The older I get, the more nervous I get when I travel. No. It’s not nervousness, it’s anxiety. When I’m ready to come home, I don’t want anything to prevent that happening. I’m the three-hours-before-boarding airport type. I don’t want to be rushed or hassled. I just want to get home. Read more

I’m easily confused. I have no sense of direction. I couldn’t find my way out of a paper bag on a good day. Had I been on my own, I’d still be walking around the old part of Zanzibar City known as Stone Town (Mji Mkongwe in Swahili, which means old town). The maze of narrow streets and the sameness of the shops made it all difficult to navigate. But occasionally, I recognised where I was. Those rare moments of recognition built on each other to the point where I almost felt at home.

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I’m not a particularly strong swimmer. And I like having control of a situation. No surprise then that snorkelling isn’t high on my list of thing to do. But I’ll admit to being the victim of the modern-day curse: FOMO – fear of missing out. Read more

High on my list of things to see in Zanzibar was the slave monument by Swedish sculptor Clara Sönäs. I have a peculiar fascination with the worst of human history and am drawn to places that commemorate atrocities committed in the name of religion or commerce. Read more

A visit to Prison Island – called after a prison that was never used as a prison – is listed as a top attraction in every guidebook (entry fee $4) under the heading of Zanzibar. I left feeling sorry for the prisoners on show today. Read more

I like to think I can go with the flow, but deep down I want to know what’s happening and when. I struggle with this a lot. I’m getting the hang of pole pole but perhaps this is something I need to get a hold of, too. Read more

@zanziresort

We landed in Zanzibar after a three-hour layover in Nairobi on schedule at 1.35 am, robbed by darkness of that all-important first impression. Read more

I was born asking questions. Seconds after I popped into the world, I opened my mouth and screamed whhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhyyyyyyyyyyyyyy! Nothing much has changed in the intervening years. I particularly like when I get to meet people from countries I’ve never been to and (almost embarrassingly) places I know very little about.  My geography is atrocious. I went to Costa Rica last month thinking I was going to South America. I was utterly confused when, driving in to Istanbul from the airport a few years ago, I saw a sign welcoming me to Europe. And sure didn’t I move to Hungary thinking it was by the sea. The mind boggles. I’ve long since come to terms with this failing and have accepted that I’m missing the geolocation gene that might just help me figure out where I am and where I’m going – perhaps to Cabo Verde.

In Geneva this week as part of DiploFoundation’s CD Multi programme, I’ve met people from 17 countries I’ve yet to visit: Mauritius, São Tomé and Príncipe, Sierra Leone, Kenya, Malawi, Benin, Cameroon, Uganda, Cabo Verde, St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Guyana, St Kitts and Nevis, Grenada, Suriname, Fiji, and Cook Islands. I’ve met people before from everywhere except Cabo Verde and Benin, so of these two countries I know even less than usual, if nothing at all. Apart from a vague notion that they’re in Africa, somewhere, I was clueless.

In conversation one evening, I got to ask about Cabo Verde.

I was right in thinking we were talking about what I knew of as Cape Verde, a former Portuguese colony about 500 km off the west coast of Africa. But what I hadn’t realised is that it’s not one land mass but a series of 10 small islands  with the main airport in Praia on Sao Tiago (Santiago). All but Santa Luzia are populated. The islands don’t have much going for them in terms of natural resources. What land there is not suitable for crops, and drought is a challenge. In the last century, 200 000 people died as a result of droughts which gave rise to mass emigration so that today, more Cabo Verdeans live outside the country than inside, with a sizeable diaspora in Portugal, the USA, France, the Netherlands, Italy, Spain, and Luxembourg. Reminiscent of Ireland in the famine days, and indeed countries like Romania today, emigrant remittances play a huge role in the local economy.

Back in 1975, when the country achieved independence, there was talk of unifying with Guinea-Bissau, but a coup in G-B put paid to that idea. Classified as an LDC (least developed country, i.e., a country that exhibits the lowest indicators of socioeconomic development, with the lowest Human Development Index ratings of all countries in the world) it was upgraded by the UN in 2008. A poster child for political and economic stability, this upgrade seems to me to be something of a poisoned chalice. Once out of the LDC bracket, many sources of funding dry up. Better off countries who actively support LDCs in their efforts to develop divert their funding to those still in the group. There is (and I could be wrong) a three-year transition period, a weaning off, after which the stabilisers are removed and the country is left to its own devices. But is that long enough? I wonder.

Cabo Verde, now classified as a SIDS (a small island developing state), is feeling the pinch and the pressure of going it it alone. Yet increased efforts to attract the tourist dollar and develop the infrastructure that goes with this are slowly paying off. In reading various reports, it would seem  that there is huge potential for start-ups, for young entrepreneurs who have a vision for the future. With an 87% literacy rate (considerably higher that of sub-Saharan Africa at 61%), there is cause for optimism. And as a tourist destination, something tells me that I’d like to see it before it makes the popular list of places to go and is overrun, swallowed up by sameness.

