A long time has gone and suddenly there is less than two months left on my journey. The last months have brought several literal and metaphorical ups and and downs. What strikes me over and over though, is how many amazing people I have met and how each new person takes me by surprise. The experience has broadened my mind, to say the least. Without falling further into delirium, here's the story.
Last time I did a proper travel update, I was on my way to Morocco from Spain. I ended up in Marrakesh, "The Red City". Visiting an Arabic country for the first time, Morocco was a brand new world unlike anything I've experienced as a westerner. Although it took a while for the culture shock to settle, I later fell in love with the place. The atmosphere was so different from any European city, I've never felt safer walking down the street in the middle of the night.
As it happened to be, Chad – an American guy I met at the Castle Rock hostel in Edinburgh a month before, was staying in Marrakesh at the same time as me. After meeting up, he proposed to hike up Toubkal, which at 4 167m was the highest peak in the Atlas mountains. Since I'd never hiked in my entire life before, how could I say no?
To get on top of Toubkal, we first had to take a cab to Imlil, the last outpost where cars could get through. Since we arrived late, we stayed at a local bed & breakfast where we could also rent equipment. From there, it was a grueling 6 hour hike past goats and killer mules to the refuge camp below the peak. While I was staying the night inside the refuge, Chad and his newfound friend Matthieu (who he had met on the ferry to Tangier) tented outside.
Matthieu was a French guy who took budget traveling to an extreme. He always carried a tent and hitchhiked wherever he went, even when in the cold vastness of Iceland. All that hitchhiking had him built up his cardio, which made us feel like bulldogs with astma as he raced on in front of us.
After a freezing night at the refuge, it was time to climb up the peak. Conveniently enough, the entire trail was clearly visible on Google Maps, which made pathfinding a no-brainer. It took us roughly two hours through rocks and scree to get up and when finally there, the view and feeling of accomplishment was incredible!
On the way down we found some snow patches to have fun in. Having a snowball fight after hiking through the scorching sun in over 35°C was as surreal as it gets. During the final stretch before reaching camp, we walked past a group of 16-17 year old kids and slid down the final bits of snow. Just five minutes later as we were arriving at the camp, we noticed something had gone very wrong. People ran past us with a stretcher and then we got the news: One of the kids we just passed, slid down the same patch of snow as us but lost control. On-site doctors had a look and concluded the boy had fractures in his spine and skull and an emergency helicopter was called for. We never found out how the kid did, but it surely bummed out the hike back home.
I spent a couple of more lazy days in Marrakesh (trying to get rid of the blisters on my feet), before continuing my journey. At this point, I didn't have much planned in terms of where to go when. The iOS developer conference UIKonf was drawing near in Berlin but I figured I wouldn't afford after winning the WWDC lottery. I knew I wanted to go to Prague, so I planned my itinerary accordingly. After finding a ridiculously cheap (25€) flight ticket from Rome to Prague, i figured I had to somehow get to Rome from Marrakesh where I was staying. Turns out the cheapest alternative was to stay two days in Madrid.
Arriving to Madrid, I didn't really know what to expect. I love Spanish food, culture and climate but Spain had always been associated to beach life for me. In Madrid, of course, there were no beaches to be found. A couple of days earlier, I got an email from Fransisco Sevillano who read my Fluent Pagination post after it was featured in iOS Dev Weekly. He had checked my route, noticed I was in Madrid for a few days and invited me for lunch! I was once again struck by how many incredibly nice people there are in this community.
After several delicious Spanish tortillas and a great conversation, Fransisco told me about an NSCoder presenter night happening later that night in Madrid. He couldn't go himself so I thanked for the lunch and went on my own. The topic for the presentation was ReactiveCocoa. What surprised me though, was that the entire presentation was in Spanish. After spending several weeks in Spain, my Spanish was good enough for me to understand the presentation. Asking questions was more difficult. One of the organizers ended up translating my questions from English to Spanish, while the presenter answered me back in Spanish. Weirdest Q & A session I've experienced, but we all succeeded to communicate with each other in the end.
The next day, I had a session at the huge and super modern FitUp gym, which I highly recommend! At this point, I hadn't been to a gym since all the way back in London a month before. Calisthenics may be great, but I missed lifting iron. After an obligatory bar crawl to check the pulse of the city, my last night was over and it was time to head for Rome. All in all, I left with a much greater appreciation of Madrid than I ever expected.
Roman culture and history has always fascinated me. I was hooked by everything from Rome: Total War and the Spartacus series to Monty Python's Life of Brian. Actually walking among the old ruins and inspecting Colosseum in its full glory was immense.
The AirBnB place I got was in Santa Marinella, a tiny coastal town just an hour away by train. My host was so alike me, it was like stumbling upon a lost twin brother! He was born in St. Petersburg, just like me, moved away when he was six, as I did, a programmer (check!) and had a big interest in fitness (yup).
In short I had a very relaxing, although not that exciting stay in Italy. At this time, I had also talked to my boss at Apegroup about UIKonf and how I wanted to go but couldn't afford the conference ticket. Lucky for me, they were awesome enough to sponsor me, even though I was on a leave! With these news, I instantly booked a hostel in Berlin and train tickets from Prague. UIKonf was going to happen and I was super excited!