That’s Why You Make the Trip

img_3402Cinnamon on oranges and cumin on boiled eggs. The inside of a walled city so confusing that it has spawned an entire cottage industry devoted to directing lost tourists. Surfer towns painted in hippie colors and seaside resorts caught in a 50’s time warp as they offer hospitality to a smattering of elderly Europeans.

None of this is what I expected when I came to Morocco.

This is a blog about predicting the future, and over the past few days I’ve been thinking a lot about the unexpected. Three of us have just spent some time in Marrakech, and now as we leisurely make our way to Casablanca we have three nights to spend on the road. One of us wants to simply drive and stop when we feel like it, with no research ahead of time and no plans. Us other two have agreed. For me, planner that I am, this will be a true exercise in embracing the unexpected.

img_3345The first night we land in Agadir, the vacation spot for aging Anglos. Our adventurous non-planner has become ill, so he rests while two of us walk along a boardwalk under the watchful eye of an old but festively lit Ferris Wheel. We order pizza from a Lebanese restaurant on the beach. My vegetarian version is covered in eggplant and is some of the best pizza I have ever had.  Okay, I didn’t see that coming from Morocco. Back at the hotel, I go searching for something to calm the stomach of my sick friend. The kitchen staff barely understands me, but they insist I take plain rice and “water with gas” for him at no charge. They also insist that it will help, and it does.

The next day we move north along the coast, sticking to the small roads that keep us in view of the sea. The surfer town where we stop for lunch has people wearing clothes that fully expose their limbs. Something deep within me wants to stay longer in this part of Morocco, and live on the beach in a tent while I write deep brooding novels that I’m already sure will far exceed anything I’ve written yet. Okay, maybe someday I’ll come back and do that.

img_3371We’ve been advised to be off of the roads by nightfall, but as sunset approaches we are nowhere near a sizable enough town to have obvious lodging for strangers. Luckily one of us speaks some French, the second language of Morocco, and he is able to talk to a young man in the street who sends us to the town’s only open restaurant which also serves as an auberge. I didn’t know what an auberge was, but it turns out that this fairly common form of lodging is somewhere between a B&B and a hostel.

The young Moroccan working at the auberge is quick to offer us local beers. Fresh fish is a possibility for dinner, but when he has trouble communicating the kinds of fish that are available he simply brings me a bucket of everything that has been caught that day and asks me to pick one. Turns out I don’t know a sea bass from a grouper, so I point and hope for the best. We dine gazing at miles of desolate beautiful coastline with a sunset behind the mixture of cliffs and beaches that could fill dozens of different postcards and no two would look alike. My travel companions are generous and let me end up with the room that literally hangs out over the ocean, and I have one of my most memorable nights ever as I sleep to the sound of the sea.

img_3453Our last day takes us north into the greener, more populated and more industrial part of the coast. This time we turn to Lonely Planet for lodging ideas, and at sunset we find ourselves in a traditional Riad inside the town’s walled city but overlooking the lovely Oum Er-Rbia river (which translates as‎ “the mother of springtime”). I get the small bedroom with my own flower-covered terrace and consider what this sort of privacy and beauty would cost me for one night in the United States. I don’t think I could afford it.

I don’t often eat meat, especially when traveling, but for my last night in Morocco I opt for the adventure of a beef tagine, where the meat is steamed in a special clay pot to make it particularly tender. I’m hoping for couscous and vegetables with it and my French speaking fellow traveler tries to find out what else my tagine includes. He finally gives up. “I don’t know what they’re saying. It keeps sounding like prunes and that can’t be right.”

But it is.  I get the most tender beef brisket imaginable served with a mess of very tender stewed prunes on top. It’s delicious. Who would have guessed?

img_3431The next morning I get a final surprise as we try to do a little last minute shopping. We didn’t consider that the market in this town would not be like the markets of Marrakech but rather be a place where men and women buy small treats and cheap plastic items much like they would on a Saturday morning back home at Wal-Mart. Yes, there are more motor bikes than cars, more women wearing scarves loosely over their heads than not, and there is more fresh-picked produce and whole carcasses of animals than I am used to seeing ay my local supersaver, but otherwise this could be the small city I live near now or the Kansas town where I grew up.

