17 May : As I write this from a beautiful Moroccan hotel room set in the storybook village of Chefchaouen or “blue city,” drinking mint tea and running a hot bath, I can’t help but focus on the ‘downs.’ It’s been over a week of nagging and at times unbearable pain in my leg and lower back; pain way too familiar has reared its ugly head again.
Before I left in February signs of sciatica started to manifest, partly due to an intense yoga practice and stubbornness about being diligent with self-help techniques to prevent it. Thinking I was free and clear of any recurrences of the back pain that had me bed ridden and on pain pills years ago, carelessness took over in the health department, and I willed myself to do all the physical things I love, in full capacity. Weird because most people do yoga to rid themselves of ailments, but something I’m doing is helping to create them. Nevertheless it’s an injury that lives on after the initial pain gradually slips away and I’ll have to learn to find balance again.
As they say, timing is everything and right now it’s all-wrong. But maybe, it isn’t? Not that there is an ideal timing for anything unpleasant like a back injury that leaves you crawling on the floor to the bathroom, but in a way there is. Having responsibilities of a family or job, things like that. Right now the focus is on getting better, and am trying to look on the bright side. My already impatient self is growing even more intolerant as my symptoms persist – and I’m completely exhausted. Admittedly this is a dramatic version of my current status, which is heightened by the last couple days of a horizontal existence, missed outdoor activities, and lost sleep.
Poor Rama and my friend Jasmine who we’ve recently met up with, now having a gimp on their hands. I’ve had a hard time not thinking ‘why now … not again,’ and feeling guilty for holding them up in a way – not being my usual active and hike-for-hours self. On top of that we’ve landed in a place with beautiful and endless hiking terrain with countless trails leading to majestic waterfalls and vistas. Thankfully it’s a place neither of them wants to leave too quickly, and seem content on hunkering down for a bit.
18 May : Yesterday, I slipped. Not the kind that sends you to the ground in a half second, but the kind that causes your whole body to cease up from the slightest movement to regain stability. It had been raining all day, and with the entire village lined in tiny cobblestones it was a slicker than ice. I had been feeling a little better that morning and despite the weather, was eager to get outside to feel like a normal human again. The dramatics mentioned earlier are no longer an overstatement. I feel broken in half.
No stranger to foreign doctors offices and communicating through hand gestures; this fiasco is bringing back memories of my countless trips alone to a hospital in Nairobi, Kenya for an MRI four years ago. One good thing about healthcare abroad, is the cost. Today’s excursion and homeopathic massage was a whopping $43.
Doctor visit + steroid shot = $15, 4 prescriptions = $18, homeopathy + in room massage = $10. Majority of the people here speak Spanish on top of French and Arabic, and luckily we had a necessary warm-up in the Dominican Republic and Spain, so carrying on has been fairly effective. Kind of interesting and fun to choose from “hola,” “bonjour,” “salam alaikom, “or a combination of all three in one sentence.
Now, the ‘ups.’ Things that I’m more than thankful for in this not-so-great situation. The moments where you think of nothing else and are grateful for the experience and adventure of it all. Fortunately, there have been many of those in the past 3 ½ months. I acknowledge often how lucky i am for the time and freedom to see the world, something I’ve always wanted to do and am determined to make the best of it. The ways you look back on and remember fondly the people and places, and can laugh at the times that weren’t so enjoyable. I’m hoping this is a bump in the road, that will soon be a distant memory.
Our incredibly comfortable hotel room complete with a plush Moroccan lounge, has become a healing haven and perfect for hosting “shisha” (hookah) sessions and dinners with our friends we’ve acquired in the week here. A local college student we call “Newman” has been more than helpful, and has taken a liking to our threesome, especially Jasmine. We’ve been welcomed into his home and shared meals, stories, and photo albums with his family. Then there’s Neil, a funny English bloke traveling alone who smokes more hash than I thought humanly possible. Quite a motley crew.
