Entry #008: Sunday, April 21, 2013 (Marrakech, Morocco)

What a weird couple of days it’s been. Not super eventful on a large scale, more like bunch of little things that weren't according to plan. (Also, a couple thoughts on where things are with my overall Moroccan trip...at the end of all this.)

Friday was my last day surfing with Jamal, and it felt like it. We determined that I could have gone to Fes, but I felt that if I spent the time getting some last-minute things done in Meknes, it’d be just as fine. Also, I said that I wasn't super interested in seeing the medina there (I’m pretty much over medinas) and Jamal immediately said, “Oh, then you’re not missing anything; that’s all there is.” So he left to take his classes, and the rest of us had lunch with the same food we've been having this whole time. Now, I’m not really one to talk about repetition in one’s food. Every morning at work, I’d have the same thing – a cupful of cereal and skim milk, with a big mug of green tea. Hell, some weeks I would cook a huge pot of something on Sunday, and eat it every dinner until the next Saturday. I think the difference would have to be the fact that my meals always had a full supply of nutrients from all the things I brought into it, so that it felt more nourishing. Also, my lunches were always different.

Anyway, I’m getting off topic. We ate lunch in almost silence, “we” being Lana, Edir, and myself. Edir being silent was clearly just a language issue, but I could get the feeling that Lana was tired of me. What started out earlier in the week, with long conversations, degraded into the occasional question and one-sentence responses. I couldn't say I really blamed her. I had to check my calendar to realize that, wow, this had only been Day 5? It genuinely felt like I’d been there for longer. Perhaps it’s because of the constant meals together, but it definitely seemed like I’d been staying with these folks too long, and it was my time to go and let them continue on without me.

(On a side note, this gives me a bit of trepidation about my stay in Nairobi, which is with a single host for almost two weeks. The last thing I want for that is to feel long. I am committed to doing something at least every other day to get me out of their hair, and considering that one of those hosts is a tour manager, maybe he can get me out somewhere for a couple days.)

I decided to take advantage of the time I had by getting rid of my Regret Rug (the one that I purchased in Tetouan). I was considering bringing it up to Italy with me, where I could leave it with my cousin, but hey, no time like the present to send it back to the United States, and offload it’s weight and bulk. So, I quickly research the way to the nearest post office (Poste Maroc), which is only a mile or so away, so I walk. When I get inside, I see a couple large counters, and numbers above them. I realize I need to get a ticket and wait for my number to be called, so I walk to a small machine. Featuring a touch screen and a number of options, I use my phone to translate all the French, navigating myself to the most relevant options. I press the right buttons and...nothing happens. I try again. Nothing happens. I walk to a different machine. Nothing happens. I try different buttons. Nothing happens. Exasperated, I quickly type in "I need to mail this to the United States" into my phone, get the French translation ("Je dois envoyer cette aux États-Unis," in case you were wondering) and do my best to say this to one of the guards. Noticing my terrible pronunciation, he tells me in broken English (shattered, really) that I need to go to the international courier part of the post office, which is around the corner of the block.

The guard takes me outside points in the direction of this office. As I walk into it, a purse slams against the wall next to me, not more than a foot away. It falls to the floor, spilling its contents. I look up, more confused than anything, only to see a very angry woman walking in my direction. She pauses briefly to pick up her things, and then storms out of the office. I can only guess she had thrown her purse in anger, and I just had bad timing. I look over and see a guy leaning over his counter with the most consternated face I've ever seen in a civil service job. I slowly make my way up to one of the people and motion to the bag in my hand. "United States?" Thankfully, I chose the one guy with the best English in the office, and he informed me that I need to go to customs, which was the anxious-looking dude. So, I go over, taking in the guy's disheveled suit and undone tie, and do the exact same thing I did before. "United States?" "Anglais?" he asks in response. "Yes." He runs his hands through his hair, eyes bulging. You'd think I just told him his wife was dead. He rushes over to the guy I was just speaking with, and pulls him over. The English speaking guy pulls out a form and hands it to me, telling me what to fill out.

I take a pen and move to the side. And then the guy behind me goes up, tapping his drivers license on the counter. He and the anxious worker begin talking. At first it sounds normal, if urgent. Then it begins to sound annoyed. Then angry. When I turn my head away from my paperwork, I then see that they are shouting at each other. Not that "it's-a-different-language-so-I-can't-tell-if-they're-arguing" shouting, legit shouting. I nudge myself away a slight bit when the worker literally hops over his counter and gets up close to the customer. They are yelling and pointing in each others faces, and I have no clue in hell what's going on. Other workers seem to, though, as they also jump over the counters to hold back both men. Eventually, they are separated. The worker is, I assume, told to take a break, and the customer is calmed down in a chair. Well "calm" is a bit of an overstatement. He grabbed his driver's license and huffed out of there. I was beginning to feel that anxious worker might be the worst employee.