Why in the world would you want to go to Morocco? I did get asked that question, and I understood it because I had heard about the pushy sales techniques in the markets and the difficulties for a female traveler in a Muslim country.

img_3363But I went to taste the fig jam and the mint tea. I went to discover the things I didn’t know, like how you can see a dozen or more goats in a tree, chomping on the argan fruits.  I went to see the amazing graffiti painted on the crumbling ruins along the coast, even if I didn’t know that was why I was going.

I went because I didn’t know what I would find.

(For more about my trip to Morocco see  Happy International Day of Peace Lahcen and NajetI see ghosts, It’s an angry world in some places and My Way on my other blogs.)

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I’ve always wanted to go to Greenland.

I’ve always wanted to go to Greenland. Maybe it is because of how I enjoyed my short time in Canada’s Arctic years ago. Maybe it’s because of Greenland’s renowned rock formations, or the fact that giant islands fascinate me. Or maybe it is because I am intrigued by map projections and no place in the world is more distorted on a flat map. It could be something that simple, I think.

northern-lights-02

See beautiful photos of the northern lights here

Whatever the reason, there was no doubt that one of my books would involve Greenland. Luckily I live in a time where I can watch endless video clips and pursue countless photos online while reading accounts of those lucky enough to there go in person. It’s not the same, of course, but you take what you can get. I spent a good bit of time at greenland.com/en/about-greenland planning imaginary vacations to the far north, so when it came time to choose links for the novel, I was happy to give my readers this nudge to visit Greenland’s tourist website.

“So you want me to drop this idea of taking out our clients most influential direct reports?”

“Not at all,” Eoin chuckled. “Up to now I’ve been content to let my client’s private business stay private, but I have to admit that your curiosity is starting to rub off. I want you to plan a vacation to Nuuk. It’s a town of sixteen-thousand, for heaven’s sake, so you ought to be able to find out where in Nuuk Mikkel keeps his people. Don’t be too obvious. Go see the northern lights and ride a dog sled before winter ends. You need to get more acquainted with the north anyway.”

Then, as she looked at him puzzled, he added. “You’ve got a nice direct way about you. You’re not threatening. Go meet the lady that runs the answering service. I bet you can come back from Nuuk knowing more about Mikkel Nygaard than anyone here does now, and I promise that I won’t ask questions about your expense account next month.”

As Eoin turned and left, Ronan gave a little whistle. “Wow. No questions about your expense account for a whole month?”

Fergus added. “I’ve always wanted to go to Greenland.”

“It’s February,” Ariel muttered back. “I bet you wanted to go in July.”

A slow sunrise in Reykjavik

I love to read and to research, and all my novels have begun by my devouring fact and fiction on subject matters that interest me. I am grateful for the internet sources that helped me write d4. My research included far more sites than would be practical to link to in a novel so I chose a couple dozen that I thought would most enhance the reader’s experience. The first of the links I chose is given below along with enough of an excerpt from the book d4 to provide context. I hope you find this as beautiful as I did.

See a slow sunrise in Reykjavik at panoramio.com/photo/61495573.

Photo by Clavius_Rork

Photo by Clavius_Rork

Chapter 4.

Baldur Hákonarson was the first of the clients to make time to meet Ariel, his new personal support engineer from Ullow. At least Ariel assumed that he had made time, because his executive assistant had sent Eoin a calendar invite for Ariel to present an update to his board of directors a week after she started. Eoin accepted and cc’d Ariel. So that was how this was going to work.

The company bought her a ticket to Reykjavik, and Eoin showed her where to find the last presentation that had been given, and suggested she start editing it immediately. He needed time to review and approve it before she left. Ariel poked around the specs in the contract and made a few cursory visits to the tech people before she began to carefully craft her message of progress. It was lucky that delivering technical content in an understandable format was something she did well.

A week later she arrived in Reykjavik at 10 a.m. to a night sky adorned with a faint glimmer of dull grey light in the south. She was met by a limo driver, and by 11 a.m. she was setting up her presentation in front of three very well dressed older businessmen and one older woman in a suit that showed her to be of equal stature. The small boardroom was on the top floor of an extremely modern office building, and a beautiful, slow, low-angle sunrise was now erupting through the glass windows off to the south.