“I am not the same having seen the moon shine on the other side of the earth.”

April 6, 2015

I wrote this blog right after we returned from our trip…4 MONTHS AGO.  Whoops.  It’s amazing that I love to write but hate to post.  😛  So, please accept this belated blog along with my profound apologies (regarding its tardiness) to my 4 readers.  🙂

To Morocco we go (or, errrrr…went)!  We hopped a plane to Marrakech (after a horrific experienceMblog with RyanAir…avoid this airline!  Trust me.).  I have wanted to go to Morocco since I was about 16 years old.  I was giddy as can be on the plane.  A friend of mine here in Hawai’i put me in touch with her friend in Morocco.  He is from Casablanca and organizes and guides mountain treks with tourists.  She promised we would be in good hands.  Rechad kindly picked us up from the airport, saving us from the blast of taxi drivers that encircled us as soon as we stepped foot onto Moroccan soil.  He quickly negotiated a price in Arabic and then showed us to an apartment he had rented for the night.  It was quite difficult at first, as Rechad’s English is mblog2limited and my French is even more limited.  I have been in these situations several times before, and it never fails to amuse.  You get very creative when you cannot communicate in the same language.  Hand gestures, charades, and limiting your speech to the most basic of words.  It’s a fun and funny challenge and reminds you that we’re all just human.  We love to think we’re special in various ways but when you’re miming the word “toilet paper” to an older woman in a foreign country, it’s simultaneously humbling and mortifying. 😛

Joe had been sneezing and snotting on the plane and I was very concerned he was getting sick.  We had arranged to have Rechad take us on a mountain trek to the summit of Toupkal, the highest mountain in North Africa.  I. Was. Pumped. I love this shit.  But Joe was getting progressively worse as the day went along.  I warned Rechad that we might have to push the trek back a day or so.  I feared taking Joe up a mountain with a small cold because I was concerned it would manifest itself into something far worse…on top of an ice-covered mountain.  We mblog3decided to wait an extra day.  Our first night, Rechad took us out exploring the great market of Marrakech: Jemaa Al Fna.  WHOA. What a scene!  Snake charmers, monkeys, belly dancers, music, beggars…it was almost too much to absorb.  We walked all around the markets just taking in the scenery.  Foreigners (most specifically Americans) like in many other parts of the world, are perceived to be extraordinarily rich, so you get hassled incessantly.  It can be quite overwhelming and intense.  There is a famous quite by feminist novelist Elizabeth Eaves: “Academics have spent tmblog5oo much time trying to explain objectification, considering that there’s an easy way to make white, Western men understand: You just have to go out in public somewhere poor. You become a thing. Your conscious and unique self becomes irrelevant, as a thousand eyes try to figure out how to best tap your wealth. The harassers become an undifferentiated mass themselves, made up of identical things that torment.”  I kept thinking of this statement over and over again as Joe mblog4marveled at being treated, in his words, “Like a walking dollar sign.”  We’ve definitely traveled in developing countries before, but this was by far the most intense version of this.  And I have to admit, it was interesting to witness his reaction to it. If only men could ever REALLY understand that women deal with this objectification their entire lives.  But again…I’m getting off point.

