One year on the road – and still not enough

I started my dream – a trip around the world – exactly one year ago. Time for some reflections.


So here I am, in a coffee shop in Japan, publishing this blog post while thinking about all the things I’ve seen and experienced in the past 12 months. It’s incredible. I’m probably as surprised as you are that it has been already one year since I started my trip around the world. It feels like I left only a few months ago, yet if I think about all the experiences I made I feel like I must have been on the road for years, so intense and rich has my trip been so far.

So here are a few thoughts about my trip, travelling alone, what’s the best part of a trip around the world – and what the worst.

 

Why a trip around the world?

Some people ask me whether this is a self-finding-trip or even if I am running away from something. The clear answer is: NO. As unspectacular as it sounds, I just love to travel, to explore unknown countries, to learn more about a new culture, to meet strangers and become friends. I am very curious and I learn more by experiencing things on my own than just reading or hearing about them.

I have travelled a lot in Europe during my studies. Because Europe is small and compact, I was able to spend a long weekend every now and then in another country. I had not seen much outside of Europe, so now I wanted to discover the rest of the world. Also, it was the perfect moment to go on this trip: I had finished my studies, gotten some working experience (and saved some money), had no apartment, no kids, no dog.

Streetart in Morocco saying Why not

Why not?! Street art in Morocco. Photo: Eva Hirschi

 

What were my favourite countries so far?

This answer is very subjective because I feel it’s mostly due to the people I met during these trips and the experiences we share. Therefore, I’d say Ethiopia and Myanmar because these are the countries where I had the most magical and intense moments on my trip. They were also by far the less touristic ones. Also Nepal, India and China, as well as Senegal and the US (well I’ve just been to New York on this trip) were amazing. But every country I’ve been to so far was a great experience, I don’t regret visiting any of them.

 

What is travelling alone like?

First of all, I’m not alone all the time. Either I am lucky to have friends joining me for a lap, or I visit friends in their home country. I consciously picked most destinations according to where I have friends. But there are a few countries on my way I want to see even if I don’t know anybody there. Also, my local friends can’t spend their whole time with me since they have to work/study, so sometimes I travel on my own.

I am a very sociable person, I love to spend time with people. I’m definitely not a loner. To be honest, I am still in the process of learning how to be alone without feeling lonely – sometimes I manage better, sometimes not. But travelling alone definitely has its advantages too, I am incredibly spontaneous and more careless because I’m only responsible for myself and don’t need to have a bad conscious if something goes wrong or not as planned. Since I have a very optimistic attitude, I try to consider unplanned things and mistakes new adventures.

Graffitti with the words "Make your own luck"

Street art in New York.  Photo: Eva Hirschi

 

What did I learn?

Honestly, I feel like I learn something every day. Sometimes it’s just small things like different perceptions about life, little cultural customs, different social behaviours. Sometimes I feel like I add huge pieces to my picture of the world, the global context, for example when I talk to someone about the history or politics of a country. I feel like – even though I studied International Relations – I have learnt more about the world in the past few months than I did in the three years of my Bachelor’s degree. Then again, it’s valuable to have some basic knowledge and theory from university that allows me to put new experiences or findings into perspective and think about them critically.

The answer: The egg came first.

Sometimes you find the answers on the street. Photo: Eva Hirschi

Also, I learnt a lot about myself. That I am able to find my way in a completely different country without knowing the language and without internet access. I learnt trusting strangers, listen to my intuition, be spontaneous and flexible, be open-minded and uncomplicated. I learnt not to take things for granted or consider them to be better at home than in other countries, but to understand different lifestyles, economic orders and social standards.


What is best about a trip around the world?

I love the freedom. I can go wherever I want and do whatever I feel like. I am dependant on much fewer things than back home. I can change plans spontaneously or just go somewhere without any plans. I love meeting new people from different backgrounds and hearing their stories. I love learning and discovering. I love experiencing the local culture and trying to get involved as much as possible. I love facing challenges and adventures, and, to a certain extent, even being vulnerable.

Ticket to anywhere

A bag tag my dear friend Lorène offered me for this trip. Photo: Eva Hirschi

 

What is the worst on a trip around the world?

I discuss this topic too because I feel like I only showed the shiny side of a trip around the world until now. Of course, not every day is a crazy adventure and I’m not happy and smiling every minute of this trip (even though I am maybe 90% of the time) – which is totally normal. The worst is being sick, as it is much more stressful in a foreign country than back home. The worst is not seeing my godson growing up. The worst is not being able to be fully there for my friends and family, not to be able to help or support them, and to see them taking big steps in their life without me participating. I sometimes feel like I miss out a lot.

A compass in the world

Only the compass always points in one direction… Photo: Eva Hirschi

Also professionally by the way: I miss many interesting events, conferences, networking occasions, working experiences, job offers. And there is this uncertainty about how potential employers will consider my long trip around the world, even though I manage to work part time at the same time.

Oh and one thing I consider really annoying meanwhile: small talks! Really. I feel like I explained to about a thousand people where I am from, what I do, to which countries I’ve been and where I go next. Of course, these are totally normal questions to ask someone who’s on a trip around the world, but I almost want to print the answers on a sheet and give it to new people to read so I don’t have to repeat them every few days…

 

Do I miss home?

No. Not home. Nor Switzerland. I feel comfortable wherever I am, I can adapt easily and I realised that I don’t need any material things to be happy. Already as a kid, I was never homesick so I guess I have the wanderlust in my blood. What I do miss incredibly: My family and my friends. Not that much in the beginning to be honest, but now I miss them more every day.

At the same time, I’m incredibly lucky that some of my closest people are joining me for parts of my trip. My brother came to Canada, my two best friends joined me in Morocco, Senegal and South Africa respectively in Nepal, and my mother will visit me in Australia in two months. And I believe my late father is accompanying me as my personal guardian angel.

My friends

Mes cheris joining me wherever I am…! <3

But also all my other friends back home do a great job staying in touch with me, integrating me as far as possible in their daily life by sending me messages, pictures, videos, calling me regularly and making me feel still being a part of their life, even though I am so far away. You don’t know how important this is for someone on such a long trip. Small shout out: Guys, I love you!

Postcard into the world

The sweetest digital but actually non digital message ever! From a Dutch girl I was travelling with in China and who saw me writing a bunch of postcards… Thank you so much, Floortje!

 

When will I go back to Switzerland?

Honest answer: I don’t know. I don’t have a ticket back home (yet). I used to say «when I’m fed up with travelling». But then I met this Japanese guy in Myanmar who wanted to become a monk, and when he asked me the same question and I answered «I don’t know», he added: «so when you’re satisfied.» And this is so much of a better answer.

 

Trip around the world

Trying to conquer the world… Photo: Eva Hirschi

Solo travelling in India as a woman

There are many horror stories and prejudices about travelling in India as a woman. I travelled one month from the North to the South of India, most of the time on my own, and had an amazing time. So I thought I might share my experiences with you and give some recommendations.


