On the ferry to Ceuta, I am restless. I want to stand in the sun but am worried I will burn. The truck driver gives me his sunnies. I stand inside, outside, in the shade, by the railing. I hope to see the dolphins, but can’t keep still to wait for them. The truckie doesn’t speak any English, we use a lot of hand signals. As we come into the port, a guy approaches and they speak Spanish for a while. He is driving to Tangier and offers me a ride. I accept, and once we have established with hand signals that no, I am not a drug pusher. We get in his car. It is first in line to come off the ferry and as the big door beeps and rises, my stomach is all a flutter. Africa!
His name is Ali, 28, lives in Marrakesh. Speaks Spanish and French and Arabic. The wait in the car is long at the border into Marruecos. There are many police. I have my temperature checked and repeatedly show my passport. Then, we drive. He drives fast, over taking many cars. I don’t have time to capture all the new things I am seeing. All the buildings are white, for the heat I presume.
There is construction everywhere. We are near the coast and the streets are lined with freshly planted palm trees. He is driving the long way to Tangier. We stop at a restaurant and he buys me a big tuna salad, many fresh veges. I ask if I should change out of my singlet and into something that covers more of me. We sit outside the cafe and there are no other women, only men. He has a tall glass of hot mint tea, crammed full of leaves. It is sweet. He buys me bottled water and we drive. There are police standing around at every intersection. We stop at clothing stalls; energy flows through me and I briefly shuffle on the pavement to the techno music pumping out of the shop. He starts looking at the male clothes while I browse the female. 99.9% of the Moroccan population are Muslim, yet the fashion doesn’t seem so different. I choose a modest shirt and a white dress and ask where I can find an ATM. Ali pays for all the clothes together and we leave. We stop at his friend’s house and 2 women wearing hijab’s (head scarves) join us. One of them speaks a little English. The females will take me into a local ‘hamman’ to take showers. I am clueless as to how this works, I ask if I take my toothbrush and they laugh at me. I am expecting big communal bathtubs but it is an ordinary shower, with dodgy water pressure. Get clean, put on the new shirt, it feels good. Back in the car, the woman and I speak, French and English. Ali’s friends wife, she is a Capricorn as well. She shows me a photo of her husband, wrinkles her face and tells me he is a baby. He is 23, she is 19 and they have been married 7 years. She tells me, he is in Marrakesh with his other wife. He tells me her husband believes the woman belongs in the house. (I wonder if Ali has the same views about the world). She makes stabbing motions to her heart when I ask how she feels about it. I ask if they have children and she tells me no, trying to explain to me why, I don’t quite understand. She tells me she doesn’t take tablets, and makes stabbing motions to her stomach. I show her my map of where I have been and where I will go. Her eyes widen and she says, alone? Holding up one finger. Alone?
Everywhere I go, I meet this same question. You are alone, just you? Again and again, ‘Alone? Just 1?’. Wei. Sei. Nodding my head and shrugging my shoulders. She asks why, and I respond, ‘Pohkwa non’, (why not?). Ali returns, we say goodbye to her, and drive again. We overtake a donkey too quickly for me to take a photo. Ali sniggers. Morocco passes in a blur. We stop again at another male dominated shop. Many eyes on me. I use the bathroom. A man is sitting outside it with pieces of ripped up sheets of butcher’s paper, to dry your hands on in exchange for money. I left my wallet with Ali; I dry my hands on my pants. There is meat hanging and cooked cows heads sitting and steaming. I stare and take photos.
He buys meat on metal skewers and when I taste it, it doesn’t taste like the meat I know. There are hungry small cats around and I rip my meat into pieces and feed it to them. Ali watches me closely. He is eating other meat as well, tells me it is ‘bueno’ (good). When I ask him what it is, he draws a picture of a penis. We talk in an odd mixture of Spanish and French, developing a common language as time passes. In the car I ask him, ‘Quest-ce du faire?’ (What you do?). He shrugs and says, Nada. I say, ‘Du faire nada, du nada deniro’ (you do nothing, you no money). He laughs and taps my head, says that I am intelligent… but doesn’t answer the question.
The sun is big; low in the sky, large, orange. I can look straight at it and see the outline.
We drive past red flags with a star on them- the Moroccan symbol. I’ve loved that star, my whole life; I draw it everywhere, habitually, over and over again. As we come into Tangier, I pull out the Lonely Planet, request an Aubergue. Ali talks and finally I understand- Casa means house in Spanish, and he is inviting me to stay. I am uneasy, pull out my list of French words and ask, who? As in, who else lives there? He is staying with a friend and tells me, non problema, non problema. I want to say, I don’t want to marry you, but I don’t have the words. He carries my bag up the stairs and we enter a 2-room apartment- my first of many Moroccan experiences. The window is open and the walls and floor are covered in cockroaches and bugs. We stamp them away. I use the toilet and there is no paper. He tells me he is going to the berber and will be back in half an hour. He hands me the TV remote and leaves me wondering how I became a woman sitting at home waiting for the man so quick and effortlessly. I watch some animal planet and sort my things. He returns with strange cuts in his haircut. I request a net café; it is closing, I change my status. (Ha.) I request dairy free ice cream, we get some, meet up with his friend- I like him. Ali’s phone rings a lot, at one point he meets some guys, pulls out a wad of notes and exchanges euro for dirham. They speak Arabic to each other and it reminds me of Rami- Arabic is so guttural and always sounds aggressive. People are constantly bargaining with one another and do it so loudly.
In the centre of town, the weather is warm and there are many people out late at night. By the beach, my eyes widen at horses running along the sand. Ali sees this and points to me. I am unsure but excited. I pick a small horse and get on it. First time in a long time. The man holds it and leads it along. I don’t want him holding it and nudge him to let go. When the horse starts running I scream and yank the reins. The guy seems alarmed and thinks I will fall off. My knee starts hurting something chronic when I kick the horse and say ‘ya!’. The horse doesn’t seem to want to go and I worry that perhaps it is tired from doing this all night, perhaps its feet hurt. On the sand I look across and Ali is riding too, although he seems much better at it then me. Get off the horse and can hardly walk. I thought my knee was all better since snowboarding in Norway; apparently not. Sit on the stairs for a minute. The boys look concerned and I feel like a dickhead. We drive for a while, up onto a cliff with an amazing view. Drink beers and laugh; I like his friend. Ali drinks, drives, speeds, doesn’t wear a seatbelt- we get stopped by the Policia. They take his licence and hold it out of his reach. Everyone speaks loudly and what seems to me, aggressively, in Arabic. At the same time, it seems like part of a long rehearsed game. Ali slips them money and we are on our way. He tells me, this is why they can do what they want, cos they just pay and get away with it. He seems happy with the arrangement.
The boys have hopefully suggested ‘discotheque?’ and once they agree to return home for me to ‘cambiar’ (change) I agree. Put on the new white dress and boots. Before we enter the club, I hand Ali a piece of paper and ask him to write his phone number on it. Why, he asks (pohkwa?). I say in case I get lost (Donde est Angela?). He tells me, you will not get lost, because I will not take my eyes off you for one minute.
At the club, he walks with his hand guiding my back. ‘You’re free as a bird’, he says, like they all will say, though that is clearly not the case. I want to run away, along the beach by myself, free. The club is lush, red velvet seating; a beautiful woman in a black dress sings Arabian songs. The waiter brings happy hookah and they pass the pipe. A little unsure, I sit and smoke some of the bubbly apple flavoured smoke. I eat nuts; Ali asks if there is anything at all I want. I am hungry. The other girls in the group only speak Arabic; they try to show me how to dance with my hips. Ali puts his arm around me and it is heavy. I push it away a few times then ask if we can go outside. I can’t fucking breathe in here. The courtyard has a big pool with gorgeous comfortable shaded cushioned beds. We sit on one and he asks me, Ka Pasa? I am upset, I used both my hands to weigh down his hand, tell him this is how I feel. I want to be free. He goes back inside for a minute and I sit with my legs in the pool. The attendant talks with me in french: when Ali comes back, he tells him I can swim if I want. I want. Strip down to bra and undies, float on my back and look at the night sky, thinking, I am in Morocco! Wrap myself in the towel, get dressed at the attendants request. He brings a white silk napkin to wrap around my hair. Back inside, I dry my hair with the bathroom hand drier and ditch the napkin. Shortly after, we leave. Somewhere along the way, Ali kisses me and tells me he loves me. I tell him not to say that. Back at the apartment, his friends girlfriend takes off her headdress, she is pretty. They tell us, they will sleep on the couch and we can have the bed. No no no no, I don’t want the bed. They insist, worst luck. Ali lays on me, he is heavy, I tell him no, I do not want. I give an inch and he takes a mile. He is upset with me, sulks. He asks me why. Always with the why. (Hasn’t he bought my love?).
The next morning, I am up and packing. I will go (Je voux alley). He doesnt want me to. He tells me, Guapa, solo, no bueno. He tells me I am loca chica. His friend thinks I am crazy when I want to eat the leftovers out of the fridge, bring fresh meat and salad. The meat includes all parts of the cow and I just can’t stomach it. We got to the train station and there is a train at 2 o’clock to Fes. I am unsure where I want to go, but sure, Je voux alley. I realise I have left my lonely planet at the flat and am not going anywhere without it. Back at the flat, Ali’s friend is kneeling on a mat on the ground praying, we wait and do not disturb him. I get the book, I have missed the train. What now? I spend a while looking at the map and trying to figure what to do. I want to go to fez, and I want to go to merzouga, the desert, the sahara. I want to get the bus. Ali and his friend tell me to stay. Next thing the old landlord is coming, I think they have fetched him.
He is telling me he speaks many languages and has travelled much. He tells me to stay, that we will have drinks. I politely and gently, and then more firmly, tell him No thank you, I will go. (Merci beaucoup, Non, je voux alley.) They ignore me, tell me we will go for drinks. Je voux alley, je voux alley. My words fall on deaf and stubborn ears. The landlord tells me I am stubborn. He tells me I cannot go alone. Just fuckin watch me. I pick up my things, walk to Ali. Please. (Por Favour). I thank them, we leave and drive to the bus station. He puts on sunnies, isn’t looking at me, makes stabbing motions at his heart. He asks me, Fes? Or Merzouga? Merzouga. He finds an overnight bus, buys my ticket, and checks in my luggage. We have a few hours, I tell him, icecream and swimming. There’s no sorbet and we drive along the coast for a while. We stop at an outlook with cannons and security guards, we talk to one for a while, he teahces me French and I teach him English. Ali leans against a brick wall with me between his legs overlooking the ocean. The view is pretty, there is a small puppy; I’m happy. On the way back to the car, groups of men sit around on fold up chairs under the trees. Moroccan driving is insane, chaotic, I love it.
At the beach, we walk along the water. I have trouble spotting another female. There are groups of guys playing soccer everywhere and I want to join in. We reach a little enclave surrounded by rocks where males of all ages are flipping and diving off the rocks into the water. Ali looks around and says we will go to the other one. I plant my feet and ask why. He looks around and communicates he does not feel safe leaving his things. It is pretty here and I can’t be bothered moving. I wait. Some children leave, gradually there are only a few. I point to the rocks near the water, tell him to put his shorts there. I trust. I demand he trusts. My swimmers are in my pack at the station, I am wearing the long, purple, modest shirt he bought me. I took my bra off so it doesnt get wet, he notices and chastises me. Tells me I am in morocco (in case I hadn’t noticed). He thinks I have no idea, he thinks I intend to take off the shirt. I roll my eyes and take off my shorts. We count (un dois treis!) and jump in the water. It is crystal clear and bloody freezing, I squeal and stand on the rocks. Many fish swim around my toes. I grab him and jump in and swim out again as quickly as I can. Dressing on the rocks, I want to ask him for advice, I want him to tell me about Morocco. I say, un chica Moroc, ke problema? We list them on my fingers. Solo, Alone. Gaston (men). Pocito Deniro (little money). He thinks I am ‘loca’ for wanting to go to the desert, tells me we will go together to Fes. I persist, ask- moi problema, ke faire? (If I have a problem, what do I do?) He tells me, if men grab me, there will be nothing I can do. But isn’t that the same anywhere? I tell him, Australie, moi papa, dice, gaston problem. (In australia, my father says exactly the same thing).
