Wednesday, 26 October 2016

The Carpet Weaver

'Travelling - it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller.'
I thought I'd kick things off with a quote from Ibn Battuta, because that's what you do. This post, whilst about an existing moment in my life, was inspired by a read I found over at This Battered Suitcase. I can honestly see these types of stories appearing more and more on The Sheep Was Here so I do hope you enjoy.
The Carpet Weaver 
The Brazilian hadn’t stopped laughing about Arabic’s true meaning of the word; the American language teacher had since become incapable of not smiling about the door she’d opened the previous night, just like the rest of us. It was early morning, the dark and cold type of morning, and we were seated in the guesthouse dining room eating the Moroccan pancakes I’d first tried back in Tangier. The toughness of these bad boys made me think the knife I’d been given wasn’t going to get the job done whilst I sat with the two boys from England. I’d shared a room with them, as well as the Brazilian, and we’d gotten on just fine. That was when I’d first learnt their names; for some reason I hadn’t done so when the bus picked me up the previous day but in my defence, most of them had been asleep. Upon claiming a bed in the guesthouse room I’d casually put the question to them, What do I call you three?                                                                                                                            
‘We’re cousins,’ one of the Brits said; the short-haired one.                                          

‘I’m from out Essex way and he’s just moved to Brixton,’ the long-haired one explained.                     
‘I went to Brixton for a few hours, back when I was in London,’ I told them. ‘I caught the Tube out there to see the mural of Bowie.’                                                                                    
‘I work around there,’ the short-haired cousin then added, ‘in retail.’                          

I was a minority on this tour of eleven, the only Australian once again. The lively rest were either from Europe or the Americas; a lot of them were South American. We were all moving onto Merzouga today where we were going to ride some camels into the Sahara and sleep under the stars. The excitement was bringing a good vibe to the dining room, in that guesthouse that we’d pulled up at late last night. None of us knew where we were on the map; the tour company hadn’t given many details.                                                                    
Continuing with my pancakes, I looked up and down the table. There was the tour group I was a part of, each member either being tired or lost in a conversation, as well as the others that had stopped here for the night. At one end were four Muslim girls having a laugh about something and nearby were some Canadians who’d been in the same situation as I the previous day.                                   

Was the second bus (on this four day tour of the Sahara) going to remember to pick me up? The question had been pretty persistent for those couple of hours, in which I was alone. I was already missing this French/Colombian couple I’d met on the first tour who I’d gotten on brilliantly with; ours was now a Facebook relationship.    
I’d been waiting back in Aït Ben Haddou at this hotel in walking distance of the Ksar. It had a nice atmosphere and the staff kept several eyes on me whilst I ate in their restaurant and charged my phone; they’d also given me free fruit. After a few hours of painful uncertainty, the hotel manager drove me to the second bus which picked me up at a crossroad; the Canadians, apparently, had freaked out so much that they hired a private taxi to get them to the current guesthouse in who-knows-where. They weren’t like the bad-arsed Canadians I’d met so far on my big backpacking journey. One saint of a bad-arse had taught me how to roll a joint back in Tangier.                               

I was sipping at my mint tea, still hearing the Brazilian laugh about the true meaning of couscous, whilst the Pommie cousins shared that they’d stayed at the same hostel as I back in Marrakech. I would’ve been elated had I not already booked into another hostel, with zero bad reviews on TripAdvisor, for my return stay in the city.                                                                
‘You didn’t like it?’ the short-haired cousin asked me.                                              

‘The place stank, the manager was rude. The prick blamed me for not knowing to present a travel voucher to the morning receptionist when it came to doing a day tour.’            

‘Shit,’ the long-haired cousin added, looking a little concerned. ‘We’re going back there after this.’                                                                                                                                  
‘Just don’t ask them for their hospitality,’ I said before my phone vibrated on the table’s varnished surface. The Wi-Fi in this place wasn’t spot on but it got a message across. I then read a message from my mother.
Travelling had been a constant of mine for years now, non-consecutively I’ll add, but in all of those trips I hadn’t missed out on much. That was probably a reason as to why I loved it so much. The chance to swim with a whale shark once deprived me of attending my friend’s baby shower though (it was a non-traditional kind of shindig - the women got to do all of the regular stuff whilst the men got to drink and play pool) but apart from that, nothing. Now, though, I was going to miss something…     

I’d wanted to call home but my mother had told me to keep going - that and the time zone indicated that Melbourne would be asleep and I’d already woken them up when the anxiety caught up with me in Spain. That had me figuring that I’d have to wait until I was back in Marrakech. Shit!                     