mblog6Marrakech was especially different for us.  I have never before traveled in a Muslim country.  I wasn’t quite sure what to expect.  As a die-hard feminist, I wondered how I would feel.  As a foreigner, I wasn’t expected to cover most of the time.  I asked Rechad to please inform me when it was necessary, as I wanted to be respectful of the culture.  Plus, I have the brightest hair in the world, so I’m already prone to drawing attention.    Many women in Morocco do not wear a full burqa or niqab, but many wear a hijab, chador, or khimar (mostly just covering the head and/or hair).  However, enough women were fully covered in burqa or niqab to get my attention.  I do not want to attempt to explain to you my thoughts on the subject of veiling.  It is too intricate and I am too uneducated to even begin to give an analysis.  I can only explain how it makes me feel.  I had a professor that always said, “Feelings are never right or wrong, they are just true.”  (Shout-out Joe Bloom!  I use that piece of advice a lot!) It’s a strange experience for a loud-mouthed, liberal woman to see other women wholly cloaked, moving soundlessly along the streets with not so much as their eyes to be seen (many that were fully covered wore the eye netting over the tiny holes cut into themblog7 cloth for their vision…this is the difference between a burqa and a niqab).  The men would walk beside them, free to laugh, talk, chat, and wear whatever they wanted.  Many were in shorts and a long sleeve tee.  They often made strange pairs, standing next to each other dressed so vastly different.  At one point in the market, I was attempting to speak (butchered) Arabic to a female merchant in a full burqa.  I had learned a few words in Arabic (yes, no, thank you, how much, etc.) and was putting them to use.  I greeted her by saying the common “As-salaam alaikum” (arabic for “peace be unto you”) and inquired about the price of her beautifully knit hats.  Of course my Arabic was sloppy and terrible, but I thought I caught a glimpse of her smiling behind the netting of her burqa.  I saw a slight movement in her face (because the fabric moved) and a slight crinkling of the eyes, maybe indicating that she was smiling.  I caught myself staring at her, trying to decipher her reactions and emotions through the black cloth.  I smiledmblog9 largely, and ended up buying two hats.  I walked away thinking how strange the exchange was.  I couldn’t really tell if she was smiling…even facial expressions, one of the most basic forms of communication (most especially if you do not speak the same language) are not seen behind the burqa.  I found myself thinking about this interaction for days, wondering if she really WAS smiling, like I had hoped.  Or was I just projecting an emotion onto the emotionless figure in an effort to humanize her?  I don’t understand veiling, and I very much struggle with it; but hey, I don’t understand 3 inch heels either.  And so I read things like this, and things like this, and then still remain confused and under-educated.  But, as my professor would say, my feelings are true, right?

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The next day, Joe was too ill to attempt our trek.  I found myself feeling frustrated.  Not because of poor Joe, who I felt HUGELY sorry for, but because we were in Morocco, a place I longed to be for so long, and I was sitting in an apartment reading a book.  I was DYING to get out, but I had read many times over that a woman should not go walking alone in Marrakech.  I finally, frustratedly, asked Rechad to take me back to the markets (we were within walking distance).  The markets are just so mblog10INCREDIBLE.  Filled with beautiful fabrics, jewelry, spices, food, ornate metal lanterns and mosaic plates.  Dis’ girl was ready to SHOP.  I always feel awkward shopping with men, and I tried to explain (in Franglish) this to Rechad.  He told me he had a woman friend nearby that would probably love to meet me, and she spoke excellent English.  On the long walk to the market, Rechad and I bonded.  For some reason, that man completely mblog11grew on me during our walk.  It was hard to know what to make of him at first.  He was of course a complete stranger and with the communication barrier, it was difficult to assess his character.  But on this walk, we chatted more in Franglish, laughed a lot, played with the birds, and stopped for freshly squeezed orange juice.  I found him soothing.  I was comfortable, despite not being able to tell him so.  Every child that held out a hand for money, every beggar or old woman that hobbled up received a dirham from Rechad.  We may be different genders, different races, raised in completely different ways and in totally different circumstances…but it was then that I learned that he and I were cut from the same cloth.  🙂  I told him later that night that I thought we “are the same” and he beamed and said, “Yes.” And I knew he understood what I meant.

mblog12At the market we met up with Mouna.  I liked her instantly.  Gorgeous, friendly, and with flawless English, she led me around the markets.  We bought “magic” cookies (because of their decadent deliciousness) and she took me to her favorite dress shop.  I bought two local kaftans, after she assured me that I was not indulging in cultural appropriation.  😛  “Oh you must!  You must buy them…you are in Morocco!”  After I bought two, the shop owner was pleased and offered to serve the American girl their famous Moroccan mint tea.  So we all (6 of us) huddle in a teeny Moroccan shop (about 3 ft. by 3 ft.) and had tea.  They taught me a few more Moroccan phrases and gmblog13iggled at my terrible pronunciation.  It was amazing.  Afterward, Mouna took us to her favorite tea house where we had more tea (Moroccans drink tea like nobody’s BUSINESS) and I watched the market activity while Rechad and Mouna chatted in French.  I was warm and fuzzy and content.  This is the kind of travel I live for.