We walk back and stop for fresh orange juice. Everywhere through Moroc, there are stands with oranges. He stops by the side of the road and returns with strange, sweet, weird fruit (Figs). I like the way he just does things, assertively. I wonder that perhaps here, the male active energy is entirely in the male, and the female receptive energy is entirely in the female, and maybe thats how the society balances itself. Rather then a assorted ‘whole’ individuals, a mass of halves, fitting together. Ali stops to get pizza, I wait in the car, feel stifled by the culture, by the male dominance. He buys me a kebab and we drive around looking for an Internet cafe, I want a map. He doesnt want me to go, so strangely enough, we don’t find one. Nevermind, I will go without the map. At the bus station, he gets on the bus, speaks to the people, and finds me a seat next to a woman. I get the feeling I am being handed from one set of hands to the next. I hand him some euros to change into dirham, he hands them back to me with 200 dirham. He gives me his phone number, tells me not to sleep. I roll my eyes at him. He says goodbye, awkwardly hugs me.
The bus is full, and hot. The roof window is propped open with plastic bottles. All the women wear Hijabs, the lady nexts to me speaks only Arabic. I feel out of my depth, and guarded. I’m relieved when some guys at the back start talking English to me, I reply in as much french as I can. I am asking questions and attempting to tell them my plans. The sun sets, the bus tears through the country. Empty water bottles rattle around the floor, the conductor opens the door as we drive and throws them out. At one stage, he walks down the aisle and pours soupy water everywhere, to make the bus smell better. Moroccan people usually smell good, I have noticed. But the country itself stinks of meat, cooking cow intestines and polluted waterways. I feel nauseous just thinking about the smell. The conductor, if you could call this guy that, makes many announcements in Arabic, the bus stops and goes again. People get on and off; everyone is awake in the streets. The warm night atmosphere feels quintessially summer. I am afraid to stray too far from the bus in case it goes again without me. The buses go throughout the night rather then the day heat. We stop at cafes with the doors open and meat hanging in the air, people approach me quickly, madam? to ask if I want tissues, if i want to eat at their cafe. At one stop, I spend a while trying to ask how long until the bus will go (quanto es tempo akei?? How many is time here? Voux alley quanto es? Want to go time is? *Hand signals*) and then venture to the toilets. I am not wearing shoes and it is a squat toilet, with no toilet paper. I shudder, pee and wash myself. Walk straight past the toilet attendant, a guy from the bus tips her for me. He asks, Angela, and points in disbelief at my feet. Sei, no bueno!!! I agree. Sleep a little, the sun rises. At some point along the road, I notice many rocks sticking up out of the earth, and wonder at this type of desert landscape. Then I realise, the rocks are grave markers.
7.15am at El-rachidia. Thankfully two guys from the bus are also going to Erfoud, tell me we will share a maxi taxi. I’m still feeling so guarded, but trust one of them. Tell him to wait, inform the women I am leaving. I am not sure if they had a different plan for me, or perhaps they don’t care. $3.50 for the longest maxi taxi ride ever. The guy in front is sleazy and I ignore him. Tell him, no! when he asks what my name is. I quickly tire of strange men asking me what my name is, where I am from. At Erfoud, as soon as I am out of the car, people pounce on me for camel rides. 200 dirhams (30 bucks AUD) to Merzouga. There are no other people going in grande taxis to Merzouga, it is too early. If I wait a few hours, perhaps. Men begin to approach me, madame… They offer me hostels, ask if I want to ride a camel, tell me to come to their agency. I walk from the crowd and sit on a bench. A man bothers me for a while. I buy some watermelon and share it with him.
I ask him lots of questions; there are 20 aubergues in Merzouga. I refuse his offer to go to his agency to see his camel pictures. He can see I am tired and confused and offers me rest at his agency. I ask my pendulum, and tell him I will sit for a while and maybe to go the markets. He zooms off on his scooter and I wonder if that was the right decision. Another guy approches me with the same deal. He tells me, a car has come from the auberge to the markets and will go back to Merzouga soon, if I want a ride. I know it will come with a catch, I ask him, what if I don’t want to stay? He tells me I am free. I ask the pendulum, and go with them. On the way, they repeatedly ask me if I want to take pictures. I decline. They give me a spiel about the desert and the sights that I am sure has been repeated many times before. We are in a FWD that drives along dusty paths. We arrive at a sand coloured building plonked in the middle of the sand. They go to carry my bag inside, I tell them wait. And ask, Combiien? How much? Leave the bag, inside sit on a couch. They bring mint tea. He starts selling to me, drawing diagrams. I don’t touch the tea and interrupt him, how much? A room for the day to sleep in, a camel into the desert, dinner and breakfast. Four different trails, 300, 500, 700, 800. (46, 77, 108, 124 AUD) I tell him, I want the 700 hundred, for 500 hundred. As he sells to me, I nonchalantly play with a gorgeous silky black kitten. I consult the pendulum and we settle on 600. I drink the tea. Shower, ask a woman to wash my clothes, sleep for a few hours. The room smells like the soap used in mens toilets. I wake and go to the desk for change for a hundred-dirham bill. They tell me there isn’t any, I don’t believe them. I go to fetch my clothes from the woman, offer her 20; she wants a hundred (surprise surprise). I give her fifty, and wonder if I have just exploited Africa for the first time. Or is Africa exploiting me?
Outside, there is one camel waiting for me. I had imagined a whole line of camels, but it is quiet. Going into the Sahara with 2 Berber boys… uneasy. They tell me the camels name is Bob Marley. He stands up with me on him, and they start walking. I ask, where are your camels? They tell me they will walk, and that they won’t get tired.
I am suprised, it is 8km and I feel guilty for riding the camel. They ask me questions and I am guarded, certain they have asked these questions many times before. When they ask me my name and I refuse to answer, they say they will call me Fatyma. The most common Arabic female name, for Mohammad’s wife. Either that or Aisha, which means ‘she who lives.’ I prefer Aisha, definately. They keep asking me if I want to stop and take pictures. They have lived in the desert their whole lives. Mustapha is 28 and the younger guy with long eyelashes is only 17. We cross from black pebbly desert into red sandy desert. At some point, I realise my bag and the clothes in it are soaking wet; the lid was not on my drink bottle properly and the water has spilt. I hang the clothes from the camel reins and they are dry within minutes. I rearrange positions throughout the two hours, sitting sideways and crossing my legs. We stop for pictures and Mustapha tells me he will ride the camel with me. He puts his hands on my legs, my hips, rubs my shoulders- I feel violated. I ask to walk for a while and then get back on the camel alone. I take my sand filled shoes off and the way Mustapha looks at my feet makes me squirm. We stop and they drink water from a nomad. We reach the oasis and Mustapha ties a piece of rope around Bob Marley’s folded leg so he can’t stand; I hate it. I ask where the other people are, there are none. They put out mats and we sit and drink tea. I ask for water and they give me water from the well, tell me to let it settle first, it is cloudy. There is no wind but the sky is overcast, which means although it is silent I will not see the stars. There is no sunset, but I climb a hill anyway.
Back at the tents, the boys are playing checkers with camel poo in the sand. I lose to Mustapha.
It is getting dark and I am uneasy for sheezy. I ask if we can make a fire, if we can have dinner. Mustapha invites me to help him and I can’t stand to be in the enclosed space with him. I lay outside. He joins us with loud Arabic music blaring from his phone that grates on me. I want to lie quietly and find some calm for my fast beating heart, he asks me questions and wants to talk. There are 6 smalls cats and I watch them run around, listen to them meow. They are hungry. We eat ‘Tangine’, cooked carrots and potato, bread. I avoid the chicken in the centre. Afterwards, melon. I am full. The boy with long eyelashes goes outside and mustapha tells me jokes. He starts to touch me and move closer. I tell him, Non. He asks if I am married. He tells me it is hard being in the desert with no chance with women, offers me a Berber massage. I say no, I do not want. He asks me why, I say, I do not want. He asks why I will not help him. I passionately speak, about being free and making my own decisions and about the culture- the woman kept in the houses and the men in the streets. He falls into silence. I tell him that I have an ‘ami’ in Australia, and I left him to come here and be free. It is becoming clear to me how important my freedom is. How much I hate to be told what to do, to feel dominated or compromised or controlled. Eventually I ask where the bed is, and to my relief, it is not in the same tent as the boys. He walks me there with the light of his mobile. I did not bring mine and I ask for a candle. He says goodnight, apologises for earlier. Asks me, one final time, Berber massage?
I change into pyjamas and get into the bed. Just in time, the candle burns out. I lay in the dark and my heart beats fast. There is wind and it whips the tent. Surprisingly, I quickly sleep. At 5am, they wake me to the rising sun. I lie on the sand and watch it come up. There is bread, marmalade and cheese (nah) for breakfast. I ask where is Mustapha- he has gone to find Bob Marley. I laugh, he got away! What a champion. A while later Mustapha returns, Bob Marley walked back to the aubergue in search of breakfast, Mustapha walked all there way there and back to bring him for me to ride. Mustapha ties his leg again. As we eat, bob marley hops up and starts walking off with one leg. Mustapha yells at him in Arabic and goes and ties his other front leg as well. I look over and Bob Marley is dragging himself along with his two front knees. Fucking hell.
On the way back, there is no small talk like before; they seem to be in a hurry. Suits me just fine. Mustapha leads Bob Marley, dragging him slightly too quickly across the edges of dunes and he nearly falls over. I wonder why he does that, Bob Marley is hungry and will get there as quickly and efficently as he can. I ask him to hand me the rope and let Bob Marley walk himself. I am curious to see which way he will walk when left to his own devices.
We arrive and they pull out fossils to sell me. I am not interested but like a granite elephant. They ask me how much I will pay and I say, How many hours does it take to make this elephant. They tell me a week. I tell them bullshit. An hour a day for 5 days, perhaps. They ask for 160 ($24), I tell them to put it away. Back at the aubergue, I take my time, shower and repack my bag. I have diarrhoea, no bueno, am not feeling so good. Leave the room, return the key. In the common room tell the boys I am ready to talk. Sit with one of them (Josef) who tells me there are no taxi’s back into town and they will charge me 160 dirham for a ride. I tell him, screw that, I will walk to another Aubergue and share a taxi there. He tells me, you are in the desert. He tells me, it costs 100 dirham for them to pay for fuel there and back. I tell him, well, I will pay 50 then. He laughs and tells me I am intelligent. I hold my pendulum while we talk. I tell him, 600 for the bed and food, 10 for the bottle of water, 50 for the fuel, 35 for the salad. 60 for the elephant, makes 750. The boys refuse to sell the elephant that cheaply. We decide on 800 and leave to drive back to town.
On the way, we talk in Spanish, French, English. I share. He had said the silky black kitten was his, that its name was Dark. That kitten was affectionate and playful, and I think you can judge people by their animals. He asks me if I have a boyfriend, why I am alone. I tell him, I had an ami in Australia but I left to come here. Why didn’t he come with me? Because I told him not to. Because I wanted to be free. My ami may or may not be mine again when I return home, C’est la vie. I ask if he has a girlfriend. He tells me, he has no chance. I tell him, if you think you will go then you will go, if you think you will stay then you will stay, if you think you have no chance then you have no chance. He tells me he did, but that she died 2 months ago. The way he interacts with me is different to the other men, and this is why. She died when Ariel died, my heart goes out to him. My eyes well up, I stare out the window and struggle to control myself. I ask what happened, he says her stomach hurt and she went to hospital: that it is hard but he tries not to think about it. We reach El-rachidia and I want Internet, and I want to get the bus out of here. I am sleep deprived, sick, and emotionally exhausted. He tells me the bus goes in a few hours, that I can rest at his uncle’s house where there is Internet. He sees the doubt in my eyes. I ask the pendulum if he is good, it says yes. We go. The house is nice, but all surrounded by dirt. It is very hot. In the garage on a mat on the floor lies a tiny baby.
We sit with her, she is so beautiful. I notice that all through the house there are no beds or chairs, only cushions and mats. I like it. I go upstairs to use the Internet. The urge to write my way through everything that is happening is strong but Josef sits close and curious. The feeling of male domination returns. He brings tea and sweet desserts. I stand on the roof and view the hot, barren landscape, there is more construction, this time houses.
