Extracts from time spent in Essaouira, Morocco…

Extracts from time spent in Essaouira; bursts of colour; the moments that added up to falling in love, falling out of it and finally, finding a middle ground.


She is spinning, spinning and with every twirl, as she comes to face me, I hear an explosion of laughter. The stars are high above, reflecting in her eyes- or is that just the joy shining out?

We are dancing before street performers. The reggae beat flows in and out like the waves grazing the shore just a few meters away.

She takes my hands now, this tiny Moroccan girl. Her hair is covered but her face is bright, she indicates it is my turn to twirl into the twilight. The beat quickens, we pick up the pace- clapping and skipping in time. A crowd gathers around the music now but they’re just vibrations to us, no physical limitations, their energy swells well beyond their flesh.

I am here. I am now. There is no past or future in this moment…

 


A tiny ball of ginger fur peaks out from a giant turquoise door. A kitten no bigger than my hand.

 


“Thalia!” A male voice floats behind me.

I’ve become so used to calls of ‘beautiful,’ ‘gazelle’ and ‘nice eyes’ that hearing my actual name called out surprises me, so I turn to face the voice.

He is amongst the wagons and bicycles and pedestrians all weaving their way through the chaos of blue shutters and cobble streets: my fruit man, and in his hand a bag of grapes.

He presents me the grapes, ‘For you. Want to try a fig?’ He asks in French. So I say I’ll buy some and he asks how many. I test out the dareeja (the language here) he tries to teach me every day, failing I resort back to French, but the smile on his face tells me he approves of my efforts none the less.

A few days later I buy a peach and he presents me with a book on learning Arabic. Thanks Omar.

 


“Good morning Miss! For you!” A long haired boy I pass everyday holds out a huge, ornate shell- A gift I don’t allow myself to accept, I don’t want to get into anything here.

The next morning the same.

Four mornings in a row before he accepts a simple “hello.”

 


Our bags are heavy, full of Moroccan crepes, jam, wine, fruit, water and candles. The walk down the beach feels long but none of us complain once our sights are set on our destination: Ruins in the sand dunes, back away from the shore, at the edge of the forest. Crumbling stone rising up out of the sand which has long covered its base.

“Let me just check if there are people living here and… You know, make sure it’s not a crack den.” my friend tells me as he pokes his head in holes and around corners. “All clear.”

It was a spontaneous plan: “It would be cool to sleep in those ruins.” “Let’s do it tonight.” And that was all that had to be said for us to find ourselves, two Aussie girls and a Peruvian guy, two sleeping bags between us, setting up camp in what felt like the absolute middle of nowhere.

Candles are lit and the sky promptly turns black, the stars are shy tonight, hiding behind clouds like coy eyes behind thick lashes. Laughter reaches up into the infinity beyond us as we eat and tell stories. The air is thick, drenching our clothes despite the lack of rain. Wind sets in, sweeping over the dunes: long, cold tentacles, caressing my neck. Mosquitoes swarm in abundance, leaving love bites over every inch of our exposed skin- hungry lovers. Wine flows, jam is spread. Soon, eye lids are weighted and we look to set up our sleeping bags.

Setting up we are first startled by an inconveniently placed ant nest, and second by a man sleeping soundly right behind us. We exchange glances without a word and climb out of that section of the ruins.

Taking a right we find a part of exposed ruin, covered in sand but raised off the ground: it will do. None of us slept, the cold and the itchiness and the sand everywhere made sure of that. In the morning, though, we woke to camels roaming and ate juicy peaches and knew it was worth the fatigue.

The worth of that gritty feeling of getting sand blasted all night however, was questionable.

 


I open my eyes wearily- late nights not mixing well with my early morning shift- and breathe in a new smell. This smell is not the usual fish from the port or of freshly baked bread… It’s smokey, wafts of charcoal dance their way through my window, I can feel the ash laying down to rest on my skin.

Stepping out side I realise what it is: sheep heads.

They are burning till they’re black as night in fires dotted throughout the medina (old city in Arabic). Freshly cut heads lay nearby, waiting in line. Blood trickles down alleys.

It’s a Muslim celebration, Eid al-Adha, the ‘sacrifice feast.’ My understanding after talking to locals is that sheep are sacrificed commemorating Abrahams’ (ibrahims’) devotion to Allah through his willingness to sacrifice his own son (which he didn’t end up doing, an angel gave him a sheep and told him to sacrifice it instead, he had already shown his faith in Allah.)

Every single bit of flesh is consumed and everyone is well aware, and respectful, of its origins. The sheep must be healthy- no bruises, no dirt. I personally choose not to eat meat, but I can at least respect this way of eating it, much more than, say, purchasing a patty at the supermarket that looks so far from the original animal you don’t have to think about where it comes from. The meat of the sheep hangs in the family home for days after the celebration until finished. The meat is shared amongst the community, the rich and the poor both enjoy a feast.

The shops are closed today, the bakery is shut. So arriving to work the cleaning lady, Naima (who has the day off) has brought over her home made bread and prepared tea… Sharing is important- my experience in Morocco has shown me that.

