The Sahara Desert

People in the Dunes of the Sahara Desert in Morocco

Our experience in Morocco for the last three months would never have been the same without Mr. Harim and the British Language Academy. For the majority of our stay in this country we have been living in the basement dorm of the English school and volunteering as workawayers and guest speakers. Everyday in the evenings we talk with the students in groups about everything from food, to Moroccan culture, to Islam, to women’s rights. Hearing a young Moroccan perspective on these topics has been interesting, educational, and eye-opening.

Mr. Harim is the founder of the British Language Academy schools in Casablanca, Berrechid, Fez, and soon El Jadida, Morocco. He is one of the most generous and kind people I’ve met, and his dream for the schools is inspiring. If you are ever in Morocco, volunteering at this school is a life changing experience I would highly recommend.

With his help we have visited other places in Morocco such as El Jadida, Casablanca, The Atlas Mountains, Fez, Essaouira, and most recently: the Sahara Desert.

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volunteer in morocco, workaway, sahara desert

All our Workaway friends in the desert


The Sahara Desert

We arrived at desert camp after a two-hour bumpy camel ride through the golden dunes of the Sahara.

camels in the Sahara desert, workaway, Morocco

Friendly camels

Sahara desert, workaway, Morocco

Our tiny oasis, tents at the base of a giant sand dune

Sunset in the Sahara

We stopped half-way on our camel ride to watch the sun set.

As in Moroccan culture, we were greeted upon arrival with sweet mint tea and nuts. Desert life is very laid back. We explored the nearby dunes, gazed at the stars, talked, sang, and laughed for hours. For dinner we ate a savory vegetable tajine together. Later, we danced to the beat of the Berber drums and the light of a crackling fire, as a million stars shined brightly above our heads.

Berber musicians in the Sahara desert

Berber musicians

Night in the desert is very cold, so around eleven we feel asleep under four blankets apeice in the tent. The next moring, we woke early and climbed to the top of a multi-hundred foot dune to watch the sunrise. The treck was exhuasting to say the least, as climbing up a mountain of sand is not easy, but the veiw of hundreds of miles of dunes surrounding us illuminated by the early morning sun made the climb worth it. Finally, we sprinted and jumped down the cool, orange sand back to camp, and rode our camels back to base camp on the edge of the desert.

Sahara Desert, Morocco, Turban

Lauren and her Berber style turban

People in the Dunes of the Sahara Desert in Morocco

Friends in the Dunes

The desert trip was the culminating event of our stay in Morocco, and one of the coolest things I’ve experienced in my life. Now we have about a week left on our visa, and are preparing to head back to Spain on the 24th. I’m so thankful for our time here and all the experiences and people who have made it so memorable.

Thanks for reading and happy travels 🙂 xx -Iz

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Colors and Culture of the Moroccan Medinas

Colors and Culture of the Moroccan Medinas

 

Here is an excerpt of my photography passion project for Wanderingeducators.com on the beautiful and unique Moroccan medinas. To read the full article click here.


Colors and Culture of the Moroccan Medinas

The best part of travel photography, for me, is capturing images of culture. There is nothing I love more than being completely immersed in a place with culture vibrant and new to me. While living in Morocco for three months, I have been photographing the life and culture of the medinas.

A medina is the historical old town of a city in Morocco and other northern African countries. They are full of tight alleyways, high walls, colorful storefronts, warm street food, and people. They are also free of cars, which make them an easy place to spend the day wandering around and photographing.

To read the rest on wanderingeducators.com click here 🙂

Colors and Culture of the Moroccan Medinas

Shoes for sale in Essaouira

 

What We Did in France

Colorful streets in france, green backpacks, family walking, blue sky

With backpacks in Chartres, France

After Denmark we flew through France by train. Our travel though France was a bit unusual to how we usually travel… We didn’t plan anything ahead, and stayed in cities for only one night, and we slept in hotels. Despite the short visit, it was great getting a quick taste of France and we will definitely have to come back to see the rest of the country.

We first entered France through Lillie Flanders after crossing Belgium. The most interesting part of travelling this way, by trains, was seeing the landscape and architecture change as we progressed west through Europe. The change was very visible upon entering France. The pointed roofs and brick houses of Belgium and Denmark were replaced by tall buildings with narrow windows and beautiful carved decorations that lined every street. We wandered around for a while, searching for a cheap hotel and checking out some Gothic cathedrals along the way.  As night aproached and hunger grew we were aquainted with French food for the first time (and French prices) and decided to have a hotel room picnic that night.

