Moroc & Rollin - a travel journal part 1
I’m doing things a little bit differently with my travel posts this time around. Usually on my stints abroad, I make a point to spend time before bed writing and going through photos. This time, I think I opened my computer all of one time, and I’m pretty sure it was to Google how to say “help me, I can’t follow the directions you gave me on this map” in Arabic. Haha. Kidding. Obviously I did that on my phone. ;)
In all seriousness, it was so refreshing to reboot my travel routine. It felt like a obligation detox, and I’m not going to lie to you, I loved it. Enjoying the moment- every moment- was something I’d robbed myself of these last few years. So here I am writing about my travels in retrospect- let’s see how this one goes, shall we?
Way back when I was booking my flight to Morocco, my frugal flyer heart got the best of me, and instead of flying directly into Marrakech, I booked a significantly cheaper flight into Casablanca. The difference in price was enough to cover all of my hostel accommodations in Morocco, Portugal, and France and then some. And having lived in Morocco for a month in 2016, I was familiar with the train system. I knew I could catch a train from Casablanca into Marrakech, and that a first class ticket would only set me back $50.
…But as my inbound flight to Casablanca got delayed one hour after another in the months leading up to my trip, I got impatient and, ok, my paycheck increased. Eventually, I decided to book a car service to take my antsy ass from Casablanca to Marrakech and make the most out of my already halfway shot first day there. To be fair, the train would have eaten up my first half day in Morocco, and with only 2 and a half days to make my grand return to this city, I wasn’t too keen on the idea of waiting for a train at the airport, making a transfer, waiting two hours at the main station in Casablanca, riding another 3 hours to Marrakech, and then having to pick the least scammy taxi to get myself into the Medina at a reasonable price.
So yes, in one of my weaker travel moments, I booked a private car. And I must say, the $60 difference in price was completely worth the story that came out of the experience.
By the way, before I get into this- you know, just so we’re on the same page- Iberia airlines sucks. That’s a rant for later, and honestly not relevant to this story at all, but my rage towards this airline deserved a place in this post.
After an exhausting 7 hour overnight layover in the Madrid airport, I finally landed in Casablanca. I located my driver outside the airport holding a sign with my name rather easily. Mustering up the remainder of my good spirits, I jokingly asked him if he was ready for the long drive ahead. “Oh, me?” He was amused. “Your driver is awaiting you over there, we must walk to him,” he said as he pointed across the vast concrete slab in front of us. As you might imagine, there was quite a noticeable difference in temperature between New York and Morocco, so I rolled up my sweater sleeves and braced my already overheated body for the trek to my driver. A couple of heat strokes later and we arrived at my private whip.
My parking lot escort shuffled my bags into the trunk (he also carried them across the parking lot- god bless the man) and got me settled inside. My driver, a goofy older man, welcomed me with an mandarin orange of all things. I first politely declined the orange, cautious to incur any extra charge. As my driver- Ali- continued to insist on giving me the orange, I recalled from my previous summer in Morocco the etiquette behind taking food from people. That is to say, you always graciously accept whatever you’re offered, and you eat all of it.
I plucked the orange from his hand, and before I could even consider where I’d dispose of the peels, Ali tossed me a produce sack full of uneaten mandarins for me to put my discards in. I chowed down on my orange, placed the peels inside the bag, and set it down in the empty seat next to me, patting myself on the back for remembering the etiquette.
“Oooh. You like oranges.” Ali said, his tone indicating it was more of a revelation than a question. Being the polite southern lady I am, I smiled, thanked him for sharing and told him I loved oranges.
And that my friends, was the wrong thing to say.
Because then, my 2 hour drive across the countryside of Morocco turned into a 3 hour drive through the countryside of Morocco on Expedition: Mandarin Oranges. In my feature scene, Ali drives me to the most middle of nowhere Moroccan village where he buys me 10 kilos of oranges. Do you know what 10 KILOS of oranges looks like? Looming death by citrus, that’s what. And as I am manhandling this unmanageable TEN KILO bag of oranges, I’m also realizing that this village has probably never seen a foreigner in their life. So now I’m a spectacle, and not just because I’m holding TEN WHOLE KILOS OF ORANGES, but because now, everybody in this village now knows what Americans must really be like. How enlightening!
Before we’re back on the road, Ali and I order a mint tea at a hole in the wall food stand. My first authentic mint tea experience in two years, and it did not let me down in the slightest.
Back in the car, I’ve got my child-sized bag of oranges in the trunk and Ali’s other smaller, though still half uneaten bag of oranges next to me. He’s occasionally checking on me from his rearview mirror, egging me on with his wildly flailing free hand “My oranges are yours! Please! Finish oranges!”
After 5 oranges, you’re like, “Oh, no thank you! They’re so delicious, but I’m so full”. After 10 oranges, you’re just accepting defeat, like, “hell, what’s another 10 more..”
