Loving Laundry: When It Is Not Mine

When I look at my more recent travel photos, I notice a few things.

  • I still can’t take good photos 🙂 but I try (an “A” for effort, a “C” for results)
  • I take photos of everyday things, in fact, things I would never take photos of in Canada – doors, people cycling, people walking, people talking, people eating, us eating, and yes, even laundry
  • I take fewer photos of the regular “touristy” things like ruins, forts, museums, statues and on and on…

Having grown up with a historian as a father, I think I have rebelled. There is something about being “dragged” to every fort in Canada, that makes me, well, a little less engaged in that side of life, and more inclined to the present everyday kind of life.

So this is how it came to be that I have recently started taking photos of laundry, other people’s, of course. And oh how I wish, that I had done so, when I was younger and travelling more, but well… in those days… my focus was more on me, how I looked, who I met, and where to have fun. Any recent photos of me travelling indicates this is no longer the case!

Yes, things change even as a traveller. So here’s to me, now, a somewhat older traveller, who loves laundry, when it’s not mine.

How it all begins.. sometimes in a lake (Lake Atitlan, Guatemala)

How it all begins.. sometimes in a lake (Lake Atitlan, Guatemala)

Laundry in Venice (of course, it looks beautiful)

Laundry in Venice (of course, it looks beautiful)

Laundry in Chefchaouen, Morocco (everything in Chef is gorgeous)

Laundry in Chefchaouen, Morocco (everything in Chef is gorgeous)

Laundry in oh so sweet, Isla Janitzio in Mexico

Laundry in oh so sweet, Isla Janitzio in Mexico

Laundry in Ollantaytambo, Peru ( a bit more on the rustic side)

Laundry in Ollantaytambo, Peru ( a bit more on the rustic side)

Laundry in Jardin, Colombia

Laundry in Jardin, Colombia

Laundry in interesting shapes

Laundry in interesting shapes

Even backpackers have to do laundry, but it is never as pretty as the locals' laundry

Even backpackers have to do laundry, but it is never as pretty as the locals’ laundry

And, oh I know that the anticipation is almost too much to bear, but more laundry posts – Middle Eastern style – are on the horizon. I can’t wait 🙂

“The Internet Says We Shouldn’t Have Done That.”

OOPS!!!

What happens when you don’t research something before hand?

You believe what they say.

Yes, the lady told us that the black henna was perfectly fine; in fact it was even better than the other colours because it lasts longer. 

Need we hear more? Sign us up. We are in like the inexperienced henna receivers we are.

And so it happens… Erin gets one. Jade gets one. And before I know it, I get one. My mom was the only smart one.

And we loooooovvvvvveeee them. Majorly.

Until…

For some strange reason, when I return to Canada from Morocco, I look it up. A little after the fact. I must have some nagging doubt somewhere in that post-henna brain of mine. And it says.. whatever you do, DON”T get black henna because it is dangerous: like “it can leave a scar kind of dangerous”. And of course the Internet being the Internet has a lot of visual evidence to back up this opinion. I call Erin up. Yes, she knows. She has heard the news from somebody else.

So I say a prayer to the henna gods to let us off easily; we are newbies who didn’t research something just once; please give us a break. And they did. We were lucky. Others not so much.

“I can smell it. We must be close.”

So I was excited and stressed.

I desperately wanted to see a tannery in Fez, Morocco but I did not want the sales pitch that is attached. To get the best glimpse of the men working in the tannery, you have to be high enough to overlook them. This is where the sales pitch comes in. Leather shops enclose the tannery like armed security guards and so like a sitting duck or a smelly one, you have to walk through the shops in order to get a look at the tannery. Kind of a necessary evil to get what you want.

So we go up the long narrow winding stairs to the leather shop, try to quickly walk through to get to the terrace that overlooks the tannery. It doesn’t disappoint. Despite the harshness, the toxicity, the stench of the job, the sight of the stone vessels filled with an array of coloured dyes was breathtaking. I might be alone in this opinion as I look around for my family, who has vanished into the store, to escape the smells pervading from this gorgeous watercolour scene. I stayed, mesmerized at the sights, and breathing in my sprig of mint. The mint makes this a “doable” activity for the observer but clearly the workers go without. They have much hardier noses than us.

These stone vessels are filled with cow urine, salt, quicklime and water (just to make it a bit healthier). The hides from cows, goats, camels, you name it, are soaked in these vessels to remove all the crud like hair and fat. Makes you want to run out and buy a leather purse eh?

Then the hides are placed in vats that contain the oh so delectable smell of pigeon poop. Yes, there is a reason for pigeons I guess. This softens the hides so they can later absorb the coloured dyes. This process is helped along by the workers who stand inside the vessels, knee-deep (it might be a huge benefit to be taller in this occupation) and stamp and knead these hides with their feet until they are ready to go to the next step. More soaking, more stomping and finally the vegetable coloured dyes made from henna, pomegranate, mint, saffron and poppy flower transform the hides from hideous objects into bright and spectacular colours. Then the hides are set out along the roof tops of the surrounding buildings to dry.

If in Morocco, you need to see this. It is one of those Moroccan experiences that borders on an “India” moment; smelly, spectacular, stinky and sensational all wrapped up into one piece of leather; ready for my family to buy at said shop.

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The Carpet Quest or Otherwise Known as “Thank Goodness for Chris”

Soon after we learned that Erin would be joining us on our trip to Morocco, she started to talk about a carpet.

I thought  “Oh no, there are a million horror stories of people buying carpets in Morocco. How do you know we won’t get taken?” 

When I bargain/negotiate for some stuff like taxis or fruit, I am okay, I can almost enjoy it. But when I have to negotiate for something that is important or costs more money, I completely shut down! I feel sweaty, nervous and totally out of my comfort zone. This kind of thing makes me homesick for Walmart. I will do almost everything to avoid it.