Mblog14 The next morning, Joe woke up feeling rested and ready to head into the mountains.  We decided to take it easy that first day, and only hike up to the first little village of Imlil, where we would stay the night.  This way, Joe would have another full day of rest before tackling the serious part of Toupkal.  We arranged to take a group taxi into the mountains.  This is mblog99basically a compact car, which in America would normally fit 4 comfortably, maybe 5 (with someone in the middle back seat).  But in Morocco, it will fit 8 or 9 people.  5-6 in the back, 2 sharing the passenger seat, and the driver, with everyone’s luggage and our backpacks.  This reminded me so much of the Philippines…sitting in a van or jeepney that looks to fit about 6, but somehow managed to accompany 14.  As the saying goes in the Philippines, “There is always room for one more Filipino.”  😛  We crossedmblog16 gorgeous scenery and terrain while in the car.  I was tired and found myself nodding off, feeling nostalgic for the Philippines and totally comfy and cozy with all of that body heat.  As we got closer to the first mountain village we saw fewer and fewer people, while buildings and houses began to look more ruggemblog15d.  About 3 hours later, we arrived in a small village, unloaded our belongings and began the short 1.5 hour hike up into Imlil.  You cannot take a car to Imlil, you must go by foot or by mule.  We were staying at a tiny inn run by a friend of Rechad’s.  When we arrived and walked up the stairs, we could NOT believe the view.  STUNNING.  Night was beginning to fall and it was getting quite cold.mblog17  Our room was lovely and clean but shockingly cold.  We all huddled in the main room where Rechad’s friend served us mint tea and mountain apples while his wife cooked couscous for our dinner.  We took turns holding our feet and hands up to the one tiny heater provided, as our appendages were turning to ice in the mountain room with no heat or fire.  mblog18These people from Hawai’i were C-O-L-D, lemme tell ya!  😛  We had a DELICIOUS dinner (the food in Morocco is amazingly tasty and wonderful) and had long talks with Rechad about his life, his family, and his trmblog19ansition from struggling salesman to mountain trekker.  He speaks about the mountains like an old Hemmingway character would speak about the sea.  He loves his country and loves to show foreigners his Morocco.

We eventually decided to head to bed, as we needed to get an early start the next morning.  We would be hiking all day in snow and ice.  Joe and I went to our room where 6 wool blankets were waiting on our bed.  We crawled under the covers with all of our clothes on and all 6 blankets, still FREEZING.  It was the coldest night I have ever spent in my life.  We slept with our noses tucked under the wool. 

mblog20We woke up early the next morning to tea brewing and Msemen (amazing Moroccan flatbread served with cheese and honey or jam).  We sat on themblog21 terrace with the sun warming our faces, overlooking the incredible scenery.  I had awoken that morning with a scratchy throat and a headache.  I feared I was getting Joe’s cold, but I wasn’t about to flake on that mountain.  I decided to keep this information to myself.  After we gobbled down a hearty meal, we threw on our packs, said goodbye to our wonderful host, and were off!  The goal was to hike to the mountain refuge about ¾ of the way up Toupkal and stay the night, then continue to the summit the following morning (weather permitting).   And just like that, we were off!

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We walked through the village and began our trek.  We walked through amblog23 vast field of broken rock and rubble. Occasionally we would see someone digging in the mess.  Rechad explained that because of the floods that had happened recently in Morocco, many mblog45homes were destroyed and some even crashed down the mountain because of mudslides.  The people digging were looking for belongings.  Heartbreaking.  That kind of devastation set against the backdrop of such snow-capped beauty made for a strange juxtaposition. 

mblog24We began our ascent.  Even with my scratchy throat, I was peppy and excited.  We stopped here and there to take pictures and drink water, but for the most part we were fast and steady. We saw what seemed mblog25like hundreds of mountain goats and many mules.  The mules knew the trail so well that they didn’t even need a human to guide them.  They could be sent down for supplies amblog27nd relied on to eventually make it back up, full of food or medicine or clothing attached to their bodies.  It was wild.  At first the terrain was rocky and muddy, but after 3-4 hours it turned to ice and light snow. 