When I tell you Moroccans are the most hospitable, kindhearted people- I’m not kidding. This is a wildly hilarious anecdote of their kind hearts, despite however much digestive trauma it might have caused me.
Finally in Marrakech, I had another surprise awaiting me at the hostel. Apparently Allie and the hostel guys thought it’d be funny to ambush me with Sweet Home Alabama when I arrived. If you thought rolling through small town Morocco with a bag of oranges was humorous, imagine the ridiculous scene that was me laboriously walking into my hostel to the tune Sweet Home Alabama cradling my impossible bag of oranges, greeting a bewildered though overly amused best friend and crowd of every other damn person in the lobby.
“Communal oranges,” I said, plopping them down on the first flat surface my eyes could discern. “Don’t even get me started.”
If the oranges were an omen for what was to come, I should have known the rest of our stint in Morocco was going to be full of laughs and unexpected little adventures. After I was paraded to my room to the (continued) tune of Sweet Home Alabama, Allie and I unpacked, caught up, and met one of our room co-habitants, Cody, a Californian who was doing a multi-country tour abroad. We decided to meander through the medina together. Our dynamic quickly solidified- Cody would make hilarious, though boderline culturally inappropriate jokes in between intermittent stops at food stands while Allie and I reprimanded him from behind our cameras and avoided the snake charmers like it was a matter of life or death. People asked him about his two wives, and we just carried about our merry way, although I do believe at one point, there was some sort of negotiation instigated for one of his two wives. Hah.
By dusk, we’d stumbled upon La Pergola- an amazing raid that was half restaurant, half jazz bar. We climbed to the rooftop deck and chose a table that overlooked the the jazz band and gave us great views of the palm trees and pool on the ground floor. A few beers and a cheese plate complete with- that’s right- camel cheese later, and we’d quite literally drunk La Pergola out of their beer supply. Before you make any assumptions about my post-graduate drinking abilities and what that says about my life, you must know that in Morocco, beer (and any alcohol for that matter) is stocked on a limited day-by-day basis, as consumption is really driven by tourists, not locals. And the beer is served in 8 ounce bottles. So by American standards, we were juiceboxing it.
Having just merely warmed up at La Pergola, Allie and Cody convinced my rather sleep deprived self to scope out the bar scene elsewhere. Our searched proved fruitful, and next thing I knew, we were in a tuk tuk, rattling and rumbling down the main road to the New City. When we finally got to the promised land- New City’s bar row- we were equal parts stunned that we made it without breaking down and excited to see what Marrakech’s bar scene had to offer. Our bar of choice must have been the dive-iest most locals-only option on the table judging by their clientele’s reaction to our entrance.
We shuffled to the back with our eyes glued to the floor, ordering a round of beers as soon as we sat down. To set this scene up for you, there was a two man band playing some groovy moroccan tunes; the three of us are unquestionably the only non-locals there, and there’s a whopping total of two other women. Eventually, we earned our place among the patrons after polishing off a few beers. The night continued on this way until beer turned into bottles of wine and food started to magically appear at our table. I have no explanation for the food, though I can assure you it was unquestionably the worst food we ate on the entire trip.
We stayed out until the bar closed, and miraculously, hailed a taxi home. As soon as I stood up, I was plagued with what turned out to be a 2 hour long case of ugly hiccups. Once inside the cab, Cody asked if the driver could hook us up with beer to take home, which, as it turned out, indeed he could. While I was preoccupied with my hiccups in the corner of the cab, Cody and our driver underwent the most unnecessarily secretive drug-like booze deal of all time. We were back on the road in no time, and before long, our taxi driver had dropped us off at the edge of the medina. The rest of our journey home was by foot. Apparently that did not agree with my hiccups because they reared up, louder and more aggressive than ever. For the 2 am hour, there were a surprising amount of Moroccans out and about in the medina…. all of whom, upon hearing my demonic hiccups, looked at me horrified, and then proceeded to mock me. COOL GUYS, cool.
It was more of the same back at the hostel, too. Yousef, one of the hostel workers we’d befriended, greeted me with imitation hiccups that night… and every other time he saw me afterwards. I did not live those down. The rest of the evening was spent on the rooftop drinking beer and discussing 70’s music. Apparently, after sucking wind on the rooftop for a good while, I decided I’d had enough, and I held my breath for like, 2 minutes. I can neither confirm nor deny the claim, but I am here to tell you that the hiccups finally went away.
If we’re being completely honest, day 2 in Marrakech was sort of unremarkable. And to continue with the honesty, that was probably of mine and Allie’s own doing. We attempted to get a start on our day at the respectable hour of 9 am, heading over to this cute little cafe down the street from our hostel called Cafe Kif-Kif. After we’d ordered mint tea, orange juice, and water (and water, water, more water), our waitress told us they weren’t going to be serving breakfast for another hour. Woof.
