A Travellerspoint blog

So long, Farewell, Auf Wiedersehen, Goodbyyyye!

So it's all over, it's all finally over, and has been for nearly three months now. And what I am discovering is that, as hard as it was to keep on keeping you all up to date while we were on the road and living the trip, it's equally as difficult when you're home and said trip is fading and getting dustier by the day. Time to nip this blog in the bud, and cap it for good...the last entry is now!

That's it...what you see above, that's what one tiny little grain of an idea was able to turn into.

On November 16th, 230 days after Bob first took Hajji home, we returned with her to Utrecht, to Donna Turner from Cleveland, to Krugerstraat 6, the place she calls home when she's not on the road servicing young wanderers. The dream was over, and we were reluctantly waking up. We left Hajji, and she floated off into Spring again.

It was a chance meeting at an engagement party, back in April '08, that had been the breeding ground for the idea that was to see us find Hajji. Lauren got talking to a friend of the bride's father, and the two of them began rapping about the trip that her and I were thinking of doing. The gentleman put down his drink, stared hard into Ren's eyes, and told her that the ONLY way to do Europe was in a van. Lauren listened, and Hajji instantly became the twinkle in our collective eye.

When the true trip began, Lauren, Ben, and I, the three champions of the Hajj, were just young kids looking for adventure, bon-vivants of the fringe, with fuel to burn and roads to drive. The Hajji was to be our facilitator for the next X months, and we couldn't wait to get to her. The three of us and Hajj finally came together, along with Conrad Schmidt-Bens and Tannis MacDonald, on the 24th of June, on the docks of Rostock, and were to be inseparable for moons and moons to come.

The First Meeting.

If you've been up on this blog, then you well know the comings and goings. There were a thousand highs for every low, a billion burrs for every eau. This trip was the greatest thing I've done, and while I hope, for the sake of the rest of my days, that it doesn't turn out to be the greatest thing I ever will do, even if it does, I'd still count myself incredibly lucky.

To Lauren Elliott, Ben Paylor, Conrad Schmidt-Bens, Tannis MacDonald, Paul Walker, Alex Derry, Daniel van Hauten, Brett Lorier, Isabel Shirin Enyonam, Milan Randjelovic, Jalil Asaria, Latif Nanji, Alvaro Recio-Garcia, Adam Ambrozy, Johnny Braune, Turkish John, German hippies, old Albanian man with moustache and big hands, Albanian mother and son, Albanian detective, young Croatian girls, young English birds at Exit, Croatian Hrvoye, old Romanian man, German boyfriend and Italian girlfriend in Montenegro, Steve and the other Canadians at Vimy, Neala Kelly, Sean Foget, Simon Kaulback, Liz Kaulback, David Caulfeild, David Gibbs, Brisbane Dylan, Bry Kaulback, Marjolijn Van de Ven, Ineke Erwich, Morgan Quinn, Dora Gregova, Bucharest Hippie, British girlfriend and Canadian boyfriend who we drove from Fusion to Berlin, Arne Fellerman, Prakina Prakovic aka Laura, and any others that my addled brain has forgotten to remember to mention, thank you all so much!

Marcus Kaulback

P.S. I'm Ben. Here is a link to a little album I made summarizing my highs through the Hajji.

Posted by rencous 13:41 Comments (3)

The France Finale!

A Walk Through History

Before we were able to say a proper farewell to spectacular Spain we had found ourselves in the south of France. Now, we had orginally made plans through a site called World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms, (http://wwoof.org/), to spend a few days with a woman named Tabby and help out around her farm in Carcassone. Although, a week before we were scheduled to arrive half her house burnt down! She was now up to her eyeballs in insurance claims and we felt it was a bad time for a visit. So, we came up with a wonderful new plan. As most of you know, and for those who don't, Marcus was a History major focusing mainly on WWII military history, so he quickly threw together a long list of must see sights in the north, at the top of this list was Vimy Ridge, which we were hoping to reach in time for Remembrance Day.

Along the drive north we made a few strategic stops, the first being the beautiful city of Bordeaux. We only spent a day/night here, but it was plenty of time to realize what a gem she was, and how desperately she deserved a second visit.

Bordeaux by Moonlight

The next stop on our tour de France was yet another city by a boozified name, that being the tiny little town of Cognac, where we were lucky enough to get the traditional tour of the various distilleries, although we could only spare a few hours seeing as our Nov.11th date was closing in on us. We had lots of ground to make up in the next 24 hours. To be honest, it was this drive that proved to be my favourite part of France (not including Paris...obviously). The country-side was simply breath-taking. Farms, tiny little hamlets, the occasional castle, and vineyards, oh boy!, as far as the eye could see!

Tiny French Farmhouse

Vineyards as far as the eye could see!


We finally reached the beaches of Normandy, where those sexy super-human Allies threw down the law 65 years ago. This was the rare occasion where we visited a museum, and what a museum, The Museum of the Battle of Normandy. Cous was like a kid in a candy shoppe. The next morning we visited Juno beach, where 14,000 soldiers from the 3rd Canadian Infantry landed, all of them well prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice. We then went to Bény-sur-Mer, where we visited the Canadian War Cemetery. It was heart breaking reading the engravings on their tombstones.

Into the mosaic of victory these precious pieces are placed

We then continued our historical journey to Dieppe, where many Canadian lives were lost during WWII. The city of Dieppe is so grateful for the Canadian sacrifice that they have named many roads, squares, and beaches after their heroic saviours, we were very surpised to learn that all of the citizens of Dieppe now consider themselves honourary Canadians. You can imagine what a warm welcoming we recieved upon arrival. But, as usual, we couldn't stay long, Remembrance Day was knocking at door and we still had road between us and that infamous ridge.

Just incase anyone was wondering how it was sleeping in a car in the north of France during the frigid month of November, not to worry, we were warm and cozy tucked away in Hajji's rump, cuddled together with 2 layers on our bottom half, and 6 layers on the top. Oh, and a Mountain Equipment Co-op -25 degree sleeping bag, that was so generously donated by Paul Walker, definitely played its part in keeping us alive during those long cold nights.

Before we knew it we were standing in front of an enormous brilliant white piece of rock, it was the Canadian National Vimy Memorial, and what time was it? .... 10:35 Novemeber 11th! We had done it!

For those of you who don't know the importance of this battle please read on, for here is something to be proud of:

Vimy Ridge is a large plateau 150km from Paris, which allowed its occupants to survey the entire region. It was for this reason that it was such a coveted site and was therefore so heavily guarded by the Germans. The French and British armies had spent months trying to take this ridge, at the cost of thousands of lives. In the end they gave up, labeling it as impregnable. The task was then thrown to the Canadians. Instead of jumping right into the trenches and beginning battle, we took extensive precautions and 2 months of preparations. They even built a life size model of the ridge and devised their strategies on foot, rather than on paper. On April 9th, 1917, at 5:30a.m. we attacked! Performing what is now called the Vimy Glide, where they took 100m every 3 minutes! After a mere 4 days of battle the Canadians had defeated the Germans, and taken Vimy Ridge. This was the greatest battle in Canadian history because, for the first time in WWI, all four Canadian divisions fought together on the same battlefield. This victory proved to be amongst the most pivotal of WWI, but also for Canada as well, it is said that it was this battle where our young country discovered its national pride resulting in the birth of our nation.