All I could do was join in with the rest of the tour and treat it like the ride of a lifetime. That had of course been the plan anyway. We left the guesthouse before the sun rose, at about 6:00 I think, and got on our way to Todra Gorge. I’d already seen enough photographs that had me thinking it was the set of an Indiana Jones movie, but I was more excited to see it for its natural side. Nature is why I travel, after all.                                                
Everything going through my head was all about the destination, as we drove over, but a few relevant randoms made their way into the maelstrom that was my mind. I thought about the times we’d spent together; they hadn’t been as plentiful in recent years, though. Whenever we met he would more or less talk about his one and only time ordering at Subway. It’d become one tedious staple. He could never understand why he couldn’t get any stew there.                                                                           

When we stopped in Tinghir a skinny man in a long white djellaba greeted us at our bus, saying that he was our tour guide; he was going to show us around the small farming community before taking us to the gorge itself. Still, I remained positive. Adventurous. The landscape was abundant with so many colours; the crops, the clear sky, the old earthy-toned buildings. It was a humbled place and humility is what I liked seeing on my journeys. However, even as we were walking and watching I couldn’t help but feel this bad sensation biting away at the back of my mind. Whilst we were walking through the crops, when our guide made a little camel from a long leaf for the Chilean girl in our group, even when we were telling the local children begging for money to bugger off. I was letting myself get clawed at; that one time Subway experience kept repeating over and over, in his voice. Do you have any stew? I refused to let myself take centre stage on this experience; I’d had to put up with an idiot in Thailand who’d done that. This was to be shared.                                        

We moved onto a large house that looked run down on the outside; our guide explained that we would be hosted by the head of a Berber clan and one of his wives. We were greeted by the family head, an aging man with a greying beard and wrinkled cheeks who like our guide wore a djellaba; his was of dark brown wool. Before we entered the home the guide explained that the Wife would shake our hands but couldn’t speak any English; only Berber. He taught us a few phrases to share with her but I quickly forgot them.                
The Family Head led us into a room and invited us to sit down on the floor carpeted in a multitude of colours. There were just so many carpets. The Wife was seated in one corner, wearing garb of many blues that concealed her small body; her hijab had a pattern of black and white on it. Judging by her face, alone, she was young but with a darker complexion to that of her husband who then took a seat next to me, of all people. The Wife though, silent as she worked at a loom with varying shades of wool, had a nice smile. We had all shaken her small and delicate feeling hand.                                     

As we were served mint tea, yet again, I thought about the previous day so that I might forget about the events of the current. I’d stopped at a carpet shop with my first tour where I’d received a similar form of hospitality; mint tea and bright local smiles. The hosts had politely offered us any carpet we liked, for a good price, but my future stops in the Netherlands and England prevented me from buying one; they were just too big and I didn’t want to deal with posting anything back home. Nomadic logic, I had figured. That first host had been nice about it, but…                                           

‘No pressure at all. You buy any one you like. Any one. Two? Take your pick.’ Polite but pushy was the tone the Family Head was using. We were allowed to take pictures, which was enough for me, and were taught a few things about the carpet profession.                                 
The wool came from sheep and camels, or it was spun from cactus fibres which I’m sure would appease many vegans. The loom in the corner, constructed by the man of the house, looked to have been made from tree branches, and hanging from it were balls of wool coloured in blues, yellows, greens, reds, black and white. The Wife, the Carpet Weaver, was getting bits and pieces out of some unspun wool with what looked like the brush I used on my border collie back home. Whenever she looked up she would smile, making me feel welcomed, which almost had me believing that she might be tuning in with my current state of mind.                                                                                             

‘Is there anything you know about carpet weaving?’ the Family Head asked us, still sitting next to me. There were heads shaking all around the room, but then I raised my hand.         

‘I learnt yesterday that the women weave the carpets with whatever spare time they have. The women never know for sure how long it’s taken them to weave a single carpet.’       

The Family Head disagreed in an open and loud fashion that left me in a state of meh. I peered over at the English cousins who looked as if they were concealing some laughter. The Carpet Weaver looked up, silent as always, before returning to her work. Her husband then instructed her to start unrolling carpets for us to look at and feel, no doubt adamant that he’d make a sale.                           

