30 Before 30 – Go to Morocco/Visit Africa (pt1)

Well this one was just plain cheating. Two for the price of one, really. My reasoning behind it was I had specific goals to go to multiple African countries (all on the list), but had a larger goal to just set foot on the continent. And set foot I did. Though, and it KILLS me to say it but, this was probably the worst trip I’ve ever taken. I’ve been slow writing about it because I’d never had a bad travel experience before, and I had been looking forward to Morocco for YEARS. It’s sad because I think if we had gone at a different time (not late July/early August), or been AT ALL prepared, it would have been a very different trip.

Katie and I flew back from Iceland on a Thursday and left for Marrakech on Monday morning at around 6:00am. Sometime during the weekend we checked the weather in Morocco and discovered they were in the middle of a heat wave, and that the days were averaging around 120 degrees. Maybe to some of you, that’s nothing, but I die in 80 degree heat. Literally just give up on life and stop functioning. We decided to look at it as an ~experience~ but should have known neither of us were up to it when it looked like our tickets had been messed up and we were both a bit relieved. But alas, Ryan Air come through for once in its business lifetime, and we were on the plane to Marrakech!

Honestly, I was super excited. Like I said, I’d been wanting to go for years, and we were on our way! The plane ride wasn’t great–Katie and I were separated and the WEIRD guy next to me asked way too many inappropriate questions (including if I was carrying a lot of money, WHAT?!), even AFTER I put my earbuds in. If there’s one rule you don’t break, that’s the rule you don’t break (Alias reference, anyone?).

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We landed, got through the border in about an hour, and stepped out into it. The heat. I’m going to be very dramatic here, and compare this heat to childbirth–it’s so painful, so unique, once you’re not right in the middle of it, you can’t really comprehend how bad it is. Even now, I can feel myself forgetting, and that is a small mercy. We didn’t have a hostel that night because we were taking an overnight train to Tangier, which meant carrying all our stuff on our backs all day (bad plan). We went to the train station to ensure we got beds with AC, and headed out into the medina. We had a walking map we had wanted to stick to that took us through major attractions and landmarks, but that was miles long and we quickly realized we would die of heat stroke before making it even halfway. It’s strange because the Souk was supposed to be busy and hectic, but the markets and shops were mostly closed–even the locals had all given up in the heat.

empty Souk

empty Souk

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There was one snake charmer in the middle of an otherwise fairly empty square, who was performing an (honestly pretty lame) routine with the snakes. When they came around I gave them a bit of money because I am terrible at that stuff, and they immediately wrapped two snakes around my shoulders. It was not my favorite thing in the world, and then they started insisting I give them more money! No thank you, and please remove your snakes. Katie and I wandered away, and instantly got lost in the maze of the medina. The problem was anytime we stopped to try to get our bearings, about 4-5 men would surround us insisting they would help–but expecting money. At this point we were dripping sweat, desperate for some water, and really just wanted to be left alone. Eventually we pretended we knew where we were going and set off–only to be followed the entire time by one of the men. We finally got to the tannery (any landmark we knew), but honestly, we were too hot, sick, and lost (and still being followed!), so we just got out of there.

By that point, I’m sad to say, we pretty much gave up on Marrakech. We had three hours before our train was set to leave, it was somehow getting hotter (or at least felt that way), so we found an air conditioned cafe with free wifi close to the train station, Azyr, and settled in. Played a lot of Golf (the card game Katie and I have been playing since we went to Guatemala in 2011), drank some cold smoothies, and waited for the train.

When we got to the train station, however, the train was delayed an hour, and the only air conditioned place was the McDonald’s. And yes, we then camped out in the McDonald’s. I am not ashamed (that’s a lie, I really am).

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Eventually, about an hour and a half late, our train arrived. The silver lining was we got to see the most beautiful sunset I’ve even seen–someone told me no two sunsets are the same in Africa, but if I could only see one sunset for the rest of my life, it would be this one.

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I’m going to break the posts up into two, one for Marrakech and one for Tangier. I know this got long but I’m going to include the train ride here, cause that wasn’t ideal either, and then Tangier can just be the positive stuff!

The train ride started fine, great even. The AC, while weak, existed, which was all we really needed from it at that point. Our cabin had two bunkbeds, me and Katie on the bottom bunks, and a woman who spoke French as well as Arabic, so we could minimally communicate, on top of Katie’s bunk. We made our beds, read a bit, and fell into a deeper sleep than I had expected…

Until 1:30 am! When a much older woman burst in, and started screaming. It was all in Arabic, so I have no idea what she was saying, but she was not happy. A guy who worked for the train came in and in the TINY space between the two bunks, they yelled at each other for about five minutes. Then they left–no explanation, nothing. I was kind of freaked out but let it go and went back to sleep. I’d guess about 20 minutes later, not only were they back, but about four more (train) men had joined, and they were all yelling–loudly, enthusiastically, angrily. Then I heard the woman say Americans about four times, and I had a sinking feeling they were talking about us. I have no idea how she knew we were American. But I quickly realized we were one of the topics of the disagreement. At this point the woman above Katie sat up and started yelling as well, though it became clear quickly that she was defending us. No one was explaining to us what was going on or what we had done–until finally the third woman asked me if I minded moving to the top bunk. Apparently the older woman had bought the top bed but was mad about it, and wanted one of us to move! At this point I was so desperate for it to be over, and still a little confused, so I unmade my bed, moved to the top bunk (WHERE THE AIR CONDITIONING DID NOT REACH), and fell back into a fitful sleep. To be honest, after I found out it was just a difficult older lady (to be clear not so old she couldn’t use a top bunk), it was all fine. There was about a 20 minute period where I was so tired, so disoriented, and so afraid–but I wouldn’t have traded it for a night in a hostel, because none of the hostels we could afford were air conditioned, and the few hours I had on the bottom bunk were worth it. Plus in the morning the mean old lady gave me snacks from UAE, which was great cause I was starving.

Next up, Tangier!

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