Wake Up World

I want to share my experience in Washington DC at the Syrian Revolution Anniversary with those around me. I may not have the best use of words, but I want to use my voice to stand with the Syrian People. To stand against the indescribable brutality going into its fifth consecutive year. I feel as though I have no other choice but to use my voice while the evil continues in Syria.

The short five days I spent with the Syrian American Community in DC have proved to be some of the most impactful and memorable days of my life. I listened to one hero after the next share their personal stories and connections with Syria, which proved to be very difficult to digest and absorb. I found myself trembling for days, unable to wrap my head around this horrific reality. My pain is deeply personal, and you may wonder why I want to share it with the world. I use it as a way to share just a piece of the pain and compassion in my heart with those in my life. I have the hope that it will spark a small passion in each one of you. We must humanize Syria, and this is my way of doing so for you.

The pain I feel is the pain of the Syrian People, and my pain will continue until we see Syria set free. Our Syrian brothers and sisters are dying, and they are no different than any of our other brothers and sisters. Each one is a human being, just like you and me. During the conference on Saturday I wrote,

“As I sit here attempting to digest the horrific crimes and realities of Syria, I look into the eyes of the world’s most beautiful souls.”

I was surrounded by compassion and resiliency. I met a survivor named Qusai Zakarya, who had survived some of the harshest conditions imaginable. He survived a chemical attack. He witnessed his friends and family starve before him. He listened to missiles drop around him and his loved ones. He was eventually forced to exile for his personal safety, and the safety of his family.

Qusai offered me his condolences. I was baffled. I wanted to say, “YOU are condoling ME? It should be ME condoling YOU!” Qusai was not the only one, people continued to offer me support throughout the week. I couldn’t imagine how they even had it left in them to do so after years of horrific pain and suffering. Qusai and the other Syrian Americans truly touched my heart on a deep level.

I saw resilience, strength and courage in everyone surrounding me. These individuals have suffered more trauma than one should in an entire lifetime. Many of them are in a constant state of grieving, as they are surrounded by this harsh reality all day, every day.

Mariam Jalabi, the founding member of the Syrian Non-Violence Movement, shared a story of a woman who pleaded to see her children just one more time. For doing so, she was shot in the head. Mariam shared that, “This is Syria. This is the story of Syria.”
Why does it take a personal connection to make us feel and suffer with the other suffering people in this world? We all live in one small world, and for peace to prevail, we must unite as human beings.

We are witnessing genocide in its purest form. Did we not all grow up learning about the Holocaust? My heart is full of shame for humanity right now. How can we all continue to watch from afar? How can one human being let this suffering be normal for another?

I landed in Phoenix during traffic hour, so instead of fighting it, I decided to visit a friend in the area. A friend I respect with all my heart. The conversations began with joyful hugs and reunions… The ambiance quickly shifted when I shared just a few short stories of the Syrian People. My friends could not believe what they were hearing.

This confirmed my desire to humanize Syria and the Syrian People. Mainstream media focuses on Da’esh (ISIS) to the extent that the Syrian people have been forgotten. We may hear about one or two tragedies, but what about the other millions of personal stories? Da’esh  is only responsible for a small portion of the atrocities inside Syria. Assad created the environment for them to gain power, but his regime has been committing for worse atrocities for years.

Assad is the heart of the problem in Syria, yet our media does not expose this reality. We, as global citizens, hear and see nothing of this on our mainstream media. Let this serve as a reminder of the importance of self-awareness. We must educate ourselves through other outlets, and we must challenge the information we receive.

Assad has committed the worst forms of torture that a human can imagine. He has used every method of killing, including chemical weapons, which Da’eash (ISIS) does not even posses. Ghassan Hitto said it well, “Assad is the source, and the West should be ashamed of focusing on Da’esh”. Both Assad and Da’esh serve the same purpose, and that is to kill the Syrian People. We can not let Assad remain invisible to the world. If we are not hearing about the reality of Assad’s regime, then how are we as global citizens able to respond?

Maybe a number higher than 200,000 is too much for the human mind to comprehend; the indescribable brutality to difficult to digest. This is why we need to focus on the stories of these human beings. They may be thousands of miles away, but they still walk on the same earth as you and me. May our society come together and provide Syria with the freedom and liberty it so deserves.

Politics aside, Syrian people deserve to have a voice. We must change how people see this issue. We have to work together as a global community, and respect each other’s views in order to move forward and raise awareness. Give your neighbor the right to feel and believe what is right for them. This should be the backbone of every religious or spiritual person.

March 18th, 2015. Four years later. The world continues to close their eyes, and the Syrian people continue to suffer due to the hypocrisy of the world. Lets say “never again”, and actually mean it.