When I told people I would travel to India alone, many were very surprised, sceptical or even shocked. «Alone, as a woman, really?», is a phrase I heard often. Many told me to be careful and talked about all the stories they had heard about girls getting robbed or raped, if not even killed.

After all those stories I thought I would better ask someone who definitely knows whether travelling through India as a blonde European girl was a big risk or not: My (female!) Indian friend who is living in Ahmedabad. Her answer: «It usually not a problem (given that you practice caution)»

Train rides in India

Train rides in India.

So I started my journey in November. The first two weeks I travelled with her and her friends, then I visited the touristic part (Rajasthan, Agra and Delhi) on my own, spent another few days with her and then travelled alone down to Kochi. And I must say: It was absolutely fantastic! I had no bad experiences, neither with men nor with women (okay, one bad encounter was the one with a street dog who bit me, but I doubt it was because I am a blonde European girl travelling alone….).

Of course, I cannot tell whether I was just lucky or if I was just very careful. Also, I must say I travelled in touristic places only (on purpose, as it was my first time in India and on my own, I felt it would be more secure to go to places where they are used to see tourists). Anyhow, here are my few basic rules I followed during this trip:

  • Dress properly – as conservative as this may sound, it is important. I do not say that it is the ultimate protection and that only lightly dressed women get stared at or raped. You can be sure that as a (very) blonde woman I got a lot of attention anywhere anyhow. But it is important not to provoke either. And even if a girl does not mind having men staring at her, in my opinion, it is also a sign of respect to dress appropriately to the culture. In hot and not very clean India loose and wide pants or a long skirt are more comfy anyway than hotpants. Instead of tank tops, I wore long thin blouses which would also prevent me from getting sunburnt so there are several reasons which speak for such an outfit.
Travelling to Taj Mahal in India as a woman

Travelling to Taj Mahal

  • Hitting the bed early: I always tried to reach my accommodation before sunset, so I could see the surrounding area during daylight. If I felt secure I would maybe just go grab a bite close by, but not going out wandering the streets in the dark on my own. As a tourist, it is hard to know which areas are safe or not, so I preferred to stay in my room, read a bit and most of the time I would fall asleep early anyway, exhausted after a long day. And – theoretically not being a morning person – I started enjoying the early hours of the morning when the city just wakes up.
  • The thing with the ring: Many people recommend to wear a ring and to pretend to be married. Actually, an Indian guy I met on the street told me if someone annoys me, I should just tell this person that my husband would not allow me to talk to strangers. This seemed to be a good answer, especially coming from a local and male person. In the end, I did not wear a ring but I felt like every second person I was talking to would ask me anyway sooner or later whether I was married or not. It is not necessarily because I felt safer when I started replying with «yes», but because I actually got a bit annoyed by their surprised, even shocked reactions when I told them I was not. 26 years old seems to be rather «old» for getting married for some Indians, so I prefer to say «yes» anyway.
Travelling in India alone as a woman

Indian marriage: The groom arrives on an elephant.

  • Taxi/Rickshaw drivers: When I would take a rickshaw or taxi, I would usually either write down or take a picture of the license plate of the vehicle (in a way the driver sees it) or call my hostel/guesthouse and hand over the phone so he could explain the way to the driver who rarely knew the small, cheap places I stayed in – and in this way he would also know there was someone waiting for me and knowing where I was. I also used Uber a lot, which made me feel more secure, too.
  • Look for female accomplice or families: In public transportation, I tried to sit next to women, old couples or families because I felt more secure that way. And not only foreigners risk getting stuff stolen from a train ride, so sometimes families showed me how I could tie my backpack to the metal pole underneath my seat to be sure it does not get stolen while I would be sleeping.
Women only waiting room in Goa at the train station

At the train station in Goa.

  • Special lines for women only – actually, not only foreign women take care in India but also local women. In train stations or at the subway, the lines for the security check were usually separated for men and women, which was a big advantage because fewer women than men take the subway in India, so the line was moving quicker for the girls – finally the opposite to the bathroom lines… Also, waiting rooms are separated by sex which was very comfortable. At the subway in Delhi, there is even one waggon reserved for women only at the very beginning of the subway. But do not think it is easier to get into this one than into the common ones – Indian women are really good at pushing their way through, too. 😉
Only women allowed in this zone at the subway in Delhi

At the subway in Delhi

So after travelling one month through India on my own, I can say it is an amazing country definitely worth a visit – also for the female solo traveller. I met many amazing people and had a great experience. Talking with many Indians I actually got the impression that Indians seemed to feel sorry for this bad image India has gotten, and they wanted to show that it is just a minority that treats women disrespectful or is only interested in your money.

The good side about this whole polemic is that it raised awareness for solo female travellers. It is not only important in India to be cautious when travelling alone, but also in other countries. I recommend being rather safe than sorry, stick to a few basic rules and also listen to intuition. With this mix, travelling in India – and in other countries – as a woman is definitely a great experience!

Female solo travelling in India

Travelling as a woman in India? No problem!

 

How a beauty contest aims to change the caste system in Nepal

Even though legally banned, the caste system is still a social reality in Nepal. Several projects try to fight this social stratification. Surprisingly, this challenge is also the aim of a beauty contest. I met the winner of the first beauty contest for the «untouchables».


On my trip in Nepal, I met Chet, a young woman studying health sciences in Kathmandu. With a friend, we stayed at her apartment which she shares with her sister for a couple of nights and spent a lot of time with these two smart, funny and kind ladies, walking in the city, having coffee or cooking traditional momos together. We learned more about Nepal and its society, and that the two belonged to the «dolits», also known as the «untouchables», the lowest caste.

The lowest caste of Nepal are called the Dolits.

Cooking momos with Nari and Chet.

The caste system structures society and determines the professions and social classes of Nepal. The four main groups are Brahman (priests and scholars), Kshatriya (warriors), Vaisya (merchants), and Sudra (labourers), which are divided into subgroups.

It is not possible to tell to which caste a person belongs just by their appearance. But in situations where Nepali need to present themselves to someone, they must tell their full name – not only the first name but also the family name – which reveals the caste they are belonging to. Chet’s full name is Chet Kumari Bishwokarma.

Castes still matter

Even though Nepal’s society, especially in big cities like Kathmandu, became more liberal and open these last decades, there are still many situations in which the caste matters.

My friend Lorène, Chet and me in Kathmandu.

With Chet and my Swiss friend Lorène in Kathmandu.

Chet gave us one example. At university, she has friends from different castes. But if she gets invited to a birthday party of a friend from a higher caste, she usually tries to avoid it. «I know that the family will not be happy to see me. Even if they might not tell me directly, I can still feel them stare and know they will talk about me behind my back. So I prefer to stay at home», Chet says.

Officially, the discrimination between different social classes is forbidden according to Nepal’s constitution. But the caste system is still a reality. Several projects aim to raise awareness of these problems and try to open Nepal’s society. Not only NGOs with educational projects, but even a beauty contest. Such an event was organised last year for the first time, with the aim to find the most beautiful «Miss Dolit».

