from a snowy walk in the Rattlesnake, Missoula, Montana

Thursday, December 31, 2015

I heart Morocco.

Morocco was never on my travel radar until I came to Botswana....Morocco should really be on everyone's travel radar. 

I found the bigger cities overwhelming--Fes and Marrakesh are popular tourist destinations and are filled with people who are more than willing to scam you Prepare yourself and consult Dr. Google on popular Moroccan scams. These cities also have a charm of their own. I had a pretty spectacular screaming match with a taxi driver who overcharged me...he was yelling at me in French and I yelled back in English. 

The rural areas are where the true beauty of Morocco lies.

In no particular order of why Morocco has stolen my heart:

Olives--who knew olives came in so many varieties! And are served at every meal....they are heathy right??  

Mountains--the Atlas Mountains are pretty spectacular. They are very rugged--much of the landscape reminded me of the American Southwest. Towns are perched precariously on a mountain side with one narrow road running through. Deep plummeting valleys with streams lined with palm trees. 

Jellabas--I just might move to Morocco and start a jellaba export business! I have a feeling they would be a big hit at winter football games!

Let's get real. The men are also very easy on the eyes...

Scarves--everywhere! Scarves. 

The call to prayer--there was something comforting hearing the call to prayer. A little reminder throughout the day to be a good person. At times it was very overwhelming to be standing in the medina and hear the prayer being blasted around you. 

Trains--who doesn't love a train ride? 

Kasbahs-there is something about an old old building on a mountainside 

All the wool products--rugs rugs and more rugs in beautiful colors and patterns. I have already started a collection for the house I don't have...

Pottery and tiles--in the most beautiful colors and designs 

Mint tea--just give me diabetes now. But it's pretty addictive...

The people--everyone was so nice (aside from the people who tried to scam you....but can you blame them? Tourists=money) 

Hammams--yes please and at least once a week 

The assertive women--coming from Botswana it was nice to see a woman verbally assert herself (to a man...) 

Motherly Moroccan Adventure (Days...?)

After picking up Mum in Casablanca, we spent a leisurely day sleeping and wandering around Casablanca. 

People don't go to Morocco to see Casablanca. 

We went to the 3rd largest Mosque in the world. 
It is a pretty impressive architectural masterpiece.  We arrived before our tour and just sat soaking it it. Families were  sitting on the steps eating and children were playing. 

After disembarking the night train to Tangier we were assaulted with about 50 taxi drivers fighting over who would take us to the bus station. Our sweet taxi driver offered us a fair price to go straight to Chefchaoun. Since he didn't rob us blind with the price we said yes. In broken English he narrated our journey into the mountains. 

Chefchaoun is a magical place. The old medina is painted various shades of blue. The streets are one surprise after the next. If you wander away from the main square and away from the tourists you stumble on markets where residents shop. 

We climbed the mountain to the Spanish Mosque and were able to see Chefchaoun from above. We were fortunate that it was an overcast day and could see all the nuances of blue 

After spending a few days and night wandering we left for Spain! 

Ferries are the way to travel!! 

Goodbye Africa. Till we meet again. 

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Marrakesh to Fes (Days 21-26)

Greetings from Morocco! 

I have to say...Morocco is easily one of the prettiest countries! And they have a train system and who doesn't love trains. And olives....and fresh squeezed orange juice from the sweetest oranges. 

I met up with friends in Marrakesh and we set off on a trek to Erb Chebbe and up to Fes with lots of stops along the way. 

Wandering through the high-Atlas Mountains (as opposed to the mid-Atlas and the anti-Atlas)

We drove on the "curvest road" in the world where a famous car commercial was shot.

Rocked several Kasbahs. 

Ate olives with a side of bread. 

Failed a making music....

Watch the sun set on the dunes

Then spent the night in the dunes Christmas Eve and watched the full moon rise on the 24th and set on the 25th while on the backs of camels. 

I can't think of a more perfect way to end  2015...

Oh but wait...

Girls trip!!! Follow both of our blogs and we train from Casablanca to London! With many stops along the way...

Monday, December 21, 2015

Danakil Depression (Days 15-20)

Up next on the long road home....Danakil Depression! Or the most inhospitable place on earth. Or the hottest place on earth. Or one of the coolest places I have ever been too!! Please feel free to utilize Dr. Google for more information on the Danakil.

Day 14 was an uneventful day in Addis. Except for eating Ethiopian food. Always amazing. 

We woke up bright and early on Wednesday to catch a 7am flight to Mekelle where we started our tour. Ethiopia has got to be one of the prettiest places to fly over. The landscape is....breathtaking to see from above. 

Our trek was a 4 day three night adventure going through the Danakil and ending up sleeping a top a volcanic rim. Our ladies only trip was crashed by our new Brazilian friend, we lovingly called Kolo (after an Ethiopian snack) and led by our wonderful driver. 

