Since my return from Morocco, I feel like I've constantly been spitting out the same flimsy response to the inevitable "how was its." I am quite aware that my reply of "amazing," doesn't offer much insight into my African experience, but this ain't the stuff of casual conversation.

So yeah, it was amazing, but grab yourself a drink and a comfortable chair, everyone; it's story time.

I woke up on Easter Sunday craving the Cadbury Creme Eggs I knew my family would be enjoying halfway around the world as soon as it came time to crack their Easter baskets. I missed my family, the tradition, and stomach-ache inducing sugar rush that had always come with the end of Lent, but I didn't have time to be nostalgic. This was no ordinary Easter.

The walk to the metro stop that morning was eerie. There was no one around the Colosseum; even the ever-present con men dressed as gladiators for pictures were nowhere to be found. Waiting for the metro was even stranger. The usual crowds that flood the platforms waiting for trains had disappeared, and I stood solitary in the usually teeming transit hub for the first time.

I was traveling alone. The plan was to meet Lauren, Rome friend Gilli and Santa Barbara friend Abbie in Marrakesh at 8:00AM after a night alone in a well-reviewed riad (hostel). Easier said than done.

Before leaving Rome, I grabbed my confirmation numbers and my riad's name, address and (at the last moment) phone number. Based on email correspondence, Riad Massine II would be expecting me to arrive at 7:00PM after getting into the Marrakesh airport at 6.

Naturally, the two legs of my flight were both delayed, and it wasn't until 9 that my plane finally touched African soil. After an hour in customs, I ran to the taxi stand before realizing I didn't have any local currency and needed to wait in another long line, this time for the money exchange. I had no idea how much to change, or how the taxi system worked, so I was grateful to catch the first English I had heard all day coming from a knowledgeable young Chilean guy queued behind me. He offered to share a cab since he was with five friends and needed to get two cars anyway.

I marveled as he haggled the cab driver down from 600 dirhams (approx. $85 USD) to a measly 150 dirhams ($20 USD, less than $3 each) for the 25 minute cab ride. Our destination was "the big square," or Djemaa el Fna as it is formally known. I had read that my hostel was there there...I hoped.

Upon arrival at the square, my single-serving friends ran off with a quick "well, see ya later!" All of a sudden I was alone on a whole new continent.

The two words best describing my surroundings would have to be "insanely overwhelming." Despite the fact that it was nearly 11 at this point, hundreds of people mobbed the piazza. On my left, a man played a flute, charming several cobras at one time with no barriers separating the deadly snakes from the onlookers. To my right, vendors selling fresh squeezed orange juice and dried fruits clamored incessantly for my attention. Motorcycles whipped by, coming within inches of my side. Multiple drum circles in the distance provided a manic soundtrack. I had to put down my bag for a minute to take it all in. I was certain this was a dream.

Several seconds later, the already uncomfortable dream shifted into a full-on nightmare. I began to look for my hostel, and several realizations dawned on me. First, the address I held in my hand was useless. The street signs were written in Arabic, a series of squiggles indecipherable to my untrained eye. Second, my phone refused to call the hostel's number. My phone had been functioning properly until this point, so I came to the horrifying conclusion that I had written the number down wrong.

After several minutes of desperately trying to conquer the language barrier and ask for directions to my hostel, I found myself in front of a public telephone. It was worth a try. The smallest coin I had was one worth almost a euro, and after inserting it into the phone, a digital readout told me I had 37 minutes to make my phone call. At least that was comforting.

I actually heard ringing, which is farther than I got using my cell phone, and I couldn't believe it when a friendly voice in English picked up. I apologized for being over four hours late, and arranged to be led back to the hostel. The voice told me someone would be able to meet me in front of the Cafe du France, which was located right on the square. I hung up, incredibly relieved to be turning in for the night.

I set out to find the cafe, walking rather quickly around the enormous square. My relief dissipated quickly as I got three-quarters of the way around the plaza and still hadn't found my meeting point. Nearly a half an hour after I had hung up with the hostel manager, I had made it all the way around the square and still could not find the Cafe du France. Frustrated, I walked towards the same public phone to call, explain and apologize. Just before I reached it however, I noticed the sign of the building across from the phone. In white letters on a red background, "Cafe du France."

I was alone under the sign if you don't count the giant donkey pulling a trailer full of trash that stood next to me. 20 minutes had passed, and I was certain my guide had given up and returned to the hostel. It had been almost an hour since I hung up the phone. I again approached the phone to call, explain and apologize. Before I could, however, a man approached me and began speaking in French.

"English?" I asked hopefully.

He didn't really respond; he simply gestured for me to follow him. Again relieved to be on my way, I did my best to keep pace. I was completely exhausted from the day of traveling, and my pack felt like it was filled with rocks. My feet were having trouble keeping up with the rest of my body, and it didn't help that my guide was the fastest walker I've ever seen.

We left the square and headed down a poorly-lit street. The path was covered in mounds of garbage which was being eaten by dozens of mangy cats. I looked down an alley on my right. A man facing me was urinating against the wall. The moans of the homeless could be heard escaping the shadows of every corner. I was glad I had my guide.

We walked for at least five minutes before entering a labyrinth of alleys too narrow for even the smallest car. Lighting was sparse, and the ground was unpaved. My guide and I were alone with the graffiti on the walls, and we continued making turns until there was no way I could find my own way out.

It was at this point that I remembered how I met my guide. He never said my name, and without any uniform or identification, this guy could be anyone. I was carrying cash worth a half a year's income for the average Moroccan and a professional camera rig worth twice that. I flipped from blind trust to crippling paranoia instantaneously, and for the second time that night, felt like I was surely dreaming.

I regressed to animalistic instincts, and adrenaline took hold. If this guy attacks me, do I run or do I fight? I felt the weight of my bag and made note of the guide's quick gait. Running was out of the question, so I sized him up. If things got hairy, I could definitely take this guy.

As soon as I had come to that conclusion, we rounded the corner of yet another dark hallway. Four men stood at the end under a lamp. I quickly debated dropping all of my stuff and sprinting into the maze of hallways, but I knew I'd easily be caught. I have never been so certain I was about to get robbed. Shrouded in smoke, the men stared us down. At this point, all I could do was pray I made it out alive. My heart was pounding quickly and heavily. As my guide and I approached, a slight grin opened on the mouth of one of the menacing figures. We were now close enough to smell a combination of BO and marijuana smoke emanating from the corner in which they were standing. I could see money and cards strewn on the floor where they had been gambling.

Ready to hand over all my valuables, my guide stepped quickly between the men and waved for me to follow. The men didn't say a word to us, and I found myself in a tunnel, five or six feet wide, and no more than five feet tall. I crouched way down to pass through, and actually gave myself a pinch; I refused to believe that any of this was actually happening.

A dead end approached. We walked to the very end of the hall and my guide turned to the left to knock on a black door. I don't know what I expected to find on the other side of that door, but I did know that there was no way the riad I had heard such good things about could be in an area like this.

The door creaked open.

"Welcome! Would you like some tea?"

I couldn't believe it. Not only was I safe, but the hostel was beautiful. I sipped my tea on a couch in a small courtyard, my hands shaking from a combination of relief and adrenaline. Now the middle of the night, I set my bag in my room and looked longingly a the big comfortable bed in which I would sleep.

But the night wasn't over...

To be continued.


  1. christine said...

    OMG. I cant believe you just walked off with some random Morrocan! holy smokes, i´m glad youre still alive.  


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