Speed dating the Netherlands

Quite often when you have the icebreaker ‘so where have you been conversation’ with a backpacker in Europe they reel off this long list of countries and then say ‘and Amsterdam’ as if it’s its own country.

It’s not.

And, it definitely doesn’t sum up the Netherlands, which I have to say is one of the most pleasantly surprising countries I’ve visited.

Not trying to preach but there’s really no excuse for not venturing out of Amsterdam either, given it’s such a small country you can be in an entirely different city within a matter of minutes.

Take Utrecht for example, a 30-minute train ride out of Amsterdam and you’re in this cute cobblestoned canal-wharfed town, though the main draw card for me visiting was to catch up with a really cool Dutch couple I met in Morocco.

20120921-224943.jpg

The weather didn’t play ball but it didn’t matter because they spent the day introducing me to local delicacies including cherry beer and the Mc Kroket – which was surprisingly tasty.

20120927-233539.jpg

Next I ventured to The Hague, one, because I wanted to see the painting the ‘Girl with the Pearl Earring,’ and two, being a justice policy nerd I wanted to visit the International Criminal Court.

Don’t get me wrong, it was a nice town with wide leafy boulevards, pretty canals and a cafe scene to rival Wellingtons (clearly I’m biased) but I mise well have not bothered given the girls in my dorm didn’t appear to speak at all, the museum was shut on the day I was there and you have to write a letter months in advance to visit the ICC.
20120921-230652.jpg

20120929-103324.jpg

So I packed my bags and decided to try my luck in the very cute and compact town of Delft – and yes that tower is on a massive lean.
20120929-225017.jpg

20120929-225330.jpg

But what I liked most about Delft was this fish shop – which predates the founding document of my country by half a millennium.

20120929-100804.jpg

I could have spent days here, and would have, if it wasn’t for the Iranian creeper in my dorm.

Honestly in my nine months of backpacking no-one has freaked me out as much as this guy.

Perhaps it was the giant love-heart shaped box of chocolates he presented me within minutes of meeting me.

Perhaps it was the ‘I love New Zealand, I’d really like to move there’ comment.

Perhaps it was the probing questions about where my boyfriend was.

Perhaps it was the disturbing knock on the door while I was showering to ask if I needed to borrow his shampoo.

Perhaps it was how he turned me saying I didn’t have plans for the evening into a date with him.

And, perhaps it was the fact when I checked into the hostel it was just me and him in our 21-bed triple decker bunk dorm room.

20120929-101028.jpg

Not proud of this, but when date-time rolled around I decided to hide from him in the hostel bar and many beers later when I finally had the Dutch courage to go to bed I discovered he’d unceremoniously ungifted the chocolates from me for standing him up.

Given it was the only hostel in Delft and he was planning on staying for a few more days I abandoned ship and headed for Rotterdam early the next morning.

And by lunchtime it was like a distant memory, given I was now cycling around Kinderdijk – a UNESCO-protected traditional windmill village.

It was a beautiful afternoon, despite the fact my camera died, leaving me feeling like a dick trying to take photos with my iPad.

20120921-222530.jpg

Slightly off topic… but if anyone out there wants to donate a poor backpacker a new camera that would be much appreciated.

Winter clothes, a flannelette onesie, a haircut and a real job would also be helpful.

Back to The Netherlands…

Aside from being the best place to explore Kinderdijk from, Rotterdam from what I can gather, is really just a big city – though with a famous statue ‘Santa with a Butt Plug’ and some cube-shaped houses.

20120929-100456.jpg

One note on Santa… On the map it’s in this square which also houses this statue.

20120929-100357.jpg

I seriously stood here looking at this monstrosity of public art work for a good five minutes trying to work out how you get ‘Santa with a Butt Plug’ out of that before a local, on spotting my mistake, burst out laughing and explained that Santa was in fact hiding behind the metro stop.

And so he was.

20120929-100619.jpg

Enough sightseeing for one day, I decided on a romantic dinner for one to mark my last night in the Netherlands at a local restaurant famous for its Dutch-style meatballs.

But the word ‘meatballs’ is deceiving.

They should really just call them a meat ‘ball’ because what appeared on my plate was a small windowless building of meatloaf substance in ball shape.