I am having a hard time finding the right words to describe the landscape of the Danakil and the Afar region. It went from one extreme to the next. After driving through mountain roads and creasting mountain passes in the clouds we drove down....

And down....

Some 100 meters below sea level down. As the land flattened out--it reminded me of the vastness that is Botswana. 

We set up camp in a....settlement? Essentially it was a passing through place for the men who work in the salt mines. That evening we drove to the depression which was underwater (it rained the day before). We watched the sunset and men return from the salt mine with their camels loaded down. 

We woke early the next day to drive to the sulfur springs. We drove through the salt lake--it was like an endless puddle as long as the eye could see and in the distance you can see the hazey mountains. 

The sulfer springs. Were....simplely put. Amazing. Spectacular. Unreal. It left me wondering if this was what Venus or some planet is like. We pulled our cars up on a rocky bank and walked through rocks colored red and yellow then hit salt mound that looked like mushrooms. 

Then we saw them....

It was like Yellowstone on major steroids. Bubbling sulfer springs. Heat rising from the ground that you can feel from the bottom of your shoes. Rock colored by the minerals and chemical reaction. 

After the sulfer springs we drove to the salt mines. It takes camels 7 days to walk to the mines and 7 days to walk back. Men earn 45 birr for each 3kilo block of salt. The salt is dug from the ground with sticks then chiseled into blocks and loaded onto the camels and donkeys back. 

The entire experience was neat. However it was very much like we were at the zoo. Just watching men do back breaking work in 100 degree heat. Then white people walking around with cameras. Or climbing on the camels for a laugh. 

Several years ago, tourists were killed and now every tour is watched over by men with guns. Which made the experience even more zoo like. 

After the salt mine and sulfer springs we drove to an active volcano. After we left the paved road we drove 80 kilometers over the worst road--they say in the world. It was partially deep sand and partially driving over a hardened lava. The 80 kilometer drive took 3 hours. We eventually pulls up to a Ethiopian militia camp and started walking 10 kilometers to the rim. It was 37 C when we took off as the sun was setting. 

When we drove up all you could see was smoke rising from the top. As we hiked closer and the sun set a red glow appeared. Three hours later we reached the top. 

It was truly unreal. Standing at the rim watching a lake of lava bubbling and steaming. Also a little unnerving...

The next morning we hiked down and returned to Addis for a quick shower before I am headed off to Morocco. 

Until next time. I will be eating my way through Morocco.  

Sunday, December 13, 2015

A sudden realization....Day 13

I left Botswana in a zen zone. Several weeks before my departure...I was the opposite of zen. Crying in spin class or feeling like I needed a wine drip to get by...

The one morning I woke up perfectly calm. The zen zone had arrived. 

My COS was pretty uneventful. Almost surreal getting my PC ID card punched, shaking the DMO's hand and seeing him click the 'end service' button in the PC system. I hugged my favorite staff goodbye and had wet eyes. 

The next day I got on the airplane. It was as if this journey didn't happen....I wasn't sitting in my body. It was as if I was seeing this all from above. 

Many days later I looked at the calendar. December 10th. Which means that I only had 30 more days on this wonderful, crazy journey....

Then I cried. 

As the days tick down. The realness of my new life is bearing down on me. The life that I have lived is becoming a figment of my imagination. 

My tour guide asked me what I liked to do. My response was 'I don't know...' It came out of me automatically. After giving it some thought--I really don't know. 

Until I touch down, I will continue to savor my days. Live in the moment. And rediscover my passions. 

To the highlands (days 9-12)

Addis is a bustling and busy city. I never enjoying running around Gaborone--but Addis is far worse. There are twice the number of people in Addis than in all of Botswana. 

I spent a rainy morning in the national museum--to see Lucy! 
She is so tiny!! Next to Lucy was Selam aka the first child discovered as well as Ardi, who if I am remembering correctly is older than Lucy but discovered after.
 The museum was small, but very interesting. They did a wonderful job explaining evolution with pictures and simple explanations. 
Pottery throughout the ages. 

I have escaped from Addis to Lalibela. Laliblea is in the highlands, King Lalibela built churches down into the hillside. 

Now a UNESCO World Heritage site, the churches are protected but still open for religious purposes. 
The art in the churches has a definite theme. They remind me of paintings from Art History classes I have taken. In paintings only the 'good guys' have their faces shown. If you are considered bad (like Judas) you are shown from the profile 
This morning--a Sunday was a holy day for Mary. Church services were throughout the hillside. As a woman you must cover your head. Inside the churches everyone takes their shoes off. 
The churches were either built down into the rock or built cave like. The hillside is comprised of a relatively soft rock enabling easy carving. 

