It was summer, the best one we’ve ever seen in Norway. A couple of months earlier, I had graduated from college, broken up with a girl, quit my jobs and moved into a caravan. My days were spent reflecting over my life, mostly about the past. I was tired of going through this life with so much suffering, with a talkative mind that was so loud and always looking for problems. I thought the best way to bring myself out of it was to start writing down whatever was going on in there. I stumbled over a book called The Alchemist, a spiritual book about a young shepherd who sells all his sheep in order to travel the world and fulfill his unknown destiny. I was so inspired by the story that I decided to buy a one-way ticket to Morocco, where the novel partly takes place. With close to zero experience with traveling, I was surprisingly calm and confident. Watching as we passed the clouds from the window of the airplane, my curiosity for what the world had in store for me was tremendous. I had many questions I needed answered, questions I didn’t know I had, but I had a feeling everything would come to me, just like in the book. Unsure of what I was getting into, still I felt ready.
Finally, I was there. Marrakesh. I remember having all kinds of expectations of how things would be, how they’d turn out, but nothing could compare to what actually happened. It was overwhelming, coming from the quiet caravan life into probably one of the world’s busiest cities. Eyes, voices and hands were on you all day, wherever you went, wanting you to buy stuff. It was exhausting, but worth it, to experience a city over a thousand years old where the buildings, culture and traditions had remained. I explored the city day after day, but I felt the urge to move on. I remember being exhausted and moody. Marrakesh was a good experience where many lessons were learned; the biggest was to avoid expectations in life because they are always bound to be destroyed.
If you look for something you’ve created in your mind, you may not find it, but if you simply look at what is, you see extraordinary things and opportunities.
I took the bus to Essaouira, a beautiful city on the west coast. Like Marrakesh, I lived in the Old Medina, but this city was hundred times more peaceful. When I finally got to the hostel, I was guided through the building. People were smoking, playing music, making vegan food and laughing. It was an amazing sight, because it represented freedom. For the first time in my life I felt that I’d found my home. My bed was in a straw hut located on the rooftop. As I was enjoying the view, a guy called Jason came over next to me. We clicked instantaneously, having conversations about life which I’d never been able to do back home, only in my mind. It was such an incredible feeling. I was so thankful for the journey that brought me here.
Essaouira is a city taken straight out of a fairy tale. It feels like you’re in an ancient fort. The aesthetics are so beautiful, it is no wonder they named it Essaouira which means “the well-made”. Seagulls were flying all over the place, but mostly by the port where they brought in the fish. Essaouira is, or was, the most important fishing port in Morocco. There are fish markets close to the port, where you can buy fresh fish at almost any hour. Narrow streets, but unlike Marrakesh, you won’t find yourself getting lost. The city is rather small in comparison. As they are not as dependent on tourism, people are more genuine friendly and welcoming.
After staying for a while, I ended up travelling together with some people I got to know at the hostel. Tafedna was our first stop, two hours south. There are mountains and a large beach that can only be described as majestic. Not many live there, and those who do are self-sufficient. They are fishers, and grow fruits and vegetables. We stayed at a hostel called L’Ave, owned by a Frenchman, who is building a library and other cool stuff which will be free for locals to use. They have tents outside where we’d sleep. You could also sleep outside on a mat, below the starry sky. Not much light and pollution in that area, so you can see the stars very clearly.
Although I was travelling with people at that point, I still spent my days alone. Walking around, shooting pictures, reading books or just enjoying the view somewhere. One day, however, I decided to go a walk into the mountains with Bella, a girl I was travelling with. The view was outstanding and it was so quiet. We witnessed an incredible sunset that turned the ocean into a ice and lava, it was such a incredible scene. We threw off our clothes and jumped into the ocean. I remember laughing out loud in joy, which would surprise people back home – how long had it been since I had that powerful feeling of joy? Never it seemed. As I was jumping back and forth in the waves, I looked back at Bella, seeing her enjoying herself as well. I thought, “this is so great, and to be able to experience this with another person is what makes it so grand”. I was filled with gratitude. Later that day, I remember my face filling with tears after an A-ha! realization that there is no ‘I’, only ‘we’. That we’re all connected to each other. From that point I’ve looked at everyone as loving brothers and sisters, loving all in the same way I love myself. It all starts from the heart.
We clicked instantaneously, having conversations about life which I’d never been able to do back home, only in my mind. It was such an incredible feeling. I was so thankful for the journey that brought me here.
Our next, and last stop together, was Taghazout; a surfer’s paradise. We got ourselves a small apartment which was meant for three. We were five. The view from the windows were great and they were so thin, that if it rained it would rain straight through the walls, which in fact it did. Jason and I happily slept on the couch, where you could listen to the waves while falling to sleep. My travelling companions would invite all kinds of people into the apartment all day. People were coming and going, mostly Germans actually. They were nice people, but I had problems dealing with this. I’m quite introverted, so I felt my space was invaded constantly. One night in particular, I was exhausted and took my blanket to the rooftop to sleep under the starry sky. It was peaceful and beautiful. I was grateful for being challenged so much, but also grateful for the reward, up there in the quiet.
