Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Parlez-vous français?

First my thoughts on France. We arrived in Pau, France in early October and spent 2 weeks here before heading to Morocco, knowing that we would return again to our same little studio apartment for 3 more weeks in November.

View from apartment of Place
For me Pau was a very comfortable life - small city with easy access to all that we need. At this time of my life it is the most important thing to me - the ability to live without transportation other than my two feet. Of course that could change but right now they are still happy to take me wherever I want to go. I didn't do much the first two weeks as I was recovering from our "camino" but what better place to be.

Place Clemenceau, Pau
I studied French in High School and was/am amazed at how much is in my head but I never got to the point of ability to really string along sentences. I took a few classes here in Pau and found myself falling back on Spanish when not knowing a word, rather than English. The good news for me was that it helped me realize how much Spanish I have learned over the last several years. I do know that if I put my mind to it and were to live in France for longer periods of time I would dedicate time to the language and surely would get better. Studying is not my favorite pastime so it is always a tradeoff for something else I might rather do.
Church in Pau

Fall in Pau
I found the French people friendly on some level but not at all interested in speaking English which made it a bit difficult for communication. I believe they may know some English but they were not wanting to speak it. Richard had it correct - when being friendly and greeting them with "bonjour" they usually were friendly however it took me a while to realize this. They are formal in their ways. I loved walking around and admiring the women and men dressed so very well and Pau is a city of lovely shopping everywhere. The food is their pride and joy and I admit that it is not my favorite part of their culture as it is so different than my way of cooking and eating. Yes, it is possible to be plant based in France but it is not easy nor welcomed by all. (See my vegan food adventure blog at:

4our friends with 4our new scarves
The very best part of the trip was our friends Erin and Philip who lived on the floor below. They are here now for the 4th time and staying for 6 months. They really know France well, have good connections and have been so kind to us. They have a car and took us on many adventures into the Pyrenees for drives, walks, spa, etc. They even took us on a surprise trip this past weekend through a 5 mile bridge from France to Spain where we lunched. Thanks to you both.

We took side trips to Lourdes, Bayonne and Biarritz. Each was an easy train trip from Pau and an opportunity to see different areas. Biarritz is on the Atlantic coast, a beach resort and a possible place to return for a short visit someday on off season.

Now we are on our last few days as we leave on Thanksgiving and arrive in Mexico on Friday. To sum it up - WOW is all I can say. I am grateful to Ricardo and to the "travel gods" for this many month trip. Remember we started in June from Mexico to the USA and then arrived in Europe in mid August. We have been to Berlin, Buxton, Portugal and Spain by foot, France and Morocco. Each leg had its special moments. It was not always easy as I had several physical problems, most of which are resolved but somehow we both managed to enjoy each day to its fullest. I find that the best way to learn about myself is while traveling and experiencing other cultures. I learn what I like and don't and I am always reminded that most people are the same, no matter where I am and that borders are just man made dividers. Language and culture are different and that is the excitement. I shall probably never be content living always in the same place. What vagabond genes I inherited and from whom??
Happy Thanksgiving to all

At this time of  Thanksgiving, I am grateful to our family and friends who continue to support us as cheerleaders on our travels - some of you understand us, some don't but yet you ALL accept us nonetheless. A Happy Day to you all. With love from Susan.

Thoughts from Ricardo

Finally I have checked off another one of my bucket list items. Our time in France to travel and learn the culture and some of the French language has been a total joy.

This is a country of very proud people who thoroughly identify with all there is to be French -  from their food to their language and their customs.
Streets of Pau

The French are very warm and giving people in many ways. To realize this you must begin every encounter with BONJOUR “hello”. They don’t have much patience for people who are aggressive or in a hurry. The French take their time and with accepting this tempo you will be very welcomed indeed.

Their language is difficult for English speakers as English is for the French. I was told that 60 percent of the English language comes from the French though it is spoken differently with sounds and accents that don’t exist in either language.  Many French do know some English but don’t like to use it because of the difficulty with the pronunciation. Spanish is more straightforward as it is spoken like it is spelled compared with French whose spelling is uniquely French with many letters at the end of words that are silent.

