Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Aug Update

  • A girl I went to school with has been diagnosed with colon cancer.  You'd never know from looking at her because she runs and is vibrant.  They have operated and after a course of chemo, have told her to go home and enjoy her time...  She isn't taking it laying down.  I don't know where she finds it in her to do all the things she is doing and participate in a public campaign to bring awareness to others who are also suffering.  I don't know that I would have the strength and drive. My heart just breaks for her. 
  • We had a freak storm in our cottage area that created a significant flood.  Water from 2 nearby streams overflowed its banks and entered the crawlspace.  Not enough to reach the ceiling of it, but enough to submerge our water pump.  When we flicked on the breaker, nothing happened.  Called the plumber who told D that we have a 50:50 chance it will come back once it has had a chance to dry up -- a couple of weeks.  Fingers crossed.  For them to install a new one will be around $800.  D is reading up on how to DIY.  So it was a quick up and down for us, after packing for what was to be 4 day stay.  We could have stayed and used stream water for the toilet and municipal water for everything else but opted to come home as there was work we wanted to do.
  • Got our chimney assessed and apparently there is a problem with the cap and flashing.  The fellow we need now is a mason, who may not have room to fit us in this year.  
  • We have started having no drive weekends and are enjoying it very much.
  • This has been an unusually cool summer.  We like it because it has been great to use minimal AC but anyone I know with pools haven't been.
  • I am looking forward to the day when practicing violin isn't accompanied with clenched teeth!
  • Since I've publicly declared that I had no idea what to do with next year, ideas have been rushing in.  Will have to remember that trick for next time.  I live too much in my head.
  • I've gone mad and have ramped up the rest of the year's travel plans to crazy levels.  Try not to judge me too harshly...
  • Continuing with the water theme, we will have an opportunity to see what monsoon season is like shortly.  Will report back.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Quick Notes: Morocco

  • Did not at any point feel uncomfortable in any city or village I visited.  Sure you will probably stand out as a foreigner but the looks I got were not aggressive at all, simply observation.  Even walking back to the hotel late at night in Marrakesh was no issue for me.  I dressed conservatively -- Long pants, 3/4 sleeves. 
  • I severely underestimated the distances between interior locales even though I have experience driving through our Rocky Mountains here in Canada as well as in Colorado.  Going through the Atlas mountains took a long time.
  • Don't underestimate the dryness.  I was surprised with small signs of heat exhaustion when I thought I was doing well.  Moisture will evaporate so looking/waiting for signs of sweating won't be accurate.  Funny enough, thirst was less for me.  Again, not a good sign.  Although I took fewer rehydration tablets than in SE Asia.
  • Hotels have great signs with facts on water consumption.  Wish I had taken a picture of one.  They are very smartly done.  Seems obvious now, that a country like Morocco would be way more aware of and advanced in water conservation than we are in Canada.  
  • They are currently dealing with significant water table decreases due to the amount of agriculture they do.  I couldn't believe they grow watermelon in the desert??!!  Also the extensive export orange tree groves drink up a lot.
  • I found Moroccan family men to be so very present and dedicated to their families.  It was really lovely to witness. Felt very warm to me. 
  • Was amazed how women there could be so covered up (black!) and not be wanting to fall over from heat.  Maybe they did but I did not see it in their eyes.  Women didn't look at me at all.  They made sure they looked straight ahead when walking with their spouses who did look.  Noticed that when they would walk by other female visitors also.  I don't know what that means. 
  • Next time I visit, I will go during Feb/Mar when temperatures are much cooler.  It was mid - high 40s Celsius in the desert.  A lot fewer tourists though. 
  • I would also try and fly into Ouarzazate, hop on a 4 x 4 from there straight to the camels and fly out of Agadir.  It was wonderful to be in a "resort" city after being in the desert.
  • Fascinated with how the various nomadic Berber people have adapted to live and survive in the desert environment.  I'm drawn to harsh climates and civilizations who thrive in such extremes.  Bought a beautiful small handmade rug by a Tuareg woman.  
  • Each year rug stores personnel (many from nomadic backgrounds themselves) will go on a 3 month caravan to visit various nomadic groups to source out new rugs.  That is how many women contribute to their household.  They weave in between all the regular work.  So one piece takes months with each region having their own distinctive style and texture.  So very different from Turkish rugs.
  • I would love to participate in a desert caravan.  There is so much to learn about that type of travel and life.  For example, drinking tea vs water, using rose water to refresh (really works!), indigo dye all over which acts as sunblock and deodorant -- Thus the descriptor "Blue men of the desert".
  • Personally I do not feel a need to return to Marrakesh again.  Would like to spend more time in Casablanca.  Such extremes between the rich and poor there.
  • Having said that, the orange juice vendors in Marrakesh (Jemaa el-Fna) are a hoot.  Some come across as cheesy salesmen and some genuinely are fun loving people.  After buying a glass from a particularly friendly guy, I got to go behind his stall and climbed up on the platform so that he could give me directions to a restaurant.  (during one of the times where I took time off from the group)
  • There is a 1000 MAD currency limit in and out of the country.  It's not much and is easy to go over, like I did.  
  • Had no real issues anywhere in the country including the airports -- Always carry toilet paper, hand sanitizer.  Pharmacies are professional and helpful.  I drank tap water.
  • If you make even a small effort to speak French or Moroccan Arabic, doors open.
  • The roads are excellent!!!  I could not get over it.  We need to bring their road construction teams over to Canada.  Great, new equipment.  Beautiful paving.  (Remember I was Vietnam and Cambodia earlier this year)
  • And finally, for those like me who cannot get over/enough of the concept of goats in trees...here's a way better picture than I was able to get, courtesy of a friend.  Really shows just how strong Argan trees are to be able to support all that weight without bending much, if at all.  I can't help but smile when I look at this.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Group vs Solo