The Canadian National Vimy War Memorial, this land was given to us by the French, and is now considered Canadian soil.

The Weeping Woman of Vimy, representing the young nation of Canada.

We attended the Remembrance Day ceremony along with loads of other Canadians that made the trek. We were also given a tour of the trenches on the battlefield itself, as well as the underground labyrinth of tunnels. It was unbelievable, I can only relate it to what you would imagine hell on earth resembling.

We ended up giving 5 fellow canucks a lift back to Arras, a small city 20km outside of Vimy, and went for drinks while reminiscing of good old canadian times. Amongst the group was a Canadian soldier on leave from Afganistan who was able to shed some light on how much war has evolved. This definitely goes down in the books as the most memorable Remembarnce Day, one I'm certain we'll never forget.

Next on the list, the long awaited, Versailles. The home and creation of Marie Antoinette and Louis the XXIV can only be described as abundant, affluent, copious, deluxe, extravagant, exuberant, frilly, lavish, luscious, luxuriant, moneyed, opulent, ostentatious, palatial, plentiful, plush, pretentious, prodigal, profusive, prolific, prosperous, rich, riotous, showy, sumptuous, swank, upholstered, wealthy. Summed up in a this hyphenated trio: over-the-top! In case you haven't seen it, here is an idea of what I'm talking about.

The Queen's Chamber

The Hall of Mirrors

Versailles Palace

The Palace Grounds

A note to the reader, if ever you are planning a visit to Versailles be sure to schedule it during the summer months, it is true that it will be 10x busier but it will ensure that all the statues will be uncovered and fountains turned on...which really adds to the whole effect.

In no time at all our tiny brains were supersaturated with visions of crystal chandeliers and tacky upholstery, at this point we knew that it was time to go. Next stop, PARIS!

Now, being the lucky ducks we are, we had a beautiful home to rest our heads at while in Paris. I introduce you to Lou Emmott a darling of a lady whom Marcus' mum went to boarding school with, as well as her wonderful husband Alec. They put us up for 3 nights in their beautiful 3 storey home in Le Pec, a suburb of Paris. They spoiled us with wonderful food and wines, not to mention a plush feather bed, with our own en suite bathroom! Alec was an angel and gave us his grand tour of Paris. After a few hours in the city centre I was quickly forced to reassess my "The Most Beautiful Cities" list. (F.Y.I. #1.Paris, #2.Prague, #3.Copenhagen).

Sweethearts on a bridge.


Chess in the Park


And just like that, it was time to go. Hajji had been getting anxious, missing her motherland of Holland. So we finally obliged and took off bound for Utrecht, where the magic first started.

Giving our girl one final hug before our last joyride.

Paris is big, so we left early. The puny November sun had finally risen by the time we made it past the last northern burbs, and the golden road to the Netherlands lay open before us. All that stood in our way was the whipping boy of Western Europe, Belgium....oh, and the French Customs men.

I noticed that our gas gauge was low and so made for the exit ramp. Tootling down the road, a tiny little car sidled up beside us and the uniformed men inside started waving and pointing to the shoulder; Hajji succumbed and pulled over. The Douanes came up and told us to get out. Then the door jammed, and the big mister had to use his knife to jimmy the Cous out. Then the small mister started to rifle through our meagre belongings while aforementioned big mister began an appaulling Gaulling interrogation of us. Did we have any drugs? Guns? Eastern European women of ill repute? With hearts hammering in our chests, cus we had all three, we politely smiled, emphatically said "No", and asked them to point us toward the closest petrol station - a classic diversionary tactic when dealing with police of any kind.

With our final tank purchased, it was off for Belgium...Hajji away!!

The Schlieffen Plan - Notice Belgium being overrun.

We drove through Belgium.

And then we made it to Utrecht. We stopped on Krugerstraat and saw Donna, the woman who had first sold Hajji to us 8 months before, and began to clean her out for the last time, (not Donna, Hajji). It was bittersweet minus the sweet; a tough time for the two of us.

With the papers all handed over, and the keys dropped into the palm of American Donna, we went to the bus station to await our overnighter to London. At 2100 hours, on November 16th, 2009, the Hajji trip officially ended. Real life has since begun.

Posted by rencous 09:30 Comments (2)

Ho Ho Ho.....Merry Hajji Christmas!

A Year of Wonder

Greetings from the Warm Heart of the Midwest!
Just wanted to reach out to our readers and wish everyone a Merry Christmas! The people of the Hajji really enjoyed all the support and comments you guys provided during our trip, and hope you enjoyed reading our posts!

Now that you have some time over the holidays, its perfect to go back and revisit your favorite Hajji posts (click on Table of Contents on the right hand side!). Such classics as....."The Brevity of Boxer Briefs"....the shocker "The Balkan Bonanza pt. 1" and its conclusion "Breathe Easy", or "Realtime Reality Movie Upload Fiasco". So many laughs, so many memories.

Of interest, The Hajjiest Days of our Life blog is nearing its 10,000th visit which will be attained in the next few days! A little background, we had between 40-50 subscribers (who got an email after each post), and generally the site was visited by 100-200 people within the first few days after each post. Add it all up, and we are almost to 10,000! Thanks for reading. An update on a few of the Hajjites? Of course....

Marcus and Ren - Safe and sound with their families in Ottawa, the trip was a stunning success! There next trip will be a voyage to the west, and they plan to be in Vancouver for the Olympics. Whats next? Stay tuned.....
Ben - After spending the fall with him family in Calgary, is heading to Ontario to reunite with Marcus and Lauren and Tannis tomorrow! He will be moving to Vancouver at the start of January to continue his academic marathon
Tannis - Is wonderful! And finishing the last year of her Masters in her hometown of Ottawa.
Adam - Shaved his beastly beard and is sculpting the youth of tomorrow whilst finishing teachers college in Edmonton
Jalil - Another Hajjite who found his way to the West Coast. A Vancouver reunion is on the horizon.
Paul Walker - Still making beautiful photos in Ontario
Foget - Living in Vancouver, the heart of the Hajjites future, and will be moving in with Ben in January!
Neala - Still being generally amazing in Vancouver, and currently spending Xmas in Thailand!
Morgan - Proud owner of the Vagina Suit, and medically bettering peoples lives in Glasgow
Too many others to comment on, but trust that they are all doing INCREDIBLY!

Merry Christmas From the Hajji, and To All A Good Year!