Written by a global citizen of the world

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450 Miles by Bike on the California Coast: Fort Bragg to San Luis Obispo

This gallery contains 11 photos.

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Getting the Bikes Back in Shape

Kyle and I set off on our bicycles from Fort Bragg, California just a few days before Thanksgiving. We had intentions of cycling South along Highway 1 to San Diego in time for Christmas, but a more than a few bumps in the road deterred that goal from happening. We experienced three big storms during our month on the coast. We endured winds up to 75 mph, heavy rain for days, flooding on the roads and in campgrounds, closed parks and lots of down trees.

We experienced so much hospitality during the first storm, that it wasn’t until the second storm that we discovered we had a leaky tent.  That led to a detour to Santa Rosa, and time with a good friend.

We experienced one breath-taking view after another, as each and every day brought new dramatic coastal views.  We were able to camp in the Redwoods, in Big Sur and in Monterrey.

We were welcomed with hospitality in ways we couldn’t have imagined. From making arrangements on Warmshowers and Couchsurfing, to meeting locals at the post office, we had our fair share of warm and comforting nights along the way.

We made it to San Luis Obispo when my family opened a group home for three emergency placements. The home was opened one day after notification from the state. Kyle and I decided to head to Phoenix, as we knew the first few weeks without staff would be A LOT of work. We had experienced this first, and decided to shorten our trip for the time being.

We rented a van from San Luis Obispo and drove the rest of the way home. We will be starting from SLO in just a few weeks time.

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First Week in Georgia

We have had nothing but wonderful experiences since we arrived in Georgia last week. The rainy weather has been a nice break after the heat of Morocco & Turkey, and we have used it as an excuse for more rest days.

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We spent three nights at the visitor’s center in The Mtirala National Park. The accommodation and food was surprisingly better priced than what we had experienced thus far in Georgia… I think it is due to the fixed prices. Just like any other country, prices seem to be unreasonably high for white English speakers.

We met four Georgian guys celebrating at the park bar. They invited us for food, drinks and music. I danced so hard my entire body was sore the next day, but it was more than worth it!

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When our cash ran out we finally cycled out. The roads were wet and muddy from the days of rain. I managed to fall in a huge puddle, about a foot deep. It left the entire left side of my pack soaking wet.

We spent that night camping at a beach bar/ restaurant right on the Black Sea. We spun fire for the family owners as they kept the glasses of wine coming.

I loved sleeping so close to the sea. The loud waves crashing helped me sleep peacefully, not far from the highway. I was thankful to be back in the tent for the night. Back to the simple life.

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Thoughts on Turkey

Turkey has been one hell of a roller coaster ride. Each day brings great, as well as misfortunate experiences. I have tried to write my thoughts on the country over and over again, but the ups & downs it brings, make it hard to do so.

I have written awful things in moments of anger, but find myself erasing them after another Turk does something nice for us. I have considered only sharing the good things that have came my way, but that also isn’t fair… Nor the reason I write.

Turkey has a very interesting culture, as it straddles both Asia and Europe. The people here can not be generalized, because you can find one extreme to the next. I find that people all over the world use the location between Europe and Asia as an excuse for the Turkish behavior. I don’t think that is fair, as many countries can be considered a melting pot. Look the United States ir example, we have both Christians and Muslims as well. We also have Jews, Athiests, Mormons, and probably nearly every religion you can imagine. We have people o every skin color, representing most countries around the world… But that does not mean we lower our standards, nor our morals and values.

I hope this post will not offend anyone, but I hope it acts as a warning to any of my friends and family members considering stepping foot in Turkey. I will also warn both our moms and grandmas, that they should probably skip reading the rest of this post.

I have been traveling abroad since the age of seventeen, and can probably count the number of bad incidences I have had on one hand… Until Turkey that is.

It all started with a group of young guys in Antalya, the Turkish city we flew into. Kyle and I were climbing down some rock cliffs to find a beach away from the crowds of tourists. Four boys joined us and led the way. This was our first day in Turkey, so we were happy to get to know some locals… Or so we thought.

I don’t want to bore you with all the details from this afternoon, and if I shared details from every bad experience in Turkey, this post would never end. So, I will do my best to sum things up.

By spending only two or three hours with these boys we learned they very distinct hierarchy between themselves. One guy seemed to run the show. If it weren’t for this particular shit head, things may or may not have been okay.

This douche followed my every move. If I was in the water, he would come swimming out to me. He gave me no personal space and had no respect. He grabbed my butt when Kyle wasn’t looking and I very firmly told him ‘no!’. We then explained we are married and that I have two babies at home.

