talked about the tea I perked right up. I have never been a fan of tea but had had numerous cups of some delicious tea since arriving in North Africa. It is sweet (that would be the first necessary ingredient for me to like it) and just a bit mint-like but with maybe some honey to. It is always served warm after dinner or more for like a “meal-cap.” I really liked it so I snagged a few boxes when it was time to leave and was quite happy with my purchase.

Walls covered in jars filled with God knows what..

The ring leader of this circus, also known as the pharmacist.

When we were leaving I noticed that there was a man trailing along with our group whom I was aware of but our tour guide, and program guides were speaking with so I assumed he was allowed. When I inquired about this I learned that this was a police officer whom we had hired to accompany us through the market. This was shocking. Were we really in danger? I can’t say I was ever scared to necessarily be there but it was definitely a bit intimidating. I am still unsure if it was comforting that he was there, or more unnerving… Mostly I just felt extremely out of place and we stood out like an ugly sore thumb. I kept telling myself that we were not the first group to come through here and that groups did this all the time but it just felt wrong. We were taking pictures of how unbelievable their lifestyle was but at the end of the day it was not some spectacle, it was their everyday lives and it appeared more like we were visiting a zoo. For yet another time during this trip I felt ashamed.

Lunch was our next visit and boy were we ready for it. The place was really beautiful all decorated in a deep blue. We were served cuscus yet again in the very same format as our other meals. Since Laura and Tricia had boarded a different bus while Trina and I were still eating breakfast we were separated for the day, we were left to find new friends to eat with and did just fine! Hah we met some very interesting people who were in a different program and one was even from Kansas City. The world really is small.

View from up top!

When it was time to board the bus we all processed out to find our big blue forms of transportation. As always there was a bit of confusion so we had to wait for quite awhile on the bus and, as always, I did not mind because I had a window seat ☺ So I settled in for some good people watching. It was so neat to see how different these people dressed. I think I mentioned how some would wear the traditional Muslim dress, some women were sure to have their heads covered but other people would be seen in completely “regular” outfits. My favorite part however was to see the two combined. A woman dressed in a floor length Muslim dress, head covered and all but wearing 4 inch purple heels. Or a little boy holding his father’s hand in a very traditional outfit but with a Spiderman backpack on. These were the things that stuck with me, and will stay with me for life hopefully. It was further imprinted in my mind that these people are just like you and me. The terrible things, earthquakes, bombings or riots, you hear about on the news that are happening in these far off cities where you can’t possibly find anything to relate to are not as far as you think and the people, are not so different at all. We all want the same things in life, all possess similar dreams when we lay our heads down for sleep and yet there is this huge misunderstanding that we are different when in reality we are anything but. The entire human race is all racing for the same thing, we just run on different paths to get there. The problem remains in communication. Whether it is explaining a religion, a custom, belief or just a simple thought, the language barrier is the tallest, highest wall that I have experienced. It was here, in Tetuan that I learned the importance of a smile. Call me crazy, or lame or whatever, but I am telling you that as I walked the streets and saw the people and was unable to really even say hello, I found that the quickest way to communicate a positive feeling was a smile, and we each must have about 100 different smiles so that right there is language we all can speak, right? ☺

Total journal entry there, I apologize but obviously when I get to writing, I don’t hold back so you shouldn’t be surprised at this point if you’ve stuck with this novel of a blog so far! Now, moving forward with the day. Once we were back on the bus we headed towards the port and made a few pit stops on the way. First we traveled to an amazing view of the ocean. I could have gazed out at that thing for hours up on the cliff if it weren’t for the sand that kept whipping up in my eyes. Sunglasses were helpful! Lots of people wanted to ride camels and as luck would have it there were two men, with two camels who were harassed for half an hour as everyone in every shape and size climbed up to ride for all of 5 seconds before they were switched out for someone new. The men were beating the camels on the knees and I felt so bad for them I refused to cough over any amount of money to support it. These men were just dumb with their entire approach and stupidity makes my skin crawl. Thus, my focus remained on the wonderful view.