Posted by rencous 15:46 Comments (1)

Adventures in Hajjisitting

When things started to go haywire

Africa to Gaul - October 22nd to November 5th

Oh golly, it's been a long time since you last heard from us. We're way behind on our work of keeping you all in the know, but there's a good reason: we've been without our inspiration for weeks now, since the 16th of November when we dropped Hajji back where we found her, in Utrecht, the Netherlands. Ren and I have been in the UK and Ireland since then, with heavy hearts and lively livers, trying not to think too much about our girl. But now, with less than a week left until we get home to Ottawa, we know it's time to wrap this thing up. Here it goes...

Our return to Europe from Africa, from Morocco back into Iberia, was to see us get healthy; unfortunately, our repairs were to come at a price to our beloved. What was about to happen to Hajji, over the next two weeks, would be more traumatic to her than the previous four months put together.

We rolled off the ferry back in Algeciras, this time into a dark and cloudy Spain, and hit the highway out of town. It had been a tiring few days recently, so we only made it a little ways toward Cadiz before we came to a stop in a dimly-lit corner of a hotel's parking lot just off the road. With no appetites, Rain and I just snuggled down to rest. A short rest it turned out to be. At 3am we were both raaattled awake by a massive jostling crash to Hajji's rear end, and we opened our eyes to see strange flashing blue lights all around. We bounced out of the van and saw that a garbage truck had reversed right into us!! The trash men were sorta just standing there with goofy looks and kept shrugging their shoulders! We told them it was cool - "no preocupen" - and they hauled their garbage away into the night. Then we had a dozy doze.

After an afternoon in Seville, wandering through the gardens and eating Doritos, Hajji and her newly scarred bumper brought us into the south of Portugal. We spent a night on the beach at Quarteira, under the gaze of more-well-to-do caravans, and ate Portuguese sausages. But we've got the bug in us, and needed to keep moving. North toward a place called Troia, recommended us by Amanda Gray, a friend from Ottawa who had rented a place there a few summers back. We rolled into a weird world - it was all sort of pre-packaged and designed to be pretty, like a life-size version of a model city. The hills were placed, the trees manufactured, and the buildings like cutouts. We took to it and its hotels, where we made like we belonged and took swims in the pools and long showers in the change rooms. Having abused the facilities in this twilight world, we hit the road again to make it around the bay and into the town of Setubal.

Crooning along the highway, eyes on the road and Ren's legs, and not on the gas gauge. A slow roll sets in. "We're losing power!" I scream like a fluffer. And Hajji floats right off the road onto the shoulder...gas is kaput. The second time this trip we've let her get so thirsty. But industrious Rain sticks that thumb out and a moustache man picks her up, gets gas, and drops her back. Hajji slurps the swill, and we make it to Setubal.

So let's see: a garbage truck ka-blamow, and now a diesel run-out. Hajj is feeling the wear.

Shab city! This place is the crumbs! Falling apart, creaky cracky, and rundown...Setubal was home for the night. Ren and I made for an internet joint so as to send our friend Neala Kelly, (who you will remember from our time in Turkey, Bulgaria, Romania and Hungary), a little birthday rap we puked up. Got to the cafe, put in the memory card, the computer then spat it out, and did something sneaky with all its contents: it garbaged every single picture and video we had taken since Italy! So, first thing's first - we found a scuzzy corner of the city and redid the rap for our galpal Neala J.

The wonderful and talented, Neala Kelly. With, from L to R, Alex Derry, Ineke Erwich, Ben the Impaylor, and Morgan Quinn.
You can see the racy video we made for her if you're friends with at least one of me, Ren, or Neala on Facebook. Get to it. Warning: many curse words and rudeness and lewdness.

From the armpit of Portugal, the next step was obviously its heart: Lisbon. We got to this magical city, parked underground for a change of pace and space, and left to traipse about, checking out the city's 2nd-hand shops. We did the vintage dance for a few hours, but wanted Hajji to take us in her arms, so went back to the city's main square and down to the parkinglot to take her. Open the door, get in, turn the key, and nothing. Not even a burp or a squeek came out of the old girl. And when Hajji doesn't even shudder, Ren and I start to. This was awful...the engine wasn't responding at all. We get the attendant down, he calls a tow truck, the tow truck man has a look, bangs around, and our Precious purrs to life. When asked how he did it, the little mechanic mimes that he just banged her with the tire iron; he shows us the sweet spot for the next time, and demands that we pay him €66.

So let's see: a garbage truck ka-blamow, a diesel run-out, and now a near death. Hajji is saying something.

That night, we parked in the shadow of a hum-drum tenement building in the skirts of Lisbon, ate pasta again, and in the morning went to the famous flea market for trash and clothes. Then we split.

The next destination, 30 km to the NW of Lisbon, was a place of magic, of such beauty that that hobbled stud Lord Byron, while on his Grand Tour in 1809, commented that "the village of Cintra [sic] in Estramadura is the most beautiful, perhaps in the world." He called it a "glorious Eden", and I agree, no kidding. Ren and I walked through the town and in the hills above it, and fell in lust with Sintra.

That's LB

And that's Sintra
Both photos courtesy of: http://almanlangit.blogharbor.com/.../4/14/1888134.html

After the stroll, Hajji needed to flee from the parking-ticketmen, and we perused the streets for a suitable berth. Coming through the oldest part of the town, and through a stone arch, I stopped, having spied a beaut. Brake. Put it in reverse. Roll back. Bang! Next second, there's a man at my window, and he looks peeved. Come to think of it...he looks like a cop. Turns out, silly me, I pulled back right into a policeman on his motorbike! I said sorry. He turned and skulked off. Ren sat there snickering, just baffled at the luck we'd been having, and he came back and yelled at her thinking she was being disrespectful! He couldn't find no humour nowhere that guy.

So let's see: a garbage truck ka-blamow, a diesel run-out, a near death, and now a vehicular assault on a police officer. Hajji needs a break.

And so do we. Time for some family to tend to us.

It's North, back to Spain, to my cousin Bry and his incredible family. They live outside of an itty-bitty town called Redondela, kinda close to Vigo in the NW. Their house is set on a hill, their vegetable patch is a real dandy, their hens are generous, their dog Max is blind, and their two children are the living embodiment of that new Dan Brown/Tom Hanks movie, "Angels and Demons".

That's Bry, Nico (Demon), and Claudia (Angel).

And that's Nico, Susana, and Claudia.

God, they took care of us. Bry's wife Susana kept preparing such good food that made us plump and happy. They took us around the area, showed us some beautiful sights, and made sure we were always looked after. My cousin Bry, Susana, their daughter Claudia, and their son Nicolas, are such amazing people and I love them. But, like it always happens, time flies, and we had to go before we wanted to. With goodbyes bade, Hajji was packed again, and the key turned. But just like in the underground lot in Lisbon, nothing came of it. We tried the hammer attack...still nothing. This time, she was really gone. The local mechanic was called, and after a tinkering, he started her up! But he quickly let me know that he would have to take her from us that night, for she needed a new battery...oh crumbs!

