Tag Archives: Traveling

“Sorry Son, But That Wanderlust is a Chronic Condition…”

27 Sep

I know it’s been a while since my last post, but I didn’t want this inspiration forced. Luckily, today was just one of those days.

After a long hard weekend wrestling with a host of things that threatened both my inspiration and my peace of mind, I deemed it time to go on a nice long run, reflect on everything and try to refocus. It was at this point that I had an epiphany. That moment where you just… know. The problems are still there, the situation hasn’t changed, but all of a sudden it all begins to make sense.

I’ve spent a lot of time lately getting lost in things: work, social issues, my future, and of course, music. Things that grab hold in your head, and transplant you somewhere else. Whether it is across the globe, in a constructed reality, or rocking out to some song in the middle of your bedroom, you’re gone for that moment of time, and in it there is a certain understanding that can’t be ascertained from your physical surroundings. According to my brain, I have been in purgatory, on the top of the world, Morocco, France, Home and Boston all in this week regardless of the protests logic will make against that.

So how does this all fit together? Well, quite simply actually. But let me bring up the two points separately before bringing about the conclusion. The first is, as I like to put it, my wanderlust. I recently stumbled across a band called Gogol Bordello, and after they had me convinced that I should start wearing purple, I ran across a song entitled “wonderlust king.” Intrigued, I hit play. After two listens I was convinced: I had just found my new anthem. It was then that I began to draw my entire life, all my hopes, dreams ambitions and fears into one never-ending string through one concept and one concept only: travel.

In high school I wanted to be an engineer, but I always was plotting a way to go live in a van, skiing my way through the American west. Common sense eventually seized me of that idea as it was replaced with pragmatic thoughts of college, again satiating that thirst for, if not travel, the hope of future plans. As the concept of leaving for college became less of an adventure, my sights turned elsewhere again, leading to an abortive road trip attempt in my summer prior to leaving for school. My year at Geneseo included study abroad and transfer applications. My decision upon leaving that fall was simple: whatever next year held, it was going to hold it in Milan, Italy or Boston. But I couldn’t even wait for that. Nope, for that summer I reinvested myself in my cross-country road-trip ambitions, this time succeeding, making it from my humble home in Saratoga all the way to San Francisco in just over a week’s time. Boston beat out Milan and then proceeded to latch onto me in the fall, providing some of the excitement I had been searching for. But, even Boston’s allure couldn’t keep me forever, and it was off to Rabat, Morocco followed closely by Hyeres, France, and finally, back to Boston once again.

This little bug, this little, barely traceable tick in the back of my mind seems to have latched on to me and provided me no way out other than to continue following my gut. Keep your cruises; keep your pampered vacations, your hotels and your quiet luxury. I’ll take a pillow, a crap car or cramped buses, dirt as my Modus Operandi for food and bed, and the open road. As long as there is something I’ve not seen, people I’ve not met and adventures yet fulfilled, this will forever be my drive, my motivation, my desire. And, furthermore, and to put it bluntly,  people on that cruise ship don’t exactly rate on my “people I need to meet” list. Whatever this is, wherever it will lead me, you can be damn sure that I’m going to follow it for now.

It’s this little bug that has led me through 31 states and 10 countries in the span of 4 years that has outstripped most all of my family members roamings. It is this bug that has given me 2 surrogate families, the most intense highs (and lows) of my life and a photo album for the ages.

But, it is also this bug that has led me to sacrifice much of what I could have had in return as well. It is this bug that has given me my greatest struggles, and has taken away many of the things I miss about being in the same place day in and day out. Thao Nyugen wrote a song that has remained my rainy day anthem for some time with the refrain:

“Oh, geography… is gonna make a mess of me”

Geography, long-distance lines of communication have existed as so much of my weakness for so long now that it becomes frustrating and confounding. The downside to having a life flung across the globe is, well, you can only be in one place at one time, and so you have to eventually sort out your priorities, and without fail, I have always managed to lose at least one thing in the tussle. Nothing in this life is truly free, and sometimes it’s a much easier a concept to think about than one to accept.