We ended up sending two of the boys (of course the younger ones, who appeared to have no say in anything), to get beer, snacks and water. We gave them 20 Lira and between themselves they provided less than 10.

When the boys returned they did not have 30 lira worth of beer, and only allowed Kyle to drink one. I could sense the tension so I returned to the water.

The doucher came back and kept getting in my personal bubble. We finally had enough and decided it was time to move on.

The next morning we learned we would consistently be over charged for food. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much we could do about it.

We each had an omelet and shared a small water that I brought with us. They asked for 20 Lira, which was ridiculous at this hole in the wall. I noticed the omelets were listed as 4 lira in the menu and asked the ladies to write down the prices for us. They wrote down 7.5 for each and wanted 5 lira for the small water I brought with us. That is 2.50 USD! It doesn’t seem that bad as I write it, but you must understand the large waters are less than one lira to purchase.

This was a good lesson for us to learn… And we would experience similar difficulties on a daily basis here in Turkey.

We started our tour of Turkey with a rental car, and thought that might be part of our issue. We were happy to be back to the bicycles, and were hoping we would be treated with more respect. We already wanted to leave the country by this point, but decided to give Turkey yet another chance.

The first night back on bicycles we were searching out tea and hookah. I attempted to ask the ladies at the ‘Peace Pension’ if they could help us out. They spoke no English and didn’t understand that I wasn’t interested in seeing a room. I decided it was just best to try somewhere else, and thanked them before walking out.

One of the older ladies must have thought I didn’t want to stay there because of their lack of English skills… When the reality was that we prefer to camp to save money.
She came at me yelling in Turkish. Kyle heard the commotion and came to see what was going on. I yelled back at her, ‘why are you yelling at me??’

So much for being a ‘peace’ pension… She spit at me and we decided to get out of there as quickly as possible.

This actually brought me to tears. What did I do wrong? I was ready to sleep in my room in Arizona that night…

But we were then welcomed by a sincerely nice Turkish guy. He invited us out for tea and soup, and let us vent about the previous weeks misfortunes. He understood where we were coming from, and went out of his way to provide us with a place to sleep.

We were so thankful to meet him and decided to start fresh again the next morning. Turkey couldn’t all be bad…

We had another interesting experience just 10 kilometers or so later. We stopped at a store in a small village for a cold drink and a break from the heat.

All was well until one man found out we were from America. He continuously told us (with body language and minimal English), that ‘America bad! Obama bad! Turkey good!’ He hand gestured for us to leave and to go back to America. ‘America, Israel, BAD!!’.

I had never experienced hostility quite like this, and was happy to get back to the heat.

We decided to hitch up to the Black Sea, because the heat and tourists were just too much in the South. We thought the people exposed to less tourism might treat us more kindly.

We had yet another crappy experience on our first hitch. We were out of water, so we had the nice man stop at the nearest gas station. We now realize it should have been a warning sign that no one was at the station but the two employees.

Kyle grabbed a big water and handed the man five lira. The guy took the money, put it in his drawer, and thanked Kyle. Kyle gestured that he wanted his change and the man tried to hand him more stuff. At that point Kyle set the water down and asked for his five lira back.

The other employee and I heard the commotion and made our way over to see what was going on. The man shut the doors of the station, and his friend told us to leave. Kyle explained he had our money and the guy went to retrieve it for us. They threw the money out the door and Kyle flipped them the bird.

That is the second time the man lost it. Kyle grabbed the money and we got back in the truck to leave. The worker was still yelling at us, and then yelled to our driver to tell him Kyle flipped him off. He failed to mention why Kyle would do such a thing, so Kyle turned to the driver to explain the situation.

That is when the ass hole came up to the truck and punched Kyle in the back of the head while he was looking away. I flung the back door open as fast as possible, with hopes of hitting the man with the door. I didn’t react fast enough, but screamed ‘you fucker!!’. It wasn’t very lady like, but it was my immediate response.

I tried to jump out, but was luckily stopped by my seatbelt. The driver told us to calm down and stay in the truck as he drove away. We wanted to call the police, but the driver insisted we just brush it off.

We made it just South of Ankara (the capital city), that night. A nice man gave us a ride and treated us very well. He dropped us off near a hotel and restaurants around 10 o’clock pm.

The guys at the restaurant were also very kind, and did their best to communicate with us. There was no smartass comments about us speaking the wrong language. We had encountered many Turks who told us we were in Turkey and must speak Turkish in Turkey! They must not be educated enough to realize Turkey is spoken only in Turkey… And if no one came to Turkey that didn’t speak Turkish, their tourism economy would be non-existent.

So, we were pleased with the respectful servers. Kyle noticed a guy sitting near, who he had a feeling would speak English. He asked him where we could find a cheap room and we learned he was fluent in English!

