When we first arrived into Morocco we were completely taken aback by its mystique and exotic feel. From Marrakech we made our way into the High Atlas Mountains and had a truly memorable and simply amazing time. Our attempt at Toubkal will certainly take some beating this summer and in many ways we have set the bar high early. But once we got back to Marrakech and started to see beneath the glam surface cracks started to appear.
One of the first things I noticed was how spiteful some people are, and I say some, but I tarnish every single taxi driver we came across, whether we used their service or simply enquired. For example, in India if you know the price of a journey, you will haggle and always get the price you want, or at least very near it. But in Marrakech I found that drivers would rather not budge on their ridiculous price and go empty than meet you in the middle. I joked with one driver he was more expensive than New York taxis, I say joke tentatively as it was probably true. Let me illustrate what I mean, it was in the forties and we needed to go to the train station some mile and half out of town. Ordinarily we would walk it, but the sun can be so unforgiving and it was simply too hot to want to walk. The price on a taxi meter would be around 1.5 euros, we were getting shaken down for 10 euros. It eventually came down to 5, and even though the road we were one went only one way, the driver refused to even budge to 2 or 3 euros. Rather he went the exact route with no passengers in his cab. As I alluded to in an earlier post, getting a bus out of Marrakech for a fair price is near impossible and cutting out the self appointed (but not needed) middle man is fraught with aggression.
And that’s leads me on nicely to a real aggressive undertone in Moroccans generally. We saw at least three fights in the short time we were in the country and countless arguments and pushing around. I thought for a short while that Moroccans simply hated other Moroccans, but then I realised, they have a real disdain for anyone and everyone. I was personally mocked, verbally abused and there was attempts at intimidating me. I got called a rubbish tourist, told to go home, get out of Morocco and called a bastard, none for any other reason that I didn’t want a particular service or saw through centuries old scams. One old guy literally stood in the middle of the main square mocking the fact I told him no thank you; “la shukran, la shukran, la shukran” he said over and over again at the top of his voice as we walked away.
Though it could’ve been worse, the Chilean guy we caught a taxi with from Imlil had been in the country 2 weeks and been robbed at knife point, and then later pick pocketed.
So genuinely, as we made our way from Marrakech to Casablanca on the 08.55 train I wasn’t bothered. As usual I had shielded the kids from anything directly at them, but they notice things and Charlie had someone pushed into him in one of the alley ways, of which is pretty much most of the Medina and surrounding areas.
Truthfully though, did I ever fear for our safety? No I didn’t, but did I feel we were somewhere that seems to be teetering on the edge of boiling over? Absolutely.
Our flight left Casablanca airport which is easily connected by train from Casa Voyeguers and costs about 3 euros each with a journey time of some 20 minutes.
Once at the station you have the usual airport scam for everything, so blatant in fact that despite the fact you are not allowed to take Moroccan currency out of the country you can’t actually change your money after security. Naturally the are no signs telling you this, and in any case, security at the airport was pretty much a bunch of guys that couldn’t have cared less if they had tried. With that in mind I had to nab a guard and ask him to change our money on the sly, he took us into a back room and was more than happy to change our Dirhams for euros.
The next stage of travel was to take a Qatar flight to Doha which would take 7 hours and travel from 7pm, arriving into the Middle East at around 5am. Travelling on what I consider to be the best airline in the world helped, and within no time we were in the skies over Northern Africa and I was into my new book ‘one summer 1927’ by my favourite author – Bill Bryson. The kids (despite being advised strongly to go to sleep) were sat making the most of the on demand movies and free munchies. As they usually do, about an hour from landing in Doha they all decided to go to sleep meaning it was a very sluggish wake up call when we had landed.
Doha airport is brand new, and easily one of the best and most modern airports in the world. With 3 hours until our next flight (and actually the 3rd longest passenger flight in the world), we did what most people in our position would do… Grabbed a Burger King for breakfast the chilled in the kids play area.
The flight from Doha to Miami would take around 16 hours and and was due to leave at 8am Doha time. Doha was 3 hours in front of Casablanca, but Miami was 4 hours behind Casablanca. The skill in avoiding jet lag is working your timings to perfection. What that means is that it is easier to adjust 4 hours than a loss of 8. In other words we stayed on Casablanca time. The difficulty was that the flight would arrive into Miami at 5pm having essentially flown back in time, meaning it would be day light all day. Anyone that has flown long haul will know that usually once airborne and after the first meal the airline turns out the lights, everyone puts their window blinds down and the cabin is in darkness anyway. I made sure that I timed this to perfection for us and literally gave us a false night en route. The result was that of the 16 hour flight, I slept around 6 hours and the kids a little longer.
No doubt about it, the flight was hard, exhausting in fact. With turbulence for at least 8 hours it meant we were confined to our seats which on a snide airline would have been an absolute nightmare. Thankfully on Qatar we had plenty of room and the 16 hours passed by reasonably, though exhaustingly well. Actually en route I asked the kids, would they have rather done this flight in small hops or one big flight like we had chosen. They all chose one long flight.
We landed in Miami (and our fourth continent in the week) around 5pm and had the usual long wait for US security. The only bonus for us is that because we have so many stamps in our passport and are quite obviously well travelled, we never get questioned. Whatever country, we just get stamped and welcomed in. I saw plenty of people being grilled, and taking ages.
Miami International airport is straight out of the 70’s and by now I was feeling the tiredness, oddly the kids had jolted to life and were skipping through the airport and singing. Other than the sleep en route, we had been awake about 38 hours. Which is why, once at the car hire pickup I grabbed the first car in our class, got a strong coffee and made our way onto the I-95 headed north. I know the turnpike is about 20 minutes quicker, but for that you pay about $20 or more in tolls. It pisses me off no end having to constantly stop, so literally we weaved onto the I-95, put the car in cruise at 75 and sat back and chilled out. In no time Jack and Abi were asleep and Charlie was trying his hardest to stay awake for me, he was finding it impossible and after an hour it was just me, the open road illuminated only by our headlights and 3 exhausted kids.
About 11pm we were about 20 miles out of Orlando and I pulled into Taco Bell (a Mexican fast food joint) I had promised the kids one and they were really looking forward to it. The food was as good as we remembered and we pushed on to familiar roads, and eventually climbed into bed in Celebration, Kissimmee at just after midnight.
It had been one epic journey, but I couldn’t help but smile knowing that it was over, and that the real trip this summer was about to begin.