What am I getting myself into? That question pops into my head more and more often as my departure date comes closer. ‘West Africa’ is the easy answer, but what does that really mean? I honestly don’t know; there’s only so much you can learn about a place by reading about it. I’ve always been a bit of a dreamer, and I’ve been dreaming about making a trip like this (and many other adventures) for years, but so far, dreaming is all I’ve done. Now that I have both the money and the time, I intend to live that dream.
After moving out of my room (sniff) and saying goodbye to my friends (sob!), I spend two much-too-short days with my family, and then it's time to really get moving. I feel my confidence growing again as I'm done packing. After a short night, I'mbrought to the train station by my family. Lots of hugs and a few tears later I get on the train and I'm on my way. After a short ride to Antwerp (beautiful station by the way; the Belgians really do grandeur a lot better than us sober Dutch!), I change to the Thalys high-speed train that'll take me to Paris. Seeing people have their Sunday morning run, just like I would normally be doing, has me reflecting on what I'm leaving behind, but such thoughts quickly disappear when the train passes Brussels and we get into the countryside. It's a beautiful early spring day, even though it's only early February. The sky is blue and cloudless, the grass is bright green, there're some crops peeking out of the ground, and even a few fields of flowering rapeseeds. It's definitely not what
Just before 10 in the evening I board the night train to the Spanish border – except due to rain damage it can only go to Lourdes. My “roommates” include a former architect who now travels the world making a living selling watercolour paintings of the places he has visited, and Helène, who grew up in the French Pyrenees but now lives in Singapore, partially because there’re very few jobs in her part of France. At 6 in the morning, after a rough night in a tiny bed which I have to share with my backpack, we are kindly requested to leave the train at Lourdes. We then take a train to Pau, where we lose sight of the architect: Helène, her sister and her sister’s boyfriend then travel with me on another train to Puyoô, then on the bus to Bayonne, where their mother picks them up. I continue on yet another train to Hendaye, and from there on a train that finally takes me across the Spanish border and to Donostia, capital of Gipuzkoa.
As the train comes to a halt in Algeciras, across the bay from Gibraltar, I pack away my windstopper jacket as it’s around 20 degrees C outside. The ferry leaves from a tiny place called Tarifa, which is the southernmost point of mainland Europe. On the bus ride there, I see the Mediterranean on the left, the Atlantic on the right, and clearly visible across the Gibraltar strait: the mountains on Morocco’s Northern coast. Exciting! I spend most of the ferry ride standing in line to get my passport stamped. The sea is quite rough and the ferry is skipping across the waves violently; by the time I get my stamp, I feel a bit sick so all I do is sit down and wait for the ferry to arrive in Tanger; thankfully the upside to the fast and bumpy boatride is that it takes only 50 minutes. As soon as I leave the ferry terminal, a hustler joins me to point me to wherever I have to be, warn me of all kinds of danger, be there to help me, blablabla.