Oh yeah, babe…I pull the beards from fresh mussels that I purchase at the small market in San Jose, on the southern coast of Spain. I boil some water,with some white wine, and a splash of olive oil to open the shell and expose the tender creatures. Mare and I feast in the comfort of our apartment, dunking mussels into melted garlic-butter, sipping wine, and looking out over the Mediterranean. Each evening I cook a fresh meal. Each day we hike the mountainous shore. We finally find a way to live within our daily budget, alas, a little too late. Money runs low. The reality of ending our adventure one month early closes in on our thoughts and forces us to change plans once again. While we love the endless, delectable food, and dramatic sea and mountain landscapes, we cannot afford Spain for much longer.
We reminisce about some highlights of the adventure. The travel in West Africa, more fascinating then we initially imagine, seems like two years ago. Riding on the back of scooters while wearing stuffed backpacks, attending a live Voodoo ceremony, and walking the slave route will stay in our memory. The fatigue of relentless heat and public transport is worth the prize. The people we meet enrich our lives in so many ways, and hopefully we do the same. Worms dropping from the ceiling continues to make us laugh, and we still can’t believe that we were in a bar fight in Spain.
Morocco makes us appreciate the freedoms of our homeland and the value of a woman’s presence. From being chased by drug dealers to riding camels into the Sahara, every day offers a lesson in culture, nature and humanity. Even the sneers of the larger cities teach us tolerance. The beautiful beach in Essaouria, the victory of finding some beer in a Muslim country, and the exposure to a different way of life serves to enhance our curiosity.
We will never forget the warmth and friendliness of the Berbers in Morocco, the citizens of Ghana and those kind Spaniards who tended to an injured Mare. Warm, loving relationships tie all of us together. Most people in the world want the same things. If there is one thing our travels teach us, it is that people are not as different as we may think.
We wish we could have made it to Tombouctou, and further, to the “Festival in the Desert,” but we decide to heed the warnings of the U. S. State Department and stay out of Mali at this time. The threat of terror, this time from Al Qaeda kidnapping Westerners, keeps our world small and hampers opportunities, like this festival – a chance for a poor country to prosper jujst a little. In fact, the festival is being moved closer to Tombouctou, in an attempt to ease fears and sell more tickets.
Our final splurge brings us back to Mingo Junction, Ohio…my hometown, in the Appalachian foothills of Southeastern Ohio. We sit in yet another rental car in the darkness outside of my parents’ house, on Christmas Eve, sharing some cheer, while waiting for them to come home from evening mass. Once Ma and Pa enter the house, we knock on the front door. My mom’s scream of surprise scares us, and we scream also. Then we hug with a joyful tear. My folks find this to be the best Christmas present they could get. So do Mare and I.