Almost-around-the-world in not quite 80 days.
On April 1st we said good bye to Burkina Faso, a complicated little country in West Africa that had been our home for the last two-and-a-half years. It was hard, no doubt about it. We had made a lot of good friends and had really became part of our little African-village community. But we were ready to move on. So we said our good byes and began our voyage home. Well, sort of. Here are a few of our favorite pictures from our last couple days as Peace Corps volunteers in the village of Tenado.
Mama Ebou proudly selling her Moringa leaf powder at Tenado's biennial agricultural fair.
Sonia le chat with two little friends from Reo. Meow.
Ryan and his little wifeys giving a goodbye bisou.
At our going away party with two village women who Sonia collaborated with on a series of nutrition workshops.
Ryan with co-workers from the village's union of farmers.
Now instead of heading directly back to the States, we thought it was a now-or-never opportunity to see some new corners of the world. So we started off on our self-imposed sabbatical heading east, not west, on our way back to the USA (although I guess technically we started out by going South).
GHANA - First stop, Burkina's English-speaking and refreshingly more developed neighbor to the south. We spent the better part of four days decompressing on the sands of the Green Turtle Eco Lodge (www.greenturtlelodge.com). It was a much needed break from the heat (oh it was still hot, just not 107F hot). Oh and we rediscovered WATER! Although it's a bit out of the way to get to, we would definitely recommend it to anyone looking for a beach getaway. As it were, we were already kind of home-sick from leaving Burkina, so we walked over to the nearest village each day to mingle with local folk and eat street food (the Fufu in Ghana is amazing!) Before we got too used to being beach bums, we packed our bags and bused in to Accra where we caught our first (of many) flights.
Surfs up. Sort of.
The little fishing village of Akwadaa on Ezile Bay.
Coconut that just fell off a tree + Swiss Army knife = free beach side snack.
MOROCCO - We touched down in Casablanca but immediately took the train south to Marrakesh. And the very next day, our good friends Josh and Nicora flew all the way from Portland to travel with us for a couple weeks. We hit the souqs and of course, rocked the kasbahs. Marrakesh was cool, and much more developed that we had imaged. But also WAY too touristy. We heard English far more often than French or even Arabic. After a couple days, we took a bus over the High Atlas Mountains to the awkwardly named Ouarzazate (whar-zah-zat), the out-in-the-middle-of-nowhere Hollywood of Morocco. Apparently, they shoot a lot of desert-looking movies here (Lawrence of Arabia, Gladiator, etc.) And as we learned, it's also where they run something called the "Marathon des Sables", an insane ultra-marathon through the desert for 6 days and 300+ kilometers. And of course, it was scheduled for the weekend we were there. We opted to leave the running shoes at home and instead checked out the World Heritage site at Ait Ben Haddou. And we also biked to an oasis at Fint. Afterward, we traveled ALL DAY by bus, then train, to Fez (yes, there is an entire city named after those funny little hats made famous by the Shiners). Although all worked out ok in the end, we probably would not advise arriving at 1am, then walking an hour to the Medina with heavy bags (without a hotel reservation). Luckily, the seemingly high rasta-man who guided us down several dark alley-ways actually led us to a pretty nice little guest house in the end. Phew! Fez turned out to be very cool, although we never really got out of the Medina/souqs the whole time we were there. But why would you? Everything you would ever want to do and see is there, and the locals were way less annoying towards tourists than the folks in Marrakesh. Finally, rounding out our Moroccan experience, we headed north to Tangier to catch a ferry across the Straits of Gibraltar, out of Africa and back into the 1st world.
Ait Ben Haddou, really old mud building. A World Heritage site, but really too many gift shops now to be very authentic.
Community fountain in Fez.
Spices. Lots of spices.
Nuts, figs, dates and dried fruit. To-go.
Josh sipping on authentic Moroccan mint tea at Djemaa el-Fna.
SPAIN - Getting into Algeciras at 2am was nowhere near as sketchy as Fez. No one even noticed us. After knocking on a few doors we found a little pension for the night (or morning as it were). After recharging our batteries with a couple hours of sleep (on a bed) and a hot shower, we were back on the road, heading north through the Mesa Verde mountains to Granada. While only in town for a couple days, we had two simple goals: visit the renowned Alhambra and experience the whole "tapas" thing. Check and check! The Alhambra was breath-taking, in a serene indoor/outdoor museum kind of way. The tapas were equally breath-taking. So how this works is you go to a bar and order a drink. Then, magically, food appears. And every time you order another drink, poof, more snacks. And we're not talking bar peanuts or stale pretzels. Real finger food! It's brilliant. Before we over-abused the tapas, we were on another train, a night train, to Barcelona. And it's there that we met up with two more Portlanders, the soft-spoken entrepreneur power-couple, Mr. Jeffy and Jessica. So like hip Spanish urbanites, we rented a cozy apartment for six on the Barcelona Upper-East Side. Then 4/20 arrived. A day with a storied past. And for 32 years, celebrated as Ryan's birthday. The party crew were given their birthday uniforms (no, not birthday suits) and made their way through the streets of Barcelona, making sure to see the sights like Las Ramblas, Sagrada Familia, Gaudi this, Gaudi that, etc. Afterwards the ladies were sent on a shopping errand while the boys toasted their momentary Bro-celona (complete with man-tapas). The next morning, we reluctantly said adios to Josh and Nicora who flew back to America (barely, with all that Icelandic volcano brouhaha) and spent a bonus day in Spain with Jeff and Jessica.