Food is served downstairs. We sit around a low circular table on small stools. In the centre of the table is a cow’s head, with eyeballs and skin. They rip the skin with their hands and dip the bread in the eyeballs. His cousin (?) speaks english, ‘Disgusting, isnt it?. I am unsure what is appropriate and try to be polite. I don’t eat the cow head. Meat on metal skewers again. I eat some and pass the rest around. Try and fill up on salad and chicken. Afterwards, lots of melon. In the kitchen, the young girl tells me about her passion for learning English, how she was going to school but when the baby came, she quit and came here to help out in the house. I like her and want to encourage her. There is so much crap in the kitchen; they prepare the meal like it’s a feast and I wonder if they always do that or if it was because I am visiting. I go upstairs, Josef is on the computer, I feel uneasy. He reaches out to touch me, and I move away. Downstairs the youngest daughter is walking on her fathers back, massaging his toes while he lies there like a giant slug. She seems heavy and silent with resentment and anger as she walks on him, bored. I ask the pendulum if it is time to go, it says yes. I ask Josef to take me to the markets to buy a blanket (‘Je voux alley’). His sister/cousin seems upset I am going, I get her address and tell her I will write. We drive to a shop and the man says the carpets are 2000 dirham. He has to be joking! I look at josef and ask, ‘how much would you pay for the carpet?’. He answers 1500 and I don’t believe him. I bargain and when the guy won’t go below 1000 ($150), we leave. I ask the pendulum if I can trust josef right now and it says no. He says to me, at the end of the day you are just a tourist. He stops to buy a chicken from a hole in the wall chicken farm. I watch them, white and overfead on hormones, they can hardly walk they are so meaty. The guide tells me to move out of the way and I realise, we are not taking the chicken alive. They are killed and defeathered in a boiler less than 2 metres from the others, all waiting for a similar fate. I step over fresh chicken blood and sit in the car. I can’t fucking take this, all of this. I sit outside the car and don’t move.
He asks what has happened, I ask him to drop me to the bus station. I am feeling so emotional, I just want to leave. We drive across a river, and the stench of the polluted water doesn’t help. The bus is going at 8.30. I wander through the shops for some retail therapy. I stop at one where the same carpets are 200 dirhams. They offer me sweet tea, a sales tactic, and I accept anyway. I browse, and bargain, stubborn in my exhausted state. The men are suprised at my boldness. I buy a beautiful red and orange blanket. I tell them I need an ATM for bus money and the younger man walks me there. On the way, he talks about the police corruption, how he does not have a democracy. He begins by asking me, how do you like Morocco? I can’t think of anything good to say, my heart hurts. I tell him that in Australia we sing ‘For we are young and free.’ I am proud to be Australian, after what I have seen. I see so many things that I want to take pictures of, but don’t want to make it any more obvious then it already is, given the colour of my skin, that I am a tourist. A foreigner. That I don’t speak the language, and that I have no idea how much things here are worth in Moroccan money. In Morocco, I have no idea the value of things. He is a merchant as well and takes me to his shop. We talk for a while, and I became exhausted of it again. He offers to buy me a Koran, asks what I believe. Am I Christian, Buddhist, Catholic, Islam? Nope, nope, nope. I tell him there is a god, for me, but there is no book. He says, yes, but one god?? Holding up one finger, Only one! He tells me his woman is free to do what she wants and wear what she wants, that people come to Morocco with preconcieved notions that aren’t true. I tell him No, my experience right here and right now, is that there are no females in the street. That the men call me ‘Guapa’, tell me I am pretty and ask if I am married, everywhere I go. They seem to take my energy, whether I like it or not. Here, as a traveller, I am hustled, which in my experience, is to have people always wanting something from you. I have felt not only reduced as a woman but reduced as a tourist as well. No longer a person but something to be transacted. I sigh, stubbornly bargain with him, and buy some of his jewellery for gifts.
I have missed the 8.30 bus and go to see if there is another. I am relying almost solely on the pendulum now to make decisions. Outside the bus station I ask it what to do and a man approaches me and starts a conversation about it. Suprise suprise, he has a shop. I go with him and sit; whenever he starts to sell to me I shake my head and say, please (s’il vous plait). He laughs. He asks how I find Morocco. Like many Moroccans, he wants his pride patted. I am not going to lie. I pour everything out to him, no judgements just what has happened, experience after experience. His eyes grow sad and he nods. We have a good conversation, though I don’t remember the details. He is a good person, someone who I would ordinarily like and trust, but I am in his shop, and I am a tourist. I bargain, say I will leave without the necklaces when he won’t sell them cheaply. I am not bluffing, I am fed up. He gives me them for 52 dirham each (arbitrary number the pendulum suggested) and I walk back to the bus station. Approach the 1030pm bus to Fes, the men tell me it is full and turn away. There are people milling everywhere, they send me to the other bus. They tell me it is full. They tell me, I can get a maxi taxi for 1000 dirham instead. I tell them, no, I only have 150 dirham for the bus. I ask if I can sit on the floor of the bus, like I have seen other men do when the bus is full. They tell me, we can show you aubergues. I point to the ground and tell them, no, I will sleep here if I have to until there is a bus for me. In desperation I lie and tell them I have a plane to catch in Fes tomorrow, that I cannot wait. A man moves, and there is room on the bus. He gives me the window seat; I wrap myself in my red and orange blanket and sleep restlessly. My stomach is killing and I need to go. This bus is direct, and when it finally makes a stop, the diarrhea continues. My belated realisation, I drank water in the Sahara, Africa, where there are no hospitals. Ameteur. I get bread; I never want to eat meat again. The blanket smells like smoked flesh, Moroccan flesh, intestines and brains and liver all mixed together. Standing outside the bus, the women eat yoghurt and throw the rubbish on the ground where they stand. Where are the garbage bins? I remember my bookmark from Vienna ‘Be independant, Be careful, Do not waste.’
So I am in Fes, infamous Fes. The place I wanted to come and get lost in. I begin by leaving my bag of preciously bargained for souveniers on the bus. I return, look for the bus. With the help of some guys who speak American computer English, find the driver. He says to come back in an hour and he will have the bag. I call my mother- she tells me to go to the doctor. I want Internet. I walk into town, past a goat. Above the walls of the Medina, behind which lay the city, many black birds circle. Down the cobbled lanes, there are cats everywhere and early morning market stalls opening. I see a tiny kitten, I pick it up. I look into its eyes and realise it is very sick and will die soon. I put it down, keep walking and start sobbing. I hate this place, I hate this place!! Imogen Heap loops in my head ‘Get me outta here, get me outta here, get me outta here… get me outta here get me outta here get me outta he-ere’.. Men ask if I am okay, if I need help, if I need a hostel. I can’t tell who are hustlers and who are not, I keep my guard up as I cry, rather aggressively responding, Non! Merci beaucoup, si’l vous plait, non. My strong will and intellect put me in a good position to bargain but my compassion feels like such an archilles heel, I wondered what would happen if they could see my utter vulnerability for them. Perhaps they can. I sit on a step, cry and watch the people go by. I let the tears pour down my face, a small boy watches me curiously. I want to vomit. From fear, bad food and water, and compassion that burns. Sleep deprivation making it harder to hold it together; craving time and space to fall apart.
Morocco, putting the ‘cunt’ in country. Irresponsible, chattering like a desperate and attention starved child. Compassion tells me, perhaps the people are just trying to claw their way out of a dog eat dog world, like dogs. But I am human too. I have been manually breathing since I have been here and I don’t know what any of this means. Je ne se pa. Afterwards, they will ask, how was it. They will say, Morocco, how exciting! The truth is, Morocco is a little bit of a head fuck. This is the experience I have been waiting for- to mull over for months and years to come. And yet, there’s more.
At the airport, I try to figure out where to go next. I want to go to Latvia, but the flights are expensive. Maybe can fly to Paris or London, and then what?? I consider hitching the ferry to Barcelona. In a travel agents office, she feeds me salad (I decline the meat). I fall asleep on beautiful couches for a few hours while she looks for flights for me. I am exhausted and struggle to keep my eyes open. My body is shutting down. I wake to a security guard asking me my name, I tell him no and look away. When I am able to rouse myself, she is saying she can find me a youth hostel and I can fly to Paris in the morning for 40 euro. I feel the suck of the place, everyone always wanting me to stay, to spend more money. I want to get out asap!! I go outside and ask the pendulum, again. It says, the 6 o’clock flight to paris for 100 euro. I think fuck it, and decide to get it. It is 6 o’clock now and she has closed her office. No Paris tonight. I get the bus back into Fes, and then a mini taxi to the centre.
I walk through the city and the hustling begins again. Hostel, madame? The truth is, I do want a hostel. I ask for directions to an ATM and a guy walks with me, tells he will take me to a hostel. As we walk his friend joins us and I do a double take. Familiar. Dreadlocks, brown skin, understanding eyes. Green shirt, sandals. Out of his mouth comes something I like, though I am sure has been said many time, ‘no hustle, no bustle’. First hostel cheap rooms are full, I briskly say Merci beaucoup, leave. Then number 56, family run, students. I ask if I can sit. In a room with curtains, cushions and mats, I collapse, bury my head and try and pull myself together. Mustapha gives me space. The hostel dude shows me the room. On the roof terrace, we stand silent and wait as the bargaining goes on. He says 140, I say 100, consult the pendulum, I will pay 120. I shower, Mustapha offers me tea. Yes, on the roof; I put on the white dress. I smell clean and feel good. On the roof, the sun is setting and he tells me what I need to hear. Words to remind me what I already know, words which even immediately after are gone with the wind. The realisations, the Moroccan jewels of wisdom slipping through my fingers like grains of sand in the Sahara. My eyes are welling with tears and he asks Ka pasa, what has happened. Je ne se pa, I don’t know. I walk to the edge of the terrace and watch the black pottery smoke billowing above Morocco. He stands behind me, murmurs, nuzzles my neck. I had asked the pendulum if he would touch me, it said: if I wish. I push him away and let him come close again. He asks again, Ka pasa. He crouches in front of me, waiting, and then he kisses me. He whimpers; kissing him is like crying. We sit with our heads in each other’s necks.
One of the men, with a white shirt and potbelly, comes up the stairs to the terrace. Mustapha is on his feet and saying, We will go. They move quickly down the stairs and I don’t immediately follow. There are raised voices. I wait for them to subside but they only get louder. I return to my room and change out of the dress. The voices continue, loud and in Arabic. I return to the roof. An American student is there. ‘You know what there’all yelling about?’…’Me.’ He says, Sounds like quite the adventure. Over the railing I watch Mustapha leave. Minutes later it begins again and there is a scuffle. The man with the belly comes to me and apologises, says his family is about respect. His chest is heaving and he is sobbing and struggling to control himself. Downstairs the old man in the white hat and green robe knuckles are bleeding; he was holding the men apart. The man with the potbelly says ‘…dice…amigo’. He wants me to talk to my friend. I stand outside the door, Mustapha runs to me; they talk in French and Spanish. He tells me to get my luggage. I tell him, I want to stay. His eyes flash at me and he asks if I trust him. I ask the pendulum and suddenly I understand, I am being asked to leave. I repack my bags, the American says I am crazy and gives me his phone number.
Mustapha is upset with me. I grab him, look into his eyes until I see them get clearer and we smile. Mustapha carries my bag, and a young boy come up and begins to hustle him, thinking he is a tourist.
I love it! Laugh at him, pick him up and carry him down the street. He squeals and giggles. We go to Mustapha’s sisters house and leave my bag. There is a little girl, with tiny frizzy hair. Her name is Na’ima (Comfort, amenity, tranquility, peace). She holds my hand and we play with her. I have found something in Morocco I like, the children. I realise I have left my wallet in the hostel, we return and get it. When we leave, Naimah looks up to me and speaks in Arabic, don’t go, don’t go. Mustapha tells her I will come back. He is distressed about my wallet, I am non-plussed, I know where it is. I don’t know where my pendulum is though, and he tells me, you are losing everything! He is angry. He doesn’t know the irony, that I thought I would get lost in Fes. I drop my jumper and he picks it up for me. I am exhausted and hungry but feel playful around him. We walk through the streets; I eat Bean Goulash from a stall in a pottery bowl. I run into games of soccer, laughing and kicking the ball. Naimah comes with us for a while and we count and swing her into the air between us. I tell him to tell her, I love her hair. We make animals noises, chase her through the alleyways. Mustapha sends Naimah home and I buy a 10kg watermelon for 20 dirham. He carries it for me. I stop and buy some scarves. He sees a friend. I tell her she can have the watermelon, I only want one piece. At her house, there is an open courtyard in the middle with big wooden doors. We eat the watermelon. She is talking in Arabic to Mustapha and I know she is talking about me, she is saying I cannot come here and travel alone. I look up and say, Sei, sei, entiendes. (Yes, yes, i understand). Mustapha raises his eyebrows.