Pardon me for the spelling, but this guy, Faured, ended up inviting us into his home. He showed us in and let us know he was off to a party. He didn’t mind if we stayed in, so we took advantage of the opportunity to get clean and to rest.

That was a big level of trust, huh? It turns out he did a work and travel program in Connecticut. I think Kyle was right when he said he must have had a good experience in the states.

Faured provided us with an awesome Turkish breakfast the next morning. We enjoyed tahini, jam, cheese, bread, juice, milk & cereal. What a treat! We ended up staying with him another night while making plans to get the hell out of Turkey. A punch to the head really crossed our boundary, and we were ready to be anywhere but Turkey.

We headed straight to the train station the following morning. We were not specific on where we wanted to go, just as close to Georgia as possible. We couldn’t have been more disappointed to find out every train heading East was full for the next three days. We considered the bus, but we usually make it the same distance as the buses while hitching… Without spending the money.

We didn’t leave the capital until around two that afternoon, but even so, we bad a record slow day. We cycled for a few hours in the heat to make it all the way out of the city.

We tried looking for a ride from one gas station, but were quickly ran out by the worker. We cycled on to the next station, where I had to purchase a cold drink. It was hot as hell and I was losing an incredible amount of fluids.

All of the employees were incredibly friendly at this station.

My bubble has been invaded on multiple occasions throughout our short time here, but the last guy really pushed me over the edge.

During the drive he continuously invited us to his home. We didn’t get the greatest vibe, so we decided to turn down the offers. Kyle and I jumped out and retrieved our bicycles when the man turned off the interstate. Just as in Europe, it is part of the ‘culture’ to kiss on the cheeks before leaving friends… So, I decided I would be respectful and let the man kiss my cheeks. Usually people practically kiss the air, but this guy practically kissed my lips.

That is when he grabbed me, squeezed my ass, and licked my neck. I pushed him away and yelled, ‘DON’T FUCKING TOUCH ME!!’ I proceeded to throw my water bottle at him as he jumped back in the truck. ‘Fuck’ might not be a pretty word, but it is also more or less understood world wide.

We didn’t have much of an option but to hitch on toward Georgia at that point. We were thankful to arrive in a
city where I could have a shower, and where we could catch a bus as far East as possible.

As we were searching for a guesthouse, a young guy and his mother invited us into their home. I was so grateful for the invitation to stay with the family, but I was also extremely burned out. I felt so dirty from the perverted man who touched me that I wanted to really scrub myself clean. I didn’t want to talk to anyone about Turkey anymore… And I didn’t even want sympathy from Kyle. I wanted nothing but my own space.

Kyle was anxious to save the twenty bucks on a room, and wasn’t quite in the same mindset us I was… So we were off to the family’s home. The young guy was so sweet. He held his
mother’s hand the whole walk home and bought Kyle an ice cream on the way.

I showered as soon as we arrived and grabbed my sleeping bag to gesture I was ready for bed. I didn’t want to be rude, but my stomach was cramping and my mind was uneasy.

Kyle made up for my lack of socializing though. The home was nice, but very small. The room we slept in was connected to the living room, so I did not find the quiet space I was longing for. I tossed and turned for hours while trying not to listen to Kyle’s loud voice and laughter.

Around 1 am I heard Kyle mention my name. He said he was happy there were two rooms, so that I could not complain about the tv being on so late. He then explained that we are together 24/7 when traveling and that we were struggling this week.
He said it is hard not having his own space or anyone else to talk to.

I agreed with everything Kyle said, but it still hurt my feelings to overhear him. I also was not in a very good mindset, and his words hit me hard. If we were in any other country, I would just go my own way for a few days.

It was an awful feeling to be in a country I don’t feel comfortable in as a female. I wanted nothing more than to fall asleep and wake up in my family’s home….

As you can probably guess, I spent most of the night tossing and turning… Thinking about how much I despise Turkey, and about Kyle’s words. It was a night I may have needed condolences rather than to hear what he had to say.

I woke up at 6.30 am the next morning ready to get the first bus headed East… I knew Kyle needed his rest, so I tried to wait patiently for him to wake up. I finally fell back to sleep hours later and got the best hour of sleep all night.

We ate another wonderful Turkish breakfast with the family when they woke us up at 10. The mother prepared Turkish pancakes (like crepes with cheese in the middle), french fries with peppers, cheese, bread, tomato, cucumber, olives, tea, etc.

We packed up and were off to the bus station soon after we ate. We made it just in time to catch a 12 hour bus ride East.

