Anywhere but Here: Jerez to Tangier

I had a plan for this blog, and that plan was simply to have more visits each month than the previous month. In this way I would build my empire. Last month, for example, I had 245 visits, one of my worst months ever. But I reasoned if I could just increase that each month then eventually I’d be on the path to stardom and literati genius and fame and fortune and stacks of books published and book signings and groupies and everything that comes with literary acclaim.

But four days have passed already in December, and I have 16 views.

Which means I have to pivot a bit.

Which means THIS MONTH will set the new standard, and every subsequent month must have more views (or as I realized this morning lying in bed, I might just trash this blog entirely; I think it would be liberating). The thing is I quit social media recently, the main place where I promoted this blog, and this time it’s for real. This time I actually went through the rigamarole of asking Facebook to delete my account, which is different from deactivating it. When you deactivate it anytime you sign in again it reactivates it, and you’re back to square 0. But when you delete it you delete completely. You lose all your photos, all your friends, and all your memories. Your life begins to suffer. You become depressed. You realize the only friends you had were online acquaintances that you’d barely seen in real life. And despair ensues.

Actually quite the opposite happens. I no longer have Instagram or Twitter or Tinder or Facebook or any of that crap, and my life is immeasurably better. I meet people in real life, now! Or I lie alone in a random corner of the world thinking about how lonely I am.

But back to my trip that doesn’t really have a destination even though I’ve been telling people the destination is ostensibly Senegal, but will I really have enough money to make it to Senegal? And if I get there, what am I going to do? I won’t be happy there because I’m never happy anywhere.  “Man, things would be better if I was just in Tokyo right now. Or Hyderabad. Or Sri Lanka. Or Indonesia. Or La Paz (Mexico). Or La Paz (Bolivia). Or Brazil. Or Svalbard. Or Franz Josef Land. Or Moscow. Or Minsk. Or Pzremsyl. Or Warsaw. Or Lviv. Or Bergen. Or Stockholm. Or the southwest of France. Or Italy. Or Egypt. Or the Greek islands. Or Turkey. Or Georgia,” I think.

After Jerez I went to a town called Vejer de la Frontera, where I stayed in a gorgeous hotel room overlooking the countryside surrounding Vejer. Vejer is on a hill, so you can see Africa from the south side of the town. It’s always novel to sit down on a bench and look out and see a different continent. It doesn’t really happen that much. I once saw South America from a boat, but that was different. That was actually better. But this experience seeing Africa from a small town in Spain was also significant. I felt like Santiago in The Alchemist, on my way to Tarifa where I’d fall in love with the daughter of a wool merchant, but then have to leave her to pursue my destiny just across the water in Tangier.

When I got to Tarifa, though, there were no wool merchants. There was, however, a man selling boat passages, and 41 euros later I had a ticket to Tangier. While boarding said ferry I helped a woman who had two suitcases and about 50 shopping bags who somehow thought this was a reasonable about of baggage for one person try to transport. She kept saying “Thank you” in English and I kept talking to her in Spanish because we were on Spanish soil. But then we got to Tangier, after crossing the blue waters of the Strait of Gibraltar, and I helped her again and we started speaking in French and she said said, “Welcome to Morocco.”

On the ferry there was a horde of Asian people who seemed to disappear as soon as we got to Tangier. I have no idea where they went. Maybe they all dove into the water and had a picnic on the seafloor. I started walking toward the Medina, where I was immediately hassled but a guy who was saying to me, “Relax. Welcome. Have good time.” And then, “Where your hotel? I have hotel for you? Relax. Welcome. Have good time?”

God, I would love to punch this guy I the face, I thought. But I don’t really know how to punch. And either way the moral fiber oozing out of me prevents it.

In my hostel there was a guy from Venezuela named Armando who had on a leather jacket and had done sound design in New York for eight years. There was also a Finnish kid named Ossi who was much younger and who later in the night would tell us about some pretty severe head trauma he’d once suffered and how awesome the healthcare is in Finland. The two of them had been hanging out in the hostel the last few days getting high (in the case of Armando), and walking around. I asked them what they’d seen and they didn’t have much of an answer. I asked them what they’d done the night before and they said, “Hung out at the hostel and got pizza delivered.”

These were my kind of travelers.

In the evening we well went out for a walk together and after not being able to find cheap tagine, a typical Moroccan dish, we settled on a place with only locals selling sandwiches and small slices of pizza. The pizza was delicious and cost 50 cents a slice. We immediately began discussing how many pieces of pizza it would be possible to eat, since they were thin-crusted and delectable, and Armando said 10 would be absolutely no problem. I countered that 15 might pose a bit of a problem, and 20 seemed unreasonable. As I sat there I demolished a kilo of tangerines I had just bought, also for 50 cents but outside in the street, for dessert. Ossi didn’t say much. He was a quiet Finn. Finns are usually quiet. I haven’t met too many boisterous Finns in my life, except for possibly a guy named Sammi I worked with who used to yell the word “wheelbarrow” at me.

And thus concluded the first night in Morocco. Now I’m on a train to a town called Meknes, further south. I once again have a private room, but this time it’s at least partly because there are no hostels in the town. And then after Meknes I will probably continue south to Marrekesh, and by Marrakesh I of course mean: Tokyo, or Greenland, or Sri Lanka, or Reykjavik, or Madrid, or Barcelona, or Senegal, or Johannesburg, or Port Townsend, or anywhere but here.