French design, tall narrow homes in lillie, France

Old and new in Lillie

The next day we took a one way train to Paris and spent the day walking around to see as much as possible. Despite the cloudy day, the city was beautiful. There was something interesting on every corner.

A news stand and street photo in Paris

People doing things in Paris

As a history nerd, seeing the Arc de Triomphe was my favorite. The Arc commemorates all who fought or died for France during the French Revolution, Napoleonic Wars, and both World Wars.

Paris, France and the Arc, busy road

The Arc

We also saw the well-known Café des Deux Moulins. The cafe is famous for being where Amelie, from the classic French movie under the same name, worked in the film.

people in the Café des Deux Moulins in Paris, france

Café des Deux Moulins

That evening we traveled to Chartres, France. This city was my favorite of all that we visited. We woke up to a beautiful sunny morning, and had a delicious bagel sandwich for breakfast in the square. The city was empty of tourists which made for a very peaceful day people watching and exploring.

amazing food in chartres, this is a colorful bagel sandwich

Look at the deliciousness!

After breakfast we looked around the cute streets of the old city, and saw the stunning Gothic architecture of the Notre Dam.

Gothic structure of the Notre Dam in Fance

Notre Dam in Chartres, France

That’s all for France. Next stop is Spain!

Foraging in Norway

Foraging in Norway, mushrooms in the forest

Foraging in Norway, Grass covered roofs of mountain cabins

On a warm Saturday morning, I woke up in one of the most magical places you can imagine. The sun rose slowly over the mountains, illuminating a thick blanket of fog and bringing light to our cozy Norwegian cabin.

The cabin had all the elements of a fairy tale cottage. From the wooden roof covered in grassy moss outside, and inside wool blankets and sheep skin draped on chairs for added warmth during cold norwegian winters.

After a lazy morning involving hot drinks, home cooked breakfast, and the warm glow of the fireplace we went outside to explore.

Foraging in Norway, A cozy wooden cabin in the fall

One of the most amazing parts of Norway is the appreciation Norwegians have for nature. Everyone and anyone is always out hiking, biking, walking, running, or even cross-country skiing on roller skates. Norwegians preserve their nature, and teach their children about its importance.

After only a few minutes of walking we came across a hilly slope, a creek, and a heap of blue berries to forage. What seems like such a simple thing was an amazing experience. Nowadays, even berry picking has been taken under the control of agriculture. You arrive at the farm and pick the berries. It’s ok, but there is something about the search that is so exciting. Being alone surrounded by trees and wildlife, stepping carefully over creeks, eating the berries right out of nature, and coming home with fingers and lips stained purple from the juices.

Foraging in Norway, wild blueberries in the mountains

After a while it is easy to get absorbed into the whole process. We spent hours collecting and eating as many berries as possible. At the end, I could barely feel my fingertips. It is the way our ancestors ate thousands of years ago; before agriculture, GMO’s, and supermarkets. 

Foraging in Norway, we made blueberry jam

We made jam

A week later we were lucky enough to be invited by our professional forager friends to go mushroom picking. They were very surprised when we told them that people don’t do this in the US. And it’s true, either everyone is too afraid to pick something and accidentally die, don’t know how, or don’t see the need to when there are mushrooms at the grocery store. Maybe a combination of the few. Occasionally my mom would pick mushrooms on hikes – but we were always afraid to actually eat them.

Foraging in Norway, mushrooms in the forest

The mushrooms we picked were no supermarket mushrooms. They tasted amazing, far better than any supermarket mushroom I’ve ever eaten. Again, we foraged for hours under the shade of giant green pines searching through leaves for a prize mushroom. Fall weather here has really been surprising us. It was very warm, with beams of sun peaking in between the branches of the trees. A perfect day for foraging. We learned a few tips and tricks as we went along, and had quite a few mushrooms between the eight of us in the end.

Foraging in Norway, girl stares at tall pine trees

I’ll finish this post with a quote about foraging from a book I recently finished and would definitely recommend to anyone who eats food or wants to learn about food, called The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan

“I don’t want to have to forage every meal. Most people don’t want to learn to garden or hunt. But we can change the way we make and get our food so that it becomes food again—something that feeds our bodies and our souls. Imagine it: Every meal would connect us to the joy of living and the wonder of nature.”

 

as always happy travels xx -Izzy

 

PS: Here is a link to a cool video by Jessie Hoff of www.jessehoff.com also about foraging in Norway. Check it out: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f-Ujr6e97mY.

