Year after year, I hop on a plane and make my way home for Christmas. I look forward to this journey and the holiday season, its familiar traditions, and time spent with family. This year, rather than go home, I tried something very different that revealed to me a Christmas spent in a strange, even desolate place can be a wonder of its own.
I met four of my oldest friends in Mijas, a picturesque, white-washed Spanish village tucked in the hills overlooking the Costa del Sol of Andalucia. We trekked to the port city of Tangier, Morocco, where we were welcomed, or rather hounded, by locals who, in anticipation of the ferry’s arrival, had staked out the pier to solicit the wide-eyed tourists.
After a few mishaps, we settled in our cabin on a night train venturing west to Marrakech. When we first set foot in the Marrakech Souks, it was as if we had been hoisted back in time. The scene was colorful and chaotic – a labyrinth of paths and shops, craftsmen carving wood trinkets, cajoling salesmen, pungent spices, bright scarves, elaborate lamps, and hundreds of motorbikes whizzing past. In the evenings, we retreated to our Riad, a traditional Moroccan house built around an interior courtyard, where we relaxed with PiTc and Hassan, our comical 20-year-old hosts responsible for managing the Riad.
Christmas in Morocco would never feel like Christmas in the States, so we decided to do something entirely different. After enduring a long and winding car ride through the Atlas Mountains and its countless switchbacks, we arrived in the Sahara on Christmas Eve just as the sun started to set. Our Berber hosts led us by camel to our campsite, where we ate tagine and drank mint tea by the fire with our new Brazilian friend, Rosana.
The entire experience was eerily reminiscent of the first Christmas. And though I missed being at home with my family, there was something peaceful, spiritual even, about spending Christmas in the Sahara without a street lamp in sight beneath stars that shone brighter than I’d ever witnessed.
Our travels continued in Granada and Seville, concluding in Madrid on New Year’s Eve. There I ate “the twelve grapes of luck” in the Puerta del Sol as the clock ticked twelve and another year began. I’m back in Ireland now writing papers galore. School, work, and my usual routine have resumed, but I’m grateful for memorable travels and looking forward to new adventures in 2014.