We came to a teeny little village nestled into the side of the mountainmblog28 and decided to rest there for a bit.  We walked to a restaurant, which was basically one table and a few chairs on the rooftop of a building.  A man came out and served us mint tea and sandwiches.  We sat on a rooftop munching on our food and overlooking the snow-covered valley, watching mblog29village life.  I peeked into a little shop and found a stone-chiseled mule (or “Moo-lay” as they pronounced it in English) and vowed to purchase it on the way back down.  Rechad told us that the kids in the village have to walk down the mountain several hours just to get to school every day.mblog90  We saw several people running up and down the mountain on our way to this village.  And I do mean running…they were crazy fast!  Again, Rechad informed us that people run up and down from village to village to get supplies such as food and medicine to bring to their home village.  Imaginemblog30 running an hour down a mountain and 2 hours back up to be able to bring medicine to a family member.  Our privilege was palpable.  As we chatted with a villager that helped serve us tea, however, before we left he said, “Uhhh you are…on the Facebook?” in French. Worlds apart in every way, but still…the Facebook.  😛  They of course do not have internet in the mountains, but when they travel down to the main village, some can access it there.  In those instances technology mblog31seems like a wonderful thing, showing them a world outside of their own and connecting them to family and strangers (like us!) alike.  How strange it must be to live on a mountaintop and then access something like Facebook. 

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mblog33We finished our meal and then started what would undoubtedly be the most difficult part of our day.  As we went up, the ice and snow began to increase.  Coming from a tropical island, we really don’t own serious winter clothing.  Rechad had gotten second-hand warm clothing for us,mblog34 which of course helped, but still we were ill-prepared.  As long as we were moving though, we were warm.  The ice really began to increase, and we started moving more slowly and carefully.  Occasionally a hiker would pass us coming down the icy mountain, and we began to get nervous, because they were all wearing crampons (which we did not have).  Rechad assured us that they were not needed for this part of the trek.  Still, as we mblog35nervously slipped and slid precariously on ledges, Joe and I exchanged worried looks that our guide might be mistaken.  We should have never doubted good ‘ole Rechad, however.  He knew what he was doing and made sure we were safe every step of the way. 

mblog37A few hours after our break, we were getting tired, cold, and the wind was picking up.  If we slipped off the trail (which happened about every 2.8 seconds), we landed in over 2 feet of snow.  My leg would disappear up to my thigh and the boys would have to pull me out.  It was strange for this Hawai’i girl!  😛  As the day and the trail wore on, I started feeling progressively worse.  My tiny little scratchy throat wasmblog79 becoming a throat on fire, and my niggling little headache had become really intense.  Annnnnd when you’re teetering on a snow-covered mountain, that can get to be a problem.  I did my best to remain perky and I decided mblog39not to tell Rechad and Joe I was feeling so bad.  I didn’t want to freak them out or worry them on the trail.   Even as terrible as I felt, I couldn’t help but stop to notice how beautiful it all was.mblog40   The sun was setting amonst the mountains, turning the snow multi-colored and sparkly.  It was breath-taking.  Night was quickly falling however and it was getting progressively colder and windier.  As we rounded the last bend, the wind gusts were crazy intense.  I could see the mountain shelter smoke stack far in the distance, but we were still over an hour away.  We put our heads down and trudged along, with me falling every few minutes from dizziness.  I kept trying to quieten the voices inside my head telling me that I was going to be painfully ill, stuck on top of an icy mountain.  I had visions of helicopters choppering me out deliriously.  (Shut up, I had a fever ok?)

mblog38The last hour was by far the worst of the trek.  It felt like it would never end.  I kept telling myself that I had made it through multiple marathons in the thick Hawaiian heat…I could easily do this.  We finally hobbled up to the shelter with frozen toes and fingers, too tired to even take a celebratory picture.  There was one room (the dining room) in the shelter with a small fire for heat, the rest was unheated.  I was shivering like crazy but tried to plaster a smile on my face so I didn’t alarm Joe or Rechad.  When I sat down to take off my shoes and sock and gloves, I simply could not stop shaking.  Joe started to get a little concerned and I finally confessed that I felt A-W-F-U-L.  Head-pounding, full-body-shivering, achy-all-over AWFUL, and had for several hours.  He immediately got concerned about Hypothermia, but I was convinced I was just sick and the mountain and cold had taken it to another level.  I was trying to be quiet because everyone was staring at the new (poorly-dressed-for-these-conditions) Americans and I was embarrassed and didn’t want to make a scene.  Anyone that knows me knows that I LOATHEmblog41 looking weak.  Joe plopped me in front of the fire to dry me out, but even after an hour, I couldn’t stop shivering.  I just wanted to go to bed.  They took me up to a huge room filled with dirty steel bunk beds.  The bedding was scratchy, dirty, and gross but I could not have cared less.  I crawled in fully clothed and they piled blankets on top of me.  I thought to myself that I might have to live there and become a mountain person.  😛  They managed to get me downstairs later that night to eat some soup, and I wearily tried to act normal and make small talk with the new hikers that had just come in.  I spent a horrible night with a terrible fever.  The next morning, we were supposed to trek the rest of the way to the summit, but I knew that was out of the question.  I was very disappointed. I slept as long as possible, then had breakfast with some of the new friends we’d made at dinner the night before.  Ninamblog91 and Diki were from Geneva and had decided to trek Toupkal as well.  We all hit it off immediately (even in my fevered state), as they were so friendly and funny.  I made the decision to go down the mountain, fever be damned.  I was NOT going to spend another freezing cold night shivering in a bunk.  We decided we would meet at the village at the bottom of the mountain and share a taxi back to Marrakech.  If we were going to be squeezed like sardines in a taxi, we might as well be squeezed in with people we know and like!  🙂