So let's see: a garbage truck ka-blamow, a diesel run-out, a near death, a vehicular assault on a police officer, and now a real death. Hajji...christ, we got to take better care of her!

Two days and €130 later, Hajji was pronounced fit. We said goodbye for serious this time, and pushed off. The Spanish Kaulbacks stood waving in our rear-view, around the bend, and we were gone. They had been so fantastic to us for those 3-turned-6 days, and I'm staying super pissed until they come to Canada and let Ren and I take care of them.

Marcus and Lauren, on the road again, with a strong battery propeling us, and propel us she better, cus we've got to make it to France in two days! And for those two days, every second I felt like Al Joad, hoping and wishing and willing those four wheels to keep on rollin'. Hajj was sick, and tired, and every mile was a trial. John Steinbeck wrote it like I felt it:

"Listen to the motor. Listen to the wheels. Listen with your ears and with your hands on the steering wheel; listen with the palm of your hand on the gear-shift lever; listen with your feet on the floor boards. Listen to the pounding old jalopy with all your senses; for a change of tone, a variation of rhythm may mean a week here. That rattle, that's tappets. Don't hurt a bit. Tappets can rattle till Jesus comes again without no harm. But that thudding as the car moves along, can't hear that just kind of feel it. Maybe oil isn't gettin' someplace. Maybe a bearing's startin' to go. Jesus, if it's a bearing, what'll we do? Money's goin' fast."
- John Steinbeck, 'The Grapes of Wrath'

See you in France babies...

Posted by rencous 08:01 Comments (1)

لحجّي goes to المغرب

Ren and I got henna tattoos of the word on the left. This entry is all about what we did from October 12th until the 22nd.

Morocco Rococco - Oct. 12-22
The map is acting funny, so just zoom in on it by double-clicking.

On the pier at the port of the port-town of Algeciras, the Hajji is shining like a national guitar. We are about to board a ferry, and for once lose the highway, and lose the cradle of Picasso's and Orwell's and Hemingway's civil war. We're going to Morocco.

First stop in oooooooooh, big bad Africa! is that city shrouded in mystery and romance, Tangier. In reality, although we were only there for a total of about three and a half minutes, the place is pretty forgettable. Forget about it! Hajji sashays on down the road, in the dark in the dark continent, and we hit Asilah. It's a beautiful town with beautiful people who try to tell us all the beautiful places in their country to visit. We swim in the ocean, eat egg sandwiches, buy a map, and putt-putt-putter away, southbound.

Image of Asilah courtesy http://photosmaghreb.canalblog.com/images/asilah_4545b.jpg

On the way out of our first Moroccan town the next morning, we take on some hithchikers, as we do, trying to make someone's day, spreading nice feelings. We drop the German girl and Austrian boy not far up the road in another cluster of buildings and flamingoes but we don't see the flamingoes cus they are a...how do you say?...a fraudulent ploy to attract tourists. They do have active imaginations, those touts!! From this village called Moulay-Bousselham, the future turns ugly. We pass the on-ramp to the apparently very affordable toll-roads, sneering at those greedy little piglets in the Ministry of Transportation, and, with our Moroccan Dirhams safely in our pockets, pull on to the most grim and gruesome-looking piece of road you ever saw. "Look out Hajji, there's nothing but peril ahead!" She steams forward, a mask of unwavering and determined glee on her foxy face. "What a babe you are Hajj...what a goddamn babe."

I hope I never ever ever drive a maroony-roan-red 1981 VW campervan down a road like this again. I'll tell you just one something, and then you can paint it how you want to see it: it takes dear old Hajji two and a half gorgeous hours to drive 65 kms down that scrappy carriageway; it would have killed her to death if Rain and I hadn't stocked her so full of love before we left this morning.

Rain's drawing of that blasted road, scooped from the Hajji Diary.

The end of the day, Hajji whimpering for a rest, and we find ourselves further down the Atlantic coast of Morocco, in a nice and grubby and dusty neighbourhood of a town called Azenmour. We boil up some pasta, draw the curtains tightly, and lay down to rest and shake off the lousy memories of that road...that road, that goddamn gorgeous road, filled with poor boys and pilgrims with families, and we are in Morocco.

My travelling companion is 26 years-old. She is a child of Karyn and Victor's first marriage. And I've reason to believe we both will be received in this country; we feel safe, having learned from our experiences in Sarajevo, and North Africa does not seem as daunting as it may have done a few months or years ago.

But still, one night in Azenmour is enough, and at first light we steal away to go searching for a small road, pointing to a beach, that I think I saw yesterday. The fog is coocoo, and with all sorts of traffic on the byways, and beside the byways, the going is slow and not steady. We find it though, this hidden beach, and are introduced to what Philip Haworth had been describing us from when he and Winkle were in Morocco: miles of untouched sand beach, with nobody on it, and certainly no bogus developments screwing it all up. Plus a nice little wreck not far out.

Darling little place.

We park off the road, and waste the next two and a half days here, and guess what...it's perfect. Even the police, in cars one day and on horses the next, who come to sniff at us, turn out to be ultra friendly and just really curious, above all. In fact, it is the friendliness of the Moroccans that shines through, almost as bright as the African sun...and I have a swell tan. Nearly every local we meet seems to have a cute smile plastered on their mugs, and it's nice, no kidding.

Now take Marrakech: big, hyper-active city, but the people there are all helpful and sweet. When we are driving around in search of Yves St. Laurent's famous gardens, we ask a man on a bicycle. He tells us the way, and we make for it. Two blocks later we're lost again, and just as we're asking another set of people on the sidewalk, Bicycle Bashir swoops aside us and gestures to turn back. So we do, eyes peeled for YSL's plot, and we start to feel a bit frustrated at the invisibility of the gardens, but are rescued again by the bike man, who has obviously deviated from his own route to make sure we get to where we want to go. If consideration and kindness make up part of modern civilization, looks here like the white man doesn't have a burden anymore. As Sir Cecil Beaton wrote, recounting an evening in Marrakech spent with the Rolling Stones, in March of 1967: "Here in Morocco people were not curious or bad-mannered. Mick liked people that were permissive."

Marrakech is fun. We visit the medina both days, and the massive market that occupies the majority of it. Hawkers and touts, hawkers and touts...but it's all a blast. And both nights, we leave the city centre to itself and slink into a gas station parking lot where, true to Moroccan form, the attendant asks us with a smile what we are doing, and when told that we would like to spend the night, he shrugs his shoulders and says "Bien sur."

Everything that has happened so far in Morocco has been great. But the real memories, the true guts of the trip to North Africa, is all set to take place in the days after we leave Marrakech.