We finished up our first ~hydration~ course at cafe Kif Kif, paid, and then set out to find some cheap breakfast elsewhere. We landed in Zeitoun Cafe where we ordered a second hydration course and of course, food. I think of all the food I ate in Morocco, Zeitoun was the most tasty. I chose Moroccan pancakes and some other array of bread, all of which I bathed in honey. Upon standing up, Allie and I instantaneously decided we’d need to afternoon to recuperate from the night before, so we made a pact to regroup with Cody at 5 pm and do dinner at this uber swanky place we’d discovered the night before on our walk through the medina.
In our down time back at the hostel, we caught some Zzs and recruited Yousef to help us book a spontaneous hot air balloon ride over the Atlas Mountains for the next day. As we’re finally gearing up to make our debut outside for the second time, we get to talking with our Australian bunkmates, Danny and Jacqi, who’d just arrived at the hostel. As we’re chatting and inviting them to dinner with us and Cody, we come to the realization that they’d actually met Cody a few days prior in Tangier- how crazy.
Allie and I told the girls we’d see them back at the hostel at 5, and we set out to do some shopping in the medina. We dragged our sad bodies through the streets and into the main square where we were prepared to throw down some change in exchange for some fresh squeezed juice.
To give you an idea of the main square in Marrakech- the entire Jemaa el-Fnaa square fills with fruit and nut stands, snake charmers, henna artists, and smoothie stalls by day. By night, it transforms into chaotic madness. Food stalls pop up, one jam packed against the next, which explains why their “promoters” for lack of better words chase you around trying to win your business. Now this is problematic for many reasons, the main one being that they assume everyone who is going through the main square is looking to feast on local cuisine, which is just entirely not the case. You’d pass through, eyes glued to the ground- “LADY GAGA! SHAKERIA! BEST PRICES, COME SIT, COME COME!” they’d holler as they walked backwards with you, shoving the menus as close to your face as possible. …You know, because that facilitates reading.
As soon as we had paid for our juice, we hustled out of the main square. Allie exchanged some money, and soon after, we found a little side street full of of shops and immediately got sucked in. We wandered through all of it- up some stairs, down some stairs, inside, outside… you name it. Eventually, we stumbled across a guy selling “cashmere” scarfs. I put it in quotation because upon our post-purchase conclusion, the scarfs were one thousand percent not cashmere. Soft polyester at best. I kid you not, we see these scarfs hanging from the top rack of a store and the shop guy, not missing a beat, has them pulled down and in our hands before we could even ask to see them. He points out this tag that’s sewn onto the inside of the scarf that proclaims these fine textiles to be cashmere. So naturally, thinking we’re getting a deal, Allie and I fork out the big bucks and walk out proudly, both of us smugly wrapped up in our fine polyester purchase. I’m not sure when exactly it hit us that the scarves were total knock offs, but either way, we got duped by a tag.
Before heading back to our hostel to meet our friends, we decided to stop for a snack. At a nearby bakery, we grabbed some sweets and embarked on some heavy duty people watching from the tables outside. As people passed, we munched on our Chebakias (sesame cookies coated with honey that are to die for) and devised theories for differentiating the different nationalities of tourists. The men with the shortest shorts were Aussies, followed by the Brits. Americans were dead giveaways because theirs hit at their knees, and no shorter. Just in case you were wondering.
In typical Allie and Sydney fashion, we made it to the hostel a bit after 5:00. Still, we’d arrived before Cody, which, even then, wasn’t saying a ton. Dani and Jacqi decided they’d join us for our fancy dinner, and the four of us posted up on our bunk beds while we awaited Cody’s fashionably late arrival. At 5:20, we were starting to get a little impatient- we didn’t have cell service, so there was no way of checking in with him. By 5:30, we’d decided his snarky comments had either gotten him in trouble or he’d decided to ditch plans. A few minutes later, a very clean shaven and very bald Cody mopes inside our bunk room, putting an end to our speculation. Turns out, Cody had dropped in a local barber shop for a beard trim on his walk home and left with the world’s most extensive beard trim in the history of beard trims ever. Like, the beard trim was a entire facial shave. Legend.
Dinner was honestly a total let down. Don’t get me wrong- the live entertainment leading up to our meal was great. It’s just that the food itself left something to be desired. We all indulged in a 3 course meal and unlimited access to the bread basket, which I must say, outshined the bellydancers at some points. Funny how our most expensive meal in Marrakech was one of the worst, and one of our cheapest was the best. The bottle of wine we split amongst the table made the Tagine I ordered tastier; there was really no helping Cody’s pigeon pie, though. Lest we forget the real reason we picked this restaurant in the first place- its mega curb appeal. I swear to you, this place was an underground Moroccan castle. I’m talking velvet everything, crystal chandeliers, candles, tile masterpieces. Genuinely worth the price tag just to dine in a place like that, if you ask me.
Allie and I called our night early- the next day was a big one- we were going to venture across the Atlas Mountains in a hot air balloon. And, knowing us, you probably guessed that’s another story in itself. Part 2 of my Morocco journal coming soon…