After the storm has settled, I finish filling out my form, my Regret Rug is packed up very crudely (like, bomb-squad-worthy crudely), and I end up paying $50 to ship it. (Incidentally, this means that its total price ended up being the merchant's original price.) While I felt I could have gotten a better deal doing almost anything else, I was a bit beyond caring, and agreed. My bigger gripe was that they wouldn't accept credit. Really, the official Moroccan post office is cash only. The only place I've been able to use a card in in the country up to that point was a friggin' McDonalds.

As I'm walking out, I hear another customer begin to shout. Good gravy.

But whatever, the Regret Rug was out of my hair! Huzzah! I decided to celebrate by going to a cafe. (Actually, I was going to a cafe because my travel vest zipper was stuck beyond all hope, and I wanted to get it fixed before walking more, but semantics.) I like cafes. They are like a safe haven, where I know I can get some tea, and just chill for 20-30 minutes. I think the introvert in me needs that. But I'll touch on that more in a bit.

I get back to the apartment, and Hamid puts dinner of chicken/potato tanjine on the table before heading off on a date (I can only assume a hot date). I like Hamid, he's good people. Anyway, dinner is again just myself, Lana, and Edir, and it's quiet again. I relate the events in the post office, saying that they're much more interesting here than in America, where boredom is the primary emotion. I then help clear the table, and start getting my stuff together. Jamal and his 40-year-old student came home, put out a plate of cookies, and then poured both tea and mango juice. The juice was good, but I found it interesting that it was made with milk. Apparently all juice is made like that in Morocco. Which reminds me, I still need to try avocado juice.

Everyone then goes to bed except for me. I had a train to catch at 3am; the last thing I wanted to do was fall asleep. Jamal said he'd wake up to take me to the airport. About a half-hour later, he gets up again, I think to have a glass of milk and some bread, and tells me that he's tired (as hes's still sick) and so will just take me to the street. Then, when I finally make ready to leave at 12:30, he gets up again, and says that Hamid will take me downstairs instead. He wakes up Hamid, we say our goodbyes, and he goes to bed. Hamid then leads me to the front door, where we say goodbye. I really wish I could have communicated better with him, but he'll be speaking great English before you know it.

I get to the train station, where a couple people are standing around waiting. I go to a ticket machine, which is indecipherable even in English. Having given up on that, I went up to the empty ticket counter, which did have a powered computer, so I figured somebody couldn't be far. After about 10 minutes (maybe he was far after all), the guy comes up to his desk. "I would like a train to Marrakech, followed by a bus to Zagora." He looks on his computer, prints out a ticket, and hands it to me. I notice that it's just to Marrakech. I look up, about to protest, when he says, "The bus to Zagora is full."

.........Crap. I hadn't considered that possibility. Zagora is a desert town, one kilometer wide and five long. Who could be going there. I asked if the man had any other information, and he told me to check the other bus stations in Marrakech when I arrived.

I waited for about two hours, mostly reading, until the bus finally came. I tried getting on, and one of the guards stopped me, pointing to the big "1" on the car, and the big "2" on my ticket. Without realizing it, I had gotten a second-class ticket, meaning I wouldn't be able to recline. As there was no time to fix the issue, I ran back to one of the second-class cars, and before my backpack cleared the threshold, the train started moving again. I found my way into an essentially empty car, found myself a pair of seats, pulled down all nearby window shades, set my backpack next to me, and then did my best to lay on it, arms entwined with its straps, trying to fall asleep.

I actually did a fairly admirable job of sleeping, considering. Until we reached Casablanca, I only had to wake up every time they had to punch my ticket. But then a rush of people came in, and people were pulling up the shades, letting the light come it. Then a mother sits her two children in the single seat next to me. They begin crying almost immediately, either because they were afraid of sitting next to the big scary man, or because they're just little twerps. Either way, I moved my backpack on top of me and used it like one of those inflatable airplane pillows you only see in Skymall catalogs. Unfortunately, it wasn't working out. The kids only stopped crying when they fell asleep, and they fell asleep on me. Which was adorable, but not conducive to my rest. I looked at my clock and saw that I still had three hours. Seeing as the sun was up, I used the time to read and take pictures of the passing surroundings. On this trip were the first kind of sights that a person would reasonably come up with if you told them to get a mental picture of Africa. All very nice. But boy oh boy, it was getting warm and sunny. I had to re-position myself multiple times to make sure that my left arm didn't get burned (or, I suppose, disproportionately tanned).