Reasonably tasty but safe to say meat sweats ensued.

Luckily Dutch food redeemed itself on my last day when I can honestly say I ate the best baguette of my life.

It was from a artisan bakery next to my hostel and all it had in it was goats’ feta, honey, pine nuts and mesclun.

It was so good I think I might have to go back to Rotterdam just to eat it again.

And it’s the first time I can truly say, in the words of my best friend whose travel journal fopar this blog is named after – today I ate a baguette.

Advertisements

A girls’ weekend in Amsterdam

I’m not sure Amsterdam is the best place for girls’ weekend.

Come Saturday the price of hostels almost double and the town is taken over by Brits Abroad and ubiquitous stag dos.

20120921-225241.jpg

You can’t blame stag dos for coming here though, I have to admit the girls in the Red Light District are absolutely gorgeous.

Ok, some are minging, but many are gorgeous, including the girl we paid two euro to stand in a secluded booth and watch touching herself on a revolving bed.

Unfortunately, my two euro peep show also got me a free show of the Kim Dotcom lookalike in the booth directly opposite me touching himself as well.

It was longest and most disturbing – ‘I should not be watching this but can’t stop watching this’ – two minutes of my life.

In terms of other stereotypical Dutch touristy things we managed to knock off while in Amsterdam, we:

Queued to eat at the famous pancake house where the pancakes are more like pizzas.

I bought my first souvenir in a long time – a two euro clog keyring which promptly broke two minutes later. My only clog souvenir is now this photo.

20120921-222707.jpg

We got our fair share of photos with the ‘I Amsterdam’ sign.

20120926-151450.jpg

We stumbled across many a weird window display.

20120921-222842.jpg

20120921-222853.jpg

20120921-222907.jpg

20120921-222930.jpg

And most excitingly, we discovered if you pretend to be mildly interested in buying some Gouda you can sample pretty much every variety of fromage in the cheese shops for free – making it the perfect backpackers’ free morning and/or afternoon tea.

In fairness, I did actually want buy some cheese but it’s not exactly practical as a backpacker to be carrying around a wheel of Gouda in your rucksack and I’m pretty sure my dorm buddies wouldn’t appreciate it either.

But in truth the thing I enjoyed most about my weekend in Amsterdam was having a female friend to hang with.

The hostels I’m in seem to be devoid of female backpackers, not that I mind the company of males, but sometimes you just need to have girly chats about love and life.

And I could have used her the night before when I came home somewhat upset/quite drunk after a particularly strange date with a Dutch man.

I accept it was partially my own fault, I’d built him up in my head, and in reality, he was, how do I put this – very Dutch.

Without her there the friend duty fell to Angry Meat Man who kindly cuddled me until I fell asleep.

I am forever grateful, though I do recall he owed me somewhat after the ‘Amsterdam is trying to kill me’ weed episode the day before.

Three blind mice

Who’s in your hostel and more specifically your dorm room is a bit pot luck at times.

If they’re cool you’ve got instant not only friends but family, if not – you’re doomed to be a loner.

Luckily in Amsterdam I shared a dorm room with an Argentinian guy we nicknamed Angry Meat Man because it became apparent very quickly that he needs to be fed meat, and often, and an older grungier version of Melbourne hipster – with an uncanny resemblance to a young Steve Jobs.

20120920-130131.jpg

It’s amazing how fast we bonded over a couple of pints and Angry Meat Man’s ice breaker proclamation while strolling a particularly low quality section of the Red Light District – ‘this must be the Ryan Air section.’

20120920-131717.jpg

And, over the next few days we shared our highs and we shared our lows.

I’ll start with the highs.

In an effort to cheer ourselves up after Steve Jobs Jnr got kicked out of the ‘Inner Amsterdam’ hostel for allegedly not paying, even though it was far more likely a result of their shitty record keeping, we decided to go to one of Amsterdam’s coffee shops.

In the interests of disclosure, I’ve never actually smoked weed, not for any particular reason, I’ve just never felt the need to.

Turns out Angry Meat Man and Steve Jobs Jnr were about as novice as me, so it was quite appropriate that we ended up at a coffee shop called ‘Rookies.’

But the name was deceiving, it was definitely not a first time to Amsterdam coffee shop kind of place.