Each one of those carpets had a nice texture to them. The shades were vibrant, as was to be expected, and the patterns were as unique as our fingerprints. We were all taking pictures; one of the Italians had expressed a fleeting interest in one of the smaller carpets but it didn’t eventuate into anything the Family Head was like to react about politely. The Family Head then left the room for some reason whilst the Carpet Weaver stood at one end, looking to her right with both delicate hands buried in her pockets. I took a photo of her, liking the silent pose she was making.
The mental clawing at the back of mine was still on.                                            

Seriously, who hasn’t picked up on the fact that Subway doesn’t serve stew?!                       
Not until I’m back in Marrakech at that new hostel with the zero bad reviews! Shit!           

I watched the Carpet Weaver standing upon her work, not for one moment expressing a hint of pride. I didn’t know if pride was a sin in Islam. We then stood up to leave; I put more heart into thanking the Carpet Weaver for her hospitality, than her husband, before being led by our skinny guide back to the bus and onto Todra Gorge. As we were walking away from the big house in Tinghir I looked back but the Carpet Weaver hadn’t stepped outside to see us off.                                                                         

‘Shit, he wasn’t impressed with you,’ the long-haired cousin laughed as we walked together.          
I’d seen a Saharan sunset from a top a mammoth sand dune and bused it through the snowy Atlas Mountains; those peeks had reminded me of zebra foal stripes. This stint in African nature was well appreciated, but now I was exhausted. We all were; the sites were beautiful but the tour company we’d travelled with could use a bit of a facelift. I was also well and truly over camels. The plan had been to buy a wooden camel back in Marrakech, for my collection of wooden figurines purchased from abroad, but I thought I’d settle for a cobra instead. Snakes didn’t cause discomfort.                   
We were all dropped off at varying spots around Marrakech just as night had overtaken but I was left feeling nervous since I didn’t know the neighbourhood my new hostel was in. I had a map but I was freaking out a little - a lot, actually. I was the third last to be dropped off; I started walking down Rue de La Kasbah in the dark, once even blending in with a family pulling their suitcases just for cover, but a shopkeeper then came out to me and gave me proper directions. Genuine people are everywhere, I told myself, before I realised that I was standing near a very familiar looking market, and a rooftop café; I’d walked around here days earlier with another Aussie and a Swede. The confidence then returned to me as I started walking the neighbourhood. These streets were quiet, a welcomed upside, because I liked quiet.                                                                                                  
I arrived at the much cleaner and opened-aired hostel to be greeted by a young man wearing a leather jacket and his black cap backwards.                                                               
‘Thank you for choosing us,’ the young man said after my booking was found. ‘If there’s anything you need, just let me and the others know.’                                                            

‘I just want to recover.’                                                                                                 

‘Haha, you’re not the first.’                                                                                                    

I already liked this place; their Wi-Fi code was Couscous. Once I’d checked in I got my phone charging. When it had power I dialled home and got a hold of my father. It’s one of those chats that isn’t detailed in some How To guide, so I just let it all come out. All of it. 

‘Dad, I’m so sorry…’ 

My tears finally started to stream down my cheeks there, alone, in the dorm room.  

For Doug...

Monday, 29 August 2016

Character Buildings

Dublin, Ireland

Out of every country I've visited, Ireland might just be the easiest one I've moved around in - the convenience is just too good kiddies. It's an 'oppressed nation' (shared by the natives oh so many times) of storytellers in which a good friend of mine hails from, hence why I brought the ticket.

Dublin, Ireland (taken 2016)

Naturally one must get there first. I took the Ryanair flight out of London but unfortunately the flight was delayed for several hours so I was forced to lounge around Gatwick Airport. Luckily there were some ladies coming back from Egypt and a young couple, 'hipster-hat and her boyfriend', all of whom were on the same flight as me, to have a conversation with. That and some sponge-like excuse the United Kingdom calls McDonald's. Now, Dublin!

Dublin, Ireland (taken 2016)

I had two full days here before my bus to Belfast and I must say they were very good. For those who haven't been, walking around 'the black pool' is a memorable experience so make sure you have some shoes worth wearing out. I got my first taste of the city by taking a free walking tour (I love these things) with a friendly named Ian who was all sinful talk (swears I meaneth). I met him at my hostel, Jacob's Inn, on Talbot Street (DO NOT take the jar of Nutella at breakfast time!)

Incredibly hilarious Ian was; he shared Dublin's history with such enthusiasm and wasn't shy about putting down Irish architects; a digital clock in the dark brown River Liffey and the towering 'spike' in the city centre he dubbed 'the erection at the intersection' were some choice topics I can recall. Without getting into much colourful detail, everything he said can be summed up with these age appropriate words, 'They're really quite hopeless.'

