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August 27, 2008 Travelicious

Cross-country travel is … challenging. But not necessarily in a bad way. I’ve certainly become more patient as my expectations have shifted. Tourists expect that everything will work out the way they want it to. “Ugly Americans,” too. But traveling isn’t always about the destination; sometimes it’s about the journey.

This one started with me waiting to fill a grand taxi. That can take minutes or hours; this one took two hours, almost to the minute. If I’d known, I could have stayed home long enough to fill up my water containers so that I wouldn’t be coming back to a mostly-dry house (since I did some last-minute laundry last night, which used up most of the water I had on hand). But I didn’t know, so I just sat in a café, sipping sweet hot milk* and chatting with folks. My sitemate came by, as did a tourist-philanthropist from Austria who I met a few days ago. When there was no one in the other chair at my table, I read. Books are fabulous for filling time, especially when you don’t know if it’ll be minutes or hours.

But eventually another 5 folks heading my way assembled themselves, and we set off on the first leg of a long journey. I got to see lots of interesting landscape and a new city, and then I made the switch to another grand taxi. My layover was so short that I had to cancel the order I’d placed at the café there, for an egg sandwich. (There are always cafés at transportation hubs. Always. Doesn’t matter how big or small…if there are people waiting to go somewhere, there’s someone who will sell them a pot of tea.) Then we were off on the second leg. My stop at Hub 2 was longer, and I enjoyed an egg-and-latke sandwich (not that the fried potato cakes were called latkes, but that’s pretty much what they were). Only 3.5 Dirhams – less than fifty cents – and it filled me up. :) Hub 2 is rare, though not quite unique, in that there’s a central desk where you state your destination and pay the kurti, the head taxi honcho, who will call your destination once your taxi is full. In most cities, you deal directly with the driver. I prefer the kurti system, myself, because it minimizes the risk of being ripped off (or “given the tourist price”, as it’s called). After an hour or so of enjoying my book, the kurti’s assistant called out my destination, and we were on our way. That ride was short, bringing me to Hub 3, a big enough city that it has multiple grand taxi stations.

When I got out at Hub 3, I didn’t see anyone who looked like a kurti, so I walked over to a clump of people and asked them how to get to Hub 4. “Go to the bus station,” I was told. I was disappointed; the day was wearing on faster than I’d hoped, and I still had quite a ways to go, and grand taxis are usually faster than buses.

To get to the bus station, I’d need a petit taxi. The bus station would otherwise be a 45 minute walk away, and I had big, heavy bags. As I headed up out of the grand taxi station to the main road, where I could flag down a petit taxi, I passed by a fruit stand…and nearly swooned.

He had peaches. Big ones. They smelled heavenly, and looked gorgeous. I asked him to give me half a kilo, but when he started reaching for the peaches closest to him, over-ripe and spotted, I protested. I set down my giant bags and picked my own. They didn’t feel quite ripe, but they smelled wonderful, so I plunked down the usurious fees and took them with me to the road, where I quickly flagged a petit taxi.

I found out much later – as in, hours after it would have done me any good – that there’s another grand taxi station next to the bus station, and that’s where I would have needed to go to get a grand taxi to Hub 4. Oh, well. Not knowing that at the time, I went straight to the bus station, where I found out that the bus wasn’t leaving for another couple hours.

I pulled out the trusty book. I downed most of a 1.5 L bottle of water and all the peaches (which were perfectly ripe, despite being firm to the touch, and were the best peaches I think I’ve ever eaten) and finished the book while waiting for the bus to pull in.

Cell phones are another good way to fill time – especially short spans of time – but mine was nearly dead. I’d forgotten to charge it, and didn’t see a vacant plug anywhere around the bus station. I turned it off, to save what battery was left for when I met up with the friend I was meeting at my final destination of the day.

When my bus finally pulled up, I schlepped my bags over to it, stuffed them into the baggage space, and then got into a five minute fight with the baggage guy, who wanted to be paid. It’s common, though not required, to give a guy 5 Ds if he stows your bag, especially if he has to lug it up to the top of the bus/taxi/tranzit and strap it down for you. But since he hadn’t done anything for me, I didn’t owe him a dime. He disagreed, which led to the fight. He won, by threatening to pull my bags off the bus. :( I convinced myself that he and his family need the money more than I do, but I still wasn’t happy about it.

I got to Hub 4 without further ado, caught a magic taxi to Hub 5, spent the night with a friend (whose power was out, so my cell phone stayed uncharged and we ate dinner by candlelight), caught a providential tranzit back to Hub 4, got a taxi to Hub 6, then a train to Hub 7, then another train to my final destination.

{big sigh}

And in a few days, I get to do the whole thing in reverse…

* Cafés are wonderful if you love coffee or tea. I don’t (but don’t get me started on chai…I *miss* chai), but I’m a big fan of cocoa and steamed milk. Cocoa is often available in Moroccan cafés, but not always, and today it wasn’t, so I settled for a steamed milk with a couple of sugar cubes. Sugar is always available in Morocco. :D Of course, since I showed up early – 7 in the morning, local time – the owner had to run over to a cow-owning neighbor and get his day’s supply of milk. Must have been milked last night, since doesn’t it take some number of hours for the cream to rise…? But regardless, I eventually got my milk. And when I’d finished it, I got another one. It’s even cheaper here than at my favorite café in SouqTown. Maybe I should start patronizing it more often…

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Think local. Act global. Learn more about the Peace Corps