It is a shameful fact that I briefly lost my cool on Saturday. The words that follow are an attempt to hopefully explain if not excuse, to some extent, the loss of that cool. A lingering cold and a train ride beset with some absurd woman who apparently had something very important to say, as indicated by her hand gestures, to every person in Morocco were my companions all the way from Fes to Tangier. I briefly had hope, about an hour past Meknes, that her phone’s dying battery would put an end to the ceaseless jabbering. Alas, like so many selfish and juvenile desires, it was quickly dashed when she removed a usb battery from her bag and continued in both French and Arabic to tell her contact list, one at a time and in very emphatic fashion, about who knows what. My compartment companion’s disregard for her surroundings was not without benefit however. For as much as it annoyed me, and make no mistake that it did, it must have bothered everyone else more as no one else wanted to inhabit that particular compartment for more than a stop. Thus I had the three seat couch all to my self and while the ears were bombarded, the body kicked off its shoes and stretched out.
As per usual the cabbies tried to charge me way to much so I walked until one gave me the 10dm rate I knew was the true and fair fare. I mean seriously, 50 dirham from the train station to the port?! such an offer illicits me to counter with and offer that you go forth and procreate with yourself. Much to my chagrin, in lieu of dropping me off at my hotel, I was left in the middle of the medina. No worries; Head west. I have discovered that navigating the medinas of Morocco is essentially the same as finding your way in Zork. If you know what direction you need to go, then go that way and just keep track of the number of lefts and rights you’re forced to take through the labyrinth, then undo them. I found my way with little trouble and was back at the Continental watching a storm blow in from the south. The Continental is a pretty groovy place I have to say. A storied place, The Continental, it always feels like a shelter; a bastion if you will…well, will you? They have photos of the various celebrities who have been there over the years and seem especially proud of Francis Ford Copolla’s patronage. I recommend it if you find yourself in the old city of Tangier and require refuge. It is in possession of one of th most commanding positions in the whole city, is gorgeous in architecture and is surprisingly cheap.
So, the Moroccan dirham is a closed currency. That is to say that outside of Morocco you cannot legally or for that matter, and more importantly to me, easily exchange it. I did not want to have to deal with a bunch of it the night before I left, so I decided to eat at the hotel which I knew accepted visa. That was probably the most riveting prose I’ve ever put to pen. I mean I should have started with that line. HAHAHA In lieu of attempting to fix or ignore what I thought was poor and dry exposition I chose to mock it immediately. Maybe it helps you, the reader, feel connected to me like you previously had not been able. Maybe it’s just a distraction and I’m poking fun at myself in an attempt to conceal my own insecurities regarding my writing…as Jeb would say “Please clap”. 🙂
While waiting for my Tajine poulet citron I decided to double-check my ferry ticket. The time and the date were exactly as I remembered and all seemed to be in accord. Yet the words Tangier Med and Barcelona were disconcertingly absent. Soon there after, to my shock and horror, I discovered the online travel company had booked me the wrong damn ticket. Instead of Tangier to Barcelona it was some town hundreds of kilometers to the east with an arrival in France?!?!?!?!?!?!?!? I had not yet lost my cool. I was like “ok I will simply contact their customer service and this simple malady will be quickly remedied”. Of course, as it was, their service department did not become available until the time of my departure the next day. I was mad, but I held it together. My eyes briefly got that Bruce Banner green before I calmed myself and decided to just bite the bullet and buy another ticket and hope to get some sort of refund.
Since the travel company had so grievously failed, even in the modest task that was their charge, I attempted to purchase a ticket directly from the ferry company. It seemed that Wells Fargo would have none of it. So I repeatedly, and in more desperate fashion each time, attempted to contact WF via secure email. To be fair they did finally reply sometime 15 hrs or so later, far too late to be any use to me, though to be fair I now suspect that it was more a matter of the ferry company’s site and not WF being stupid. My family back in Arizona also made an attempt for me to purchase the ticket. Sadly the result was the same. I’ve discovered that in Europe and Africa just because a place accepts Visa, doesn’t mean they accept your Visa.