 


The sun is streaming into the Main Street of Essaouira, the wind blocked off by buildings, beads of sweat start forming on my forehead. I am in jeans and a long sleeved top. My hair is uncovered, but I feel comfortable like this amongst the mass of tourists in mini shorts and the few (but apparently increasing amount of) Moroccan women with their hair showing.

And then I am spat on.

A huge wad of spit lands on the side of my stomach, launched by an old man I didn’t react in time to see the face of. My face turns hot, I turn as soon as I can into a back alley. I remember reading about Morocco, ‘the men own the streets, the women own the homes…

 


“You’re Muslim?”

“Yep.”

She’s older than me, brunette, Italian.

“It’s good for the women. The men have to do so much more than the women. They respect the women can’t always go to the mosque. It’s okay for the women, but the men- much more is expected of them. The men are seen as higher as they have higher responsibilities than women, it’s not out of disrespect to women.”

She moved to Morocco and became Muslim three years ago.

I, looking at things with very little knowledge or understanding, found this strange. I wasn’t sure of the treatment of women in Islam and so I did some reading.

Without the time (okay, being honest, without the patience) to read the whole Qur’an, I filtered through to what I was looking for: Women. Women’s status, rights, dress.

I originally wanted to write my own thoughts about it all but decided I’m still too uneducated on the topic. These two articles though, gave me some really interesting information and clarified a lot.

Top 10 Anti-Women Qur’an Quotes, Explained

http://www.islamswomen.com/articles/do_muslim_women_have_rights.php

 


“Shark!”

This shark is disguised with curly brown locks dangling into melty eyes, dark skin fitted in a wetsuit and a smile that’s releasing a laugh out across the water. He splashes me.

The water is ruffled like an unmade bed, the horizon is unclear as haze glides across it.

“Paddle!” He calls and so I put all the energy within me into catching this wave with him. We ride side by side, he a bit (a lot) further than I.

“Next one! Come on!” He’s laughing at me, towing me out the back by pulling on my leg rope. I dangle behind, my arms wobbly and my mind free. Wind gushes uncontrollable amounts of salt water in my mouth as I refuse to close it, my smile is too awake.

My nose ring (which I got pierced the day before) falls out in the wash of a wave. “Don’t worry you look beautiful with and without it” he reassures me.

And by the end of the day my official title (according to him) is  his girlfriend.

 


I am so close to falling asleep on the beach and this man crouches next to me…

“Hello.”
“Hi.”
“You look like a mermaid.”

 


A kitten curls up in a big Moroccan bowl, white with grey splotches, his right eye a bit mangled.

 


Another cup of coffee is poured. It’s nearing 1am, aromas and spices are building and mingling and finding their way up my nostrils, my hunger levels soaring.

Patience, Tagine takes time. So we chat, listen to music, the night passes quickly once the salsa dancing begins.

“It’s ready!”

And there’s about ten of us, all clambering up the stairs onto the roof terrace, a polyphony of voices; Spanish, German, English, Italian and Dareeja. We light candles, reveal the tagine from under its lid, steam drifts well above our heads into the open sky.

Bread is torn up and passed around before we, finally, dig in. Literally digging in. Bread is ripped and used to scoop up vegetables and the juices they created in lying so close to all those spices. All hands are flying to the centre of the table.

No one moves very far after we finish. One hand reaches to grab a guitar, another a drum, a tambourine. A concert of our very own tonight.

 


We had talked and played music while night passed, morphing into morning. It was time to go home, I lived a few blocks away.

One alley after another, winding into walls of blue and white. Two blocks away now.

“Gazelle.”
“Bonsoir, beautiful.”
“Hey can I ask you a question?”
“Can I have a kiss miss?”

The alley is already narrow and their calls are making it feel smaller still. The walls push in on me as I walk between the men lining the path.

I don’t meet their eyes. I don’t change my pace. Nearly home now.

“F*ck you, b*tch!”

It begins. The hurling of insults thrown to the back of my head… Block it out.

“Turn around b*tch!”

Keep walking. Get inside.

 


On a search for soup I was walking the streets with a few friends. It was nearing 10pm, Essaouira always picked up the pace at this time. It was a night city.

We were walking through crowds and from somewhere within the stream of people a hand grabbed on to my ass. I whipped my head around all to late to recognise who it was.

“Say something to him! You need to stand up for yourself and for women!” My friend told me.

And it’s true, yet I laughed it off.

“I don’t know who it was, come on don’t worry about it.”

So many times here men have hurled disrespectful slurs my way, asked for kisses and for sex as though I’m already their property. Made me feel uncomfortable as I walk around, covered from neck to feet.

And yet my defence is to ignore them. To keep my eyes confidently ahead, head tall and strides fast…

How is that helping anyone?

An Italian girl I know told me a story of when someone grabbed her like that, she ran after him and told him off. Everyone watching thought he must have stolen something the way she went after him.

I don’t like scenes or conflict. But do I dislike scenes so much that I’m willing to allow for this type of disrespect to women. It’s not just me this is affecting. Think about it Thalz.

