Our brother/sister trip around Africa ground to a halt at its second stop, in Chefchaouen, Morocco.
Chefchaouen is a sleepy little pueblo in the Rif Mountains of northern Morocco. The entire medina is painted different shades of blue, creating a surreal effect when wandering the streets. Tourism has exploded here in recent years; “even five years ago, Chefchaouen was nothing,” my local friends said.
Chefchaouen is famous for three things, they’d continue:
- The water, which comes straight down from the nearby mountains, and is some of the purest drinking water in all of Morocco;
- The hashish, which is grown in the nearby mountains and offered to you everywhere;
- And ‘the relax.’
Sounds pretty good, right?
Yeah, sounded pretty good to me, too.
“I have to come here at least once a year,” said Waheeb, a Moroccan climber I meet in Chaouen. Waheeb’s a character: he claims to have crossed Africa on foot, from Somalia to Senegal. And I have no reason to doubt his claim.
“Even if I am somewhere else in the world, I will return to Morocco — just to visit Chaouen. My soul just doesn’t feel right if I don’t visit this place enough,” he told me one night, sitting out in the crisp mountain air, staring at the stars.
I could see where he was coming from.
Chefchaouen felt like a bath for my weary soul.
I sat in the stairwell of the hostel, listening to my sister cry on the other end of the telephone.
“Why don’t you want to be with me?” she asked. “Do you know how shitty that feels?”
It was December 2017. I was in Chefchaouen, Morocco, nestled in the Rif mountains. The bite of winter was encroaching. I was cold, and filled with self-loathing.
“There is some part of me that feels like it really needs to go see about this woman,” I said. “I can’t stop thinking about her.”
Five years of planning, interminable delays, and the trip my sister and I had planned to take together around Africa would never occur.
I had fallen in love.
The phone call ended without resolution.
She needed to do something, or I did. I sat on the stairs and felt a blackness in my heart. I was blazing a selfish path of destruction, I knew. I had burnt a hole in the middle of my oldest, strongest relationship — to go see about a person I’d known for only three days. Que romantico. ¿No?
I shot a message to a friend back home: I contribute nothing, M. My lifestyle is so selfish. I only hurt people. What’s wrong with me?
I felt lower than I had in a very long time, But I couldn’t stop. One has to follow one’s heart. No matter the risk, no matter the damage — love is the only force of meaning in this world.
Or so I thought.
This is youth, after all.
Another year, another few stories to tell.
One of my favorite posts I wrote last year was 2016 in Places, a meditation on a year of movement.
I started that post with this sentence:
“As I go into 2017, I’m faced with a big choice: do I choose to keep chasing places, for another little while, or is it time to settle down and devote myself to enhancing my relationships with people?”
As you’ll see, I ended up choosing places. Places gave me a lot this year. I leave 2017 with a greater breadth of stories and experiences. But my feeling is 2018 will be defined by people. We will see.
For now, here’s what happened to me in 2017.
‘Intellect and love are made of different materials. Intellect ties people in knots and risks nothing, but love dissolves all tangles and risks everything. Intellect is always cautious and advises: “Beware too much ecstasy,” whereas love says, “Oh, never mind! Take the plunge!” Intellect does not easily break down, whereas love can effortlessly reduce itself to rubble. But treasures are hidden among ruins. A broken heart hides treasures.’
-“Shams of Tabriz’s 40 Rules of Love”
The first time I fell in love while traveling was in Nepal.
I went to Nepal alone, on a stroke of fate. There, I simultaneously fell in love and out-of-love. The experience was so powerful, I wrote a book about it. But what I found in Nepal wasn’t a romantic sort of love. It was an open-hearted love of the Nepali people, a love of the attitude which allowed them to enjoy the present, despite massive hurdles in their communal past and future.
I left Nepal a changed person.
I left my intellect in the high Himalaya. It’s come back, from time to regrettable time. But mostly, since leaving that special place, I’ve tried to live with my heart.
Which brings me to Chefchaouen, Morocco.
(English version here)
Cinco semanas han pasado aca in Chefchaouen.
Yo recuerdo cuando cinco semanas me parecian mucho tiempo.
Tu no creerias como rapido tiempo pasa en el camino.
Si tu eres un viajero, quizas entendieras.