 

5 Reasons Why Penang, Malaysia is a Foodies Paradise

1) A diverse palate: Penang island is a hub for diverse and exotic street food cuisine from all over the world. Whether you’re looking for Arabic, India, Malay, Chinese, Thai, or even Italian food you will not be disappointed here. While halal cusine dominates, because Malaysia is predominantly Muslim, plenty of non-halal restaurants and bars can be found in the area.

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A vendor cooks a Chinese noodle dish. This was taken right outside our hostel in the heart of Georgetown, Penang. 

2)  English Menus: In 1771 the British became involved in Malaysia for the first time when they tried to turn Penang island into a trading port. Malaysia remained a colony under British rule until their independence in 1946. Today the impact of colonization remains in some ways, including that all Malays speak English. Ordering food has never been easier. In China we would never have been able to ask a vendor what the best food on the menu is – unless of course we spoke Mandarin. Here in Penang you can eat delicious food without the hassle of struggling to communicate what you want.

A juice vendor and his cart in Penang.

A juice vendor and his cart in Penang.

3) Little India: Little India is hands down my favorite place in Malaysia. The streets are lined with vendors and the delicious smells of curry and spices. Pop music from 2008 blasts out of stores selling sarees or copy written movies. What’s even better is that Little India is even more popular with the locals than it is with foreigners. My recommendations would be to try the Indian tea, a sweet creamy tea with condensed milk, vegetable somosas, and to find a vendor who is cooking his bread on site.

Why Penang is a foodies paradise. Colorful Indian food.

Our Indian food which was devoured mere seconds later.

4) It’s Cheap: For one of the most tourist frequented destinations in Malaysia, Penang is incredibly inexpensive – that is if you eat street food like the locals. My family was able to eat a full meal of dhal, chicken curry, a ton of naan, rice, and indian tea for just 1 USD each. A bowl of chinese soup usually costs just 1 or 2 USD.

Why Penang is a foodies paradise. Hand pulled noodle soup.

Hand pulled noodle soup

5) Clean and Fresh: Overall the standards of cleanliness and freshness I saw in Penang were very good. Vendors seemed very clean in their practices. Some Chinese restaurants even provided boiling water to sterilize our cups and silverware. I ate very adventurously at places no tourists seemed to be eating at and never got sick. The food is very fresh and meat and vegetables come from the morning markets.

Why Penang is a food paradise. Street vendor cooks chinese food at night.

All the ingredients necessary for a delicious Chinese meal. Seen in Georgetown, Penang.

Malaysia First Impressions

The sun has just set on our 2nd week here in Malaysia so it seems like a good time to finally write about this awesome country. To be completely honest, upon leaving Thailand, all I knew about Malaysia is what I read in the inflight magazine… so in other words… nothing. Just two weeks here have left me speechless. Malaysia has surpassed my expectations for a multitude of reasons.

Malaysia first Impressions. Petronas twin towers

Yes, taking a selfie with the Petronas twin towers is as hard as it looks

The first one being the diversity. I expected Malaysia to be a lot like Thailand, they are neighbors after all. I was wrong, very wrong. Thailand, in general, is not all that diverse. The majority of people are both Thai and Buddhist. Malaysia on the other hand is home to a melting pot of different religions, cultures, and ethnicities. The main ones are Malay, of course, Chinese, and Indian.  From food to clothing to architecture, Chinese and Indian cultural influences are very visible in nearly every aspect of society.

 

Malaysia First Impressions. In Georgetown mandarin script dominates old British colonial building

Mandarin script dominates buildings from British colony days.

Little India in Georgetown, Penang has so far been my favorite place. The closest I’ve ever felt to actually being in India. Along its busy streets are shops full of gorgeous fabrics for sarees, traditional Indian dress. Blaring pop music from 2008 plays into the street next to shops full of copy written movies. As I aways imagined India to look, the streets are full of color. Colorful head coverings of muslim girls, and flowing, vibrant fabrics of traditional sarees flood the streets. Then, there is the food. I don’t think I could ever grow tired of Indian food. Everything from somosas to deserts are cooked by street vendors. The smell of curry and spices wafts into the street from every direction.

Malaysia first impressions. Indian food, colorful textiles, and street scene of Little India

Sight, smells, and colors of Little India in Georgetown.

Malaysia’s state religion is Islam so everyday, five times a day, we hear the call to prayer blaring out of the nearest Masjid (mosques). Contrary to some other Muslim countries, the law promises freedom of religion. Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, and various other Chinese religions are also widely followed.