Once we got into Marrakech, I knew I had to move. Based on my very brief research, the other major bus line to Zagora would leave within the hour. I also knew that I should probably eat, so I rushed into the station McDonald's, inhaled a chicken sandwich, and made my way out. Despite it being within a 10-minute walk of the train station, I still got lost, and ended up walking through the hot - it was literally 98 degrees - weather for 25 minutes before making it. I went up to the counter and asked for a ticket. "All booked." Criminy. I asked for a Sunday bus. "All booked." Jesus. Turns out they didn't have anything available until Monday. This turned out to be the case at the other nearby bus station. So, I walk back to the train station's bus center, and it's the same story. No bus until Monday. I relent and get a ticket. I ask if I can buy my return ticket. "No, only at Zagora." I am admittedly worried, because if it's this difficult getting a ticket to there, why would it not be to get one back? But everyone I spoke with assured me that the trips back always have spots. ...Don't ask me, I have no idea.

After getting the ticket, I decide to sit, have some tea, and do an emergency hotel search. I take off my vest to reveal that my shirt is soaked. That was the first moment I really realized how hot it was. I questioned my drink purchase a bit, but at least I know how to say tea in French. I sat in the corner and moved my laptop into a position to minimize the number of people who could see my sweat-drenched self, and then saw that the WiFi in that cafe wasn't working properly. Not for my computer, not for my phone. So after finishing my tea and cooling off a bit (I was thankful for my choice of quick-dry clothes), I made my way back to the train station proper to use their WiFi. No dice - limited, aka unusable connection. So I go back in that McDonald's, which had its own hotspot. No luck there either. I walk around the area, trying a dozen different systems without success. I was getting a little vexed at the possibility of not being able to rectify my current homeless situation. Finally, I find an ice cream cafe. I don't really want more food, but get some ice cream so as not to be a leech. After realizing I need a password, I try to get my server's attention, but only get dirty looks. Well, there goes her tip. Eventually, I ask another server for the password, and once getting that, I get to work finding a place to stay for two days. I have no idea how I was once planning to do this entire trip with no computer or phone. It would have either been super expensive or super impossible.

I could have stayed at a hotel right next to the train station, but I saw another one that was about $20/night cheaper and had good reviews. And it's just 4km away; that's an easy walk, even with the heat. What I didn't realize was that it was in the medina. Once I reached those walls, all bets were off. It didn't matter how good my directions were, it didn't matter if I turned the GPS on my phone on, I was lost. I was wandering for almost an hour just through the medina itself, trying to get myself some semblance of bearing. But here's the problem when comparing these medinas with Google Maps - only a few of streets had signs, and they never matched what was on Google Maps. I don't have any clue why. And also, no map can prepare you for all the motorbikes zipping by. So, so many of them. Honestly, the fact that they come within inches of hitting you doesn't bother me at all. It's the exhaust. My eyes were watering from all the fumes.

Eventually, I gave up, and started accepting help to get me where I needed. Most just pointed me, but one guy actually took me around. I felt around in my pocket for all the change I had, ready to give him that. After some time, he brought me to the hotel which was so innocuous and out of the way that there would have been absolutely NO way I would have ever found it without somebody leading me. Just no way. I thank the guy, and give him the change. He tells me that's nothing, and that I should give him 100Dh. I start arguing with him, eventually giving him 40Dh and the change, telling him that that's enough to buy two meals worth of food in the market. After convincing him that was all I had, he left me alone, saying that I could pay the rest back next time. I was super frustrated, but to his credit, he was able to get me to the hotel, which was a plus. I get in, and am let to my room. It's nice and charming and has a hot shower, so I can't complain about it.

I eventually become a bit hungry, so I look at menu in the hotel guide. Everything is about 100-130Dh, and I know that I can find food significantly cheaper out in the market. So, I pack some money with me and head out, ready to explore. Jesus, one turn and I was already losing my bearings. It was even worse at night than during the day. I take out my phone, turn on my note taking program, and mark down what I do at every single juncture. Left. Right. Right. Right. Pass. Left. Pass. Pass. Left. Screw cheap, I think, I'm just going for the first place to eat that I can find. Luckily, I pass by a restaurant the moment that goes through my head, so I head in and up to the roof for a balmy night meal. I get a vegetarian meal, which consists of a really delicious crepe dish, some couscous with carrot and squash, some broth (which made the mountain of couscous much easier to swallow), and an interesting apple/banana in lemon sauce dessert. And bread, but you probably already knew that. On the whole, a very tasty meal. I ate quietly, listening either to the French conversation of the other patrons, or the nighttime call to prayer, which despite having heard it everywhere in this country, seemed very surreal at that moment. I also tried looking up at the stars, but was disappointed to see a black sky. I can only imagine the light pollution here is as bad as near LA or SF.