It’s been an ideal reprieve from our stint in Spain – vibrant nightlife until 3am, bottomless sangria, tapas for every meal, and the consistent moving from city to city. I really love Spain and the warm social nature of the culture, although for many reasons I’m thankful we’ve been sucked into the vortex of bohemian Chefchauen, for rest and recuperation.
Meals now come with a side of anti-inflammatories, a muscle relaxer, and homeopathic remedy. I even dared try the infamous hash this town is known for and constantly trying to sell you. Just small puffs, but enough to bring on contagious laughter and a bit of solace. This is not a regular pastime, as someone who can’t stand (tobacco) smoke or anything related to the feeling of being stoned. But what the hell.
We have found our fun in playing ‘Uno’ on the terrace, enjoying the Muslim prayer call echo throughout the valley, drinking mint tea, and finding street food that we are consistently satisfied with. Not only the taste, variety, and cheap prices - but knowing where to go for the best avocado smoothie, samosa, or a visit to the ‘nut guy’ for the hugest bag of mixed nuts for practically pennies. Going out in seek of all the food assortments is still exciting, but now that I’m succumbed to the hotel room with minimal activity, I get to be on the receiving end of the findings and a play-by-play of the day.
Feels like we’ve been here for longer than a week, people know us on a first name basis and are extremely friendly. I’ll be out hobbling about town, people will stop and say “hammam” and point to their backs. That’s what you need they say - wham bam – wake up tomorrow, you’ll be fixed. A hammam is a Moroccan spa, the likes of a Turkish bath where a very strong man or woman gives a vigorous massage, then tosses hot and cold water on you after scrubbing off couple layers of skin. Think I might skip that for now.
Drinking isn’t technically illegal in Morocco, but being a predominantly Muslim culture it’s frowned upon by locals. As a tourist - or local but discreetly - you can buy beer at bars and some restaurants throughout the country (we’ve heard in the bigger cities it’s much easier to find and accepted), although in Chefchaeun only a a couple establishments hushly sell 8oz. beers and bottles of wine more expensive than a 5-course dinner for two. We’ve taken a liking to the local tea and freshly squeezed orange juice that you can buy on every corner.
Within the “medina” or old city walls, there are no cars so the streets are narrow and wind about lined with shops stuffed in every crevice, miniature doors lead to people’s homes and every bit of the city walls and buildings are painted the most vibrant shades of blue. Reasoning behind the blue came as a surprise, thinking it was more for an aesthetic or higher purpose, but is actually to keep away the mosquitoes and other pesky bugs. It also helps to create a ‘cool’ feeling in the summer heat. Either way it feels like a set for a Disney film, I half expect to see an ice princess emerge behind one of the mystical looking doors.
I think the term ‘hole-in-the-wall’ was invented here. You’ll see a man tucked in a hole carved out of the concrete, diligently perfecting and debuting his craft; leather, jewelry, rugs, clothing, shoes, etc. The urge to shop is overwhelming and coupled with the ridiculous low prices, I can’t wait to get back out there to buy one of everything and send a huge box home.
Woman from the mountains, or “Berber” culture, sit on the streets selling their hand woven rugs and vibrantly colored straw hats, olives, goat cheese, figs, herbs, and dates. It feels like time hasn’t touched this village, and has been proudly preserved for hundreds of years. I’m secretly hoping to bump into a shaman that has just descended from those mountains, and get cured once and for all.
19 May : All around it’s been an ideal venue for this crucial rest time, surrounded by supportive and caring people to laugh with and keep me positive. In some ways I’ve forgotten about the world outside of this charming village set high in the Moroccan mountains, and am focused on emerging stronger and healthier.
Because without your health, what do you have?
Hoping the healing process will come swiftly, so we can continue writing the next leg of our journey throughout the country. More importantly, I’m determined to hop on a camel and ride into the Sahara desert...
Feeling better already.
After thought: Being here has really inspired travels to other Middle Eastern countries, which until now hadn’t been high on the list. Spending time with locals learning about their culture and hospitality has been a very rich experience, and by far the most rewarding. More reflection on this topic later, as we tackle other cities and destinations. So far we’ve only sampled a small but satisfying dose.