Beauty and politics

This is not just a beauty contest where girls need to trip on the catwalk and throw smiles at the cameras. This contest was accompanied by a month-long preparation session where the participants would not only attend beauty classes about make-up or styling, but also learn how to speak in public, or how to become more self-confident.

The first beauty contest for the lowest caste, the dolits, in Nepal

The idea is to foster the self-esteem of the lowest caste in Nepal’s society. Therefore, famous people like Min Bahadur Bishwakarma were invited to speak to the girls during the preparation sessions. He is a member of the Dolit community himself, but also a famous politician representing the Dolit on a national level. With his speech about his own struggles but also the success he achieved even though belonging to the lowest caste he wanted to encourage the participants.

«He is a role model for our community. It was very inspiring and motivating, and an honour, to hear him talking to us», says Chet. He also talked about the origins of this societal system. «Most of us didn’t know much about this, it was very interesting – and important.»

Sister’s support

Chet actually never wanted to participate in this contest: «I was convinced I was too short anyway.» But her older sister Nari motivated her: «Height doesn’t matter, you should at least give it a try», Nari said. So Chet participated.

Me with Chet and her sister and traditional Nepali clothes

Talking about height… In Switzerland I’m average, in Nepal I’m a giant. Me with Nari and Chet.

One of the hardest parts for Chet was learning how to walk in high heels – it was her first time, and since she was shorter than the other girls, her heels were even higher. «I felt so much pain, it was very tiring!», Chet remembers. But being a very determined person, she wanted to go through the whole contest.

Smartness counts

During the finals, every girl got to wear a traditional dress and a modern dress. But the show was not only about presenting the clothes, they also had to answer questions. Chet’s question was «What would you do to unite Dolit people?» Not an easy task. Chet talked about the important role of information.

«First, I would inform the people, talk about the background, create awareness about the system. If we are not united, everyone looks down on us, so we need a strong bound to fight together.» But this alone would not be sufficient, she supports programmes like the beauty contest to raise awareness but also to foster the self-esteem.

This traditional dress is made out of dhak, a Nepali fabric

Chet wearing one of the traditional dresses made out of the Nepali fabric dhak.

Before crowning the winner, awards were given for different categories, for example for the most beautiful smile or the best walk. Chet received the award for «best discipline» – which made her even more proud. «This means a lot to me because for me working hard and having a good discipline are very important values.»

Then the coronation ceremony took place. Chet thought she would stand no chance against the other participants – so it was a big surprise when she heard her name when the winner was announced. «It was an incredible feeling, I have never been so happy and proud in my whole life», she says. It was the first time she had won something – and something she had worked hard for.

Confidence building

This experience had a big impact on her. «My sister and my friends told me that I’ve become much more confident», she says. «I want to use this for encouraging other girls. Everybody should believe in themselves.»

Chet wins the beauty contest for dolits

She hopes that this title might open new opportunities. She wants to become a social worker, and do volunteering for people of her community who have a difficult life. «Dolits are not given education because, according to their caste, they are going to be shoemakers anyway», she explains.

Even though society is slowly changing, there is a lot of progress to be made: «We, the Dolits, build temples, but we are not allowed to get inside because we are considered impure. This needs to be changed.»

Mardi Himal Trek – a hidden beautiful trek in the Himalaya

For our hike in Nepal we chose a less popular trek in the Annapurna region, it was called the Mardi Himal trek – and it turned out to be the best decision we could have made. It was an authentic and beautiful hike up to 4500 meters with a fantastic view of the Himalayas!


(Find some valuable tips for your hike at the end of this blog post)

My friend and I had one common box we needed checked on our bucket list: completing a Himalayan trek. A Nepali friend of mine recommended the Mardi Himal trek – a short (five days) but beautiful trek up to 4500 meters above sea level with a fantastic view on the Annapurna mountains and Machhapuchchre.

Mardi Himal Trek in Nepal

Mardi Himal Trek – Photo: Eva Hirschi

Since it is a relatively new trek, opened officially in 2011 with tea houses in regular distances up to High Camp, it is not that famous yet (and not in Lonely Planet!) which means it’s less crowded and even cheaper than the popular ABC circuit, so we agreed it would be perfect for us – off the main touristic paths. Because of its length and simplicity, it allowed us to complete the trek without a guide.

Although guides can be very useful and important for longer treks, we felt more comfortable doing it our way, feeling confident enough coming from another mountain country, and hiking in a team of three, together with my friend and her adorable boyfriend.

We started our trek from a village called Dhampus, a one-hour jeep drive from Pokhara. We arrived in Pokhara from Kathmandu by a public bus, took the jeep our Nepali friend had booked for us, and spent the night in Dhampus at the lodge called «Paradise view» to get energy for the next days of hiking.

Hotel Paradise View in Dhampus before starting the Mardi Himal Trek in Nepal

The view from our hotel in Dhampus – Photo: Johannes Nachbar

Day 1: From sunrise through the forest

The first day, we got up at 5:30am to see the night fading and the new day arriving.

Instead of having breakfast, we started our trek right away. Our Nepali friend recommended this so that we would have a nice view of the mountains for breakfast, and not start the trek with a full stomach. The beautiful sunrise itself gave us the strength and energy we needed to start our adventure anyway.

The first day of our trek led all the way through the forest. Even if I couldn’t wait to be close to the mountains, I enjoyed this part a lot since the forests in Nepal look so different from the forests in Switzerland. We saw many beautiful rhododendrons and other plants, and even discovered a small Buddhist temple with a nice view of the valley.

Temple on Mardi Himal Trek in Nepal

Buddhist temple in the forest – Photo: Eva Hirschi

We arrived at our breakfast spot roughly after 1.5 hours of hiking. Deurali (2100m) consists only of a few houses and you get a nice view of the mountains. Our recommendation for a tasty and strengthening breakfast: milk porridge with fresh fruits! With this energy, we reached our first accommodation, Forest Camp on 2600 meters, within a bit more than three hours from the breakfast place.

The first part of the trek was quite steep, but later on, there were some parts that were flat or even went downhill, so all in all it was well balanced. After this first five-hour hike with an elevation of around 1000m, we relaxed at the nice «Green view Hotel», playing with the owner’s kids who were spending their school holidays up here.

Hiking through the jungle on Mardi Himal Trek in Nepal

Hiking through the jungle – Photo: Johannes Nachbar

Hint: Take a shower (bucket shower but with warm water right from the fire) because later on, you won’t get a chance to…

Day 2: Passing the tree line and arriving… in the fog

After a good night of sleep, we continued our trek again early in the morning around 6 o’clock. Today’s hike should reach an elevation of again around 1000 meters in order to reach High Camp. Our goal was to get breakfast at a small teahouse on the way.

After half an hour, we reached a house from which we had a nice view on Machhapuchchre again. We continued straight through the forest and realised later that this must have been our breakfast place. But after two more hours, we already reached Low Camp so we could have a break there – there was a stunning view too!

Break at Low Camp on Mardi Himal Trek in Nepal

Not tired yet 😉 Breakfast break at Low Camp.