Monday morning we set off, the Hajji caravanning us back into the wilds of the inner country. Buzzing along gracefully, Hajji is like a clipper ship found its steady wind. Nothing can stop her gallant gallopping, nothing except engine failure or a blown tire...we opt for the latter. A strange sound reaches our ears from the rear of the van, and we stop to investigate. Finding nothing, we set off again, slowly. Three seconds later an explosion, the likes of which Vince Coleman would recognize, (http://www.histori.ca/minutes/minute.do?id=10203), assaults us. The rear drivers'-side tire is blown.

Hajj limps into a service station not 200 metres away, and slows to a stop. A crowd of four surrounds us, and considering that the population density in this area is about 10 per square-km, this is a hefty gathering indeed. Amongst the onlookers was an old hobbit of a woman, all covered up from head to henna-covered toe, including these radical Terminator style sunnies. She takes the lead and starts bossing the timid men, hooting and tooting along in Arabic while talking gently to us in French. The men set to work trying to loosen the bolts, but even the local strongman can't make 'em budge. Then the skies open and tubs of hail start to fall. All work stops and Hajji is moved into the shelter of one of the work bays. After mint tea & bread and oil, this African Bilbo bravely leads us out into the elements, telling us that we are going to stay at her house in the brush tonight.

Having stripped us down, the shuffling little broad presents Ren with some sweatpants and a green and gold traditional hijab, lending her some modesty, while I am told to wear her absent son's track pants and underwear...so friendly! Her clay and dung house has an open courtyard within its walls, from which various rooms jut off. By now the sun is down, and the only light is from an old tin kerosene lamp, its flame flickering over the heavily-furnitured living room. All types of setees and cushions are lined up against all four walls, and we learn that all three of us will be sleeping in here tonight. But before sleep, she's got to feed us. She smurfs out of the room back into the darkness, and within 20 minutes comes back with an earthenware pot in her hands, giving off steam and smells, (the pot not the woman). Dinner: pig-stomach tajine prepared by a walking talking Allah-fearing woman. We chew politely, forever, till we can't chew no more. The dish is taken away, and Ren is queezy. Lights out.

Before sleep takes me that night, I see in the darkness Rain getting out of bed and heading to the latrines. She comes back to tell me she's got the skitters. As if I didn't know that, as if I didn't know my own Rain. As if I'd never noticed the way she gets when the skitters take hold. I'd seen it coming a mile off.

The next morning, we visit Hajji at the service station and are told by Mohammed, the main man there, that a tire could be hard to come by. He might know a guy, that guy might know a guy too. At least they've replaced the blown one with our spare...but we really need a new one; that spare isn't fit either. Hours later, our Moroccan Mama, (as she has commanded us to call her), leads us to a Shell a few kms away, and starts to negotiate with Kacem, the boss. She comes back to us, kicking dust up, talking like she's the one who owns the shop, like those shoe salesmen who say things like "Well, I just got a shipment in last week, and I could probably rustle up a pair for you in my supply room." Alright bud, you're wearing a ref's jersey - you don't own the damn place. Moroccan Mama tell us that we can get two brand new tires, (one to replace our spare, another to replace the fast fading other rear one), for "cent quarante." 140 Dirhams?! That's a steal...like €12! "Do it up Mama!" So the fellas get to work. 30 minutes later, Hajji is kitted up, looking darling, and the dirty business of the money exchange pops up. With a smile on my face I hand Mama a 200-Dirham bill. She balks...and tells me she needs six more like that. Slowly, I realise what has happened. That brain behind the Terminator goggles is a bit old and wimpy, and what our ancient hostess has done is mess up big time with the money. When she told us "cent quarante", in her muddled-up mind this meant one-hundred and forty...thousand...Francs!!!! These days that means 140 Dirhams; not €12 but more like €120! This is not such a good price; the tires are removed. Thanks Mama...we'll get some used ones tomorrow.

After another sleep at MM's house, Ren is still feeling lousy, and I wake up not feeling so damn sweet myself. Looks like I've got the skitters too, and a fierce headache to boot. Bilbo springs into action.

So there's a woman North of Marrakech, who calls herself Maman Maroccaine. And as I'm lying there and she's rubbing lemons all over my forehead, home remedying me, I say "Whoa, so this is what she means." She means she wants us to stay with her forever and ever and ever and be her little children. Ren finally gets up and says that I have a fever, and that she is going to Hajji to get me some pills...and MM doesn't let her leave. She's telling us that she will take care of us, that we will stay with her, and Ren and I get the exact same vibe the exact same time: "Misery"!

Moroccan Mama, readying to slaughter one of her chickens.

We finally flee the cabin in the woods, take Hajj back to the Shell, she gets her two used tires slapped on, and we drive. We drive far and fast, always North. One more night, this one spent in another gas station lot halfway between Marrakech and the Mediterranean, and make it to Tangier, and the ferry that will take us back to Europe. There's no obligations now.

Hajji adventure continues! What do you guys think?

Posted by rencous 10:33 Comments (1)

Hey Look! The Rain's in Spain!

Cous and Rain get to gettin'

September 30th to October 12th

Cinque Terre and Ang Chapin are in our rearview. So is Italy altogether. The roads suck there, no kidding, and Hajji is pleased that France lays on the horizon. Another EU border crossing, which means that the road continues and nothing changes except the language of the signs. Here we are in France!

The sun is going down, revealing the Mediterranean as more gray than blue. Hajji has had a long day today, and she needs a rest. "Whaddya say, first town we hit, we stop?"

Not far down the road, that first town turns out to be...you'll never guess...are you ready?....Monaco!

Hajji rolls down the smooth, rich roads which weave down the smooth, rich hills which shield and insulate the haughty principality. And our first and most prevalent feeling is that we don't really belong. But it's a good feeling, one that we have been married to for months now, like when you go to a party and you're dressed like a bum, but a cool and hip bum, and you're out of place in a sea of preppies but in your mind you know you're obviously way more righteous than these lousy squares.

So we try to get in to the Monte Carlo Casino, but they can smell our poverty. We use their gilded bathrooms and wash ourselves but it's no good, they see right through us - off we go...to the Marriott, a more Hajji-friendly (sounding) establishment. Here's a taste of what we got in Monaco: at the business centre at the Marriott, we inquire as to the cost of the internet; the lady's reply: €12...for 15 minutes! Off we go again.

Hajji away!!

On the left, the Casino, flanked by Hotel de Paris.

Hajji got teased.

France is a blur the next day, what with 10 hours of driving through the Cote d'Azur and then South towards Spain. We need to get to Barcelona by tomorrow morning, to catch up with my sweet Mama and my new dad David, (hereon he shall be referred to as David, or simply ND). Go Hajji Go, you robust and puissant and sexy stalwart you, Go! Barcelona waits for us, and opens its infinite riches to us...Go!