Whether you feel inspired right now, or depressed, it’s of no consequence, because now is the time to blend this all back in on itself.

In doing so, I’m going to borrow from one more musician, and this time I’m going with Jack White.

“Jack White performs his music unlike most other artists. He will purposely place things out of reach, for no other reason than to make things harder for himself.”

Huh?

“He believes that it makes him sound better. He believes that the struggle, the effort, the force, is what makes his work what it is.”

I happen to love the White Stripes, so this is a poignant message. If you don’t well, go find your insight elsewhere for this one.

All of these quotes, ideas, and concepts had been floating in my head prior to today. And, as I was walking back getting down to Jay-Z/Pharrell’s “So Ambitious,” someone loaded this mishmash of inspiration, melancholy and prior philosophical vomit, mixed it up nice, and fired it through the haze that had been surrounding my mind.

It was then that I was able to once again accept the good the bad, and come to the same conclusion I have drawn so many times before. Nothing worth having is ever easy. Comfort and convenience don’t build character.

Alright, I give up, the bug bit me, and I am going to continue to roam this earth to the best of my abilities and search out a few more of those less traveled roads in the process. How and in what capacity? Well, let’s throw a TBD on that for now. And yes, the sacrifices and shit that have come my way for the decisions I have made will continue to sting from time to time, but once again I have realized that it is worth it. What I have sacrificed is minimal compared to what I’ve gained. These stories, these experiences, the people I have made connections with and this life I have built of my own drive and ambition, is something that no one and nothing can ever strip me of.

It is this life I have chosen to live, it is these decisions I have chosen to make, and it is this life right here that is a product of all of that.

I have a few more seas to cross, a few more mountains to climb, and a few more sacrifices to make before I reevaluate my path.

Until then,

I’ll be quite comfortable being a “Wonderlust King.”

As for my word:

Espoir (hope)

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Experiences Can No Longer Be Contained In Words…

22 Apr
As I write my second to last entry in my Moroccan epic, that bittersweet feeling that has permeated so many moments in this experience has begun to seep back into my mind. This will, effectively, be the last post I author while sitting in Morocco. (The last post of the experience will be written in NY, before I alter this blog to accommodate my escapades in France as well). I’ve found myself worried about the withdrawal of excitement that may strike me when I return to the States, and have already started to concoct ways in which to avoid it (Mt. Washington ski/hike, a few weekends in Boston, plus what will inevitably grow into yet another summer of too much traveling, yet again fighting to contain copious amounts of wanderlust).

The last few weeks, between Gnawa music, the eventual successful trip to Kenitra (thank god), hiking the second highest mountain in Africa, Jebel Toubkal, (prompting the desire to find my way to Kilimanjaro… someday), I have to say that I tried. Regardless of my continued travels, and attempts to see all of Morocco, I still can’t shake the feeling that someway, somehow, I fell short. I don’t see this as any deep failure on my part, the human mind has a funny way of either thinking it has too much time, or not enough. We all fall into the same pitfalls, wasting time on facebook, email, or even just sleeping, and before we know it the time is up.

I definitely squeezed as much as I could out of the weeks following spring break.

Weekend 1,

Physical and economic recovery from spring break, some work and a few low key evenings relaxing and planning the biggest weekend of the semester.

Weekend 2,

Al-hayt Al-usbooah Kabeeeeeer (the biiiiiiig weekend)

Ready?

Go.

Train leaves at 3am Saturday morning.

Arrive in Marrakesh at roughly 8am. After some confusion and a complete inability to procure a decent breakfast, we settle on some coffee and hit the grand taxi lot. After meeting a crazy San Fransisco native who lives as an ex-pat in Paris, six of people cram into a beat up Mercedes to make the 2 hour ride to Imlil, changing drivers randomly and without warning 20 minutes outside Marrakesh proper (This is Morocco, This is Morocco…).

