FLYING BLIND…OR… HOW TO LIVE IN MOROCCO FOR 2 WEEKS ON $800.00.
This is for you, Barb Taub. Another story about traveling after 50 that shows we have a sense of humor.
The post was first published on the Nudge-Wink Report in 2014.
At the time this was written, my vision was slowly improving but I was still having terrible vision problems. When I traveled to Morocco, I had recently been diagnosed with gastroparesis and the food’s I couldn’t eat filled two pages in small print.
Little did I know that the blinding migraines from plane rides (pressurized cabins) and being over 5000 feet contributed to the sight problems. It took 20 years, as well as 3 years at 150 feet above sea level (and possibly zinc) for my sight to gradually heal. My sight is not quite right (it fits in with the rest of my body) but close enough.
)))***SPECIAL TRAVEL REPORT***(((
(so special it took me 10 years to write it)
Things to remember when traveling to a non-western country
- A pair of cheap flip flops in a plastic bag (to throw them away in just before you leave the country).
- At least 3 packages of wet wipes
- A couple of small bottles of hand sanitizer.
- A small towel, small shampoo, and bar soap for the 4 showers you’ll have while you’re there (if you’re lucky).
- At least 3 pair of underwear, and
- A large plastic bag to throw your dirty underwear into.
- Pack 1 through 5 inside of 6 and place in your carry-on bag.
For those of you out there who may know someone or be half blind yourself:
DON’T BE PROUD. “Proud” will get you left at the outskirts of the ticket counter or at the gate you got off at from your last flight. Ask for a wheelchair because they’re priority. Don’t be shy about asking where the wheelchair is if one doesn’t come within 10 minutes.
MISSING A FLIGHT: When the plane leaves without you because no one remembered to call the guy with the wheelchair, bitch at the top of your lungs. They’ll get you on the next flight out just to get rid of you. When your daughter has no idea there’s a problem because she’s in Morocco and you can’t reach her, don’t expect that the message will get to her on the other side of the ocean. It won’t. She’ll be frantically trying to find out why you weren’t on the plane for the 5 additional hours it takes you to get there.
MISSING YOUR LUGGAGE: So the flight arrives, but your luggage is still in Atlanta and won’t be there until the next day. Maybe. (My luggage arrived 3 days later). See #5 under “Things to Remember” above.
PRIORITIES ARE IMPORTANT: The taxicabs are the size of a 4 door Mini Cooper. As I watched the driver weave through traffic on a wide road with no lanes marked, my daughter presented me with an additional list of things to remember:
- Don’t get into a cab without a meter. They’ll overcharge you.
- Don’t eat the figs or melons. You can get deathly ill.
- (Told to me later in the drive) Don’t say anything bad about the king or they’ll kill you.
- We have $800 for 2 weeks but I already spent some of that.
Hmmm…overcharge or death. Which is worse? Wait! Did she say $800? Do they have homeless shelters in Morocco?
HOTEL CASABLANCA: Almost Western-style, but don’t mistake it for the other Hotel Casablanca that isn’t located in the inner city and costs twice as much. Breakfast was included at the hotel when I was there, and the food was great. Cost was about $25 per night with dinner about $4.00 for 2 people. Appreciate it while you’re there. The next hotel you go to might not have showers, towels, or a sink–but that’s what you’ll get for $6 – $8 a night.
WHY (you might ask) WOULD A HALF BLIND WOMAN WANT TO GO TO MOROCCO?:
Okay. You asked.
- My son was getting married in Gibraltar to a woman from Brazil whom he met in Portugal while he was on leave from Texas taking an advanced course in Portuguese.
- Did I mention that her family was Ukrainian?
- A marriage in Gibraltar would cut years off his wife’s ability to immigrate to the US.
- Unfortunately, it meant that I had to find a cheap way to get there.
- So my sister, who was working in Chad at the time, arranged to use her airline miles to buy me a ticket to Morocco.
- It worked out well that my daughter was finishing a 6 week course in Arabic at the American School in Fes, but there would be a 2 week gap between the last day of school and my son’s marriage.
MY IDEA OF CAMPING IS THE HILTON WITHOUT ROOM SERVICE: Those aren’t my words. That’s what my daughter said when she was a teenager and I asked if she wanted to go camping. My daughter has, since that time, reevaluated her priorities. If you want Western-style service in Morocco at a convenient location, there are places for $200 a night and up that will be glad to take your money. When your life demands that you find the lowest common denominator, that ends up to be a comfortable bed and a bathroom. Preferably clean but if not, that’s where #1 – 4 on the first list of things to remember comes in handy.
