Just as the Captain announced our flight’s descent into Marrakesh, Hugo felt that it would be the appropriate time to let me know that he had neglected to check whether Mexicans need a visa to Morocco. I decided to believe he was joking, though he assured me repeatedly he was not. So then I spent most of the time in line at the passport control wondering what a Moroccan immigration detention room would look like, how much we would have to pay to return to Madrid (since we had purchased one-way tickets on Easy Jet for almost nothing), and whether we would have to stay in the airport overnight.
But really, I wasn’t too worried. We have nothing but time for this trip, and though I’d be upset about missing Morocco, we didn’t have any set reservations anyway. And it would be a potentially interesting story, though more likely just a tedious, somewhat expensive and likely exasperating experience.
I was soon mostly preoccupied by the fact that I really wasn’t too worried about the situation — a very welcome change from the past few months where the slightest life hiccup has caused me to break out in a sweat and lose my breath with anxiety. Hugo, obviously, was sure I was either really good at hiding my anger, or had somewhat lost my mind.
When we got to the front of the passport line, I told Hugo to go up to the young man in the military garb behind plexiglass first. If there was a problem, I didn’t want to be stuck on the other side. But, as you know from my pictures, there was no problem. Mexicans don’t need a visa to Morocco, just as they don’t need one to go to Europe.*
Next up, the taxi haggle. For the first time, we were about to deal with getting around in a place where neither of us has remotely useful language skills. Still battling slight hangovers from a fantastic night out in the Chueca and Malasana neighborhoods in Madrid, and still absorbing the slight adrenaline rush from the passport control situation, made us even easier pickings. We were only able to negotiate down to 170 dirhams for the trip to the main square from the 200 “fixed rate” we were initially offered.
And yet even engaging in furious sign language with at least eight demonstrative Moroccan taxi drivers, each battling for our business, was nothing compared to the ride into town. Driving in Morocco, or at least in Marrakesh, is a hell of a first glimpse of the country. It was absolute anarchy. The long straight road into town from the airport is basically one lane in each direction, but with room, apparently, for at least three vehicles to drive side by side. So it’s more like a six “lane” road, full of ancient motorbikes carrying anywhere up to four people (including really small kids, and fully veiled women), donkeys pulling carts full of random wares or fruit, large diesel trucks, small taxis like ours, buses and even the occasional luxury sedan, all weaving in and out, in a horrifying, astounding choreography of near misses, horns and exhaust. By the time we got to our destination - which we accomplished by asking for the cheapest budget hotel in the guide book that claimed to be close to other budget hotels, we were completely frazzled. (Generally, the guide book hotels, even the cheap ones, are overpriced and have much less accommodating staff — they have a steady stream of guests due to the limited number of recommendations in the books, so it stands to reason that their neighbors are cheaper and often much better. This theory has been proven completely accurate so far, when we’ve had the time to look around first!) So we took a room at the Hotel Ali for 350 dirhams ($43) including breakfast, vowing to search out cheaper and better options in the morning. It was clean, and fairly nice, right next to the main square.
Welcome to Morocco!
*In contrast to the United States — a fact that is partially responsible for our decision to take this trip right now. As such, his failure to check the requirements gave us a special jolt!
Thanks Winnie! I hope I can put up some good pictures and stories soon!
Hi Martha! I guess maybe I’m just irresponsible? :) I’m just taking a few months to explore right now, hopefully the money I have lasts that long before it’s time to find work again.
We are currently in Marrakech and it’s a bit challenging to find wireless. But as soon as we are able, I will work on setting up comments to the blog. In the meantime, it’s pretty easy to join tumblr if you want (and you don’t have to post anything if you don’t want to). Or I think you can set up an RSS feed? I will try to cross-post to facebook when I have more posts as well. Hope alls well!
And so it begins. I will be offline for the next few days, sorting out a few last things in San Francisco, before heading to Madrid for a quick two days, and then really starting my travels in Morocco. I didn’t even realize I’m heading off on 10-10-10. Cool.
Get ready for a post complaining about my epic three layover flight from SF to Madrid taking off Sunday at 6 am!
Thanks! The map was a lot of fun to draw. You’ve got a great blog too!
Great, thank you! The map is a tentative, very general plan. We’ll see where we end up going, and I’ll definitely send you a message if we get to Delhi!
Let’s make a list!
In Arabian Nights by Tahir Shah (taking off for Morocco soon!), The Innocents Abroad by Mark Twain, and Reading Like a Writer by Francine Prose. Not all at the same time though! I love this question …
Great question, thanks! You reminded me that I’ve been meaning to write a post about this since I started this blog. Let me start with this passage from the fun book Vagabonding, by Rolf Potts:
Of all the outrageous throwaway lines one hears in movies, there is one that stands out for me. It doesn’t come from a madcap comedy, an esoteric science-fiction flick, or a special-effects-laden action thriller. It comes from Oliver Stone’s Wall Street, when the Charlie Sheen character — a promising big shot in the stock market — is telling his girlfriend about his dreams.
“I think if I can make a bundle of cash before I’m thirty and get out of this racket,” he says, “I’ll be able to ride my motorcycle across China.”
When I first saw this scene on video a few years ago, I nearly fell out of my seat in astonishment. After all, Charlie Sheen or anyone else could work for eight months as a toilet cleaner and have enough money to ride a motorcycle across China. Even if they didn’t yet have their own motorcycle, another couple months of scrubbing toilets would earn them enough to buy one when they got to China.
Precisely. The book goes on to explain the many ways in which living frugally, saving money, and then traveling for extended periods of time is within reach for just about anyone. (Well, maybe anyone fortunate enough to have been born in the United States, Australia, most of Europe … The potential guilt you should feel for such good fortune, and how much you will learn about the staggering magnitude of that good fortune in your travels if you follow this lifestyle, is for a lengthy series of posts another day.)
So, the answer to your question is very basically that, although there have been times where I have been able to take very nice, expensive vacations, I’ve also decided that living on the cheap to save money for a while, and then taking off for as long as possible, is worth it to me. (And I have in the past also been able to travel on the cheap quite happily. More on the cheap than the NY Times Frugal Traveler, who thought $70/day through South America was a job well done. I once spent an amazing ten days in Athens and Santorini on $200 total …)
I have a friend, for example, who traveled around the world recently on almost no money at all. He used facebook to find friends of friends in potential travel destinations, relied heavily on couchsurfing.org, and had a fantastic time. I’ve seen his pictures, and he was hardly roughing it. This type of travel also has many added benefits. You stay with locals and thus often have free guides to many of the best spots, you have more freedom with no reservations demanding your certain arrival …
Obviously, however, a commitment to long-term travel like this requires some trade-offs. I don’t have a mortgage, for example (though this is probably a big blessing these days). Some stability is also sacrificed, as is the accumulation of nice furniture and other household goods … And, not to say it can’t be done with them, but I also don’t have any kids. And my student loan debt is very manageable.
All that said, this blog may be a bit misleading. I’m catching up on posting pictures and telling stories about the past several years of trips. Course, I did just give notice to my employer and am planning my first truly extended trip, so stay tuned! (Anyone out there in tumblr world or the interwebs interested in having me submit travel stories and original photos from the first leg of my trip through Morocco, let me know!)
Anyway, send me your travel cheap tips through the ask function, and I’ll post ‘em up here for discussion.