mblog47After breakfast, we bundled up and took off.  I was much slower than the day before, but I tried to keep a steady pace and not slow the boys down too much.  I did pretty well and was pretty proud of myself, despite how I was feeling.  It was a hard thing for me to swallow.  I am hugely active and competitive and fancy myself a hard-core athlete.  I hated being the snail of the group.  A funny thing began to happen, however…the farther we descended, the better I felt.  I began to think that all of my issues were altitude sickness.  I have been in higher altitudes before, and have even hiked in higher altitudes before, but for some reason, this hit me HARD.  I have nomblog48 idea if this was actually the case or not, but it’s the only logical conclusion I’ve come to, because after we descended and I got a full night’s sleep, I was a new woman. 

We trekked, trekked, trekked in the snow and ice, which was even trickier going downhill.  But the snow and mountains were just as breathtaking as the day before, and I stopped many times to marvel at how mblog49lucky I was to experience this, ill or not.  It was a once-in-a-lifetime kind of thing. As we slowly inched back toward Imlil, we could hear the call to prayer echoing through the mountains.  It was surreal and beautiful.  Joe’s knee started giving him trouble about halfway down.  He often has knee issues on long hikes, but this was the worst he’s ever experienced.  Could we have BEEN more of a MESS on this hike!?!?  Poor Rechad was so patient and sweet, but he HAD to be annoyed at how much trouble we were!  Between sickness and injuries the entire trip, he probably couldn’t WAIT to get rid of these Caldwells!  We were (accidentally) the epitome of high-maintenance Westerners.  ‘Murrricans.  Whoops.

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We made it back to town, dirty as can be and weary as ever.  We all decided to stay at themblog52 same hotel so we could eat, shop, and play together.  It took some major work to find a cheap hotel with hot water and wi-fi (our only real requirements), but we did.  And that shower was FABULOUS.  It reminded me of my first hot shower in a hotel in the Philippines after months of freezing showers.  It was like a 4-star spa experience.  I drifted into a deep, dreamless sleep.

The next day was our last in Morocco.  mblog51What a crazy ride.  We had lunch with the girls and Rechad, our last experience of Msmen deliciousness.  Then Joe and I were taken by Rechad to fulfill a life-long dream of mine: riding a camel.  From the MOMENT we considered North Africa, my ONE request was to ride a damn camel.  I had initially tried to talk Joe into a 3-day desert trek by camel, but he, ahem, didn’t go for it (hence the mountain mblog54compromise).  But I was NOT going to miss my camel experience.  Rechad, knowing everyone and everything, took us out of the city to a little palm tree oasis, where we could ride camels that were treated humanely.  Nomblog56mblog57 one wants to ride a camel on a busy city sidewalk anyway, right?  They dressed us in traditional Moroccan attire and we hopped aboard our camel friends.  I was so happy I was downright GIDDY.   Rechad kept laughing at how excited I was, as camels are a dime a dozen on the streets of Morocco.  Bucket list? CHECK. The noises those animals make are priceless and hilarious.  I took about 4 billion pictures and become good friends with Joe’s camel, who was almost laying his head on my leg as we walked.  It was only a little mblog55over an hour, but I was in camel heaven.  We really need camels in America, folks.  Just trust me on this.  They are way fun.

