Weeks 12 & 13

The ones where she got swindled in Morocco

The past week has been an incredible experience- I knew Morocco was beautiful and crazy and hectic and hot, but I truly didn’t even know the half of it. The country is GORGEOUS. Like eye opening, stunning, don’t-know-what-to-do-with-yourself gorgeous. From mountains, gorges, deserts, and valleys filled with luscious forests, to huge crazy cities and smaller more relaxed ones, this place has it all. Plus people that are welcoming, kind (and always looking for a good swindle). This was easily one of the most interesting experiences I’ve had on Remote Year so far, and I’m so glad I decided to take the plunge and drop the (not insignificant) money to do it.
As much as it was an incredible experience, Morocco also hit me at a weird time. When we had our Remote Year orientation the first week in Split, Trish (one of the RY staffers) talked about how most remotes go through a wave in their experience throughout the year. You start out at normal, zero if you will, and quickly increase over the first few months to incredible, 200%. But there’s inevitably a dip. A period where not everything is bright and shiny anymore. A time where something seems off, you seem off, and you don’t always know why. You were flying high and now you’ve hit the ground and you have to pick yourself back up and shake out your wings. That’s where I am right now.
Don’t get me wrong, this experience is still incredible and I’m thankful for it every day, but I think I’ve finally hit the ‘real life’ wall. The experiences I’m having and the friends I’m making and the things I get to do are all amazing, but this isn’t a vacation, it’s real life. And taking a vacation to Morocco in the middle of realizing that my life isn’t a vacation; That it’s not as shiny and incredible as it probably looks on social media was a little bit tough to wrap my head around.
Still, as I work those things out, here’s a roundup of the swindle tour that was our week in Morocco.
What I did this week:
  • Took advantage of my Priority Pass to get into the Lisbon Airport lounge before our flight. Premotes take note- get the Chase Sapphire Reserve card. Do it. Now. Honestly, having the duo of a CSR and the Charles Schwab debit card might almost be a prereq to being a remote.

Prop plane!

  • Landed in Tangier and immediately hopped into a two hour Grande Taxi to Chefchaouen. In Morocco there are Grande Taxis and Petit Taxis. Grande ones are for long distances, petit ones are for around town. Basically if you’re a foreigner, you’re going to get driven around no matter wherever you are, and after seeing how Moroccan’s drive, this is definitely a good thing.
  • Got up and out of the house by 11 to grab some lunch and start exploring Chefchaouen for our first full day in Morocco.

This was our front door. Definitely blue. *resists urge to quote Eiffel 65*

  • Experienced our first swindle almost immediately. The group allowed itself to be talked into eating at the first restaurant that a guy outside convinced them to go into. And then didn’t ask for a menu. #facepalm. At least it was a rooftop restaurant in the square that had semi-mediocre wifi that I used to send one last work email.
  • Almost got swindled again 15 minutes later looking for SIM cards by the restaurant owner’s brother who instead of taking us to get SIM cards (the store was closed for morning prayer) instead led us to a rug store.. it was about at this time I realized that there was going to be a serious swindling learning curve on this trip.

To be honest.. the rugs were pretty awesome though

  • Regrouped and decided to cross off the one thing on our list we absolutely had to do- experience a hammam. Since they couldn’t do all seven of us at once, we sent the boys in first while we girls walked around doing impromptu photoshoots.

The guys before their Hammam experience!

  • Got really friendly with the idea of haggling. Usually I absolutely hate it- I feel bad doing it, especially when I have the ability to pay full price. But here it’s just a part of the culture- it’s like a dance between you and the shop owner. Once I started looking at it that way it became a fun game, and tbh I actually got pretty good at it. #pokerface

I didn’t haggle for these cats.. but I would have.

  • Got reallly comfortable with my fellow ladies during our hammam experience. Hammams are Turkish baths where someone literally scrubs you clean. I actually really enjoyed it and was pretty comfortable throughout the whole process, though for the others, it seemed like more of a #growthzone moment.

We all walked out SUPER clean, soft and with an incredible appreciation for our washwoman. Since it was Ramadan, she had been working all day fully clothed in a 120 degree/100% humidity room while fasting- aka no water. So much respect.

  • Went in search of a pink or yellow scarf for me so I could take the photo I wanted with the blue walls of the city. We ended up finding it in a shop with a character of a shop owner. We probably spent 45 minutes in his shop trying things on, learning how to tie turbans, talking about America with him and he even ended up serving us impromptu tea and inviting us over for dinner.

ALL of the colors.

I don’t know what each of these is, but they make for a fine photograph

  • Declined dinner with him to have dinner at a delicious restaurant on the other side of town where I ate probably the best oxtail of my life. Oh and the power went out about 3/4 through dinner. #Moroccoproblems. So of course we rolled with it and made lanterns with water bottles and cellphones #Moroccosolutions.

So much tagine!

  • Returned home to drink the wine we brought with us and lay out on our roof under the stars talking for awhile.
  • Despite being absolutely EXHAUSTED, had a late night rally to go get kebabs and ended up in a square filled with locals and street food. There was one stand that everyone seemed to be around so we of course joined the commotion and managed to snag four servings of something that looked like pastes de nata but tasted like some kind of chickpea gratin. Whatever it was, it was freaking delicious.
  • Spent 8 hours scared for my life in a Grande Taxi from Chefchoen to Marrakech on Saturday. Our driver was a maniac behind the wheel… think speeding up to pass on a blind curve with a 500ft drop next to it. Yeah. Kinda terrifying. He was also terrible at driving a manual- dude stalled out like 10 times during our trip..