Make it to Imlil alive and well, grab a quick omelet, haggle over a guide only to realize we can’t, and decide to take the budget tour. Get our crampons (a bed of large metal spikes you attach to a shoe to walk through snow and ice) and start the 5 hour hike to base camp. Our oxygen is slowly disappearing (Base camp is at 10,000 feet. Rabat? Sea Level.), we are getting more and more tired as the day wears on, and the exertion is not ending. But,

Oh. My. God. was it gorgeous. This place was true back country, the wilderness in all its rugged glory and an environment that takes your breath away (in more ways than one).

4 hours in and I’ve given up trying to talk to anyone. Pushing, thinking only about my surroundings and the bed waiting for me not far away. As we approach base camp, snow begins to dominate the landscape and we are engulfed by a a slowly darkening sky (sunset was 2 hours ago due to the sheer rock face rising up on either side of us).

5 hours after our departure, we arrived. Exhaustion now means something wholly different from what it used to. I was on the verge of nausea/body shutdown.

After 30 minutes of slow recuperation and replenishment, I was alive, but exhausted.

8pm bedtime,

Wake up at 4:30am. Let this go on the record as the ONLY time I will ever wake up at that and and feel well rested.

5:30am and we are suited up and ready to go. The sun had yet to make its way above the solid rock that rose on all sides of us, so we started the exhausting hike pre-dawn. After some struggles, we make our way up to the summit (in the process getting lapped by some crazy Spainards…).

Summit at 10:30am. Gorgeous. This is one of those things you have to do yourself, because no amount of pictures will ever allow you to bask in this the way you need to.

“Time to head back down…..wait, crampon is coming undone. Really, again? Whyyyyyyy won’t this thing stay on, and more importantly why is our guide 500 feet ahead of me helping the female of our group who clearly no longer needs help? Does he even know where we are in relation to him? Ahh screw it, I don’t need his help anyway, plus she could use another Berber husband. Forget the crampon, I’ve got one foot that still works. Damn, snow is slippery, boot skiing time, and……go.”

I proceeded to make my way down the last quarter of the mountain on  some skiing skill, a whole lot of slipping, and a whole ton of luck. It was at this point that I determined that my Berber guide was no longer going to keep me any safer than I was going to be alone, so needless to say I stopped listening to him. (But, in retrospect, I would much rather have this story than have had his help…..foolish pride sort of a thing).

After a 4 hour hike back to Imlil, tea and a 2 hour taxi, we arrive in Marrakesh, with the Toubkal Gauntlet clock running at roughly 42 hours.

After a good warm meal, we hit the night train to Rabat.

Sleep?

Not if you don’t have a seat. What was to follow would rank among the most surreal 4 hours of my life. After 30 min stoop sit in the diner car, a booth in the car opens up.

Run.

Seat.

Safe.

I put my head down after shaking off some creepy army guy, wrap my personal belongings tight, and pass out.

1 hour passes.

Awake again.

Creepy army guy is trying to force some strange child’s head into his lap….no….the table? This is too much, back to sleep.

1 hour later… army guy gone, new guy next to me. Good, he speaks Fus’ha and French. We’re in Casa, and that seat bench is open? Great.

Restaurant bed, One more hour. Back in Rabat. Perfect. Sleeeeeeeeeep. (Followed by the most painfully sore 2 days of my life).

Weekend 3? Sick due most likely to the last weekend. Weekend 4? Work and relaxation in Rabat, and a good reminder of why I’m going to miss this place.

Now for a A Tribe Called Quest song, a deep breath, a pensive pose and… scene. Time to try and muse these last 3 and a half months into one thought flow… (and avoid the finals workload a little while longer).

PART II

I came here off of a sigh and a half-hearted acceptance. Oh… Morocco, yeah sure… *mumble* It’s not Niger…

I left behind my ease, my comfort, my stability. I gave up something I had spent the past year and a half building in Boston. I was really finally truly happy in that place, but, I also couldn’t help but shake the feeling that I had to shake so many times before. Comfort was never really the top priority. I left behind a place I was finally happy with when I left Saratoga. I did it again when I left Geneseo, and I did it a third time when I left Boston, and they still to this moment those decisions rank among the most intelligent things I’ve ever done. I now have 4 homes, so many friends, so many experiences and so many memories.