We were flying blind, so blind in fact we ended up leaving to go and enlist the help of a friendly Englishman we’d meet earlier in the day.

And, this is the last photo I have before things went seriously downhill after the Englishman and his girlfriend helped us purchase one gram of the standard Rookies’ home blend – which is marketed as the weakest strain and a mix of mellow and uplifting weed.

20120920-130232.jpg

The one gram was enough for a joint each but we decided to ease ourselves into it and go thirds on the first one.

It just made me feel really really relaxed, though I was jolted from my zen-like calm when Angry Meat Man’s eyes went blood red, he began shaking and was sitting in the gutter outside frantically tying, untying and re-tying his shoelaces.

Even a can of Fanta and a Snickers didn’t do the trick and soon he became convinced, in his words – ‘Amsterdam is trying to kill me.’

Then Steve Jobs Jnr went all weird, clingy weird – ‘please hold my hand,’ ‘keep talking to me,’ ‘I feel very vulnerable’ weird.

I was in my happy place and had no idea what to do with them, so while I worked on my plan I lined them up against the wall and decided we needed photographic proof of this moment.

20120920-130003.jpg

Finally it became apparent that the best place for both of them was in their bunk beds, so here I am walking down the street holding Steve Jobs Jnr’s hand, rubbing Angry Meat Man’s back, trying not to get us killed by the lines of bikes and trams and cars, all while hopelessly trying to navigate our way back to their hostels via double dutch street names like Reguliersdwarsstraat and Lange Leidsedwarssraat.

A good few hours later I manage to get them both safely tucked up in their bunk beds just in time to make it to the canal cruise and comedy show we’d stupidly booked earlier in the day.

It was very similar to that moment I had in Italy where I went from having two dinner dates to dining solo and I spent the next hour of my life seeing Amsterdam from the shelter of my umbrella, with only my box of Belgium chocolates and bottle of Rose of keep me company.

20120920-130046.jpg

In fairness to Steve Jobs Jnr, he did recover in time to meet me for a late night hot chocolate and in hindsight I really should have grown a pair and kissed him.

I digress…

As for my trippy moment, it came later that night in bed when I was convinced the strong pungent cheesy weed smell was coming from my hair.

I kept sitting bolt upright, sniffing my hair and then going back to sleep, but every time I rolled over this strong pungent weed waft would reappear.

Turns out I wasn’t tripping, I had for some paranoid reason decided to hide the other two joints in my pillowcase.

If you’re wondering what happened to them – I flushed them down the toilet.

And safe to say it may well be the first and last time I do weed, but hey, at least it was an experience I will never forget.

The last days of summer

I’m really glad I decided to spend the last days of summer in southern Spain, given I’m now sitting rugged up in the Netherlands trying to get feeling back in my hands to write this post.

Truth is I wasn’t actually planning on going south, in my head I was going to San Sebastian then up through France on-route to Oktoberfest in Germany.

I blame Spanish guy for the sudden change of plans.

It was something about the way he told me in his most sincere tone – ‘you’ll deeply regret it if you don’t see Granada.’

And he was right, Granada is a weirdly meshed mix of Moroccan, European and university town, not to mention the place Michelle Obama learnt flamenco and Bill Clinton is said to have seen the most spectacular sunset of his life over the Alhambra.

20120917-180834.jpg

20120917-181737.jpg

I blame the walking tour guy for those useless facts and I have to admit this is as close as I got to Granada’s number one attraction.

20120917-180637.jpg

Before someone yells at me, I tried, it was booked out and besides I’ve seen more than my fair share of temples, mosques, cathedrals and churches over the past nine months.

As for my hostel it was more like staying in a brand new apartment – with bunk beds.

Given that it also attracted this ‘too cool’ backpacker crowd who just seemed to want to get stoned, play guitar and cook pasta.

The last part perplexed me the most given Granada is the home of truly free tapas.

It’s a backpacker’s dream. You buy a drink and they feed you. You buy another drink and they feed you more.

It’s a good life and you can see why some backpackers never leave, especially the ‘lost souls’ once they discover they can carve a cave into the hillside and live rent free.

20120917-180957.jpg

20120917-181123.jpg

As for my beach time I decided on Nerja, a little coast town on the Andalusian Coast.

