Story by Dave Hazzan, Photos by Jo Turner
Bali is the paradise of your mind exploding. A Hindu island in an Islamic sea, Bali is a great, green tribute to the gods’ creation. It is blanketed in jungle, folded into mountains, ringed by white-sand beaches.
During the holiday of Galungan, the Balinese celebrate the victory of Dharma over Adharma—good over evil—by dressing up in their finest and zipping from home to home in their scooters, the girls’ blue skirts flowing behind them, the boys’ pressed black slacks fluttering in the wind and the dust. The monkeys swing above them, the cats run below. And always smiling. The Balinese seem to always smile, even in the excruciating heat.
In late November, the Russian city of Murmansk gets only two and a half hours of light a day. The pigeons here are the fattest you have ever seen, like fluffy grey balls with their little heads sticking out, perched on the power lines, immune from the Arctic cold by layers of bird blubber.
Russians are a study lot to begin with, but up here, in the largest city north of the Arctic Circle, they’re made of metal, forged in the furnaces of the Russian home, fortified with blinis, vodka, and the astute care of the Russian matron class. They look stern, but it’s only a look—most of them would give you their coat to stop you from freezing to the sidewalk, and walk you home for hot tea by the fire.
In Casablanca, the Hassan II Mosque rises from the Atlantic Coast, in keeping with Sura 11:7 of the Quran: “And His throne extends on the water, so that He might manifest to you, which of you is best in action.” Penitents pace around the columns and tourists take selfies before the mosque, one of the world’s largest (the third, in fact).
Half a kilometre down the road, at a Lebanese restaurant, the owner wants to make sure we get our hummus, baba ghanoush and labneh exactly as we want it. She’s thrilled we’re here in Casablanca—having us around reminds her of her children in Toronto and Montreal, who are doing very well, thanks to God.
These are the three points of our Four Oceans, No Planes triangle: Bali (8.409518° S, 115.188916° E), Murmansk (68.958524° N, 33.082660° E), and Casablanca (33.573110° N, 7.589843° W). [Check out Dave and Jo’s route here.]
Between September 2016 and February 2017, we sped from the southern hemisphere to the Arctic Circle, from Asia to Europe to Africa, from the shores of the Indian, Pacific, Arctic and Atlantic oceans. In total, we logged 557 hours total on buses, boats and trains—but no planes.
It took up the last four months of 2016, which bleeding-hearts like me found to be a particularly awful year—the year of Duterte (the Philippines) and Orbán (Hungary), the year of ongoing war in Yemen, and the tragedy of Syria and its resulting refugees, the year of Brexit and Trump.
But it was a happy year for us. It was a year that reminded us that in a world run by xenophobic, racist and sexist assholes, most people are in fact very kind and similar. There was the Malay imam we met in Kota Bharu; the Kazakh speed skaters on the train from Almaty to Astana; the ladies who run Three Hares Guesthouse in Murmansk; the Irish marchers in Dublin.
The only thing that ties these people together is that they have met me—but regardless, they are all fundamentally the same, decent people in an insane world.
Back before the days of Air Asia and Ryanair, when the airline world was strictly regulated and giants like Pan Am ruled the skies, travelling by land and sea wasn’t only more adventurous, it made sound financial sense. Now, with new budget airlines popping up every other week, what is the point of getting on a boat unless you have a truck full of goods to deliver?
That’s the point that was made to us repeatedly as we drove around Jakarta, trying to get tickets on the government-run PELNI ferry to Pulau Batam, a small Indonesian island off the coast of Singapore. We crossed this crammed and steaming megalopolis of 10 million souls, trying to find a mythical travel agent who sold PELNI tickets.
None could be found, despite being directed to at least three different agents, each of which took at least an hour to find. Within a few hours, we were hot, sweaty, and we stank.
The “we” here is me and Jo Turner—photographer, New Zealander, my wife, and cat fanatic. It’s best not to play with cats on the streets, but Jo can’t control herself. She loves the beasts, psychotically so, and everywhere we went cries of “kitty!” would echo through the streets whenever she saw one. Except for the most obviously diseased, they would all get pats, scratches and a few minutes of playtime. It happened so often, I made a hashtag for it: #joplayswithstrays.
There is one PELNI ferry per week to Pulau Batam from Jakarta. On the other hand, there are at least 40 flights a day from Jakarta to Singapore, on six different airlines. The ferry is 24 hours; the flight two. The ferry cost us $200 for a private cabin; flights begin at $29.