Black sand beaches. White sand beaches. Volcanoes. Great creole food. And the music…. I’m a few years too late to see the great Cesaria Evora live, but the national music genre, Morna, is something I could listen to. It’s a fusion of Portuguese, African, Brazilian, and Cuban – a form of blues. Nick Mayes did a great piece in The Guardian on it a few years back. Worth a read.

I’ve been trolling the Net, looking at pictures, reading blogs and articles – a first for me. I don’t plan. I go. But now, I’m planning. And to show I’m serious, I’ve done the unthinkable and added a travel category to this blog before visiting. What a great start it would be to 2018.

It’s been a busy week. Lots happening. I’m grateful for the education, the conversation, and the inspiration. And to anyone who would limit travel, curb immigration, or advocate a stay-at-home policy, to you I say stop – and think. Don’t deny me the opportunity to meet, to learn, to experience. So much of the world’s attraction lies in its diversity; we just need to get out a little more.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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It’s been a long time since anyone scrubbed me down and washed me. The last time was most likely during a hospital stay in Cherry Orchard (the infectious diseases hospital in Dublin) some 20 years ago. But, as is more usual that not, I hadn’t done my research and had little idea what to expect from a Hammam. I had some vague notion of a steam room followed by a massage, but didn’t think much beyond that.

Do I bring a swimsuit? Would they care? Surely there’ll be towels involved? Using various sign language she made it clear that I could strip to my birthday suit but men needed to be suitably clothed. Then it was in to the steam room where I was doused in water and told to sit and wait. So sit and wait I did.

Now, for someone for whom the thought of a long bath is far more enjoyable that the bath itself, I was soon getting antsy. I find it very difficult to sit and relax unless there’s a couch or a bed or some sort of wait involved. Just to sit for the sake of sitting with nothing to sit for – that does my head in.

After about 20 minutes, she returns with some black soap and proceeds to exfoliate me thoroughly. It was dark. I don’t know if I blushed. It was all very clinical anyway. Then I had to sit some more. Wait some more.

And then I was rinsed again, and oiled. And instructed to lie on my stomach to be massaged. It was grand though I’d have liked it a little stronger. But it was good. Then I had to lie and wait some more, while the steam room steamed and my pores opened and the magic hammam stuff happened. And I got even more antsy. I couldn’t lie so I sat up and even that was tedious.

Back again for more rinsing and oiling, I was then handed a bath robe and  told it was over. An hour all told. For about €20. No complaints there. And yes, I slept well afterwards and felt good.

BUT… and isn’t there always a but…

I discovered later that there were public Hammams (separate bathing for males and females, of course) where you can rent a bucket and buy some black soap and a mitt and even hire a woman to rub you down. But you also get to watch everyone else, listen to the gossip, and experience what it’s like to be Moroccan. Apparently everyone goes once a week – it’s a ritual. And they can spend up to three hours there (mad).

hammam in MoroccoHammam Morocco Atlas Mountains

When we were up in the High Atlas, I saw a home hammam – and it reminded me a little of an American Indian sweat lodge made from clay. While I get the idea of detoxing and appreciate the need to relax every so often, for me it will take work.

I’m grateful, though, on two counts: that I got to finally experience a hammam, even if it was not quite the real thing; and that I now have a note to self to add ‘learn to relax’ to my list of things to do this year. It’s time. I’m old enough. I’m ready.

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Essaouira doors

The doors we open and close each day decide the lives we live. So said Flora Whittemore, an American woman who lived till 103 and so no doubt knew a thing or three about life.  I have had a fascination with doors for as long as I can remember. At various stages in my life I’ve wanted them open, always open, even into the bathroom. At other stages, I’ve wanted them closed. More times I didn’t care much one way or another. I never stop long enough to wonder why. I just accept. I go through phases. One phase that has been pretty constant though is wanting to know what lies behind the various doors I’ve wandered past, down various streets, in various villages, towns, cities, and countries. And for a door lover, Morocco is door heaven, the town of Essaouira in particular.

Essaouira doors

 

Essaouira doors

Essaouira doors

 

The mosaic tiling. The carved stone. The metal studs. The doors of Essaouira, in various stages of repair or disrepair, all lead to other worlds, to God knows what. The blue that is somewhat universally associated with Morocco is vibrant no matter how faded it is.

Essaouira doors

Essaouira doors

Essaouira doors

Essaouira doors

 

And even when you add the ubiquitous graffiti, the doors of Essaouira still leave so much to the imagination. Perhaps it’s the colours that I’m so taken with. Or the sturdiness. Or the fact that they suggest former days of glory. Perhaps they’re some sort of analogy for aging gracefully, of shabby chic, of a slow but beautiful wearing away of glitz and glam. Even doors that aren’t doors at all front a story. I have no clue why they fascinate me so.  But fascinate me they do.

Essaouira doors

Essaouira doors

Essaouira doors

Essaouira doors

 

Morocco wasn’t ever really on my list of places to go. Well, not high up there, anyway. I had never heard of Essaouira. I still have a smidgin of trouble getting my head around the fact that it’s in Africa. And while I have often thought I could never live in an Islamic society – and still could never, ever, live anywhere that enforced Sharia law – a door, once shut, has now opened. Morocco changed my mind.

PS. Check out Steve McCurrry’s photos of doors – spectacular

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