We're on a beach! .. kinda, more so on a cliff above the beach :)

View to the left

View to the right

Down on the actual beach now!

Trish and Lo on their camels! They were very nice to the poor guys :)

Sweet wittle baby camel

As we clamored back on the bus to shake out our jackets full of sand (I was actually careful to keep a tiny bit in my pocket so that every time I reach in a have a bit of Africa with me ☺.. Yes I’m odd) I looked longing at the cute baby camel and very badly wanted to somehow fit it in my bag to take home but I was forced to realize that was not an option. So I focused on our next destination, which was a “bathroom break” (most bathrooms largely consisted of a type of hole in the ground with a lid at times) at the place where the Pacific Ocean and Mediterranean Sea meet. I was quite excited about this because I had been picturing it in my head for the whole trip and I was not let down. You could literally see the two shades of blue as they greeted each other in their waves and formed a solid alliance of salty air. There were souvenirs you could buy and I nosed around a bit but came up empty handed because nothing really compared to the view. There were also really cute baby goats who tempted me for brief moments of “awe so cute” before my eyes darted back to the water. I was truly sad to get back on the bus because there were no more pit stops. The next stop would be the port and I would hop on a ferry to go back to Spain.

Saying goodbye to the 2 pretty shades of blue (you can kinda see a difference between the colors) please not the menacing clouds rolling in.

We arrived at the port at the same time as the rain. All you could do was laugh at the amount that was coming down and the perfect timing in which it decided to descend. There was a lot of confusion because the ferry we were supposed to be boarding was possibly not going out to sea due to the weather. After a bit of stress and getting damp in the rain we were directed onto a ferry but it was not our original one and would be taking us to Gibraltar first before arriving at a different port in southern Spain where we would get off. (Hope that makes sense) To add to the confusion, the busses were unable to board the same ferry that we squeezed onto, and I do mean squeeze because this thing was quite packed, which became a large problem once we arrived at our final port.

Don't rain on my parade

When we finally arrived at our port after a rocky ferry ride which, I confess, was a bit unnerving considering other ferries had chosen not to venture out in the weather and yet, we did? Not a comforting thought as we were rockin around in the middle of the ocean. However, I spent the entire time reading Dear John which I was not enjoying but definitely helped the time pass. When we clamored out of the ferry around midnight (longer ferry ride than it was supposed to be due to stops and weather) we learned that we had to wait for the busses. Not sure why this didn’t dawn on me earlier when they mentioned that our busses didn’t make this ferry but, for whatever reason, I was shocked by this knowledge and was comforted only by the shock of my companions as well.

So we set up camp at the station and proceeded to hang for about 4 hours. We were all starving so the trip leaders (who are like 25 year old guys who get the amazing job of leading kids around in awesome places) decided to go get some pizza. They took orders and money then left for literally what seemed like an hour. We all attacked them when they returned and ate our pizza so fast that afterwards we all stared at each other wishing we had more. But, we didn’t have more, nor did we have anything to do and one by one I started watching the group of about 200 drop like flies into an awkward slumber. It is so funny to see what people come up with for a “comfortable” sleeping position on a linoleum floor. I finished Dear John and was only mildly disappointed because I didn’t like the book much in the first place. However, I will most definitely still see the movie.. where I will probably cry.