Everything in the churches has religious symbolism. Biblical stories were represented in the construction of the churches and the layout. At the end of the tour we left the churches through a tunnel which was pitch black to represent the journey through hell. Then you exited to the countryside. 

It is now lunch time. I am sitting at a restaurant high up on a mountain. I have a 360 degree view. 
My lunch. Eating for one is...a challenge. So I have my doggie bag and am tasting a local delicacy--honey wine. interesting and softening my view on the world. 

Till next time. 

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Ethiopia (days 5-8)

I made it to Ethiopia!! After the chaotic hours in Joburg, we landed in Addis. After waiting for about an hour to get through immigration and witnessing a fight break out! I am now with this girl! 
Addis is cold compared to Botswana! Amanda and I promptly went to her PST site and spent the weekend with her wonderful host family! 
It was wonderful to spend time wandering through the countryside and eating delicious food!! After spend the weekend in th country we came back to Addis. 

And we ate more wonderful food. 
This was my breakfast! Injare with a chickpea mixture and eggs. There are lots of religious fastings and dietary restrictions  for various reasons. Today we followed some sort of dietary restrictions. There are these wonderful hole in the wall places that can give you a cheap and quick meal. 

My airline magazine said that Addis was the "Dubai of Africa" ...maybe they are referring to all the construction? It is a sprawling and busy city. 

Little boys hustle for change and shine your shoes for 4 birr. My shoes look brand new! 
Ethiopians love their juice. It is almost like a smoothie. I am a convert! 

I am off to drink coffee and explore the city. 

Until next time...

Days 3-4

I slept in!!! I was glorious. 

After having a relaxing morning drinking coffee and eating breakfast and just being. I set out in a hike to swimming holes. 

I had to channel my inner billy goat since we climbed down into a river valley 
I love how the weather affects mountains. If it is cloudy you see a different side to them. 

I am now sitting on a flight to Addis Ababa. It has been a hectic day! I didn't sleep well....I was experiencing some intestinal complaints. Then I had to get up bright and early to drive to Joburg. It was an uneventful ride....until I got pulled over for crossing a solid line. Then I couldn't find the unmarked entrance to drop off my rental car....

...and then ran and ran and ran to catch my flight. 

Day 2: hello mountains

After walking around with a smile on my face (being in the mountains tends to make me smile nonstop) I tried to track down needed necceties aka coffee and food. In my rush last night I decided not to stop in Masuru....

After sweet talking the kitchen staff into letting me heat up water (thank god Sesotho is a cousin to Setswana) I the mothers milk (aka coffee) while overlooking a beautiful landscape. 
Then I hit up the general dealer...who would have thought that Lehututu would have a better stock?! Since canned fish doesn't seem appealing at 8am I settled on unrefrigerated yogurt (it's fine....?) and cereal. 

I decided to go on a morning hike--the great thing about Malealea is that they hire villagers to do the tours as part of their community trust program. My trusty guide Lucky and I set off. We were going to do a '5 hour hike' to the Bushman paintings and the waterfall. 

Throughout the hike Lucky would wait patiently as I snapped photos and tell me about little cultural tidbits. 

A few views from our journey

The hike was spectacular. Words can not describe the beauty of Lesotho. 

Our hike ended up to be more a 6 hour journey...I must say... Hiking up hill and down hill on yogurt and cereal is a recipe for feeling faint...and bless Lucky's heart he patiently waited for me...and fetched me water when I ran out. 

My dirty and sore feet are propped up on a log and I am drinking a Maluti (for you Granny!)
Life is good. 

They have a saying in Lesotho which is peace rain and is to peace and prosperity! 

The next chapter...RPCV day 1

It is all very surreal. 

I did last minute packing in the morning. Said good bye to my wonderful landlords and was off. Three years of my life crammed into two very stuffed bags! 

Sitting at the airport--I felt like I wasn't in my body. I wasn't about to get on an airplane and leave my life behind. Botswana has been my world for the past three years. My American life is a vague memory. 

I flew to Johannesburg and rented a car to drive to Lesotho. Just me and the road. It was a beautiful drive through Free State. Very much like Montana and the open sky of the Western Uniter States. I can see why the Boers came up to settle in this part of Sourg Africa. 

Following my google map I made good time from Joburg to the Masuru board. Which I would just like to say was the most painless crossing ever! You don't even get out of your car!!! 

It was a sign when my GPS stopped working and I wound around mountain roads and battled other chaotic drivers. As night fell I only had 40 kilometers to go...and the road conditions decreased. My last 15 or so kms were spent bumping over a rutted gravel road following a man in a tractor praying he was  actually taking me to the lodge. 

The night gaurd took me to my room--tired and hungry I went to sleep. As I fell asleep I told myself that I would sleep in till at least 9.....
As I opened my eyes the next was 530 am! 

My frustration quickly left when I looked outside.