20120917-180741.jpg

All the hostels were booked, so I ended up renting the front room of a local’s house through Air B&B, which gave me a much welcome respite from dorm life.

There’s really only so many – ‘Where are you from? Where have you been? Where are you going?’ – conversations you can have before you want to shoot yourself in the face.

So for the next 48 hours my days in Nerja went a little something like this: go for a run, cancel out my run by eating churros and chocolate for breakfast, lie on the beach on my tiny microfibre towel as I’m too much of a tight arse to buy a real beach towel, swim, eat gelato, lie on the beach, swim, eat gelato, find free tapas, read 50 Shades of Grey (I blame Jenn Smyth for this), go to sleep dreaming of my unicorn, and lastly – watch newlyweds pose for their wedding photos.

In fairness how could you not watch this bride, especially once she decided to take the nicest dress she will ever own swimming.

20120917-181859.jpg

It was a nice way to bid farewell to summer, though I have to admit the concept of a European beach still scares the shit out of me.

They’re too commercialised, there’s too many people, they always seem to have this tacky ‘Brits’ abroad’ feel and you’re always rudely awaken by a – ‘Excuse me Miss, you want a massage, a sarong, a henna tattoo, sunglasses, a bracelet, a drink…’

My last gripe with European beaches concerns the nakedness.

No I’m not a prude and I did actually quite enjoy the bronzed stallion of a Spanish man in his metallic blue budgie smugglers, but quite honestly, is there a secret rule of law out there that says the more old, crusty, pruney, fat and out of shape you are the more naked you should be?

Seriously, some of the ladies could/should have tucked their tits into their bikini bottoms – it was disturbing.

As for Malaga, truth is I only came here to catch a cheap flight to Amsterdam but I did enjoy my afternoon given Spanish guy gave me a gastronomic tour via text from Madrid.

20120917-184433.jpg

Freshly barbecued sardines on the beach, seafood tapas, and the liquid raisin-tasting dessert wine which had me in such a state it took me three hours to navigate my way back to my really really shit but really really cheap hostel.

Amazingly, I made my red eye flight the next morning and before I knew it I was in Amsterdam.

It was cold, I blended in for once with all the blondes and my fear of being pick-pocketed quickly morphed into a morbid fear of death by bicycle – or tram – but most likely bicycle.

Happiness only real when shared

I’ve become a quote person.

‘Assumption is the mother of all f@*#-ups.’

‘For excessive freedom is nothing more but excessive slavery.’

‘The journey is the reward.’

‘Cut it with an axe not a breadknife.’

And, probably most poignant for this post – ‘happiness only real when shared’ – made famous by the book and movie ‘Into the Wild,’ as if I was to sum up my best moments in Barcelona and Madrid, it would be about the amazing people I’ve met.

I’ll start with a guy I’ll call the Incredible Hulk from my hostel in Barcelona because in his words – ‘I’m quite good at picking things up and putting them down again.’

And I imagine he would be, he’s a tank of a Scottish man who has lived everywhere (Iraq and Antarctica included), globe-trotting the world fighting fires.

But what is most remarkable about the Incredible Hulk is that he is walking-proof that you can make something of your life no matter the hand you’re dealt – oh yeah and he can cook.

Though I did learn to never take him to the supermarket on an empty stomach, unless you want to be served up a large windowless building of pasta for dinner.

Unfortunately he had to go home the next day, but then as I was sitting there on my lonesome eating breakfast who else but Melbourne hipster walks in.

The irony of that was the self-professed hipster decided to spend his only night in Barcelona before his flight to Greece at a hostel called – ‘The Hipstel.’

Our reunion was short-lived and after managing to lose two travel buddies in the space of the morning I opted to join the Gaudi walking tour of his most famous architectural feats, including the dare I say it – never to be completed La Sagrada Familia.

20120907-170802.jpg

20120907-172021.jpg

As walking tours go, it was an exceptionally good one, where I learnt trivia-worthy facts such as Gaudi was so obsessed with getting the figures anatomically correct on his masterpiece he covered a still-born baby with plaster for this scene of the death of the innocence.

