I have returned from my vacation (to Morocco and Spain). I only managed to buffer enough new material to cover my time away, and I've been too affected by jetlag and getting back into normal routine to have enough time to write much for today. I haven't even processed enough photos to present a decently representative album of the trip. So, some textual highlights:
- Spending a night in the Sahara Desert. I was looking forward to the sunset, sunrise, and viewing the stars, from a place miles from any civilisation, and surrounded by majestic scenery. Alas, it was overcast the entire time, and it actually rained on us as we were settling down for dinner outside our camping tents, forcing us inside. Still, this was a unique experience - our guide told us that it hadn't rained there for eleven years! And the scenery was still amazing, and the camels didn't spit on me (though one drooled on my trouser leg).
- Exploring the medina of Fes. This is an amazing rabbit warren of tiny, twisty passages (yes, all alike), which have existed for over a thousand years. There are no motorised vehicles in the whole area, which covers several square kilometres. Everything is transported by men pulling carts, or by donkey. The press of humanity is overwhelming, and you can find everything within the medina: food, clothing, consumer goods, there is even a university (the oldest university in the world, according to some definitions). Apparently even today some people are born, live, and die within the perimeter of the medina, never leaving it in their entire lives. You have not experienced everything that our human world has to offer until you have been in a place like this.
- Buying fresh and dried fruit, olives, bread, cheese, meats, and sweets from various markets, both in Morocco, and Spain. Getting lunch while travelling can be a challenge, especially in places which don't really do fast food as Western culture understands it. In a few places in Morocco, I bought ingredients for a lunch from markets, then repeated it a couple of times in Spain as well. There's nothing like trying to communicate in a language that you don't speak that you want to buy 3 slices of cheese!
- Spending three hours in a wine bar in a small square in Madrid, watching the world pass by. I popped in for a drink and a quick snack, and ended up ordering small tapas-like dishes of food over the next few hours until I was full enough to consider it dinner. The sun set behind the old European buildings, providing a gloriously changing light show to accompany the food, wine, and spectacle of human existence.
- Being impressed once again by just how far the Roman Empire had extended, and by the amazing things they had built. The Spanish city of Zaragoza gets its name from a corruption of its name 2000 years ago: Caesaraugusta. There are multiple sites dotted around the old city where you can see the remnants of Roman construction, including an impressive theatre (link in Spanish). In Barcelona there are extant columns from a Roman temple, built into the structure of a modern apartment building. And in Morocco, I was amazed at the full extent of the Roman Empire by the remains of Volubilis near Meknes, and Chellah near Rabat.
When I was a child and watched some game shows on TV, they offered prizes such as cars, or trips to Europe. I used to think that a trip was the absolute worst thing you could win, because after you've been and returned home, you have nothing left to show for it. I figured that winning material goods had to be better.
But taking a trip to experience a foreign culture - its language, its food, its customs, and its history - is possibly the most amazing and valuable thing you can ever do in your life. You learn that people are really the same everywhere, even if we express ourselves in an infinite diversity of ways. We laugh at the same things, we cry at the same things. We get along, even without speaking the same language or having the same habits. And the things that other people do are so different and fascinating. We don't all have to be the same - in fact we would lose so much of our essential humanity if we were all the same.
If you ever get, or can possibly make, the opportunity: Go visit the world. It's worth every cent, and then some.