Tapas. Oh how we love our tapas.
Twinkle, twinkle from within the Alhambra in Granada.
Six Portlanders taking a well-deserved breather at Barcelona's Gaudi park.
Ahhhhh. A 420 birthday Guinness. How very happy.
There was no green screen used here.
FRANCE - Originally, the plan was to take the train to Nice and spend a couple days on the Cote d'Azure, revisiting the youth hostel we first met at 10 years ago. But the hostel was closed and we were invited up to the Burgundy region to visit a couple we had met while in Burkina. Jean-Pierre and Elisabeth have a wonderful summer home out in rural Burgundy, not far from the hillside town of Vezeley (about an hour from Dijon). For five days we indulged in French hospitality and incredibly rich foods (a half-dozen kinds of cheese, meat plates, pate, etc.) Their home, built in 1610, came complete with a well-stocked wine cave beneath the house. Our hosts also felt that any visit to Burgundy without touring the vineyards would be a crime, so off we went to the Chateaus at Meursault, Beaune, etc. Gorgeous. We felt right at home as the only grapes grown there are pinot noir and chardonnay, two varieties we know well being from Oregon. While we could have stayed and become French farmers, we had to say good bye and make our way to Milan, in order to respect our rendez-vous with our second plane.
Tasting the best of Burgundy at Meursault's wine cave.
Vineyards as far as the eye can see. A divine renewable resource.
You ever wonder where Dijon mustard comes from? Here.
Ryan working off all that cheese and wine in the garden.
GREECE - After Dijon to Milan on a night train, then a short flight out of Malpensa, we touched town in Athens, Greece. We were greeted with a subway strike (our first sign of Greece's tumultuous little situation). We found a great little hole-in-the-wall hotel called John's Place in the trendy Syntagma/Plaka area. The next day we did the Acropolis (wow) and a few other archaeological gems around town. But before s-h-i-t hit the fan in Athens, we got on a ferry and headed out into the Greek isles, making shore in Santorini. We took a bus out of Fira to Perissa, a little beach town on the east side of the island. Luckily, it was low season and it felt like the island was just coming out of hibernation. Apparently in just a few week's time, droves of tourists will make their assault on the island. This calm before the storm meant rooms were still readily available and relatively cheap. We checked out the Lonely Planet's recommended Hostel Anna, and landed a cozy little double room in a sister property for 20euros a night. We felt pretty sluggish after our gluttonous time in France, so the next day we took the long hike up to Ancient Thera, continued up to the hilltop Monastery and than walked a leisurely 6km home. After a day on the black sand beach to rest our legs, we took to the streets again, on bike, and rode a good 20+km to a lighthouse and a couple beaches. (Side note: the island is basically one rolling hilltop with villages on top, cliffs and then beaches down below. So when you want to go to the beach, you have to bike down, which is fairly easy, but then you have to bike back up the hill which is pretty darn impossible to do without walking or being Lance Armstrong). We enjoyed Santorini a lot, but wanted to check out at least one more island before heading back to Athens. So we set sail for Naxos. We again followed the advice of the Lonely Planet and found a room in Hora (Naxos City) at Pension Irene I. We like this place a lot. So much so, that we extended our stay from two nights to six. We have a nice room with a balcony, a fridge, a kitchenette and cable TV (albeit most of the stations are in Greek) and UNLIMITED FREE WI-FI (hence how we are able to finally update this blog). And the owners are great too (Mr. Stavros chats it up while his monther, Irene, gives us ice cream.) We've been using this as our base camp and taking little day excursions around the island. One such day trip was up to Mt. Zeus, the Cyclade's highest peak at 1004m. A bus dropped us, along with about a dozen other people, off at the base and we spent the next couple hours walking up. Not too bad once we actually found the trail. The view was amazing at the top, but there was a bizarre infestation of insects (flies, beetles and such) that annoyongly competed with the 360 view of the island. So we took a few quick pictures, paid our respects to Mr. Zeus and made our way back back down the mountain.
Live at the Acropolis.
Athens's Temple of Zeus under a full moon. No lightning bolts in sight.
Oia, Santorini. Once destroyed by an earthquake in 1956. Now rebuilt on the same freaky cliff.
Ready for take-off. Oui Caro, j'ai copie sur toi!
No forks. No bowl. No problem. Hat salad!
Waiting for the sun to set from a church dug into a cliff.
Making port on Naxos island.
And this is where our journey continues. Hopefully all will simmer down in Athens by the end of the weekend and we can catch our next flight. Back to Africa we go -- Cairo, Egypt. The pyramids await!
Stay tuned for more updates from the road.