Tag Archives: Morocco

Trains, planes and sore feet: Farewell to Morocco and Spain

My adventures in Morocco have come to a close. I took an early afternoon train back to Marrakech from Meknes on Wednesday; I had originally planned on taking a later train back but that changed after failing to find public transportation to Volubilis (ancient Roman ruins outside of Meknes) and exhausting my sight-seeing check-list in the city proper. I was happy to ride the train back during the day, however, because it gave me a chance to see the beautiful Middle Atlas terrain. I was engrossed in the green pastures, groves of olive trees and farmers herding their sheep on the slopes as we descended. Sometimes I think I enjoy the in-between travels more than my destintations, as this was certainly the case for my quick trip up to Meknes.

The ride back to Marrakech went quickly, mostly due to the fact that I was fully immersed in The Help, a novel based on the lives of black women working for white families in Jackson, Mississippi during the 1960’s. I highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in learning more about the Civil Rights era in the United States (and to those who think they don’t need to learn more about it, for that matter). An interesting reaction to this book in an international spotlight: When I was giving a brief synopsis to some fellow travelers at a hostel in Essaouira, a Swiss woman broke in (having missed the beginning of my explanation) and asked if the book took place in South Africa. When I said no, it was based in the United States, she was genuinely surprised. And then I was surprised (and saddened) that my country’s painful history elicited such a reaction.

As I mentioned earlier, I changed my train time to Marrakech. The officials at the Meknes station did not have a problem with this, nor did the first steward on board who checked my ticket. About five hours into the ride, however, a second steward came by to check tickets again. He most definitely had a problem with it. He spoke little English and I spoke no French so we were not exactly meeting in the middle. He sternly told me to either pay for the ticket (again) or pay double in Marrakech. When I refused to pay, he asked for my ID and confiscated both that and my ticket. I was just glad I handed over an old student ID and not my passport. Somehow I still managed to enjoy the ending to my book but I was really stressing about paying double for a ticket I had already purchased. We pulled into the Marrakech station after dark and I couldn’t help but imagine the train steward waiting at my car’s exit with police ready to detain me for being uncooperative or something…I really should avoid thinking about dramatic, Hollywood-esque scenerios in moments like this. Despite my nervousness, I disembarked without so much as a nod from the employees. I cautiously made my way down the platform towards the station and there in the distance I saw the disgruntled steward making his way towards me. I greeted him with a hesitant bonjour. He looked at me suprised and said, “You speak French?” I said no, explaining that I’ve only picked up a few words along the way while in Morocco. He then handed me my ID and ticket, saying that the staff in the station are allowing me to use the invalid ticket “this time only” but next time I will have to pay the fine. I was of course very grateful and relieved to hear this but I couldn’t help but smile to myself at this explanation, as if I had a lot of illegal Moroccan train-hopping plans in the future.

From there, the rest of my night just got better. I met another solo female traveler, Sandy, at the bus stop and we ended up sharing a room at the same place I stayed with Alyssa and Andy a week ago. We had a different room, though, and it was quite an upgrade! We each had a double bed (Alyssa and I shared one last week), there was an attached bathroom with hot water and I even found a space heater tucked away in the corner. It was also decorated with beautiful tapestries and decorative metal lampshades. All of this came with a higher price tag, of course, but I had some extra dirham that I knew would be of little use to me in about 12 hours so I didn’t mind. My new friend and I then headed to the main square for dinner, where we discovered that we were both social workers. The next day we also realized we had checked out the same Lonely Planet guide book (same edition, cover and all) from our respective libraries.

I think many travelers will agree with me that there’s a breaking point during a trip where rules like staying on budget, remaining preoccupied with seeing all the important highlights of a city and eating only local foods just goes out the window. Even though it was only about two weeks of travel, that dinner was it for me. I was tired but happy to be back in familiar Marrakech with a new travel companion. I felt no reservation plopping down on a plastic seat in a touristy restaurant overlooking the square. In addition to ordering the “traditional Moroccan soup” (which, by the way, tasted like SpaghettiO’s), I had a side of fries and Orange Fanta from a can. I was happy to wrap up my time in Morocco. I slept soundly in my spacious bed that night and woke up early to shower, pack and eat one last delicious warm crepe and honey with Sandy before heading to the airport.

