Exploring & Escapades

bits & pieces of my travels

Month: February, 2018

Gozo

Gozo, wild island, our first impression of the Maltese islands. 

Wind and rain, clouds and sun. Waves crashing. We had it all, sometimes all to ourselves, on an off-season February afternoon.

Twenty-five minutes from the mainland via autoferry, but seemingly an entirely different world. A world of salt pans and citadels, ancient temples, secret caves, of magic and legend. 

I almost blew away on the beach where Daenerys Targaryen married Khal Drogo; p.s. Game of Thrones Season One was filmed here ;).

Horsey Gap

We went to Horsey for the seals, but they didn’t wait for us year – save for a few friendly faces in the water. But the coast – the seasalt, the dunes, the sharp and bitter British wind; the coast was there, waiting, and that was worth the trip.

Kasbah

Kasbah, citadel. Sanctuary in the heart of Chefchaouen. Fresh oranages, fresh greens hidden in plain sight.

We were the people eating outside under the umbrellas earlier, oblivious to the entirely different world, the one beyond the old stone walls in front of us. 

Chefchaouen


Chefchaouen, the blue city. Instagram-Pinterest-digitally-famous city, once sleepy, now overrun. People from all over the world – European, Middle-Eastern, Asian, Australian, African, South American people on the hill with us, watching the sunset. A girl from Jordan took our picture. Our hotel host had lived in Paris, Portugal, and Fes.

And while it was very touristy, it was a different version of it. A new tourism. A place awakened and unsure what to do with itself, still a bit unorganized, still very much locally managed. The streets are lined with everyone selling you everything, what appears to be mostly junk – keychains, magnets, postcards, the sorts of things the tourists want. Ironic, since that’s most what we want to avoid. But beyond that, outside the streets and into the hills, there’s a different view.

A small, forgotten, beautiful, blue city, tucked between sleeping mountains. A city with a past, present, and future that it is eager to share with the world.

Riad Laaroussa Hammam

An evening at the hammam; tranquil, quiet, concealed. A contrast to the outside world, the medina from which we escaped as the sunset.

The hammam, a bathing ritual, was our treat, a certain indulgence, but also an experience that we had been told we must have. Traditionally, a hammam is performed in the public bathhouses with some hours set aside for men and others for women; in contrast, we chose a private spa in a luxury hotel. While I can’t vouch for the common authenticity, I can vouch for the magic of it all.

First, there is a dark steaming sauna. Then, buckets of warm and cold water. A black soap, scrubbing. Rose cream and a mask, more steam, watching beads of water in the crevices of the domed ceiling with no sense of time. Frozen time. A shower. A non-traditional, additional massage. Jasmine argan oil, the sweetest smell. 

And to end it all, mint tea, here, in this courtyard. The entire place was empty. We had it all to ourselves, as long as we wanted to stay. 

Chouara Tannery

The Chouara Tannery in Fez has existed for nearly one thousand years. Every day, every year, every moment ever since, it has operated exactly as it has since the beginning.

Vats of cow urine, pigeon excrement, quicklime, salt, and water under the Moroccan sun.  Fresh animal carcasses submerged. The smell is vile; inhaling is made possible with sprigs of mint under the nose. Since it was winter when we visited, it was a bit more bearable. 

We paid a man 10 dh (about $1) to take us, in spite of the instructions of nearly every guidebook. We knew he was unofficial and hoping to trick us out of more money, but his guidance was convenient. Later, we watched the tourism police take him away – but not until after we had paid him, a blurred but fair enforcement. We had accepted his services, after all.

I’m not sure if the leather shop that he delivered us to even had a name. We entered through a small door in a stone wall, ascended stairwell after stairwell until I lost count. Our reward; a glimpse at an ancient practice, of mundane and common, timeless, life. 

I left with a pair of shoes that I love. The thousand-year smell of the tannery has, still, not left them. 

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