With no book to read and with no possible sleep in the near future the few of us left standing decorated the faces of celebrities in a magazine and played made up games which were quite entertaining. When the busses finally arrived we all ran outside and fought for a spot on the first bus and luckily, we actually made it. However, the other half was still standing in the dark waiting for the second bus to arrive. I felt like Titanic was sinking and I had snagged a spot on a lifeboat only to watch everyone else out in the dark, lost in the night. Maybe that is a bit dramatic and an overly creepy comparison to have but it was weird... and it was past 4 in the morning so cut me some slack.. hah No recollection of the bus ride home but we grabbed a taxi once in Seville and were ready to fall into bed. It was all such a crazy and eye opening adventure. It could have ended on a bit of a better note but in hindsight I truly would not have had it any other way. My life is incredible and I do not have an ounce to complain about. Morocco will remain one of my favorite trips, not for the extravagance or the night life, or the history or people we met, but for the impact that it made and the lessons I have honestly only begun to learn. Shukran (Thank you in Arabic) Morocco I am a very blessed girl.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Rise and Shine

Good morning! It is 5:30 am here and we are departing for the airport hopefully within the next 20 minutes to jet over to Italy! London was incredible but I cannot believe that we have already returned and are turning around to fly somewhere else. LIfe is amazing and we are very very lucky girls. I can't wait to update my posts when I get back! Good lord I have a lot to do... So sorry! Most importantly though, I wanted to wish my sweet baby sister a Happy 20th Birthday!! She turned 20 on the 11th and I was able to send her a few things, but it just wasn't the same. Cannot believe we are both in our twenties now... Seems like only yesteryear we ere playing with Barbies and torturing Blake, wait we still do that second thing :)

More to come upon my return! Miss and love you beyond words!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Current Update

Ok, I'm over this whole posting in order thing. It has just got me wayyy behind and I want to actually keep you guys in the loop so from here on out I will try to throw in little updated blips and then post the full stories of my trip whenever possible. Sound good? It only took me three months to figure out.. hah

Yes, you heard right. I have been here for 3 whole months and in exactly 1 month I will be moving home to the states! I truly cannot believe it. Time has never flown at such a rapid pace in my whole life! Well.. maybe college in general because I now have the rest of my college career planned out as well. Getting old is very unnerving.

Speaking of getting old a VERY HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO MY HANDSOME FATHER! He is turning a young 47 tomorrow with only a few sprinkles of gray in his luscious locks. (He looks very refined if you ask me.) We have agreed that this sounds like an excellent age and good things will happen. I can't wait to see what they are! I would post this tomorrow but I will in fact be in London for a long four day weekend. I am incredibly spoiled since I just returned from Greece on Monday. This is the most traveling I have ever done and while it exhausting, it is so much fun. My parents are the absolute best for allowing be to do all of these things. When I grow up and become filthy rich I will travel all of the time because I absolutely love it! I already promised them that I would send them on lavish trips and if you stay in my good graces maybe I'll bring you along too ;)

I hope everyone had a very happy Easter. Mine was full of crazy travel changes and probably a bit more stress than I would have liked but hey, I had just spent the last week lounging on the beech in Mykonos, Greece so I am in no place to even begin complaining. I am incredibly blessed to be having the experiences that I am over here and I thank God for each and every day of it.

Now I am off with a group of 8 total (me included) to travel through London and pretend we're Harry Potter milling with muggles. (Ok, obviously that is just going to be me..) I am sooo excited!! Gotta throw a few last items in my back and then we're off to arrive late tonight. I am sure that I will have great stories, many with obnoxious Harry Potter references, so check back soon. As for now, adios mi amigos! I miss and love you all!!

And Congrats to my cousin Amy and her husband Jeremy who gave baby Jack a sister, Blair Catherine! Such a beautiful name. Can't wait to see pictures!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Morocco 2

Morocco Day 2: Chefchaouen

Saturday morning I woke up very confused as to where I was before the animal like aroma reminded me that I was in Africa! What a completely weird feeling to have and I’m not sure I was really up for the pure coolness factor of it due to my sleepy brain. Katrina and I got ready for the day and headed to breakfast. It was weird meeting up with Laura and Tricia and not knowing exactly what they had been doing for the past 8 hours. It’s odd how much time we spend together and even more odd how a few hours apart can seem like days…

Good morning world!