A couch is comfortable. You sink down into it, and never want to leave. You get your friends, your geographical comfort, and you don’t ever want to leave it. I don’t know, maybe something is wrong with me, but I cannot see the time in my future when I’m ever going to be able to fully accept that. I won’t lie, I’ve lost a lot from my wanderlust and movement: money, connections, security, and dare I say, even a tear or two along the way, but at no point in this entire experience have I ever felt that I made a mistake. I look at my future, and more of the same lies in my path. Fullbright? Peace Corps? Am I ever going to spend more than 28 months in any one place? Not likely. I’m not saying that what I set out for myself is something everybody should do, but I think that my underlying motivation runs through everyone:

Never, ever, for the love of god let your mind get the better of you.

Yeah, that was vague, but what I’m trying to say is, people, myself included, tend to get so set in our ways that we lose sight of the truly important things. We stay in the same place for nothing more than fear of moving. We date the same person for a year for shear fear of change. We spend our lives eating the same thing for fear of tasting something bad, and we trod in the same footsteps as everyone else for fear that walking off that path may lead to an injury.


I have, without posting my entire life story on the Internet, been victim to all of the above at some point before, and let me say this : New places are exciting, change is inevitable (and is often a good thing), new things taste damn good, and in my opinion, that less beaten path is 10x times more beautiful.

I write all this to preface my thoughts on Morocco for two reasons. One, I want to explain why I feel the way I do about Morocco in more abstract terms to outline the concrete, and two, maybe, just maybe someone will stumble across this and be inspired to do something daring, something new, and understand the point I’m trying to ramble to death.

A few discussions with old friends, family, weathered colleagues, and new friends have got me to thinking a lot about this experience, and I hope that the cathartic release of these thoughts will give these 4 months a little justice:

I left everything to come to a place that I knew nothing about to learn a language I was half-heartedly interested in and do things that I thought could easily be a boring waste of 4 months. But, on the other hand, somewhere deep down I knew that this was my only shot at study abroad, and I had to either take a leap of faith, or forever spend my life just guessing at what could have been. I held tight, bit my tongue, and sat down to truly prayed for the first time in a long time, hoping that I wasn’t making a mistake.

I got here and my honeymoon period lasted about two weeks. Everything was new and cool, but that ended, and the culture shock set in. I can’t speak these languages, I don’t know whats going on, I wasn’t ready for this, what am I doing here? I just want to go home……give me my old life back. I knew this was bound to happen, but I questioned everything, trying to cling to everything I left behind, praying, hoping, that I was still right.

I was.

I adapted, I began to get comfortable, bond with new people, and I began to really, truly fall in love with this place. The daily battles, the constant frustration was accompanied with the most acute feelings of accomplishment I have had in my entire life. My life was constantly changing, and constantly throwing me for a loop, but I was hitting back, and loving every minute of it. Every day a new challenge, and every day a new reason to shake my head,  look into the clouds/ceiling and think “yeah, this definitely isn’t the US.”

Other people I know here have complained, spent many a weekend bound to the house, wondering why they didn’t feel the same way the students in past semesters had felt. I knew why. For many of us, our heart had never been in this trip, in this place, and we spent more energy thinking about home than we did about trying to enjoy this for what it was and stop thinking about what it wasn’t.

I have a confession. I’m going to have to fight back the emotion when I leave this place like those before me. I put myself into this experience. I spent my time in the Sahara Desert, on the tops of the Rif and Atlas mountains, in the obnoxious city centers of Casablanca and Marrakesh, on the beach, in the medinas, in the souks. I spent my time navigating Rabat at two am, getting yelled at for violating house rules, having dumbed down discussions in Arabic and French. I ate unsanitary street food, stopped using utensils. I spent a week in Spain and Portugal by myself just because. I did what I could, I did what I wanted, and I dealt with the consequences of those actions as they came to me. I regret not a single decision. In fact, I would go so far as to say that every decision has lead me to where I sit right now, and dare I say am very happy with that place.