After the last part through the forest, we reached the tree line but instead of having a nice view of the surrounding mountains, we entered into a cloud of fog. Every few meters, the fog became thicker and thicker, adding some adventure and mystical flavours to the experience. We enjoyed it, knowing that in the next early morning, the sky would be clear again.

Head in the clouds on Mardi Himal Trek in the Annapurna Region of Nepal

Head in the clouds… – Photo: Johannes Nachbar

After two and a half more hours of hiking, we finally reached High Camp (3550m). At this point, we could only see a distance of three meters and there was a freezing cold wind. We went straight to our accommodation: the «Fishtail Guesthouse», where we warmed up in the fire oven, drinking hot milk tea.

Raj Kumar is the owner of this guesthouse and one of the most welcoming and nicest Nepali we met on our trip. For the next two days, he would make sure that we always got some nice hot tea or our beloved Dal Bhat – a Nepali meal consisting of rice, a lentils soup, some vegetables and pickles. On a trek, it is the best food to get energy, or as the Nepali say: «Dal Bhat power – 24 hours!»

Warming up next to the fire with milk tea at High Camp on Mardi Himal Trek in Nepal

Warming up next to the fire with milk tea – Photo: Johannes Nachbar

Day 3: Breathtaking experience – in two senses

The big day had come! Today, we wanted to hike as high as possible on Mardi Mountain. We got up before sunrise, but late enough so we wouldn’t need any torches. We knew that the foggy clouds would rise soon after 9 or 10 o’clock so we didn’t want to miss the clear view before.

The first part of the hike direction Mardi Himal Base Camp was very steep, at some point, we almost needed to climb the rocks. Soon, the sun rose above the mountains and it quickly became warmer (also because of the bigger physical effort for sure).

Title

Beautiful hike – Photo: Eva Hirschi

We realized how the air was getting thinner with every meter we gained in altitude, and one friend had to deal with some effects of altitude sickness, feeling nauseous and having a headache, we took it slowly and made sure to drink enough water and to eat chocolate and nuts, to keep our blood sugar level up.

After two hours, we reached the first viewpoint. We were just in time to enjoy the last minutes of a clear sight on Machhapuchchre, before the clouds started to enclose the peak, then the rest of the mountain, like a white winter coat.

First view point on Macchapucchre (Fishtail) on Mardi Himal Trek in Nepal

First viewpoint on Mardi Himal and Macchapucchre (Fishtail) – Photo: Johannes Nachbar

But we were not yet satisfied; our goal was to reach the upper viewpoint.

We hiked for two more hours, enjoying the view despite the – here in the high altitude higher – physical effort. Finally, we saw the sign with colourful praying flags on it – we reached almost 4500 meters! An overwhelming feeling overcame us, looking on the white giants on one side, and the valley with a dark mountain range, which seemed endless on the other side.

Upper View Point on Mardi Himal Trek in Nepal

We made it – almost 4500 meters above sea level! – Photo: Eva Hirschi

The clouds were rising, so we decided it wouldn’t be worth to hike up to Base Camp because we wouldn’t have had any views anyway, and would make our descent unnecessarily more dangerous. After a break, we started our hike back. On our way, we met a smiling Israeli with a long white beard sitting on a rock, and a bunch of Nepalese next to him. It turned out they were part of the rescue team, searching for a missing Israeli guy.

We had an interesting conversation with the man, about the power of mountains, the weight of years and the understanding of strangers. Instead of searching planlessly the area, they would try to understand the behaviour and thoughts of the Israeli, hoping to be able to trace his way by logic rather than by chance. We left them not without promising we wouldn’t take the short cut, but take the longer but safer way back down (not mentioning though that we had taken this precise shortcut on our way up…).

Pure happiness. View on Annapurna mountains on Mardi Himal Trek in Nepal.

Pure happiness. View on Annapurna mountains. – Photo: Lorène Métral

Finally, we reached High Camp again. The rest of the afternoon we spent heating up with tea first, then relaxing with a well deserved Nepali Ice beer. At one point, we found ourselves sitting around the warm oven in the middle of a group of Nepali, who offered us Nepali Whiskey, which is mixed with water and drunk warm. Soon, we felt the heat also inside the body and had a funny, laid back afternoon.

Day 4: Down, down, down

Since this was our last morning high in the mountains, and since we’d become used to getting up early, we decided to enjoy the sunrise one more time. We climbed up a small hill behind the guesthouse and could feel the euphoria filling our heart as the sun started dipping the mountains in a pinkish warm light. We felt the sunlit loneliness as if we were the only ones in this magical world.

Sunlit loneliness in the Annapurna mountains on Mardi Himal Trek in Nepal

Sunlit loneliness – Photo: Eva Hirschi

Then began our descent. The first part was truly beautiful and we realised which endless view we had missed when we were hiking up in the thick fog.

We couldn’t help but stop every few meters to take pictures or just to enjoy the majestic view. At Badal Danda, we got breakfast and saw the clouds coming up. Especially in this time of the year (October in our case), it’s worth to get up early since clouds are coming up rather fast, mostly around 9:30 to 10 o’clock already.

Feeling like on top of the world on Mardi Himal Trek in Nepal

On top of the world. – Photo: Lorène Métral

Then the path re-entered the forest, and the descent turned out to be more challenging than expected. Instead of going down to Forest Camp, we took the left path, which led to a village called Sidding. Not only was it a steep path, but also there were many loose rocks on the ground, which made it slippery. My friends soon felt their knees but I was lucky and didn’t feel any pain except for the tired feet.

As we reached the first houses of Sidding, next to rice fields and bamboos, we had a tea break before looking for our tonight’s accommodation. Raj Kumar, our friendly host at the High Camp had organised us a home stay accommodation – at his family’s place.

We were looking forward to this experience, even though we soon realised that there was a language barrier. At least with two men we were able to communicate, and especially with one of Raj’s brothers, we learned a lot about the current working situation for Nepali men.

Homestay in Sidding in Nepal on Mardi Himal Trek in Nepal

Our homestay in Sidding – Photo: Eva Hirschi

He told us that many Nepali would – because of lack of job opportunities in Nepal – go working in the Gulf states or in India, under harsh conditions. The employers take away their passports the day they arrive, so they can’t leave the country before the contract is over, which often lasts for three years – so they can’t defend themselves against exploitation nor visit their families. Now, he was back after having finished his working contract in South Africa, looking for a new job, maybe in Japan.

Full of thoughts, we went to bed.

Day 5: The jeep ride – an experience itself

The next morning we changed our plans. From Sidding, we could have continued our hike for three more hours before taking a jeep back to Pokhara. Since my friends were dealing with knee pains, we decided to take the jeep directly from Sidding, since the further hike would have been as steep and difficult as on the former day.

So we found ourselves on top of an old jeep, driving down what wasn’t even close to a road to Swiss standards – not enough, in Switzerland there certainly are at least ten laws why we shouldn’t do this. The word «bumpy» wouldn’t do this experience any justice, my hands got blisters from holding myself on the bar, trying not to fall off. The jeep passed over stones and through a small river, which came from a waterfall next to the road – what a crazy experience!