Back in the street and Mustapha is telling me he will not let me go alone. I am telling him, you have no choice! You will have no choice. Telling him, things for me are not the way things are in Morocco. I am free to do as I wish whether I am a man or not. He keeps putting his arm around me protectively, using to to steer me, to push me, to hold me back. I can’t stand the weight. I hold his hand by the pinkie instead. The streets are deserted; I am raising my voice and the Policia walk past. They stop me and ask for my passport. It is in my bag, I cannot be on the streets without it. They tell me to come with them, ask me my name. I wonder if they will rape me. I need to pee. Mustapha returns with my bag, I show my passport, they speak to Mustapha in Arabic and won’t let him translate to me. He is angry, furious, he has to pay them 100 dirham. I tell him I will pay it and he tells me not to talk to him about money ever again. Once again, the Moroccan pride melts away and underneath there is a pain, a hatred for the corruption of the country. I cannot stand to be near his anger, I cannot listen to his rant. He tells me he sits on the roof and cries about his country. He tells me, just feel for me! He doesn’t know the problem is I feel for him too much. He tells me, I will sleep on the terrace of his sister house. I ask him where he will sleep and he says, at his parent’s house. We go in, I use the squat toilet, my stomach hurts. On the roof he lays out a blanket on the cement and asks me, oddly, to help him. I lay down, he sits up on the roof for a while. When he comes back, he asks if he can sit on the blanket, then lays down. I say to him, you said you will sleep at your parents house. He asks me, do you want me to wake them? I repeat, you said to me you will sleep at your parents house. I feel I have been manipulated by a Moroccan yet again. He asks if he can watch me while I sleep and I feel like a Moroccan is trying to take my energy again. He tells me, he has never been to school, ever. He rolls over and turns his back to me. I don’t reach out to him. I need to sleep so badly.
The next day, there is distance between us, no more playfulness. I want to leave. It is summer solstice and I wanted to be in Latvia today. The family are poor- I walk into the room where they all sleep and when Naimah opens her eyes, the first thing she sees is me. She reaches out her arms, I pick her up, hold her on my lap. Mustapha keeps taking her off me. I don’t like it, and decide he must be jealous. Naimah fetches an egg. She was supposed to get three, Mustapha tutts and I laugh. I eat breakfast with the family, salty egg and crispy bread; it is delicious. Naimah hits her brother with a stick, and says ‘la, la’ (No, in Arabic). Mustapha takes me to find an ATM that will accept my card. He walks ahead briskly, I want him to slow down and smell the roses. When we are near the police, he sends me ahead, angrily asking me if I want him to get in trouble with them.
At the bus station, the 11.30 bus to Nador is leaving. Quickly Mustapha arranges for a space and puts me on it. He angrily says, not even a thank you? Before I have even had a chance. I rip out a page of my Lonely Planet, scrawl my name, phone number and email. He tells me, if I try to call you and it doesnt work, it’s your fault. Kisses me on the lips. As the bus pulls out I am both releived and upset, I wonder if he knows how to use email, if I will ever see him again… And I didn’t say goodbye to Nai’mah.
Morocco passed as such a blur, I longed to sit still for a moment, write, and let the experiences pour from me. I have been flattered, surprised and warmed by the responses to my writing, my journey, and was uneasy to write again lest I disappoint. I write to clear my head and heart, and to calm my anxiety that I will forget my experiences and my journey will be lost. Above was my attempt at describing the sensory digestive and emotional overload that was Africa. In the wake of it, I have many many questions. Watching Mustapha, I surmised that perhaps yes, all people are good, except when they are scared. And maybe we are all afraid. The Moroccan people seemed to be desperate, frightened, hungry. In pain. In Morocco, I was very scared. I manually breathed for 4 days. If I create my reality, what the hell was that? A friend tells me, you will see reflected in the outer what is in the inner. The pollution, the fear, the starvation, the manipulation, the stench of death: all within me? As I write, my back hurts. In Morocco, I reached the conclusion; to be open is to be assured of the strength of your position. To be closed is to be defensive because you are unsure or afraid. Thinking back to Mustapha, I must live with the fact I closed myself to what was potentially the opportunity of a lifetime to share, to grow. For this, I must learn how to forgive myself. Why was I so scared there, when I haven’t been before? The country left me so confused, I looked outside me for answers, to the pendulum. When the world is at your feet, and your inner voice too quiet to hear, how do you make decisions? Though I spoke forcefully, and bargained steadfastly, I was edgy and jumpy, afloat. The hustling was relentless and I found myself lying as the guidebook suggests. Found myself saying that i have an ‘ami’ waiting in Australia, when I tired of bashing up against their repetitive, senseless questions. Part of me hoped maybe i do- but mainly, i just wanted to escape them battering me with their words. I wish I could leave this entry with something more poignant, with a sense of closure on something that will take a lifetime to digest and revisit.
Where do I even begin? At the beginning, I suppose it’s best. Or at least, where I left off. Pau, in France. Couch surfing.
June 7th, the day Kay flies home, I sleep all day, 16 hours straight. Eat more delicious food and fall deeper in love with French bread. At night, I blog. On Monday, I wander slowly around town; upload pictures at the Internet cafe. Go for a kebab and am given free delicious turkey coffee. Take the guys pic. He tells me about himself, about his travel; he is nice. I get the bus out of town, across the river, and walk back. The water smells a bit funky but the gardens are nice. I watch the sunset and think of Ariel, wonder where he was born. Wish he were with me, in his beloved France. Listen to the bells toll and wonder why the church is closed, to me, a true house of god would always be open. I go home to a house where everyone speaks French, and get into an argument with Antoinne about whether or not bread has milk in it. When he begins to question my Aussie accent, I walk out of the room. He gets out the dictionary and quizzically asks ‘easily offended?’. He doesn’t realise he is wearing sneakers just like the ugly sneakers Ariel used to wear- must be a French thing.
The next day I sleep until 3 and spend some time reading the lonely planet, wondering where to go next. I shower and repack my bag, and after consulting the pendulum, I don’t do the washing up. I decide to head to San Sebastion, in Spain, where Kay recommended. This morning I said I was going to go… and now I say it again. Raised eyebrows. Yes it’s late. I have such an urge to be moving. I consult maps and bus timetables. Nick has travelled and hitched himself. It’s not practical, he says, thought he understands I must do as I feel. Around 8ish, I finish saying goodbyes. I abandon half of my overly abundant tampon collection in the bathroom, write on the kitchen walls in whiteboard marker, and leave.
I walk in the wrong direction. I realise the boys were right, the buses have stopped running. I stand for a moment and wonder, for the first of many times, what the fuck am I doing?! I walk back in the right direction, towards the bus station, and start to readjust to wearing my pack. A cool and quirky guy on a bicycle gives me directions. I get to the bus station and there are still no buses, not even night ones. I consult my map, think ‘fuck it’, and start walking towards the highway. It is a long way. I stop at an intersection and stand under an open window, that is playing music I don’t know, but love. Start walking again, and then even though I am in town, turn around and stick out my thumb. The car stops, opens the door, and drives me to the toll way. Legend. Jump out, find a spot under the sign going to Bayonne, and stick out my thumb. And wait. And wait. Few cars are coming, a truck stops but he is not going where I am going. I start to seriously doubt my decision to leave; I am counting the minutes to sun down. Finally a guy stops and drives me to Bayonne. We speak a little, he has children. It is well and truly dark as we drive along into town along the river, the view is gorgeous. He drops me at the station at around 10.30pm. Check the prices for a ticket to San Sebastian and dude, it is way outside my budget. The ticket lady tells me I must get the train to Hendaye, and from there to San Sebastian. I get the train, it is a nice train, and I sleep a little. At Hendaye I start asking questions. Where is the food? There is no food, it’s late. Where is the train to San Sebastian? There is no train to San Sebastian until morning. Where is the Aubergue (youth hostel)? There is no Aubergue; this is a tiny ass town. I make small talk and wait, bracing myself for a nice sleep in the station. A couple appear, they are getting a taxi to San Sebastian for 50 euro. They offer to split with me 50/50. I tell them I am a student and offer to pay 15. They agree 🙂
In the back seat with the pretty Parisian, we listen to French rap on her iPod. As we come into Spain, it starts raining. I am still excited to be here. They get out at their hotel, and the taxi driver turns and asks me, Where to? I pull out my Lonely Planet, eni meenie miny mo.. I point to a hostel and off we go. All the streets in San Sebastian are one way, and I feel guilty as the driver winds his way back and forth and final drops me off. I ask him to show me where I am on the map, I have no idea. Take his picture; he was a helpful guy, wave bye. It is 12pm; I walk through the streets in the general direction of where I hope the hostel is. Around me are people partying in groups. I stop dead still and consult the lonely planet. I am not sure how it began, but then next thing I knew, two Aussies are in front of me and I am telling them about my escapades. It is such a relief to speak fluently, to use Aussie phrases and be understood. Damon is completely in awe- Kate is drunk. They are hungry and looking for the Mcdonalds, it is closed. We go and eat burgers, as Kate would enthusiastically tell you over and over, they are good burgers. I tell them I don’t know where I am staying, Kate tells me checkout is closed but there are spare beds in her room and she will sneak me in. Sounds sweet to me!
Inside, there is free Internet. I log onto Facebook. Kate comes out and starts to tell me I have to get up early in the morning and remake the bed. She is worried they will kick her out. I tell her not to worry, and stay up til 4am on the Internet. Next morning, as promised I get up (fairly early.10ish) and help myself to the free breakfast. Cornflakes and orange juice, yeah baby. Ha. Feel a little uneasy but everything is cool when I check in for the following night. So then Kate starts getting all enthusiastic about ‘going places’ and ‘doing things’. I give her my phone to take with her, and noncommittally tell her maybe we will meet up later. Off she goes, and I spend some of the day in virtual reality. Start to feel concerned I am in a new place and missing the chance to explore it, but it is overcast and eck. I walk through the streets in search of a cardigan; it is still overcast and a tad rainy. I want something pretty and white. I stop and try, for the first time, some of the infamous ‘Pinxtos’, or Tapas.
On the benches of all the bars, which are open throughout the day, are many varied types of different small snack foods, a lot of them seafood, and on crispy bread. You eat what you want and pay later. I have two big juicy mushrooms on a piece of bread. Walk and sit by the harbour on the rock wall. The ocean bashes against big huge cubes of stones, I mean, they’re pretty big. I wonder how they got there, and notice that some of them have graffiti on them. Given that they are down pretty low and a long way from access, I admire the dedication and effort of the kids who tagged them. Get bored and wander back into town.
I stop outside a shop that has a huge stuffed bear in front. The bear is covered in this ridiculously soft fur and even though I am sure people are staring at me, I stand and caress it. Go into the shop…. and don’t leave for at least two hours. Some pretty purple material catches my eye, I pick it up, pants- I am sure I am in love. I try them on and they are those saggy bum pants girls in Europe wear (no offence Ellen) and even though I love the colour and bagginess, I just can’t bear to look like I am wearing a nappy. The music is beautiful and it smells so good. They have those Orgasmatron things with 8 legs like a giant spider, made of metal, feels like heaven in a head massage. I spend ages in the change room and this time fall in love for real. White pants, baggy, nice bum, doesn’t even remotely resemble a nappy. 25 Euros. I put on a green dress and it feels like coming home.
50 Euros! No bueno. I take it off. End up leaving with natural deodorant, vanilla essence and THE pants. Go and have a delicious free strawberry ice-cream. I lie by the harbour in the sun, and read the lonely planet. I am waiting for the places, things, people, that make my heart flitter. I read about Morocco, about the Sahara and camels and the riots of smells sounds and sights… and decide I will go there.