 


I am talking to ibrahim, a surf instructor with long hair, a big smile and an Australian girlfriend. He is wild but kind and she is funny and sweet. We exchange a few words before I am picked up, turned upside down- hanging from his arms by my knees. He tickles me and I’m squirming trying to get free. Upright he puts me in a headlock, I try to bite his arm, he messes with my hair.

“Ibrahim!” His girlfriend reprimands,

“She needed to wake up.” He explains.

 


After a long surf we sit, drying off in the carpark. Eating olives, sipping tea as the sun sets. Two people playing one drum, their legs straddling it’s it rests on their feet. They are in sync but have unique rhythms, working off each other. I’m yet to meet a Moroccan without an incredible talent for tapping on things to create a perfect beat.

 


Just as I was beginning to fall into routine, as I was working, doing yoga, surfing, meeting with friends, watching the buskers… I ran into an old friend (isn’t it wonderful how travel turns a girl you met three times, two weeks ago into an ‘old friend.’) who gave me a very new experience.

“Claudia!” My voice rose into the dark alley. I was on my way to my bed, it was past midnight. Never mind, quick change of plans as her friend makes jewellery id probably like, he’s nice, do I want to meet him?

Yes, I’d love to.

An hour of rummaging through a whole group of artisans creations, I have met all new, beautiful people. Artists, drifters. One guy is from Mexico. He is skinny, his hair up in a bun and he’s covered in stunning tattoos- on his foot is the most incredible tattoo I’ve ever seen, all flowing curves and perfect shading and I find out later that it’s a cactus. He turns to me holding out a singing bowl, the first words we exchange:

“want to try?”

“Of course.”

I find myself lying on the floor in the middle of the common room, I have a singing bowl on my chest, one on my stomach and one being moved about my head. My eyes are closed, ‘relax’ he tells me. As the singing starts I am taken out of that room. Self consciousness floats out of me, stresses long gone. He shows me later what water does in a singing bowl: it dances.

Laying down to sleep I know that experience was exactly what I needed. I’d been in a ditch all week, who knew it would only take a few singing bowls and a kind Mexican to pull me out of it.

 


I’m on my way to work. The streets are calm at 9am, just a few shops open, very few people meandering about.

‘Morning miss.’ It’s the boy who offered me the shell three weeks ago.
“Morning.” I chirp back. It’s a glorious morning.

Minutes later I turn to find he is riding his bike next to me. “Miss! It’s for you.” And he thrusts the shell into my hands. Okay, I’ll give in. The shell is so beautiful, shaped nearly like a rose.
“What is you name?”
“Thalia, and you?”
“Minet. My name is Minet.” And you wouldn’t believe the smile on his face as he stopped riding, watching me as I walked on by myself.

 


The sky is a mess of orange, pinks on an ever darkening backdrop of blue. People are milling, children running about

We are at the port, one of the towns main attractions.

“Let’s sit.”

“Can we sit there?”

“yea, these are everyone’s boats. Come on.”

So we sit in a tiny boat with only the stars above us, I continue to practice my dareeja. We walk amongst the mess of fish guts and in between the stalls selling all types of seafood. It smells.

“The seagulls clean this up every day.”

And it’s genuinely relaxing, time spent together where I’m not constantly questioni what he wants from me. He leaves only asking if we can meet tomorrow, to which I reply “insha’allah”

 


A mumma kitten lays down, four minature kittens curl up by her stomach, plonking down on top of one another.

 


The drive from sidi kawki to Essaouira as the sun sets is magical. The goats are climbing Argan trees as the sun sets over the ocean, well beyond the fields between the road and the beach. The shore line is visible, lit up by the low hanging sun. It’s the silver lining, peace is found within that ocean amongst the chaos that sometimes weaves itself into the narrative of a life made in Essaouira.

 


I have a weird feeling. Sometimes I walk down these alleys with absolute adoration. I am completely at the hands of this town, it could swallow me up and I couldn’t be happier to live in its very core. Other times, I am uneasy or frustrated beyond belief. Many of my Moroccan friends here ask my why I’m always walking around with a  scowl on my face. The city walls seem to push in on me, there is no chance of anonymity in this town.

The times I’m able to over look the towns flaws are glorious. Good things happen and I can’t stop a smile spreading.

To which men call “nice smile beautiful!” And I immediately find the will to suppress it.

A middle space; A space of indifference. Where I can walk around, say hello to new friends and keep walking. Where I can dance to buskers without a care. Where I can accept gifts of language books and shells without guilt. Where I can do yoga alone and eat breakfast in a group. Where I can let relationships form and watch them crumble so dramatically, and not be scathed.

That is the space to reside in,  to keep from falling out of love with Essaouira. “Just friends.”

 

 

Full moon antics

The moon was full, the stars very much awake.

The night was alive.

And so was she, she felt this surge of passion from all of her senses as the soles of her feet plunged into the sand. The grains encased her feet, the air was still warmed from the summer day, which had by only a few hours given way to night. Each step was a dance, the spot light was on her here, the moon following so intimately.

Her dress on the beach, nothing stood between her and the moon, it’s light lit up every inch of her flesh. It held in its beauty her every curve, every concave, embracing every part of her. Silver steps paved a way into the ocean, fit for a queens feet.

