I am a person who likes to plan; in order for my detailed intentions to manifest I need information. My research into Marrakech and the mountain I would climb outside its walls weaved a strange feeling within me. Morocco had never been high on my travel list, my reason for going was to climb Mount Toubkal, visiting the red city was an added bonus that initially brought me no anticipation.
But as I read about the history and poured over pictures I began to incorporate that portion of the trip into my eagerness. Yet still – I was aware that I was lacking the restless sparkle that usually flutters around my body and mind like a drunken fly whenever I am looking forward to something.
I wanted to disappear on rocky slopes, enjoy the smoothing out of emotions that snow manages to create within my soul as it does to mountain facades. The focus therefore was the climb – and not the city.
I have been home two weeks and been wanting to capture my travels with words, but the shape of them would not form. I was still pondering what, if any, my latest experience had taught me. For starters I was acutely aware that my desire to live a nomadic life stripped of all the gadgets that kept me bound materially had gained the upper hand, I was struggling to reconcile the end of my adventures with the return to to the mundane.
Normalcy and routine truly are a poison to the soul – lulling you into a belief of security when in truth the senses are dulled and daily actions are governed by autopilot. I yearned to return, but knew I had to allow the moment in time to pass behind me, content with memories and the gentle shaping the Atlas Mountains had imprinted.
My best friend witnessed my struggle to emerge back into reality and in an effort to help me get my mojo back she drove me to the local bungee jump (without sharing our destination with me). When we arrived I thought she was joking – it was only after she emerged from the ticketing office with a wristband and a man brandishing a harness that I knew she was dead serious.
Fear settled onto me as I contemplated the next 30 minutes of my life, I gave a half hearted protest but soon found myself closeted in the cage that would take me to the top of the crane. I enjoy fear, I enjoy overcoming it and I am (quite literally) addicted to adrenalin – so I couldn’t understand why the feeling of dread was not transforming into glee.
At the jump ledge I sat meekly while my ankles were harnessed and cast surreptitious glances at the ground meters below me, which was apparently against the rules as my bungee instructor kept telling me.
Fully constrained I hopped to the edge, toes resting on air and both hands gripping the rail without any intention of letting go. It was beginning to dawn on me that I might not jump, despite having jumped much higher locations before. My heart felt no excitement or anticipation – it was too busy drumming out a litany of impending doom.
I went to sit back down, slapped myself a few times and tried my up and at ’em Son self motivation statement then hopped back to the ledge. Again I was defeated and again I retreated. My third and final attempt ended with a fuck that! and an unglamorous scrambling to get the rope off my legs. There was no way I was going to jump. I had to suffer through a lecture by the instructor before he called the cage back. Something about letting go of control and trusting others. Bla bla bla.
Later that evening while contemplating what had happened to prevent me doing something I would normally have loved, the knowledge I had been seeking revealed itself.
Marrakech is a contradiction of life; a swirling mass of people, religion and space that seamlessly merges the ancient with the contemporary. The narrow streets are bordered by crumbling walls with waning decorations, yet strangely devoid of litter. Despite the chaos of navigating your movements around bicycles, anarchic scooters and meandering walkers – the people showed no antagonism as they glided past each other.
Children ran free with glowing faces and chubby bodies, stopped only to be offered affection, sometimes by seeming strangers. I was struck by how openly doting the men were, considering our western prejudices against the Arab culture. It was clear that although poverty seemed to rule the majority, it’s influence ended at monetary, within their hearts there was a visible ease.
The polarity of Moroccan life narrowed as we began our trek through the Atlas mountains. We walked past small villages serviced by overladen mules navigating the detritus of tourist littered paths, the landscape reflecting the conditions of the people; dry and arid with hidden stretches of lush growth.
Steep, pebble strewn slopes greeted us, interspersed with arbitrary stops where carpets or fresh orange juice could be found. It was clear we had not travelled to a remote location but were in fact treading upon an old and established way of life that had incorporated us into it’s daily cycles and commerce.
When our boots found the snow line I breathed in the achromatic smells and sight, enjoying the purely raw emotion soothing me… or perhaps I breathed out everything I had brought with me from home. That, after all, was why I was there, it was why we were all half a world away looking up with a mixture of anticipation and nerves. Another mountain to conquer yes – but to also absorb these series of paused moments. A balm to the sacrifices we make for success, and a benediction to our spirits.
We reached the summit a few minutes before sunrise, only the promise of a glow revealing the neighbouring peaks. Witnessing the expansion of colour and light was the perfect finale to both our climb and the deep feeling of contentment that filled me. Exhilaration, beauty and camaraderie rewarded our hours of nighttime climbing, I looked at all my companions – people I had known for only four days – and thought how truly necessary it is to share and connect.
There are few opportunities in life when we can be deeply vulnerable and openly display the spectrum of human emotions we try so hard to filter when at home. Climbing a mountain with others requires that we do this: the fear, doubt, pain, exhaustion, intimacy, hope, elation and gratitude are all openly shared. That – more than anything else – is the balm.
Which brings me full circle.
As time passes in our lives we learn what it is we truly want, and what it is we don’t. We learn that we need courage to say yes to what is new, and equal courage to say no to what others may want from us. We learn that life is a rainbow of contradictions; fear and love, freedom and obligation, past and present, tranquil mountains and bustling metropolis.
Our world is unbelievably diverse, as is the range of experiences open for the taking. But we have to participate, and in that participation practice non-attachment. A few days ago I stood on a ledge and told my ego to take a jump while I descended at a more sedate pace. A week before that I stood on the peak of a snow laden mountain and thought my heart would burst from joy.
Until I can envelop myself so completely in the next adventure, I will practice non-attachment to the contradictions, highs and lows that our lives are made of. Continue in my choice to connect with not only my own life, but to others as well… because an authentic life is perhaps the only true staple to get us through.
Thank you Corrine, Maria, Carlos, Marisa, Valter, Andre, Vicky and Sean for over-poured gins, brain-cleansing stash, snake aversion, shared paths, discovering the full capabilities of the human snore, charades, free medication and a week that will forever bring me smiles.