Solitary and Southbound

Today I slipped south out of Tiznit and into ochre hills covered in bent trees spaced so far apart you’d think they don’t get along. It was my third long roadtrip in as many days. I’ve traveled south from Casablanca to Essaouria, Essaouria to Tiznit, and Tiznit to Tan Tan where I now sit. Each journey has been about five hours long, and I’ve got another haul to Smara tomorrow. Yesterday, at least, the day ended with my greatest shave yet. My barber literally kissed my freshly-smoothed cheeks when he was finished.

And today, at least, I was not on a bus. I managed to hitch a ride on a truck loaded with bottles of mineral water. It was not a cheap ride, but I figured if we got lost in the desert at least we wouldn’t dehydrate.

It feels good to be back south. Once again, I am surrounded by women wrapped in great swaddles of coloured cloth, and every man my age or older has a tremendous beard and missing teeth. I am in the Western Sahara, but I am not sure if I am in ‘disputed territory’ yet. There were a few checkstops en route, but my driver breezed through them pretty quickly by dropping a ten dirham coin into each officer’s hand. He turned to complain to me after each time, shaking his head and saying ‘Morocco is zero!’

Since Moonira returned to Canada a few days ago I’ve been thinking a little about traveling with someone else and trying to write. I realized that in order for me to engage with another place enough to be able to write about it I have to travel alone.

Please understand. I love traveling with my wife. We had glorious fun on our honeymoon and in Morocco this month. It was two weeks of real hotels, Moroccan wine, ocean sunsets, sandstorms, leather slippers and walks along the beach. More than all this, though, I adore Moonira’s openness to the world and her kindness to the strangers we meet. Each time we travel I discover new reasons to love her.

From a writer’s perspective, however, when I travel with someone else I learn more about them than I do about the place we are in or the people that surround us. This is fine for a vacation, but I find that when I sit down to write about ‘our’ travels instead of ‘my’ travels that I’ve missed the details that good travel writing requires.

It is true that I wrote three magazine pieces based on experiences Moonira and I had on our honeymoon, but these were happy exceptions. In each case the story presented itself as a complete narrative. I wrote about a dinner we had in Istanbul, a night among drunk Georgian men in a Tblisi tavern, and a weird festival in the hills of Adjara. These stories came complete with characters, plot and drama. As a writer, I had to do little else other than remember. Other than these sorts of rare, ‘ready-to-write’ experiences, I find that I only catch all the nuancess I need as a writer when I travel alone.

I used to think, somewhat romantically, that the world only reveals itself to the solitary traveler. Now I believe that only the solitary traveler has the space to see what the world is willing to reveal.