It was at this point that I lost my proverbial shit. I didn’t do anything about it except unleash an onslaught of profanity, in a surprisingly mature and hushed fashion, upon the poor old pillow of my bed at the Continental. Poor little pillow; who knows what horrors it has witnessed during honeymoons, lovers’ quarrels, hashish deals gone awry and God only knows what else, was now subject to my wanton outburst. The poor thing suffered a tongue lashing that might even make the most salted sailor blush and return to a life of tap dancing with Frank Sinatra; a tirade of curses, crude references to various bodily functions and degrading innuendos that part of me wishes was recorded for future generations. I’m sorry pillow. You offered me comfort, support and left me rested each morn and I returned the favor with not but scorn and derision. I guess you can really only hurt the ones you love.
The pride swallowing that followed wouldn’t have been so painful had I not only a sore throat, but also had finally relented to the “Please Review Your Experience” requests from the travel company. Having, only two hours before, sworn before God and the internet that not only was this company incompetent and seriously devoid of worth but also that I would never again patronize their services; I, with tail between my legs, did exactly that. Oh that there were any competing company or that the port offices were not so far removed from town. If but the overland trip from Tarifa to Barcelona were shorter and less expensive than perhaps another avenue could be pursued. It was like having to sign up for internet service in the United States; a truly horrific proposition. Luckily pride was not required to board the Grimaldi Lines MV Ikarus, upon whose decks I put to pen these words.
For as happy and relaxed as I am now aboard this vessel, somewhere slightly southeast of Malaga putting along at 24 knts or so, I have to say that the experience of getting to this point was something of another nature. I awoke this morning to find that the storm brewing the night before had now fully unleashed the torrents and the zephyrs. The squall had relieved the Continental of its electricity and, thanks to the afore-mentioned hotel’s commanding perch, a glance outside revealed that it had also come for the entire city’s power. In a fortunate happenstance, either the food for breakfast had been prepared before the power failure, or was prepared via some non electrical means. I cared not which for the hour of my departure was nigh and stoked I was simply to gorge at the trough of the included breakfast, which I would be remiss to neglect to mention came with the most dank of dank goat cheese. I, for the briefest of moments, considered trying to distract the attendant with a “What in the World is that?!?!?!” exclamation while pointing out the window; with the storm’s ferocity, he would surely look out the window towards the south side of the Medina at which time the cheese, the precious, delicious most sanctified keeper of the dank, cheese would be thrust into my pack and the poor breakfast attendant would be none the wiser. Of course I thought better of this. Not just upon moral grounds but also because I never bring my backpack to breakfast.
According to my ticket I had to be at the port no later than 12. It was nearly 9, I still had to pack and the bus ride, according to the interwebs, was an hour long. I suspected (correctly as it turns out) that the bus would drop me off not at the terminal but some nondescript location a little more than a quarter mile down the road. I had to be quick. With haste I shoved jacket and sock, notebook and water bottles into the pack and, for at least the 3rd time on this trip, chastised myself for not just doing it the night before. All the same I packed and proceeded to go all “Night Before Christmas” on it.
Down the stairs I flew like a flash, turned in my key and said farewell in a dash.
Then what to my wondering ears should appear, but rumors of ports being closed and a fright of “oh fuck, again I’ll be stuck here!”.
Dispelled those thoughts did I, I’m leaving this place; out of the medina, at a break neck pace! Ignored the fake helpful jackass in the smock, haggled with the cabbie, 20 dihram to the bus stop. Then I stood with horde of port workers in the rain, encouraged by their numbers; too focused on exodus to complain.
Round cliff and village the local bus goes, pouring rain in Africa like greatest hits, Toto’s.
The adventure of getting to the port was actually quite an enjoyable affair. The weather, and uncertainty and hurry all gave the morning a sense of real adventure (not to mention the ability to play the above song without reservation). I mean if worse came to worst I would be forced to spend another day or two in a wild and ancient city. Without question I wanted to leave, but I had contentedly resigned myself to the possibility of being further delayed and I suspect that very resignation was a large factor in my enjoyment of the morning. My experience at the port itself however was less adventure and more of a hurry up and wait slog in wet clothes.