First her toes, ankles, thighs and waist, breasts, then ears, nose, eyes. Under the water the sand rustles, all is calm- the sound a lullaby. Sight is shut off, her eyes closed shut, and smell ceases too, but touch… She fears surfacing for she wishes not to lose its touch. The water welcomes her form, creates a home for her without hesitation. As soon as she dives it opens its arms.

She must of course surface and she dose so regretfully, wishing to remain in the peace of underwater. But what is lost in the calm of being underwater is not lost at all, tonight the world above, too, invites her. It’s singing a lullaby of a different tune- waves breaking, distant chatter- but a lullaby none the less. Under she dives and up, she breaks the surface. The divide between these two worlds is blurred in this light. She is the communicator between them. She is the only one of them which can experience both and so she shares with them stories of one another. They’re wonderful stories, fairytales full of magic.

But not the sort of magic that is make believe, this is the sort of magic that occurs in the silver water of a full moon: Real life… As it could be.

Stay awake, the present is now

Now, just as you start thinking the sky is about to fall into a lapse of grey, as its changing costumes from day to night, it proves you wrong. The curtain need not be closed, the sky knows how to do this magical quick changes. It’s been doing them for years and does so before your eyes.

This costume should be ridiculous with its sudden change from blues to zany orange and pinks, but it’s not. The sky is like one of those cool girls in high school, the type that wear stupid clothes and not only do they look good, they’re now the new trend- that’s the sky.

Butter spread thick on hot toast. The butter stands out then melts and soon stars jump out of the glistening, fatty gloss. Don’t take your eyes off it. It’s happening now, this morphing from one to another is here and now and it’s happening to you. So stay awake, eyes wide.

Trekking to Poonhill, Nepal

My backpack is on. It’s already uncomfortable. The air is warmed by the sun by now (we missed the morning cool) and the 3 of us, Jo, Sarah and myself, head towards Poonhill.

The word ‘trek’ lingers, somewhat heavily in my mind. Just a few days prior I learnt that it is derived from the Boer language and means a ‘long, hard journey.’ It’s making our adventure sound daunting and as I’m looking up at the hills rising around me I’m almost convinced that it’s all too much. But at the same time it’s enticing. I give in.  The notion of days filled with walks through the beauty of Nepal is too romantic to refuse. This was my first – albeit too brief – experience of trekking, and with its completion neither ‘long’ nor ‘hard’ are the words I’d choose to describe it…

One of my most intense and beautiful experiences this year (and in my life…) you can finish reading why it was so magical on new travel list!

Marrakech: Magic and madness

I was on my way to a far and exotic land…

“Be wary of men, don’t drink the water, don’t touch the monkeys.”

Morocco held many qualities that drew me to it. All I had been told of the colours, the food, the architecture and design. I wanted to soak it all up, and in Marrakech I certainly did.


As I flew in to Marrakech and made my way through the medina to my hostel my thoughts sounded a little like this:

“Wow, it’s like, actually in the middle of the desert
It totally blends into the desert with those orange buildings
I am so smart for getting the airport pick up, this is great
So I just follow this kind man, no worries
Is this the way to my hostel?
This cannot be the way to my hostel
This man is leading me, surely, to my death
Ooh pretty carpets
Should I cry for help?
Why do they have to put roofs on the alleys making them look so dark and scary?
Maybe he’s taking me to his cousins house so I’ll stay there instead, one of those scams
No, he’s definitely planning my murder…”

And finally, relief: the sign for my hostel finally appears amidst the weaving alleys and never ending crumbly, orange walls.

I really can be a bit of a drama queen.

image

I tried to wash away the staleness 30 hours in transit had set upon me (Crete to Athens to Madrid to Marrakech). I felt gritty, over tired and sweaty from the 40 degree heat so, setting up pool side, I didn’t have any ambitions for the day other than rest.

Two girls I met managed to quickly pass on to me their negative feelings towards the city. They said it felt dangerous and was horrible and they hated it. ‘Hate, hate, hate’ was basically all I absorbed. With this I kind of shrunk into the hostel. Built a home for myself their, as if preparing for the winter.

I didn’t take into account that at some point eating would be necessary.

And then I met a third girl, and I cannot be more grateful for her presence. This bright, enthusiastic Aussie, and she was hungry too. Together we took the plunge into the jumble of the medina (‘old city’ in Arabic.)

And we had the best time.

When the waiter offers mint tea: big smiles
When the waiter offers mint tea: big smiles

We strolled through the the main square, taking it all in. Shop owners called out a lot of names, and though annoying, it didn’t really get to me. I had taken on this new, lighter energy. And they weren’t aggressive, they weren’t following us (mostly) or touching us (ever). Some were quite inventive, For example walking past one guy he said I dropped something when I looked he put his hand on his chest and said “you dropped my heart!” We got called “fish and chips” and “lovely jubely” often. We laughed sometimes just because they were so ridiculous, by the end of the night the humour wore off and I tuned them out. Only the occasional hissing in the ear really bothered me.