Thankfully, Chris is in sales and is good at it. Thankfully for Erin too. So the carpet quest begins somewhere in southern Morocco. Erin mentions to our guide that she is interested and of course, naturally, not surprisingly, he knows just the right person. And then I begin to worry.

“Will we be able to afford the carpet? How long will this take (like forever)? Will we feel pressured into having to buy a carpet, even if she doesn’t really like one?… and so on and so on…

Well we are taken to a shop that is a shop, but also pretends to be a restaurant. This is how the “suck up” or “sales pitch” or “becoming friendly thing” begins. It is now officially part of our tour. We are there under the guise of trying Moroccan pizza but in reality, that carpet store is looming mere feet away.

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The Moroccan Pizza Before the Sales Pitch

I can feel the sweat beginning… or is that because we are still in the Sahara Desert in the summer time? I try to enjoy my pizza but my mind wanders to what next? What will happen? Will Chris be able to control the situation?

The pizza is taken away and the alarm clock has gone off. Time for the real deal to begin. We enter the store and, man, is it beautiful; like museum beautiful. I can feel my blood pressure rising. Surely these carpets must cost a fortune? Isn’t that what Virtual Tourist and Trip Advisor warn?

But those carpets are SO beautiful that I can’t help myself. I take that first step and I am hooked. There I am with Erin examining, differentiating, discussing the pros and cons of each wondrous carpet. I look to Chris for backup. We are getting closer to negotiating, the papers, the pens and the calculators come out.

“Oh look, Jade there are some pretty tiny (read: cheaper) things to look at. Let’s go over there. Quickly please!”

I leave Chris to his idea of a fun zone; negotiating big ticket items that are totally up his Moroccan alley. I vanish and wait for the verdict.

Escaping to the car, I finally see Erin and Chris coming out with a carpet all bundled up.

Yay! It is all over. I can breathe again. 

From Flea Bag Dives to This… Flashpacking Rules (Sometimes)

When I backpacked for 9 months from Mexico by bus to Costa Rica and then from Colombia to Bolivia, I travelled on broken down buses, chicken buses, flat-bed trucks, anything that didn’t cost very much. Every now and then, I would spend more than 5 dollars on a room and upgrade to a luxurious 20 dollar room. Food was off the street, local places, bakeries and grocery stores. Sometimes a splurge on a pizza place but overall the food was the easiest to handle. The flea bag dives and crappy buses got old but then 9 months of travel was the reward.

Fast forward to a family with 2 teens and a senior who is more than 70 travelling in Morocco in extreme heat for about 3 weeks. This is where flashpacking comes in. A new-ish term for me but yes, it defines us. We do travel for a shorter period of time and therefore certain luxuries are a bit more affordable. Every now and then we upgrade to a room that might cost more than 50 dollars (and yes this is an ouch!) but the perks are there. You might actually want to put your feet on the floor now and even take a shower without flip-flops!

I loved the places we stayed and where we ate in Morocco but… given the choice of this vs. the sorta flea bag but getting to travel longer… well…tough call. Backpacking rules too sometimes.

Wanted : Downtime

I remember exactly when it happened.

Jade looked at me and said, “Do I have to go?”

We were in Tangier, Morocco and it was towards the end of our trip. We were staying in a nice hotel (kind of by fluke actually) and she wanted to enjoy it; which meant hanging out, drinking pop, listening to music on this cool couch on the roof of the hotel.

It was safe to leave her so why not? Trying to meet everyone’s needs when travelling is tough. It can be mind-blowing tough. So take advantage of those moments when downtime is needed and let it go. And yes.. this is coming from the scheduling queen herself who has trained her kids to ask, “What’s next on the agenda?” a little too well. In the end, it is better for everyone involved.

And yes..if downtime involves Chris’s computer so he can check email (he finds this relaxing?!), find the latest storm and look up all the world crises then so be it. This is what downtime is for, I guess.

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Chris relaxing on his computer at a  “camel stop” in Morocco.

Don’t Visit This When Travelling

Jade and I just went to our new dentist’s office in Cobourg. It comes complete with a fireplace, friendly staff who speak English well, a very well-trained dentist, and even a Volkswagen Bug inside (like the real deal). Yes, this is a unique and interesting dental office.

But unique and interesting in Canada means one thing; in other places it might be even MORE unique and interesting and not in the ways you were seeking. Having experienced a multitude of doctors around the world, I am quite content to leave my medical experiences in that category and not venture off into the dental one. You may get lucky and find the right one; but like in Canada even; there is no guarantee. Get those teeth to the dentist before you go.

And if you are off to a place like India, this is what you might see. Knock on wood that this path is the one less taken.

Camels Are Not For Wusses

Trust me, the thrill of riding a camel lasts mere seconds… then it quickly turns to mere pain.

I should have learned my lesson the first time around. Dad and I were in Rajasthan, India and when you are there, apparently you must ride a camel in the desert. Or at least I was led to believe. Well dad and I did not last more than 10 minutes. Get on that darn camel, get a photo op and get off &*#! camel.

So why would I ever think that we should drag our bodies all the way to Merzouga, Morocco so that the rest of the family could celebrate the camel ride all over again?

And this was no 10 minute ride. Chris just confirmed that it was an hour and half both ways out into the Sahara Desert and then back again. He also stated that no one was happier than my camel when I decided to bail and get off said camel on the return home. My butt and thighs were forever grateful but my feet, trudging through the thick Sahara sand, were screaming another story.

Overall, not a pretty picture and one I WILL NOT REPEAT in front of those cool pyramids in Egypt (if and when) even if the photo op is to die for (in more ways than one).