Here I am on that bus… I have used the last seven and a half hours as time to reflect on the last 11 days in Turkey. I have came to peace with both the good and bad that have happened here. I just know it is time to move forward, onto bigger and
better things.

God obviously wanted me to experience Turkey for a reason, I’m just not too sure what that reason is. I have gained so much appreciation for my own country, as well as the 19 other countries I have visited. I hope and pray that better things lie ahead for us in Georgia and Armenia.

I am ready to get back on my bicycle and to explore yet another new culture. I am also confident that Kyle and I will return to our happy and peaceful relationship once we get out of this hell hole called Turkey. We have had an amazing four months abroad together… Probably our best time shared so far. I thank God that I had him here in Turkey with me. I know I wouldn’t have lasted here this long without him and his support.

We have had many good experiences in this country, but they simply don’t outweigh the bad. When I first wrote this blog, I titled it, ‘Is it Possible to Dislike an Entire Country and Culture?’

I have finally found my answer to that question, and the answer is ‘no’. I am thankful for the kind people we have met here who have helped us along the way. These people even let us vent to them about our negative experiences in their country. I just hope these good people can have a positive impact on the rest of Turkey.

— Three weeks later: I have met many travelers who have had very different experiences in Turkey. People from all over Europe have shared their positive experiences with us.

I am not sure why Kyle and I experienced such negativity on a daily basis… All I can say is that the universe was warning us to get the hell out of there. We were meant to be in Georgia, and out of Turkey… I am thankful we made it out when we did, and have no plans to return in the future.

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My 25th Birthday in Turkey

When we arrived to Turkey our first
mission was to visit my dear friend Kayla. Her and her boyfriend are working on the border of Turkey and Syria. At that point our plan was to cycle West to Istanbul, so it made sense to head East to see Kayla first.

We also wanted to visit one of Turkey’s biggest attractions that was on that side of the country. Kayla encouraged us to visit Cappadocia.

Kyle and I decided the best way to visit Cappadocia, Kayla, and her boyfriend Rod, was to rent a car for a few days.

We took our time driving East along the Mediterranean Coast. We passed many tourist beaches, but also found many quiet beaches. After the crowds and resorts near Antalya, it was nice to have small beaches to ourselves.

The coast was absolutely beautiful! We spent my birthday swimming, eating and admiring the coastal beauty. I was looking forward to seeing Kayla the next morning.

Rod, Kayla, Kyle and I met in Adana. We all felt the heat, and agrees we would rather spend our day on the beach. We headed 40 km South to Karatas.

It was a lovely day relaxing in the sun. We swam in the warm sea for hours before finding a cafe for tea and hookah. Smoking hookah is a tradition in the Arabic culture… But we surprisingly didn’t come across any in Morocco.

Tea is another important part of both the Turkish and Moroccan cultures. Moroccan tea is full of
mint and sugar, while the Turkish tea is served black with sugar on the side. It was an interesting transition, and I found myself missing the sweet
mint tea.

The boys hunger set in and we decided to look for some dinner. We were all four had the conclusion that Turkish food is not the greatest…
Even the doners are awful. Instead of being served with homemade spicy & yogurt sauces, they are drowned in ketchup and mayonnaise. Nasty. Luckily Rob warned us of this and requested our doners without sauce.

It was dark by the time we finished eating, which meant it was time for
a fire show! The moon was full and absolutely stunning over the ocean. We found a good spot on the beach, blasted some music and danced away.

Rod took some awesome pictures of the day, which I will be sure to post when we return to the states. For now you only get to see the pics from my phone :).

We found a cheap apartment to accommodate the four of us for the night. It was surprisingly cheap for being right on the beach… If I remember right, it was around 35 USD for all of us.

The next day Kyle and I headed up
to Cappadocia. It was a beautiful drive, and we were both relieved
when the temperatures started dropping in the mountains.

We arrived just in time for the sun to set. The colors over the rock formations were really special, as was watching the bright moon rise. My phone’s camera couldn’t do it justice… So I will post some of Kyle’s pictures later on.

We drove down into the city with cheaper accommodation for the night. We stumbled upon a nice campground and took the opportunity to save a little money.

The next day we drove around to see the beautiful views, rock formations, caves, etc. We were amazed by the natural beauty and agreed it was one of the best places we have seen yet.

Our last stop in the region was Derinkuyu, an underground city! It was something I had never experienced before. I was seriously impressed with the size- it was four stories deep!

The Turkish used these types of underground cities during times of war throughout history. It had wine cellars, church rooms, food storage, living rooms, sleeping corridors, and anything else a city needs to function. It was great to overhear the tour guides revealing the history.