We have been living in Pau, France as a place to settle and regroup after our many travels and this was a good choice for us.  Pau is a very clean and has access by foot to all that one would need to live with ease. We have some very close friends Erin and Philip that are living downstairs from us and we appreciate all that they have done for us to make our time in France so enjoyable. We have traveled to the mountains,  some cities and the ocean and have always remarked at how special France is. It is a very modern country and would be a very easy place to settle.  I know that we will return to France in the near future.

Cathedral of Bayonne
My final feelings of being here in France.  In some ways this part of southern France which has a strong Basque and English influence seems like a dream world.  A mixture of old and modern, it is very up to date with technology and services. Everything seems to be very well thought out having a plan not just being put together haphazardly. I see France as a country who is looking ahead and taking care of it's citizens well.  It is a very warm and compassionate place where I have felt very safe and welcomed.

Sending love,

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Morocco - sights, sounds and smells

I am writing on the plane just as we leave Marrakech for France. I think that this has been the most amazing trip of our lives thus far (and you all know that we have had already had some pretty amazing adventures). Why you ask? I don’t know if I can capture it in words as it is a feeling and experience that doesn’t exactly translate but I will give it a try.

Perhaps it is the contrast to other realities. It is a country of sounds, smells and sights. We experienced cities such as Fez and Marrakech, many oases, Rif and Atlas Mountains and many parts of the Sahara desert. I am adding many photos for those who a have not seen them on Facebook.


the "dyeing" street in
Fez medina.

leather dyeing

spices in medina
Smells...the mint tea everyday and everywhere.  How gracious are the people to invite us to sit and sip this tea at every occasion. There was a slight incense smell in all medinas (central old parts of each city). Normally I am bothered by the smell of incense but here it was mild and pleasant. Because of my personal choice of food I suppose we missed a few different smells but each vegetarian tagine we ate had the smell of different North African spices.
Olives every day.

typical veggie appetizers
Roman ruins at Volubilis
Sights....the visual experiences were even more varied because of both the scenery and the man made artisan products - tiles, leather, fabric, clothing,  jewelry, woven Berber rugs and much more. I chose to continue my “drawing a day” and captured some of the things I saw each day. I often noted the similarities between Mexican handicrafts and those of Morocco. I loved the beautiful and graceful Arabic writing and learned to write my name. We saw so many things growing; dates we picked off trees, olives, pomegranates, almonds, figs, clementines and apples.
Susan in arabic


Chefchauen, the blue city


Ifrane, a ski village on the way to Midelt
And the sounds....they range from the VERY noisy Médina in Marrakech with motorcycles weaving in and out of the narrow streets to the complete silence  of the desert. We stayed the night in the Sahara at Merzouga and we were up in the middle of the night to witness the stars and the complete silence. The second opportunity was to sit in the sand dunes at sunrise for this same silence. Between these extremes were the snorting camels, Arabic music in the car with singer Abd Halim singing “Habibitee” which became our favorite song and background conversations going on all the time in either Arabic, Berber dialects or French.

Dates galore

Berber rugs

Berber tent in the desert

Fun with Hami
our "tent" in the Sahara desert
My curiosity was peaked early in the trip to try and figure out the Islamic religion of the Muslim people. I must admit my ignorance before traveling of this religion and it’s people. We had conversations with strict Muslims, more liberal Muslims, Berbers who are all Muslims as it is the religion of the country and those Berbers who might say they are Muslim but who practice their own indigenous religions from the time before the Muslims settled Morocco. We visited Roman ruins who were there way before the Muslims. Sometimes I wish I had paid a bit more attention to World History many years ago but suspect that I might have forgotten some. No history is the same for all people as it written by those in power. Having traveled in Mexico, Peru and Ecuador I always am struck by how the invaders are quick to take the power from the indigenous and it seems to usually be through religion.
Sunset on camels on the desert

Heart shaped sand dune

my name in Arabic

Without going on and on, I will end with my favorite parts of this 15 days. Without a doubt it was our driver, now friend, Cherif who was there for us at every moment. He hand held me across the chaotic streets of bigger cities and took us on a special adventure to a little village to buy fresh dates off a tree. We remarked that we felt like we were buying drugs as we wound through narrow alleys and into a private home. He knows his country and was happy to share that love with us.
A view from Hotel Maison Amazigh
in Dades Valley

The family at Maison Amazigh

The Berber symbol Amazigh
meaning "Free People"

On the long walk to the Berber cave

Sheep and Fatima
outside Berber cave
in the desert

Mom and her children
outside the cave

I asked questions to those who were willing to answer...about women and about their clothing (hajibs). Unfortunately I didn't really get to know any women well enough so I was getting a male perspective. This perspective was also connected to how devout was the person giving me opinions. I could see the difference between the big cosmopolitan modern city of Marrakech which was more Berber and the smaller Fez which is more Arabic.