Barcelona is a definite babe, effortlessly attractive and deliciously unattainable, just like a muskrat all slinking around and inviting you to stare at its strange beauty. We are cautioned to leave Hajj outside the city limits, on account of Barca being a savage place to drive, but we disregard this unworthy advice, flinging it from us with disdain and disapproval, as if it were a suffocating cape and we the all-talented magician. The Hajji has driven the mad streets of Belgrade, Thessaloniki, Istanbul, and damn the heck all over Albania - blow me down if we aren't gonna let her loose at Barcelona.

We glide down Las Ramblas, Ren in her deadman pants and a new pair of Spanish boots and me in a new-to-me pair of mini small swim trunks and a €1 dress shirt, peering and leering at the food various well-to-dos are having in the sidewalk cafes. We spy a couple's plates, anchovies and calamari, big beers to boot, and move to keep walking, but stop after chancing a look away from the food and into the faces: it's my Mum and ND! Rejoice!! A meeting, months in the making, finally coming to reality!

Let me stop here, to congratulate these two lovers on the right, on getting engaged to be married! Everyone's invited - June 2010. Love you guys! (Note to the reader: Alright, Rain's not actually wearing her new Spanish boots, but I swear they're in the bag under the table.)

We pick up my brother Simon the next morning at the airport, spend the day wandering and flea-marketing, and the following day, at dawn, the Hajji is pushed up the ramp from her sleepinghole under the hotel by my Mum, David, and Manuel the Peruvian bellhop, and starts her slow jaunt South, towards the hill-town of Antequera, and the summer home of some incredible family friends, Winkle and Philip Haworth.

Can't drive with ruddy teeth.

960 kms from Barcelona to Antequera...that's two full days in Hajji-speak.

The drive with Ren, Si and I is nice and uneventful, save for when the load is bumped up from a nice round 3, to a smelly round 5. About a hundred kms North of Valencia, at a regularly-scheduled pit, I am approached by two young fellas who are definitely not Jehovah's Witnesses. They have a bag of vegetables they have just pilfered from an adjacent field, a guitar, Bavarian accents, and are looking for a ride South..."No problem!" I say. "Hop in."

Jonas and Lukas...or Lukas and Jonas...the one on the right wearing that poncho I found behind a bin in Portovenere.

Turns out they are travelling Europe relying completely on the kindness of strangers - they have only 20 Eurocents between them. (Unlike us, who only depend on the kindness of public toilets, friends and family, and free internet at municipal libraries.) We end up driving them all the way to Granada, over two separate days, to a hippie hoe-down in the city. But with not enough time of our own to join, we have to leave them there and proceed to Antequera. We arrive at the marvelous villa, recently erected by Philip and Winkle Haworth, near sunset on the second day.

The next four days are spent in the supple and bountiful and sweet-smelling hands and pockets of people older and more financially secure than ourselves. With my Mum Elizabeth, my ND David, Winkle and Philip there to greet us, the few days promised to be wonderful and comfortable. So it was that every meal was a mouthful and bellyful of bonanza, every drink like a drop of honey, and every sleep a rest deeper than the blue of my eyes.

The spectacular maison.

The magnificent piscine.

But like a dream, it had to end. On the morning of the Friday, a work-week's worth of suckling comes to a close. We pack up, say a thousand thank-yous to the terrific Mr. and Mrs. Haworth, and make further inland toward Cordoba, and the arms of Alvaro, Ben's Spanish father who you will remember from our time spent in Prague, and the entry entitled "Western Europe Bonanza".

From L to R: Simon, Alvaro's brother Chico, Alvaro's mum, his dad the Professor, Alvaro himself, and me.

His beautiful family and beautiful house and smelly beautiful dog make us all feel like princes and princesses. We get there, go swimming, eat delicious typical Cordoban foods like salmorejo, (pictured above it is the red mixture in the bowl, and is perfect...look it up), and then promptly proceed to glutton down a bottle of Four Roses bourbon and many jars of burr. My brother and I, you will see in the photos below, quickly go from mild-mannered champions of calm and correctness to the drunkest men in Europe - Alvaro is forced to tell us a dozen times to stop acting like children, as we roughhouse in the car on the drive home from the bar early the next morning.

Si, taking advantage.

Nice young men for sure.

Three Canadians and a Spaniard - Si, Rain (also looking good), myself and a top-notch friend of Alvaro's.

But on the Sunday, we have to say another goodbye to another friend. We leave Alvaro and drive back down South to drop Si off at the Malaga airport, from where he is to return to his life in Vancouver. It was really a super nice week we had with my brother, and I got a kick out of him every day. Ren and I are totally excited to be moving to Van in the New Year, and a major reason is that we'll be closer to Si.

So now, with Hajji only carrying two, the obvious thing to do is go to Africa. We gain Gibralter, that odd outcrop of British jingoism, later that same evening. Unlike Spain in almost every way it is: the architecture and city layout, the immigrants aren't from former Spanish colonies but from former British ones, and obviously the language. Even the weather is different from the country that surrounds it: the clouds hang over the Rock and nowhere else, and it really feels like we are in the UK...strangest place we have been in a long time. But wait, things are soon to get even more wacky - Morocco!

Quick recap:
- got ran out of Monaco on account of being paupers
- met up with the family in sexy Barcelona
- spent 4 perfect nights in Antequera with the Haworths
- saw wonderful Alvaro in Cordoba
- lost Si to the skies
- went to Gibraltar, and readied ourselves for North Africa

That's all.
The Hajji is strong, and thinking of you all, past participants, absent friends, and well-wishers.
Talk to you soon.

Posted by rencous 07:42 Comments (6)

Some Sorta Method To It

The Super-Calm and Relaxing Madness of September 28th to the 30th

From here to there and there and there

"Alright, I'm heading back to the Bangladeshi internet spot."

The Bologna morning kicks off fierce at the start of the week; there are people all over the sidewalks, crowding my walk to the web-man from Eastern Pakistan.

But I gotta get there. I told Ang I'd write her this morning. Ren and I are hitching a ride with Hajji to a magical and beloved land called Cinque Terre today, and I for sure for sure told Ang Chapin that if we could work it, a rendez-vous scoop-up would be in the cards.

Angelina Chapin
- proper noun
1. super surperb gal pal from trusty Nepean High School, aka. a common alma matar for the three of us
2. an adventurous lass taking a 6-month sojourn in Italy so as to better her command of the language
3. one third of that banging mega-prog hyper-fit hip-hop group, The Rhythm Method (lap up their bossanovas here: http://www.myspace.com/therhythmmethodispregnant

This is Ang, and she can be found spitting out somes about her time in Italy at http://www.angelinachapin.com

Nice nice...there's a message from her. She's in Bologna, and is yearning for Hajj. Supreme! So this is what I write to her:

"in the city. gonna try calling you in a minute, aka 10ish, and seeing what's up. if we dont get hold of you, cus im a doofus and might not be able to operate these italian payphones, we are going to head on out to la spezia this morning...ill call you now."