I’m now in Madrid, waiting for my flight back to the States tomorrow morning. After a rather sleep-deprived evening due to loud roommates, I have come to the conclusion that anything more than an 4-bed dorm is now off-limits for my future travels. As a 26-year old woman who’s done her fair share of hostelling around the world, I can say that I will not miss the bunk beds and the late night rude awakenings to party-goers. I feel old for saying it but I don’t care: some of these youth do not know the meaning of hostel ettiquete! Note to the greenhorns: slamming your metal locker door into my metal headboard while I am (was) sleeping is not winning you any points.

Despite this final, unfortunate sleeping arrangement, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this trip. I wish I had more days with Alyssa but she will be home before we know it (promise!). It has also been a solid confirmation of how liberating and empowering independent traveling is for women. Not once did I feel unsafe or without control of a situation. Like others have encouraged before me, I cannot stress enough how important it is to experience this at least once. Women, don’t listen to what people say about the dangers out there. You are certainly more than capable of independent travel so shake off those who say otherwise, pack your bags and go!


Coasting in Essaouira, getting lost in Meknes

I stayed three nights in the port city along the Atlantic Coast, Essaouira (pronounced esa-wera). Alyssa and Andy left for Marrakech (then on to Italy) after two but I wanted to soak up a little more sun in this lovely little town. We spent our time walking the beach, eating kebabs, wandering around the markets and sitting on our hotel’s rooftop terrace soaking in the view. On the third day, after parting with my travel companions (who are greatly missed already!), I finally had grilled calamari to satisfy my seafood craving.

Afterwords I took a final stroll along the beach, where I used the “f” word for the first time while traveling. I felt a little hesistant to use it but as a solo female traveler I felt like I had no other choice. A young man fell into stride with me and after a few minutes, when it was obvious when I wasn’t going to shake him with my usual tactics, I resorted to using the word: “You know,” I said, “my fiancee would be very jealous if he knew I was talking to you.” Doubtful that this blatant lie would actually work, I was astonished to watch him peel off faster than he had approached! It was like I had discovered a secret word that enabled some sort of forcefield around me. I was untouchable. Just to check its efficacy in a new city, I used this “f” word on another young gentleman who took a liking to me today as I wandered through the fruit and spices market in Meknes. As soon as I uttered the word, he nodded and fell back, wishing me a good day. Brilliant.

Yesterday morning I left Essaouira for Marrakech, where I was catching a train up to Meknes (one of the three imperial cities of Morocco, located near the Middle Atlas mountains). The bus broke down halfway to Marrakech so we had to swap buses, making us about an hour late. I still had about an hour before my train departed for Marrakech, so I decided to brave the public transportation to visit the famous Koutoubia Mosque. I had a lot of locals helping me along the way and I made it there and back on the bus with 10 minutes to spare! The one take-away from this quick excursion is that I could use some basic French lessons to get around the next time I’m in a French-speaking country. C’est la vie.

The train ride to Meknes (about 7 hours) went smoothly until a bunch of screaming children got on my car about halfway through the ride. Then about two hours from Meknes I was awakened by two train stewards who were urgently speaking in French to me. When it was obvious I wasn’t understanding their instructions, they said “change, change” over and over. My heart fell because I thought they were telling me that I had to transfer trains at the next stop and it was already very late. Instead, they told me to gather my things and explained that since I was “alone” I was being moved to first class – what luck! The difference between first and second class was quite remarkable…I hope to stumble upon the same fortune on my return trip.

Today I have been exploring Meknes slowly. Every timeĀ  I try to follow Lonely Planet’s walking tour through the souks (markets) and around the medina (the walls of the old city) I get lost. Perhaps it is time to venture out again and continue on my way. At least I have the “f” card in my back pocket now.

 


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