In the end, we did what every Indonesian said we didn’t need to do but should have just done in the first place: we took a cab to PELNI headquarters and discovered they have a ticket agent in the back. A kindly young woman in a hijab sold us the ticket, but seemed confused when we explained we had no car to load on.
But when we told her why—we were travelling half the world without stepping on an airplane, she beamed with a huge smile.
“How wonderful,” she said, printing up our tickets. On board ship, we walked around in a Gravol numbness, the only foreigners on a boat of Indonesians. Our cabin was private except for the army of cockroaches. But most passengers slept wherever there was a clear patch of floor—proof that despite our relative poverty compared to our banker, doctor and lawyer friends back home, we were still fabulously wealthy compared to most Indonesians.
Inside, the women gathered in groups with the children, and laughed. Outside, the men smoked those spicy clove cigarettes you can only get in Indonesia, and discussed the world, loudly.
Watching the sun set off the side of the boat, we made our way north of the equator.
Singapore, the most developed country in Southeast Asia—indeed, one of the most on the planet. Except we didn’t feel terribly developed, our hands and mouths smeared with chilli-tomato sauce, a pile of cracked crab carcasses piled next to it.
It was Formula 1 Sunday, and downtown was dead. But out here in the suburb of Bradell, on a public housing development, Mellben Seafood was doing brisk business. This was our first in a line of assignments, in this case to review Singapore chilli crab, and to try and explain why one of the prime restaurants serving it is located on a public housing estate.
In Kota Bharu, in the far northeast of Malaysia, everything is closed on Friday, as per Kelantan State Law. It’s off to the mosque for everyone, and if you want a beer, you need to find your way to the city’s tiny Chinatown to get one. Outside the Muhammadi mosque, an old man named Ismail, clean shaven but wearing long Islamic robes, greeted us. He insisted we let him give us a tour of the mosque once prayer was over. Was Jo allowed to come with us? I asked.
He pitched back in offence. “Of course!” he exclaimed.
We ended up returning without him—it was a wonderful mosque indeed, open to the air, clean and peaceful, full of cats to remind Jo what God means. Later, we went to the night market for dinner, where we met groups of young men cruising, like in the bars back home. Except it was over fruit juice, and most of them would be going home either alone, or with a name and phone number they’d need to clear with their mothers. Jo met her favourite cat of the trip, a wide-eyed tabby she named Stephen. Twice we ate at the night market, and twice he came to us for surplus nasi kerabu.
In Vang Vieng, Laos, four of our roommates were caught smoking weed at midnight in the hostel courtyard. The police frogmarched them first to the police station, and then to the ATM, where they each withdrew $500 to pay the police their “fine.” The drugs were seized, and where they went after that is unknown—my guess is back into circulation, to provide for more fines.
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In contrast to Singapore, Laos is the least developed country in Southeast Asia—but then your country would be underdeveloped, too, if the world’s leading superpower dropped two tons of bombs, per person, on you and your crop fields.
The Laotians have made what money they can with Chinese investment and tourism, especially Korean tourism. In Vang Vieng, signs and menus are all translated into Korean, while Laotian hospitality workers practice their Korean, watching endless loops of Korean soap operas. They tell me Koreans make good visitors. They can be surly and demanding, they say, but they also spend heaps of money, and rarely need to be fished out of the Nam Song River after an afternoon of tubing on meth.
It’s in Laos that travellers’ discomfort begins to mean something. There are no trains in Laos, and busing can be uncomfortable. The regular bus from Vientiane to Vang Vieng, and then onward to Luang Prabang, is a cramped minivan. Three-quarters of the passengers are backpackers, and half of those are giraffe-like Teutonic men, who average six-and-a-quarter feet, each of them. They are always an attraction for the Laotians, who can’t believe such long-limbed creatures exist
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We, meanwhile, can’t believe what you can see on the side of the road in Laos. It’s a mountainous country, and a lot of the rest stops are windy and cold. But it’s all worth it for a chance to stand over a 500-metre-deep valley of long white clouds.
China Railway Train D8263. Like an earthbound rocket ship, it fires you down the line from Nanning to Guilin, in Guanxi Province, at speeds of up to 300 kilometres per hour. The whole of China is now crisscrossed with these rockets.
I don’t know what’s more incredible—that they’ve managed to build this system, or that they’ve managed to keep people from smoking on it, because they have.
