More than 46 years after I first heard Crosby, Stills, & Nash sing Marrakesh Express I finally got on the Marrakech Express. Over those years they appear to have gotten rid of the “ducks and pigs and chickens” that Graham Nash experienced, but otherwise it’s still pretty rustic. Three hours pretty much straight south, much of it across pretty desert-like country where the red sandstone buildings meld seamlessly into the endless landscape.And then we were in Marrakech. A great train station. A taxi to a mosque on the edge of the medina where someone from our riad (“a traditional Moroccan house or palace with an interior garden or courtyard”) was waiting with Couscous – a donkey in this case, not food – and a cart for our bags. Down narrow, winding streets with our guide pointing out landmarks that we’d need to know to find our way when we were on our own.
In Tangier and now Marrakech we stayed in riads, while in Rabat and Casablanca we were in hotels and I have to say I mostly like the more traditional riads. They’re certainly smaller and more intimate and they have great locations right in the middle of things. The architecture is – not surprisingly – genuinely Moroccan. They tend to be a little noisier since your room opens onto the courtyard that people are moving around in, cool despite that.
Once a capital to one of the Berber kingdoms Marrakech is Morocco’s fourth largest city – after Casablanca, Fes, and Tangier – with fabled markets packed into the warren of little pedestrian ways through the old city. (While I describe them as pedestrian ways because there are no cars, the scooters and motorcycles that race through can scare the bejesus out of you.) We had six days scheduled there, joined by Mark’s brother Pat and his wife Jenny, over to celebrate Thanksgiving with us.
So we spent our days wandering, going through the markets and finding great hidden restaurants. Pat had been here five years before, but one of his most powerful memories – constantly being lost in the medina’s winding streets – had been obviated by Google Maps. Now you just glance at your phone and you know where you are and how to get to where you want to be. An improvement in many ways, to be sure, but I suspect getting lost has its own attractions, too. Unfortunately there was somewhat less wandering among the four of us than we’d anticipated: I came down with a nasty cold and spent part of the week just holed up in the riad while Jenny apparently tangled with some food that didn’t agree with her and she, too, was laid up for a bit.
The visit with Pat & Jenny was great; as we’ve noted before, it seems as though we see some family members, at least, more now that we’re permanent nomads than we did when we were working constantly. That can only get better as more of our friends and family either retire or at least become empty nesters.
Beyond the extra family time and the markets and all that, Marrakech will be remembered as the place where we experienced some life-changing improvements. Shortly before Pat & Jenny left the U.S., Mark discovered a multi-USB plug, essentially way to plug in four USB cords at one time, so he bought two of them and had them shipped to their house for delivery in Morocco. Now we can have our phones, iPads, and AppleWatches all plugged in at once. Huge improvement!And, this is even bigger, Pat explained to us how we can get our phones unlocked and buy SIM cards along the way for data and phone services. One of the huge frustrations we’ve experienced over these 30 months on the road is the enormous AT&T charges we have for extremely limited services. I mean, for all intents and purposes we just don’t use our phones. We need them, though, for texting and maps, along with other random apps. Now, though, we can just cancel our phone service and buy the data cards we need at a very small fraction of the cost. We’ll pay less and be online all the time, or at least as long as there’s a signal where we are. We can still text back and forth using our email addresses instead of phone numbers. And we’ll quit getting those damned telemarketing calls that not only are annoying but cost us money if we answer them.
Apologies in advance to whoever inherits those numbers and the telemarketers.
From Marrakech it was back on the train to Casablanca where, after a day-and-a-half stopover, we catch a six-hour flight down to Dakar. It will be the first time either of us have been in West Africa, so we’re pretty excited about this new adventure.