The day was slowly coming to an end. It was one of those days you remember forever. That stay with you forever. Your happy place you keep coming back to. A day when your dreams came true.

It was a beautiful day in the desert and it was coming to an end. I don’t know what it is with me and the desert. It is such a magnificent place, yet so cruel. And yet right there, in the desert, I feel at peace. The day at the desert was coming to an end and still I wanted more. I wanted to go further, higher… up on the top of the dunes. Where the sun was still shining. So I could see for myself. What it was beyond.

From afar I could hear the hustle and bustle of the camp. I could hear people preparing the dinner. It was almost nightfall. But I didn’t want to go back. Not yet. I wanted to go further, up to the sun. And the cold of the night was still far far away.

The sand under my feet was getting colder and I knew I had to make a choice. To go back or forth? But there was this little voice in my head telling me “Go on! You are almost there. Go toward the sun.” And suddenly there was no doubt. I made my choice. I had to move forward and never look back. I was on the right track. And in that moment I knew everything in my life will be ok.

Suddenly the sand wasn’t cold anymore. I took my flip flops off and touched the sand of Sahara with my bare feet. It is something primal, basic in this touch. Walking in the desert with your bare feet. Being so vunerable and strong at the same time. When everything can change in a second and the wheel of fortune starts spinning again.

Suddenly there was only peace in my heart. This peace that happens so rarely. I don’t know if it is a curse of dreamers, restless souls and hopeless romantics. Or is it a blessing. To this day I don’t know.

I was so close to the top. It was so near. Within reach. I knew I would see everything. I would come full circle. As if I was dreaming with my eyes wide open. The dunes were bright orange from the sun. But all I felt was peace. And I knew it then and there. Everything will be alright.

The cold of the sand woke me from daydreaming. I was back to reality. The sun almost set. I quickly snapped some photos. It was time to go back. But in my heart I knew. Nothing will ever be the same. The Sahara desert changed me forever.

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The muezzin’s morning call for prayer woke me up. After a few days in Morocco I became used to it. A new day in Morocco has come. It was a cold morning in Fez and it was cold in Morocco from the day I arrived there. Maybe this is how it is supposed to be in April. Or maybe not. But I sure didn’t expect this freshness. It really didn’t matter. This was the day I got to meet another royal city of Morocco, Fez. But first, coffee, I thought to my self. A strong, black one.

There is this small, simple café on the square before the Blue Gate of Fez. I sat on the veranda, ordered my coffee and just observed the dawn of the new day. More and more people were coming to the medina of this ancient city. I slowly drank my coffee and I was ready to explore this labyrinth of small medieval streets. And I soon realised it was a good idea to see it with a local guide who used to live there. 

We passed an endless number of craftsmen and little shops. It was so vibrant with life that it was impossible not to stare. Everything was so interesting. And on every step and every corner there was a whole new world. But there was this distinct sense of the past times and I couldn’t help but think about Angelique’s escape from the harem of Moulay Ismail in Meknes. How did these streets look like in the 17th century, I wondered.  

There were mosaics and ornaments everywhere. The never ending aestetics of the detail. A glimpse of the places we can’t go in. Beautifully woven carpets, delicate fabrics that caress the skin and awake longings. Sharp odor from the leather tanneries that goes away if you smell the mint. It’s a whole new world hidden from the outside world. It’s mesmerising although it’s totaly different from the world I usually like. It is the world of dimmed lights coming from magnificent chandeliers. It is an intimate place, with soft oriental music, chairs and benches with pillows. Inviting you to lie down and rest, dream a little dream and indulge in a Moroccan food. Like a tale from the Thousand and One Nights.

It was afternoon already. From the intimacy and quietness of the indoors I stepped out, in the bustle of the street. The morning chills were gone. It was cloudy and humid. About to rain. The children were hurrying back home to their parents and we headed back. Out of the narrow streets of the medina and back to the Blue Gate. Out of the labyrinth and back to the reality. 

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If I had only seen a photo of this place, I would have thought I was looking at a photo of Tuscany. The lush green colours, the ancient Roman ruins, cypress trees everywhere. There was this amazing dance of sunlight and shadows… it just blew my mind. And there were storks. Everywhere. It felt like home, in Prlekija.

These elegant birds were everywhere in Morocco. I often thought about the long journey they make every year. The journey of the birds that, in my home country, inevitably bring the spring and new beginnings. I watch them everytime I drive to Prlekija. I watch them making a nest, building a home and a family high up in the sky, far away from the ground. And I see the small heads of their offspring, peaking out of their nest, and their first attempts to fly.

Where do they feel at home, I ask myself. Is it here, in Morocco, or is it back in Europe? Is it here, among these lush green hills and ancient ruins, where everything is so similar to Europe? The ruins seem so familiar. And the spirit of the old, ancient Rome is everywhere.

A thought was following me around. A memory actually. Of the ruins of another ancient city. A city, I visited in my teens. Of a once magnificent city. Of its ruins. And of the tragedy that changed the history forever.

There was this weird calmness in Voulubilis. Even though there were people everywhere. Maybe I finally learned to shut out the surroundings. Or maybe I just didn’t care. The ruins were telling me their story. The story of fragility. Of the civilization that was making history, but was caught up with the inevitability of life and its destiny.