I can’t with any certainty say what proportion of the blame belongs to the ferry company and what to the port authority. Regardless, they possess not a disregard for so much as a seemingly deep and unyielding contempt or even perhaps a disgust for efficiency (no kidding my bags were scanned twice and 4 times my passport was checked and don’t even get me started on the “you need to be here no later than 12” bs ). I would go into more detail and unleash a projectile rant of vile vitriol if I just weren’t so darn happy to be on this boat right now. Already I have befriended Belgian and Bavarian alike and surprised the Shopping Arcade (that’s what they call it, don’t ask me why) attendant with the knowledge of basic Greek salutations and words of thanks. I have waxed politic and Alaskic with the Honduran stewards and watched golf with a man whose accent and manner of speaking defy my best efforts to place geographically speaking. In truth, more than anything, I’m happy to be on this vessel because I love traveling by boat. It takes me back to those Forest Service years and living aboard the Alaska ferries; back before I got sidetracked by the scandalous allure of mathematics. The Swiss fellow said it best “Boats travel at the right speed”.
Maybe it’s the gin talking, but there is something about being on a boat owned by an Italian company, built and operated by a Greek company, listening to karaoke in Arabic, while motoring between Spain and eastern Morocco, that just makes you realize all the bull shit is worth it sometimes. If it wasn’t for the sore and not yet entirely devoid of bruises rear end, I would not have spent a night in the dunes of the Sahara. If it were not for soaking, haggard, marooned version of myself I would not have the experience I have now. If she and I had not split in September, today would have been the 4th anniversary. If not for…something, something, you know; the anthropic principle. In any event I have finally found the rhythm. It always takes me awhile to get into the rythm of travel, and once I have found it I do not want to relinquish it. It always happens that right before a trip I lose all desire to go. Then by the time the trip is nearing its completion I don’t want it to end. I’m going to be out here for another 4 months yet and I’m already dreading the end of the trip. Perhaps that’s sill but the travel rythm gets a hold of me like a deep, funky house beat. It pulls me in like Roddy McDowell into the ribbon of the nexus and I don’t want to leave.
This brings me back to what I spoke of last time. The schism; that seemingly unbridgable gap between the two major sides of myself; that self created duality that the sages of old warned against. Perhaps the answer to the schism is too realize that the lover and the rambler are but one in the same. Is the crest of a wave somehow more important or integral to the wave than the trough? I wont delineate which side of myself I see as crest or troth because I think that would attach unnecessary stigma to one side or the other. Rejoice in the view from the crest and revel in the calm of the trough. Sing for the open highway, dance for the loving home. Know when to hold them and know *how* to fold them. You read that correctly. It’s a little known fact that Kenny Rodgers’ hit “The Gambler” was in fact originally a song about an origami artist and that is definitely true. Like, that is totally not bs 🙂
Fare thee well Morocco and, for the time being, fare thee well Africa. I’m not yet sure how I feel about my time there. I want to be clear that by using the term chaotic I am not inferring anything negative. Morocco was chaotic. Madness, silence, intensity and solemnity all mixed with dozens of other terms and emotions in the wild chaos of that land. I encountered some of the kindest, most welcoming and helpful people I have ever met. I also was beset by some of the biggest assholes imaginable. The very chaos that breeds the less desirable aspects of that land is also the source of its unique vibrancy and dynamism. Furthermore I can say, with no uncertainty, that mint tea, Moroccan style ( they refer to it as Moroccan whiskey ), will be a staple of my hydrational duties going forward. If you are reading this Mindy and you still wonder how to manage mint, let me tell you how; make tea! Lots and lots of tea. While I have not yet fully digested the experience, I can say that I am better for it and that I if I were given a do-over in the planning of this trip I would again go to Morocco. In point of fact, the only real regret I have from my time there (and it admittedly, hails from the silly, juvenile, laughing like a moron at belch talking, cart pushing way before Jackass did it, trying to convince the local Papa John’s that I am in fact Papa John and desire to verify the quality of the local franchise’s pizza, throwing rice into the band camp pool because it was the best, stupid prank we could come up with on short notice side of me) is that I journeyed all the way to the Sahara to ride a camel into the dunes and I forgot to take a selfie of myself giggling while pointing to the camel’s foot. Sigh…I guess if nothing else, that’s a reason to go back.