After a quick breakfast we boarded one of the 2 big blue busses and headed through Africa. While we were pulling out of the hotel I literally saw two women carrying jugs on their head. This was another visual that will stay with me. Call me naïve, call me spoiled or just plain dumb but it had never fully occurred to me that this was literally something that people did. Yes I’ve seen movies, TV and read stories but it was baffling to actually experience the visual. And the most important part was that these women were literally right across from our hotel. The wave of shame I felt the night before regurgitated its way back up leaving a very unpleasant taste in my mouth. Reality doesn’t taste like chocolate chip ice cream.

We had about an hour or two ride to our first location, Chefchaouen (pronounced shef-showen). I had never heard of this city and had absolutely no expectations. Thus, I was left for the ride to watch the hills and the people on them. Much like the night before everyone was out and about and the majority of them were accompanied by some sort of animal. There were men and women leading cows, sheep, goats, donkeys, lambs etc. There were even people herding chickens like cattle, which did not look like an easy task. Chickens were everywhere. Just wondering on the street, cooped up in fences or my favorite, just tied together by their feet and laying on the sidewalk. (I’ll elaborate on this later.) There were also lots of huge billboards with a picture of the king of Morocco. His name is Mohammed VI (I didn’t even have to google it because it has been imprinted in my mind for the number of times I saw it.) The only thing that out-numbered the pictures of the king was the Moroccan flag. You would have thought it was a national holiday with how many flags I saw. They were flying everywhere! In all honesty though, we did learn that King Mohammed had been to this area only the day before so this might have played a role in how many we saw, but I tend to think they just always have Moroccan pride. More importantly, I couldn’t believe we had just missed the king!

Bathroom break at a beautiful view

There's our Beanie Baby :)

View from the bus. That would be a typical type home

Beautiful mountainside


As we started pulling into the city the frequency in Moroccan flags flying on flagpoles was growing and our big busses started maneuvering the somewhat narrow streets. The travel company we came with had hired a woman to basically be on the trip with us and to talk to us on the way, explaining certain things about Morocco etc but we were supposed to be meeting some guides to actually show us around Chefchaouen. So when the bus slowed and our woman guide (clearly I have forgotten her name or I would insert it here, my apologies) opened the bus doors and let a Moroccan man on I thought he had just scrambled aboard. This guy was quite old and was missing quite a few teeth. I immediately thought oh no, how did this guy get on the bus? What is he trying to do? When I tore my eyes away to look out the window I realized that everyone on the street had stopped to stare at us. Children were pointing, and craning their necks to see what was going on with these two giant blue busses. It was weird to realize that having tourists might be an exciting thing for them, considering I’ve felt like a nuisance everywhere else. Then the bus started moving again and I too wanted to know what was going on because the toothless man was still on our bus. If only I could understand Arabic.

When we stopped and were directed to get out we all followed orders and bunched together with the woman guide. She then explained that we would split into smaller groups for the tours and somewhat divided us off. The group we were all in was standing there, waiting for further instructions when she started to usher over the toothless man. He then introduced himself in English and welcomed us to Chefchaouen with a big jack-o-lantern smile. I literally could not believe it. How could I be so completely sure this man was of no importance to our group based purely on his appearance? That bitter taste of shame was becoming stronger and I can’t tell you how much I hated it this time. Why could I not believe that this man, although he may be missing a few teeth, could be not only completely literate but also clearly, highly intelligent to have conquered another language? I myself can barely stumble through the few Spanish sentences I’ve learned.

Our guide there on the right

As the tour started I slunk to the back of the group realizing that I had already broken the very promise I had made to myself only hours before. So, I vowed with new vengeance that I would be completely open to every person, place and thing here and soak up every bit of it while sending up a little prayer for help that I could keep it this time. Not really being able to hear most of what was being explained I started to look around at the little streets we were walking through and noticed one very common thread. Every building here had blue painted somewhere on it. If these buildings were canvases, which they pretty much were, then the main color would be white with accents only done in shades of blue. Since blue is my favorite color, and my grandma’s, I immediately loved it! Everything looked pretty and antique.