That day, Voulubilis was full of life. The spring flowers were in full bloom. The storks were making nests. Every now and then they flew out. And returned back home. To their nest. And life went on. In its own rythm, on its own terms. When will they fly back, to Europe, I thought to myself. Where will their life take them?

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I heard about Meknes long before Rabat, Marrakech or Fez. It is one of the four Imperial cities of Morocco and the least known among them. I read about Meknes as a teenager. I followed the adventures of a French Countess Angelique across France, the Mediterranean, Morocco and North America. In that book this young woman defies Louis XIV, the Sun King. She rejects his love and travels to the Mediterranean to find her long-lost love. In that book I read about the Great Eunuch who bought her at a slave auction to be the concubine of his sultan Moulay Ismail in his harem in Meknes. It was a mighty palace with a beautiful patio, guarded by wild animals. So that no one could ever escape the harem. The Great Eunuch took her one night to the rooftop of the palace to see the stars. He believed he could read her destiny in the stars and told her that her long-lost love was still alive and she would see him again. And you know what, she actually managed to escape from there with a few other slaves and fled to Ceuta.

And there I was, standing in front of the main gate of this palace in Meknes. And I thought of her. This is it, I thought to myself and let my imagination roam free. It was a hot day in Meknes. The street vendors were yelling and trying to sell oranges. The sound of flutes was filling the city square. For the snakes to dance in their baskets. The rooftops were all covered with emerald-green tiles and there was an ocean of people in front of the main gate. But everything stopped once you entered the patio. It was so beautifully decorated and the garden was enchanting. And it was so peaceful. Time had stopped for a little while.

Was she really here, I asked myself. Did she come through this door? Did she escape through this garden? And why on Earth did the books about her have such a strong impact on my life? Is it the character of Angelique? Her rebellious, free-spirited character? Or is it the fact that she never stopped believing that one day she will be reunited with her one true love? Because no matter what she never gave up? Because she defies fate? I still don’t have the answer to these questions. But she never found her love in Meknes. It happened years later in the New World.

It was very hot under the Moroccan sun that day in April. I went back out, on the city square. I was really hungry, so I avoided the street vendors. I really wasn’t in the mood. I sat at the table overlooking the palace and had my lunch. There were people everywhere. More and more visitors on the square. We have to move on, I thought to myself. Towards Volubilis. But that is already another story.


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The Western Kingdom

I’ve been thinking about it for a long time. It’s always been somewhere in the back of my mind. But it never quite turned out the way I thought it would. Until this year. This year everything fell into place. Everything happens for a reason, right? So this year, I started to belive in destiny again. And the stars.

It started out stressful. I got stuck in a major traffic jam on my way to the airport. On a Sunday of all days. Phone calls. Trying to make up for lost time. Running through the airport building with all my luggage. And in that moment I was thanking the skies for learning how to travel light. Because traveling light makes the running so much easier, you know. Chasing the last minutes before bag drop closes. But I made it. I actually made it. It took me a few minutes to catch my breath. And then I finally smiled. All blushed and sweaty I finally smiled. And even though those moments were tense, I knew, deep down, I would make it in time. I made it. I was going to Morocco. From my window seat I watched my home continent, my Europe, disappear. I was flying in the mystical embrace of the African continent.

Expectation is the root of all heartache. I realized that long ago. It’s what kills you the most. From the inside. Quietly. Because you spend too much time thinking about how your life should be, instead of focusing on what actually is. Focusing on here and now. And therefore I had no expectations of Morocco. Trinidad taught me well (link). But I had this subconscious feeling that something major and fateful was about to happen. In the desert. On a deeply personal level. This is what the deserts do to me. They help me transform. They are my happy place. They call out for me. They are so inviting to me. And is there a more majestic desert in the world then the mighty Sahara? I don’t know. I just know it’s something out of this world. And that there, deep in the heart of Sahara, my expectations came true.

The plane landed and for the first time in my life I was on the African soil.It was in the evening and the sky was covered with thick gray clouds. It was windy and not very warm. The hot African sun was nowhere to be found. For the second time this year I remembered the books about Angelique and her adventures in Morocco. I’m following into her footsteps, I thought to myself. As I did once before, in Paris. Oh yes, February in Paris was magical. I smiled. Everything will be alright.

Morocco surprised me. In every possible way. The illusion I had of it was smashed into pieces and a new one was built. It showed my its treasures in its self-assured manner. Displayed its diversity. And even though it is very popular with people (a lot of tourists) it never disappointed me. Maybe it was the people I traveled with. The people who share the path with you in that very moment. Who, at some point in time, come into your life and share their destiny with you. Even though it’s just for a brief moment. But still. I admit, I like exploring the world by myself. Sometimes. But I also like to share these moments with other people.

I believe that in life, some things are just meant to be. Meant to happen. Destiny, I guess. It’s a never-ending puzzle of life: billions of coincidences, fated moments, places and strangers, who in time cease to be that. And that is why, after Morocco, I believe in destiny again. And the stars.

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