And behold! A reply almost immediately:

"Hey boooooomb up.
Gimme a shout.
I'm well rested and ready to roooooock.
I can meet you at the train station in Bologna.
Call me at 34****0822

So I write back something to the effect of: "gonna call you now, but if it doesn't work, meet at the train stn. in 30 mins. around 10:20."

Alright...I gotta get to a phone. Split from the faux-Bengali, and start rubber-necking, scanning for a payphone. Behold again! There's one!

Okay okay okay how do you work these things? I haven't used one of these in since forever ago. I wish there was a cool BatPhone-esque direct line from me to Ang lying around here somewhere...but alas. First essai: It's ringing...buzz...buzz...uh-oh...weird busy/dead signal. Try again. Second essai: Darn damn phone takes my EuroCents. Now I'm all grrrrrrrrd up!

Shoot! Now what? Okay, get a grip Cous. Don't panic. Let's just go to the train station, and hopefully she's seen my last message and all will get sorted...and then get sordid. Fingers crossed.

So now we're here, Bologna Central. One swoop of the parking lot...two swoops...and a third even, but no sign of the emcee. No panic still. If she shows, then glory...if not, then at least we tried, and it guess it wasn't supposed to happen anyway. Ren and I get to discussing, and figure on a course of non-action: "Let's get a pizza."

So now, our beautiful bellies are full, and it's way past 10:20, my cockamamy imposter of a meeting time. Another course is decided upon, this one full of action. We load up, lock up, and poise up for a final swoop of the lot. In we go...slowly now Cous, slooooowly. We're at the main doors, eyes darting...nothing, nothing, nothing..."Hey! That's her!!!!!", I hear myself screaming like a proper femme. Ang is 20 feet direct in front of us, bouncing and be-bopping, her bags flailing like clumsy, burdened kites, and a buzz envelopes Hajji, anticipation and titillation together at last. This is the best! "We did it! LET'S GO TO CINQUE TERRE!!"

God the road looks good. We're outside the city now, and the road looks good! And hump me if it ain't because Ang is here, and we've got The Rhythm Method spluttering and crackling through the speakers. Reader, do this now: http://www.myspace.com/therhythmmethodispregnant

Two more hours and we'll be where we're heading. Three days of nice coming up.

The Rhythm Method EP Release...dig on it.


So that was about a month and a half ago, and our time with Ang is now totally kaput. But let me tell you, 'twas beautiful. We drove in and out of La Spezia, that gateway town to Cinque Terre, the Five Lands, and onto a favourite little cove village of Lord Byron's called Portovenere. I found a poncho here behind a dumpster where I had gone to wizz. We strolled, and meandered, and lollied all around the place, finding a hotspot for a sunset, and finally settled in for a Hajji-produced dinner pasta spectacular right along the water!

Lord Byron once swam from this cove to a far-away island...he was such a stud.

You believe this?! Portovenere.

Next morn, we attempted the hike between the 5 villages that are built along the steep cliffs above the sea, and for which Cinque Terre is named, but we are ancient and obese, so took the train instead. The views were rub-a-dub wonderful though, but our camera went wackadoo and we lost all our photos...so none for le blog. The hot hot heat pushed us around all day, and so we were pleased to shove off and find ourselves another safe-zone for Hajji, this time in the town of Lerici, just across the bay from Portovenere. We had basically the exact same dinner as the previous night, laughed about Ang's recent adventures in WWOOFing, (www.wwoof.org), and went to bed happy and healthy. The next morning is when the goodies happened.

Breaky for us. Notice the shorts...they'll be addressed soon.

Remember when all my things got stolen? So one month further down the line, I was still bumming about in Alex Derry's short shorts, (which it turns out were not nearly short enough for my likes), and various scummy Ts and Albanian flannels. This lifestyle all came crashing down and blossoming up on me one fine morning in Lerici.

As Ren and I were fiddle-faddling through the streets, we spied some old plastic bags sitting lonely and still in what seemed to be an abandoned apartment lobby. In we tiptoe and rummage we start. The bags are chock-a-block full of old textiles! Smelly bizarre bazaar heaven! Ren and I make quick work of those charity-destined sacs, and walk slyly out and back into the sunshine, sunglasses on and hats pulled down low. Bandits' booty, transients' treasure!!

I wish I could show you what we got, but, again, the camera thing.

Ren snagged two identical pairs of flashy pants, yellow and blue, and a swell dead woman's purse. Me, I made off with a snazzy sweater, a skinny cracked belt, and two pairs of swim trunks that show off EVERYTHING. They are so gooooood. I'll show them to you one day...ask Ang how tantalizing they are.

With Angelina due back at her cousin's place outside of Bologna, and with us set to speed across the Cote d'Azur, we took that sweet thang back to La Spezia, and dropped her on a corner. Our three days of Ang-filled bliss was at its end. Never ones to dwell however, we turned our tails and started the two-day international drive that was to take us to Barcelona, and my fam.

That'll be next time.
Until then, friends. I adore every one of you...it's true.

Posted by rencous 06:27 Comments (1)

All Roads (Used to) Lead to Rome

From Pescara where we lost Bob, to Perugia where we saw Brett, to Bologna where we picked up Ang - September 22nd to the 28th

The rusted and corroded ring of keys were slowly, hesitantly, removed from their 3-month home in Benny´s filthy pants pocket, dangling in mid-air, held out at arms reach from Cous´ expecting grasp. Knowing eyes met, only for an instant, yet long enough to convey the crystal clear message: "Take care of her". And just like that, in a flash, as if the keys were in fact a portkey (Potter Reference), Benny was gone, garbage bag and all.

Bye Bye Benny

It was a strange feeling, climbing back into Hajji without him. For the first time in this trip she felt empty. With one final farewell Hajji Honk from the Pescara airport parking lot, we said goodbye to Benny and set our sights on Rome.

Now, I think we are all familiar with the famous saying "All roads lead to Rome", and with a quick Google, I was surprised to learn that was once in fact true. With over 50,000 miles of road radiating from the ancient center, we both figured that the 156km drive would be a joke. This brings me to the topic of Italian roads. Bear in mind that we have been on a 3-month roadtrip, are well versed in maps and are eagles at spotting signs; that being said, we must have asked 8-10 people for directions, and even then, the entire 156km trip took us just under 6 hours! Cous was driving. We swore a lot.

We finally surrendered to the roads 20km shy of Rome. We refused to go any further, and began the daily search for a place to park, and call home for the night.

We awoke early (this tends to happen when you´re sleeping in a box of windows), anticipating the huge day that lay ahead. After the previous day´s road lesson, we opted for the public transportation route into the city instead, which came in the form of a bus and the metro. The second we left the metro station we were confronted by the Colosseum. We decided to take the guided tour which actually unmasked a few Hollywood myths. For example, did you know that they didn´t have lions and tigers fighting gladiators? The animals were more of a farmland variety like cows, ostriches, zebras and monkeys. Imagine an ostriche and a monkey fighting to the death! On second thought, that could be much more entertaining than lions and tigers.

