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moroccan hospitality

 Moroccan Hospitality

A moment lived in Morocco by Maxime, a traveler from France.

A few months ago, my girlfriend and I travelled for the first time to Essaouira, Morocco. After a few days spent there enjoying the beach and visiting the city, we decided to rent a motorbike to go around. The sun was shining, the road was deserted, we drove through the argan trees plantation, we stopped on the way to look at the landscape, the camels, and the goats. A perfect holiday day! A couple of hours later, we saw on the side of the road a wooden road sign saying “beach, 12 km”, and indicating a dirt road.

Excited by the adventure, we turned and followed the road.

Heading for a new adventure!

The way was bumpy, dusty and full of stones, driving the motorbike was more and more demanding, but the landscapes were amazing. Small villages, rivers, we had the impression to discover a part of Morocco unknown to most tourists.

With the poor condition of the road, driving started to be more complicated, and, after an hour, I didn’t manage to avoid to ride on a stone that almost made us fall down. I managed to avoid to fall, but my foot was injured.

Finally, after another 30 minutes riding, thirsty, dirty and with a foot bleeding, we arrive at the end of the road. We were now facing the Atlantic Ocean. The sun was high in the sky, downhill the beach was deserted and the big waves of the ocean were breaking noisily. Kind of picture perfect postcard.

In front of us, a very steep road going downhill to the beach, where a few houses were near some fishermen boats. Impossible to go down with the two of us on the motorbike.

We had to make a choice. Should we go back to the main road and find a place to eat before going back to Essaouira, or should we continue downhill and hope that one of the houses on the beach was a café. We decided to push our luck and start to go downhill. Being that I was the only one that could drive, I drove the bike downhill, trying not to fall, and my girlfriend walked down.

After some cold sweats, we managed to reach the beach and the houses. By chance one of them had the word café written on it. We came in. The house was quite basic, two tables, four seats facing the beach, and a barbecue in a corner. In another corner, a cat with her kittens seemed to be the only occupants. We were disappointed, we would now have to ride back and wouldn’t be able to eat or drink anything for a few more hours.

Tired by the drive, we decided to stay a bit to relax before going back. After a bit, while we were playing with the kittens, a man appeared.

The encounter that changed the day

His name was Hussain, and we started to talk. When we asked him if it was possible to eat something, he told us the café was closed today. It was a bank holiday; the fishermen didn’t go fishing and there’s nothing to cook… We then asked Hussain if by any chance a hidden restaurant was nearby, or an easier way to reach the main road.

He explained that his café was the only here and that there was no other option to reach the next big village than to go back to the main road, and then very spontaneously he said: “ but if you want, you could come to my house for lunch”.

Surprised by this gesture, we accepted and Hussain called his wife to let her know about our arrival. He offered us mint tea before we went back to his house.

Altogether, we took the direction of Hussain’s house, located in a village at 20 min by walk from the beach.

A dozen of houses, very close together, made the village. Some donkeys and dogs were going around the houses, and some kids were playing on the street.

Our arrival was not discreet: the dogs barking and the kids screaming drew the attention of the rest of the village and we saw more and more people taking a look outside of their houses.

We arrived at Hussain’s house and he introduced his wife and his 3 kids.

The house was quite simple and welcoming. Hussain offered us to sit in the living room, on of the 3 benches disposed in U. On the wall, some paintings done by the kids. The same kind of drawing that all the kids around the world do. A house, the sun, some flowers and some smiling persons :)

To be completely honest, while we were delighted by the perspective of finally eat something, we had a bit of apprehension. Is the food going to be too spicy for us, are we going to eat things that we normally don’t like? Our host kindly offered us to share his lunch and we really didn’t want to be rude.

Thrilling lunch

Before eating, our host brought a bowl and poured some water to allow us to wash our hands. The lunch started with some bread and olives, in the kitchen, his wife was finishing to prepare the main course.

She then came into the living room, bringing in her hands an old tajine pot. We were bit a stressed. Worried about being nice with our host, but afraid about the spicy or unusual food.

The moment of truth arrived: Hussain took off the hat of the tajine pot. Inside, there was some tagine mutton and… french fries! We were quite surprised! By having a lunch with a Moroccan family in the small village, far from any touristic area, I really didn’t expect to have french fries for lunch.

We asked Hussain if his wife cooked that for us. A bit surprised by our question, he explained that the kids and him love that, so his wife cooked some from time to time. Sit together, we ate our french fries. Laughing with my girlfriend about the cliché idea that we had.

For the dessert we shared some juicy pomegranate. We talked a bit, played with kids, then it was time for us to leave this small village and go back to Essaouira.

I heard a lot of stories about my traveling friends sharing lunch with local people, praising the taste of some exotic meals. I didn’t eat anything unusual, but I learned that some things are universal, as kids drawing or the french fries!

