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Episode 1: "First Day in Marrakech"

Marrakech, Morocco (Day 1)

A heiku:

My bag is heavy
I have not slept in hou-rs
Next stop – Marrakech

Sometimes I do my best writing in a hung-over or over-tired state, but now I can’t seem to keep a straight thought in my head. The last three months have been leading up to today – or what I have to call “today” because there’s no better way to describe the multi-day seamless span of packing through landing. And even this feels like a mere extension of the most hectic final week that I can remember. Over the last week I had my final day of work at a job that wasn't for me, saw to the end of my lease including the recovery of my security deposit, sold and donated as much of my stuff as I could, and packed up and moved the rest into a storage unit in Hoboken. All of this was in addition to spending time with my various groups of friends, and putting as much time as I could into writing posts and editing pages for my website and the others that I am writing for, including filming and editing a pretty cheesy video for some entrepreneur website.

Long story short, I spent six hours of the day before my flight finishing a video, three hours sleeping, ten minutes eating, and the rest with her. The day I left (let’s call it “yesterday”), I left myself only an hour or so to pack and to choose which tent would be most practical to bring. I made a lot of hasty decisions including bringing my melodica and iPod – two items that will either come in very handy or will be a burden until they are either stolen or lost. As the parents were already rolling the car out of the garage to take Nate to the airport, I was still cramming things into my over-packed ruck in a last minute effort to strike a balance between what I wanted and what I could carry.

Forgetting how little sleep I got over the days leading up to the flight, “today” began after three hours of sleep followed by the aforementioned rush-to-ruck marathon. We (which from here on out is Nate and I) left West Orange at 6 p.m. for an 8:20 flight out of Newark. After discovering that TAP Airlines was a partner of Continental leaving from Terminal C, we had to discover and recover our way there from the initially listed Terminal B. I can’t remember the worst, but this had to have ranked in my top three most difficult flights. Seven sleepless hours later, we landed in Lisbon at 8 a.m. for a five-hour layover. Hungry, tired, and weighed down by our bags (not to mention, the $1.7:€ exchange shock), our initial attempt to leave the airport to explore the city proved to be a redundant adventure in passing back and forth through airport security and customs.

We are now sitting in the “First Class Café” in Terminal 2 of the Portugal Aeroporto with an hour and a half left until we board for Marrakech at 1:05 p.m. We both have ways of dealing with our tiredness: Nate said he wants gefilta fish and matzah, and then fell asleep; I tried, mostly unsuccessfully, to capture fleeting thoughts to write them down. My right eye hurts for some reason… but I’m probably being sensitive. To cut down on weight, we decided to tear up the Lonely Planet Western Europe book I bought, and dispense with the countries outside of our travel realm such as the UK, Italy, and now Portugal.

I woke up to our names being called on the intercom; we were holding up the flight. It was a small (rows of two and one seats) and empty plane, and I slept most of the two hours from Lisbon to Marrakech. The moments that I was awake and looking out the window produced amazing views of rural Morocco below. Shanty towns surrounded by fields of bushes were scattered among the desert, separated by untamed rivers and vast open spaces. When Marrakech came into view as the plane descended for its final approach, the density comparison was obvious. By no means a “large city,” it was still a distinct cluster of modern and centuries-old buildings.

Customs went smoothly but we ran into a minor situation when our single checked bag did not show up on the conveyer belt. But luckily, after twenty minutes or so it arrived, and we were off to the downtown Medina of the Old City. Like a seasoned pro, I found the bus from the airport to the city, and then navigated the “roads” to our hostel. The building is amazing, with Middle Eastern garb lining the walls and comfortable couches and curtains on each floor including the roof. Our room had a clean bathroom and though reserved for parties of four, Nate and I had it all to ourselves.

Still tired, we spent some time repacking our bags to try to reduce space and weight, but they still remain to be potentially restrictively heavy. The rest of the day was spent exploring the Old City, focusing on the open air market and side-street shuks which are populated by tourists and the pushy locals hassling us to eat at their tent. Nate and I chose one arbitrarily and had a quick set of kababs and some potato pancakes (all in all 50dr or about US$7).

With my guitar on my back, yellow on my shirt, tattoo on my leg and red on my hair, I was constantly stared at and approached by people wondering what the fuck I was. I felt like a hot girl… now I get how the attention kinda sucks. Nate and I walked back and forth in and around the market place, central mosque, park, and shuk side-streets, taking pictures of the sights, snake charmers, and the monkeys on our shoulders!

I had two instances to play guitar – one was on some stone ruins when a Spanish hippy walked by with a hand drum; we played Dylan’s “Watchtower” as a crowd of children surrounded us to listen to and watch the strangely colorful alien in their midst. After Spippy left, the children remained, asking to play the guitar. Not a chance. All I need is for eight of them to block me as one ran off with it. Plus after about a hundred “non, mercies”, a few more at some Moroccan children just seemed natural. Speaking of which, I was about a dozen useful words short, but otherwise my French was sufficient to get by, even prompting people to respond to me in French, which was pretty unhelpful.

As the sun set, the mosque lit up like “a candle in the city” (not my words), and the square lit up with drum circles, performers, and even more aggressive food pushers (my words). Standing in the audience of a drum and banjo circle (surprising, no?), I was literally pushed into the mix and told to play guitar (my second opportunity). I started by finding the banjo’s key and playing some basic 1-4-5 chords, then led a song with some D-A-G progressions. The crowd of fifty or so was cheering and throwing in change to the group’s hat (of which I received none…). Nate joined in on a bongo set, but as the crowd got louder, our output was overpowered by the group’s louder instruments. For the last fifteen minutes I really only pretended to play, strumming blindly and moving my fingers around to pretend that I was an impressive guitarist. Nobody was any the wiser.

It was only 9 p.m. when we ran out of places to go, and so we decided to try to find some wine or something to put us into sleeping mode. But when a series of events including finding a restaurant that sold alcohol, finding a bank to take out more money to buy said alcohol, and the restaurant closing minutes before we returned, led to us coming up empty handed. The restaurant owner felt bad and offered us hash, but I’d been scammed with strange drugs before… I mean, we didn’t want any… so we passed.

Instead, we returned to the hostel where Nabil, the very friendly concierge, set us up with a hookah (called sheesha here) and tea on the roof lounge. We hadn’t met anybody interesting today, but we ended the day relaxed and pleased with our decision to explore Morocco rather than sticking exclusively within Europe. That said, we’ve seen all that Marrakech has to offer (in our opinion), so we decided to boost our departure north to tomorrow rather than staying another night in Marrakech. It’s 1 a.m. now, and I’m falling asleep as I’m writing this. In the morning after our free breakfast, we’ll hop a train or bus to Fes (less likely since it’s a nine-hour trip) or Rabat via Casablanca (two to four hours, depending on method of travel). So as the trip continues tomorrow, I’ll sign off after a great first day.

Cheers and salaam

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