Since the flight for my weekend trip was out of Brussels, Belgium, it seemed only fitting that we try the famous Belgian chocolate that everyone has been raving about. We contently indulged upon waffles the size of our faces smothered in gooey moist chocolate. This slice of heaven was the clear confirmation that Belgian chocolate surpasses any Sees, Godiva or chocolate bunny I’ve ever eaten in the states.
Madison and I were clearly already on top of the world due to all of the waffles and chocolate we had basically just inhaled, but this was just the beginning of a surreal weekend in Spain and Morocco. Since we had a couple hours to spare before our flight, we wore our large backpacks and effortless smiles as we sightsaw through beautiful Brussels.
This feeling of complete contentment and pure joy ceased quicker than you can snap your fingers, however, when what I thought was my bag was pulled aside after going through security.
“Wait, that’s not my bag. I don’t have shaving cream. This isn’t my bag!” were the first words I yelped as I came to the horrific realization that I switched bags with a man with the exact same black Osprey travel backpack as me after getting off the bus to Brussels. I then hastily repeated, “this isn’t my bag, this isn’t my bag, this isn’t my bag!” as if I was an annoying chiuahaha refusing to stop barking unless given a doggy treat.
My face instantaneously became opaque with a tint of purple and I could feel my intestines twist and twirl as I calculated everything I potentially lost. All I could think was, “I need my dad, what do I do without my dad?” As panic and fear crept down my spine and tears streamed through the aisles of the foreign airport, it was clear that my version of Superman back home wasn’t going to be able to fly 6,000 miles to resolve this one for me.
After the first couple minutes of breathlessness anxiety, my judgment and instincts ordered that I go run after the bus I arrived in. Even though I did cross country and track in high school, I don’t think I’ve ever run that fast in my entire life. I aimlessly pleaded to approximately eight different bus drivers inquiring if they had come from Maastricht to Brussels and aggressively shouted at anyone in my vicinity with a similar looking black backpack.
There was one German bus driver who obviously felt my pain, regardless of the fact that she could hardly understand me and had no prior knowledge of me. She sprinted with me to the rest of the busses and directed me to informational desk inside the airport. At one point, she even grasped my hand with a heartwarming motherly grip that somewhat eased my nerves, even if it was only for half of a second.
When I went inside the airport another kind women at the informational desk did everything she could to help calm Hurricane Hanna. From investigating the man’s bag I had, to finding the bus ticket of the man’s bag I had, to calling the name of the person on the bus ticket over three different loud speakers in all portals of the airport, unfortunately no amount of support or glimpses of hope could successfully relieve the situation.
Though this may have been the most stressful scavenger hunt I’ve partaken in and the amount of clothes and money I lost was overwhelming, I didn’t lose the essentials – passport, wallet, boarding pass – so, with 20 minutes before my gate closed, I boarded the plane and didn’t look back. Even though I only had those essential items previously stated and the clothes on my back, nothing was going to let me miss out on this opportunity to travel to some of my dream destinations.
Best decision I could’ve ever in my life made.
We started out in Seville, Spain, for the very first night and fortunately had the entirety of the next day to explore the maroon and orange colored streets of Spain. Contrasting to the warm colors of the architecture, a rainstorm warned us to stay inside. Despite the weather, we still managed to have an incredible day full of authentic Spanish food and drink like sangria, patatas bravas, the most delectable chocolate crepes I’ve ever eaten, and an assortment of authentic tapas.
After eating our body weight in Spain, the next stop on our exhilarating weekend was a ferryboat to another continent, Africa. Though it was pouring down rain and the waves viciously rocked the ferryboat so much to the point that I would consider the ride a near-death experience, we made it after an hour of restless terror. By the time we arrived at the hotel, it was 3 in the morning, yet there were tables full of Moroccan food ready for us to grub so our mass exhaustion transformed into excitement. I guess you could say eating my body weight was the theme of the trip at this point.
