On Christmas Day 2011, I went out on a walkabout to Morocco (first spending the night in Madrid, Spain). This post originally appeared on my old blog in January 2012 when I got back. It was only a few months before I met Allison. This was the trip that inspired me to quit my corporate job to go freelance, and ultimately is the reason I met Allison when I did. ]

I woke up to another beautiful morning. And although it didn’t change much, today was New Year’s Eve.

Agadir, Morocco

The view from my hotel room in Agadir, Morocco.

The next leg of my ride through Morocco would take me to the city of Taroudant. It was not a long ride and—honestly, I’m a little bummed I didn’t take a detour along the coast that morning (maybe next time). But I didn’t know where I was going, and I wanted to allow time for actually seeing the city in daylight once I got there.

So I said goodbye to the coast, and rode inland. At some point, I missed my turn in a shabbily-marked roundabout and road for 30 or 40 minutes in the wrong direction. And it was lovely.

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Lost.

Everyone should get lost once in a while.

I realized, before too long, that the scenery and road were not in harmony with the route I had planned on the map, so I stopped to get my bearings and stretch before heading back the way I came.

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Sometimes, while on breaks, I would leave my camera on the ground and let it just take random pictures.

Poser.

Poser.

Once I got back in the right direction, it was a relatively short ride to Taroudant. Once I arrived, I was truly enchanted. Centuries ago, Taroudant had some strategic importance as a base from which the Saadians attacked the Portuguese in Agadir. Once fortified by these tall ramparts, nearly the entire city lies within these old walls.

Taroudant, Morocco

Go there.

Go there.

I was looking for a hotel called Palais Salam. It came recommended by Réda (the guy who runs the outfit I rented the bike from). I employed a [legit] local guide, named Yusef, to show me the way to the hotel on his scooter. It wasn’t far. I paid Yusef and thanked him for his help, then went inside to check in. While at the front desk, I mentioned Réda and they gave me a discount. Excellent. This was likely the biggest, nicest hotel in the entire city.

As usual, I got checked in, found my room, dumped my bags, and went exploring–first on the motorcycle, and later on foot.

Once I got into town, I bumped into Yusef again. My lucky day (and his). He was eager to show me around, of course–and I was happy to pay him for his time.  I realized that once you’ve been claimed by a legit guide, everyone leaves you alone.

He showed me around the various shops, and took time to tell me about them, often with the help of the shopkeeper.

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I’m sorry to say this little boy got his hand chopped off right after I snapped this picture.

[ Not true. ]

At one of these shops, I learned about the herbs and mints that are sold there–the shopkeeper actually crushing samples of the herbs into my hands so that I could appreciate the fragrance. Then came the lavender–a “natural perfume,” I was told. Then saffron. Then some local Moroccan spice which I could not possibly remember the name of.

My hands had quite an astonishing smell by the time I was done.

I was shown cookies and leather goods, and even the crystallized rock the men rub against their faces to shave. Yes, they rub a sharp, white, crystallized, fun-size fortress of solitude against their faces to shave.  NO WONDER they grow beards.

At one point, I was led to a nicer shop within an actual building. The name of the place was “Trésor Aladdin.”

As soon as I walked through the doors, I could almost hear a voice whisper the warning, "Touch nothing but the lamp . . ."

As soon as I walked through the doors, I could almost hear a voice whisper the warning, “Touch nothing but the lamp . . .”

[ Also not true. ]

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I’d been holding off on buying souvenirs because I had very limited space with my gear on the motorcycle, but here at Trésor Aladdin, I saw something that I thought would be an appropriate little gift to myself. A Berber dagger. So it was here that I had my first real bartering match with a Berber. I may have lied a little. I’m bad at both, so I probably could have gotten him to go lower, but I still think I ended up okay. And I made it out of there with this:

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The scabbard is made from camel bone.

[ This one is true. ]

It is said that camel bone will bring good fortune to those who slit the throat of another man, if you use a dagger sheathed within a camel bone scabbard.

Aaaand I’m making things up again. ]

The wily old Berber wanted to keep me around with several other friends as his assistant went to the market to get me my change from our transaction.  While we waited, he kept offering me that traditional mint tea, and suggesting I look at more of his “one-of-a-kind rugs” and other treasures.  I declined as politely as possible until his assistant returned with my change.  I thanked them, gathered up my cool new dagger, and left with my trusty guide, Yusef.  The building did not collapse in on itself or implode with rivers of hot lava; in fact, there was no lava involved at all.

And that will be my last Aladdin reference.

Not long after, we made our way back to my motorcycle and I said goodbye to Yusef. I rode off through the narrow, winding walkways of the medina, back to my hotel.  I parked my bike, but I didn’t go inside–I had more exploring to do.

I found a nice restaurant near where I was staying.  Dinner was wonderful.

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Beef filet with roasted peppers and some sort of Moroccan super-sauce. Also, rice in a cute shape.

Taroudant, like Essaouira, had become another of my very favorite places that I would visit on this trip.  But although it was New Year’s Eve, I would not be going back out to the medina to stay up and celebrate with the locals. I needed some time to myself. So, after sending my daily check-in email to family, I went back to my room to celebrate New Year’s Eve in my own way.

*     *     *

What a tremendous year 2011 had been. It was filled with so much discovery, freedom, healing, and peace. Old friends. New friends. Art projects, rock concerts, and motorcycle rides. There was lots of training and kicking ass. Treadmills and stair-steppers and dumbbells and punching bags, and plenty of dining with friends and family to cancel it all out . . . but I’m stronger than I’ve ever been, and running further than I’ve ever run since ruining my lungs in Chile 14 years ago. There have been symphonies and choral concerts. Art galleries.  Vehicle repairs, learning to do some of it myself and leaving the serious stuff to the experts. Months of overtime, and deadlines met.  Boundaries drawn, and quietly enforced. Olive branches offered–some even accepted. :)

I’ve been reaping the hard-fought benefits of a healthier, more balanced life. I’m sure that many of you that are reading this fit into it somewhere. Thank you for being a part of it.

So, with a long hot shower, a little music, and then a lot of silence, I reflected on these memories and sentiments, quietly celebrating the victories and mourning the losses that had led me to this quiet hotel room in North Africa.  I savored this unique moment, with the crisp night air seeping through the window as I rested on my bed lost in thought, meditation, and prayer.

I have so much to be thankful for. I’ve been feeling so much strength in so many aspects of my life, and so much gratitude for knowing the source of that strength. I’m so grateful. To God, primarily, for His hand in my life . . . for miracles big and small, for the healing power of Christ’s Atonement, for not only the necessities of life, but so many luxuries. For not abandoning a soul so rebellious and proud as mine. For talents and skills and opportunities to share them, for an amazing network of family and friends, and so much love.

As I lie there, I was overwhelmed with gratitude to God, friends, and family, and–for maybe the first time–to myself . . . for taking care of me.

There was no countdown . . . I didn’t even look at the clock.  Lying flat on my back, I just pulled up the covers and whispered to the ceiling.

“Happy New Year.”