We will remember for long the hospitality of this family and this moment shared :)

credit photo: Maxime
Year South Africa

South Africa – a journey of a young mind and spirit

A moment lived in South Africa by Life…One Big Aventure, a traveler from Australia

Travel bug

Never was there a greener or more naïve traveler. I was your typical ‘babe in the woods’, and yet I had left the woods, or Australian bush, and had just touched down in Cape Town, South Africa.
My father was a long-serving Rotarian, and over the years, we had hosted a veritable mini-United Nations of exchange students from Denmark, Finland, Germany, Canada, USA and New Zealand. This bag of human liquorice all-sorts inspired me to apply for Rotary Exchange when I ‘came of age’.
I had my heart set on France as I had been studying French at school for the previous five and a half years, and it was with this goal in mind that I entered the interview room.
To say the interview experience was a disaster, would be the understatement of the century. I trembled, I froze, I mumbled, I blubbered! I was usually a pretty self-assured kind of kid, but on this day, the stars aligned to create a tsunami of emotions that saw me cower in the bathrooms in between each interview. And there were four interviews I had to survive! Thankfully one Rotarian knew me as the happy-go-lucky kid, careering around the paddock at Pony Club, and I believe it was his vote that got me over the line.
Anyway, in due course, I was informed that I had been selected as a Rotary Exchange Student to the Republic of South Africa. Not France, but still that is brilliant, fantastic, unreal, but hang on…where the bloody hell is South Africa? Yes, I know my ignorance was inexcusable, but I was a 17-year-old bush kid studying for my final Higher School Certificate that did not include any geography subjects. I quickly did some research, got excited all over again and did my best to concentrate on my studies.
Exams over, pennies saved, bags packed and I was winging my way to South Africa.

Landed in South Africa

Totally jet lagged and disoriented, I stepped off the plane at Cape Town and into the warmest, most welcoming embrace of half the membership of the Goodwood Rotary Club. Hellos and introductions over and bags collected, I walked across the carpark with my first host mother. I could not believe it when she stopped next to the largest, shiniest Mercedes-Benz car I had ever seen. Without thinking, I blurted out in a voice of wonder, “is this your car?” before scrambling to recover my manners. What was I thinking? That she had hot-wired it on the way to the airport?
That day was the start of the most wonderful, eye-opening and mind-expanding year of my life. Every day was a day to meet someone new, and to learn about a different culture.
I was enrolled at Fairmont High School at Durbanville, a northern suburb of Cape Town. While it didn’t thrill me to be back at school after just completing 13 years of the stuff, I adopted the approach of ‘all care, no responsibility’. The saving grace was that I was enrolled in the entire school e.g. Year 7 Afrikaans, Year 8 Home Economics, Year 9 History etc. A lasting memory was when one day in a Home Economics class full of 14-year-olds, a girl mentioned in passing that it was the first time in her life that she had done the washing up!

New language, new food!

I reveled in the new language and enjoyed showing off my growing vocabulary at the dinner table each night. There is a saying that Afrikaans is not a language, it’s a throat disease! I gave it all the brain power and tonsil gymnastics I could.
The world of food, another world away from traditional Aussie meat-and-three-vegies, opened up before me. Being permanently hungry, I inhaled boerewors, mealie pap, Yogi Sip, vetkoek, guava fruit leather, buttermilk rusks and Top Deck chocolate. All delicacies not readily available in rural NSW.
Then there was the alcohol! While people in Australia commonly invite you over for a cuppa, in South Africa the invite is for a glass of wine, a whiskey, witblits etc. I think I was permanently tipsy for the first three months!

Over the years, South Africa has received a bad wrap for its politics and human rights issues. While that may be justified, it is wrong to tar the whole country with the same brush. I could not fault the warmth and welcome I received.
In some ways, I blame the South African media, and by default, the all-powerful, controlling government of the day. It was only on my return to Australia that I learned about Nelson Mandela incarcerated on Robben Island, just offshore from Cape Town. I felt very guilty that I was not more politically aware. I was a standard 17 years old, full of happiness and energy, and oblivious to the larger issues playing out in the World.
May every person have one carefree year like this in their life!

This traveler has a blog: Life…One Big Adventure

credit photo: Life…One Big Adventure

Where is happiness ?

A moment lived in Cabo Verde by Maria, a traveller from Portugal

Most of us, living in western countries take for granted all the advantages of living in democratic and developed nations. We have freedom to think, speak and move around. We have a house, usually a car, a job to earn our living, health insurance or national services, access to school and to books, Internet, cultural events. We should agree that we, who write and read travel blogs and actually travel for leisure are just a few (a privilege few) of the 7 billion over the earth.

But you agree with me that, most of the time, we don’t feel privilege. We feel that we want more. And don’t take me wrong. I believe that ambition may be a great thing. Can be a powerful drive to make you grow and be a better person or a more accomplished professional. But what are we missing? Sometimes is just stuff. A bigger house, a new car, a new smartphone or a new camera. Sometimes is something we can’t define. It’s a hollow space inside, needing to be fulfilled. It’s an emotion that eludes and escape from us. And we feel incomplete and unhappy.