20120909-201010.jpg

And for those of you who are Star Wars fanatics… George Lucas apparently got his inspiration for the helmets of Darth Vader and the storm troopers from these Gaudi chimneys.

20120909-201117.jpg

But the best part of this tour was meeting Australian Rainbow hippy.

20120907-170642.jpg

We spent the afternoon together visiting Gaudi Park which made me feel a lot like I was in the nursery rhyme Hansel and Gretel, and even more so given I was there with her.
20120909-200708.jpg

20120909-200737.jpg

It truly was one of those perfect travel days, topped off by a perfect evening where we sat in George Orwell Square known to locals as ‘Trippy Plaza’ because everyone there’s on drugs, eating the best 5 Euro burger and beer combo of my life – or at least I thought so at the time…

20120907-170906.jpg

If you look closely you can see the patty is still a bit pink.

I knew this but I was hungry and thought to myself surely my stomach is made of lead by now.

Clearly not.

That burger reared its ugly head eight hours into my nine hour bus trip to Madrid.

I knew it was coming given I’d spent the previous eight hours hurled over in writhing pain and had a bag at the ready.

But the bag had holes in it, so for the next hour I sat helplessly weak and mortified as the spew trickled down my legs.

I am eternally grateful to the Spanish woman sitting next to me, who helped me get cleaned up and escorted me on the metro to the city – where I had stupidly pre-booked a 14-bed dorm at a party hostel.

It was a low moment, particularly when I couldn’t muster the energy to have a shower and instead opted to climb into my bunk bed and toe-spoon my own ankle.

And sleep was in snippets over the next three nights with the guy on my bottom bunk’s snort-like snore, revellers coming home at all hours of the night giggling and debriefing about their evenings, the Brazilian navy guys trying to root everything on legs, people being so out of it they didn’t even hear their alarms go off, and the guy who liked to doze off to the dulcet tones of slit-your-wrist death metal.

Madrid’s a surprisingly pretty city though and the highlight was catching up with possibly the only good thing to come out of my time in Greece – Spanish guy.

There’s not enough nice words in the English language to describe this guy, he is a true gentleman who spent two nights showing me around.

20120907-171207.jpg

I only hope one day I can repay the favour.

Apart from him there’s only one other person I want to mention in this post – Essex boy.

Basically Essex boy decided it would be fun to psycho-analyse me one lazy afternoon in the park by playing this game where you have to imagine you find a box, a ladder, flowers and a horse in the desert.

The box apparently sums up your personality, the ladder your life goals/career, the flowers your family and the horse – your ideal man.

Now I know it’s just a game but it was freakishly accurate, particularly my horse which I described to him as – ‘a noble white unicorn, which is quite silly because I know they don’t actually exist.’

Ever since then I’ve been petrified I may never find my unicorn and will instead turn into a crazy cat lady, which is slightly ironic considering this daunting realisation happened while I was staying at…

20120909-200410.jpg

Why tomatoes are dead to me

It went too smoothly travelling with Melbourne hipster.

I know because within hours of parting ways I find myself holed up in a crappy hotel in the port town of Algeciras on the Spain/Moroccan coast, the lack of air-con gives me a bad case of not only ‘swamp arse’ but swamp whole-body, bed begs cluster-bomb my ankles and wrists, and the shower hose has so many holes it’s like standing under a sprinkler.

I then miss my expensive bus to Valencia – turns out Morocco and Spain aren’t on the same time zone.

So I spend my day camped out at a mediocre cafe waiting for my now night bus and a large portion of the afternoon ignoring this weird Moroccan guy who takes my cold dead shark eyes to his 1000 questions as playing hard to get.

I finally lost it and snapped – ‘I don’t understand you’ to which he changed tact and started writing me notes such as:

‘My name Bumba, you be me friend?’

‘What be you name?’

And finally – ‘you come nap with me at hotel? I don’t mind.’

I think it goes down as the only time I’ve been pleased to board a 12-hour overnight bus, even if I didn’t sleep a wink.

So I spend my first day in Valencia in bed, though I do wake in time for the Requena Wine and Water festival, handily held on the eve of the whole reason I came to Valencia – the world’s largest food fight La Tomatina.

I’ll start with the wine and water festival.

