Monday, May 28, 2012

living deliberately

Today was my first day in my new position as financial administrator for the Costa Rica office of Rustic Pathways.  Even though I have only been working in this job for a day, I already know that this experience will be an incredible learning opportunity for me, and I am so excited for the months that lie ahead.  Throughout this time, I will be doing meaningful work that will give me experience in my anticipated career field.  More importantly, I will also be working alongside a great team of people for a company that I truly believe shares my worldly perspective and supports my life goals.

In addition to this work, the opportunity to live in Costa Rica for the summer will be fabulous.  I will be able to immerse myself in the local culture and improve my Spanish language skills.  I hopefully will be able to explore Costa Rica as much as possible too.  I would love to trek through the rainforest, experience the biodiversity of this nation, zipline, and maybe even try surfing.

I feel as though I could not be more ready for the adventures - and the challenge - that lie ahead.  So, in the words of Thoreau (though I may have edited them slightly) -

“I went to the [jungle] because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” — Henry David Thoreau

Thursday, May 24, 2012

professional wanderluster

Day 3 - Unlike the days prior, we chose to have a slow start to our final day in Morocco.  We took an extra long time to enjoy breakfast on the terrace.  Alexis and I sat in silence as she nibbled away at her pancake, and I sipped my mint tea.  Silently, we both expressed our shock that this trip had gone by so quickly.  Avoiding the fact that we would need to make our way back to the airport that afternoon, we passed the morning taking one last walk through the square and through the gardens surrounding the Koutoubia Mosque.
Eventually, though, we could no longer avoid the time on the clock, and we headed back to the riad to collect our things.  As we packed, we took one last time to marvel at this quaint little place that had been our host - for a mere six euros a night - for the past three days.

Saying goodbye, we headed out the door again and hailed a cab.  On the plane ride back to London, I stared out the window and watched the city of Marrakech disappear behind me.  I sat back in my seat, feeling fully awake and knowing that I would not sleep during the flight.  I could not have imagined a better way to end my experience abroad than with this trip.  In under three weeks, I was able to immerse myself in five unique cultures, hear five different languages, and see five unique cities.  I felt so global - and so lucky.  More than anything, I could also not have imagined a more perfect person to experience this with me.  Alexis was an amazing travel companion, and I am forever grateful that she stuck by my side throughout this epic journey.
As our plane began to descend, I felt a slight sinking feeling in my stomach at the thought of going back to London.  It is funny how much a person can change in just a few short months.  A few weeks ago, I was convinced that I could stay in this city forever.  Now, I could not be more ready to explore other parts of the globe - especially the non-Western world.  In a way, though, this feeling did not surprise me.  At this point in my life, I know that I am definitely not ready to settle down in one place, and the only career that really appeals to me is professional wanderluster.  As I stepped off the plane, I felt a bite of cold air, and I knew for sure that I was done with this place.  At the time, I was uncertain of what lay ahead and that scared me, but I forged ahead nonetheless.  Adventure... somewhere... was out there waiting for me. 

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” - Mark Twain

on a magic carpet ride

Day 2 - We had another early start on our second day in Marrakech because we were eager to explore more of the city.  Fittingly, I chose to wear my new Aladdin-style pants today.  After enjoying breakfast, tea, and coffee on the terrace again, we left the riad in search of the Badi Palace, a recently resurrected palace that dates to the sixteenth century.

The feeling of awe that I felt standing amongst all of this history combined with the glorious Moroccan sun, which was now high in the sky, inspired me to take some photos.

We also marveled at the interior of the structure, wondering what this place might have looked like during its' time, with all of its' opulence and glory.

Finishing at the palace, we moved to the next item on our list of things to do today.  Ever since I had booked my ticket to Morocco over two months prior, I had this image in my head of me riding a camel through the Sahara Desert.  Now, Alexis and I were in search of camels so that I could bring this dream to fruition.  After negotiating with a cab driver, we drove out of the city walls of the medina to La Palmeraie.  Here, we did not have to search for long until we found a group of gentlemen waiting with a small herd - if that is the correct word - of camels.  As with all things in Marrakech, we negotiated a priced and were then suited up for our ride.  I could not have been happier.

We agreed on a twenty minute ride, and, at the end of our time, I must admit that I was glad to slide off the camel's back.  
We returned back to town, thoroughly pleased with our last experience but still ready to see more of the city.  Feeling ambitious, we decided to walk to our next destination, even though it was quite far.  The Jardin Majorelle, which once belonged to Yves Saint Laurent, was our last stop of the day.  By the time that we arrived, we were both parched from the powerful desert sun.  Luckily, when we entered the garden, we found a magnificent oasis that made it all worth it.

The garden was massive, and we took our time to enjoy its' peace and tranquility.  More than anything, this place was a much appreciated change from the busy souks in the medina.  As I wandered along the winding paths, I wondered how many hours Yves Saint Laurent himself spent enjoying this garden.  This place certainly must have been the highest source of inspiration for his work.  As we walked past his memorial, I paid my respects to an artist.

The day before, I could not have imagined how this place could have possible become more magical, but this day completely exceeded my expectations.  After a long day, Alexis and I returned to the riad and sat up on the rooftop terrace again, enjoying the sunset.  Despite the nighttime revelry taking place outside of our door, this place was surprising quiet and a perfect way to end the day.  I went to sleep, dreading the thought that tomorrow was my final day in this exotic place.  Just for now though, I pushed this thought from my mind and let myself drift away on a magic carpet ride as I fell asleep. 