So pretty!

I like the different shades of blue on the different walls.

Inside the bakery

On top of the bakery

The most famous picture in Chefchaouen.

Learning about the spa/baths

Men and women aren't allowed to enter at the same time

More blue doors

We meandered through the city for awhile poking our heads in here and there whenever there was a little store. We even got to peak into a bakery which smelt like delicious fresh bread. Our fearless leader chattered on and on about this and that until we finally arrived at a “weaving store.” This is definitely not the correct terminology but I’m not sure what is so that is what I’ve assigned to it. We got to go all the way up some super steep stairs to the top where some of the hand weaving takes place on the loom. The room was small and seemed impossible to work in but apparently work was done because back downstairs we got to see a complete show of all of the work that they do. I don’t really know how else to describe it other than I felt like I was watching some sort of terrible infomercial. While the rugs, tapestries, scarves and table runners were quite beautiful the whole presentation went on far too long (much like infomercials) and they showed us just about every variation possible from patterns and sizes to fabrics and uses. Afterwards they informed us that there was no pressure to make a purchase but they then pressured quite a few people to make one. I was lucky enough to squirm on out of there while I could and boy was I glad! The work they did was definitely very impressive and I had a lot of respect for the craft that they have so clearly built their lives upon but I don’t think my mom needed a rug, nor would I be able to pack it in my suitcase home. Plus, some of the stories I heard later about the prices that people spent on their table runners for Aunt Brenda were ridiculous.

On the roof in the weaving room

The Loom

Waiting for the infomercial to commence!


Silk rugs?

Ok.. enough of these. I won't put you through any more :)

We still had a bit of time before lunch so we got to see the center of town, which was full of little touristy shops that were all calling my name, but I refused to venture into them yet. I needed some food in my stomach before I started attempting to make a bargain with these people. So we nosed around and noticed that the locals call Chefchaouen “Chaouen” pronounced chow-in for short, or like a slang word, much like we call Columbia “Como” or at least this is what I assumed. We also took some pictures of some cats (this has become a favorite pastime of ours since we have a friend that we call Kitty). When it came time to part with our guide I thanked him in Arabic which we learned was “Shukran,” pronounced shoe-cran, and I waved goodbye to the toothless man and I was truly sad to see him go.

Kitty picking through some stale bread (I'll save you the horror of the pictures of kitty eating fishies..)



Walking to lunch

When it was finally time to settle in for some chow time in “Chaouen” (you can imagine how long I’ve been waiting to make that joke) we were all ready to eat. We were handed a menu which consisted of 4 options all of which I believe were listed in a combination of Arabic and Spanish which left me basically looking at scribbles. In times like these I have come to realize how important it is to take note of what your friends like to eat. It is usually pretty safe to order whatever Laura is ordering since she’s kinda a picky eater but she also could barely decide what these meals consisted of so I next turned to Tricia who told me she was going out on a limb and ordering “blah blah blah.” All I needed to hear was that she was going out on a limb. I wasn’t up for any “limb-traveling” so, although I was weary, I still asked Katrina, who is our bravest eater, what she was ordering. She said she was going to play it safe with some lemon chicken. Perfect. I was sold. So when they asked for Katrina’s order I just held up a peace sign, which many forget originally stood for the number 2, and my order was placed.

We were joined at lunch by Nick’s roommate for the trip, Matt or “Matao” as he likes to be called. He was a lovely guy who was absolutely hilarious and would have fit right in working at Beauty Brands with me. The previous night the two hadn’t really spoken due to the late hour so it was fun to watch Nick get to know his bunk-mate.