Back to the hostel, more Internet. I have locked myself out of the room and when the Internet stops working, I lay in the common room, stare at the ceiling, and wonder about my life. I pick ‘The Lovers’ from my tarot cards. People come in and out of the room and I start to rally for evening activities. Kate comes back; she has bought a new dress. Four of us start to play cards and drink Sangria around 7, I get dressed into my green dress, and we leave at ten. We are with two Aussie boys; they astound us at the first bar by making out with two girls within five minutes of entering. We dance, we drink. Are we human, or are we dancing? We leave to go to different bar. I lose the group and am left with Jackie and Stu, busabout buddies of Kates. I have a few drinks in me, someone asks me about my recent travels, and I tell them ‘I kissed a prostitute!’. I am stunned by what happened, how it unfolded. I tell the story, some laugh, which relieves my unease, others look as unsettled as I am. We walk and talk, go into a new bar, pay too many euros to enter, they aren’t there. But a Spanish guy is, he doesn’t speak English so don’t talk, just hang out and listen to the live band. Every few minutes he puts his drink in front of me, I don’t say no. Have an awesome convo with a guy called Ryan, Aries. Tell him about my life for a while, my plans to travel to Morocco, he uses his mobile to add me on Facebook. Go back to the first club and find the group, Alex and Lee the Aussie boys are leaving and I follow. Back at the hostel, I speak deep and meaningful to Alex for a while.
(In the morning, he informs me I was telling him about my hitchhiking philosophy, that all people are inherently good, etc. etc.) Then things get interesting with Lee, and Alex sleeps on the couch. It’s awkward and by sun up I am back in my own bed.
The next morning I wake up still drunk, unstable and giggly. Hopeless. Kate feeds us pasta and I slooooowly pack. We walk around the bay to see the blowholes and I (arbitrarily) resolve to leave at 2.30. The sun is bright. I have fun annoying lee and Alex with knock-knock jokes. I chase a fat man wearing a t-shirt saying ‘Do not blow farts’. The group dare me hug to him. His name is Enrique and he tells me that I can get a train, which goes through the centre of the earth to Australia. Huh. Say goodbye to Kate and the girls, they are going on the fun-icular. Walk with Lee and Alex until I get the urge to go around the mountain rather than through the tunnel. They’re right, it’s a dead end, and I slowly make my way down to the sand. I feel the water and suddenly have to go swimming. I chase after them and beg then convince them to take my things for me. I run to the water. I take off my shirt and bra (gasp!) and run into the water in my undies, holding onto my boobs and expecting the police to crash tackle me any second. They don’t and I giggle at the fact I am swimming topless in a beautiful beach in SPAIN. I swim out to a pontoon with a slippery slide (!) and after saying ‘pardon’ to a naked guy, do a backflip (Scott would say its crappy) off the edge. I swim to shore as quickly as I can in, I am starting to get cold and a little edgy with the whole ‘ocean animals seaweed’ thing. I swear I see a turtle swim under me, but that could just be my hysteria talking. Put my clothes on, walk into the hostel in my bra, rinse my hair, get my pack, check the map, leave a goodbye card for the boys (the joker) and leave.
It is 666km to Ourrense, northwest Spain. I sent out some random Couchsurf requests, they replied with ‘Come!’, so off I go. Apparently it will take 6hrs and I leave at 4pm. I get the bus to the big road, and it is not the best for hitch hiking. I stand on a pedestrian crossing right before the beginning of the AutoRoute. The cars can’t really stop, and although I get the feeling a lot of them wouldn’t anyway, some look at me like, yes, but not here. I move to the roundabout. Here, still not the best, but possible. Except they don’t want to take me. People shake their hands and wag their fingers. Ahhh. I’ve heard they are a tough crowd in Spain. The sun is starting to be all slanty; the fountain is beautiful. I head to the bus station (close by) and buy a ticket for 9 euro to Bilboa, think maybe I can hitch there. Sleep a little on the way. It is starting to be painfully obvious that I got sunburnt today, making it difficult to carry my things. At Bilboa bus station I reassess my options. Not keen on carrying the pack anywhere. Cart myself all the way to the train station (de ja vu) where they tell me there are no overnight trains. Head back to the bus station, ‘umm’ and ‘ahh’ about what to do. Buy a ticket for 30 euro, going overnight straight to Ourrense. 930pm to 6am on a bus, yeah yeah. Sleep.
Friday June 12th, sleep at the bus station for a few hours. Call Roland, I am here. Stop at a shop, think, What would I love?, and buy them a big ass jar of honey. He comes and meets me on the Ponte Roman (bridge), wearing funky pants. They are a house of volunteers who work doing environmental.. things. The walls are covered with eco-friendly messages in Spanish, devastated I can’t read them. I am feeling real exhausted> I drink tea and make polite introduction talk until I can excuse myself, siesta 12pm-2pm. In the afternoon I shower and watch Romain cook. He is disappointed I don’t speak Spanish and refuses to talk to me. Pity, cos it seems like we could get along. They are heading out; I shower, do my hair, make myself smell pretty. I go to the Internet cafe. What do I do there? I don’t know. Waste my life in cyber space? Maintain vital relations with friends and family? Something like that. Roland said he would come and find me, but he is busy having sexy times with his Spanish tutor, so I decide to find the party on my own. I remember that Roman mentioned a pub called ‘Luxury’, where they have free tapas. Free Tapas!! I want to go there. I go into a corner store and employ my dodgy Spanish, ‘Por Favour, Donde Est Luxury?’ I made drinking motions, they have no idea and are annoyed at people who don’t speak Spanish. I persist, ask for the phone book. No listing. Ask the clients, no idea. They are starting to get enthusiastic now, as my enthusiasm wanes: they are like a force growing beyond my control, spilling on out onto to street to solve the mystery. After, say, 20 minutes or searching and translating and gesturing, I look across the street, and there is Romain. I point, ‘Amigo, muchos gracious’, and leave. Romain is all like, what are you doing here? Uncomfortable and embarrassed, I now feel like a stalker. The situation worsens when the lady from the shop comes running out with the piece of paper on which I have written ‘Luxury’, and starts speaking rapid Spanish to Romain. Man, I have no idea what went down there, but I want to disappear. We head back to the house for them to smoke some weed. I eat honey straight from the jar. By the time they are ready to head out, I no longer want to go out. To hell with good social grace, the girl needs to sleep.
Sleep til noon. Don’t want to do much, mooch around. Ask the pendulum questions for a while. Ronald, Cecile and … are going to Alleriz for the weekend and invite me along. At ten to three they tell me, if I want to come, meet at the corner at 3. Pack and run with Roland. We meet Dora and her dog Bitcho; we squeeze into the backseat of her tiny car with him.
The windows down, me and Bitcho are blissful. At her house, I wash up. She makes a delicious salad with crunchy, French style bread. Roland and I keep eating after the others stop. Her boyfriend mentions a siesta, and I am out cold. The others come and speak to me intermittently, I mumble and continue sleeping. Outside the house, Portuguese drummers stand in a circle and beat on drums frenetically. (At one point, I see a man in the crowd crying with passion.) A few hours pass and Dora drags me out of bed to follow the group to the river. I am irritated and half asleep, though a little less resentful upstream where there are small waterfalls. They’re heading back already. In the centre of the small town, there is a festival atmosphere; I get off on the dodgem car bass. Dora says we will stay put, because they are about to run the bull past her place and she doesn’t want to get caught amongst it. Run the bull! If not caught amongst it, I must at least witness this. Roland feels the same; we head back to the apartment to put down our things. Surprisingly Cecilia follows- Born in Peru, allergies, slight build. The narrow cobbled streets are crowded; the people are like what water would be like it if was stupid. They are waiting for the bull, they flinch, squeal, run together in waves, when someone so much as twitches or blinks. We split up. I see the bull, tied through the nose, men are hitting his flanks with sticks and he seems bored of the whole thing. People take pictures. Back at the house we watch from the balcony. The people traditionally pour water from buckets and hoses on the crowds below. Roland and I sprint down, get wet and dance about.
I wander around the fair and see woman chopping large purple octopuses into pieces with scissors, plate after plate, mechanically. The others are drinking in the flat, Cecile is drunk on coffee liquor that burns but makes you want more, she’s cute. Come back with Roland to try the octopus. It is coated in chilli powder, I avoid eating the suckers. Don’t know how it happens but Dora and I are having an impassioned discussion about why I ate the Octopus. I didn’t want it, I didn’t like it, I think its wrong and I will never eat it again. She says I did want it, subconsciously, that is a biological drive. She doesn’t feel how sick I am in the stomach. I am uncomfortable with my own passion, in conversations like this. We watch a concert in the park; the woman changes outfit every song. Roland comes onto me and I ignore him. I spend some time kicking a large beach ball around and am relieved when we go home, shower and sleep.
We sleep most of the day. We are leaving soon; I start flicking through my tattered Lonely Planet. Where am I gonna go? I am cloudy but think down through Portugal and onto Morocco. When I mention Morocco, Dora warns me, absolutely do not go to Fes, it is impossible to navigate, you will get hopelessly lost. And with that, the seed is planted. I want to get lost in Fez. We run to the bus stop for the bus back to Ourrense. I say I am going to go. Where? I don’t know. They are waiting for me to answer and I am paralysed. I pull out the pendulum. Cecilia suggests, catch a ride to Portugal with the drummers. I am tempted for a moment, what a cool idea. Pendulum says no, my head says they will probably stay another night here anyway. At the bus station I say bye and thank you. Sit with two guys and talk; one is going to Vigo and the other to Santiago, they tell me to come with them. I hesitate too long and they are gone. Examine the road and start walking. Put my thumb and yes, Spain is a tough crowd. Keep walking to a service station with a puppy and a toilet. Ask a guy if he is going west and he is. Jose- PE teacher, mountain biker, strange skin. On an urge I get out at a service station half way to Vigo. Sit and talk with people, look at the map. Ten minutes pass and a lady approaches me, her and her husband are headed to Santiago. They have a daughter named Angela- they drive me across the border into Portugal. Drop me at a restaurant: I request cardboard and a marker, the family stare at me.
Out on the road, no takers. Buy fruit from a roadside stall, ask a Portuguese man where he is going- something gets lost in translation cos next thing he is driving me north back into town. Get out at a servo. No luck with anyone, or the Internet. Start walking to the bus station, it is a long way and my pack is heavy, jokingly put out my thumb. People raise their eyebrows. This isn’t France, that’s for sure. At the next service station I sit and talk with a young couple. <Describe> They give me directions and I keep walking. Next thing a car pulls up; the two from the service station will drive me and have bought me a bagel. No bus or train, they find me a hostel. 17.50 euro a night. Find a burger and Internet at a pub until 1am. Have a double bed to myself, sleep naked.
I dream that the free breakfast is expensive and when I wake up I have missed it. I sit and write: What I would do next, if I could do anything. Portugal, Morocco, Barcelona, Ibiza, Latvia, Ukraine, Romania, Croatia, Greece, hitch the ferry to Israel, Fly to Germany, sex and ice-cream, Belgium, London, Thailand. I get the noon train to Porto (28 euro). Omelette and frustrating Internet: 2pm train to Lisbon (25 euro). I am tired and irritable, sleep. There are no trains from Lisboa until tomorrow, bus and metro into town. Mango smoothie as it gets dark. Find a room, the old man who runs the hostel carries my bag upstairs. When he says 30 euro, I say I will go… then pay 25. Have turkey and broccoli for dinner. Lonely Planet says there is Internet open til 2am, I bask in indecision. I will go there, I will sleep, and I will go there… I walk in circles. Drink free Portuguese liquor samples, can’t decide on a magnet. I buy one and he gives me the second one free, a rooster! I wander around asking people for directions, in the strange town past dirty fountains. After maybe an hour, I find the Cyber Café in a deserted back alley. It is closed down. Metro back, sleep.
Up at 12, find an Internet cafe AGAIN. Call my mother. Contact British Airways to arrange stopover in Thailand. Call Optus. Get the 5.20 train to Faro. For a while now, I am having a crisis of faith, well and truly. Where am I going? What am I doing? I want a plan, but not just any plan, a plan that is fool proof, includes everything, and has me right where I want and need to be. I tell myself just to deal with what is in front of me. In the cafeteria compartment, a man talks at me for a few hours.