We’ve been to China before, and though I love it, it’s an abusive love. China is crowded and rough, with people who are lovely once you meet them, but often rude and brusque out on the street. The pollution in the cities can be choking, and the constant staring can become grating. But the architecture is beautiful (what’s left of it), the civilization awe-inspiring in its age and majesty, the natural beauty second-to-none, the cats playful and clean.
Guilin is all limestone karsts, features four lakes and two rivers, and the air is eminently breathable—electric motorbikes seem to be the transportation method of choice. At night, the two rivers and four lakes are lit with fluorescent lights, and the Sun and Moon pagodas shine in gold and silver.
It was while chilling by the pagodas that we learned the king of Thailand had died—we’d only been in the Kingdom two weeks ago—and that Bob Dylan had won the Nobel Prize for Literature.
And then there’s Chinese food. China is worth all the trouble in the world just to gorge yourself on chilli fried eggplant, steamed meat buns, mapo tofu, and hotpot noodles, all of it washed down with freezing bottles of Chinese lager. If you don’t speak Chinese, and we don’t, then you can just order it by pointing at the menu and testing your luck. Whatever you get, you’re guaranteed a tasty, if greasy, meal.
We went out looking for Guilin’s famous horse-meat noodles, but when we couldn’t find them, we chowed down on donkey buns. I’m skeptical it was really donkey, but that’s what the sign said and it sure tasted horsey: the meat was stringy but succulent, the whole thing juicy, savory, and stuffed into a flaky pastry. It was nestled into a steamy back alley of food, the kind of culinary heaven you find in every Chinese city—roast meat, fried seafood, noodles three feet long, vegetables sautéed in oyster, soy and fish sauce, fried rice. Why every Chinese person isn’t 300 pounds is beyond me.
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And when you do make friends with the Chinese, they are friends indeed. On our longest travel leg yet, a 45-hour soft-sleeper train from Suzhou to Urumqi, we shared a cabin with a young mother, her three-year-old daughter and her 60-year-old father-in-law. The thought of spending a one-hour flight with a three-year-old is bad enough, so I couldn’t imagine the hell 45 hours on a train would bring.
Except it didn’t. The child was a perfect angel. She drew pictures for us, danced and sang for us, and her grandfather took a million pictures of us all together, drinking and eating with us, telling us stories using our phone dictionaries.
Outside, we hauled from the Pacific Coast to the far northwest, the landscape turning from the Yangtze plain, up into the highlands, to the Tian Shan Mountains, home to grazing Bactrian camels, herds of goats, and the first snows of our voyage.
It was in Almaty, the former capital of Kazakhstan and its biggest city, that I saw the world as we knew it turn upside down. While Jo slept with the two hostel cats, I woke up at five in the morning to watch the U.S. election results, the only question on my mind being, “Landslide or not?”
The possibility of a Donald Trump victory was just impossible to fathom, and not just for me. When it was all over, Clinton herself didn’t even have a concession speech prepared. As the final returns were coming in, and it looked certain that Trumpolini would win, a Russian man staying at our hostel asked us, “Why would anyone vote for Hillary Clinton anyway?”
I didn’t know. I’d heard that question a million times before, but the other way around. I tripped over my tongue.
“Well, she had lots of experience…” but boiled it down to the fact she was the only candidate who wasn’t insane.
“I think this is a very good win for the people of America, the people of Russia, and the people of Syria,” he told me.
Later that night, when we came back to the hostel after drowning our sorrows, the young, educated Kazakh lady who manned the desk greeted us with an enormous “Congratulations!”
“Why?” we asked.
“President Trump!” she replied, a big grin on her face.
They loved him, and it had nothing to do with him being a suspected Russian lackey—they think that’s bullshit, and so do I. He was their kind of politician—strict, strong, bellicose, devoid of nuance, immune to fact and reason. Throughout Kazakhstan, there were pictures of Kazakh dictator Nursultan Nazarbayev everywhere, especially in Astana, the frozen capital he built from scratch on the steppe.
And as we took the train into Russia, we learned that there too, praise for “the strongman” was genuine. Pensioners still come by the Kremlin to leave flowers on Stalin’s grave.
But they’re a kind and generous people, the Kazakhs, in the least-Islamic Islamic country in the world. In the shops, vodka is sold next to nudie magazines. When we met our bunkmate Renard on the train from Almaty to Astana, it was the first time in my life I had ever greeted someone “Salaam Alaykum” before having a cold beer shoved into my chest.
In the boisterous bar car, Jo was the only woman, and she was given the best seat and made to feel exceptionally welcome, as was I. Beers and shots of vodka were bought for us, and everyone was desperate to know what we thought of Kazakhstan.
