The last week of August had been a bit of a heavy one for me. My sister was due to get married in September, however the date of the wedding just so happened to clash with the day I was due to start lectures on a Masters in Coastal and Marine Management. Normally that wouldn’t be a problem, go to the wedding, turn up a day late, sorted. That wasn’t exactly possible for me though. The Masters I had been accepted on to was in a small Icelandic backwater called Ísafjörður. Due to the logistics of getting out there, my sister very kindly moved her wedding. No biggy… or it sort of was, for which I am genuinely ever so grateful to have been able to be a part of one of the most important days of her life. Anyway, back to that last week of August. That was when she moved her wedding to, all so she could make sure her little brother could be there for the big day.
As some of you may know, my girlfriend, Madi, lives in Brussels. As some of you may also know, I’m not Belgiums biggest fan. To me, it’s just like lentils. It’s there and people clearly like it, but I just can’t work out why. Whilst I might not like Brussels and Belgium, I cannot however say that the capital is uninteresting. I think the main reason I dislike Belgium is its lack of geographical diversity. I like mountains and rivers. Flat green spaces and concrete have never really done it for me. Socially though, it’s actually a very nice place. You can still smoke in bars (whilst I hate it around food, I quite like it with drink and music), cannabis is socially accepted, a massive range of beers, great jazz and there are no problems with drinking on the streets.
In case anyone was wondering whether Moroccan customs had got the better of me and I was now some big guys bit of arm candy in a Moroccan prison…there’s no need to worry! The silence is due to the impending deadline of my dissertation in a few weeks, so as soon as that’s out of the way I’ve got some more articles written about my experiences in Morocco with Mid Wales Paragliding and the wonderful bureaucrats to post.
I’ve always been a white water kayaker, sea kayaking never really appealed to me that much until last summer. Then the bug bit. Although there’s certainly a journey element to white water kayaking, it’s more about getting whatever feature you’re on at the time right, and the adrenaline it gives. However with sea kayaking, it’s all of those small parts put together that make the journey so special. That’s what did it for me, when I finally discovered the pleasure and satisfaction in the journey. It’s been written and said a million and ones times in a variety of different ways by various lyrical florists, but sometimes it needs to be said simply, and at the risk of pulling the biggest cliché in adventure media, it really is about the journey and not the destination.
With the abundance of flat water (even though there is only one true lake), sooner or later it was inevitable that I’d end up in a sea kayak getting some lake touring done in the Lake District. Being one of the most beautiful places in the UK, it makes sense to get out and about to get to see all it’s natural beauty from a view point many haven’t and won’t get to, whether it’s in the mountains, on the crags or on the water. Doing it at night though….well you don’t quite get to see the place quite as well, but I’ve lived here 3 years now, I’ve seen it quite a lot and it seemed like it’d be more of a challenge at night.
Myself and two friends from uni (Luke and Laura), headed down to Ullswater layered up with thermals and armed with head torches, glow sticks and our paddling gear. After getting kitted up, we climbed in to our kayaks and launched in to the lake, breaking it’s obsidian like surface in a landscape bathed in moonlight. On such a still night, each of our paddle strokes was silent as our kayaks carved through the smooth surface with just the slightest rushing noise as the water ran along the sides of our boats. We’d launched around about the middle of the lake and were paddling down towards Pooley Bridge, some 3 and a half miles of paddling with water for a hundred or so meters either side of us and dwarfed by the dark outlines of the surrounding hills against a clear sky. Even with the glowing lights of the various properties dotted along the lakeside, the middle was a profoundly lonely yet peaceful place to be, but a place where the company of friends is very much appreciated as opposed to being there alone.
Taking a kayak out at night really isn’t a great way to see any of the sights of the Lake District, but it really is a different way to experience them and one well worth doing, especially on such a calm night.
Last time I was in Morocco I was in Tangier. Someone pulled a knife on me, around every corner someone was trying to scam you or rob you, and that is literally no exaggeration. It’d be a stretch to say I’d go back to Tangier to save my own mother. OK, well maybe I would for that, but nothing short of that. All I remember of being there is having to watch your back wherever you went, not really being able to trust many people. I think in four days, I met possibly three or four people I was able to warm to and actually liked.
When I was invited back to Morocco, I was naturally apprehensive. I know you should never judge a book by its cover, however, it’s almost human nature to do that. If you don’t have any good experiences somewhere, why should you come back with a positive outlook on the place? Now that I’m out here, I have to say I’ve had enough humble pie to even put Desperate Dans cow pies to shame. I’m ashamed and embarrassed to have held such negative views on Morocco and Moroccans.
I wasn’t at my most comfortable, having Moroccan security officials pulling all of my possessions out of my bag in front of the whole of arrivals. Everyone starts to stare, more and more security turn up. Eventually there were five of them there! 5?! All for a camera?!
“Follow me please sir”
This really will be a hassle! I’ve never been taken away for an interview before. Let alone one with someone that can’t speak English. I’d done nothing wrong and I knew it, but there’s still something inside you that’s making you nervous, that little “what if”. What if what?! “I’ve not done anything!” I kept telling myself, but as I sat in this small dark office with someone pulling my bags apart, I felt my heart start to beat faster, my legs start to tingle and my mouth going as dry as the Sahara.
Despite some very careful packing, I was still way over my weight limit for flying. Things were getting desperate. Toothbrush, gone. Toothpaste, gone. About 3 pairs of pants and socks, gone. Eventually I got my main luggage down to 25kg and my hand luggage down to 7. Even that wasn’t good enough! I mean yeah it weighed the same as a small child…but maybe the baggage handlers should have just eaten their weetabix!
This isn’t a guide on how to plan, neither is it always applicable. All it is, is something that works for me and I enjoy.
I was sat having a clear out of my computer the other day when I found a folder absolutely full of different trips planned out from a trip to Greenland via the Orkneys, the Shetlands, the Faroes and Iceland, to a trip down the the Pan-America Highway starting at Prudhoe Bay all the way to Capehorn including a way through the Darian Gap between Central and South America. These weren’t just ideas of trips, but somehow I’d immaculately planned out each trip including local contacts without even realising I’d done so much.
As I walk, all around me things are catching my eye. My eyes dart to a striking Mohican reaching at least a foot into the air formed into 5 perfect black spikes.
As my eyes begin to drop I catch sight of a man who looks like he fell asleep at a party and several very talented yet drunk graffic artists got to work on his face.
They drop yet lower and onto the next person, a t-shirt that says something along the lines of “Look at my face when I talk, not my tits”. Well don’t fucking write stuff all over them then!
After some rather positive first impressions of Tangier, we headed out in pretty high spirits thinking that Morocco really didn’t deserve the stories we’d been told about how dangerous it could be. Whilst out and about around the Medina we got chatting to a few stall owners, and despite the language barrier, they all seemed extremely helpful and friendly. As we walked deeper into the covered markets I noticed Sim was engaging in one of his favourite hobbies, attracting locals. A small man, no more than 5’5” and with a build smaller than Sim’s (those of you who know Sim will know that despite being toned, his frame is somewhat small).
Within minutes he was offering to show us the sights of Tangier, most of which we’d already seen the previous day, so it was made clear that all we wanted an interperator to ask the various stall owners and craftsmen whether it would be possible for us to film them at work. As we moved from stall to stall, we got bits and pieces of footage with him acting as an interperator and giving us all sorts of bits of information. Pretty soon though, various signs started to show. Firstly he started to push us to buy from the stall owners and then he greeted another man. Alarms bells began to ring as we saw the shirt this new man wearing sporting the logo of a local tourist agency.