He kinda looks like the guy form the office. He buys me tea; I eat dairy free chocolate fudge. He asks me questions, he is writing a book on spirituality but is all tangled up in his mind. I am tired. A strange and amusing family sit behind him; their son begins to stare boldly and obviously at me. I excuse myself. Back at my seat, I quickly get into conversation with the guy across from me. We have matching huge ass backpacks stowed behind our seats and I am intrigued. Prefer him to office guy. Benoit. With a frizzy main of hair and heavy French accent. He has been hitch hiking but found Portugal impossible. He is headed to Morocco. He knows about the train to the Spanish border, I will go with him. We change trains at the bottom of Portugal. It is dark; the train is old and rattly. We share food. Talk a little. He is travelling the world with his backpack researching ecological farming practices. Kudos, I like him. The train goes slowly, it is hot. The darkened countryside has many smells; I stand on the seat with my head out the window and feel so alive. I like his company. In Faro, we go looking for a bus station. There are no buses. We stop and talk to people who ordinarily, I would ask to drive me across the bridge into Portugal. He is sure there is a 2am Alsa bus. We look for Internet, I eat a burger, we decide to sit and wait. 2am and 230 come and go. Ange’s intuition 1, Progress to Portugal Zero.
Ben has a tent and is keen to pitch it, in the dark dirty paddock. I want the well-lit, thick green grass infront of the ferry station. Ben asks the pendulum, it says the grass is good. The police pull up when I am sitting on the bench seemingly talking to myself. To Ben’s surprise, they say we can sleep until the ferry in the morning. I ask them to drive us across the Bridge to Spain; realise that only works when I am alone. Ben plays guitar for a while. We put up the tent behind the kiosk; Ben nonchalantly gets in to sleep. Once again, what am I doing_! Go to sleep.
At around 5am, I hear a noise and spring to my feet. Sprinkler. Mother fuck. Ha-ha! We are right near one going full ball. I cover it with my hands to protect the tent, getting drenched and squealing. 4 or 5 sprinkler rotations and finally ben emerges.
I am laughing hysterically, he is half asleep. He covers the other sprinklers with kiosk signs- Move the tent! Move the tent! Move the tent! …Finally he moves the tent. I make a movie. Sprinklers 1, Pendulum Zero. We repitch the tent in the dark dusty paddock and sleep. Up at 9am. We eat; Ben plays guitar, we work seamlessly together as we pack and run for the ferry. Back in Spain, it is getting hot. Ben is in a hurry, I am used to a more leisurely pace. I want to wear blue- I buy a singlet for 12 euro. There isn’t a bus for a while, I am hungry. Ben is reluctant to go into the shop because he doesn’t have money. He follows me as I ask for ‘Griffo? (Tap) water with ice, and directions. We walk to the highway. Ben doesn’t think it will work- I am determined- The bus to the Port in Algeciras is 70 Euro. We find a carton, Ben makes a sign. Fuck the sign I say; I get out on the road and start making smiley faces at the drivers, dancing and begging. Today the planes are drawing ragged odd lines across the sky- a young guy stops and takes us to Huelva. We are in the middle of nowhere and it is very hot. Ben thinks we have made the wrong move and wants to get the bus. I tell him to cross the road, and race me to find a ride. Him for the bus in Huelva, me for Seville. Thankfully, I win. There are fields of sunflowers.
After a short ride, out at a large roundabout. Ben wants to stand on the road, I want to stand near the exit to the service station. Quickly a French couple pulls up, headed to Seville, I holler for Ben. They don’t speak English- Ben is French, I sit back and relax. I sleep, and feel a little guilty for not being engaged.
Seville. Ben wants to get the bus, I want to keep hitching. First we must head into town for food and rest. How? A man suggest renting bicycles, I am so excited. Ben is sceptical. There is only one, he says. ‘With an attitude like that there is!’ I tell him yet again. Another bicycle is returned… and one is broken. I rent one anyway. Ben checks it out and informs me I just paid 5 euro to register, although the bike is free. We ride it around to station and wait for another bike, none comes. I try riding the bike with my pack on and bens pack on the front- laugh hysterically, can’t do it. He gets the bus into town and I start riding. It is uber hot, I am sweating, and the river is pretty. Ask people where I am and realise I am ridiculously far from our meeting place. Ditch the bike and get the air-conditioned bus. Bus 1, bike Zero. It is 41 degrees and I dip my head in a fountain. We arrive at the same time. He is leaning against a brick wall in the cement square. We are hungry; I want to go into the cathedral. Ben waits with our baggage. 2 euros to enter, the woman insists I put my wet shirt back on. Fuck you, I think, do you reckon god hasn’t seen this before? The cathedral is huge, there is a tour, and I just want to go where the people pray. I walk through massive dome glass windows and realise Ariel is definitely not here.
There is a courtyard with a fountain and lines and lines of mandarin trees. I sit on the edge of the fountain and the man tells me to take my feet off it. Here, is Ariel. I miss him, he is heavy, and I don’t want to carry him anymore. I remember a story from the weekend in London, about a man whose son died. Every night he dreamt of him carrying buckets. Finally, he asks his son what he is doing, and the boy says, Father, you keep me here; these buckets are your tears’. I cry, wonder if it is time to remove the bracelet I wear from him. Back in the church, I want to yell at the people, that they will not find god here, that god is outside living and breathing and laughing and loving, they should go look for him in their lives. Hurriedly I walk 34 flights up and down the bell tower, return to ben. It is so hot, I am tired and decide to get the bus with him. On the way, I lay in a fountain.
He is impatient but amused. At the bus station, he fetches egg on bread (tortilla?) while I buy the tickets. We get the bus, sleep.
As the sun sets in Algeciras, Ben goes to find his friend at their meeting place and I find an Internet cafe. Her name is Celine, I feel like I already know her. They talk in French and I feel isolated, tune out. We debate what to do and find food. The guy charges Cecile 3 euro for salad and she argues with him until he gets tired of it, and feistily tells her just to take it. She is embarrassed. We sit and eat. I am edgy and restless. I have grown accustomed to following urges that are not always rational, doing things a certain intuitive way. I am following them and I don’t like it. They discuss things in French, and then I make the same comments in English. We go to see if any sailboats are sailing to Morocco but they are all too small. At the yacht club I start a conversation with a woman, they take over in French. She has a houseboat, goes and asks her partner if we can stay, he says no. If I were alone, it would have worked. She walks us to where she thinks we can camp, along the way they talk in French. She becomes more and more agitated as she speaks, I am glad I am not involved in the conversation. She leaves, they tell me, She was in fear, not love. She told them, if they can’t even afford 10 euros for a bed, they should just give it up. It looks like rain- the pendulum says yes but camp anyway. Ben and Cecile find a spot under trees and begin collecting foliage to sleep on. I stand around and feel useless. We pitch the tent and they spread their blankets outside it. What kind of traveller am I, I do not have a blanket? In the tent I spread my clothes over and under myself. Early in the morning, Ben joins me, with one hand gently on my hip.
Next day we walk to the port, look for the truck. I am frustrated still, at having to compromise the wills of three people. I decide I will go to Ceuta, which is on the Moroccan continent but Spanish territory. They will go to to Tangier. There is only one person per truck anyway, and they do not have phones. The first truck I approach will take me. I put my backpack in and walk to find food. I say goodbye to Ben and Cecila. Being with them became confusing and I am kind of relieved. I wait for a few hours. My truck driver’s friend chatters at me irritatingly. I am still feeling exhausted and do not want to listen to him. The truck driver returns and asks if I have eaten. Poco, I tell him. He tells me to come; I walk with the three men to a buffet restaurant. 7.50 Euros, I hesitate, and they tell me to come. Encourage me to fill a few plates. I eat, meatballs and salad and rice and vegetables and bread and then jelly. When he pays, I take a picture. We go to the truck, his friend gets in, and he indicates to the bed with the curtain. I sit on the bed, he shuts the curtain, and we board the ferry. Not how I expected it to go but hey, whatever. The sun is hot and the water churns as we pull out of the bay. Africa, here I come.
Oh the wind whistles down… The cold dark street tonight
And the people they were dancing to the music vibe
And you’re singing the songs, Thinking this is the life
Where you gonna go? Where you gonna go? Where you gonna sleep tonight?
Wednesday, May 27th, wake up early, feeling like I want to vomit and can’t quite breathe, at the thought of leaving my home and walking into the unknown. Hear via Facebook, it’s time to sell all my furniture. Troy and Andréa are moving out of our house July 2nd. It doesn’t rain, but it pours. Anyone wanting a dining table, couches, TV? Give Kim a haircut; say some goodbyes, followed by some more goodbyes. They don’t feel quite real, cos I didn’t know where I’m going or when I must leave. I start crying, same as when I left Australia, thinking, I don’t want to go! I don’t wanna go.
Kay (from Australia) is in Pau, France. I decide to make my way across to see her. Why not? Ellen is my travel advisor, while I lay on the ground looking for clarity, possibly for the last time. Take the bus from near our beloved Tesco, out of town. Walk through a paddock with a beautiful afternoon sun, where I have to pee. On a path by the river, ask some disbelieving Czechs for directions to the highway. Realise I could have gotten the bus to Ikea. Being starving, I eat at the last restaurant before the Highway. Have chicken and veges, get talking to the staff.
Cute guy, funny lady, end up giving them Aussie souvenirs and in return, free chicken, tomatoes and a capsicum, as well as a huge ass bottle of water. Dusk, and not even out of Brno yet. Walk to onramp, stick out my thumb, he’s going to Bratislava, off we go.
Arrive in Bratislava; he drops me at the main station. 9.40pm, think about getting the train to Vienna. Am not sure why I hitched to Bratislava and not Vienna straight up. There are strange women dragging their children through the station in the middle of the night. I consult Lonely Planet, Europe on a Shoestring, for the first of many many times, and decide to stay at Downtown Backpackers. Get hopelessly lost and wander around a deserted Bratislava. With the help of a lovely man, I find it, secure a bed, update my Facebook status, shower and sleep.
Wake up with bruised hips from my backpack. Find a camping store where they adjust it so it doesn’t hurt anymore. Panic when I realise I am missing my wallet, return to the youth hostel and they have it behind the desk. Phew. Eat spinach salad and chicken soup and head off in search of some ‘A touch of sea salt’, Lindt Dark Chocolate. I find a Lindt store but it is shut. I settle on Rhubarb gourmet chocolate. Get photocopies of credit card and passport, and then get on a bus, going in the wrong direction. Get off, cross the road, and go back in the right direction, out of town to the highway. Walk around examining the roads, find the right spot, stick out my thumb. It takes a while, a guy finally stops, and he is going 1100 km to visit his daughter in Holland. There is a hole in the sky with sunlight streaming through, looks like god to me. I take pictures out the window as we drive and get out 200km later at Linz, Austria. Eat a very expensive dinner (forty bucks) at the truck stop and hitch again. Talk Czech to Eddie as we listen to Whitney Housten, he drops me at Volabruck. It’s dark; I get the train to Salzburg. Sit outside the station and talk about life to my dad for a while. Get directions from a lovely man who walks with me for a while. Cross the river and the view is gorgeous. It is windy in the rain and I wonder, is this the same river as in Budapest? I grab a cab and ask for Naturfreudenhous, friends of nature, the youth hostel. He drives me up a long winding road- I am glad I didn’t try and walk it. The front looks dark and deserted. I ring the bell; tell the cab to go, after getting his number just in case. When no one answers the door, I try and call them, my mobile doesn’t work. I wonder if it was the right decision to send the cab on his way. The view if amazing. Finally a man comes to the door in his pyjama pants, thankfully he tells me I can sleep and check in in the morning. I shower, realising I left my towel in Bratislava, so I dry myself with a pillowcase stealthily adopted from a cupboard, and sleep.
