2 different continents. 3 different countries. 3.5 weeks.
That's a lot mind blowing experiences to process in a relatively short amount of time.
It's taken me awhile to really put this trip into words (well, words long enough for a blogpost) because there are layers & layers & layers of magical experiences & a-ha moments that happened during my time abroad. The Cliff Notes version?This was one of the best trips of my life.
When you take a trip like this it's never just about what happens once you arrive--at least not for me. It's not about how many great things there were to buy in the Medina of Marrakech or scoping the famous paintings at the Prado museum in Madrid (I didn't go!), or seeing the ancient Moorish castles outside of Lisbon. Instead, the memories that endure are marked by unexpected moments....like what it feels like to be on an airplane where the flight crew addresses the cabin in multiple languages--none of which are your native tongue--so you never quite have a handle on exactly what's going on.Or the traditional Moroccan Gnawa troupehired for a private performance that ended their set by playing Bob Marley's "Redemption Song"....in Arabic. Or your first night in Madrid when you learned that in Spanish you say "Queremos la cuenta" meaning "We want the check" instead of "Can we have the check?", which is what you'd say in English. And then there's what happens when you get back home and realize that while everything is technically the same....nothing FEELS the same anymore. Somewhere between navigating the souks in Marrakech & going on dates in Madrid, you had your entire life recalibrated. It's not until you get back home that it really hits you....you're not the same person who left.
2 different continents. 3 different countries. 3.5 weeks.You'd be surprised at how much can change in that time.
This trip is getting it's own dedicated podcast episode next week but in the meantime, here's the basics of what you should know:
#1:Lost & Found Marrakech, the trip I curated & launched back in April of this year, was AWESOME. The group of women who booked this trip was the perfect fit and I said more than a few times on Instagram that I thought we fit together like puzzle pieces, each with our own personalities & experiences--curves & edges--that integrated well. We were able to learn from one another, there were connections made in ways that I couldn't have anticipated, and there was a cross-section of perspectives, experiences, and geographical locations represented which meant that each woman brought something unique to the table.
Some were married and/or had kids, some weren't. Some women were frequent international travelers and others weren't. Every one seemed genuinely interested in each other & in making connections which was one of my main goals for this trip...and it made me proud to know that I'd attracted such a group. There were some who didn't want to spend all of their time in the old city (Medina) so they went to spas, new restaurants in Gueliz (new city), booked day trips to waterfalls and took advantage of the stunning Marrakech hotels by spending afternoons relaxing by the pool. Then there were others (like myself) who were content to explore the vastness of the Medina, eat/drink their weight in tea & local cuisine, visit ancient historical sites and scour the souks for the best textiles & spices that Morocco had to offer.And you know what?It was all good.
There was no ONE right way to do this trip, because my goal was for each woman to create what she wanted.I don't believe in setting strict itineraries prior to arrival. As I love to say, making plans is fine but I've found it much more gratifying to be open to what each destination is WANTING to show you about itself....and it never tells you its secrets until you get there. My only "requirements" were to be open to the experience and to always remember that we were Americans in Morocco....and not the other way around (<<--this is SUPER important). In preparation for our trip, each month I created a 6-8 page guide with travel advice & tips on what to expect in Marrakech & one of the things I kept reiterating was that, as the curator, I am here to provide the vehicle but it is up to YOU to create the experience that you wish to have in Marrakech. I'm here to hold space for you as you create YOUR OWN story. And create their own stories, they did.
One of the most extraordinary experiences was when we went ATV'ing for half a day in the desert surrounding Marrakech. OMG. Absolutely perfect temperature.Not a single cloud in the sky.Navigating through wide open spaces & not a spec of civilization around for miles and miles.Saying that it was spectacular, breathtaking, and/or magnificent wouldn't be an overexaggeration. Something special happened that day, and it was one of those things you don't even know you NEED to experience...until you experience it. Riding that bike I kept thinkingto myself,
Remember this moment: You are in Africa. With 7 other women. Riding a 4 wheeler. In the middle of the desert. On a SCHOOL DAY. THIS is what it means to be FREE.
Collecting these moments is what I live for.