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After our camel ride, we hit the markets for one last nighttime market experience.  I wandered and took pictures and was inmblog64 market heaven.  I could have spent a year’s salary in those markets.  Afterward, Rechad took us to one of his favorite restaurants for dinner.  We met up with Nina and Diki and had a truly impressive traditional meal.  Then, Rechad had a surprise for us.  He wanted to take us to a traditional Hamam.  A hamam is a communal Turkish bath, and they are very popular.  I was THRILLED.  It was one of those experiences I really wanted to have, but I felt sheepish seeking one out as an American.  It seemed to me like something that one needed to be invited to.  We all walked down a dark, narrow ally to a giant steel door with a tiny sign reading “Hamam.”  There were separate baths for men and women, of course.  A large, gruff woman flung open the door and mblog61barked at us to come in (at least we thought…she was speaking Arabic).  We 3 girls exchanged glances and stifled our giggles.  She was something out of a sitcom.  We walked into a damp stone room and were directed to a bench to remove our clothing (I don’t have pics of the hamam for obvious reasons). There are several GORGEOUS hamams throughout Morocco, with beautiful tiling and a more  spa-like feel.  This…was not.  But I loved it.  It felt more real and authentic to me, like it wasn’t just there to cater to rich tourists.  This is where a normal Moroccan woman would go.  It was late and we were the last to enter for the night.  Other women were leaving.  We girls (not knowing what to do) had brought our bathing suits, but every woman walking out was stark naked.  It occurred to me how funny that was, since their culture is in general so covered up and so afraid of showing skin.  Conversely, America is all ABOUT showing skin; yet nudity, even in an all-female locker room, is strange or frowned upon. The other girls put on their bikinis and the same woman who opened the door pointed at them and said loudly and fiercely in Arabic, “YOU!  NO!!!” as to indicate that we were doing it wrong.  I looked at the girls, and I looked at her stern face and said, “Sorry girls, get ready for some nudity…’cause I’m going for it.”  I mean, when in Morocco, right?

I stripped right down to what God gave me and walked off to the back chambers, which were filled with hot steam from the hot water.  I suppose this gave the others girls courage, because they followed me, sans bikinis.  We were kind of giggly and nervous, not really knowing what to do.  We plopped down in the middle of what was essentially a giant shower, and one by one the woman and her little helper, came over to us.  She had in her hand a loofah-type device and the traditional Moroccan black soap…black as the night, which is famously known to give Moroccan women their beautiful, blemish-free, wrinkle-free skin.  She came to me first, and began to bathe me.  Maybe “bathe” is not the right word…more like, “attack.” She scrubbed me furiously, like I was a dirty wet dog.  It was totally comical, and I saw the girls’ eyes widen in hilarity.  We tried to stifle ourselves but every time she jerked me around to violently scrub me, someone let out a “whoop” of laughter, which got us all going.  At one point she spun me around gruffly, threw me over her leg, and began attacking my back with her loofah, my face sort of half pressed into the floor like a criminal, half in her crotch. The girls lost it at this display.  I eventually just embraced the hilarity and started calling her “Jdda” (Grandmother in Arabic) which made her rather stern face break into a big, grinning, toothless smile. 

She took turns cleaning the other girls, and then washing our hair.  It was getting late, so we began helping one another…taking turns filling the bucket and rinsing one another’s hair.  I laughed to think of what we looked like.  There was something beautiful and simple about it…washing one another’s hair gently in a tile-filled, steamy room.  But as innocent as it was for us, had a (Western) onlooker peered in, it probably looked like a very elaborate soft-core porn moment; 3 naked women softly washing each other’s’ hair…I laughed to myself as I thought that this was probably every man’s fantasy.  I then wondered if Joe was being harshly scrubbed by a large hairy Moroccan man, and how he was handling that…

mblog62We left the Hamam pink-skinned, fresh and clean, and relaxed.  We met up with the men outside and walked back to our hotel, sad to see the day go.  We were parting ways, as we all had different destinations the following day.