Matao, Nick, Laura and Lisa

Our side of the table

The lemon chicken proved to be a bad choice but in true “poor-student” fashion I managed to take down enough of a portion to get my brain working again. The meal was actually really fun because the restaurant was very eccentric. There were bright colors, drapes, tile work, tapestries and lots of shiny glittery things. Probably not the best place to eat if you have ADD. It very much encompassed what I envisioned a restaurant in India might look like and yet again I became absolutely certain that I know nothing of the world. This has been a repeatedly sad realization in my life with some excitement though because I’m learning right?


In true foreign fashion lunch lasted about two hours and when we finally escaped to the outdoors we were happy to learn that we had some free time. Free time always makes me a bit nervous because I don’t necessarily know if I want to be running around “free” in Africa with no supervision. Then I remember that I am going to be 22 years old this summer and I’m old enough to handle this. (Yes, I have to give myself such pep-talks periodically.) So, we wandered off into the winding blue streets in hopes that we could find the center where the stores were. This proved to be no walk in the park but I’m not complaining. Honestly, even if we were completely lost I still don’t think I would have anything to complain about.

Getting lost

Such cool doorways

I'm blue a-ba-de-a-ba-di... (yes I've been waiting to post that comment as well)

Another cool doorway

Still walkin

We finally found the center of town and nosed around in a bunch of different shops. I was surprised that when I tried to speak to the shop owners in Spanish they would respond in English. However, this proved to be confusing when it came time to bargain. We were told to try to talk down the prices but I felt bad doing so. This is these people’s livelihood, who am I to deny them one extra euro? Tricia and I made a valiant effort and put on our game faces when it came to some jewelry though. She wanted a blue bangle with elephants and I wanted a string of turquoise beads. Together, we wanted a deal and after a little bit of talking we managed to knock down about 50 cents. This somehow seemed victorious at the time though so we walked away happy with our accessories.

Center of town

Happy shoppers!

The sky had matched the pretty blue city at various times during the day but it also had periods of dark gray. It was pretty overcast as we were all congregating in the center of town for our meeting place before further instructions and just as our guides were explaining we were going to head back to the bus it started to sprinkle a little. So we started making our way through the streets and I was doing some serious people watching. It was so cool to see the traditional clothing that they wear. As I somewhat described earlier, the men wear a dress-type covering that reminded me of what alter boys at church wear. The women too can wear a dress but most just wore a wrap over the heads.

Blurry woman

The busses were trying to pull around to pick us up but the policemen who were in the street were making it difficult. The rain had somewhat subsided but was spiting down on us periodically so I was pretty ready to just get on the bus. When we were finally able to board I scrambled on up to grab a window seat and settled in for some more people watching. Yet again I was amazed at how many people were just staring at us. It was a bit unsettling because I kept wanting to look behind me like maybe a celebrity is on our bus or something but nope, it was just us weird American students. The policemen were really unhappy with the busses and were trying to get us to move by yelling and blowing their whistles but apparently we were waiting for someone so they were trying to stall. We weren’t blocking traffic by any means so I was confused as to why it was such a big deal but for whatever reason, it was.

When we finally started pulling out I waved goodbye to this beautiful antique town and could not believe that people actually lived there. I thought about this all the way home. Yes it was beautiful and quaint etc but I did not see one house, apartment or any type of housing that looked like somewhere I would want to live. Everything seemed behind in the times but I maybe that was because we didn’t see that part of the town? Doubtful. It is just amazing to me how I am beyond blessed.