Jeep drive from Mardi Himal Trek to Pokhara in Nepal

Standing in the back of the jeep was certainly less bumpy than sitting on top… Photo: Eva Hirschi

Once we reached the flat land of the valley of Pokhara, my bottom was very happy and I could finally enjoy the view on the Himalayas better, without needing to hold myself convulsively on the bar. This jeep ride was almost more exhausting than the actual hike in itself but definitely worth the experience.

 

Precious Tips:

Trekking permit: Before starting the trek, you need to get an official trekking permit at the tourist centre. For Mardi Himal trek, you need two different permits: Annapurna Conservation Area Project (ACAP) and TIMS Card (Tourism Information Management System). Each one costs 2000 Rupees (20 dollars) and you need two pass photos for each permit. If you don’t have any photos with you, there is a possibility to get pictures – for free! At some points on the route, you will find checkpoints where you register your name, so authorities know who’s on the trek. And who’s missing – so don’t forget to check out in the end again (also possible via phone if you don’t pass a checkpoint, as us)

Accommodation: A Nepali friend booked our rooms one day before we started our trek and we were happy since sometimes, it seemed that certain accommodations were fully booked. The rooms are very simple but clean and good. The bathrooms are rudimentary and outside, so bring a torch to be able to use them after sunset.

Water: For ecological and economical reasons, we brought two one litres bottle each and refilled them up at the teahouses on our way for free. We used water purification tablets my friend had bought in Switzerland and some drops to make disappear the chlorine taste. In high altitudes, the body needs more water so make sure to drink enough.

Electricity: From Dhampus on, there was no electricity available in the rooms anymore. In the lodges, they have electricity for the lights, but usually you can’t charge your phone or camera, or only do it if you pay for it. It’s easier and safer to bring a spare battery for your camera and a power bank for your phone.

Prices: the prices are fixed and transparent. The higher you get up the mountain, the higher get the prices, but the difference isn’t big. For a room with two beds we paid between 350 and 550 rupees, a Dal Bhat was around 350 rupees and tea or coffee around 60-80 rupees.

Clothes: We did our trek in the end of October, which is the beginning of the winter season in Nepal. The higher you hike, the colder it gets. From High Camp on we were happy to have windbreaker jackets and a cap.

What to bring: Sleeping bag (even if some lodges provide blankets, it can get very cold and you’ll be happy about your comfy and warm sleeping bag!), water purification tablets, two water bottles of one litre each, some snacks, sunscreen, a windbreaker jacket, a power bank, cash. A map is not needed since the path is well indicated and there are few chances to get lost.

#EvaMeetsWorld – Jesse: Combining travelling, blogging and finance

A 31-year-old senior associate in business finance quits his job, his country and finds himself on an eight months trip through Oceania and Asia. To keep a foot in his field, he produces podcasts with entrepreneurs.


I met Jesse in Bali at the backpacker hostel where I was staying. It was my first day in Indonesia, Jesse had already been travelling for a few days in this country and arrived in Bali two days ago. The two of us, a beer in our hand, started to talk and share our stories. Quickly, he attracted my attention with his interesting thoughts, his joyful attitude and his funny stories.

Financial guys don’t travel in suits

Jesse is that type of person who easily starts conversations – about everything possible; be it travelling in Indonesia, Kafka’s books, or the second presidential debate between Clinton and Trump. Jesse quits the topics of small talk pleasantly quickly.

His favourite subject, though, is finance. With his beard, his curly hair and his sleeveless shirt, I must admit he looked somewhat like a hipster surfer boy to me, so I was surprised to learn that he had been working in finance for eight years before.

 

#EvaMeetsWorld Jesse in Vietnam

Jesse in Vietnam

Jesse had worked for a private venture capital company in Washington D.C., meaning he’d evaluate investment opportunities, execute transactions and help companies to perform better. A good job, sure, but he quit: «I enjoyed my work, but I felt I wanted to do something which has a meaning. And I want to create», says Jesse.

Creating not necessarily in a purely artistic way, but if you have a look at his blog and Instagram profile, you quickly realise that Jesse doesn’t just want to analyse numbers but express himself.

Looking for inspiration

Before going on this trip, he had applied for another interesting job and taken it as a game-changer: Either he would find himself in a completely new job, or – in case he wouldn’t get it – he would go travelling for eight months.

In the end, the company decided to employ someone else but Jesse wasn’t disappointed – travelling for a few months had been on his bucket list for quite a while.

A few pictures of Jesse's Instagram profile

A glimpse of Jesse’s Instagram profile

He felt like a trip far away from home might help him to find out what kind of job he would like to do and how he could add meaning to it. «I want to learn about the world and to inspire myself to think outside my former perspective», says Jesse about his travel motivation.

Quitting a job without cutting ties

To keep a record of his trip, Jesse has his own travel blog. Very organised, as he is in his daily life, too, each blog post is composed of the same three categories: surprising discoveries, the brief history of the place and things he did there. It gives an interesting glimpse of his travels.

A very interesting feature of his blog are the KPIs, Key Performance Indicators (no surprise he uses such a technical name, right?). Here, Jesse writes down in a very transparent way how much he’s been spending during his travels.

There are different categories, such as lodging, food, alcohol, entertainment and transport. In simple but pretty graphics, he shows the average cost of a day in a specific country. «I enjoy having a quantitative look at something», he says.

Jesse Budget Metrics on his travel blog

Check out his blog for more detailed graphics

It also helps him keep track of his travel budget. But moreover, he wants to help people who travel in providing them with a transparent view on travel expenses in different countries.

Indeed, it is a helpful and fun tool to get an idea of the «price» of a country, even though Jesse admits that sometimes, this precise tracking makes him too mindful about his spending

Another very interesting feature on his blog are the so-called «startup journeys». Jesse produces podcasts in which he interviews people who are investors in start-ups or small businesses, or entrepreneurs themselves. «The aim is to get in contact with people in the same field career-wise and the podcasts offer a good ‘excuse’ to meet interesting people.»

Jesse during an interview in Indonesia for his podcast.

Jesse during an interview in Indonesia for his podcast.

The podcasts are not only a clever way of networking, they also show that Jesse keeps connected with his work during the travels. «I want to have something to show when I come back, so it doesn’t look like if I’ve been travelling and partying for eight months», he explains.

Solo-travelling in Oceania and South East Asia

Jesse started his trip in Australia and New Zealand and is now exploring whole South East Asia. He has got eight months because he wants to go back to the US for the wedding of a very good friend.

«Travelling alone has its advantages and disadvantages», he says. He enjoys the freedom of doing whatever he likes, of going wherever he wants. «But being alone sometimes means being lonely», says Jesse. It pushes him to get out of his comfort zone.

Travelling alone, he gets to meet a lot of new people. «There is actually something bittersweet about making new friends while travelling because you know after a few days, your paths will separate.» And what advice would he give to other travellers? «Be open minded, don’t over-prepare and get outside your comfort zone!»