In my opinion, there are less bad experiences than there are bad mindsets. If my battles here have taught me anything, it’s that people will construct whatever they need to in their minds to keep things out, or let things in. Morocco was not what I wanted in my study abroad……but I made it what I wanted. In the end, it was the experience I wanted, and it was the experience I got. I will never forget, for the rest of my days, the places, the people, and the experiences that stole my heart, that made me think, and that made this semester the best of my entire college career. I give up Morocco, you win…….Ahebuka (I love you), happy?

Morocco may not speak the language you want to learn, may not be your top choice of location, but its environments, its people, its cities and its atmosphere will make you love the place, all you have to do is make sure you are ready for it.

Anyway, that’s my verdict on Morocco. You can agree or disagree with me, but I will forever be sticking with my verdict. Come into this country with an open mind, and I promise you won’t be disappointed.

I will leave you with this advice: If you ever get the chance to experience something like this… do it. I could just be the best decision you ever make.


“Bi-saha” (this one gets lost in translation)

3 Countries, 9 Days, 1 Amazing Journey

26 Mar

I wanted to do this entry differently. I was going to write a journal article every day in Europe. I did well, until day… 3. Needless to say, the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry. Since I managed to get in two days, I will transcribe them here, and then fill in the very large blanks.

3/13/10

Insane is the only way to describe this day.

After witnessing an arrest before getting on the train to Casablanca, a man jumped in front of the train, making us almost miss our flight. My first experience at Mohammed V airport went at double speed in order to catch my fight to Madrid. As our group slowly peeled off, I found myself alone, map and badly translated English directions in hand. After a slight turn around, I found “Hostel Yolanda.” After meeting an old woman who I assumed lived/ran the hostel, I met her son, who showed me everything and gave me my room. He was a dirty 35 year-old man, you know, the Spanish version of your typical stay at home fat hairy “dungeon master,” but he was nice enough, so who I am to judge. After collecting my running thoughts (the accordion player who followed me onto the metro, 3 other street performers and the “parkour” I was witness to upon emerging from the metro stop, I was ready to see the city.

I walked around, breaking my porkless few months at the “Museo del Jamon,” and being propositioned by prostitutes who sell sex like Moroccans sell drugs (loudly, and with a dogged persistence). I watched some Sub-Saharan Africans selling goods on the street, and the police chase that then ensued. This, in addition to hearing some Moroccan Arabic later on in the night made me question if I had actually left Morocco. Maybe I have just found pork-eating Muslims. After reveling in this feast for the eyes, I made my way back to the hostel, witnessing kissing…not only kissing, but more same sex kissing than anything else. This is going to be an interesting week…

3/14/10

Another day, another feeling of exhaustion as I opened my eyes. Just a few more minutes. I utilized my hostel checkout time of noon as best I could, knowing how valuable this sleep is going to be later in the week. A night in a single room was a good way to ease into Madrid, as I am now sharing a room with 12 others. After trying to decipher the time from my camera, the only functional clock I have, as my phone is now 100% worthless, I decided to head out and check out the flea market. A street lined with makeshift booths is nothing new to me. In fact, it was almost like a home comfort, if it wasn’t for the Spanish and copious Euro signs. I learned I can get socks here cheaper than I can in Morocco. If that isn’t a load of crap, then I don’t know what is. After the market I maneuvered my way down to the Achote Train Station and bought a Pepsi for 1.40€ (Keep this price in mind. Moroccan Price for this good: 5 Dirham -.75€). I then walked around an ogled at the Prado and the Rena Sophia, and then made my way on the metro out to the Bullring. After a bunch more sightseeing, I decided to find a cheap meal. Having almost no money, and wanting to save what little I had for tonight, I found a supermarket and bought a bag of packaged pastries and a bottle of lemonade for 2€, gorging myself on the chocolaty and cheap goodness. In the same super market I found a 1L bottle of San Miguel, a Spanish Beer for 1.15€ …I only take note of this because of the complete flip of soda and beer in this country. 40 Dirham at a restaurant in Morocco (roughly 4€) will get you a bottle of the same beer, but only roughly 200ml of it.  This may be the most shocking thing yet this trip, finally coming to terms with how cheap everything in Morocco is, except for nightlife and alcohol. The “re”culture shock of Spain is interesting, since things that have never really bothered me before (homosexuality and public promiscuity) have now become a big deal… I’m not quite sure what to make of it. I’ve met a fair number of Americans here, so tonight should prove interesting. As I sit here thinking about sleep, every muscle straining with the smallest movement, I find it hard to believe that another plane, city and country await me in less than 24 hours… This may just be one of the best weeks ever… but only time will tell.