We met up with Rechad in the morning for a quick breakfast, then hopped in a cab.  As we parted at the airport, I wanted to cry.  It was hard to say goodbye to my new friend.  As I hugged him, he put a toilet-paper wrapped gift inmblog63 my hand.  It was the “moo-lay” from the mountain village!  I was wildly touched.  It is definitely my most prized keepsake from our entire trip.  We bid Rechad farewell, and hopped back on a cramped plane to jolly old England, an impromptu decision made late one night while in Morocco, after stumbling upon a cheap fare.

mblog65After a short flight, we landed in the United Kingdom.  How different it was to hop between these two worlds, only hours apart by plane!  We took a bus to Stratford, where my friend Renata lives.  She was out-of-town, but generously offered us her place while we were gone.  We have the most AMAZING friends while traveling, I tell ya!  We did not arrive atP1020259 her place until rather late (around 5pm) but could not resist getting bundled up and going out to explore.  In Morocco (except for the mountains, of course) the weather had been very mild…55-60 degrees most days.  But in London it was a painful 25 degrees.  We bought hot chocolates and shivered and walked the streets of Piccadilly Circus, stopping at the big tree to hear some carolers crooning Christmas tunes. It was all very…London.  (imagine that?)


We had a great, hearty dinner of cheeseburgers (we really needed some good pub food after a week of couscous, delicious as it was!) and caught the last tube back to Stratford, where we fell into bed.  The next day I woke up mblog66early to run around Olympic Park in the brisk, cloudy morning!  I had not run at all in Morocco (because of not feeling safe enough), so it felt good to get in a few chilly miles.  We booked our tickets on the chunnel back to Paris, tmblog67hen set out to absorb as much of London as possible!  London is VERY Christmblog69mas-y, which made it really fun for us!  We had a big lunch complete with dark beers, walked across London Bridge, saw Big Ben, Westminster Abby, and Buckingham Palace.  We had booked tickets to see Wicked! which was the perfect cap to our London experience!  We both really enjoy musicals and had not yet seen this one.  In another life, I was a Broadway star.  I am certain of it. 🙂

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We ended our London excursion by meeting up with Kelly Marie, our friendmblog71 from Hawai’i who now resides in London, over cocktails at a beautiful hotel bar.  The bar was ornate and full of rich mahogany and splendid fancy drinks.  We took the last tube back to Stratford (literally RUNNING to make it) and felt very happy with our short London stay.

mblog72The next day, we took the chunnel back to Paris, a whip of a ride that took no time at all, and settled in at a new, ultra-modern hotel near the airport, as we had early (separate) flights back to Hawai’i the next morning.  However, one cannot be in Paris one last night and spend it in a hotel.  We jumped on the metro back to our beloved Montmarte, in search of a fondue restaurant that was recommended to us for its charm and for its certainty in creating quick and easy new friendships.  It did NOT disappoint!  We walked into a tiny room with money-covered walls from every country/stamblog73te/city in the world.  Our waiter boisterously greeted us in French and asked if we wanted white or red wine with our meal (they serve nothing else to drink – our kinda place!).  We were then served said wine in…are you ready for it? Baby bottles.  Yup, picture about 30 adults sucking wine out of baby bottles.  BRImblog74LLIANT. 

The proprietor was smart enough to sit liked-minded people near like-minded people.  I was really impressed with this.  The place is so packed that you literally have to take his hand and step OVER the table to get into your seat.  He knew we spoke English, so he sat us next to a young couple from Scotland.  We LOVED them and immediately hit it off.  We ate cheesy, gooey fondue, suckedmblog75 on our baby bottles, then headed down the street to a bar for some bourbon.  We drank late into the night with our newfound friends.  It was the perfect ending to a perfect trip. 


I know how fortunate we are to be able to take trips like these.  Sacrifices of course are made on our end…saving money, living in a cheap (but adorable!) apartment, driving older cars, packing lunches instead of eating out, but we are mostly lucky because of our immense privilege.  Privilege like being born in an affluent country, born to parents that worked hard and encouraged and loved us, being able to freely attend college and choose career paths that make us happy and pay us well, and many more privileges that are always there (hellooooo white privilege!) but not as blatant.  We are not “blessed” or “lucky” – we are privileged.  Nothing will remind you more of that than traveling.  Traveling is something huge and important that we share…the love of wandering.  Nothing connects us more, nothing solidifies us more as a unit or as a couple.  Even though I was happy to be back at home, snuggled in our bed in Hawai’i, I immediately wanted to start planning our next big adventure.  I’m so glad and happy that I have a huckleberry friend in Joe, to adventure with me.  🙂

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