We met two members of the Kazakhstan National Speed Skating Team, who were thrilled to learn I grew up with Kristina Groves, a former world champion and silver medallist. They threw questions at me, including whether Jo was jealous that I grew up with this girl. I haven’t spoken to Kristina in 12 years, but name-dropping her here got me some serious cred. Renard was thrown out early, and when we stumbled back to our cabin, we found him wandering around shirtless, wondering where he was meant to stay. I found out from Jo later that he almost missed his stop.
Two degrees above the Arctic Circle, and we are the only passengers on the biweekly minibus from Murmansk, Russia to Ivalo, Finland. Around us there is nothing but long, dark, deep expanses of snow. At one rest stop, Jo is shown to the bathroom—a half-buried outhouse on the side of the highway, it will take at least 15 minutes to dig it out.
“I’ll wait,” she says.
For decades, it had been a dream of mine to go above the Arctic Circle. In North America, it’s not easy to do—you either need to fly, or have a hardy vehicle well-stocked with survival equipment. In Russia, they’ve built a train line directly north from Moscow through to St. Petersburg, then to the Arctic Ocean port of Murmansk. One hundred years old last year, with 303,000 people, it’s the biggest city north of the Arctic Circle several times over.
The people up here are warm and generous, probably to offset the bleak temperatures and landscape. At the Three Hares Guesthouse, a rotation of three middle-aged Russian women served us massive breakfasts of blinis (pancakes), toast, eggs, kolbasa (sausage), porridge, triangles of processed cheese, and tea and coffee. At every restaurant, bar, café and shop we entered, the people were stern-looking but friendly, and a bit curious as to what we were doing up there at the end of November.
The landscape is dotted with shopping malls, filled with H&Ms and McDonald’s. The main roads are lined with fancy bistros and sushi bars. I knew the Russians had taken to capitalism with a vengeance. What I hadn’t known was they’d done it at such an insane latitude. They have built themselves a city up there, and as the planet warms, Murmansk may end up one of the few winners out of it.
But some of the old Russia remains up here, too—outside Murmansk, much of the Kola Peninsula is off-limits to civilians, as it houses submarine bases, naval yards, and I assume, nuclear missile silos. (The quickest way to nuke Washington would be send one over the North Pole.) Murmansk’s preeminent tourist attraction is the nuclear icebreaker Lenin, permanently anchored in port and open for daily tours, and the 35.5-metre-tall stone soldier Alyosha.
I’m from Ottawa, and sometimes I describe how cold some places are as: “It’s cold, but it’s not Ottawa cold.”
Climbing up the hill to visit Alyosha, it was Ottawa cold, and then some. Formally known as the “Defenders of the Soviet Arctic during the Great Patriotic War”—a reference to the Second World War—Alyosha, tall in his greatcoat, rifle slung over his shoulder, keeps an eye on the port of Murmansk and the Arctic Ocean for the Russian motherland. It’s here you can watch the sun rise, reach a very low solar noon, and then set over two and a half hours, casting something like daylight on the city. It’s a magical spectacle in orange and blue, but you pay the price of admission in frozen digits and limbs.
Back on the minibus, the sun was still out when we reached the little hut of an immigration outpost in Raja-Jooseppi, the border crossing into Finland. There, we were stamped into the Eurozone. An hour later we were in Ivalo, at a café and gas station that seems to form the centre of the town. While we were eating lunch and setting up our plans for the next stage of the journey, a local women’s club came in and had a one-hour meeting to discuss whatever is most important in this tiny Arctic town.
Later, we discovered it was chicken wing night at the bar.
Saturday night in Vilnius, capital of Lithuania. We’ve learned to make best use of Google Maps to find bars we like—if we tap “rock bar” into the machine, it should take us somewhere loud, fun, and free of electronic music.
This is how we found BIX Baras, a large, brash, friendly place downtown. There, we met two brothers who were curious after hearing us speak English, and happy to join us. They bought us drinks, and we took pictures of them right there and then, and posted them to our social media: “Some dudes just bought us some beers. If we wake up robbed and whatever else, they did it.”
Luckily, they were just nice guys and nothing happened, but I understand now how uncomfortable women feel when random guys shove drinks into their hands.