 

The Long and Misguided Walk from Faro Airport to Faro Center

Yesterday I arrived to Faro, Portugal on the 11:30am Transavia flight from Paris Orly. My goal was to walk from the airport to the downtown area where my guesthouse was, but according to Google Maps the only way to walk downtown was to walk toward the beach, in the exact opposite direction of downtown, and take a ferry. This seemed like a good idea because I love walking, I love ferries, and more than anything I love walking to/from airports.

The flight arrived on time and suddenly I was thrust into the warm airs of a Mediterranean after just a few hours earlier trudging through the late November gloom of what is supposedly one of the coolest cities in the world but to me just seems like one massive, expensive tourist trap. And then there I was, walking down a white-washed sidewalk, through a grove of trees, and onto the road leading to the beach.

I don’t usually like to take pictures but look at this beauty. Look at the natural, soft sand sidewalk on the left. Look at the burnt-red clay bank on the right. Look at the way the road stretches to the horizon and then takes a teasing, beckoning left. It would be nearly impossible to be confronted with a vista like this and not wonder what lies beyond the bend.

After many more minutes of walking I arrived at the beach where I was confronted with an arresting sight:

The ocean in all its fury juxtaposed with the love of a placid couple!

I walked where Google Maps told me to walk and finally got to the dock where the ferry was supposed to leave. I didn’t see any ferry. I didn’t see anything at all really except wetlands and possibly a crane. I went into a lunch place a few steps from the dock and asked in my best Portuguese, refined after one quarter of “Portuguese for Spanish Speakers” at UW, “Is there a ferry that leaves from here?”

“No,” they said, “It stops in September.”

“Idiot,” they added.

Actually they didn’t say this. They didn’t say this at all. And I was momentarily dejected but then elated since this allowed me to make a lunch stop at a burger joint I’d seen just a few minutes before. The place was called Moonlight Bar & Grill or something to that effect. I ordered a Moonlight Burger. The kid working asked what I wanted to drink and I said sparkling water and he said, “We have two kinds. One is kind of light and the other is strong. Lots of bubbles.” I opted for the strong and when he brought it out he repeated the name and said, “This stuff is good.”

After the burger I walked back to the where the bus picked up and asked two elderly English gentlemen in Portuguese if this was where the bus left for the center. They started waving their hands to stop me and said, “English! English!”

The bus cost 2 euros 25 cents. This is a steal. Getting from airports to city centers is notoriously expensive, but nothing in Portugal is expensive. Almost nothing. Later that night I’d go to a touristy restaurant in the old town and spend way, way, way, way way, too much money on what was basically a few pieces of bread with octopus bits and melted cheese. And possibly some red wine. At dinner I started talking to a French girl who was also traveling alone and suddenly I had a dinner companion! Suddenly I was no longer alone!

After dinner she wanted to “walk down to the port,” I have no idea why, and I said I wanted to sleep so I went back to my guesthouse where I hung out on the terrace looking up at the night sky. And then it started to rain, which drove me inside. But even so it was a fairly successful first day in Faro.

 

The Bainbridge Diaries pt. 2

I’d be lying if I said Bainbridge Island was the most exciting place in the world. But today on the ferry coming here something sort of exciting did happen.

We were about halfway across Puget Sound, cruising along as normal. I was lying down in one of the booths thinking about my life and the clouds and the state of the world. I didn’t have a book with me to read, or a pen with me to write, so the only think I could do was lie there and think my thoughts. Which in a way was ideal.

All of the sudden the boat lurched northward and we began making a 90 degree turn. I had no idea what was going on. Had we forgotten someone? Did the captain accidentally lean on the steering wheel? In my 22 years of riding the ferry this had never happened. I wondered if maybe we were going to sail to Canada, and a substantial part of me welcomed the thought. Or maybe we would head through the Strait of Juan de Fuca and out to sea, all of us on the boat forming a small sea colony in the middle of the ocean. We’d elect a leader and hold counsels. I would run for president and propose our little floating country be called “Gingembre” (French for “Ginger”) after the pup I missed so.

The captain came on over the loudspeaker.

“Folks, the Coast Guard has asked us to investigate a craft back behind us in the water. See if there’s anyone in or around it. So we’ll be doing that. Shouldn’t take long.”

Behind us I could see the craft he spoke of in the water. It was bobbing there and looking decrepit. It also looked lonely. I wondered if there could be anyone in it, but it appeared to be empty. People started making their way to the part of the boat where they could see what the captain was talking about.

As we made the wide turn the collective imagination of the ferry boat began to run wild. Was there someone in the boat? Was this a murder mystery? Were we about to see a body?

As we pulled up alongside the small craft people clamored to the side to try to look inside. I was probably one of the first to see it. Water, black, sloshing inside. This boat was adrift. It was decrepit, just as it looked. There was no one inside.

Then we were right next to it, and it slid by beneath us. We all looked inside. Was that an old crab pot? I think some of us were disappointed there wasn’t a body inside. That would be the stuff that novels are made of, but not the stuff that happens in real life. In real life it’s just a boat without passengers, made to look like it’s moored in the middle of the sea because of a bow line held stiff by the current.

Soon the boat was gone, and I went back downstairs to lie down. Then we docked, and I made my way up the gangway to the street, where I’d begin the walk to my parents’ house. Again my mind began to wander, as it usually does when I don’t have something to distract me.