Twenty years ago I went on a job assignment to Cabo Verde, an African archipelago close to the coast of Senegal. Once a Portuguese colony, Cabo Verde was an independent country for around twenty years then, but still poor and in development. Contrary to other African countries once in Portuguese dominion that have many natural resources, Cabo Verde lacks those resources. Nevertheless, for many years now the country has a stable representative democracy and grow an economy that is mostly service oriented, with a great focus on tourism.

But let’s go back in time. It was the early 1990’s and I moved to a country with an outbreak of cholera going on. The water was not safe to drink or even to wash yourself (try to shower with your mouth closed!). The supermarkets had just a few items on the shelves and no more than one or two varieties of each product. The street markets were full of color and people, but it was easy to see how poor the people were. Was current word that, in the capital, some people used to go to the dumpsters to collect food from the waist of the hotels.

Children ask us for the remaining water in the bottles we have on the restaurant tables, for they didn’t have money to buy bottled water. And ask for pens and pencils, for in school they would receive one of each in the beginning of the year and it didn’t last. Cabo Verde is a very dry country where hardly ever rains. Still, every year the farmers work the land and prepare the plantations, not knowing if the water will come, without any guarantee that their effort will give some fruits.

In those days, even small kids had to walk miles to get water from public fountains, carrying heavy jars. And the same kids, build their toys from cans and wood. Amazing toys they love and were proud of. They shared with each other the things we give them and were grateful.

Day after day, the things I saw, heard and feel while talking and relating to these people, brought some light into my mind and some lightness into my soul. Those people have so little, endure such hardships and yet, they seemed so happy, grateful and perseverant. Poor as they were, they give me such a valuable gift. Happiness is not out there, definitely not in any material possession or even in the best of circumstances. It’s in the attitude, in the way we look at live and at us in it, in the gratefulness we can feel for this amazing opportunity and for what we can make with it.

This traveller has a blog : The Wanderer’s Chronicles

credit photo : Maria

paragliding south africa

Paragliding in the Mother City

A moment lived in South Africa by The Wright Route, a traveller from United Kingdom

I love travel and I love doing anything that involves adrenaline. Paragliding off Signal Hill in the South African capital ticks all my boxes. Soaring majestically over the suburbs of Cape Town with Table Mountain at my back, before landing gracefully on the beach to a celebration of gin and tonics at sunset. It’s just that, every now and again, things don’t go quite the way you have pictured them in your head.

The day we chose to paraglide was a beautifully clear blue sky day, but unfortunately for us, there was very little wind. For Cape Town in December we were very lucky, but for paragliding not so. The show would go on though and we (my wife, father, brother and myself) headed to Signal Hill where we would prepare for our first paragliding experience.

On arrival we were seated and given paperwork to fill out. A waiver was signed and before we knew it my wife and brother were kitted out, strapped to a paragliding instructor each and launched off the side of the hill. It all happened so fast. A brief flutter of wind had prompted the hurried take off. My father and I were to wait for the instructors to return. In the meantime we were kitted out in harnesses, helmets with GoPros and left to admire the views.

Our instructors returned, but unfortunately not with the wind. We waited for what seemed like hours, though must have only been about 40 minutes, and eventually there was a wisp of wind giving us hope for a take-off.

‘Don’t stop running, ok?’ said my tandem instructor.
I was ready. Here we go.
I ran as fast as I could run whilst being physically attached to someone else.
The chute was up, we were still running.
The matting had finished, we were still running.
We were over the edge – and still running!
We were running down the side of Signal Hill, through bushes, around rocks at full pace!
Eventually, the speed of our legs was too fast to keep up and we crumpled to the ground, sliding along the harsh surface before skidding to an abrupt halt. I had taken the brunt of the impact, with the instructor landing on top of me. We were completely out of sight of the take-off point and a good 100m or more down the side of the hill.

What awaited us was a long and embarrassing hike back up the hill to the take-off point. I wasn’t hurt. It was more the bruises to the ego and confidence I was dreading. Explaining this to the rest of the group would hurt.

We set back up and waited for the wind again. This time a strong gust picked up and we were in the air instantly. It was clear that we probably shouldn’t have attempted that first take-off and I felt better about the accident. The flight was incredible! Sweeping views across the city and coastline, and, though the flight did not last long due to the lack of wind, it was highly enjoyable and still one of my favourite experiences in Cape Town.

On landing, my wife and brother came running over. It had been over an hour since they had landed and they were, of course concerned. I will never forget the look of horror on their faces when they saw me. I didn’t quite realize how bad I looked. I had mud all down my front, my jeans and hoodie were ripped through and I had huge bloody scrapes down my forearms, where I had tried to protect myself from the impact. Moral of the story, if you are doing anything dangerous, always choose the most reputable company. No other paragliding company on the hill was trying to take-off with no wind!

This traveller has a blog : The Wright Route

credit photo : The Wright Route