This was our last stop in the Baltic, before we moved on to Poland. It was grey. The rain hadn’t stopped for over a week. We didn’t know whether to wear our parkas or our raincoats, whether to end up cold or soaked, or wear them both and end up sweating. The cities impress, for sure—the old town of Tallinn (Estonia), straight out of a Viking adventure; the art nouveau of Riga (Latvia), like a mini-Paris on the sea; and the arched and cobblestoned Vilnius (Lithuania), with its St. Anne’s Cathedral, which Napoleon wanted to pack up and bring back to Paris with him. But they can be difficult to enjoy through a sheet of rain.
What made a lot of this cheerful were the Christmas markets in each of these places. Throughout December the markets take over the main square and sell tree ornaments, exotic jerkies of beaver and moose, cookies and sausages, and hot chocolate, tea and wine. Santa Claus opens his workshop and promises the children Power Rangers and Shimmer and Shine dolls. And centred in it all is an enormous Christmas tree, the bigger the better—like the one we saw in Tallinn, which has erected one every year for 575 years.
Back at BIX Baras, the band downstairs wasn’t much of anything—perhaps their lyrics were awesome, but they were in Lithuanian so I wouldn’t know. We were walking through the rain back to our hostel when Jo slipped on the wet cobblestone and twisted, incredibly, both her ankles.
Some ladies walking past were extremely kind and helped her up, got her a chair from a nearby restaurant, and called the ambulance. Jo insisted it was nothing, but it wasn’t nothing because she couldn’t walk. Within 15 minutes, we were strapped into the ambulance, roaring toward Vilnius City Clinical Hospital.
In the ER waiting room, it was mostly just us and other drunks who were in a way worse state than we were—one guy was pitching and lurching all over the place, like he was on a ship in rough seas, and had to be restrained to a cot by some seriously unamused nurses. With the doctor, they looked at Jo’s ankles, wrapped them up, recommended rest, ice and painkillers, then asked us what we were doing in Vilnius—were we here on business?
“Travel,” I said. “We’re travelling across Eurasia without setting foot on an airplane.”
“Well,” he said, “now you have something to remember Lithuania by.”
The bill for the hospital visit, including ambulance, was 16 euros. The cab back to the hostel cost more.
Evesham, north London, three days before Christmas. We are aware Britain is hardly on the way to Morocco, but neither Jo nor I had visited the UK before, despite having plenty of friends here from our years in Korea. We decided to rent a car so as to more easily crash their holiday plans.
Which is why we found ourselves stuck on the side of the road, the little Vauxhall Adam blowing smoke from its transmission, waiting for a tow truck, only seven miles from where we picked the car up in the first place. Sometimes you wish you didn’t speak the language of the local population.
Repeatedly we were asked, “How do you blow the clutch on a brand new car?”
Great question. If I knew the answer to that one, I would have avoided blowing the clutch.
Another wag said, “You’re in the UK now, mate. We drive stick shifts!”
And I thought that third pedal and five-speed gear shift were there for decoration. I’ll tell that to my 35-year-old self, who drove a stick shift across Australia and New Zealand, and my 27-year-old self, who did the same across Canada.
But blow out the transmission I did, and when we finally got towed back to Thrifty’s Car Rental, I insisted the break was not my fault; I know how to drive a stick, it’s a brand-new car, and I should not be held responsible for it—it’s a mechanical issue. Months later, I got stuck with the bill anyway.
All was forgotten as we rocketed up the M40 in our brand-new automatic transmission Mini Cooper, the English automobile, par excellence. Roads in Britain are fast—the speed limit is 70 miles (112 kilometres) on the motorway, and even doing that, people are pulling ahead of you. We reached the township of Buckingham with an enormous sigh of relief. Our friends—Martyn, Ji-hey, David (aged five) and Nicholas (aged one)—were waiting in the drive for us.
It was going to be an awesome Christmas of gurgling babies, lit-up children, whiskey, Seth Rogen movies, and bulgogi (the classic Korean dish of sliced, yummily-marinated barbequed beef or pork). On December 23, I went to my first English pub—seated in front of a roaring fire, surrounded by slurry people I couldn’t understand, wrapped in the worst fashions I had ever seen, it was all I had dreamed of and more. Outside, there were both smokers and cats for Jo.
The next day, nothing quite epitomizes Christmas Eve like watching a five-year-old tracking Santa on the NORAD website. I knew this military-industrial complex was good for something. Or at least Jo tracked Santa, while Little David watched A Nightmare Before Christmas and fired off questions.
“Where’s Santa now?”
“Not close to here.”
“Is Santa coming here?”
Five minutes later, he pauses the movie again. “Where’s Santa now?”
And so on, until it was made clear that Santa doesn’t come for little boys, little English ones at least, until they’re tucked into bed asleep. When we set out cookies for Santa, he thought maybe he should stay up and hand them to Santa in person.
