Hey Friends! Here’s another update from my travels. If you don’t want the full deets below, here is a link to my photos. Enjoy! Travel Lifestyle and Photography
Nothing reshapes one’s concept of time like travel. I can’t believe that I have been gone for almost two and a half months, to say time is flying is an understatement. However, when I think back to my Christmas with family in Kentucky; it could easily have been 2 years ago. Traveling keeps you on your toes, not knowing when or where the next adventure is. How do I keep myself safe? My friends, my gear, my passport and money? How do I get to this cafe or this city? I’m barely getting by in Spanish, how the hell do I communicate in French (much less Arabic)? It’s this daily uncertainty and perceived discomfort that reminds me why I decided to leave in the first place. Out here, I’m exposed. I departed from my community, comforts, and lifestyle for an opportunity to experience another corner of the world. As I said in the previous update, you discover more about yourself in travel than any place or people you visit. Travel Lifestyle and Photography
I left Almeria roughly a month ago. The Kaplans and I spent a few last treasured days in Barcelona before they headed back to the south and I remained in Barca. Welcome to hostel life. I checked in on a rainy day, feeling sad about saying goodbye and nervous to be officially on my own. It’s kind of like public speaking, playing a show, or just walking into party; just because you’ve done it before, doesn’t make it that much easier. It’s a muscle that needs to be trained, spending time alone. When you’re alone, there’s no excuses. There’s no friend, commitment, or expectation that you can point a finger at for not getting your shit done. If you want to take a bus to a new city, you gotta figure it out. If you want to meet friends in the hostel or in passing, you gotta sack up and put yourself out there (even with the language barrier). The same goes for the flip side. If you want to get work done, you have to know when to separate yourself from the group or the fun, throw on the headphones and bang out a few concentrated hours. I have to say, Barcelona was an ideal location to adjust to solo travel. I already knew my way around, had a decent comprehension of Spanish (though no Catalan), and a fantastic hostel of friendly staff and guests to learn from.
I ended up spending a bit over a week in Barcelona, here are my recommendations from my experience there:
-Check out the Gaudi. Obviously the Segrada Familia, it lives up to its reputation. And spring for the ticket to go inside, it truly is one of the most beautiful buildings I’ve ever seen. Also, the city is peppered with other Gaudi’s that are all unique and beautiful in their own way. If possible, walk to your destinations, every street in Barcelona has amazing architecture.
-Party. I only went out one night of my week there, though most of my fellow hostel mates were seriously committed to raging. As an American, I loved being in such a cross-cultural party scene. Just be prepared for a marathon. The Spanish get started around midnight, and 8 am bedtimes can quickly invert your sleep schedule. If weather permitting, go to the clubs on the beach.
-Walk around (unless you have a bike). Pretty much the best way to experience any city in Europe. In Barca, there’s really no wrong direction to go. Las Ramblas, Gothic District, Center Plaza…
-Watch the Skaters. Back in the day, I was a poser. By poser I mean a kid that sucked at skateboarding, but loved it. I’m glad that phase is over, but I’ve always had such a huge respect for the sport. I had forgotten that Barca is the skateboarding capital of Europe. When exploring, I stumbled into a local skate spot. I’ve never seen such a concentration of amazing skaters. I sat around for almost an hour, taking photos and living vicariously. It’s a very unique experience, but keep your head on a swivel; you may catch a rogue board to the shin or piss off a skater by blocking his line.
-Salvador Dali. It’s a day trip, but Dali’s museum is roughly an hour by train outside of Barcelona. The man is amazing, and one of the best museums I’ve ever seen. I’m so floored by the amount of work these famous artists made. it truly shows the power of human creativity and productivity when you narrow your focus.
-Brunch & Cake. I know I’m weird, but I’m not alone. When I travel and find the perfect spot (restaurant, cafe, etc.), I stick with it. Don’t get me wrong, I tried a lot of different places while in Barca; but Brunch & Cake was my jam! I must have gone 5 times in 10 days, trying everything on the menu and getting to know the staff. Great food, healthy options, awesome atmosphere, convenient location from my hostel; why not??
And then there was Morocco….
By the end of the Barcelona trip, I was ready for a change. Europe is amazing, but I was feeling the itch to get out into the sticks a bit. The last places I’ve traveled (Indonesia and Peru) had an element of edge to them. Yes, these places are wonderful tourist destinations, but you can’t help feeling a bit on your toes. The culture and language barrier, and the sense of unknown is frightening and yet contagious. Morocco was calling, and the weather in France was shit. So I decided to head south and check off Northern Africa.
