Thursday, June 3, 2010

Casablanca . . .

A lot of people have asked me why I wanted to go to Morocco. Truth be told, I've been wanting to go to India for a really long time, but last fall, Morocco pushed itself into my consciousness and would not let me rest - so when the opportunity for the trip came up, it was less expensive than India, and was easier to get to (in theory) than India - plus my boss at the time asked me to keep my vacation to two weeks if at all possible.

So, Morocco won :-)

I met up with a small group tour in Casablanca through GAP Adventures. I would travel with them again. In fact, I would travel to Morocco again - there were places where I would have loved a few more days. One thing I found was that it was tough to travel every day - I really liked the days when we had two nights in a place.

I feel like my trip really began the Tuesday before I left - all the airports in Morocco were shut down because of the Ash Cloud from Iceland on Tuesday, but opened back up the next day. I left Chicago on Friday morning. Next time I do this, I will do the long haul from Chicago and not New York. This time I flew JetBlue back and forth to JFK. I liked them very much and the planes were quite nice and comfy. Unfortunately my outbound flight sat on the tarmac for an hour and 50 minutes before we took off, but it was due to storms in NYC.

Once at JFK, the fun began . . . I booked my flights through Delta (never again) and they were all code shares. I wanted to take the non-stop from JFK to Casablanca which is actually Air Maroc. It was interesting - and neither Delta nor Air Maroc was any help on the phone when I called to ask where I should check in (Delta or Air Maroc). Navigating JFK is not too hard once you figure out their Air Train system, but I went from Terminal 5 (JetBlue) to Terminal 3 (Delta), and then got re-directed again to Terminal 1 (international) . . . and in between 3 and 1, I dropped my passport on the Air Train.


I figured that it was all over and I was not going to Morocco after all. I went back to the train stop to see if I had dropped it on the way - but no luck. There were two phones in the wall, a red one and a green one, and since I wasn't bleeding, I pressed the green button - a woman answered immediately and I explained what had happened and she said yes, that they had just found a passport and asked my name. It was mine! She said to stay put and someone would bring it to me.

A train came, and a guy stepped out and said wait for the next train - and when the next train came, a woman stepped out and gave me my passport back. She wouldn't take any money from me. I managed to calm myself down, pulled out my party fan (it was HOT and HUMID in NYC), and found the Air Maroc desk, and waited in the line. People going to Morocco take a LOT of luggage . . . At the desk, finally, and they have two people with my name in the system . . . they finally pick one. By this time, it's 6:15 and they tell me I have to be through security by 6:30 . . . so I haul my suitcase over to the bag drop (it's different in NY than here) and head for security, which I managed to clear pretty quickly.

I don't know why they were so insistent (I was originally told on the phone that I had to be there by 5) for an 8:40 p.m. flight. Oh - make that an almost midnight flight. We boarded on time and pulled away from the gate, and then promptly sat there for THREE HOURS and 10 MINUTES, which is illegal. Oh well. And then, not five minutes after getting airborne, a woman started screaming for help. I thought for sure we were going to be turning around . . . announcements requesting doctors . . . more screaming . . . but we never turned back, and eventually they must have calmed her down because she stopped hollering.

And I woke up in Casablanca :-)

It's nothing like the movie ;-D

The view from my hotel room - not too exciting. Casablanca is sort of just a city . . .

I ran into someone who works for GAP as we were getting off the flight, and she shared her transfer from the airport with me, which was really nice because the airport is far from the city. I had really good luggage karma the entire trip. Yay!

And once I was there, and my stuff was stowed in my room, I wanted to walk around - thought I would sit in a cafe and people watch and write for awhile . . . um, no. Only men sit in the cafes. In fact, only men appear to do a lot of things in Morocco . . . So, I bought the first of those countless bottles of water and started walking. It was very interesting to be a single woman alone in Morocco. Mostly I was with my tour group, but there were times when we had free time and I was alone - hey, I like to explore :-) - and at those time I was constantly reminded (constantly) that I didn't "fit" in their culture.

I walked along this boulevard and would have sat under these trees, except I didn't have a piece of cardboard to sit on and all the benches were covered with bird poo . . . white cranes nest in these trees!

I finally came to this park, where I was able to sit for awhile. But not on the lawn, on the steps - see that guy? He was the keeper of the lawn. I met two Moroccan women (because they attempted to sit on the lawn and he hollered at them) and did my best to have a conversation with them . . . I spoke French fluently when I graduated from high school (lo, these many years ago), but I really had to reach back into my brain to pull up words and phrases - I did OK, actually, and was always able to make myself understood.

About those constant cultural reminders - well, Moroccan women don't seem to be outside walking around much - and if they are, they are not alone but in groups. And a lot of them wear the hijab. I'm a tall, curvy, pale, freckly, Irish-looking redhead, most often found on this trip in cargo pants and a t-shirt. Hello.

Interestingly enough, I was asked most often if I was English or Canadian or Australian - being an American was very low on their list of choices. In fact, I was the only American in my group. GAP is a Canadian company and the majority of travelers were from Canada. There were three Aussies, two Brits, and me in our group of 15. Very, very interesting to be the only American . . .

Candy - yes, it was very romantic somehow - and very exotic - and olives apparently come in every conceivable color :-D Knitterary, I didn't taste any because you know I don't like them, but you would have been in olive heaven. Fujiyamamama, thanks for stopping by!! Oh, and others of you besides Knitterary are probably wondering how I managed to not get sunburned. Coppertone Water Babies, 70 SPF. It rocks. Hard. I also had a hat that I wore as much as humanly possible. I was so glad when it cooled off and clouded up a bit so I didn't have to wear it all the time. By the end of the trip it was so ragged that I left it behind :-D


Michelle said...

I enjoyed this more extensive report of your trip very much!

A :-) said...

That was just the first day, Michelle :-D

Knittinggarden said...

Your trip sounds amazing - I'm looking forward to hearing more!

candy t said...

What an adventure, all in the first day! Great stories---waiting for more.

candy t said...

Marrakesh Express by Crosby, Stills & Nash. I had that song going around in my head every since you wrote "Shopping in Marrakesh" LOL took me a couple days to remember who did the song.

Bethany said...

You have such independence and courage! I have you waaaaay up on a pedestal! Wow! To do these things alone at times...