Something shifts when we step on a ferry to cross to somewhere else. We’re aware of the obvious physical process of waving tickets, showing passports, the actual transportation of the body across water from one shore to another. We might feel excitement, anticipation – perhaps even apprehension – but something else is happening too; there’s a reason that the mythological journey to the underworld involves a ferryman and a river. There is something symbolic about ‘crossing over’, leaving the known world behind and entering another realm.
As the hills of northern Morocco drew closer, the butterflies in my gut beat their wings more furiously. Squatting there on the horizon was Africa, a whole new and alien continent. I silently asked myself how we would manage here. During the time we were planning this trip, it was Morocco we spoke of most. There are places that are held in the imagination as glowing jewels of exoticism and adventure and it was my own wild dreams of Morocco that kept me awake at night. It’s hard to know how one particular country comes to represent such specific and ludicrously romantic notions but in the case of this corner of Northern Africa I blame the movie-makers and novelists. Sand dunes and dense blue skies; narrow-alleyed medinas smelling of spice and sweat; stalls piled high with dates, shoes and jewellery; and kasbahs built from red earth clinging to the sides of towering mountains. These at least were a few of the images that floated before me as our ferry crossed the Strait of Gibraltar, our destination becoming more of a reality and less of an idea with each passing minute. I wondered again how we would cope.
I didn’t consider myself a particularly anxious person before I had children. I suspect that this is largely to do with the inescapable fact that I spent more of my time drunk before I became a mother. Alcohol is wonderful for softening the edges of fear; artificially emboldening the timid and making reckless idiots out of those who don’t need much encouragement to start with. It’s hardly a great insight either that getting older makes us all a little more cautious and I have certainly become increasingly aware of my own mortality as I have settled into middle age. Whatever the reasons, the responsibilty of caring for other human beings that are almost entirely dependant on me for their well-being does occasionally make me more nervous than I find comfortable. As the ferry bobbed ever closer to Morocco I found myself worrying about how the choices we had made bringing us here would affect my children. What if they got sick? What if it was difficult to feed them well enough? What if we broke down miles from anywhere? And why on earth were we doing this anyway?
We were ready for chaos as we drove off the ferry but were greeted with calm and ease. It’s probably the difference between alighting at the new Tangers-Med rather than the old port at Tangiers. We were through the various controls with the minimum of fuss and on the road in no time at all. We’d made it! We’d driven to Morocco and now were driving in it! Rob and I chattered triumphantly to each other as if we never really thought we’d get this far. Even the constant bickering from the back of the van couldn’t dampen our spirits this time! Then the sun began to set and my familiar unease started to surface. Generally speaking, the challenges of travel are best met in the daylight, as night falls I find all things become more difficult. Especially difficult would be searching for campsites in a whole new town in a whole new country with a van full of very tired and hungry people. And so it was.
It was fully dark by the time we drove into Assilah to try and find somewhere to park for the night. We crawled around the town and down to the front, bewildered by the number of people who seemed to be out strolling just for the fun of it. The thought of having to stop and attempt to aquire the assistance of a local with my laughingly meagre collection of French words was starting to bring on the anxious sweats when we spied the ever comforting sight of a cluster of motorhomes parked up near the harbour.
As we drove gratefully towards them we were quickly surrounded by a host of ‘helpful’ local men, all seemingly competing to get us parked up and paid up. Although we hadn’t intended to stay the night on a scrap of wasteland wedged between the town and the ocean, it seemed easier to succumb than to argue and find our way to another place at an already late hour. It’s safe to say we were more than a little ‘green’ having just arrived from Europe and this must have been obvious to our new hosts. In order to be able to pay the guardien we needed dirham, so an affable chap named Bash accompanied Rob to the nearest cash machine, leaving me alone in the van with the boys to make dinner. There were knocks at the window asking me for beer and money, a slightly staggering and vaguely (in my mind!) sinister man made me open the window to tell me that I shouldn’t trust the other man who’d just gone with Rob to the bank. As I pictured Rob being mugged and tried to stop myself screeching at the boys that ‘NO! You CANNOT go and play outside!!’ I felt annoyed at the tears that kept coming to my eyes and the rising terror that I couldn’t seem to quell. Within minutes however, Rob was back and apart from a few more knocks and a couple of brief conversations, (‘no we don’t want to buy any hash, merci’, ‘yes the coral necklace is beautiful but we’re just having our dinner, merci’) all was quiet.
The next morning just before dawn, the call to prayer was broadcast to the town. Each mosque’s Imam called out across the morning; one deep, droning bass rumble layered with another high pitched wail and then another sweet and melodious, and another and another, the voices rolled and tumbled over each other, a wash of sound. Awaking, I lay and listened to this otherworldly alarm call; all my fear of the night before was gone and in its place was awe. This is what we seek when we travel, this dance between fear and wonder, vulnerability and surrender. It is right at the very edges of what we think we can manage that we find that ineffable ‘something wonderful’. As some wise soul has already remarked – it is only outside of our comfort zone that the magic happens.