After Karatas, it was time to make our way back to Antalya to return the car. I had the perfect birthday weekend! Kayla is one of my dearest friends and years had passed since we crossed paths. We lived together in Flagstaff, and she has always been an inspiring role model for me.

 

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Switzerland

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As you can see, I have fallen quite behind on my updates. I am eager to write about what is currently going on in Turkey, so it is time to get caught up. I have decided the best way to do that is to fast forward to our five day layover in Switzerland…

After a month of touring Morocco we were looking forward to resting up in a Western country. As much as I loved Morocco, I was ready for a break from the bartering, begging and the constant games being played. We also experienced extreme heat conditions during our camel trek in the Sahara Desert, as well as two day stay in Marrakech.** link wiki.

Our flight out of Marrakech was delayed and we didn’t land in Switzerland until after midnight. We were pleasantly surprised to arrive to light rain and cool weather.

We had arranged for a car for the five days to give us a break from public transit and the bicycles. It would also give us more freedom to see the Swiss Alps, and we planned to save money by sleeping in the back.

We had also arranged for Couchsurfing hosts in Basel for our first two nights. _____ was patiently waiting up for us when we finally made it to their flat around 2 am. I felt awful, but there wasn’t much we could do. We headed straight to bed as all of us were very apparently exhausted.

The next morning we woke up to a wonderful Swiss breakfast. There was quite the array of meats, cheeses (which we really missed in Morocco), yogurts, juices, tea, spreads, bread, etc.

We learned that Art Basel **link was taking place that week. We were lucky enough to be in town for one of the biggest art exhibits in the world.

We had a great day exploring Basel and the Art Exhibit that evening. We saw art from all of the world… Even a couple of Picasso’s paintings.

We shared a nice dinner by the river with our Couchsurfing hosts for sunset. This seemed to be common for locals, as there were many others doing the same. It was beautiful to watch the sunset over the city of Basel and all of the Swiss architecture. I don’t remember Geneva being so beautiful, but it has been years since I celebrated my 21st birthday there.

The next day we headed to the Rhine Falls, which is meant to be one if the biggest in Europe. I wasn’t too impressed, but was still glad to be getting back to nature. There was a lot of water flowing, but no big drop.

We picked up our good friend Flo from the Camino de Santiago on our drive down to Zurich. He arranged for us to stay at a campground right on the city lake that night.

We relaxed at the campground before heading into the city to meet my Bulgarian friend Iskren. We were buddies from the dorms in college and had traveled together in Spain, Belgium and Holland. He found a cheap flight to Switzerland for the weekend, so we were able to spend a night catching up together.

Flo acted as an awesome tour guide for the night! We walked around the old town, admiring Zurich’s attractions with the night lights. Europe has a truly special feeling at night time, and I was glad to experience it one more time on this journey… It brought me back to my first trip to Madrid in 2005.

Along with exploring Zurich came many rounds of drinks. We all told stories and had a great time catching up.

I was bummed to see Iskren go so soon the next morning, but was also looking forward to escaping from the city. Kyle, Flo and I were off to spend our last days in the Swiss Alps!

The drive was absolutely breath taking! We passed lake after lake and eventually came to waterfall wonderland! There were waterfalls scattered throughout the vibrantly green mountains. Some of the towns even had waterfalls flowing through.

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I was seriously impressed. Not much has compared to the beauty I experienced on the Pacific Crest Trail, but the Alps definitely rank up there!

We found a nice campsite near Interlaken. The site was right on the lake and had everything we needed. Showers, bbq, and a quiet space. We actually found a marijuana plant near our spot, a definite sign that it is legal here!

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We bbqed some Swiss sausages with Flo before he took the train back to his home. We had such a great time reliving our intense memories of the Camino together. I look forward to showing him around Arizona one day!

The next day, which was also our last day in Switzerland, was the best one yet. We rode the old train up a steep incline toward the top of Jungfrau. It was quite expensive (much like the rest of Switzerland), so we only rode a short distance.

The hike up the rest of the way was absolutely beautiful! We passed waterfalls, patches of snow, springs, and even an ibex. It was a very peaceful day and it felt good to be back on our feet. Cycling has been fun, but we don’t always get to experience nature quite like this.

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Switzerland is a beautiful country and we had a wonderful week stay. Our bodies were thankful for the time off, but our wallets were ready to go. We were off to Turkey to see what adventures were in store for us next!

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A Day of New Experiences with Badhr

We woke up the night after the Enrique Inglesias show to mint tea and bread. After showing us around Rabat’s attractions, Badhr led us toward the Atlas Mountain Range. The sun set approached quickly and it was time to set up for the night. We asked some locals if we could camp in their yard.

They were more than happy to welcome us into their home. It was just two guys living in a basic place… It seemed a little bit run down, but I wasn’t one to judge.

