Tactical Retreat

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I love travel.

In fact, I don’t just love it. I’m obsessed with it. I’ve tried telling myself time and time again that if I had to live in a quiet, country village surrounded by beautiful mountain ranges and gushing rivers, I’d happily stay put.

But I’d only be kidding myself. I’ve got a bad case of wanderlust and I don’t think even a year in Paradise would cure me. Perhaps not even a month.

I say this because I’m still riding the wave of a ridiculously turbulent six-month period of change concerning my summer plans. This time last year, it looked as though I didn’t have much of a choice: I’d be returning to Amman and spending another two months sweltering in Ali Baba or Qasid, because that’s quite simply the best route.

Well, if my blog is anything to go by, that possibility went out the window about a week in. After only seven days I was quite decided that no force in Heaven or Earth would ever send me back to Amman. My angst fluctuated throughout those two months, rising and falling with more variation than the weather (which stayed at a semi-unfeasible average of 40 degrees Celsius) – and I didn’t know exactly what I was going to do the following year, but I was pretty clear on one count: I would not be coming back.

When I received the go-ahead to go to Morocco instead, that not only freed me from the shackles of living in a capital city, it saved me over a thousand pounds in expenses, rid me of the need to learn a colloquial Arabic I’d never use in all likelihood and – most dangerous of all – gave me all of a month and a half to play around with that I hadn’t had before.

I wasn’t as lucky as many of the gap-year students I know, for several reasons. One, because the decision to take a gap year was very spontaneous; partly inspired by the desire to accept a three-month teaching post in northern Uganda, but primarily because I was rejected from Durham in my final school year (I blame those shoddy GCSEs).

As such, I was left with a three-month job and nine months of… nothing. I wanted to travel, but I had all of a hundred pounds to my name at the time. My father wanted me to get a job, but I lacked both the gumption and – crucially – a national insurance number. Even once I’d sorted out the latter, I still had no luck with the jobs I applied for, having no experience of my own. The result was nine months at home, getting more stir-crazy by the minute, watching enviously as braver, more fortunate companions jetted off around the world to Cambodia, New Zealand, South Africa and other such exotic locations. Eventually the fever got so unbearable that I set off to cross Spain on foot, which remains probably one of my stupidest ideas, but I succeeded – in just over a month and just under 300€ for the whole affair; flights, accommodation, transport across the centre (Madrid and the La Mancha terrified me) and everything else… though I did come back dangerously underweight. It taught me an important lesson about priorities when traveling, and ever since I’ve never been so quick to relegate food to the ‘hit or miss’ pile.

More importantly, it taught me that adventures don’t have to be had on the other side of the world. My envy was sated.

I’ve been having much the same issues over the last few months. The year abroad is the opportunity to branch out on your own, and some are better at it than others. I feel like I’ve accomplished quite a lot of traveling this year alone – though all of it has been within Spain, and deservedly so. This country deserves years of exploration.

Some of my companions have been further afield, though, and that set my wanderlust racing. Sometimes all you have to do is see a photograph of a friend standing in front of the pyramids, or on a beach in Cuba, or even on Prebends with the snow falling all around to get itchy feet. And I’m easily tempted.

It’s taken me all of six months to temper those urges. One of the more trying things about coming to a place like Durham is being surrounded by people from very different backgrounds to yourself, and in echoes harking back to my brief stint at a private school when I was a kid, I’ve had to re-learn how not to compare yourself to others with vastly more opportunities than yourself. Having my own income for the first time has opened up so many doors to me, I almost feel like the President on his first day in office. Suddenly I have both the time and the money to realise my dreams: to walk the battlefields of Kwa-Zulu Natal, to climb the Simien Mountains, to gaze up from the shadows of Luxor…

Having the money is one thing. Having the sense to look ahead is another. I’ve met a lot of people whilst traveling this year and most of them repeated the same message: ‘if you never learn to let go, you’ll never be free’. They have a point. Life is a bit like learning to dive. If you can bear to leave the comfort of the ledge and hurl yourself into the abyss, you’ll discover that has so much more to offer. The anarchist in me adores that notion.

But, like so many anarchists before me, I lack the funds to function as a free-spirited globe-trotter. Maybe once I’m done with university, perhaps, though I have plans for at least another three years working as a language assistant out here in Spain before I do anything that crazy. The truth is that I’ve had such an amazing time this year – probably the very best of my life so far, despite those monsters in a certain primaria class – that I do believe I’ve found where I’m supposed to be.

The question of what to do this summer remains. After much deliberation I’ve decided to jettison any plans I had for South Africa, Romania, Turkey and Egypt to better focus on my Arabic. This year has taught me that Spanish is, was and always will be the most important thing for me; but I do have a degree to complete, and though Jordan and the emptiness of Amman robbed me temporarily of my will to study Arabic, a couple of days reunited with my textbooks and the thought of spending a couple of months in Morocco has rekindled my desire. And none too soon!

From what I’ve seen, Morocco is probably my second-favourite country after Spain (Ethiopia doesn’t count properly until I’ve been there for longer than a layover). Tetouan, a sleepy coastal town on the Mediterranean Sea, should be the perfect antidote to last year. On top of that, I have an important, personal reason to return to the south; that I will keep to myself until it is completed.

It’s a tactical retreat from my dreams, but in doing so I’ve found my way back onto the road I was meant to follow. That is what I believe. I’ll have my work cut out to catch up to the other Arabists, most of whom will have clocked six continuous months apiece by the time we return, but I’m counting on Morocco to work its magic on me – and for me to pick up the pieces and work harder than I’ve ever worked before. Dedication. That’s what love is, and Morocco and Spain are an adoring couple. I couldn’t ask for more from my favourite corner of the world. BB x

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