While being in Taghazout, I spent most of my days reading, meditating and walking on the beach. One day while walking on the beach, I felt the urge for a change. I’d been travelling with these people for weeks now, and it was time for me to be on my own again. I took my backpack, gave a last look at the people who’d been my family for the last couple of weeks and said farewell. The taxi took me to a city called Agadir, where I would catch a bus to Tafraout. Another overwhelming experience, like Marrakesh. A busy city. It was hard to find anyone to help me. Most people told me there were no buses, and the only way to get there was a taxi. I knew that wasn’t true. So much was going on at the same time, in my world both outside and inside. After a while I was tired and irritated which led me to take a walk in a more quiet place. While walking I had all these negative thoughts pouring in like; “want to go home” “don’t like this place” “don’t like these people” “how rude” etc etc. I took a seat on a stone to relax. I witnessed an old woman sleeping on the ground five meters away from me. I compared our problems, thought about why I had a problem in the first place. I thought about all the things I’d learned so far on the journey, and realized that the cause of everything that had happened in the last thirty minutes was my own doing. I realized I had to open my heart to the world, instead of listening to the egoic nagging voice who wants no good. There was no problem other than my mind creating it. The old woman had a problem, not me.
I learned something very valuable of this man, that I’d just scratched the surface of a iceberg when it came to Morocco, and even dealing with people in the world. I had so much to learn, I thought.
I decided to walk back, and the first thing that happened was an older man approached me, asking if he was allowed to help me. He found us a table where we drank tea together. Had a nice chat. He found a bus for me that was leaving in five minutes. He also took my bag and brought it to the bus. I asked him if he wanted some money for it, and he said no, something I had yet to experience in Morocco. I learned something very valuable of this man, that I’d just scratched the surface of a iceberg when it came to Morocco, and even dealing with people in the world. I had so much to learn, I thought.
After this incident, people came to me everywhere asking to assist me for nothing in return. What had changed? I had changed. It all starts from the heart, I believe. Before all this, I was looked upon as a prey. Now I was an open man who was interested in their world. As I was sitting on the bus, I said out loud, “it’s a beautiful world people. Thank you!” Everyone looked at me, wondering. An expression almost of shock. No one said anything, except a man who smiled and acknowledged me. After a while he came to sit next to me, and we talked about all kinds of things, mostly religion. A couple of days later, that man on the bus would travel a long distance to give me a gift. I was so overwhelmed with gratitude and felt so privileged. I remember a week later at the airport, they had to check my backpack because it contained so many books. One of them, the Quran. He looked at me the same way a father does after a child has done something that’ve made him very proud. “Who gave it to you?” I told him a friend from the bus gave it to me. “You have to take good care of it. It is the greatest gift.”
I checked in at a hotel, located in the middle of the town of Tafraout. There were no hostels in that area. Actually, I didn’t meet any tourists over there at all. I spent most of my days walking in the mountains, enjoying the grand scenery. The nature over there felt like it was sculptured by hand. Many large rocks were so perfectly placed, high up in the mountains, that it seemed all too good to be true.
While I was there, a flood came. It had rained for three days in row, and the city was part underwater. They told me it was not unusual for people to die in these conditions, but that didn’t stop me to go out to experience this festival – which was what it felt like. Everyone was out looking at this, enjoying it. In Norway, it would be a catastrophe, but in Morocco it just means life. One man, especially, took the opportunity to show off his courage by walking into the river. After the rain was over, I walked alongside the river until I met some kids playing around. They came running to me, very happy. Making me say things in French, laughing their asses off. I lent them my precious camera equipment and my iPhone. They ran around shooting pictures of each other. It was quite fun. You may call me naive, but I always believe in the good in people. I was hoping to shoot a lot of pictures of them, but they obviously took care of it. When it was over, I was lucky enough to borrow my own camera to take a picture of them before I left to the mountains.
I climbed and climbed. It seem like there were no ending to the mountains. I remember the sun was looking at my back, the air was fresh and the temperature was cold, perfect for climbing mountains.
I climbed and climbed. It seem like there were no ending to the mountains. I remember the sun was looking at my back, the air was fresh and the temperature was cold, perfect for climbing mountains. When I got to the top of the mountain, I was so amazed by this great view of nature, but at the same time felt something was missing. I flashed back to swimming in the ocean with Bella, I knew what it was. I didn’t have anyone to share this with. It was still great and I loved it up there, but it would be even better if someone was there with me. It was a valuable lesson.