Further along we slowed by shops selling natural beauty products and spices and tea. We ‘honoured’ one shop keeper (his words) by stepping inside. He showed us to take a seat and poured delicious tea. Following this we got hand treatments, smelt perfumes and eucalyptus crystals (he shoved a bag to my nostril holding the other one closed: “inhale, don’t worry this isn’t Columbia!”) and then he put the crystals in our tea and we forced it down as our eyes filled with tears from its pungent aroma. We laughed and laughed, he seemed passionate about every thing he presented, it ended up not feeling like a sales pitch (though I suppose it was) but a fun exchange. We were shown all different oils with which he gave us face massages and then lead us through a variety of spices… By the end of the spice row we were really hungry.

Free tea and face massages gave us these smiles
Free tea and face massages gave us these smiles

We left, taking some tea and argan oil with us, and headed back towards the square. It had totally transformed as day gave way to night. All the stalls were open now, not just the juice and fruit ones which dominate during the lighter hours (cold orange juice for 40 cents does wonders after getting lost in the heat.) Smoke rose up from these new stalls presenting snail soup and sheep heads. Within the gaps were snake charmers, monkeys on leashes wearing nappies, women yelling out to tourists that they can do henna.

The square full of life (and food)
The square full of life (and food)

We took a seat. We didn’t even order, they just asked vegetables or meat and followed up with dishes: amazing Moroccan bread, dips, vegetable skewers, tajine, olives… It was madness! The whole place felt like a circus. And as we sat, taking it in, the more I fell for it. We began gushing to each other what it was we loved.

We loved the table cloths, we loved how the staff sung Shakira, we loved the food and the free mint tea. I loved being in the middle of it. That the only word I can really think of to describe it, however cliché, is exotic.

I loved that it was as crazy as id awaited but that I didn’t feel I needed to shy away from it. I felt as though I could walk right into the eye of the storm and enjoy it. (I was in a very positive headspace.)

This stuff was a weird texture

    This stuff was a weird texture

The next days were filled with morning swims, diy facials (clay followed by Argan oil- VERY messy!) we sought out trendy roof top Cafes with amazing smoothies (avo, dates and orange, I’m looking at you). It was relaxing and then hectic. So many sights filled every inch of this place. We did Pilates on the roof of our hostel early- while the air was still cool. We bought dates, cactus fruit and figs from the souks. Breathed in the sweet scent offered from the huge stalls full of mint and sipped away at mint tea of an evening.

Carpet obsessed
Carpet obsessed

We wandered into various shops and chatted to local artisans, gushing over the huge and plentiful lanterns and carpets. We walked down narrow alleys full of spices towering at staggering heights and in your face colours. We learnt our way around- That felt worth celebrating.

Green smoothies, escaping the heat at cafe des epices
Green smoothies, escaping the heat at cafe des epices
Calm evenings at nomad cafe
Calm evenings at nomad cafe
Sipping away mint tea under pretty lights, high above the bustle
Sipping away mint tea under pretty lights, high above the bustle

‘I am in Morocco!’ I keep realising, to my surprise. This wasn’t part of the plan… Not that the plan was very detailed but it had boarders, and those boarders drew a clear outline around Africa.

I’ve heard so many terror stories about Marrakech and the way it overwhelms in all the wrong ways. And I can see why. It is a crazy place. I’m not saying it’s 100% safe (is anywhere?) or that I’d feel comfortable wandering around on my own at night (I don’t really do that anywhere if avoidable).

But I’m so glad I got out of my hostel and out of my comforting cocoon.

The experiences I’ve had here so far have been so much fun, so vibrant and memorable. I definitely got ripped off, I got called some gross things. But for now I don’t care.

So much colour around
So much colour around

My friend here and I laughed over how much we praised this place. We returned to our dorm daily to reveal our outings adventures and were met with grumbles of how the whole place was horrid. We met kind locals while hearing over and over how frustrating others found the shop keepers. Maybe it was luck, or a nice case of looking through rose coloured glasses. But we had both approached the streets with, once discarding initial hesitations, excitement. And how the streets greeted us in return…

Crete: all things relax

I am alone again and my first response is resistance… I felt incapable. So I set out asking for a lot of help from strangers, basically jumping from person to person, each of them more than willing to offer kindness.

My ferry was delayed and I arrived as the sun was nearly set, I quickly met a local girl who walked with me to the bus stop, telling me exactly what to do and taking interest in my travels.

Then I heard some Australian accents, “where are you guys from?” I asked and soon we’d all secured a table together where we laughed away the time spent waiting for our bus.

They left before me and the bus station was quickly becoming hectic and over crowded, I asked a couple if they were headed in the same direction and indeed they were. I would have missed my bus if not for them- getting on involved a lot of yelling and pushing… And getting off they asked if I knew where to go, it was now midnight and not an ideal hour to wander around lost. They drove me right to the hostel.

Before going inside I turned my face up to the sky and made a gesture of thanks for being so blessed as to witness such unwarranted kindness. I spoke about this with a guy at my hostel later, we agreed it’s only when we make ourselves vulnerable by accepting when we need help that we can truly understand the kindness of strangers… that we can peek into a connectedness in our society that so often eludes us.

