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Crossing the Strait of Gibraltar

January 28, 2019

A week and a half ago, I took a flight to Madrid. I’m studying in Rabat this spring semester, but I had decided to drift around Spanish cities for a week or so before taking the ferry over to Morocco.

I landed in the airport with only a backpack (the airline had, unfortunately, lost my other suitcase; they found it later in Paris), very much alone, and with only a vague plan for where I would be going. If you’ve ever travelled like this, you know it feels both buoyant and terrifying. All my ties, all my responsibilities had been neatly snipped away. I knew no one, and no one knew me.

For the next nine days, I really did feel like I was floating from city to city. Everything was beautiful, iridescent, and fleeting. I met Australian flamenco dancers, Swedish rappers, Finnish physicists, and Tasmanian veterinarians, all of whom – barring some incredible circumstance – I will never see again. I touched down in sunshiny Andalusian towns for a day, slept at some cheap hostel there, and then boarded the next train.

After my first day in Madrid, which I spent snacking on tapas and wandering through art museums in buildings that looked like cathedrals, I wished I could extend the trip. The freedom was exhilarating; I was loath, all of a sudden, to return to academics and stagnation. I was jealous of travelers I met who had been on the road for months, bounding from city to city without end.

But then I departed slick, bustling Madrid to spend a day in Seville – painfully charming, with orange trees lining the streets, in full bloom – and then headed to Málaga, on the southern coast. And I began to grow frustrated. I felt like I was leaving each place undiscovered. I marveled at their depth, but I despaired that I could not fully understand it. I was seeing only fragments, meeting only other travelers.

There is beauty in traveling this way, of sleeping jammed in a hostel dormitory and getting up at sunrise to catch a train to a town halfway across the country each day, where you’ll admire its most famous attractions. And I’m supremely glad I was able to do this in Spain. But now, sitting writing this in Tangier, on the other side of the Strait of Gibraltar, I can fully appreciate the opportunity that I will have in Morocco this spring.

When, in two days, I reach Rabat, I’ll have months to lounge in its streets and markets. I can take my time to carve out a place for myself there. I will be learning the language and studying the history. That’s the value of living in a place, and it’s what I’m most thrilled about for the next few months. You sometimes have to let go of total freedom in order to fully, deeply connect with the world – and I believe that’s a worthy sacrifice.

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