I’ve been reluctant to write about my recent trip to Portugal, Spain and Morocco.
Not because it was terrible or anything. I just feel like no words can describe the experiences I had while I was there, and I’m not even sure I want to share everything I experienced because I want it to stay close to my heart.
Going into the trip, I was excited for some superficial things. I was SO ready to have my own travel photos to post on Instagram, as well as a Jay Alvarrez-inspired video with only the best EDM song and most beautiful scenery. I was ready to come back and tell the world about what I did, what I saw, what I ate and who I met, but as soon as I landed in Portugal it was as if all my intentions for the trip dissolved.
I hit the ground running from the minute I got to Lisbon, and maybe it was the all-nighter I pulled on the plane, but my only focus was making it to my first destination, Seville. Plans derailed when I ended up having motion sickness in Faro, and after a few hours passed out sleeping in my hostel, I was able to start enjoying the trip -- for myself.
My expectation was I would be writing everything down, from the restaurants I was eating at to the sights I was seeing. In reality I was more interested in the company I was keeping, which was actually with my old high school sweetheart. People acted as if I lost my mind when I told them I would be traveling to a third-world country with an ex, but we always enjoyed a good challenge, and it was the best decision I could have made about the trip. There was something about being in a foreign country with someone who felt like family, because I had the chance to observe my surroundings with a sense of safety and familiarity. Plus, he pretty much paid for everything the first day and understood bus schedules which was totally great.
Seville found me in high spirits and full of wonderment at the gorgeous architecture. We walked with our backpacks for a good while before we even went to the hostel, enjoying the view and the tapas. Who knew pulled pork was nearly as good in Spain as it is in Texas? We spent time that afternoon on a sunny little pagoda on top of the hostel, and ventured out at nighttime for some solidarity in the city, away from the daily bustle.
The raw beauty I found in Tarifa left me speechless the minute I stepped onto the beach. Thanks to it being off-season, the beach was nearly deserted minus a few locals -- and you could see the coast of Africa just across the water. Everything was becoming real now. That was Tangier! Right across the water! I was about to visit one of my top three travel destinations tomorrow, and it was everything I could do to keep from tearing up at the thought.
I must say, my time in Tarifa is one of my fondest memories from the trip. We spent a few Euros at the surf shops, bought fruit and chocolate from the local market, walked through the old town and watched the sunset at “Paradise,” which honestly was the closest I’ve ever come to paradise before in my life. Watching the sun set over the waters of Tarifa and the Strait of Gibralter will be burned in my memory forever. Craving pizza, we ate at one of the locals’ favorite pizza spots, grabbed some craft beer and hung out in the hostel watching soccer until late.
It was finally time to go to Morocco, something I’d been dreaming about for years now. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t at least a little bit anxious, because I had NO idea what to expect. I had read just as many good things as bad online, and now that I could actually see Africa, I was freaking out a bit. Minus forgetting to get our passports stamped, it was a pretty smooth journey.
We spent the afternoon getting lost in the Kasbah, eating lunch in the Medina and tasting our first (four-course) Moroccan meal, with tea and baklava on the roof after lunch. I spent the night gazing up at the stars and reading Rumi poetry, listening to the acoustic guitar being played by someone staying in the hostel. That night I met some of the most intriguing, personable, fun people. We drank tea until 2a.m. and shared stories with one another, spending the next day together at Hercules Cave and Cap Spartel. We had the beach to ourselves, and my gratitude for the sun and sand has never been greater than on that day.
My experience in Morocco was so much better than I could have anticipated. There were definite downs that occurred while I was there, but you know you are falling in love with a place when you can push the hard moments aside and completely enjoy your surroundings. I met two tour guides who showed me every corner of the Kasbah through their eyes, visited the Berber Art School where we were greeted with mint tea and presented with carpet after carpet for viewing, wandered through a market full of so many different smells and colors and spent time in the Grand Socco. Walking through the streets of the Kasbah at night during call to worship was one of the most beautiful things I’ve experienced thus far, and I feel blessed to have been surrounded by such a devout religion as Islam during my time in Morocco.
It was bitter having to say goodbye to Morocco. As the plane took off, we could see the medina, the kasbah and the beach we splashed in during our time there, and I felt so grateful to have been able to experience everything I did. A few months ago I could barely make it through a quick run to Target because I was so weak, and there I was a week ago, standing on the edge of the Mediterranean thanking God with every fiber in my body.
The start to my time in Madrid saw a few setbacks, as my travel buddy was detained in airport prison for six hours (and then lost his luggage) and I was left to fend for myself until he was released. That meant getting a hotel, ordering room service and watching some BBC News. Not the ideal first night in Madrid, but we both got some much-needed rest! The rest of the time we spent sightseeing, visiting Museo Nacional del Prado, shopping at Gran Via and eating just about everything in sight. I would have been content staying just one day in Madrid, but compared to the crazy pace of the rest of the trip, I really enjoyed slowing down and enjoying the last bit of Spain I could.
So there you have it, a barely surface-level account of one of the most vibrant, uncomfortable and amazing weeks of my life. While words can never do it justice, my hope is that my photos and this blog post can transport you to a different place if only for a few minutes.
“There is only one way to learn. It’s through action. Everything you need to know you have learned through your journey.” – Paulo Coelho