My name is Joanna Lin. I am 25 years old, and I work in Public Relations in New York City, where I handle publicity and media relations for global brands. I was born and raised in New York City, a cultural melting pot that has always nurtured my insatiable curiosity of the world and in some ways 'cursed' me with fernweh (far sickness). My love for travel is a deep case of wanderlust. It is a blessing to be a citizen of the world, and I find myself always longing to be in faraway places. I feel the most in tune with my true self when I am lost in a place where I am unknown.
What sparked your most recent trip? Did you travel by yourself or with a group?
My recent two month adventure was a journey through 7 countries in Europe, later venturing to Morocco and Ghana in Africa. The journey was a personal escape. I had spent the past several years of my adulthood with very little free time due to work and social obligations, and finally realized that I never took a breath to ask myself: "What is the one thing I want the most right now?" My heart answered: "To see the world on my own." So I looked at a map and traced out all the cities I wanted to visit, and bought a one-way ticket to my starting point of Lisbon, Portugal. I ended up going to 9 countries and 20 cities within 8 weeks.
My good friend Ben, whom I met in college at NYU, leads a company which builds infrastructure in Ghana, and I had promised that if I ever set foot in Africa I would pay him a visit. So, I kept my promise and flew down to Accra, Ghana after Morocco.
What were your expectations of visiting Africa?
I was excited to visit Morocco after seeing the beauty of Moorish art and architecture in Andalusia, Spain. I also expected all the cities in Morocco to be similar, due to the layout of how they center around the medina; boy was I was wrong.
Chefchaouen (one of my favorite cities) rests upon a mountain and all of its architecture are painted so beautifully in a cerulean blue hue that you almost forget you are near the desert. Fez boasts the largest and oldest medina, a catacomb of over 1000 small roads which no one has dared to map out - you can risk never escaping if you get lost. I found the people in Fez to be more aggressive, since they hold the knowledge of navigating the medina, where most tourists do not. Marrakech (another one of my favorites) has a giant, open square for its medina, which transforms into an electrifying night market at sundown. The night market experience was incredible because everyone comes together - both locals and foreigners - and the resplendent energy of the entire atmosphere is exhilarating. I slurped snails and chowed down on a lamb, potato & egg pita sitting a midst a communal table of locals, and it all tasted and felt amazing.
I expected Ghana to be a country with a lot of militant control. In actuality, the people are very congenial and laid back. Not once did I feel threatened or uncomfortable being a foreigner - but I have to thank Ben for being my local guide and ensuring my safety at all times. Ghana's beauty is very raw and multifaceted - there are developed cities, then there are the rain forests, wildlife preserves, historic castles, and beaches. The Atlantic shore was a truly amazing site to behold.
What was your experience as a tourist in both countries? What recommendations do you have for future travelers?
My experience in Morocco was a spontaneous and breathtaking 10-day whirlwind of exploring (and getting lost) in medinas, indulging in the ravishing beauty of Moorish art and architecture, camel-riding and camping out in the Sahara, and discovering Muslim culture. I went to Tangier, Chefchaouen, Fez, Merzouga sand dunes, Marrakech, and then Casablanca. I highly recommend trying different tagines, olives, camel burger (yum!), and snails. The local beer (if you can find a place which serves it) are FlagEspeciale and Casablanca - underwhelming after going to Belgium, but still refreshing after a long day in the sun.
In Ghana, I stayed in an affluent suburb named the Cantonments, where I was spoiled in my experience and even had a personal driver (thanks again to Ben). I visited the Akosombo Dam, Kakum National Park, Cape Coast, Beach Resort of Ada, and had a taste of ex-pat nightlife in Osu. The roads are extremely under developed though, so brace yourself for bumpy rides.
It was interesting to see the Ghanaian way of life - how effortlessly some women can balance large bundles on their heads, how they are able to repurpose any object into something useful (like large shipping crates into storefronts), and how overall laid back their culture is. Native Ghanaian dishes are seasoned jollof rice, spicy grilled tilapia, fufu stew, and a variety of grilled meats. If you see any “machete boys” walking down the street, don’t be scared! For 1 Cedi (36 cents USD) you can commission them to crack open a coconut for you. Ah, fresh and instant hydration.
Most people tend to generalize Africa as one big “country” forgetting it is a continent. Did these countries have any similarities? How were they different?
To compare Morocco to Ghana would be like comparing a desert to a jungle. The strong role that Islam plays in Moroccan society is evident in the conservative way people behave, their abstinence of alcohol, and the way women dress. Ghanaians, who are Christians in majority, have a more liberated and open mindset. There are noticeably more women active in daily life and working in public society. I also recommend that you do not expect one country to be "better" than the other, because they are just so different.
What’s next for you?
For now, I am back in New York City to focus on my career. Traveling solo was the best decision I've ever made for myself. The trip saved my life, in so many ways. But I can't complain about coming back to reality. Because to me, NYC is reality. To many out there, it is only a dream.
For my next trips, I plan to explore the rest of Eastern Europe, Greece, and perhaps revisit Turkey and Egypt. There are also several cities in Europe where I made amazing friendships and would love to go back to. I'm also saving South America for the next crossroad in my life.