Morocco was one of the more enlightened cultures in the Middle East—everyone had a cellphone to their ear. The reception was better in Morocco than it was in my backyard. Women in Saudi wraps were walking next to women wearing camisoles, short skirts and sandals who were next to women in Iranian wear.
Luckily, sleeping in the low-end motels in Morocco wasn’t much different than living in my house sans the commode. At $8 a night, you expect to have to go downstairs to use a hole/shower in the ground for a toilet. Hopefully, when you want to take a shower, the person who used it last remembered to take the grated platform off first before urinating (refer to number 1 on the list of things to take with you).
Do visit the Medina in Fez. It’s over 1000 years old. You can see delivery boys carting coke bottles via donkey. For some reason, Coke tastes better there.
Onward to Western Civilization:
There are 3 things I remember about Gibraltar:
- The one night we spent in a Gibraltar motel cost $150. It was a lot less than it would have cost to stay at the motel on the Rock.
2. The rock (I guarantee, I’m not interested in owning a piece of it).
3. The interesting relationship between my son and the photographer:
The hostel just across the border in Spain cost $75 for 3 people. Counting the food, the 1 day in Gibraltar and 2 days in Spain took up ½ of our spending money (If we’d had $800 to begin with).
Morocco was looking better and better.
By the time we boarded the ferry to go back to Tangier, we were exhausted and approaching an out-of-money experience.
Put this image into a blender and turn it on liquefy: The rainy season doesn’t last long, and it decides to hit while the ferry is on its way to Tangier. The ferry is thrashing through the waves, my daughter is seasick, she’s greener than slime and I’m worried sick she’s going to die.
By the time we get off the boat, it’s starting to get dark, so 2 guys who were riding on the ferry ask, “Why don’t you come with us to Chefchaouen? We could split the cab fare?”
Five passengers pile into a cab meant for 3. I’m squarely between 2 guys that looked like wrestlers, in a seat wide enough for 2 medium sized people. My daughter is in the front seat and her friend, Jen, is sitting between the driver and my daughter.
My first question to Lydia was this: “Should you call ahead and make reservations?”
She laughed and assured me that this was Morocco and there was always a room available.
I’m trying to breathe between 2 men hell bent on squeezing me to death, Lydia’s friend is politely refusing the cabbie’s offers of marriage while sitting between Lydia and the cabbie, Lydia is cracking jokes and I, in my exasperation, yell out, “Just call one of the d@mned hotels!”
There’s a lot to be said for momness. She grumbled and called a hotel, frantic when she found out that they were in the midst of a once-a-year festival. She had to call several places before one said they would take reservations for the rooftop.
I said, “Take it!”
“But…but…I can’t let my mom sleep on top of a roof!” Lydia cried out. “She’s frail!”
It’s taking every shred of strength to breathe as I push for the 7 inches of space left to me, my legs are numb, and after I finished laughing at the irony of it, I said, “We used to camp. I’ll live.”
The 2 guys asked for her to make reservations for them, too, which was good because those were the last 5 mats they had available.
So we get there, no one knows where the place is, and we duck into the first restaurant we see. I have their delicious mint tea while Lydia and her friends enjoy the Moroccan style pizza. The 2 guys followed the owner of the restaurant to the location of the hotel and we waited…and waited…and waited. When they came back, the restaurant owner was a bit beat-up–due to the fact that he got into a fist fight with his cousin along the way.
So we follow the 2 guys to the hotel, go on the rooftop and the guys immediately begin to smoke hashish. Lydia helped ease my mind.
“What they’re doing is illegal and they could die,” she said.
Instead of yelling out a primal scream, I look through the blankets and mats, pulling out the driest. I put a blanket under my mat and a blanket over my head to ward off the few raindrops still trying to squeeze out of the clouds. Best night’s sleep I had in years!
I woke up refreshed. My daughter and her friends were soaked and miserable.
What the inside of the hotel actually looked like:
I won’t go into how amazing the Tagine Chicken is in Morocco, or why we had to go on a bus with the locals from Chefchaouen to Rabat, and the 4 hour runaround with a con artist who was finally shooed away by police. I will tell you that a lot of people knew English, and if you’re looking for a cheap vacation, you might consider going to Morocco.
So there you have it: I’m alive because I remembered to pack the essentials, I didn’t eat the fruit, and I didn’t insult the king.
I hope you’ve learned something from this article. If not, remember the words my sister told my children when she took them to Mexico after I told her not to and her car broke down because she didn’t put water in the radiator: “It’s an adventure.”