On my trip around the world, I meet many different people and some of them leave an inspiring mark on my heart. In this series #EvaMeetsWorld, I aim to give a small glimpse into someone’s life in another part of the world, may it be travellers, locals or expats.

 

Travel hacks Ethiopia – things you should know before starting your trip

Ethiopia is the only African country that has never been colonised and maintains its own distinct culture. Here are the Do’s and Don’ts of Ethiopia. These travel hacks will help you navigate Ethiopia like a local.


Why you are China

Despite my blonde hair and blue eyes, the people of Ethiopia regularly pointed at me and shouted «CHINA!». It isn’t that Ethiopians can’t tell the difference between Europeans and Asians rather that most of the foreigners that Ethiopians typically see are Chinese construction workers doing road work. Sometimes, you will also be called ‘ferenji’ which comes from the word ‘french.’ This is because the French were the first Europeans to drive in Ethiopia.

Travel hack: If someone calls you Ferenji or China, point at them too and say «Habesha!», which means Ethiopians. Laughter and surprised faces are guaranteed. 

A picture of me with my blond hair next to an Ethiopian

Habesha & Ferenji ;-)

Hidden juice bars

One of the most amazing things about Ethiopia are the juice bars. At most of the fruits stands, you will find an entrance to a back room. There, you can order fresh salads with avocado and bananas, or get freshly pressed juice. 

Depending on the size of the fruit stand, you can get orange, mango, banana, guava, papaya, strawberry, or, my favourite, avocado juice. It is served with a spoon next to it because it is more of a thick smoothie than a liquid juice. Because of the thick texture and the fresh fruits and vegetables used the juices tasted amazing. The juices are often served with syrup as a sweetener and a lime on the side which is dripped into the juice.

Travel hack: If you can’t decide which juice to take, then order a «spris». It means «mix» and is not simply a multifruit juice but is presented in nice layers for each fruit. 

Fruit stand in Ethiopia

Fruit stand in Ethiopia – Picture: Eva Hirschi

Eating with the right hand

I could probably write a book about the gastronomic culture of this country, but let’s just get the basics. Ethiopians eat with their hand, therefore before you start eating you must go to the «hand wash», an outside sink where you can clean your paws with some soap. In fancy restaurants, they will bring you the water and a small bowl to wash your hands.

During the meal, you will only use the right hand. This is accomplished by taking some injera, or flatbread, and wrapping it around some of the toppings which include fish, meat, lentils, vegetables and salad. If you’re a pro, you can manage to make something that looks like a little package even though I’m still far from this.

Travel hack: Licking the fingers is not well seen during the whole meal since it’s not very hygienic when you stick your licked fingers back in the common plate. Makes sense, right?

Travel hack II: It can happen that someone at the table wants to put a handful of the food directly in your mouth. This feeding is called «gursha» and is a sign of hospitality and respect. Usually, a gursha is always given three times during a meal. You can also give a gursha back to your host, but you don’t have to.

Typical Ethiopian dish

Typical Ethiopian dish – Photo: Eva Hirschi

Intimate bus rides

There is a surprisingly big amount of people that fit into an Ethiopian bus. In the city of Addis, you will often find mini-busses. Designed for 12 people, they can easily fit twice as many passengers in there. If you need a comfortable seat and privacy, then just don’t take the bus at all. It is absolutely normal to squeeze three people into two seats or let them sit on boxes on the floor.

You pay the (very small) price directly in the bus, a guy called assistant collects the money from all the passengers and shouts the direction or final destination of the bus when there is a stop. There are no bus stations indicated, so you just tell the assistant where you want to get off.

Travel hack: Try to get one of the two front seats next to the driver, they are way more comfortable and less bumpy.

Like a local: Public bus rides in Addis Abeba, Ethiopia

Like a local: Public bus rides in Addis Abeba – Photo: Eva Hirschi

How to greet

In Ethiopia, you shake hands to greet each other, often followed by a short touching of the shoulders, as you would bump into each other. This is followed by a series of questions about how the person is doing, how the family is doing, how work is doing etc. By the way, not to look into the other’s eyes can be a sign of respect, contrary to what we are used to.

Travel hack: Support your right forearm with your left hand while shaking someone’s hand, it strengthens the gesture.

This handshake shows how Ethiopians greet each other

A typical Ethiopian handshake – Photo: Marwan Abdalla

Telling time

If you travel by bus, you might think the clock is wrong, showing a completely different hour than it actually is. But even though it’s true that Ethiopians don’t take being on time very strictly, the clock in the bus is correct – Ethiopia just uses a different system to count the hours than the rest of the world. The day starts with the sunrise, so when it’s six o’clock for us, for them it’s 0 o’clock. Ten o’clock in the morning would, therefore, be four o’clock for Ethiopians.

Travel hack: If you fix an appointment with an Ethiopian friend, don’t forget to ask whether the indicated time refers to the Ethiopian time system or the western one.

How to tell Ethiopian time

Is this Swiss or Ethiopian time? – Photo: Eva Hirschi

Move your body

In Ethiopia, everybody can dance. Women, men, babies and grannies. And they do it all the time. If you are in Ethiopia, sooner or later someone will teach you how to dance. This doesn’t need to be in a club or in a bar – sometimes when there is nice music in a restaurant, people would spontaneously stand up and start dancing, so don’t be surprised.

Travel hack: Don’t be shy and try to dance as well as possible – it will make the Ethiopians happy.

Example of some random dancing in a restaurant, performed by a cute little boy

Get coffee addicted

Ethiopia is the origin of the green gold. So it is no surprise that in Ethiopia, people don’t just drink coffee – they have a traditional coffee ceremony which is an integral part of the daily life (check my blog post about how to perform the traditional Ethiopian coffee ceremony).

The coffee is served in small cups, but since it is a stronger coffee than the one we are used to in Europe, it’s perfectly fine. And traditionally, you get three «rounds» of coffee; the first one being the strongest coffee, the last the least strong one.

Travel hack: Tell them in the beginning that you don’t want any sugar in your coffee, since Ethiopians put the sugar directly into the cups before pouring the coffee.

Ethiopian coffee

Ethiopian coffee – Photo: Livia Röthlisberger

Chewing plants

Even though I never tried it, «chat» (khat) is very important to some Ethiopians, so I am briefly going to explain why you might often see chewing Ethiopians. It’s not chewing gums they have in their mouth, but a plant called «chat» which grows in the South. It has a mildly stimulating effect and is totally legal.

Some Ethiopians swear that it increases concentration, so it happens that students eventually chew this plant while studying. The leaves taste bitter so often the Ethiopians take sweet soft drinks and small snacks with them to get a better taste.

Travel hack: You can find «chat» all over the country, but make sure an Ethiopian friend helps you with finding some good one. Prices do reflect quality, and the youngest leaves are supposed to be the best.

Erta Ale, Ethiopia – the most dangerous (and amazing!) trip of my life

More than just a volcano: The trip to Erta Alea and the Danakil Depression is a constant mind-blowing adventure and a once in a lifetime experience.