In a nutshell, to celebrate their wine harvest locals’ gather at the bull arena to watch local lads, and in more recent years, intoxicated kiwi and Australian guys get chased by a young bull.

This is going to sound slightly paganistic … but turns out watching cocky drunk men being smashed by a bull is quite funny.

20120910-105544.jpg

20120910-105651.jpg

And, this is going to sound even more paganistic… but watching a handful of hearty females dressed for the occasion in their party dresses, jandals and handbags get even more nailed was even more funny, but funny in that – I should not be laughing kind of way.

20120910-105824.jpg

After the novelty wore off we then followed improvised orchestras through the narrow town streets while locals doused us with water from their balconies, all while sampling wine off the back of lorries.

I got very wet but stayed very sober thanks to accidentally buying 0% cider for the bus trip there and there not being enough free wine to go around.

20120910-105450.jpg

But it was a blessing in disguise, given the fact we only managed an hour’s sleep before we were back on the bus for Tomatina – something I’ve been determined to do since it was on one of those ‘priceless’ MasterCard tv ads as a kid.

20120910-105316.jpg

Apologises in advance but that’s the only photo I have of Tomatina as we didn’t have a waterproof camera to take into the carnage.

I’d give you a brief history of Tomatina but there’s so many stories as to how it started it’s a bit Chinese whisperish.

In a way who cares, because whoever thought it would be fun to pack the narrow streets of Bunol with around 40,000 people and give them a 125,000 tonne arsenal of tomatoes to throw at each other was a legend.

We decided to stay out of the main square out of fear we’d be stampeded or have all our clothes ripped off us but as a result missed out on seeing people try and climb the greasy pole to retrieve a ham. Why? Again, no-one’s entirely sure.

And I was secretly packing myself, as one of my tomboy friend’s told me after attending last year’s carnage – ‘I seriously thought I was going to drown in tomato.’

Turns out drowning in tomato is a remarkably accurate description, as even the side street we were on was calf deep in the tomato/stale water/piss concoction and when the lorries drove past it literally rained tomatoes on our heads.

And over the next hour tomato managed to go everywhere. Everywhere.

But I’m pleased to report in that time I only got badly nailed twice – once in the ear, once in the eyeball. I’ll come back to the eyeball soon…

Afterwards we staggered out of the streets and managed to get horrifically lost trying to find our bus, though we did manage to find a handful of locals (mainly old men) to hose us down.

Before we got on the bus I threw away absolutely everything I was wearing but even then the hour long ride back was horrific.

Turns out the smell of warm tomato is a lot like stomach bile.

Then ‘it’ happened.

I’ll refer to it as ‘it’ because it was one of the grossest experiences of my life.

It all began when I realised I had what felt like a tomato pip wedged behind my eyeball.

So I asked my usually overly helpful kiwi friend to take a look.

Instead she retracted in her seat in horror.

I didn’t have a mirror so I just went in blind with my finger.

I began I pull.

And ‘it’ kept coming.

Without a word of a lie this tomato-coloured eye bogey would have been five centimetres long.

Remarkably my last pair of contact lenses survived Tomatina, in fairness they had to, I don’t have back-ups thanks to England treating contact lenses like they’re Class A controlled drugs.

Fair to say my shower when we got back to the hotel was one of the best showers of my life, even if it did take me three goes to get the tomato pips out of my hair.

The smell, on the other hand, took days.

As a result tomatoes are temporarily dead to me.

And I can safely say that Tomatina was a once-in-in-a-lifetime experience – as in been there, done that, you couldn’t pay me enough to do it again.

Bumping into new friends

Turns out Morocco is a very small place.

No matter where Melbourne hipster and I venture we seem to run into the same people.

Take Essaouira on the coast for instance, we end up sharing a dorm with a English couple we met in Marrakech shortly after they made the rash decision to buy a tortoise.

Nearly a week had passed but nothing had changed, they were still trying to work out what the hell to do with it.

We then managed to run into the three Spaniards and the two German girls from our Sahara camel riding tour and… the Latvian Carl Williams’ lookalike.

20120827-135346.jpg

He is possibly the funniest person I’ve ever met and his stories are pure randomness, such as the one about his friend who started a black-market donkey importing business and the one where he recalled beating his young neighbour with a belt because he didn’t realise Latvia and England have quite different policies on child discipline.