The first thing you feel when you leave the airport (Fez for me) is the “not in Kansas anymore” feeling. The little Spanish I knew was now useless, Arabic and French ruled the land. I stumbled through the taxi negotiations and was promptly ripped off by the cab driver. Not only that, but he failed to mention that the last 1/2 mile had to be on foot, due to narrow roads. With no navigation, and thick radiating tourist eyes, I was prey for rip-off number two; the friendly navigator. The friendly navigator approaches you, offers to help you get to your destination, then demands an astronomical amount of money. No matter what you give him (it’s always a him in Morocco), its “nothing” and he expects more. The friendly navigator quickly turns into the greedy child, guilting you to pay 10 euros for a 3-minute walk. Needless to say, I was grumpy when I finally reached my hostel. With low expectations and a desire to be back in Spain, I knocked on the door to the dodgy looking hostel. A man with a kind face opened the door, Musa. He ushered me in, retorted the “friendly navigator” who expected much more, and closed the door. Musa spoke great English, and had a kind voice to match his face. First things first, mint tea. He brought me a warm drink, and began showing me around the hostel. After I got situated, Musa gave me the 101 in Moroccan travel. Do this… NEVER do that… pay this much… avoid this area. It was amazing, within 15 minutes I had forgotten my grump and turned that frown upside down. An hour later, I left the hostel with confidence, glided past the merchants, and went straight to an amazing Moroccan dinner.
This story really sums up Morocco, a hard abrasive exterior, shocking change of pace, with a warmth that comes when you are almost ready to bail. It happened time and time again… Seth goes to a new town, Seth gets approached by 20 pushy merchants, Seth hates town, Seth desperately seeks refuge, Seth meets amazing Moroccan locals, Seth loves town. The moral is, don’t let them break you! Which came first, the tourist or the merchant? My bet is on the tourist. We created the demand, and Morocco just happened to fill the supply. So don’t get all butthurt when the Marrakech market is loud and aggressive; that’s part of the experience. If you don’t want to buy anything, walk around the medinas. It’s amazing how quickly the energy shifts when you leave the market. The people tend to leave you alone when you walk confidently and with a sense of destination. I learned this valuable lesson in Fez, and carried through the 7 other cities I visited in Morocco. So, just like Barcelona, here are some takeaways from my travels in Morocco:
-Embrace the negotiation. here more than anywhere, the art of negotiation is very real. Coming from US or Europe, haggling price can feel rude or uncomfortable. GET OVER IT. That’s how this economy operates, and that’s how you keep from getting ripped off. So prepare yourself, the merchants are lifelong professionals, but you ultimately have the power. Here’s how I do it…
- Only consider a product you actually want to buy. Nobody wants to waste their time
- Decide how much you want to pay for said product (call it x)
- Be friendly as hell! Language may be a barrier, but smiles and laughs are universal and will win favor
- Always ask for their price first. Keep in mind I’ve never once negotiated with a merchant that hasn’t offered me “good price”
- With their price in mind, offer roughly 25–30% of what they ask (a bit less than pre-determined x), remember to smile and keep it friendly.
- Slowly work with them to reach x or under. ONLY shake when you agree to the price. Don’t offer x until you are 3 or more negotiations in.
- If at an impasse, walk. Telling them you will come back is as good as “no” to them, and chances are they will show their hand at this point. The benefit of walking is that you may find the same or better product at a different shop or find a more flexible merchant. Plus, if you do come back you may win some points with the merchant and help your final price.
- I think the biggest rule of negotiation is to remember this is their profession… I mean all damn day. They have all the tricks and a huge markup. Most of the time, they expect you to pay more because you have money. It has very little to do with the actual cost of the product.
-Be ready to pay for pictures or directions. In the Medina, nothing is free. Snake charmers, musicians, entertainers, kids and adults alike will likely expect money for a photo or for help. If you’re looking for reliable and free directions, go into a restaurant that looks decent and ask the staff.
-The smoking is very real. Smoking is allowed inside most restaurants, hostels, and shops. It sucks, but it’s the way it is. Be prepared and do due diligence or you may dine on couscous or tagine next to a chain smoker. I made that mistake once. If the weather is tolerable, look for a terrace where at least the smoke is outside.
-Go to small towns. Marrakech and Tangier get all the notoriety, but the small towns are where it’s at. The prices are better, the people are friendlier, and it’s a much more authentic experience. Be prepared to read a book or play some cards, life goes much slower when you’re in the sticks. My top pic, Chefchouaen aka the Blue City. The city is nestled in the mountains, small but has good amenities, and is fucking blue! My favorite story of Morocco (and maybe the whole trip) was meeting a local who showed me up to a waterfall and to the summit of the mountain behind Chefchaouen. A Japanese traveler came with us, and we conversed in Spanish while trekking (the only shared language). We struggled through mud, loose rock, and rain; but the pictures and experience at the summit was unforgettable. Then the dude gave me some amazing hash, score!
-Ride a camel. When in Rome… I wasn’t planning on going to the Sahara Desert, but the price was right and my inner Aladdin (or Alchemist) was calling. It’s a lot of driving, but you cover a ton of ground and support the smaller towns in the process. You also get to meet the nomadic Berber community which resides in the Sahara. They take you to a desert camp, feed you and sings songs, and then you wake up and ride a fricken camel through the dunes of the Sahara!
Soooo. I really didn’t mean for this update to turn into a how-to, but I’m glad it did. Maybe it’s the coffee or the rainy day, but I got into flow and this is what you get! My goal is to continue updating you guys with photos, podcasts, and posts like these. It’s not all roses, the traveler life has major ups and downs. I miss you guys, like all of you, like a lot. Please keep the love coming, and support the podcast and photog. I’ll keep it interesting for ya!