Though I only got about a half an hour nap in until it was time to wake up again, I didn’t care because of the inexplicable day ahead in the magical city of Chefchaouen. When our van turned the corner of this city, I was instantly mesmerized by the surplus of the color blue. The stairs, cafes, buildings, homes, and every last inch of the city were dyed a sapphire blue. A man who has been a proud resident of this enchanting city for the last 70 years gave us a tour and said that the significance of the blue color was a void to keep mosquitos out. My theory, however, is that the residents of Chefchaouen were influenced by the Smurf’s village.
All joking aside, it was truly incredible to hear this man talk about his home he was so obviously passionate about. He would stop every so often to explain the significance of a building and at one point, he grabbed my arm and said, “This where my clothes are made. This is where everyone in the community gets garments.” At another point, he stopped another person and described how people would bring dough to one specific oven used by a large community and that’s how all the bread was produced. When we stopped at this oven he said, “we will now eat like brothers,” and everyone on the tour took a piece of the scrumptious and small loaf of bread. The intelligence and optimism of this man made the blue of the buildings that much more beautiful and made me realize that the value in little things is far greater than any suitcase full of expensive clothes and boots.
I didn’t think that the next day would be able to top the day before, but to my surprise, the next day was my favorite day of my study abroad experience so far. We went to some of the most breath taking panoramic views I’ve ever seen as we made our way to our final destination of Assilah.
The last lush landscape viewing point before arriving to Assilah was on the beach of Tangier. Camels were parked as if they were cars on the soil ready for us to put them into drive and just like that, my childhood dream of riding a camel on a beach was finally reached. I can honestly say that despite their manure smelling odor, bopping up and down as the camel trotted along the crystal blue ocean coast was the highlight of the trip.
I also didn’t realize how much I truly missed the ocean until reuniting with it. Now that I’m back in the rainy and grey Netherlands, I can’t stop replaying that peaceful image of waves crashing in my head over and over again. We ended this impeccable trip with some bargaining and shopping in the streets of Assilah and then took the ferryboat back to Spain.
The next day Madison and I woke up early to sight see through Seville, since we had to catch a flight back to Maastricht in the evening and were unable to see much of it’s beauty due to the inconvenient rain a couple days prior. We were fortunate to thrive in 75 degrees (Farenheit) weather that day and were able to see all the splendor and warmth Spain’s sights had to offer. I’ll never forget the memory of walking down the Alcazar of Seville, which reminded me of an even more beautiful version of Central Park in New York.
The Plaza de Espana overlooked the garden of palm trees lining the pathways and the Spanish tiled fountains on every corner. With the sun beaming down on the natural beauty, there was a moment where I truly thought I was in a dream. This weekend was clearly one for the books, but it kept getting better.
It turns out that the person who I switched bags with ended up being someone from Maastricht in the residence hall directly next to me, so I clearly got luckier than a leprechaun on St. Patrick’s day. Even though I screamed with glee when I received the unbelievable Facebook message from him, there was a clear lesson that I learned after traveling with only the clothes on my back. Before going abroad; my mom, dad, brother, Madison’s mom, and many other people told me that I packed way too many clothes, shoes, and accessories. I brought nearly every last stitch of clothing.
After not having anything for an entire weekend, I’ve found that material belongings are not what is essential both while traveling and in life in general. I know, for a fact, that I’m not going to be looking back on my camel ride in Morocco and think to myself, “wow, I can’t believe I wore that jacket and those jeans for three days in a row.” Instead, I’m going to be reminiscing on the amazing experience and opportunity I had exploring the city of Tangier and my reunion with the ocean.
So, for those of you reading this and hoping to study abroad in the future, when your mom says, “you don’t need that crop top and 6 pairs of shoes,” listen.
Hanna Van Der Linde is earning a bachelor’s degree in Rhetoric and Writing Studies at San Diego State University. She is blogging from Maastricht, the Netherlands, during spring semester 2016.