Darkness was falling on the ride home and I got to see somewhat of the nightlife I spoke about earlier. People were out walking around or sitting in doorways. It is just such a different lifestyle. I also was amazed at how many animal carcasses I saw hanging outside. There were quite large ones too that I won’t go into detail with. (Paige, I don’t think you would life Africa ☺)

When we got back to our hotel we were all hungry again but more than that, I needed a shower. However, we didn’t have time for a shower because as Katrina and I were trying to get into our room we realized the door was stuck. We were trying to unlock it but it was like another lock was in place or something. We had to go back to the desk to ask for help and the owner of the hotel brought his keys to try. Those weren’t working either so he called for backup. Backup proved to be a little old woman in a basically a robe and slippers who appeared out of the night like a panther. When she tried her keys and they didn’t work she tried the room next to ours, which was apparently a storage room with a door connected to our room (comforting). When that didn’t work either (I somewhat sighed in relief knowing someone couldn’t come get us through the storage room) she disappeared back into the night and I had no idea where she had gone. The man was pointing to a window or something and before I knew it the wiley panther was letting us in the door. She pointed to our sliding door that let out to our balcony. We thanked them both repeatedly and I went straight to the back door to lock it. As glad as I was to get into our room, I wasn’t going to have there be another option in.

We barely had enough time to look ourselves in the mirror (not pretty) before we had to head back to the main hotel lobby for dinner. Dinner was going to be exciting tonight because rumor had it we were going to get to see some traditional Moroccan performances. Matao had dubbed us cool enough and decided to join us again for a meal. He had some very entertaining stories about gay guys in Spain and we all listened intently. However, my favorite thing to watch was Nick’s face at the exchange of all the details of Matao’s life and I could literally watch Nick's brain thinking “I’m sleeping next to him tonight” haha. We were served family style again and when I looked at the bowl I realized that cuscus with meat and veggies on top were a favorite meal here. We were all hungry enough that we weren’t complaining though and it was good!

Shortly into the meal there was a large explosion of noise coming from the lobby and within seconds a group of about five teenage-boys processed in playing various instruments. There were two that were playing long horns that I thought were going to snap in half any minute. It was so cool and the music was incredibly loud. Next came a group of men playing, singing and dancing and then an old man came out with a tray of lit candles. He proceeded to do everything under the sun with this tray including spinning it on his head and just about anything dangerous. There were times I closed my eyes fearing when I opened them this little man would be on fire. He was incredibly limber and could contort his arms around so he could squeeze his whole body through them. (I know that doesn’t make sense but just go with it.) It was so cool but I couldn’t help but think that this old man should be retired by now, not risking his life for some stupid American tourists. For the finale, all the Moroccan boys and men joined together in a big song and they even brought out a cake for one of the American guys on our trip. He was turning 21 in Africa. How cool!? The performers were pulling people up to dance in the middle but I thankfully, was against a wall and unable to be forced to join the group. Matao didn’t need any prompting though and was up and dancing before I even noticed he was gone.

Once eating and dancing had worn everyone out we decided to head back to our rooms. Nick decided to accompany Katrina and I and hang out in our room for awhile due largely to the fact that he wasn’t up for lots of bonding time in his room. This was quite lucky for Katrina and I because when we tried yet again to get into our room, the door would not open. We tried to get help from the front desk and once again they called the black panther. While we were waiting for her to emerge from the darkness Nick decided we could boost him up through the little window above our shower which he found to be unlocked. (Why were there so many entrances into our room that were available?) During this discussion however, the panther appeared and started working through the very steps she had tried earlier. When she disappeared Nick was confused but Katrina and I knew she was trying the back door. I was crossing my fingers she would open the door but instead she reappeared with apparently no luck. (Oops, I had locked the back door. Well at least we knew no one was getting in that way to steal us!) Then, through a serious of hand motions and sign language we explained that we were thinking about boosting Nick through the window. She apparently concurred with this idea so Trina and I “cheer-leader-lifted” Nick up and then watched him contort his body, much like the little fire dancing man, until he slipped into the window. He then had to maneuver through the room in darkness and find the lock to let us in. I have no idea how he managed to do this but he did and was our hero!

Up he goes!

Almost in!

We decided we weren’t going to leave our room for the rest of the night after that fiasco. So I showered and Trina and I put our PJ’s on to settle in for the night. I started reading “Dear John” and after reading for a bit we both turned out our bedside table lamps, whispered a good night and fell asleep in moments, much like an old married couple