My trip to Morocco took the form of a small group tour.  Long time readers will hopefully have gathered that I tend to enjoy going at it alone.  I like the challenge of learning about a new place, how things work, how to communicate, how to get around etc. 

Since this continues to be a year of new stuff, I thought, why not try group travel and see what it is all about, after communicating with a number of people who swear by this form of travel.  I chose what I felt was a good company who offered unique itineraries. 

We were a group of 11 (me being the odd one out).  Stayed at very nice establishments (also something that I don't do a whole lot of anymore, preferring apartments and smaller locally owned guesthouses), ate at nice, upmarket restaurants.

For what was supposed to be a more immersive experience, surprisingly, we were discouraged from eating street food (didn't stop me)...And ironically only 3 people did not get sick -- Two who took medication from day 1 as a preventive (?!) and one who is a vegetarian.

In the 2 weeks or so, we covered a serious amount of ground.  There were many long travel days (9+ hours) on comfortable, private transportation.  With vastly changing scenery to view and nice people to converse with, each day went by much quicker than the itinerary would otherwise suggest on paper.

By the end of the trip, I did feel like I learned more about my travel companions than the local culture.  Cost wise, it was higher than what I could have done on my own mainly due to the class of accommodations and having a full time guide (fabulous guy).  I found the amount of sitting tiring.  When I have a chance to return, I know exactly how I would do it next time.

I also learned that a large motivating factor for those in my group were to meet people first, while seeing a new place a close second.  And in my instance, there didn't seem to be a lot of advance preparation nor interest in learning the local language.  Most were quite happy to be moved along, contained within a safe bubble even though I neither saw nor experienced anything that made me feel threatened.

There were a number of instances where I did deviate from the schedule to do my own thing (I Had to -- The regimentation was getting to me), to the surprise of the others and I know some them took it personally.

Realized quickly that there was an unspoken expectation that we'd all stick together.  The first evening I decided to miss dinner, I got a call in my room from a fellow traveler wondering where I was!  She meant well.  Was concerned that I'd starve if I missed supper and wouldn't take no for an answer...

I enjoy discovering things on my own without being told what to expect beforehand.  Funny, considering how much I like control.  Along the same lines, disliking change but having no problem thrusting myself in new places.  Not sure I'll ever be able to reconcile that in myself.

Certainly I'm not saying that style of traveling is a "bad" thing.  It's one way to go about seeing the world.  And I would commend anyone who gets out there and does so in whichever form they prefer.  It's perhaps not the route that works for me the best.

Now I can say that I've tried and it wasn't for me.  It's also continued confirmation that the way I've approached my travel is still preferable even though it means A Lot of preparation.  Never hurts to question old assumptions as I intend to keep growing as a person.

Having everything organized for you wasn't so "easy" for me either.  I found it more difficult to be woken up so early every day.  To eat at certain hours.  Needing to be conscious of a schedule.  To be taken places without having to think.  All opposite from what I do when away.  I prefer free flow time.  It feels more creative and leaves plenty of room for discovery and to be surprised.  Though, I learned more history and saw places I would not have chosen to do on my own.

I did find my travel companions to be pretty great people.  Well traveled, generous, good sense of humor.  Will for sure keep in touch with most of them.  In fact, had a generous invitation to stay with a couple who have a summer home in the Adirondacks.

And after hearing me go on about how I enjoy solo travel, am working with another couple to plan their first self guided vacation to Iceland.  And the lady who called me about missing dinner is anxiously waiting for my report on Habitat once I make it back from the build, as she is interested in getting involved too.

Meeting all of them was a definite highlight.  I know that by not continuing to participate in this type of travel will mean missing out on meeting more potential friends.  However, I would not have met them if I hadn't given it a go in the first place.  So I'm grateful for the trait that propels me to try new things.