Friday, November 09, 2012

Three people threw up on this bus and none of them were me

I wanted to break up my time in Morocco between Imperial Cities and natural sights.  I only had time to really see four things in ten days, and they had to be reachable during a holiday (Eid Al Adha) week.  I emailed hotels, bus companies and even investigated tour guides.  I have never researched a destination more than I did Morocco.  I had to cut two things off my list that I badly wanted to see. (Essouria and Chefchaouen).  I posted questions on forums and I googled and double-checked ratings.  Ultimately I decided to do the trip independently, using a combination of bus, train and hiring drivers.  I also relied heavily on my hotels to help me.  If I needed them to buy a bus ticket for me and have me pay them later - I just asked and luckily they did it.  There really is a tradition of hospitality in Morocco.  Hotel operators seem to genuinely care about my happiness.  Every single place I stayed checked up on me while I was there to ask "how is everything?  Are you doing OK?"

Two of my hotels arranged drivers for me and we negotiated rates back and forth through email.  Morocco is largely a cash-based society so I rarely used my credit card.  I hated carrying around so much cash (I entered the country with 1000 euros that I withdrew in Amsterdam) but I watched it and locked it up like a hawk and never had to use my credit card or give it out to someone that I didn't entirely trust.  This seemed to be the normal way that people travel here.  With the fraud notices put on my card in Holland, I didn't even want to risk having to use the ATM until the end of Morocco. I would have been stuck with no cash and no way to use my credit cards.

I arrived at the Marrakesh bus station and tried to find out where my bus was parked.  I asked a few people who worked there and they just said "no".  Not where it was, when it was coming.  I just watched the bus area but I didn't know where the end destination of my bus was, only my stop - so I couldn't look at the city name on the windshield.  I found a young couple who looked like they spoke English.  I was on their bus. Well, I trusted them and just got on their bus and hoped they were right.

We rode for a few hours towards the Atlas mountains and stopped here for a little break:

Then we started up the mountain passes.  It was exactly like driving through the mountains of Colorado.  Only less guardrails.  I looked over the right side and felt a little faint, so I just looked to the left.  The woman I was sitting next to put her head down.  Then she hiccuped.  Then she urgently rustled around for a plastic bag.  Uh oh.  

I was only mildly motion-sick, but the sounds and smell of puking made me almost puke.  I, too, rustled around for a plastic bag and had one ready.  The bus lurched around switchbacks like this one:

My neighbor didn't speak english and clearly I don't speak arabic. I felt really sorry for her.  All I could do was give her the international shoulder pat and sympathetic look and "OK? you OK?" 

A young couple was holding a one-year old baby across the aisle.  They, too, rustled for plastic bags.  The baby puked three times over the next hour.  There was another victim in the back.  Everybody on the bus was green and miserable.  The bus was  full of people going home to their families for Eid Al Adha so there was no room for the pukers to stretch out or get some air.

Eventually, we reached the Todra Gorge area, my destination.  We went through a beautiful town called Skoura that was a genuine palm oasis.  I saw a few Oasises (sp?) while in Morocco.  They were beautiful!  Quite the opposite of the DeKalb Oasis on I-88.  After hours of desert would be a lush palm forest. 

Sorry that my thumb got in the way here.  An example of an oasis town:

I arrived at the bus stop in Tinerhir and immediately had a stalker as soon as I got off the bus.  This was getting really tiring.

Hello!  What's your name? Where you trying to go?  I take you there!
Sorry, thank you.  I don't need help right now.

You Americans all the same!

I got a taxi to take me to my guesthouse out in the middle of the gorge.  It was lovely.  I had a room all alone in this castle.

It was super cozy with stone walls!

The queen of the castle had wisely packed away some wine from Marrakesh in her sigg water bottle and had a sundowner on her little balcony.  This Gorge had a river but it was dry in the other sense of the word. 

I had a lovely view of the gorge:

My guesthouse made dinner and I just ate whatever they made for me.  It was a fantastic tagine with tiny lamb meatballs.  I gushed compliments to the chef and they invited me back into the kitchen, where I hung out with Abdul and Karim.  Two polite young guys, maybe late 20s - not like the aggressive and crazy casanovas I had been meeting in Marrakesh and the bus stop. We talked about cooking, music and our families.  Karim gave me some vegetables to chop.  They were done making dinner for the guests (just three - me and a Dutch  couple) and they were now making dinner for themselves.  We made a tagine together and talked.

They liked to eat their meals outside. I wanted to leave them alone to eat but we just kept talking and I wanted to take a few pictures.  Karim and Abdul ate the moroccan way - no utensils, just using bread to grab everything.  We had a nice conversation about their lives in the village and how things are in America.  I showed them a few pictures of my friends and life in Chicago.

The tagine:

I arranged to have Karim's brother to take me on a 4 hour hike the next day.  We would leave in the morning so that he would have time to celebrate the holiday in the afternoon.  It was so nice to know that I already had someone that I could trust, even though I had never met him.  I was really lucky to get someone to take me on the 26th, because operations in Morocco pretty much shut down that day.

This was such a refreshing place to be out in the quiet mountains with nice people!  Abdul and Karim:

I came back in the guesthouse where the owner was playing the traditional Berber guitar.  (More about Berber music later!  I got a very good dose of it a few days later.) 

I slept soundly in my stone castle room and got ready for a day of hiking and what would end up being one of the most memorable days I've had in all of my travels.  Coming up - Eid Al Adha!

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