We all spent the evening sitting around the table drinking tea. It was nice to have Badhr as a translator for us. He was not only our translator for the night, but he also was our chef! He showed me how to make a simple tagine with what resources were available.

The younger of the two guys was acting very peculiar and we started to wonder if he was on some kind of substance.

Badhr took the glue out of his tire patch kit and hinted that he also thought the guy was on something. The older man pointed and laughed… And from that point on the younger guy no longer went outside to sniff glue. He did it right in the room with us. It was definitely something new for all of us to see.

I was glad we had set up the tent, as I was tired from the night before. As soon as dinner was finished, we headed out to the tent.

Badhr called it- we all had enough experiences for the day.

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The Capital City of Rabat

I have talked about Couchsurfing and Warm Showers on here many times before, but for those of you who missed those posts, I will explain again. Couchsurfing is a popular and well used social network that links travelers with local hosts. I have a profile with a description of myself, my hobbies, preferences, etc. My profile also consists of over 50 references from people I have hosted in Flagstaff and from people I have stayed with around the world. I have been part of the community since 2009 or so. Warm Showers is very similar, but it is geared toward people on cycle tours. If you aren’t already a member of the CS community, I’d recommend checking it out! I have created many good friendships and opened my eyes to new ways of life through the site.

We found a Warm Showers host in Rabat, which is the capital city of Morocco. When we arrived to our host’s home we were (not so warmly) welcomed by the guy working in the shop below the flat.

The man looked at me and said, ‘non-muslim girls, we kill!’. As he said this, he made the gesture of slicing his neck.

Call me a crazy American, but I did not find this to be too funny. Maybe it is because of the tension between America and the Muslim world right now. Our host, Badhr, sensed my discomfort and came to my rescue. He let me know the man was actually his brother and assured me he was only joking. We all shared some laughs and I realized it was all in good fun.

Many of the Moroccans we have encountered have been very eager to share their Islamic views with us Westerners. No one has been too pushy with their religion, they have simply explained their beliefs. It has actually been nice to see people so passionate about what they believe in… Unlike America, where many people only speak of religion in church on Sundays.

We spent a lot of time discussing the Muslim religion with Badhr, but this time in a much different sense. He turned out to be the first Atheist Moroccan I have met. He shared many of the extremist views against the religion and the Koran. It was really nice to hear and learn about the opposing views for once. It was a very interesting discussion, because Badhr’s Muslim friend was also there to contradict him from time to time. We lost track of time enthralled in the topics… And realized we were late for the Rique Englesias** show!

The Moroccan government throws a week long festival each summer that is free of charge! Badhr explained that he hadn’t attended in previous years, because he didn’t agree with the way the government wasted millions of dollars. There are many needs in Morocco, just like any other country… But the government pays each artist a crazy amount of money to perform. Maybe it is to keep the people happy and supportive?

Everyone around us was definitely happy and having a great time around us! We danced the night away to Enrique’s new and older songs. It didn’t take me long to notice the crowd was at least 90% guys. Where were all the ladies??

The lack of females in social settings in Morocco was something I had to adjust to. It was strange at first, but by the end of my time in Morocco it didn’t even phase me. I could walk into a cafe and order two mint teas before taking note that I was the sole female in the entire place.

Before we knew it the show was over. Badhr cooked us an awesome egg dish before we called it a night. The next day we would cycle on and hopefully Badhr would join us for a section!

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Staying w the Locals in the Agricultural Villages of Morocco

Yesterday was a long day. A car swiped my bicycle mirror on the highway, my phone was stolen (but later replaced), i had no appetite and couldn’t eat, vomited during the night, had awful stomach cramps, cycled 40 kilometers or so in the wrong direction…

Even with all the downfalls, it turned out to be a good day. Cycling in the wrong direction got us off the national highway and into farm country. The highway had no shoulder and drivers don’t have the same respect for cyclists here in Morocco. The dirt roads were suited for cycling and the people were all very friendly.

The sun was setting and we had no idea how far we were from Moulay Bousslam, so we decided to ask some locals for a place to sleep.

I saw an older woman sitting in her doorway and made the universal sleeping sign. She had a huge smile on her face and brought us to her family’s home. No one spoke a lick of Spanish or English, but we managed to communicate okay.

The whole family gathered around to welcome us and make us feel comfortable. One of the young girls painted henna all over my arms and hands- it was really beautiful! I have always seen women with it, but was waiting for the right opportunity to have it done on me.

After the henna we gathered around on the floor to eat together. The grandma prepared a noodle dish, much like watery mac & cheese. Our stomachs were cramping and we hadn’t had an appetite all day, but we managed to get a little bit down. The family didn’t seem to understand why, but they would soon see how bad my stomach was hurting.

