I’m going to change things up a bit, and instead of writing an “article” format piece, I’m going to write more of a “casual letter” style piece. It has been a busy and interesting couple of weeks, and I can’t pick a single story to share with you all, so you get the whole scoop! More details, of course, will emerge in The Book.
Finishing up Morocco
Last I wrote I was in Morocco, examining the concept of “real” experiences when traveling. After all that heavy thinking I felt the need for some light drinking, so my friend Chris and I visited “Rick’s Bar” in Casablanca (yes, like the one in the movie). Ends up they have a dress code fully outlined on their website. I was able to follow the letter of the law, if not the spirit—sneakers and t-shirts were forbidden, but they said nothing about Chacos and raincoats!
Honestly, I don’t think the doormen would have let me in if it weren’t for Chris standing next to me in clothes that were actually nice. Anyways, we walked in, and wow! Just like stepping back in time to the 1940’s. I expected Humphrey Bogart to make an appearance at any moment. We drank classy cocktails at the bar while the pianist (yeah, there was a pianist) played soft music, including, of course, “As Time Goes By”.
Casablanca is, in my opinion, a pretty darn cool town. Travelers always poo-poo it, claiming it’s boring and industrial. That’s not true at all—it’s just that’s it’s not a tourist town. But it’s very livable, with a nice pedestrian mall, a good lightrail system, and normal Moroccans going about their normal lives. I like that. Oh, and it also has the second-largest mosque in the world, and the largest that non-Muslims are allowed into. It’s beautiful and amazing, but (not to sound like a mosque-snob or anything), I prefer the smaller ones I explored in Turkey.
Anyways, the next day we caught a plane to the island of Djerba, two countries away in Tunisia.
Richard Halliburton visited the island on his Glorious Adventure trip when he was recreating The Odyssey. Odysseus and his men landed at Djerba after being blown off course and wandering around the sea for weeks. Upon landing at “the island of the lotus-eaters”, they became trapped by the perfectly heavenly island lifestyle, the peacefulness of which was fueled by the mythological “lotus fruit”. Then, in 1925, Richard came to check it out. He basked on the beach, went diving for sponges, and wandered the medina. Essentially, he lazed around for a week. Well, hey, I could do that! I took long walks on the beach (seriously, like 7-mile walks), read my book, overate at the breakfast buffet, explored the neighborhood, and played with dogs in the surf. It was paradise.
We also explored a weird little neighborhood art project called Djerbahood. Apparently several dozen artists from around the world came to Djerba and painted street art all over one little area. What they did not do, however, was clean up any of the trash. It was a weird experience, gazing at beautiful art on one hand while picking our way through piles of trash and burned camel bones.
Next stop was the capital city. Tunis wasn’t at all what I expected. My [admittedly naïve] expectation was that, because the country is close to Egypt, the capital would be similar to Cairo. I couldn’t be more wrong. If anything, it was similar to Europe. The streets were wide and filled with people socializing in cafes that spilled onto the sidewalks. Young men and women hung out together (!!) in pairs or in groups, and only about half of the women wore headscarves. I see now how the Arab Spring stuck in Tunisia—the people seem far more ready for it than in the other Arab countries I’ve visited.
We also explored the nearby city/ruins of Carthage for a day. We took a slow and jam-packed commuter train out there, emerging in a bright well-off neighborhood on the sea. The ruins were remarkable: walking through the towering foundations of the Roman baths, I couldn’t even begin to imagine the size and grandeur of the whole complex back when it was in use. After the Baths, we got a drink at a local café and were beset by cats, a common occurrence in Northern Africa.
The train back into town was hilarious. Far more people commute than the line can hold, so when the train pulled up there were people hanging out the doors, and even a couple hanging off of windows, pulling their legs up over obstacles as the train cruised down the tracks. We managed to squeeze into a car and spent the next hour cheek-to-cheek with laughing Tunisians.
The following day Chris and I parted ways after traveling together for nearly a month. It was so much fun having a friend along in Morocco and Tunisia! Thanks for keeping me company, Chris!
I was really excited for Israel. Ever since I met my first Israelis, back when I was 21 years old on a trip to New Zealand, I knew I wanted to check out the country responsible for producing these wonderful people. I was also excited to get back into Couchsurfing, something I hadn’t done since Germany back in July.
Getting into Israel was a funny, if somewhat off-putting procedure. I was interviewed by a brisk young woman before even being let on the plane, and was almost denied entry because I didn’t have proof of onward travel. She also asked if I was Jewish, an awfully personal question coming from someone I didn’t even know. My response, “No, are you?” seemed to both amuse and irritate her, but she let me on the plane. On arrival in Tel Aviv I was scanned for a fever since I’d been in Africa, a process that involved me asking the paramedic to please put down his online game long enough to take my temperature. At any rate, they eventually let me in—Ebola free, I might add—with a tourist card instead of a passport stamp so no other country would ever know I’d been to Israel.
I was in Tel Aviv for three nights, and it wasn’t enough. First I spent time exploring the beautiful and vibrant city with my Couchsurfing host, a wonderful older gentleman who treated me like a queen. Then I caught up with one of the guys I climbed Mount Olympus with back in August—so much fun, and the best Moscow Mule I’ve ever had.
On my last day in Tel Aviv I met up a friend I’d made back in Costa Rica on my motorcycle trip. He and his girlfriend and I rode bikes out into the desert north of Jerusalem. It was a great experience, well off the usual tourist path. In fact, we rode out to an overlook of a monastery that’s on the Palestinian side of the country, a view that’s accessible only by burly 4X4 or dirtbikes, items not in the average tourist’s suitcase.
Along the way I dropped the bike (a pretty classic move for me), but landed badly on my right hand, and I feared it was broken. Fortunately it still worked in the throttle position, so I was able to ride home. Happily, after dinner at an American restaurant (apparently a month of couscous and tagines makes me crave a BLT something awful), the hand was functional enough to be deemed unbroken!
Like I said before, three days in Tel Aviv wasn’t enough. It’s a vibrant, happy, scenic city with a lot going on. I think I would happily live in Tel Aviv if it weren’t, you know, for the bombs and stuff.
I’m in Tiberias now, and just finished a bike ride around the Sea of Galilee. Along the way I stood in a synagogue where Jesus preached, and saw the strip of beach where Richard Halliburton came ashore after swimming six miles across the open water, a feat I hope to accomplish sometime in the future when it’s not winter in Israel.
All of these places and all these activities have multi-page stories that I’d love to share, but I lack the time to write them up, not to mention the desire to spend that many hours in front of my computer! But rest assured I’ll be happy to share all the details when I come home in just six short weeks!
Until next time,