Looking across old town in Salzburg at the monastery
Wake up to another Aussie arriving in my room! Go and eat some complimentary breakfast in the sun/rain/sun overlooking old town. Go back to sleep until 130! Monika and I walk down the hill to find a net café in pouring rain. I spend a few hours there looking at maps and checking email and then realise, now I won’t have time to visit the monastery 😦
Get the bus in the wrong direction again. Nice blue-eyed guy helps me get it back in the right direction. Make it to the main station and go in search of a toilet. Find my way to the right bus and realise I don’t have my wallet. Run back to the toilet and it isn’t there. Go to tourist information and she tells me someone has been asking about it. Run to lost property and it is closed. Asks the station staff and no one speaks English. Want to cry. Finally find the right office and a man hands me my wallet, with a post it of the person who handed it in. Thank god. I feel on top of the world, so happy that the world has good people in it. I bounce my way onto the bus. Grin at a guy who then gives me the advice to go to Fairrestrasse to hitch to Innsbruck. I get there, find a bus stop, hold up my sign, and it begins to rain, again. Cars are stopping but they are all headed back to Salzburg.
I walk further along the road but there is nowhere to stand. Make my way back to the service station; buy some corn chips and salsa and collapse. Start talking to the staff and regulars, they tell me I am on the wrong road for Innsbruck. I get them to write my request in German. A man offers to drive me to a service station on the autobahn where I can hitch. We go. It is now dark and raining, I try standing in the rain in a poncho with my thumb out for a while and decide not to do that anymore. I linger around the petrol station. The people have full cars, or aren’t going to Innsbruck, it is a national holiday, and they are mistrustful at night. The truck drivers are sleeping and I don’t feel comfortable going with them at night anyway. I ask for hot water to make soup and the cranky bitch tells me it will be 2 euros. I don’t get it. I buy licorice and sit and plait it.
Decide to sleep in the restaurant at the petrol station, Angry lady tells me I can’t, that I must leave. I look at her like, WTF lady, where the fuck do you expect me to go??
A woman tells me she lives nearby and that I can sleep at her house. We are right near the German border and drive across it to a tiny town called Anger (go figure). Her husband meets us at the door and takes my things. They show me upstairs to a double bed with fluffy covers, wooden floorboards, and heavy white shower robes. We eat meat and bread, drink wine and I sleep.
Awesome big double bed all to myself!! ‘Anger’ German Austrian border
Next morning I meet their children, breakfast is spread on the table waiting for me. The view across paddocks to the Salzburg castle is awesome and I hang out with the kids on the swing and hammock in the yard. I start learning German.
We walk in the forest, see some horses and a tiny church and eat lunch. Go and see a castle and shop at Aldi, with the Alps as a backdrop. We watch a movie in German. Lisa massages my calves, which are killing from all this walking. Her husband enters and she takes off her top. In front of the fire with wine, he places his hand on my head and cools my thoughts. Lisa kisses me. He leaves the room and she tells me she must follow.
In the morning, she wakes me in a robe and says, come to us. In bed she is naked, and she moves my hands to touch her. He is up and leaving the room again.
Next day, have a BBQ lunch. He is silent, withdrawn and angry. I am impatient to leave. They want and expect me to stay. It is beautiful but I must be going. I write Lisa a letter that she must do what she wants without guilt. He enters with the children- they are going for ice-cream. The children are odd and formal.
Lisa drives me to Freilassing. On the way to the station, Lisa holds her rough hand in mine. She is crying. She tells me they were couple swinging, and then they decided if they were doing that, she may as well do it for money. (He is a Taurus! It makes sense now). She wanted this to be something beautiful for them to share. She wanted Me to be something to share with him.
I kissed a prostitute.
We hug and say goodbye. I get the train to Rosenheim. I am relieved to be going, and disbelieving of what just happened. I stand outside the train station staring at a map, wondering where the autobahn is. A man comes up to me and tells me how to get there, without me having to ask. I love people.
I walk, quite a way with my heavy ass backpack, til I come to a servo. Use the toilet, and then ask the boys who work there for directions, even though I don’t need them, mainly just because one of them is cute.
Walk along the road. After muttering to myself in a rather amusing way, I turn around and stick out my thumb in front of the McDonalds. A woman overhears me and fetches her husband who speaks English. He takes my pack for me, insisting it is nowhere near as heavy as an army pack, and we walk. I tell them where I have been and where I am going. They take a liking to me and decide to drive me a service station where it will be easy for me to hitch. The man makes me a sign of A, for Austria. He tells me how to distinguish the nationality of a car from the number plate. We drive across the border, exchange email addresses and say goodbye.
Stick my thumb out. Every time, it makes me laugh cos part of me can’t believe what I am doing. Quickly a truck picks me up and we drive to Innsbruck, Austria. The sun sets as we drive through the Alps, it is beautiful, I take pictures. He drops me at the station outside town, he will drive on through. I go into the Rosenberger restaurant, start talking to the staff.
I am exhausted and amuse them when I start hysterically giggling. When I ask for hot water, and tell them how bitchy the people were in Germany, they give me free goulash.
A fellow traveller who has just flown in from, Asia? He sits and talks to me of travel. It is late now; closing time, and they give me 3 sandwiches and a container of pastries. It makes me so happy; I don’t bother telling them I am allergic to milk. Although one of the staff offered to walk with me and carry my pack into town- (what is with men wanting to carry my baggage for me?) Oscar drives me to the youth hostel. A bed for 20 euro. I ask some young guys about the Internet and they randomly pay for me to use it. Find a brochure for the ski fields. Go to shower and feel uncomfortable, there is no lock on the door and teenage footballers are running rampart around the hostel. I get out and dry myself- look up and one of them is grinning at me through the window. I tell him to fuck off and cover myself. Stand there and wait, give the 2nd and 3rd guys to stare over the ledge at me the finger. I show the guy who runs the hostel who it was, but seriously, what is he going to do? The young guy says to me ‘onshooligong’, I tell him he should have some fucking respect, he can’t understand cos he speaks German. I walk away without slapping him. Sleep.
Wake up, repack my backpack, and check out. Get the bus to the main station, and find the bus that goes to Stubai. This is why I am here; I came via Innsbruck- which is the long way- because here they have a glacier in the Alps where you can snowboard all year round! The bus takes 8 euros and an hour and half. I am the only one to stay on the bus through all the tiny towns in the mountains. On the way I see some skydivers, arrive and the place seems deserted. I wonder if there actually is snow still. Wait until one o’clock when it is slightly cheaper, and buy myself a pass for 21euros. Get on the cable car up the hill and wonder, yet again, if perhaps I am a little insane. Get another cable car and find the rental store. Get myself boots and a snowboard, ask for a pretty one. I pester the woman for tips on how to snowboard as she adjusts the board. I rent a jacket and gloves but decide against getting a helmet and pants, cost extra.
Yes, I wore my jeans snowboarding. Leave my pack with the staff. Trek through the snow (so tiring!) to one of the chair lifts. Have no idea how to use it. Manage to sit my ass down, with a girl. She tells me that visibility is really shitty and that perhaps a beginner with no goggles, skill or helmet should not do it. Get to the top of the hill and she skis off. I start hysterically giggling and saying ‘Fuck!’. Look over and two snowboarders are sitting and watching me amusedly. I tell them, I can’t snowboard, I am afraid of snow-covered hills! They suggest I get back on the chair lift. But I am here, so I will go down. The guy is a snowboard instructor and gives me some tips. A screw is missing from one of the show fittings and he manages to tie it together for me, awesome! I take a deep breath, struggle to stand up, and snowboard down the hill.
It seems to take forever to get down. I can’t decide which foot forward I am. I go left and right and left again. I plonk back down on my bum from braking too much- without any speed, I sit down, and then struggle to stand back up. Three quarters of the way down the hill I realise it is much much much easier to stand up if I turn and face up the hill, hallelujah. I also realise that insisting on snowboarding slowly takes much more effort then going quickly, makes feet hurt from braking so much. I am so thirsty I sit and eat snow. It is true, learning to snowboard on beginner tracks is harder- I do my first 2 face plants. Make it to the bottom by 3 o’clock. I am trembling and hungry and need a hug. My ass is freezing and wet. I stick it under the hand drier in the toilet and apologise to the lady who stares at me. I change clothes and give the staff some of my pastries. Some guys offer to drive me back to Innsbruck. We ride the cable car, one of their names is Glen, and it’s his birthday. I sing to him. As we walk through the car park, I see the chic and guy who helped me out on the hill and go to thank them, give them pastries and exchange emails. I turn around and the guys who offered me a ride have disappeared. The bus isn’t going for an hour and its expensive, so I stand in the empty car park and stick out my thumb to the people leaving the ski field. They laugh and wave to me, and then a guy stops. He is the manager of the restaurant and offers me a job, gives me his email address, tells me to come and work here whenever I want, an apartment and snowboard all day. I say I will think about it: he drops me at a bustop. I get the bus to the autobahn and get out at a servo. Consult a map. First guy I ask gives me a ride. His female companion quizzes me as we drive, aren’t you scared? I tell her, I am afraid of snow covered hills, I am afraid of rejection, I am afraid of what people think of me when they see me hitching, but no, it does not scare me. I think but do not say, I am protected. They go out of their way to drop me back at the Innsbruck truck stop. Inside, say hi again to the staff, get some delicious food cos I am starving (they make it free!) say goodbye and stick out my thumb.
An old, watery-eyed guy is the next to pick me up and he tries to hold my hand. I tell him, no, and I get out at the next service station. My faith was shaken and I am echoing Lisa. Was he really a threat or was he just a sad old lonely man? He drops me off and there is a rainbow above the hills.
The sun begins to set and I am in a hurry for a ride. It takes maybe 20 minutes, and then two guys in a campervan eating ice-creams pick me up. I cram my pack in the back and we drive through the mountains (rather then the tunnel, the view is pretty). He is changing back gears up the hill and I am laughing. They are hang gliders who have been competing. The driver starts to talk politics, about the Muslim population in Austria, how they will outnumber the Austrians shortly, how they are trying to bring their laws about women to Austria, how it is a problem that has to be controlled. I watch him, fascinated, and he asks if I am asleep. I tell him, weighing my words, that it is difficult to separate the history from the history maker. I ask him if he is afraid. I ask him, what if he was born in a country with no food? Why is he more entitled to live in prosperity than someone in Africa? Is it just luck where one is born, why does he feel a sense of ownership? Is it the fault of the people living in Third World countries that they are starving or is the West keeping them in oppression by exploiting their resources?
We arrive in Lichtenstein at 10pm. The guys go out of their way to drop me at a bus station.
I get a bus close to the youth hostel. Get out and make a movie of the deserted sleeping small town/weird country. Dad calls. I wander around, lost and exhausted, back and forth. Finally find the youth hostel by 1130. Reception is closed. I go around the back and ring the bell. Black cats keep crossing my path and it is freaking me out. The woman answers the door, I have woken her, she tells me she doesn’t feel well, so won’t check me in- that the closest youth hostel is in Fiedkirch (Austria!), and shuts the door. She doesn’t even offer me a blanket. My thermals are still wet from snowboarding; I change and layer my clothes. I don’t have a sleeping bag but consider sleeping on the bench outside the youth hostel anyway. I feel so fucking unwelcome! Decide to leave.
Walk back to the bus stop, the buses have stopped running, it is past midnight. Don’t know the number for the cabs and realise the lonely planet doesn’t include them in their country listings, WTF mate? Ask a guy, (coincidentally the same guy I asked for directions 2 hours ago in a different place) he gets me a cab. Drive to the cheaper hotels, they are all closed. The taxi driver, Sergio, finally communicates to me, in German, that I can sleep at his house, across the border in Switzerland. I feel uneasy, as he mentions he doesn’t have a wife, but am so fucking tired I go. Without further ado, I sleep on the couch without changing my clothes. He asks me to remove my hat, he is curious; I refuse and sleep in it. In the morning he is grumpy and says he couldn’t sleep, that I snored?? Doubt that. He takes me to an ATM; I pay him 25 Swiss francs for the driving, say goodbye at Bad Regaz train station. There is no Internet cafe; I get the train to Saargans, and head to the tourist information centre. The computer is sooooo slow, I give up and tell the lady it is shitty, she lets me use it for free. I ask her for a map and where the highway to Southern France is. I tell her I am from Australia and I am hitchhiking. Oh, how peoples eyes widens when I tell them these details. She shows me where to walk. I am hungry, the restaurants are closed, and there is no bus for two hours. I buy corn chips and salsa. I look but still cant find any ‘touch of sea salt’ Lindt chocolate 😦 Keep walking until I find the highway. Stand by the roundabout and ask a guy on a bike if there is anywhere to stand further towards the onramp. He is cheerful and says there is. I walk across the bridge and stick out my thumb.