I made some friends and together we went to Plakias the next day: to the ‘best hostel in Greece.’ And I’m going to make the call, it may be the best hostel ever (that I’ve been in.) never have I felt so immediately comfortable at a hostel. The opening is lined with mulberry trees and I swear each one held out a hand upon my entrance. The hostel is a little paradise situated between the beach and the mountains, all amidst an olive grove. The garden is lined with hammocks, and people that are completely welcoming. The hostel has guests of all ages, people staying for days, months and some who return every year.

One of the beautiful beaches we passed hiking to 'one rock.'
One of the beautiful beaches we passed hiking to ‘one rock.’

I took part in a meditation circle that day, focusing on emotional intelligence. I’d been brooding a little all afternoon. I loved this place but became soon swept up in fears, doubts and felt altogether uneasy within myself. In this mediation circle we discussed the pain we feel not to be the emotions themselves but our resistance to them. That be it joy or sadness or anything we should not suppress them, or acknowledge them any less. Mid meditation we were guided to focus on a prominent emotion and let it swell. Feel it. To imagine we were on a beach and a wave is that emotion, it sweeps us out to sea and surrounds us. I felt as though I drowned.
We each shared our experience, we could discuss it any way we felt best, it didn’t have to make sense. The rule was just that we had to embrace each other for what we shared. Not to fix their problems but to accept them.
It was overwhelming and draining but left a feeling of peace.

We realised the moon was full and a group of us went to the beach to swim in the silver water. Here was all that is to be desired through this type of travel… New friends, places, experiences, feelings… A new level of freedom.

The next day we hiked across dry, barren land to a tiny cove, ‘one rock beach.’ The walk was sweaty (35 degrees!) and my thong broke a quarter of the way through. The beach was very inhospitable due to the heat that it’s sand retained. Still we enjoyed it. The water was the prettiest I’ve seen so far, After three weeks in Greece! We laughed as we buried each other in sand. “I haven’t felt like this in years,” Isaac threw another pile of sand on me, “I didn’t realise burying people in sand was something I missed.”

Hiding from the heat under the beach umbrella we lugged the whole hike
Hiding from the heat under the beach umbrella we lugged the whole hike

That afternoon I lazed in a hammock reading before a girl in the hostel ran a yoga class. Two hours of intense relaxation, intense breathing exercises and intense practice (another sun salutation!?)

Upon darkness we all climbed up to the roof where sun beds awaited us, perfect for moon bathing. My limited knowledge in astronomy was the most we had between us so I pointed out very few (probably dodgy) constellations… We all found the bunny in the moon. Our conversation changed up there- I suppose recognition of the whole grandiosity of universe does that to people. I stared up to the heavens until I fell asleep, descending to my dorm hours later…

I woke regretfully as it was my last day in this idyllic little community. I feel as though, if it weren’t for visas and job arrangements I could easily have ended up one who stays forever. I went early to the beach for a stroll, swim and coffee. I stocked up my fruit supply and went back for breakfast with the others. The yoga teacher invited me on a hike up the river and I, along with four others, accompanied her.

This hike was magic. In the heat of Crete in summer runs a river of icy water. We scrambled over rocks and waterfalls, wading through the river. Along the way were water holes where we swam and jumped in, screaming at its freshness.

I went through a procession of hugs at my departure, and was walked to the bus stop by a new friend.

I wanted this trip to be the calm before the storm I’m anticipating from Morocco. It was that and more. It reminded me of all that is good about solo travel, what I’m capable of, what other humans are capable of.

It was an environment free of judgment. People could play guitar. Sleep all day, run all day. Meditate by themselves or with others. They could be nude if they wanted! Whatever was calling them, they were absolutely free to do it. It was liberating and gave everyone such independence that the community ran so smoothly when they came together, and conversation was inspiring, varied and inclusive.

I left happy.

(I also left my whole backpack under the bus… Luckily a guy asked what was wrong, someone threw him some keys, he jumped in a car without a word to me. I tried to ask people if they needed to know what it looked like (all locals) and they laughed and said stuff in Greek between themselves. Anyway, 20 minutes later I had my bag back. Ah dear Thalz. Learning a lot about myself… Including my imperfections.)

Santorini and friends

I’ve found myself often in hostels merging into a group of friends travelling together and, though I’ve never felt unwelcome, it’s crossed my mind… What’s it like to actually  be one of them? Would I prefer it to solo travel? I was about to find out.

I met up with a few friends from high school in Italy and together we ended up in Greece.

Yoghurt, honey and walnuts

After a few sweaty days in Athens (which consisted of the BEST Greek yogurt, a trip to the island of Aegina, shopping, a road trip and sleeping in) we were running through the airport to gate 30, our flight in its final call to Santorini.

We arrived on the tiny isle just past midnight, and looked for a place to lay our heads for the night, having realised just that day we’d not booked accommodation.

But with ease we chatted to the bar tender across the road, casually mentioning “yes we are staying in Parissa” but also “we’re not checking in till tomorrow.” And here I was reminded, once more, of the kindness of strangers as he said without hesitation, “sleep on my couches, wifi is on all night!”

Solo, I’m not sure how I would have felt about this… But as a group to question it never crossed my mind. This kind of foreshadowed the whole trip to Santorini, how it all felt ridiculously easy, so relaxing just flowing from one motion to the next.