The grandest of them all.

Wherever we walked there were crumbling columns, ancient artifacts and ruined relics amidst preservationists hard at work. I remembered reading the Lonely Planet - Rome section during yesterdays agonizing drive, and the author had opened with "In Rome there are more ruins than dog shit!" I immediately dismissed this as an obvious exaggeration, although after an hour in the city I began to realise ..."Ha! He´s probably right. In Rome there are more ruins than dog shit."

The Roman skyline.

It is for this reason why throughout the day it became harder and harder to impress us. Our brains became super-saturated with beautiful, old, decaying stuff, to the point that it was difficult to register and appreciate the historical significance of what it was we were looking at.

Throughout our day we stumbled upon The Pantheon, Trevi Fountain, Novana Square, and finally Vatican City. While at the Vatican we attended mass at St. Peter´s Cathedral where I captured a few breathtaking shots.



We then entered a long line for tickets for the Vatican Museum wherein lies the Sistine Chapel. At this point Rome had taken its financial toll on us, and with only 20 € between us we learned that the enterance fee was 14 € each! Shit! But then we disscovered that they offered a student rate of 8 € each ... ahhh .. phew! Although neither of us had our student cards on us, this is likely because neither of us are in fact students...anymore. We made our way to the ticket counter where an old man was working. As sweetly as possible I explained to him that a few weeks ago we were robbed in Sarajevo (which is true...see entry titled "Scarajevo"), and our wallets stolen (which is also true), with our student cards in them (LIARS!!!). He asked our ages, we lied again. And he agreed to give us the student rate ... but short changed us 2 €. After realizing his innocent mistake I returned to the ticket counter and politely informed him of his error. He snapped! Quickly refusing to give me my 2 €, demanding we pay an additioinal 10€, and trying to tear the tickets out of my hand! He even got out of his booth in hopes of wrestling them from my iron grip. I tucked the tickets safely away in my pocket and got ready to make a scene. Raising my voice so that everyone was staring, I asked him innocently, "Why are you taking my ticket?" This man was selling student tickets to non-students and pocketing the difference, in his mind as a fee for his service. He was directly stealing from the Vatican. I think that one might warrant a FREE ticket ... to Hell! I told him that I would like to speak with his supervisor, and he quickly coughed up the money and returned to his booth. Of all places to get ripped off, The Vatican. We never saw it coming.

We were finally able to enter the Vatican Museum, and make our way towards the Sistine Chapel. Photos obviously do it no justice, all I can say is that the corridors leading up to the Chapel and the Chapel itself are, without a doubt in my mind, the most remarkable sight I have, or will ever, lay eyes on.

The hallowed hallways that lead to The Chapel.

I apologize for the lack of photos from the Chapel itself. It was strictly forbidden to talk or take any photographs once inside, although it seemed that no one was abbiding by these rules. All you could hear was the flutter of shutters swelling from the crowd, while security guards frantically raced to confiscate or remove anyone caught in the act. We were caught in the act, hence the lack of photos. After being kicked out of the Sistine Chapel we gladly retreated from the city, once known as the centre of the world, to Hajji, the center of our world, ready for another adventure tomorrow.

After two exhausting days in Rome we were happy to head north to Perugia, where our beloved Brett Lorier was temporarily calling home. Brett is a New Zealand sweetheart who Benny met in Holland. We only got to meet him for the first time at Sziget, and were thrilled to hear he would be on exchange in Italy during our travels. He showed us around the beautiful city of Perugia; where to get cheap pizza and cheap wine, and most importantly where to consume them. It was so nice to see a familiar face in a far off land, and be shown the ropes rather than figuring them out on your own. We had a doggone nice weekend in the foreign exchange student murder capital of Italy, what with slurping wine and burr on the old steps in the old square two nights running. It really is a beautiful city, and deserves a visit from anyone who finds themselves nearby. But Brett had his final Italian language exam on the Tuesday morning, and he needed at least a day to study, so we left him on Sunday afternoon and pointed our vehicle in the direction of Bologna, again. Off to see if we couldn't pick up an old pal from high school and take her somewhere...

Sweet sweet Breet...thousands of warm wishes and thanks and blessings from Ren and Cous and Hajji.

As for the rest of you...be like Brett.


Posted by rencous 23:34 Comments (0)

The Hajji Diary pt. 5

The Last of Benny's 18 Entries in our Gorgeous Tome - September 22nd

B's Last Ds

Benny's final farewell to Hajji. A flurried scribble while RyanAir waited. By this guy....

Yeah, this guy...

"At Pescara Aerodome! Last day, last minute, last second to none. The Hajji journey was everything a man could want, thanks for letting me steer the ship once in a while. Zoroastrian blessings for the remaining 10,000km, may the Hajji never know pain again. I love you Hajji. I love you Marcus. I love you Lauren. You make loving fun. Watch the grind in 3rd, and make sure to rotate the tires. See you in Canada at Christmas, love for Mama, careful with sauce, the HAJJI WAS THE BEST!

Love Boo"


There ain't much more that can be said about this duster, that hasn't already been whispered or screamed aloud by those who know him, or by those who wish they did. Benjamin Arthur Paylor is 33.333333% responsible for Hajji, for this trip, for the magic that has come of it, but if I were a math-man I might attribute more to him. He was a magnificent sherpa all along the way, lugging and tugging the load, boosting the morale, fueling happiness, making wet what is all-too-often dry and disgusting. Bob - the Hajji and her Captains miss you. You are welcome back anytime.

Love and spit, and egg shells and aspirin,
Cous and Ren

Posted by rencous 15:35 Comments (1)

Words Can't Justify Me

...but still, I'm sorry.

Free-frolicking sans Benny for the past month has led the Hajji blog into disrepair, and disrepute. We have been gallavanting at top speeds across Western and SouthWestern Europe, and NorthWestern Africa, covering the greatest distances Hajji has seen since the Gold Rush West of 1849, and with her lowest numbers since Black Tuesday of 1929.

Ren and I got sick in Morocco, but we are on the mend, and promise to translate this new-found vigour into a flurry of hot and sweaty entries, designed to enthrall, delight and dazzle you, within the week. We are heading North through Portugal right now, taking full advantage of blindly-trusting librarians and their free "Internet Corners", to get this message to you now. By tomorrow, we hope to be at my cousin Bry's place, outside of Vigo, Spain, where we will spend at least three days...and from where, we will regale you with tales of the last 37 days spent in and around and with Hajji.

Sorry for letting the Hajji's followers wallow in non-information; the next week promises news of all sorts...but hear this: 4 days ago the camera went crash and all the pictures from Albania and Italy and Spain and Morocco are kaput. Minus a few pics that Ren had the clairvoyance to upload before the nasty business, the next few posts will be visual duds.

Love from Sintra,

Posted by rencous 09:41 Comments (1)

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