I was ready to sleep as soon as we finished eating, so I went to gather my belongings. My phone was gone. I am known for losing things, so I didn’t want to make any accusations before I knew for sure that it was missing. I began thinking of my pictures, all the writing I have done, contact information, and all the other lost information. The iphone was replaceable, but the data from
the past year was not.

I didn’t have any hope and wasn’t comfortable stirring things up before sleeping in a stranger’s home. That didn’t stop Kyle though, he was on a mission. He got the grandma’s attention and explained what was going on. We decided to just to go to sleep and see what the family would do.

We heard the family members yelling and the kids swearing to the father they didn’t have it. After about thirty minutes of commotion, my phone was returned to me. They blamed it on the young boy, but we will never know the truth.

I tossed and turned with severe cramping and nausea for what seemed like hours. I was sweating and couldn’t come to a comfortable temperature. Without much warning, I had to vomit. I jumped up off the floor and ran to the front door. Kyle and the grandma (who was sleeping in the same open area as us), heard me and came to help. I didn’t make it to the bathroom and felt awful. The grandma cleaned up like nothing had happened and we all laid back down.

My stomach got a good cleanse that night and the next morning. I don’t think there was anything left in me. It drained me of what energy I had left.

I was longing for a room for comforts and privacy, so we decided to cycle on the next afternoon. After resting up in Azilal we didn’t have much time to waste. Our flights to Turkey were just three weeks away.

The cycling was on the coast most of the day, so we didn’t have too much change in elevation. I was feeling the effects of food poisoning and needed to rest. We didn’t make it to a pension or hotel by dark, so we once again had to rely on the locals.

I asked a few men if there was a hotel in the area and they all gave me a little chuckle. None of them spoke English or Spanish, but one of the men invited us to stay in his home that night. I was thankful, but also hesitant to accept the offer. I couldn’t stand the thought of another Arabic woman forcing me to eat.

A European car pulled up before we even had the chance to deny the offer. I couldn’t have been happier to hear the words ‘hola amigos’! At least someone we could communicate with, and I couldn’t help but hope that he had an actual toilet in his home.

Just minutes later we entered the home of another Moroccan family. Our new friend Sean spoke such good Spanish because he had been living in Spain for the past seven years. He was on holiday to visit his mother and family.

We were given many cups of tea, an excellent dinner, and our own room to sleep in. I imagine we were much more comfortable than we would have been in any hotel. Sean and his mother were so sweet and caring. They have a ‘no problem’ kind of home and we were thankful to be experiencing a night with them.

It is common in Morocco for families to live all together in the same home. Sean’s two brothers and their wives & children share the home with his mother. The wives were very sweet to me. They showered me with attention and did more henna for me! This time I got my feet decorated.

We planned to leave the next moning, but we quickly learned that is not the customary thing to do here in Morocco. It is part of their customs and culture to stay for three days.

We walked down to the beach with Sean and his cousin. We met many people on the walk through the fields, because Sean’s family owns the whole area. The workers were all very sweet to us. We saw a couple guys working on a well, so we decided to check it out. One man was about 50 feet down, hammering away. The two men had been digging the well for two weeks and said they have about two more weeks to go. Kyle grabbed his camera and accepted the offer to be lowered down into the well. He even hammered one piece of rock for the guys. :).

Kyle and I made an effort to leave again when we returned to the family home. I had my bag packed and threw it on my back. Sean’s mother came in and gave me a push back toward the bed. With body language, she let me know I would not be leaving that day. This was truly one of the most bizarre experiences of my travels. After one more shove, I accepted we really weren’t going anywhere.

We headed up to another beach town w Sean and his brother. I realized his mom sent us with her two single boys, and was trying to set me up with one of them. It was quite entertaining.

We returned to the home that night around ten for a nice family dinner. I’m not sure how it is possible, but I manage to understand some of what the family said between themselves. Maybe the Moroccan Arabic has a Spanish influence?

We were taken aback when Sean asked us where America was located. ‘Next to Saudi Arabia, right?’ Wow. There is a first for everything. I was so surprised, because he had been working in Europe for seven years- it isn’t like he spent his whole life in this small village.

Kyle and I put on an hour long fire show that night. The family had never seen anything like it, and we all had a great time. It was two am before we knew it, so we decided to call it a night. The adrenaline rush of the fire dancing keeps me awake for hours sometimes!

The family allowed us to leave the following morning. Not until after a nice breakfast though! We enjoyed our last mint tea with the family and thanked them for treating us so well. We left feeling much stronger than we had when we arrived, and created more memories & stories to tell.

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