Day 1: Parissa!

image

We stayed in the coastal town of Parissa, unlike the other main towns on Santorini it’s not up on a cliff. This suited us perfectly for what it lacked in aesthetically pleasing white houses stacked on top of one another, it made up for in its easy access to the beach! In the end we were so glad to have stayed here rather than the over crowded Thira and Oia, this place had charm of its own and a more relaxed feel.

It surprised me that the whole island was not like what they show in postcards (I arrived quite naive about the whole image of the greek islands.) It’s so dry, lots of fields and wide barren spaces, spread out houses… And very few blue domes!

We stayed at Tony’s art villas, a quirky, crumbly place that was just a few minutes from parissas black sands on which we spent the afternoon sleeping (as we didn’t really do much of it the night before) and swimming and repeating this cycle for hours.

We picnicked on the floor of our room for dinner, bread and dips and bulk bought cheese, and strolled by the water after dark. A simple affair, for we were here to enjoy simple pleasures.

Day 2: Repeat of day 1.
Except I watched the sunrise! A glorious wake up as, unlike during the day, the beach was nearly emptied and the sand was cooled by the night which lingered. The sun beds you have to pay for were at my disposal at this hour, and the lighting so meditative.

Sunrise at Parissa
Sunrise at Parissa

Today we read and laughed and generally put a good investment into the relaxation of our bodies and minds.

At night we stayed in, played cards with good music, passing around a fine bottle of 3€ rosé. After midnight us girls (sensibly) decided to sleep while the boys decided to go out, making sure to come back at 6am and yell for the next hour waking up us girls who were sleeping… Ugh, boys.

The boys and I on the volcano
The boys and I on the volcano

Day 3: volcano tour.
Onto the bus and onto a boat, the boys are hungover and by 11am we’re hiking up a volcano in the middle of water so vast, blue and clear. We’re offered views of thira and oia, from here just pastel blurs we know to be towns on the cliffs as we run around taking silly photos, embarrassing ourselves for fun. The boat pulls up at hot springs next, water warmed by the volcano which turns our skin orange with Sulfur but washes away the sweat (although it left us smelling a lot worse.)

Dancing on a volcano
Dancing on a volcano

We had a lunch pitstop on the island of Thirassia and continued on to Oia. We hiked up the stairs from the port to the town, shirts came off and we steered well clear of donkeys (unfortunately their droppings aren’t so easily avoidable as they cover the path.)

Here we found every stereotypical, postcard image of Santorini. We saw the blue domes (however there’s still no were near as many as I’d imagined) and white houses and pink flowers and a hazy horizon long in the distance so that, after land, all you can see is one huge screen of blue, two shades but each melding into the other. Ciders and m&ms were collected and we struck gold securing a roof top to ourselves to watch the sunset. The streets were teeming with people, legs dangled off every roof available, the golden light from the lowering sun clung to everyone’s skin, soaking them up in its glow. It is a warming event to see so many people gathered outdoors to witness such a natural and everyday occurrence. Then again, this sunset is so spectacular it seems strangely degrading to slot it in as an ‘everyday occurrence.’ A proposal takes place and from one end of the town the cheers begin, making their way around to us. Wonderful; Love and natural beauty and applause… Its nice to be a part of it all, and It’s nice to have company around me that’s so full of humour and kindness and ease.

Good company
Good company

That night we play cards until all 5 of us fall asleep in one double bed, a mess of arms and legs and snoring.

Day 4: cliff jumping!

Cliff jumping with the girls!
Cliff jumping with the girls!

After a bit of googling I was intrigued by a little island (more like a big rock) off the coast of Oia where people go cliff jumping. So down the many stairs we made the trek to amoudi bay, and walking left we came to the spot I was looking for. More donkey droppings were encountered. I walked down this path with another friend days later, he commented it was an apt metaphor for travel “a steep, long, slippery path covered in donkey crap… Leading to paradise.”

We jumped and swam and dove.

DCIM101GOPROGOPR1266.

It wasn’t as high as anticipated, but the rock island had a church in it and everyone around was looking relaxed, there was dogs swimming and boats milling and it these aspects it was better than imagined.

That night we got dressed up fancy, ready for a fancy night of wine tastings at Santos winery. We’d been told about this place, how it’s affordable and luxurious with is view of the sunset, and that its a place not to miss. So we stood at the bus stop, boys in button ups and girls made up, we even all showered! (We had salt water running in our taps so decided as a group showering wasn’t really necessary this week…) And we ended up missing the bus.

The sunset was over by the time the next bus came (and stopped) so we picked ourselves up went to a few clubs in thira. Not quite the luxury we anticipated that night but a night of sweaty table dancing and a couple rounds of vodka red bulls (thanks Sam) went down well.

Day 5: our last day…
Today we lazed. We soaked up the very atmosphere of Parissa, the calmness of it. We picnicked, swam, packed. A few hours of the afternoon we spent reading aloud a book, all of us curled up on the bed listening. It’s nice to feel so comfortable in doing so little, I’m normally eager to do something, anything! as guilt forces me up and out. I mentioned the girls sleep a lot and they said it’s because for them this is their holiday, unlike for me where it’s become a lifestyle… But maybe I needed a holiday too. (Because my life is so hard… Haha)

The girls left and the boys and I wandered down to the beach. The sun set, leaving the dark sky to reflect across the water and fold into the black of the sand. We played cards and sang along to sad songs (Jeff Buckley.)
They gathered their affairs and soon enough everyone was gone, I returned to the room.