Malaysia first impression. Chinese temple in penang

Kek Lok Si Temple in Penang

Contrary to popular belief, while Muslims practice modesty in clothing you don’t have to. As long as you are wearing clothing you should be good. T-shirts and shorts are perfectly fine- especially in cities like Georgetown or KL.  The only restrictions are your comfort zone, and (women) covering your knees and shoulders in Buddhist, Hindu, or Chinese temples. Mosques are a little trickier to visit because for women you must cover to the wrists, ankles, and hair. Men only need to wear slacks. Ug.

Evidence of Malaysia’s colonial past is also preset. The big giveaway is that everyone speaks English. Menus are in English, venders speak English, and you can easily ask for help- which people are usually more than happy to give. There’s nothing like being able to order food easily, and know what you are eating after a long day. The language of Malaysia is Bahasa Melayu, but for many people this isn’t even their first language. Many people speak English as a 2nd, 3rd, or even 4th language.

Malaysia first impressions. Fruit and English menu

Notice the English menu

Food. Like I said earlier Malaysia has some bangin’ Indian cuisine, but that’s not all. There are also outdoor covered food courts all over the place. I don’t remember seeing anything like it in Thailand. Dozens of vendors set up shop under this huge tarp. All you have to do is walk around, order food, and they vendors bring it to your table. It’s super cheap too, a meal running 3-6rm (.75 – 1.50 USD). No more expensive than Thailand! These food courts are hubs of Chinese food especially, and are very popular with the locals. In KL they feature more diverse food options like Arabic and western food.

Malaysia first impressions. Malay soup and street food

Food!!

Last but not least, the transportation system. Malaysia has invested quite a lot into their transportation system in the recent years and it is very visible. Even the lowest class on long distance trains are very nice. Super clean, Aircon, reclining seats, and pretty good food. We ate on the train to KL (something we avoided at all costs in Thailand) and the food was surprisingly good, comparable to airplane food. It was cheap aswell, just 3 USD each. Penang has an awesome bus system that can take you around the entire island (with aircon) and KL has an amazing light rail system that travels just about anywhere in the city.

Malaysia first impressions. On the train to Kuala Lumpur

Boarding the train to KL

All in all Malaysia is pretty great.  I havn’t found one thing to complain about yet. Can’t wait to explore even more in the next months!

Thanks for reading and happy travels! XX -Iz

 

 

Six Months of Full Time Travel!! – And Lessons Learned on The Road

Oh how the time flies. Six months ago today we left home and here we are now, 13,915 km away from where we started.

That’s 5 countries, 5 planes, 15 trains, 4 boats, a whole lot of buses, a moped, a few tuk-tuks, and 1,287 km on foot.  

Forever thankful for a world full of kind people who have welcomed us into their houses and communities and make everywhere feel like home. 💕🌏 You rock earth.

Six lessons learned in six months:

1.People are kind, and generous, and trustworthy.  Throw aside stereotypes and prejudices and make friends with anyone. If a stranger invites you inside their home for food – go for it.

2.  You can make friends while traveling. I get questions about friendships a lot, the same questions that I often ask myself. How can you possibly make friends while travelling? What about friends? How do you gain social skills if you don’t go to school? Luckily, there are kids all around the world. I get to meet people from all sorts of backgrounds and countries. Travelers and locals. I can make friends with anyone despite language barriers, backgrounds, or ages. Travel friendships are short, but intense. You never know when you will meet again.

And social skills? I was a pretty introverted kid before traveling. I had my close group of friends who I felt comfortable being myself with and I didn’t make many other close friends outside that group. Now I have to be outgoing and independent. I’ve learned to talk to strangers, which was a huge challenge for me, in any language.

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Just a few of our friends so far 🙂

3. Keeping in touch is important. Contacts are so valuable and in todays world its only getting easier to keep in touch. I have amazing friends back home who I love to pieces. While it’s not ideal to talk through a screen you can still have a lot of laughs over skype.

4. The best experiences are hidden away from where the tourists go. A secluded waterfall in Thailand, lunch on a rocky ocean cliff  in Norway, a quaint off-season town in Croatia, a hidden temple in the mountains of northern Thailand. What all these places have in common is that we only could have found out about them with the help of locals like our new friends or airbnb hosts.

 

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In Croatia

 

5. Experiences are 100 times better than possessions.  Cliche I know, but it’s true. I live out of a six kg backpack. After all the necessities are inside there is very little room for possessions. The few things that I do have, like my camera and notebooks, I take very good care of. Pictures and experiences are so much more valuable than a cheap t-shirt that says “I Heart Thailand”.