There were several auberges that stood out - Maison Zoula and guide Hami who took us on our long walk along the river Ziz to several oases. He joined us the next day on our 4x4 trip into the desert. After explaining to Hami about our volunteer experiences in Mexico he inspired me to possibly help organize friends who might want to travel to Morocco and charge a little extra to donate to his Oasis to Oasis project for children’s education. So, let me know if you plan a visit to Morocco and we can help to make this happen.

Another special place was Maison Amizagh in the Dades Valley. There one of the brothers took us on a 14k trip into the mountains to a Berber family living in a cave.

And the story goes on and on but I will end here with these memories and grateful to have had the time, money and health to have this experience. I am grateful as well to my loving habibe Ricardo for being always at my side.

Thank you again for traveling with us.
Much love from Susan  سوزن

Ricardo's thoughts about Morocco.

After a trip in such a varied and exotic country as Morocco it would be very difficult for me to explain my many experiences in a few words but I will give it a try here.

dates growing on palms
This place is truly an Islamic country where one will hear the calling of prayers five times each day...Allah Akbar, etc. which makes one stop and listen and for me to wonder how this practice affects one’s sense of the present. Every time I heard the calling of the prayers I paused to listen and I can only imagine how the Muslims were feeling.



We have traveled to mountains, deserts and many oases and the people always call themselves Muslim but with whole different cultures and intensities of faith. The two main cultures are Arabic and Berber.  Berbers were the original inhabitants from time recorded. Muslims all believe in the stories of the Old Testament and of course their Koran which is believed to be sent to them straight from God. They date their lineage to Abraham. What strikes me is how all three religions believe in the same one god and still want to fight each other. To me this is a strictly political problem and probably not religious to any extent.
Djemaa El Fna square

We were able to spend  good time with many Moroccans who were very willing to express themselves in beliefs and culture. What I learned was that what we learn from the news media is nothing like what Islam is all about. “Go figure.”

This is a trip that needs to be guided due to the language and varied distances between the different locations unless you speak French which is the common spoken language.  If anybody wants to learn more about my experiences in Morocco I would be happy to share conversation over a cup of mint tea.

Final day with Cherif and Saoud.
Along with all of the adventures that Susan, my HABIBITEE, my love and I have had here in Morocco, I need to mention our fabulous driver and teacher Cherif who was always protecting us with his watchful eye and who became like a family member after just a few days. This trip would not have been so successful without him.  He spoke English well and was very proud of his Morocco.

We hope to return someday to recapture this special beauty again. We hope that you enjoy the photos to see the different colors of Morocco.

Sending love,

PS - Arabic (and French) words that I enjoyed using on this trip:

Choukran -  Thank you - merci
La choukran - no thank you - non merci
Inshallah - god willing - si dieu le veux
Bismillah- in the name allah - Au nom de dieu
Salam  alechom-hello/greeting/ hi - bon jour
Habibittee (f)....habibi (m)-my love - mon amor
Minfadlick-please - s’il vous plait
Maktoub - it is written

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Camino thoughts

In Finisterre at the 0.0K
Well my friends, now this camino is over and it is time to contemplate. The second week which was in Spain was harder for me than the first from a physical standpoint as my physical problems compounded with the accumulated mileage. I am sure you are thinking that I should have stopped but each day everything was OK in the morning and increased as the day went on so I went with my instinct to keep on as I could. I always told myself if I got to the point that I could not keep on, I would stop. Herein lies my lessons and work - how do I know when enough is enough? I am sitting here in Burgos, Spain for 2 days and doing nothing but sit and think and write (you are getting my instant thoughts) and hopefully my little physical problems will go as they came and I can attribute them all to overlong mileage on my feet on many days. We did do lots of walking training in Mexico, US, Germany and England before the camino but I guess not long enough and not everyday which is the difference. 17 miles on the last day into Santiago was the longest!
Starting the day in Arcade, Spain

Entering Spain in Tui.
I was graced with two new good 'besties' from Australia - Anne and Michael and they walked with us for several days but it was our last that was the most meaningful as we were able to distract each other, listen to our life stories, support each other on our ongoing spiritual walks as well as sing together. We had lots of fun and it helps to remind me how important community is in my life. I sometimes think that I would rather be alone but when times like this come along and one meets new friends and we just feel like we have been friends forever - this is a moment of joy and grace. There were other friends we ran into here and there that were fun and interesting as well.