I wrapped the bread I received in my napkin and stuffed it into my pocket for later. I then left and brought out my phone. I retrace my steps until I come to one juncture. It says to turn into there, but I couldn't possibly mean that one, could I? It's so dark and unassuming. Surely it's just a bit further. So I kept walking, but soon I realized I had clearly gone too far. I begin to turn around when an old man comes up to me. He asks where I'm from and where I'm going. I try to shoo him away, but he says, "No, please, I just want to practice my English. Okay, fair enough. I let him walk with me, we chat a little bit about California and Arnold Schwarzenegger and some other topics. Eventually he stops and turns to me. "I'm poor. You'll give me 20Dh?"

I've never openly cussed out somebody. I still haven't, but by God, I was tempted to with this scumbag.

I do calmly argue with him, saying that he flat-out lied to me, but eventually reach into my smallest-bill pocket, finding only a 50Dh note. I grind my teeth, wishing I had gotten smaller change at the restaurant, but just hand it it to him. "Thank you my friend. Don't worry, you are Muslim." I don't know what he means, and I genuinely don't care. "Make yourself useful," I say to him, all the charm stripped from my voice, "Bring me back to my hotel." He takes me to that door that I had stupidly written off and points me on my way. I wave him off and walk back, still managing to lose my way in the three turns it takes to get to this place.

I get in my room, clean myself off, take a nice hot shower, and planned for the next day. I decide to do on Sunday the unthinkable: stay in the hotel all day. Frankly, I didn't want to leave. I have no interest in the medina here, and the thought of paying another scumbag to show me my way back to this hotel held no appeal to me. I looked at the hotel guide. Breakfast from 8:30-11am. Okay, I would get the free breakfast, eat the bread I snatched from the restaurant as a late lunch, and have dinner inside the hotel. I go to bed.

I wake up at 11:10. Dammit. I was sure I would have woken up earlier, seeing as I've been up before 10am every day on this trip. I hadn't taken into account the fact I only got three hours of sleep the night before. So, after a couple hours, I finally eat that bread. I really did nothing of consequence for the day, other than wash the clearly-visible salt from my sweat-drenched clothing. At 4pm, I saw in the hotel guide that I needed to make a reservation for dinner. So I go up to the front desk. "No, you had to make the reservation in the morning." So, resolute in my desire not to wander back out into the medina, I decide to skip dinner tonight. Eh, I'll pretend it's a holy day of fasting. And it will make my breakfast tomorrow - which I will absolutely not miss - all the tastier.

Now, it's easy to read all this and say, "Oh, poor Andrew, it's been a rough couple of days." Please don't. All this week I've been seeing news from America. People have had significantly rougher days than me recently. Even all the money I've been losing to scumbags is still pretty minor, all things considered. In general, though, I think the honeymoon for Morocco and me is over.

If I could have done this whole trip over, knowing what I know now, I probably would have shortened Morocco by a week. I don't think it's a bad place at all, I just think it would be better enjoyed by someone who can speak one of the main languages and - more importantly - has money they're willing to part with. Walking around the medinas is nice once or twice, but if you don't want to buy anything, not food or souvenirs, the appeal is a bit lacking. The Marrakech medina has a big center, with snake charmers and monkeys and all that, but apparently you can't take a picture of anything without paying. I...I can't get behind that. Bring in all the scumbags and hucksters, and suddenly all the charming parts of town become off-putting  I would absolutely love to be invisible and do all this stuff, because I really just want to observe things. I'd rather be treated as nothing than as a tourist.

My camel trek is really the last thing I'm fully excited about in Morocco. The rest just seems like filler until Italy. So, maybe Morocco is not as much my cup of tea as I thought it would be. Or maybe my teacup is just too small for it, and it's now overflowing and briefly scalding my had a bit. The parts that I do enjoy - I suppose you could say the non-medina parts - are wonderful, and there's still more of those to come!

Let's just hope I can find my way back to the station tomorrow.


  1. I think this is the first time you've used your trade mark "Good Gravy". Still, the medina and all the con artists certainly would be annoying, but you certainly have the right mindset. Can't let the bad (or annoying) overshadow the good. Can't say for sure though if I would've had the patience you had though.


  2. Andrew! our barrio is becoming a hipsterhood! you leaving upset the balance! Stay strong and assertive with your yes a yes and your no a no. Don't let anyone guilt trip you into doing something you don't want to do. Also, don't give money to kids..at least in Asia usually the kid is being used as a middle man (who doesn't get much of a cut at all). There are plenty of reputable charities around the world to donate your money and time to. Stay adventurous, open, but ever vigilant!