Dublin, Ireland (taken 2016)

Moving on, that's all I needed to become acquainted with Dublin.

On that first day I had the priviledge of seeing some beautiful sights, some of which I hadn't anticipated. Trinity College was there of course, Christ Church Cathedral and Dublin Castle which I was overjoyed to learn was a filming location for Penny Dreadful. My inner fan boy was hoping to spy Helen McCrory paying a visit to the set but no such luck I'm afraid (THREE SEASONS IS NOT ENOUGH JOHN LOGAN!)

Dublin, Ireland (taken 2016)

Dublin most certainly has some nice architecture - take note that I'm not a Ted Moseby when it comes to architecture - and I have to say that the buildings, of which I saw, came with so much character. Now you can understand the title of this post. Just walking down a side street was enough to satisfy.

Now it's the second day, of which I saved my walk through Trinity College's amazing library for. Having read up on the city beforehand I was sure it'd be a trip to the Guiness Brewery for a few hours, despite my dislike for the fish guts, but the second day was all about happy accidents.

Dublin, Ireland (taken 2016)

The information desk at the airport gave me some information which revealed not only that Dublin has a leprechaun museum but that the city has been the home to many upon many famed and influential authors. I was embarrassed for having overlooked this little factor - I'm a huge reader and I want to have a novel published one day (the dream since I was nine years old) - so on that second day I had my free breakfast, made a list of what I needed to see and made sure I knew where to go. This was going to be good.

First stop, the Dublin Writers Museum. I couldn't take any photos inside the building but if I could I would have a shot of the first edition Dracula by Bram Stoker to induce some envy. I was inches away from this bad boy, one of my most favourite reads, and I will never forget it.
Dublin, Ireland (taken 2016)

Next I was onto the National Leprechaun Museum; since I was seven I've held a fascination with mythology and folklore so it's safe to say that I had plenty of fun here. The guide Sinead kept us laughing and informed, reinforcing the 'Ireland has been an oppressed' fact, and sharing everything about changelings, giants, banshees and of course, leprechauns. Fun fact, it's Disney's fault that leprechauns are green. Thought provoking, I know.

Dublin, Ireland (taken 2016)

After that it was a long walk through the city, taking in the character I've seen on so many James Joyce covers, passing the countless pubs and hearing Falling Slowly by Hansard and Irglova which the locals were divided over I believe - it was playing whilst I typed this up. Finding my way back to Trinity College, I bought a ticket for the library and turned the flash off on my Samsung.

There was the Book of Kells, the alleged Harp of Brian Boru and of course the Long Room itself. I've always wanted to see a traditional library with towering shelves one would need a ladder to access. Walking through it has since inspired a bit of weird fiction currently in the works; 'an Irish Elysium with a heart of Atonement' is all I'll say for now.

Dublin, Ireland (taken 2016)

Following that was a free spell in the National Gallery of Ireland - sorry, no pictures - and then a walk through Merrion Square in search of the Oscar Wilde statue. Had it been a dry and sunny day I would've dropped to the ground and opened a book in that picturesque garden. There was a peace.

Dublin, Ireland (taken 2016)

There's a lot to enjoy about Dublin, of that there is no doubt, and from here there's plenty more to embrace. Once more, Ireland is an easy nation to move around in. I don't know why I ever considered a tour group.        
Dublin, Ireland (taken 2016)

Friday, 5 August 2016

The Postcard Made Me Do It

Madrid, Spain

Booking that ticket to Spain always felt right to me; I mean the flight was dodgy and two fools were breaking into a mouth fight that the attendants had to break up but upon landing in Madrid I was feeling really positive. Some natives helped me navigate the train system, I felt like I could achieve wonders with my anorexic Spanish (I did not achieve many wonders with said anorexic Spanish) and the hostel I'd chosen was just beautiful. If I could voice only one criticism though, and this is about MYSELF, four days in the city was just too long for me.

Madrid, Spain (taken 2016)

So, Madrid - people were asking me a lot why I wasn't going to Rome or Paris, common stops in the old Europe, but Spain is as well; it's rich with a colourful history. Upon looking outside my dorm window on that first night and having chatted with a nice Korean girl who knew who Doona Bae was, I can say that I was intrigued.

Madrid, Spain (taken 2016)

I felt like I could be inspired by looking through that window and at the dorm itself; think it had something to do with the Ortega quote painted on the orange wall.