Loved reading your post – felt like i was there with you all on your amazing adventure.
Thanks for sharing it all so honestly and descriptively. Looking forward to the next installment.
I am in awe.
Thanks Sally! It’s lovely to know you’re reading and lovely to know you’ve got your own adventure to be getting on with! Lots of love to you, Si and Florrie xx
Love the pictures and the images your words create for me.
Thanks very much!
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I’m sorry but my daughter can’t possibly be middle aged, what would that make me? I think old is the word, but I refuse to associate with it. You have courage in bucketfuls, wish I had just a little of it. Your honesty is humbling xx
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Wow, what a beautiful post and one that I nodded along with… the fear of having little people depending on us as we work our way through our crazy dreams, is certainly a huge one. But, encouraging our children to live outside of their comfort zone, is making for remarkable people to go and make the world a better place (we think!). So wonderful to watch your journey unfold.
Thanks Alice, I can only do it knowing that other brave souls have gone before us! 😉
Got your blog address from Rob. All the feelings you had were exactly the same as three young German families (the eldest kid out of all of them was 6) we met in Tarifa.
One family didn’t go, the second one (three kids, one baby) only followed the Atlantic coast for surf. And the third family, Stefan, Mikka and Beno (2 yrs) went from Chefchaouen to Midelt and back up through mountains. We met up with them. It was great to travel with them and see how they did it compared to us.
First, they were much slower than us – they had to, otherwise Beno would start being very grumpy, hungry and wanting to go out.
They’d only park in campsites and parking sites for facilities, ease and safety.
They’d meet so many more people than us! Moroccans love children and families. Beno was blond and blue eyed as well. People would just stop in front of them in the street and tell them how beautiful he was. By playing with street kids, Beno even got them invited at a Berber’s family home in a tiny village near Midelt.
It was a total eye opener for us. I knew that we travelled faster than the norm, but this was different, it was a totally different rythm to ours.
Jamie and I did have our fears too. But having kids is a whole different ball game. And I had an advantage; being French and knowing a few Arabic greetings, phrases and words made a big difference.
But I would have still tried it and visited the country without the language skills.
Anyway, could luck with it all! Take your time and enjoy.
And if you ever need advice on travel tips and motorhome stuff (Jamie’s quite good at all motorhome things, eg. he fitted our gaslow bottle in our van), just email me.
Thanks Sylvie! It really is about finding out how best your family travels, there are so many ways to do it. It seems that we sometimes need to move quickly and sometimes need stillness. This week I really feel like I’ve found my travelling feet. Having travelled before though without children i can now see how very different it is…Maybe more of that later! Thanks for commenting, I look forward to reading your blog.
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My name is Ashlee. I’m co-founder of the Youshare Project, with the mission to connect people around the world through true, personal stories. I recently stumbled across your blog and read the above post entitled “Crossings.” It’s beautifully written and inspiring. I think it would make a wonderful youshare, because it would inspire others to embrace vulnerability and embark on their own adventures so that they too could experience themagic of travel. If this sounds interesting to you, I would love to email you directly with more information and formally invite you to adapt your story to youshare and share it with the project.
You have my email address and website. I hope to hear from you soon.
Hi Ashley, i’m so touched that you enjoyed the post. Your project looks really interesting and I’d be honoured to contribute. Please do email me with more info. My email address is on my ‘about’ page. Selina
Hi Selina! Thanks so much for your reply. I just submitted an email with more information through the form on your about page. (I didn’t see a physical email address, so I hope this method okay?) All best and safe travels! — Ashlee
Wonderfully post. I love the way you describe what you seek when you travel….dancing between fear and wonder, vunerabilty and surrender. Sums it up very well
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Thank you again, it seems to be my general experience of travelling so far!
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I am enjoying your Morocco journal and your beautiful photos. Your writing is honest and sincere and expresses many of the same feelings that I have or that I think I may soon have. My husband, our 2 teenage daughters and I leave Canada for Marrakesh next week. We read your blog entry “Marrakesh Express” at the dinner table together tonight, and I think it may be more honest than the Lonely Planet or Rough Guides we have been reading. Thank you for sharing your perspective, and maybe putting things into perspective. We are really excited about our trip for all the same reasons you were, but it is so comforting to read that another mum shares the same fears and hesitations, too! Happy travels to you all.
Thank you so much and I’m really glad you’re enjoying the blog. Seating off on an adventure can spark such a mix of feelings. How long are you planning to be in Morocco? I think our responses to place are so unique and subjective, but hopefully it’ll be useful to have another take on Marrakech. Reading guide books and hearing friend’s experiences of Marrakech just didn’t prepare us for what we encountered. I hope you have an interesting time when you visit. Happy travels!
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