When I got back to the hotel, I bought a ticket to Portugal for the next day. I stayed there for a week, then leaving to Madrid and Seville. There are no pictures from those places, as I received no inspiration. Going from the grand nature of Morocco to modern cities? Well, I guess it depends on what you like, but I’ve never been able to shoot pictures in cities, and there I just confirmed it. I’m glad I did it. I also made some really good friends over there. As Christmas was closing in, I decided to get back to Norway. When I got back home, I felt the world around me was hollow. I had learned so much about myself and life, was filled with light, but I was alone with these feelings. I’m sure there are many who share this experience after having been out there in the world. After a couple of weeks I decided to travel to Bangkok, another ‘see what happens journey’.
“Here I am, Bangkok” I thought. What in the world is in store for me this time? I enjoyed myself with some nice company in a hostel called Bodega. A place to stay if you want to meet a lot of cool people. I got to know a guy called Brandon, from the US, whom I decided to travel with. We ended up taking a long bus trip to Cambodia, into Siem Reap. We didn’t stay long, but long enough to explore the temples of Angkor. The temples are incredibly beautiful. Some of them are over thousands of years old. However, we had a place called Kampot in our sights which is a quiet riverside Town, just a couple of kilometers from the sea. I really loved that place. The people were like the weather, warm and comfortable. Our days were mostly spent driving scooters along the riverside, into villages and up in the mountains. We explored the forest, which felt like another world. Little did we know it contained deadly snakes and scorpions. I felt such a strong sense of being in there, it was incredible. Also, the view from the top of the mountain after a long day was priceless. With the sun above the clouds, I came to a realization that the sun is always shining, and so is our heart. Just gotta look through the clouds.
One day while I was driving the scooter alongside the river, I noticed a lot people gathering around. I thought it might be something fun that was happening. When I got close, I saw a lifeless body of a little girl, a mother crying next to her, and a man trying to bring life into her. I felt chills up my spin, it was a very sad sight to see. I ended up taking up the camera, I had mixed feelings about if whether I should or not take pictures. “Why should I take pictures?” I thought. I didn’t have immediate answers, so I just acted instead. It felt right and wrong at the same time. As you can see, I ended up shooting pictures, but decided to show the picture where she somewhat looks at peace. I stayed there for a while, looking at the ocean, watching at the waves. A lot of emotions inside me working, feeling sorry for the family, about whether what I did was right or wrong, and about life in general. As I watched the waves, I realized life is like that. It is something that comes and goes just like the waves and it is a continuous cycle.
After exploring Kampot, it was time to visit Koh Rong. This time I was on my own again. I took the bus to Sihanoukville, taking the ferry to the island. The island was basically a big forest surrounded by beaches. The ferry took me to the small town, where there weren’t more than twenty or thirty small houses. It was really nice. A lot of people in a small area with a lot of music. I enjoyed a day with a bunch of strangers. We rented a boat to explore the island. Free-diving, fishing and eating it on a beach. Well, they ate it. It was a nice day. But honestly, I was hoping to come to a place where I could spend some alone time, not another party place. I discovered by coincidence that perfect place on the other side of the island, where I had a whole beach to myself.
Although I was hungry for some alone time, I ended up listening to a Cambodian guy talking about how much he hated Thailand, because they are apparently stealing land from them.
The people on the island were so nice and welcoming. Although I was hungry for some alone time, I ended up listening to a Cambodian guy talking about how much he hated Thailand, because they are apparently stealing land from them. He was still a nice guy. He showed me an eternal list of pictures of his daughter and son, who lived far away.
That night I slept in a tent again on a beach to myself. The tent was so small, I had to sleep in a position I’d never practised before. I spent most of my time there just watching the waves come and go, reflecting on life. It just occurred to me that I was sitting on an island in Cambodia, by myself. Strange feeling. I had no idea why I was there or where I wanted to go. I had nothing in mind of what I wanted to do. I started writing, and did so for about a week until I figured it out, that I wanted to go home and read books and do art.
I left Sihanoukville to Phnom Penh, which is the capital of Cambodia. My plane was leaving the next day in the evening, so I spent all my time there sightseeing. At night I ended up in a room with four gay guys who brought me over to a drag show. Although it was a place for guys who likes guys, there were strangely a lot of women there, if you know what I mean. Not easy to tell if they were male or female. I thought it might be an interesting experience, and it was. I saw things from another perspective. The following morning, I spent the day with a tuktuk driver, driving me all day around the city – exploring museums, killing fields and other spaces. The tuktuk drivers I met were incredibly nice people. Well, most Cambodians are really genuinely kind people. Despite some gruelling history, we had such a nice day, me and him. I bought us dinner at a local restaurant, where he told me about his family, struggles and how to live, as a tuktuk driver.
They say that there is a philosopher’s stone of a substance that can transform base metals into gold. It also symbolizes enlightenment and immortality. What I’ve come to believe is that the philosopher’s stone is already inside us. It is sleeping, wanting to be wakened… To be seen, touched and felt. To be loved. It’s about connecting ourselves to the whole and being one with it all.
The world can only be beautiful then. The search is over. I’ve learned how to transform stone into gold.
I hope these words may encourage others to take upon a journey, not just exploring the world outside, but also inside.
Words and images by Anders Vinje