'Progress can only be achieved when we think big, it is only possible to advance when we look into the distance.' - Jose Ortega y Gasset

Madrid, Spain (taken 2016)

This is a city of badarses and classical architecture, crowded eateries which I sadly didn't become fluent in navigating (there's a lot of calamari here for those interested) and so many people in dress up; should you come by Dora the Explorer you will hence know her as Dora the Destroyer if the mask gets taken off.

Madrid, Spain (taken 2016)

There was a bicycle with a toilet installed on it parked in Plaza Mayor and the statue of a bear in Puerto del Sol (note Olaf from Frozen doing the rounds) that grants you good luck should you touch its leg.

Madrid, Spain (taken 2016)

I was left disbelieving when my cold at the time chose to stick around, eventually inducing a stint going up and down Calle Conde de Aranda in search of a clinic, Unidad Medica (nice people, they gave me free water), that spoke English. Should a receptionist happen to say 'botox' you know you've knocked on the wrong door.

Madrid, Spain (taken 2016)

The botox incident aside, amongst the Spanish Palace, the Cathedral, countless equine statues and the world's oldest restaurant, Sobrino de Botin (that's right, I stood outside that bad boy), here are some of MY personal favourites.

Kicking things off, here's a statue of a big green frog. I'll just let that sink in then, eh?

Madrid, Spain (taken 2016)

The Reina Sofia, one of Madrid's many and what I'm guessing contemporary galleries, is a good way to spend a Sunday afternoon since the entry is free; I stumbled across some works by Dali, Picasso and Rivera which my inner art student of thirteen years really appreciated. On The Dorito Tour I found myself finding so many museums and galleries by accident which really made my day. Other examples were in Dublin, Marrakech and Amsterdam.

Madrid, Spain (taken 2016)

Parque del Retiro's another stop which could possibly be the setting for a Spanish Blair Witch knock off - could definitely see myself wandering around these gardens and getting lost. The fountains and... el grande water feature (you can canoe across it) were picturesque, as well as the monument to Alfonso XII - they also serve good hot chocolate here. I would add that gypsies hang out around these parts so if some woman offers you a sprig of rosemary, just keep walking because she'll expect you to pay. If you're an Aussie though, demand a leg of lamb with it should you feel like evening the score.

Madrid, Spain (taken 2016)

Templo de Depod also gained my interest, mostly on account of the Egyptian temple they've got set up there. On my last night in Madrid I made the walk over to have a look - I got my times mixed up so I was unable to go inside said temple (first world problem, I know) but the area does come with a lovely sunset-esque view of the Cathedral. I learnt somewhere, I think from Nomadic Matt, that if you're ever in Madrid, find yourself a good view so I guess I did. Points.

Madrid, Spain (taken 2016)

Another highlight I'm happy to share is visiting my first foreign zoo - this was a travel moment I'm very proud of. I was still wary about navigating the train system of a country where I don't speak the language but I achieved the goal and wound up in Casa de Campo, an area that was reminding me a lot of Melbourne. The fauna on display brought a vibrancy to the place and there were some species I hadn't seen before. Originally I'd come because word was they had a black panther on display (I have a fetish and it's got nothing to do with Chadwick Boseman) but I was mistaken. No regrets though. It was a good morning.  

Madrid, Spain (taken 2016)

I'm an avid player of the game, Nomad, with simple and oh so humble needs. Nice, big eyesores are scattered through out the world, which I'm happy to see, but along the way there'll be something rather... ordinary, which I'll stop for. Madrid's little find was the Spanish flag, waving majestically in Plaza de Colon. Literally, I could spend an hour watching the red and yellow fly. One thing Spain's good for is providing points of fixation.

Madrid, Spain (taken 2016)

Lastly, and I'm hoping you've been wondering since this paragraph is happening because of it - how did I settle on this blog post's title? I stayed at U Hostel on Calle de Sagasta and I cannot voice enough how nice it was there; word is it's a boutique hostel which I'm trigger happy to agree with. The staff were helpful from the moment I walked through their doors, compassionate when I got sick (the eyes were bloodshot after a sleepless night kiddies) and they make some good churos for breakfast. All of that said, when you check out they'll give you a postcard of Plaza Mayor with a nice little saying printed across it.

(Taken 2016)

You get me now flock member?

Having stared at the postcard for the past few weeks, it gave me the inspiration for what to blog about next. U Hostel, muchas gracias. Estas palabras son para usted.