Small buildings to keep grain
Those of you out there in our family and friend land often ask us about our "friends" and how and why we seem to have so many and why we stay connected with so many. Each of you know how we became friends and how important we are to each other. I feel we are all teachers and students for each other in life. I told Anne how I was looking for some lessons on this camino and after listening to me tell my story and connections and family life she was able to hear things and make suggestions that I will take with me for my future thinking.

Folks wonder why we would do a camino more than once. The first (French route across northern Spain in 2012) was longer and more arduous. This one easier in time and logistics was harder for me physically.
Scenery along the coast of Spain

I suppose I am always wondering in life if there are answers to the big questions - Why are we here? What am I put on this earth to do? How do I connect my head to my heart? How do I connect my head to my body? How do I accept my aging? 
Spa town of Caldas de Reis
with thermal waters

I thought that walking a camino might give me answers to questions but the thing I realized is that there are not always clear answers as the questions are always changing. The beauty of the land, the joy of exercise and moving my body, the challenge of something difficult, the happiness with Richard each day as we set off for the next town, the new friends along the way - these are the gifts. Are they answers to questions - maybe yes....maybe I am here on this earth to be in community, to share life experience, to listen, to help others, to be close to my higher power, to pray for my friends and family (I did place many stones on alters along the way) and to JUST BE.

Thanks for traveling along the "way" of my mind on this lovely morning in Spain.
Tomorrow we are off to Pau, France to stay in a little studio apartment for two weeks and have our first experience of French culture together. Au revoir mes amis.
Anne and Irma before Arcade

Notes to remember:

  • We walked about 140 miles.
  • Met Irma from Switzerland who now lives in Melbourne, Australia - she fell out of bunkbed and was sent to hospital. Broke her arm/wrist and continued but we never saw her again after Arcade.
  • Met Allistar and Aislinn who live in Brussels. They walked with us several days and we had meals together and enjoyed our day on the bus to Finesterre after reaching Santiago.
  • Will surely see Anne and Michael in Australia someday in the future.
  • Beautiful scenery - Eucalyptus trees, grape vines, fig trees, orange and lemon trees, chestnuts, apples, maples, pine - green everywhere.
  • Loved our support company - Portugal Green Walks.
  • Read blog about food - not the easiest for a gluten free vegan but we managed everyday.           
  • Remember our ritual of strong decaf coffee at every stop - different than our usual tea.
  • I am ready to make another walking trip but less mileage per day is my future.
Richard is "tree bathing"
And thoughts from Ricardo

There are as many reasons to walk a camino as there are not and I think that every reason seems to have equal value. So why did I choose to do it again? Did I not learn what I needed from the first one to Santiago through the French route five years ago? That is a question that I've asked myself and I am unable to answer it with much clarity. 

However, here are my thoughts after this camino. First of all I like challenges and putting myself in uncomfortable situations which I enjoy and walking 140 miles to a religious site meets this criterion. Was this enough of a reason to take on this journey from Porto, Portugal to Santiago, Spain? Maybe yes, but walking everyday is a journey and does the destination really matter anymore? 

This is how I feel about life now, just living one day at a time which is my life camino. Caminos show me that we are human and fragile and being with other people from all over the world helps me to realize that we are all equal and deserve the same respect and consideration. I have come to see the world without borders and everybody in it as my brother and sister. After the walk I was certainly glad that we finished and now is the time to take the much needed rest. So like life, with yin & yang or hard & soft, these opposites were demonstrated in this camino where every day I needed to take inventory of my stuff and my body, then walk just walk. 
We reached Santiago with besties Anne
and Michael.

Yes I was very happy to do this camino and if my body allows I would do it again but now I rest.
Sending love,