«You should go to the volcano Erta Alea – it’s on a list of top 10 things to see before you die», my friend told me. Erta Ale means «smoking mountain» in Amharic and is locally known as the gateway to hell. Since my friend sounded deeply fascinated by this place he had googled, and I happened to stay in Ethiopia for a whole month, I booked a tour without hesitation.

In order to be able to go to Erta Ale and the Danakil Depression, it is mandatory to book a tour with a guided group – you even need to be accompanied by military security guards. The Afar region in the north of Ethiopia near the Eritrean border is sometimes turbulent, the inhabitants known to be rather violent and hostile to outsiders coming into their territory.
Little did I know that this would not be the only thing that’s dangerous on this trip.

Trip to volcano Erta Ale in Ethiopia with ETT

Trip to Erta Ale with ETT – Photo: Eva Hirschi

Weiterlesen

How to perform the traditional Ethiopian coffee ceremony

Coffee originates from Ethiopia. However, one does not just brew coffee here, no, there is a special ceremony for it. I got the honour to make coffee for Ethiopia’s New Year, so here is an introduction on how to do it the Ethiopian way.

In Ethiopia, a small sign reveals the presence of a place where traditional coffee is prepared: fresh green grass on the floor. This is said to keep away bad spirits. Also, Ethiopians put some incense on the fire on which the coffee is cooked, which envelops the room with a very nice smelling smoke. This is believed to stimulate the men when they see the wife preparing the coffee. However, once you smell this odour, you will quickly recognise it from a time when you were in close proximity to a coffee place.

Traditional Ethiopian coffee ceremony

Traditional Ethiopian coffee ceremony

The traditional coffee is served like an espresso, with two spoons of sugar, and is called «buna». Usually, it’s the women who prepare the coffee. For special occasions, they wear the traditional white dress with coloured woven borders. My Swiss friend, currently living in Ethiopia, put me in contact with two friends. With them by my side, I learned how to do the traditional coffee ceremony.  These are the steps:

1: Washing underneath the skin

Ethiopian coffee is made with fresh coffee beans. First, you have to wash them. Not because they are dirty, but because you want to scrub off the skin of the beans. Therefore, you put a little bit of water on the flat pan and scrub the beans together until the skin comes off.

Washing the coffee beans for traditional Ethiopian coffee

Washing the coffee beans

2: Roast it over (incense) fire

So far, the beans are still green so you need to roast them over a tiny charcoal stove. Move them constantly on the flat pan so they are roasted equally and regularly. They will become black and shiny because the heat coaxes the aromatic oil out of them. Once they have all reached the same colour, you’re done.

Roasting coffee beans for traditional Ethiopian coffee

Can’t forget the intensive smell…

3: Small workout for the arms

Now comes the tricky part: you need to make a powder out of the coffee beans. Therefore, you need to grind them with a pestle and a mortar. It takes a lot of effort, so prepare yourself for this task. Note: modern families nowadays use electric coffee mills, but we want to do it the traditional way, right? Keep on!

Workout for the arms: grinding the coffee beans for traditional Ethiopian coffee

Making everyone laugh because of my soft technique…

4: Boil and wait

Before you boil the coffee, you first have to boil the water in the «jebena», the traditional Ethiopian coffee boiling pot. Once it boils you add the coffee powder. Usually, it’s one spoon for two people. Let it boil for a couple of minutes. Soon you’ll get to smell the awesome fresh coffee!

Waiting until it's done: Traditional Ethiopian coffee

Enjoying this Ethiopian coffee tradition.

5: Rest (in peace)

Once you have boiled the coffee, you can’t drink it right away. Be patient. Put the jebena away from the fire and let it rest. This makes the coffee powder go down to the bottom so you’re not going to swallow small pieces. This is similar to how Turkish coffee is made. Some families strain the coffee through a fine sieve several times instead of waiting.

6: Don’t forget the extra cup

After a few minutes, it’s finally time to taste the coffee. Put sugar in the small, handleless cups (Ethiopians usually drink it with two or three spoons of sugar and can’t believe I prefer mine black…) and carefully pour the hot coffee from as high as possible into the cups. On the countryside, they add salt or traditional butter instead of sugar sometimes. Don’t forget to put an extra cup on your plate – this is for spontaneous guests or for God – but don’t pour any coffee in it. After all, it is meant to be symbolic, right?

Ethiopian coffee

There is always time for a coffee break in Ethiopia.

The first cup goes to the oldest person in the room. Don’t forget to serve popcorn or peanuts with the coffee, this is how it is done in Ethiopia (and you won’t drink your coffee without popcorn anymore afterwards, I promise!) This is rather new, however. In the past, they used to serve a homemade pastry called him bash, but the coffee ceremony also goes with the pace of the modern times so popcorn is prepared instead because it is easier and quicker.

7: Three heavens

If you think that was it, then you’re wrong. Coffee is always served in three rounds in Ethiopia, yay! The first is the strongest one, the second is less strong and the third is the weakest. The third round is considered a blessing. After all this hard work, it would be a pity just to have one small cup of the precious green gold, right?

 

Meskel – Ethiopians most holy holiday

The most important Ethiopian holiday – Meskel – took place last week and we went to Dorze in Southern Ethiopia in order to celebrate this special day. A glimpse of one of the craziest days in my life.

One good way to learn more about a culture is to celebrate a holiday. In Ethiopia, the national holiday, Meskel, was the perfect occasion to do so. The region of Dorze is known for its traditional celebration of Meskel, so we decided to go there with our friend who is originally from a town there.

Dorze, Ethiopia

Beautiful Dorze

From Addis Abeba we took a public bus to Arba Minch, where a friend of his picked us up and drove us all the way up to Dorze. This region is composed of 12 villages at a altitude of 2600 meters above sea level, which is 600 meters higher than where I usually go skiing in the Swiss mountains…

Orthodox celebration

The main part of the population belongs to the Ethiopian orthodox church. On Meskel, the discovery of the holy cross is celebrated. According to a legend, in the year 326 Queen Helena discovered the cross upon which Christ was crucified. The celebration takes place over several days and starts on September 26th.

Women dress in white when they go to church

Women dress in white when they go to church

During these days, you even have to greet each other in a special way in Dorze. When you meet friends, you have to jump and shout «Yo, yo, yo!» and then all the people reply with a long «Yooooooo!», hugging each other. We tried to apply it on this day and it worked perfectly – whether young or old, female or male, everybody greets like this and was highly amused by us doing so too.

Bloody field

The most important event of the celebration is the slaughtering of the bulls. On a big field where the market usually takes place, about 700 to 1000 bulls get killed on this one day! When men bring a new bull to the field, people will assemble around and watch them slaughter the animal. To do so, they tie its legs together and make it fall to the side. Then, a guy cuts the neck of the bull with a big knife and it dies within several minutes from bloodloss.

The slaughtering of the bulls

The slaughtering of the bulls

If you walk over the field – as we couragesely did – you’ll find a dead bull lying on the ground every three meters. Or sometimes just parts of it, like a leg, the head or the tail. You need to be careful not to slip on the small lakes of fresh blood, and if you here people shouting «suts suts», watch out, because it means they are carrying a big piece of meat through the crowd, so make sure to get out of the way.