I get a ride a few towns in a nice car. Stick out my thumb, another ride for a few towns in another nice car. A nice old lady stops but she is not going far, so I refuse. Get dropped at a service station outside Zurich. I take off my pack and sit on a carton of cans. I am really starting to feel at home in service stations!! I consult a map. Start talking to the lady who works there, she is friendly. First guy I ask is driving into Zurich city centre. I go with him in his truck. He is a crazy noisy Yugoslavian. I like him. We go to the depot to unload his ‘Planzer’ truck. I walk around asking if any of the trucks are going to France the next day, no one can speak English and I wonder if they think I am a prostitute. Finally he is finished and he drives me into town to the Hauptbahof- ‘main station’ in German, which apparently is not only the main language of Austria but Switzerland too!! Who knew.
I get an ice-cream (dairy free, Yossi!)
and make my way to the youth hostel, fantasising about collapsing into a bed. My bag is still heavy. Every time a car stops for me, I throw it over my head and run. I am hoping that carrying it around, with all this walking, is going to be excellent for my stomach muscles and core body strength, plus waiting in the sun should give me a tan, maybe I will come home all buff? Time will tell. Anyway. I arrive at the youth hostel and there is a sign on the door ‘sorry we are full’. I sink to the ground and sit and stare at it. Daaaaamn it. I go in anyway, the guy at the desk calls the other youth hostel, they are full, and apparently now summer is coming I need to start booking ahead. I walk around looking for a cheap hotel, the single rooms are full. I go to buy some poppy seed cake from a vegan place but I don’t have my credit card. I return to the youth hostel, use the Internet to message some people on Couchsurfing. To my surprise and delight, a dude replies that I can sleep at his house, with directions on how to get there. I watch the sun set over the river,
Gay pride flag on the Zurich River. GORGEOUS sunset
Which is crystal clear green with water from the mountains. I grin. Get some takeaway Chinese and make my way to his house by 1030. He doesn’t really like Australians but is polite, we chat. He doubts my ability to use the washing machine and goes to bed. I put on washing, have a bath (I cant figure out how to change the nozzle from bath to shower) and repack my backpack. Get up at 7 with Christian because he is going to work.
In town, get the 9am train. Arrive in Burn. Head to an Internet pub that Lonely Planet recommends. It is ridiculously expensive, 1 Swiss franc ($1AUD) per 6 minutes, but I use it for an hour and a half anyway. Go to a pub and get a burger cos I am starving. Cry for a little while. The people are friendly and ask about my travel. They recommend the bus 13 out of town to the autobahn. I study a map at the florist and get the bus, but I can’t find the onramp. Walk up and down from a while asking people where to go. Go into a supermarket and look for some Sea Salt chocolate, there’s none. Start walking out of town, it is very sunny. Ask a guy how far it is, he says, maybe a mile, but sorry he is going the other way. I start walking with my thumb out. A minute later he pulls up and says he will drive me. He has a car full of eggs; we stop along the way to deliver them to people with pamphlets. Make it to the autobahn. A Yugoslavian man with two Swiss sons stops and gives me a ride for a while, none of them speak English. Then a black guy, then a nice girl called Ellen who drops me at the Genève airport, telling me to take the number 10 bus. We drive through Vevey and Bulle, and at some point along the way the planes crisscrossing the sky draw a giant A. I get the bus into town, head to an ATM then Al-Amir, the kebab shop Lonely Planet recommends.
Beautiful clear river coming from lake Genève
I am at the bottom of Switzerland before France, and here, everyone speaks French. I feel really alone, tired and sad. I miss Ariel. Everyone smells excellent, and some people smell like him. The women are beautiful, and I remember him making me feel beautiful. I dump my pack, order a kebab, and sit outside the shop and cry. The kebab man asks what is wrong, tells me to talk to him. I tell him that I had a friend from France who died. He seems uncomfortable, tells me to be strong and keep moving. Does he think I am in danger of collapsing on him because I am allowing myself time to be sad? Does my emotion threaten him? Or is he right, that I should not waste time and energy looking back into the past? I want someone to explain to me why I should not be sad, and until I understand I want to cry, in the sunshine.
I walk up a big ass hill to the Home St Pierre youth hostel, again fantasising of a bed. I arrive at 830, the same time as an Asian girl; apparently check in shut at 6pm. She had a reservation but cancelled it. When a girl comes out, we go in. Asian girl follows my lead as I walk the stairs, sit outside the door and ring the bell. I call the other youth hostel in town and it is full. I sit and ring the bell. And ring the bell. Finally some girls answer the door. I tell them we have nowhere to sleep. The managers have gone home, they start making phone calls, and then finally tell us we can have beds. 🙂
I dump my stuff, change, and walk into town. It is so beautiful by the river, near Lake Genève. Again, the water is so crystal clear. Go to a beautiful cafe in a park with a pool and statues and a view, eat warm caramelised apple pie. My feet are aching, I shower and sleep.
Next day, go in search of an ATM to pay for the previous night. I am in a place famous for Swiss banking and yet my card won’t work in any of the ATMs. Finally check out and get the bus out of town. Get off the bus and walk for ages, realising bus 23 would have taken me much further. Think to myself ‘Amateur!!’ Get back on a bus. At the Swiss/France border, I go into a servo to use the toilet and look at a map. I ask the girl where I can ‘stop’ (hitchhike) from, her eyes widen, she gives me advice, and a free sandwich and chocolate. I get the Y bus across the border. The roads in France are much smaller and slower, without the huge onramps like in the German countries. I stand at a roundabout near a paddock of wheat and quickly get a ride. When people are leaving the highway, I get out, and get another ride. A cheerful man, a plumber with a chaotic car picks me up. Whenever I thank the French, they say, Dorien, and then, it is my pleasure. They insist to me, that to help me along my way truly makes them happy. It makes my heart ache a little thinking of Ariel, it is so beautiful.
This plumber, he asks me if I have time, and I say yes, even the clock is ticking. It is Thursday and I have been on the road for 8 days. He tells me that I can’t visit Bellegarde and not see the river. He talks animatedly of his love for the river, of nature, of the smell and the sights. He takes me down and shows me a waterfall. I mostly listen and talk little. When talking of his cat and puppy playing, he imitates them; it makes me laugh and reminds me of Ariel, my eyes well up. I sit by the water.
A ladybug lands on him; he names it Victor after himself, and tells me to make a wish when it flies away.
He asks me if I will come back and visit, I tell him honestly that no probably not, there is so much to see. It is hot and his phone keeps ringing, he is late for a job. He asks me whether I would prefer highway or normal road, I tell him highway, and he drives me there.
A man with a huge moustache picks me up. We are headed to Lyon. Then two girls and a guy. They have been rock-climbing, and again, ask me, aren’t you afraid? They tell me I am courageous. At the servo, the guy pays for my salad (and coloured Tic Tacs?), French guys are like that. He offers me to stay at his house, to come climbing with them, and tomorrow he will drive me where I am going. I consult my pendulum; the girl in the seat next to me raises an eyebrow a little. I decide to continue on the road. I get in a truck with Anthony, he is going all the way to Avignon, I settle in. He speaks French and little English. At the service station in Arles, the sun is setting and he pays for my dinner. I pick up one of the 4 ‘petit sha’ (kittens) wandering around the truck stop and am left with bleeding scratches.
Anthony’s schedule has changed and he is heading to Montpellier the next day, he offers me movies and a ride in the morning. After speaking to the restaurant staff, the manager offers me a bed, and I tell Anthony that I will go. I say goodbye and he is upset with me.
Drive to Christian’s house in Avignon. He is a Leo, a born performer, a singer from Morocco.
His narcissism is kinda amusing but bores me after a while. He reminds me of the first guy I fell in love with. The decor is lovely; I feed them vegemite, and have a shower. We make a table of French words. The lounge room is lovely but his bathroom is filled with dirty clothes. He makes a double bed on the lounge room floor and lies down. Part of me is afraid he will ask me to leave if I do not want him. He kisses me, across the language barrier I attempt to say kiss, on second thought maybe I confused it with the word Fuck. I dimly wonder if Ariel would be pleased with this new experience. In the morning, coffee, then they drop me on Route 7, which leads me to Route 9, which leads to Pau.
Stick out my thumb; get a ride (a man who sells woman’s fashion pieces?), then another ride. Then a lady with a guesthouse in Avignon, who threw out her TV 11 years ago. She tells me about taking pictures- how experience has taught her to just feel the moment, but that when you are young, you want to ‘have’ the moment. With all the pictures I am taking, I can relate. She drops me in Montpellier. I get some cardboard and make a ‘Narbonne, Toulouse’ sign. I go into the ‘Quick’ restaurant, and they have chocolate fudge desserts dairy free! I go out to the huge roundabout and hitch. It takes a while. A truck. To a big roundabout. Quickly a tanned girl who works in the fields gives me a ride. She drops me off and straight away a tiny car crammed full of people, they move across and make room. Two fellow hitchhikers in the back, one 18-year-old girl with a gorgeous feeling to her, she reminds me of Megan. I ask where they are going and they aren’t sure, I love it. They roll cigarettes with the windows down and the tobacco flies around.
The girl with dreadlocks driving is headed to a French festival and offers for me to come and stay at her place and she will drive me tomorrow. I am tempted but decide to move onwards. I hug them all and we trade emails. They drive me out of town to a French toll.
One advantage of France over other countries, scattered throughout the highways are tolls where all the drivers must slow down to pay. Means if the driver I am with is taking an exit, I can get out at the toll just before and don’t have to find a place to hitch. Stand on the divider between the lanes and smile and dance as the drivers stare at me, until I get lucky. The Moroccan, he told me I have a cross on my hand, which denotes good luck. Others have said I am lucky too. Am I? To be born a female, perhaps, is a blessing when hitching, travelling would be much slower if I was a guy tryna get a ride. Also being Australian works in my favour! So an older guy, who is an artist, and performs to make people laugh, picks me up. We drive for a while. As we come through Causconne, he tells me I must see the castle city, stops, we walk into the park, I take a picture. Back in the car, he tells me I can sleep and he will wake me when it is time. I am exhausted and quickly do so. It is raining as we come into Toulouse. I get out of his car at the toll, turn around and stick out my thumb, and roll into the next car that pulls up. Have a mind-blowing conversation with a black man, whose two little girls in the back speak French, Czech, and English. I tell him they are my heroes for their bilingual-ness. He tells me I am his hero for doing what I am doing, for walking my path. He is headed to Pau and drives me all the way into the city.
2180 KM 🙂
And here I am. 7 Avenue de Resistance. Sunday, I slept 15 hours. Staying with Lisa and her boyfriend Nick, Carmen from El Salvador, Delphin, with piercings, who speaks only French, and Antoinne, who speaks English with British accent and is Hugh Grant Adorable. Saturday, caught up with Kay. We had Faro, apple cider beer.
She seemed afraid of the way I am approaching the world, talking of movies like Taken and Hostel, wanting to advise to me be careful. She spoke of the way, with more experience, she would not do what she did when she was younger. It made me flush hot red with embarrassment. Some people feel I am naive, that I do not know there are bad things in the world. I believe the world is conspiring to shower me with blessings, and some people think I am an idiot because of it. Perhaps I am. Perhaps with age, I will grow to see things differently. God I hope not.
Thoughts from on the road:
Fuck my life! I love my life. Fuck my life, I love my life. Ich Bin Mein Lieben: I am my life. Travel can be invigorating, travel can be exhausting. Makes me feel a little bipolar. White people are a canvas, black people are a painting. Crystal clear waters make me feel safe. I have been looking upstream and have been surprised at which way the water goes. Me carrying so much baggage for such a little girl, surprises people. It has been getting heavier not lighter; I think I am going to ditch some underwear. My wisdom tooth started cutting again the day I left Brno, for a while, I was biting on my flesh. The snowboard experience clearly illustrated the way, when I am scared, other people might tell me I can’t do something, but I probably can. A favourite amusing memory, when I first came to Europe, I stood at a revolving door outside a hotel and tried to push it to open on the left, the managers inside looked at me like I was crazy.
Love you all xoxo