6. School is not the only education  you can have. For a while I worried that I was falling behind my peers by not going to school. And maybe I have in some ways. I’ve completely forgotten what an asymptote is and if someone asked me to find the distance between two points on a 3D plane… well I don’t like to think about that kind of situation. And don’t get me started on moles and stoichiometry. But… If you want to have an in depth conversation on the history of the world, culture, geography, or poverty I’m your girl. Lets be friends. World schooling gives me the freedom to learn whatever I am passionate about in the moment. I can stand up in front of a classroom of fifty kids and teach them what I know (by myself). I can go to the market, barter, and order a meal for myself without uttering a word of English. I try to stay informed to the best of my ability about what’s going in the world. I know how people live outside of the States and I appreciate the diversity of the real world – which my 98% all white high school would never have taught me. Is this education? Its debatable- but I think so.

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Thanks for reading and happy travels as always XX-Iz

The Traveler, the Tourist and Finding Purpose

The Traveler, The Tourist and Finding Purpose

I believe that there is a fine line between the “tourist” and the “traveler” , but despite their differences, all travelers must start out as tourists.

The tourist has a plan, they wish to see attractions, go to the beach, stay in hotels, take photos for social media, and are perfectly content with returning home after a week or two. While traveling, the tourist still seek the comforts they are used to. Mind you, this lifestyle isn’t better or worse than nomadic travel or working a 9-5. It’s just different. I seek solely to compare, not criticize.

For a while the traveler is still a tourist. We are afraid to give up our old life.  Everything is

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A local Thai Market

new and strange. But then there is this one moment when the tourist becomes the traveler. It’s a magical eureka moment when you realize that this is your life and you are not going home. I’m not sure how else to describe it… You just feel welcome anywhere, traveling doesn’t seem foreign anymore. Artifacts become less meaningful but people and experiences become a 100 times more so. I go with the flow, living for spontaneous adventures even if they are not “Instagram worthy”. Sometimes a great adventure is turning a corner and finding a new food stall not seen before.  I can not stay in one place for too long.   I don’t have a comfort zone, I talk to locals, stray from the path, and learn. The life of a traveler is simple, but rewarding.

Don’t get me wrong, this lifestyle isn’t perfect. Travelers yearn to travel for something, which the tourists have, a reason to go. Finding ourselves? Inspiring others? We are searching endlessly for a reason that what we are doing has a purpose. We long to be apart of something bigger than ourselves. Finding what this is is that eureka moment.

When it comes to the birth lottery I do think I lucked out on being a native English speaker. In our increasingly global world it gives me endless opportunities, for which I am thankful. It also gives me the opportunity to teach others what I know, which is a way of giving back to say thank you. For many kids, knowing English is the difference between living below the poverty line and far above it. And that is what I have been doing for the past few weeks. It feels empowering to be able to share knowledge, or at least inspire kids to want to learn. Teaching is that thing that gives purpose to my travels. It is what I feel has switched my mindset from tourist to traveler after being on the road for six months now.

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ABC’S !!

We have been living in a small province in northern Thailand called Uttaradit. Many of the kids here have never even seen foreigners before. Our experience in the small community was amazing. Teaching gave us a place in the community which made our experience so much more memorable. Everyone was extremely welcoming. We discovered places far off the tourist track. Strangers said hello. The security guard at the supermarket became our friend. People invited us to their houses and gave us food. Countless people stopped on the side of the road to ask if we were lost and needed help. Locals took our photos everywhere from the grocery store to waking down the street. The kindness of complete strangers was unbelievable – and after a little while they no longer seemed like strangers but like friends.

I may have only taught the kids a little English, but in return they taught me kindness, confidence, determination and respect for everyone. In the future, I do hope to make teaching English a part of my life. We leave in a few days for some new adventures but our experiences in Uttaradit will not be forgotten.

Get out there, find your eureka moment, and as always happy travels. 🙂 xx  -Iz

 

Croatia: Plitvice Lakes National Park

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While in Croatia about two weeks ago I visited what is now my favorite national park, Plitvice Lakes National park. I love the park so I choose to write about it for wanderingeducators.com . Here is a bit of the article I wrote.

Postcard from Plitvice Lakes National Park

As Croatian folk music blasts in the background, my family makes our way through windy mountain roads in our tiny rental car. We drive quickly by tiny villages and rolling green hills, dotted with trees, where happy sheep graze. The mountains are very beautiful, but only a preview of the spectacular place we are soon enter. Before long, the drive is over, the music turned off, the tickets bought, and we are entering the park…

Read the rest here on wanderingeducators.com. Thanks! -Iz