“I’m worried Santa will steal the plate,” he said.
Once we reassured him that wouldn’t happen and the boy was tucked in and asleep, we made sure to leave no evidence of Santa’s cookies, Rudolph’s carrots, or their booze.
Sometimes when you travel too much, you don’t know where you are. We went to sleep on a bus leaving London for Belfast, and woke up in a screaming windstorm at a ferry port I don’t know where. I guessed Scotland.
“Are we in Scotland?” I yelled to the driver, as he unloaded our backpacks from the bus, wrapped in a fluorescent shell to cut through the driving wind gusts.
“Well, you sure aren’t in the Bahamas, are you?” he yelled back.
Funny man. I thought maybe we might have been in England or Wales, but fine. The ferry was three hours late, but we were granted a free meal and the promise that this way, the boat wouldn’t capsize and send us all to our watery graves.
On the other end, in Belfast, the capital of Northern Ireland (NI), our friend Phil picked us up and showed us around. Particularly memorable are the murals of masked Unionist fighters pointing machine guns at you. At one time, the biggest issue in NI was what would be blown up next, and with whom inside. When we arrived, the biggest issue was a renewable heating initiative that had run over-budget. Thank mercy for peace.
But all is not well on the island of Ireland, itself. Women in both the Republic of Ireland and in NI are still denied the right to choose what to do with their own bodies, which is why it was particularly poignant that we marched in Dublin for the global-wide Women’s March on January 21, where I held a sign that read “Resistance is Fertile.”
The march was small when we arrived, just a dozen people or so, most of them Americans living in Ireland. But then it grew, and grew, and grew, until there were thousands of people demonstrating, both against President Pussy Grabber but also for freedom for women in Ireland—one of the leading slogans was “Repeal the 8th,” referring to the eighth amendment of the Republic of Ireland’s Constitution, which forbids abortion in all non-medical cases—which means, forbidding abortion. (Yes, Irish women are still expected to bear their rapists’ babies.)
[Editor’s note: Dave and Jo participated in this march in 2017. For an update on where abortion rights for women stand now in the Republic of Ireland READ “Why Ireland’s battle over abortion is far from over” and “Ireland votes by landslide to legalise abortion.“]
It had been years since I’d attended a large demonstration, and I’d forgotten those feelings of happiness and empowerment you get when you’re marching alongside thousands of others for a just cause. It’s especially gratifying when you’re doing it in solidarity with millions around the world. It felt like it was here we’d reached the climax of our trip.
We’re on a ferry pulling into Tangier Med port, in the far north of Morocco. It’s six in the morning, and a gaggle of Moroccan truck drivers are yelling for their coffees to three baristas, themselves struggling to wake up. At one point, a loud argument breaks out—someone has either not gotten the coffee he wanted, or not gotten it in due time. His friends have to pull him away, while the staff glare and wish this were just all over with.
We’ve been at sea for 29 hours, not including the eight hours we spent in the port of Barcelona, waiting for this miserable vessel to dock. Jo’s café latte turns out to be nothing but steamed milk—they’ve forgotten to put in the coffee. Looking at the scrum around the coffee bar, she deadpans, “I’ll just drink it.”
This is nearly the last leg of the trip. Here in Tangier, home of Paul Bowles, William S. Burroughs and Henri Matisse, we were nearly due to finish “Four Oceans, No Planes.” There was only the bus to Casablanca left. Honestly, we weren’t looking forward to Morocco much, and we wondered if we should have just ended it in Portugal. Friends had warned us that the touting here was out of control, and it was impossible to walk a block in the Kasbah without being harassed by shopkeepers, drug dealers and would-be “guides,” most of them teenage boys.
But once we arrived in Tangier, we realized this is the price you pay for visiting a small piece of paradise, and visiting it cheap—and besides, the touting wasn’t half as bad as some places we’d been. Tangier rises on the outcrop of Morocco, the gateway to Africa, facing Spain across the Mediterranean. Getting lost on these hills, seeing and smelling your way through this historic port, was our introduction to this nation, this continent. The guidebooks told us to skip it, but we’re glad we didn’t, even if we’d had the choice to.
And then, there were the cats. #joplayswithstrays never had better luck than in Morocco, where cats of all sizes, colours and varieties come begging for attention. Jo was immersed in cats, and it was fitting that here, almost 13,500 kilometres from Bali, we ended on our fourth ocean, our third continent, immersed in cats.**