An empty Parissa beach
An empty Parissa beach

I was pleased to turn the aircon off, it was a weird luxury to leave the bathroom door open as I peed, there were no annoying boys to wake me before first light.
Tomorrow I would take back all of my independence. I would be the only one to motivate myself, to bring myself joy. And there’s an overwhelming sense of accomplishment in that. And so I this way I felt group travel left something to be desired.

The whole gang
The whole gang

DCIM101GOPROGOPR1277.

But the pure fun of traveling with company, especially when it’s with people as easy going, generous and hilarious as the group I was with, was a seriously welcome change. It was just so easily enjoyable and manageable… It felt like a real European summer holiday: no worries in the world. And so with their departure I’m both eager and excited whilst apprehensive, I know they’ll be missed.

Vibing off European Summer

They were glowing gold.

The source of such was lapping at their feet, slithering up their legs, working to the tips of the now golden hair, the way a strangler vine encases it’s host.
The gold wanted them, desired them with such strength and ferocity it impregnated the very pores of their skin with its light.

Mid August she made her way across the grass for a night shared amongst strangers (or were they friends?). The air was thick: with humidity, with smoke from the fire, with revelations.

Conversation flew around the night until the dew settled on the fire and melted it down into ash.

She embraced its absence…

She lifted her eyelids, but it was too dark to see. There was nothing out there except for the specks of light poking holes in the sky… Her skin lightly grazed by sand carried in the wind, her thoughts drifted into the calm, the sound of waves pounding the shoreline was swallowed whole by her ears. She soaked in the nothingness and the possibility of everything before her.

No outlines.
No definitions.

The material of her dress was thin and the elements around her each made their way to wrap her up in a tornado of ability. Each a gift to present.

What was over there? What held that patch of space to her left?

She could stretch her arms above her head, were the stars only just out of reach? If she leapt, would she land?

The best relationships are said to offer infinite love and room to grow… This night on the beach presented her with an entire universe of room to stretch, to leap. She did so, all in a dance of contentment and validation as the night kissed her skin.

To do list

I need to read over this again…

I shall focus on producing new and inspiring thoughts, constantly clearing out those dusty ones that keep stubbornly moving their way to the front of the line
I will not allow my self to yearn for that which I cannot attain
I will tame my demon that is jealousy
The present is where I shall reside
I will seek beauty in all forms and find beauty in all forms (including my own)
I will bring out adventures, mindfulness and creativity in the mundane
I will impress myself at every opportunity
I shall try my hardest to uncover the best part of everyone I meet
I will remember that everyone i meet has a best part worth discovering
I will always try to show my best parts, and recognise my flaws as key elements of my best parts in their ability to transform a stranger into a friend
I will lean into growth as best I can, I will hold in my break downs unless they feel necessary for calm to arise
I will also treat my resistance to change with kindness and curiosity
I will read and learn
I will learn on my own and I will grasp at opportunities to learn through others- I will not turn to google for every answer
I will practise being patient- with travelling, with growth, self understanding, universal understandings
I will offer peace whenever possible

+ new to do’s

I will be vulnerable. I will recognise this moments of struggle as a demonstration of my humanity, and appreciate them for making me feel alive.

I will strive for pure happiness. Not from food or experience or even in others. I will work towards stripping this mess in my head which always calls me to be anxious or disappointed or discontent.

i will take every interaction as an opportunity to learn.

Roaming Rome

The sun rose as I stumbled off the overnight bus and out into the calm of early morning rome. A trip on the grimy subway, I dropped off my bags and wandered towards the city centre.

"I'll take your photo for you bella" - Italian guy
“I’ll take your photo for you bella” – Italian guy

Rome appeared so romantic with its streets emptied in the early hours, workers unloading trucks dispersed sporadically throughout the alleys that were otherwise only filled by morning light. Men are calling “bella” and met all of my cliché expectations with their Italian chocolate eyed gazes. Peace fell over me, a burst of excitement within me at the sight of the colosseum, it’s real! I’m in Rome!

image

Every corner held an icon, Trevi fountain, the pantheon, the colosseum, Spanish steps, or just another gloriously beautiful building. Tourists did eventually stream in, licking drippy gelato off cones, swirling spaghetti so sensuously.

I opted for a cappuccino from cafe tazza d’oro, feeling very in with the local crowd sipping away at the bar.

This was my favourite experience of Rome, wandering around. It lead to beautiful sights, to getting a beer with a flirtatious Italian man in the park, to soaking up the whole atmosphere, to eating good food (granita del caffé con panna is must try! It’s coffee slushy with cream… The Italians do have a way with food.)

image

image

 

I did the colosseum and Vatican too, and I was genuinely impressed. I had great company to see these sights with and so I had fun. Nevertheless the experience of Rome I’ll hold close to my heart is the hours spent roaming.