PS- Loving this daily hot shower thing.

End Transmission.


This is all I wrote about while I was on my trip, and looking back in retrospect, it was one of the greatest weeks I’ve ever had. Travelling alone can be a frightening and sometimes lonely experience, but it forces you to meet new people every day, people you may never have talked to otherwise, and makes for an experience that is frustrating, tiresome, lonely, but quite possibly more rewarding than anything else you could possibly experience. It is based on this emotion that I will continue the story of this journey through Iberia.

The night in question ended with the quintessential Madrid nightlife experience, and conversations that carried over into an early lunch at Burger King. After that I made tracks to the airport. Lisbon awaited me.

Lisbon was gorgeous, and I do believe that I fell in love with the city while I was there. The atmosphere everywhere oozed relaxation, and everything I did just seemed as though it was imbibed with good luck. I visited the Parce de Nacoes (Multiple Times), Sinitra (an outlying city that was beautiful), and Belem. These three areas made my week, mixed in with the city itself and a hostel that was more accommodating that most hotels I have stayed in. I spent my days sightseeing, and my evenings around, meeting a score of interesting people, ranging from Sao Paulo, Brazil expats to Munich Med Students. Lisbon was a hard place to leave, but it’s not a big deal, seeing as I have decided that I am going to move to Lisbon and live out the rest of my days there.

After Lisbon, it was back to Madrid for a few more interesting days, throwing Toledo into the mix as well. After a tiresome run in Europe, it was back to Casablanca. I then received a text message, and made a detour to a music festival in Casablanca to see people throwing fire (and losing control of said fire), before retiring to Rabat, and struggling through a week of class, slowly readjusting to the daily drawl.

By the end of this week abroad, there was a 5 second delay on everything that came out of my mouth, as I now had to not only think of what I wanted to say, but decide which language to put it into. Yo quiero deux min fadlik, obrigado. Yep, that’s 4 languages right there, and yes my head hurts.  I no longer knew what to do, as I was using a new language every 3 days, by the time I got use to using one it was not longer relevant. I said gracias to the Portuguese, obrigado to the Moroccans and shukraan to the Spanish. It’s hard enough to struggle along in Morocco with the 3, but adding two more to the mix just made it painful. Thankfully the aftershocks of this headache didn’t last long, as I am now back to thinking and speaking in broken Arabic/French/English. The week, despite its headaches, was a long and informative one, as I can now gladly add Portuguese to the list of languages that I know more than 3 words in. Such connections between languages, and the giant mass of language I have encountered has made me start to look at things I never looked at before, like cognates, the relationships between romantic languages, and the ability to extrapolate existing knowledge of these languages to figure out words in languages I don’t speak (la cuenta and a conta, “the bill” in Spanish and Portuguese, was a important one). It is an interesting phenomenon, but unfortunately one that I don’t think I will ever have the time or patience to study in depth. I have a feeling that this is the beginning of a lot of similar experiences, experiences of language, and the frustrating and rewarding experiences that are always going to accompany my studies and my work. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t excited at the prospect.

Ta’aben (Tired)