Marrakech itself is an INCREDIBLE city and it's a place to which I'll absolutely return again & again...to the point that I'd love to spend an extended amount of time there. The culture, the food, the people, the history, the language, the lifestyle--it was literally like experiencing another world. And traveling there as a member of several demographics--a solo female traveler, a single Black woman, and even with a group of single American women--I felt INCREDIBLY safe. And this is from someone who is VERY mindful about her safety, both stateside AND abroad. I'm so glad that all of my internet research didn't deter me from designing this trip because if I'd believed what I read on several blogs & YouTube videos--that men were aggressive, that it was unsafe and/or unwelcoming to solo women--I would've missed out on the trip of a lifetime.Here's the truth:I didn't have one single negative interaction while in Morocco...but I imagine that's also because I made myself VERY aware of the culture before I left. I knew how to dress respectfully. I learned a few Arabic words (like, a FEW). I knew not to stare (without sunglasses on) or be chatty with men I didn't know (as we're accustomed to doing in the US). So I found the men to be curious....but charming and mostly respectful. We got called "Obama" a few times (which happened to me before in Turkey), or "Fish & Chips" and "Rasta" (always directed towards specific women in the group) but there was never a time when any of us felt unsafe. Ever. And as they love to point out, according to the Global Peace Index you're actually safer in Morocco (#91) than you are in the US (#103) so that puts things in perspective, too. ;-)
So if you're wondering if you should go to Marrakech?My advice is to GO. Do your research & respect the culture, but by all means GO. If you love to experience different cultures & traditions, don't mind a LOT of walking, aren't a picky eater, want to experience a different way of life and don't expect every country you visit to be like the US, then you'll have a fabulous time.
#2: Lisbon is breathtaking. You'll need to bring your walking shoes & probably humble your ego a bit--before those steep streets & hilly neighborhoods do it FOR you--but it's a beautiful city RIGHT on the Atlantic Ocean with a wonderfully interesting language, the freshest fish you'll ever eat, and stunning architecture. There's something about that city that I still can't quite put my finger on (in a good way!), but I loved wandering the neighborhoods & squares alone as a solo traveler, hopping off & on the historical #28 tram, stopping by for daily chats with my favorite shopkeeper, visiting the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Sintra, finding my favorite local places to eat and just making my way throughout this city for 5 days. It's the perfect weekend trip from Madrid (1 hour flight!) and is definitely worth a visit if you ever find yourself in that neck of the woods. Also, Portugal is #5 on the GPI. FIVE.
#3: Madrid.Ohhh Madrid. This city is so beautiful and is (thankfully!) home to some of the finest men God has ever created! (Don't believe me? Gloria even ranked them #6 on her list of 10 countries with the hottest men in the world.) I must've said it about 40 times during my 2 visits there (my route: Marrakech, Madrid, Lisbon, then back to Madrid), but Madrid reminds me so much of NYC, just a much cleaner, much more relaxed version. Energetically, the people are much more easy going--no one feels like they're grinding or hustling their way through life, which I love. They live by a totally different lifestyle than what we're accustomed to here....all about enjoying life & taking your time for meals and conversations. Spain has it's own culture & language (both Catalan, which is NOT Spanish, and Castillian Spainish are spoken) and while it's more Western than Morocco (duh), you'll get an instant wake up call when you open your mouth to have a convo & find that no one around you speaks English. Or you run to the grocery store to grab some juice & snacks for the house and find that they're closed from 1pm-4pm every day for siesta. Or when you learn the hard way that dinner doesn't start until 9pm. ¡Bienvienidos a España!
Of every country I visited,I probably learned the most about myself in Madrid. That city made me think A LOT about the importance of language and the meaning/socialization of culture and patriotic elitism.I thought about my Blackness (hard not to the way people, particularly older folks, will STARE at you) and what it means to have your identity rooted in being Black in America.I thought a lot about where I am in my life, what I want moving forward and what I need to continue to expand. Being there made me realize that I'm supposed to be bilingual--almost like somewhere deep down, there's a genetic memory of me knowing Spanish fluently.My mouth surely wanted to say things that my brain doesn't yet know, so I took that as a sign. I loved the fact that having my language stripped away meant a heightened sense of awareness about what was going on around me....but that it also gave me the ability to totally zone out and focus on my thoughts (easy to do when you don't understand 70% of what's happening around you). I loved texting men in Spanish (thanks, Tinder!). And I found myself paying attention to so many things I'd typically overlook back home, which made me realize just HOW MUCH the familiarity with my daily routine causes me to miss out on the little things.
Trying to navigate a country in a language with which you're not fluent is the most uncomfortable, vulnerable feeling ever.
And even with that being said...I fell in love with Spain.
I loved it so much that even before I made it back to the States, I'd already made the decision to move to Spain next year. I loved it so much that 2 days after getting back to Atlanta I started in a 6 week Spanish intensive to improve my competency (using the Graded Reader method, which I LOVE). And I loved it so much that 3 weeks after getting homefrom this whirlwind trip I booked my ticket back to Spain for April 2017. Because when you know, you just know. And because time waits for no woman. Not even me.
So off to Spain I go!
And there you have it--a snippet of my experiences from 3.5 weeks in Marrakech, Lisbon & Madrid. I'll cover the rest in my next podcast but hopefully this starts to answer the question I hear so often these days, "Tell me about your trip!!". If you have a specific question you'd like to answer in the podcast just leave a comment below or drop me an email.