Singing, dancing and drinking

Admittedly, the slaughtering was not my favorite part of the celebration, even though it was very interesting. After this experience, we felt like we needed a beer or two and so we went to a bar close to the field with seating outside on the grass, in the shade. Quickly, people started talking to us, interested about the white foreigners. After a few beers, people started singing, usually with one guy shouting some headlines, and the crowd replying in a choire. They also started showing us some traditional dances.

Meskel celebration in Dorze, Ethiopia

Meskel celebration in Dorze

A group of four people sat there too, with a big piece of fresh meat. They had brought injera (the sour dough flat bred) and some spices, and started eating the raw meat. I got the honour to try some too, and to be honest, it was delicious! People drink a very strong liquor called Araki with it, to «calm down the concert in the stomach» after the raw meat.

My two cents

I’m not a big fan of slaughtering – not at all, actually – but since its part of the culture and I do eat meat, I felt like I should see it. And to be honest, it was a really interesting experience. Even if on first sight it might seem brutal, it’s actually more natural than the methods employed in Europe. Also, the animals lived their whole life in the nature on the fields, and not in metal cages as in Europe. So even if we are not used to it, we should learn about the slaughtering instead of just buying nicely cut pieces of meat in the supermarket without questioning ourselfs on where it comes from.

Meskel in Dorze

Typical scenary of Meskel

Highlights of Morocco

Morocco is the perfect introduction to the African continent: a bit slower, a bit less organised and a bit more colorful than Europe, but yet not as chaotic and crazy as the rest of Africa.

Morocco is a very diverse country: from mountains to beaches, from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic, from forests to deserts, from Arabs to Berbers – you’ll find a lot of variety in this country. That’s the reason we decided to do a road trip and see as many different things as possible within our two and a half weeks here. We visited nine different places (Casablanca, Meknes, Azrou, Ouzrou, Marrakesh, Essaouira, Oualidia, El-Jadida, Rabat) so here are the highlights from our trip.

Calm Meknes

Meknes is the sixth biggest city in Morocco. Since the city of Fes is a bit bigger and in the same area, most tourists tend to visit Fes, so if you want a less touristy experience, you should go to Meknes – and it’s no less beautiful!

Meknes, Morocco

Meknes

The medina – the old town – is like a small labyrinth: it’s not easy to find your way through the countless small roads and paths, but it makes the exploration of the city even more stunning and exciting. Also, in literally each corner you’ll find a cat taking a nap or chasing some flies… Make sure to drink the traditional peppermint tea or go for some fresh juices like mango or avocado – delicious!

Wild Ouzoud

This was probably my biggest highlight of this trip: the waterfalls of Ouzoud. At first sight, and especially if you walk down the main road with the stairs, you might be disappointed by this place. There is this very nice waterfall, yes, but many many tourists around and not that much nature. But don’t stop here, walk all the way down and continue your way along the river that comes from the waterfall. You will find many different camp sites, the one I recommend is called «Le panard». The owner was one of the first ones to open a campsite next to the waterfall and he has a lot of stories to tell about how the area has changed the past 30 years.

Waterfalls of Ouzoud

Waterfalls of Ouzoud

This place is especially nice since you can also sleep outside without a tent. Actually, there is a kind of a terras with thin mattresses, roofed by plants. For only 30 dirhams you can grab one those mattresses and sleep outside – in summer this is perfect, just take a sleeping bag or a thin blanket since the temperatures might fall a bit in the middle of the night. Even with the ceiling, you’re able to see a bit of the surrounding mountains and the sky with its stars, which is truly beautiful. The next day you can get a delicious breakfast.

Sleeping under the stars

Sleeping under the stars

Instead of going for a swim next to the waterfall, like most of the tourists, you should walk down the river even further and you’ll find different places where you can take a perfect bath, sometimes next to mini waterfalls. The owner recommends the place where this river joins another one, which is about a one to two hour walk away from his camp site, but we never managed to get there because we were already struggling enough with the 40+ degrees during the day. You can also get dinner at his place, I definitely recommend the Berbers omelette (which doesn’t taste like a European omelette, but is served in a tagine).

Crazy Marrakesh

Marrakesh

Marrakesh

Marrakesh is the most famous destination in Morocco – and even if I usually don’t like touristy places, I definitely recommend Marrakesh. Very distinguished from the other cities of Morocco, it feels like entering a different world: more colorful, louder, crazier than everything else. Especially on the souk – the big market – the ambience is vibrating and energizing. Still, Marrakesh is more than just the souk. We did Couchsurfing and stayed with a lovely Moroccan family. They showed us the local life in Marrakesh – for example, we had a night picnic in the park and walked through the very animated streets of a suburb of Marrakesh without seeing any other Europeans.

Another authentic experience was the hammam – not the touristy one for 400 dirhams, but the small local one for 10 dirhams. It was a crazy experience to find yourself topless and only with the bikini sitting on the wet floor of a very simple hallway, pouring hot water on your skin and rubbing it with a special exfoliating glove (kessa) and black soap. And – as our host had predicted – an elderly woman approached us and asked «Madame ou Mademoiselle?» – We were wise enough to answer Madame, not wanting to get her marriage recommendations in Arab.

Beautiful Essaouira

From Marrakesh, we went to Essaouira, a very nice – and in Europe not yet that known – harbour city on the Atlantic coast. Moroccans call Essaouira the windy city, and we can confirm this. Better bring a small jacket or sweater with you, even in summer. Also, the Atlantic is very cold at this place so we decided not to go for a swim. Still, the city has a lot of other things to offer. There are many nice restaurants and bars (check out the Pirate’s Zion, they have a café in the city center and a hostel a little bit outside the center if you are looking for an alternative, artsy place to be) or go to one of the cafés next to the busy main street and sip your tea while watching the people pass by.

Essaouira, Morocco

Essaouira

Also, make sure to be at the harbour from 3pm on. This is the time when the first fishermen come back from the Sea and sell their catch on the quai. I discovered sea creatures I’ve never seen in my life before. They even sell shark, if they happen to catch one by accident. Our favorite spot was on top of the wall that surrounds the harbor; from there you can overlook the whole place and take nice discrete pictures.

Royal Rabat

After having checked out some beaches on the Atlantic coast, we drove north all the way to Rabat. You’ll realize very quickly that this is the capital city, the city of the king. The streets are cleaner, the buildings taller, the people more chique. The mausoleum of Mohammed V and the Hassan tour were nice, but I found the Kasbah of the Udayas (Kasbah des Oudaïa) even more impressive. This ancient fortress is part of the UNESCO world heritage sites. On top of a hill, you have a nice view on the beach, the neighbouring city Salé and a bit of Rabat. You can walk through narrow paths between blue and white houses, seeing cats and kids playing. Behind the houses, you’ll find a small paradise: the Andalusian garden. Take a coffee and enjoy the smell of the different plants and the sun on your skin.

Morocco's cats