30 Before 30 – Go to Morocco/Visit Africa – Tangier

Next up, Tangier! Tangier was so much nicer, thank god. We went straight to our hostel, dropped our bags off, and felt the weight literally fall from our shoulders. Tangier is also on the coast, so while it was still about 115 degrees every day, it felt so much more bearable (meaning we could actually step outside).

Our hostel was really cool–I’m confused about my pictures because I feel like I took way more, but I can’t find them! But from what little you can see, not a bad place with not a bad view.

We went to Hotel Continental, which is steeped in artistic history, and was such a cool sight. The whole trip was strange though–we were always the only people wherever we went. Except at the beach! But Hotel Continental is such a tourist destination, it was shocking to find it completely empty. Other than our server we didn’t see one other person in the entire place. Though now it makes sense because I talked to some locals and literally EVERYONE had bailed because of the heat wave. The city was EMPTY.

There was also a cool gift shop run by this guy who knew all the area codes in the major American cities. I got a really cool print, but lost it on the flight home 🙁 I’m trying to contact them to see if I can get a replacement.

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Also, we got a bit lost in the medina (it’s SO confusing), and again a bunch of locals offered to help. Katie, annoyed at being lost and constantly harassed and followed, asked directly how much they wanted to be paid to take us to the hotel. This directness I think caught them off guard, and everyone quickly assured us it was a free offer. We did this the rest of the time and it seemed to work really well.

Below you can see an overhead view of the medina, and what it looks like walking inside–it really is like a maze of alleyways. The bottom two are on the path back to our hostel, which was in the middle of everything.

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Photo credit to Matt Gross for The New York Times

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After a cold drink of water a few rounds of golf, we decided it was still too hot, and we’d head for the beach. This was my first time swimming in an Arabic nation, and it was such a strange experience. I wore a one piece and shorts, and was still completely out of place and honestly, the people there were not happy with me. Then I noticed–women were swimming fully clothed. No special swimwear, nothing. Just jumping in with pants and shirts and everything. (This was when we realized our one piece/shorts combo was a no go, and gave up on the beach.) Also, there was a camel! I’m sure this is for some sad, touristy reason, but it was cool to see. And it was the first time I’ve been in the Med!

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We had a delicious dinner of couscous and tajine, loaded up on local chocolate (try the chocolate of every country should be on my 30 before 30), and went back to the hostel and watched a few episodes of Community while showering in cold water every 15 minutes.

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After a fitful night of sleep (we were on the roof, which was gorgeous, but the only way to have any air flow was to leave the door open… to the roof deck where our fellow travelers were drinking, smoking, and playing guitar until the wee hours of the night), we started seriously considering our next move. We were supposed to head into Fez for a day, which was averaging about 130 degrees, and then Casablanca (about the same as Tangier), and then back to fly out of Marrakech–all in two days. We went through a lot of options–including, honestly, taking a ferry to Spain and getting ourselves a nice, highly air conditioned, room. Eventually we decided to go to Fez as planned, but fly back to London from there a day early. This meant we only missed Casablanca, because as originally planned we got back to Marrakech just in time to catch our flight.

Again, here, we kind of failed. Fez was shockingly hot. I wouldn’t say we had really adjusted at all, but it still blew my mind it could be that hot. It was hard to breathe. No one was outside. One local laughed at us for even being there, saying the people of Fez had left for better weather. We literally couldn’t walk more than a block or MAYBE two without having to stop… you might notice these are all excuses leading to the fact that we found the nearest hotel (pretty far outside the city), got lunch, played golf, I tried a beer, and then went straight to the airport. HOURS and HOURS early, we couldn’t even check in. It was just. so. hot.

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These are the two best pictures I got, and I’m not going to lie to you, they were taken from the cab on the way to the airport.

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We arrived back in London and it was freezing, and I promised myself to never complain about the cold British summers again. I am sad about this trip because I really do think we would have loved Morocco in any other circumstance. It almost feels like cheating to say I’ve been, but then I think about how burned (literally) into my mind it is, and just because I didn’t get to do all the tourist stuff, I definitely experienced Morocco.

30 Before 30 – Go to Morocco/Visit Africa – Marrakech

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.

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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!