“We’re late for our cab!” “But I need a picture with my scarf!” “Ahh! OK OK!” #doitforthegram

  • Drove through a medina in a van when we finally got to Marrakech. DO NOT RECOMMEND. I REPEAT: DO NOT RECOMMEND. I thought the drive down was stressful but that had nothing on getting a full size van through an single-lane active market full of people and shops and bikes and scooters. Our driver was cursing the whole way and I was sitting there with one hand covering my eyes, fingers splayed just enough to see the chaos. #thankgodnoonegothurt

Let’s drive a bus through this! That’s a great idea! -Said no one ever

  • Settled into our airbnb- a spectacular ryad and then set off to explore

Three stories + a house manager. AND my room had a painting of a lion in it. Just perfect.

  • Got #snakeswindled in the main square. Apparently they want one Euro per-picture.. and we took about 1000. Whoopsie.

Look at this lil cutie!

There were shops upon shops upon restaurants upon who knows what. The chaos was almost peaceful if you zoned out a bit.

Except you couldn’t zone out because someone was always approaching you to sell you something or try to convince you to go to their restaurant or shove a monkey into your arms.

  • Explored a palace in 105 degree heat. Gorgeous, but so so hot. Probably the only place we didn’t get swindled though, so heck yeah for that. #krushedit
  • Went on a guided #swindletour of the medina. We all thought it would be more educational but our tour guide literally just took us to different places to buy things.. Honestly, he probably did another lap afterwards to go collect all of his kickbacks.

*Wipes drool off of chin*

Let’s get some shoessss

  • Started our trek to the desert on Monday morning with our guide Rashyd. This guy was literally the most badass human being I’ve ever met. He was a Berber nomad up until he was 12 years old which means that he literally moved around the country with his family year-round tending to their flock of sheep. He had a vast depth of knowledge about all aspects of the country from the landscape to the history to the politics, culture and current events. He told us countless interesting things and was an endless source of wisdom.
One thing that stuck out to me was about how engagements work. Apparently when the suitor goes to the bride’s family to ask for her hand, if they don’t approve of him they serve him tea without sugar as a polite way to let him know that the engagement won’t happen.

This was one of MANY vistas we stopped to ogle at

The gang’s all here!

  • Stopped by the Ksar of Ait-Ben-Haddou on our first trek day (A UNESCO World Heritage site!). A tsar is a group of earthen buildings surrounded by high walls. This one happens to be an excellent illustration of pre-Saharan earthen construction techniques and was one of the many trading posts on the commercial route linking ancient Sudan to Marrakesh. Oh yeah and Gladiator was filmed here. #casual
  • Hiked up the walls of the Todra Gorge to visit a nomadic Berber family in their cave. This wasn’t originally part of our tour but Rashyd was able to make it happen because they happened to be a part of the same tribe as his family. It was a really interesting to experience a life that is so completely and utterly different than ours but at the same time seeing many threads of similarity.

I was amused..he clearly wasn’t #storyofmylife?

  • Watched the boys join an impromptu dance session in the middle of the canyon. It started sprinkling about ten minutes after they finished so of course the conclusion was that it was a successful rain dance.

The whole time we were here I was waiting for the Tusken Raiders to pop out #Tatooine

  • Panic bought 9 bottles of wine for our trek into the desert. We sent Zach, Ian and Alex into a hotel to get wine for us and to say they came out fully loaded would be an understatement.
  • Rocked out to Africa by Toto while riding a camel into the desert. Yep. We were those Americans. #couldbeworse #actuallymaybenot I named my camel Jude, for Jude Law. Don’t ask me why, it just seemed to fit. Side thought: Why do I feel the need to name everything?

I couldn’t stop thinking about The Alchemist while on this trek

Dangit, Jude! You had one job!

Ok, you made up for it.

  • Watched Rashyd put Bear Grylis to shame by sucking the blood out of someone’s toe after they got STUNG BY A SCORPION at our desert camp. Guys this was easily the coolest thing I’ve ever seen. And I’ve seen some pretty gnarly shit. Basically this guy from another group was walking barefoot in his tent and accidentally stepped on a scorpion which promptly did what scorpions do when you step on them- stung him. Cue Rashyd. He cut open his toe with a knife, sucked the poison out then ran off to get some kerosine which he promptly doused the toe in. Then he took the scorpion itself, cut it open, gutted it AND TAPED IT TO THE GUY’S TOE. *Mind freaking blown* He then wrapped up his foot in a turban to keep everything warm and told the guy that he’d be fine in a half an hour. You know, super casual.

Dinner in the desert!

  • Had a barbecued lamb sandwich from a stand on the side of the road in some town we passed on the eight hour drive back to Marrakech. Was it delicious? Yes. Is it the reason my stomach has hurt for a week? Maybe.

One of the best parts about Morocco was definitely how many cats there were. They were EVERYWHERE and I LOVED IT. This guy was chilling at one of our lunch tables.

  • Passed out face-first, clothes on, on top of the covers when we finally got back to our ryad in Marrakech that night.
  • Passed out face-first, clothes on, on top of the covers (+ stomach cramps), when we finally got back to Lisbon the next afternoon.
  • Fought more stomach cramps all of Friday but was still able to power through and face the mountain of work that lay before me before heading out to one last Indian dinner and then a pub crawl for our last night in Lisbon/Kristen’s birthday.

Farewell Morocco, I’ll miss you