You can be a tourist and get on a bus or van and go where the guide tells you to go, or you can travel and experience the people and the culture of a place. Either way, you make plans, but being a traveler, you let your day unfold as it will. As a traveler, you’re happy with however it happens. You’re willing to get lost.
I have the luxury of being a traveler because I’ve already been to Morocco and have already done the stuff the book recommends. (And because I have a Moroccan travel companion who’s in the business!) But I think it’s important to always add a bit of serendipity to a trip; to let things happen as they will. For example, it’s good to have a day in which you can sleep in, if you choose, or to run typical errands like you might at home. Meet the people with whom tourists never see! Be normal in a place. Talk to the people. Possibly get lost and make yourself have to rely on others to find your way!
I don’t think everyone is cut-out to travel for sure. It takes a lot of work to allow yourself to be free and to not worry: about how you look or how stupid you feel not knowing the language, or worrying about finding your way. But what I’ve learned is that someone will always help you. Always! So I say, get lost sometimes!
When in Chefchaouen, Morocco a few days ago, I became confused on the blue streets and alleyways; all of them looked alike! I have an excellent sense of direction but with all these blue doors and streets, it’s no wonder I couldn’t find the Hotel Parador. Or at least that’s what I thought the name of the hotel was where I was to meet Mokhtar after 2 hours of taking pictures. So after walking for what I knew was too long, I stopped and asked someone. He didn’t know English so I tried some French. It worked. He knew where I was to go. So off I went, following him past all the men waiting to get in to Mosque. He explained to each one he was taking me somewhere to show me my way, as if he needed to explain to these traditional men why he was walking with a woman, even though I tried to maintain a 3-step distance behind him.
He walked like he was in a race and I was exhausted within seconds! My god these people who are accustomed to walking in the desert or in hilly villages can walk! We proceeded into the market, me following trustingly behind. I looked to my right and thought, ‘That’s the way I’m supposed to go!’ but instead I followed, partly for the adventure of it and partly because I wasn’t sure of myself at the moment.
We got inside the market and he passed me off to another shop owner, wishing me good luck as I went on my way, blindly trusting man number 2. We walked, and walked, and walked inside that market, up steep hills like goats. Are you kidding me?! I kept thinking. But now I knew there was nothing more I could do except trust him. So when we got outside the market to another steep hill with a sign, ‘Hotel Parador’ at the top, I was devastated! This was not the hotel I was expecting to see. It looked like a rinky-dink hotel when the one I was looking for was palatial, with a big fancy pool and lots of public parking outside. I sat down on the steps and nearly started to cry. So disappointed and now getting a little scared because I had purposely left my phone, but now I had no way to contact Mokhtar to tell him I was lost. So I was feeling in a real pickle. “Maybe I told you the wrong hotel. Maybe I’m wrong,” I said to him. “Parking public?” I said to him. ‘Piscine et terrasse?’ I added desperately! “Oui, oui!” he emphatically assured, with the most beautiful smile! “C’est Hotel Parador! Oui!” So I sucked it up and took a deep breath and tackled the hill. We got to the top of it and my man, my savior, made a sweeping gesture to the parking lot and I hugged him and he said, “You said Hotel Parador and that’s where I brought you! To Hotel Parador!” I gave him some dirhams, probably a zillion too many, and we hugged and waved and said good-bye over and over and I calmly walked to Mokhtar as though nothing strange had happened. But he knew by my crazy sweaty hair and face that something was up!
It’s a good feeling to be out of control, to be at the mercy of strangers, to trust. To be free! It’s the adventure of travel! I see the good in others and I see the fact that we are all the same in the world. We are all the same. The same. Each and every one of us. It is really profound to me. And out of all the things in life so far, travel is the thing I think I value the very most. It is the singular thing that has taught me the most about others and about myself. If I someday have nothing, I have my memories and my experiences and I know that I have touched the lives of others as much as they have touched mine. It is very good. Tres bien.