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

a whole new world

Our final stop in our journey around the Mediterranean was to Marrakech in Morocco.  We had saved this place for last and for good reason.  Both Alexis and I knew that this city would be completely unique from our other travel experiences throughout the last four months.  Our flight from Barcelona departed late on Thursday evening, but we arrived at the airport at least four hours early because our anticipation got the best of us.  We were going to Africa.

When our flight was finally ready to board, we queued alongside the other passengers who were dressed in their adventurer/trekker/gypsy garb.  As we watched the European continent disappear through the small window of the Vueling jet, I knew that I was in for the adventure of a lifetime.

When we arrived in Marrakech, Alexis and I were both tired and eager to get to our Moroccan riad where we would be staying for the duration of the trip.  As walked outside the airport looking to hail a cab, but we did not have to search for long.  Before we knew it, we were surrounded by a swarm of taxi drivers with their petits taxis offering us a ride into town.  We had read in our guidebooks to bargain with them, but we quickly learned that, at midnight, this was probably not the best idea.  I finally negotiated with a driver in French, and, before we knew it, we were speeding through the streets of Marrakech.  Our riad was located in the medina, the old part of town.  From what we had read as well, the streets here were nearly impossible to navigate with the knowledge of a local so, when our cab driver dropped us off, we followed a man who offered to guide us to the hostel.  As we meandered through the narrow streets, it became very clear that we were no longer in Europe from the dirt road, crumbling building walls, and hoards of men speaking Arabic.  We began to quicken our pace, wishing at the very least that we had made this journey during daylight hours.

Eventually, we arrived at the door of our riad, and our guide looked at us expectantly.  We each dropped him a euro so that he would go away, and we entered inside.  If I had not been so tired, I probably would have taken the time to marvel at the quintessential Islamic architecture that surrounded me, but, instead, I drifted quickly off to sleep, knowing that this was only the beginning of a great adventure.

Day 1 - As usual, Alexis and I awoke early to start our day.  After dressing ourselves in our matching skirts from Barcelona, we headed to the rooftop terrace to enjoy a traditional Moroccan breakfast and mint tea.
We then headed back out into the street, which seemed much less daunting now that the sun was out.  We walked down our narrow passageway of a street and eventually emerged in the Djema el-Fna, the main square in Marrakech.  It was early now so vendors were only just beginning to set up, but we knew that, at night, this place was a bevy of sights, scents, and sounds.

After taking in the square, we walked toward the minaret of the Koutoubia mosque.  It was from this tower that the people of Marrakech were called to prayer five times a day.
We then headed to the Tombs of the Saadian Kings, the gravesite of Moroccan kings that dated to the sixteenth century.

After visiting some tourist sites, we wandered back to the main square to explore the legendary souks, the markets that sold a wealth of Moroccan treasures and trinkets.  I wanted to buy everything - from Aladdin-like lamps to purses that any Free People girl would be jealous of - but I managed to pull myself away with only a pair of parachute pants.  We then spent the remainder of the afternoon interacting with the locals.  Alexis and I managed to escape with henna tattoos for a bargain price, and we also were welcomed into a souk to enjoy some fresh - if overly sweetened - mint tea.

When we finally returned out into the square, the sun was setting, and the vendors were clearly almost ready for their nightly extravaganza to begin.  To sample what they had to offer, we sat down under one of the tents where we were treated like queens by the young men who operated the stand.

By the end of our first day, I had already fallen in love with the magic of Marrakech.  We were already beginning to feel like locals.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

bohemian rhapsody

For some reason, of all of the places that I visited throughout my final trip, I was most uncertain about Barcelona.  I had never been to Spain before so I had no idea what to expect.  I was nervous about the language barrier as well and also about the city's notorious reputation as a party capital.  Was I going to like it here?  As Alexis and I sat on the bus from the airport to the city centre, the only thing I can remember thinking is it is very clean.  I would soon come to realize, throughout my time in Barcelona, that this city was not only so much more but actually so much like me.

I first began to feel at home when I laid eyes on the famous La Boqueria market and its' many colourful stands of fresh fruit and vegetables.

It also helped that we had near perfect weather during our travels.  Although it was slightly breezy, we could not help but spend some time on the beach taking in a wholly different Mediterranean than what we experienced in Nice.

Barcelona also stunned me with its' absolutely incredible architecture.  On our first day, we explored the city by foot, wandering through the historic Barri Gothic quarter.  If the sun had not been shining brightly overhead, I would have felt like I was in the medieval streets of Paris.

However, the city's most stunning architectural example must be Gaudi's La Sagrada Familia.  We had to take the underground to get to this modern-style church, but the journey was certainly worth the effort.  

As I entered the basilica and stared up towards its' powerful vaulted ceilings, I remember thinking to myself why has no art history professor ever told me about this? 

When I learned the natural elements that inspired Gaudi's works as well, I loved this place even more.  When we finally emerged from the cathedral and its' museums though, we were both happy to be back in the sun.  We ended our day in the Parc Ciutadella, sitting in the grass amongst the locals.

As I enjoyed the sun begin to set in the distance, I looked around at the many others who had also come to the park to savour the last hours of daylight.  We also seemed so perfectly bohemian yet Spanish nonetheless.  For a moment, I forgot that I was sitting on the grass in an urban Barcelona park, and I felt as though I was back in the Plaza of the Americas in Gainesville gathered in a circle of my philosophical-college-hipster friends.  Yes, I was at home.