We also shared a fancy Riad with the other two Germans from our Sahara tour – and a bathroom which got a hammering as I’m pretty sure we all had a case of what I’ll call ‘tagine tummy’ from the fish grill.

20120827-135433.jpg

It was a deliciously cheap seafood feast but it’s never a good omen when your plate is still wet with a brownish water when you arrive, there’s a feral skinny cat rubbing against your legs and flies so fat they hardly get airborne when you swat at them.

Come to think of it I’ve had a slight case of ‘tagine tummy’ the entire trip and think Morocco is the first country where I’ve actually lost weight backpacking.

It’s also the first country I’ve been to where the western imitation of their food is actually better than the real thing.

Back to Essaouira… we came to the coast to get out of the hustle and bustle of Marrakech.
20120827-135622.jpg
20120827-135606.jpg

It’s a minor miracle we made it though, given we missed the bus and had to share a taxi with three other travellers in the same boat.

We agreed on the price of 200 dirhams for the journey but that got us as far as around the corner where they pulled over, other Moroccan men appeared out of nowhere and then demanded 1000 dirhams.

We eventually agreed on 600 and hit the road for what turned out to be a horrifically hot two-hour journey where the mercury rose into the high 40s, a thick film of sweat glued my leg to the Aussie detective sitting next to me, we all developed a bad case of what Melbourne hipster likes to call ‘swamp arse,’ and the driver regularly took his hands of the wheel and began thrashing his head around in a sign of joy to the Moroccan music playing on the radio.

20120827-135714.jpg

But Essaouira was worth the near-death experience because I always feel at home when I can see the ocean and adore the fact that it doesn’t matter where, or who you are in the world – the joy of the beach is universal.

20120827-135546.jpg

But it wasn’t exactly a sunbathing beach, it was Wellington-style windy, to the point even the hearty donkeys had trouble negotiating it.

20120827-135800.jpg

Despite that I could have stayed much longer if it wasn’t for the fact I was fast running out of time to make my way to Valencia in Spain for the tomato food fight Tomatina.

So we opted for a epic travel day which included a un-air-conditioned train trip where a vat of what we think was home-made chicken stock in the overhead luggage rack dripped on my head.

Luckily I moved before the drip turned into a waterfall, though not far enough away to save our legs from being splattered in the meaty liquid.

Our day then went from bad to worse in Fez.

Firstly, we discovered upon arrival that the place Lonely Planet recommended we stay in the medina was actually a 45-minute walk out of the medina.

Secondly, the hostel we then booked online didn’t actually have a room for us when we arrived, instead putting us up for the night in what I’m pretty sure was just a spare room of a minted local’s house.

And thirdly, so hungry and tired we made the mistake of letting a local guide us to dinner only to find ourselves half an hour later deep in some dodgy back alleys of the medina in what felt like a ploy to rob us.

I freaked out, we did the bolt, got a can of coke on the walk home, gave up on dinner and went to bed on an empty stomach.

The next morning we ditched Fez altogether and tried our luck in the blue hilltop village of Chefchaouen.

20120827-140106.jpg

20120827-140124.jpg

And, in what was becoming a norm for this trip staying at our hostel was the Dutch and Spanish couples from our camel riding excursion.

So to celebrate our last night together we headed out in search of beers – no easy feat in a dry Muslim country, though mine soon ended up all over Melbourne hipster as I giggled mid-swig as the Dutch girl was telling us about how a Moroccan in Fez insulted her by saying – ”my penis looks like your head. It’s the same size as your head. It’s the same colour as your head.’

Brutal – the worst we got in our fortnight here was a kid saying ‘fuck you’ when we politely declined to buy some tissues off him.

The next day it was time to say goodbye to Melbourne hipster, something I can’t say I enjoyed.

I almost cried, travel has been so easy with him, he’s been like a brother I like to bicker with.

20120827-135859.jpg

And before long it was just me again, sitting in a bus very near a little girl who was soon became violently car sick and opposed to her parents cleaning it up they just poured water all over her, turning the aisle into a cat jellymeat-like spew slushy.

But in many ways it was the perfect way to say goodbye to Morocco, which goes down as probably the most randomly fun country I’ve ever visited.