Saturday, March 5, 2011

On to Essaouira

My night in my warm sleeper passed well, and the tap-tap on the door in the morning meant that the conductor thought it was time for me to get up. My iPhone had told me the same thing, of course, so I was already up and waiting for my 40 minutes overlay in Casablanca.

I grabbed a cappuccino in the train station, tried the wi-fi (as broken as the Beni Nsar Internet had been, so maybe it was system-wide), then moved onto one of those glamorous new first-class trains that Morocco acquired a few years back. I flopped into a big, cushioned seat and relaxed for the 3-hours-and-change ride to Marrakesh. So fast! The trains are good in Morocco.

My final destination for the day was not Marrakesh, but it was the end of the train line. From here to the end of Morocco, it was all buses and shared ("grand") taxis.

But I did want to stop in Marrakesh. I had a mission, to go buy a few trinkets, some folk-art on wooden slabs for the souvenir program I'm developing. But I didn't want to drag my luggage around town. I walked into the information office at the Marrakesh train station.

"Is there left luggage here?"

"No." Ah, okay. So it's more like a US train station than a European one.

I walked to the Supratours bus station around the corner. Not only did they have no lockers or baggage storage, but they also had no tickets left for today. This wasn't surprising—the guidebooks all point out that Supratours is considered the top bus company in Morocco, and you must always buy your ticket the day before. But I had been hoping to get lucky.

I considered my options. I could go to the main bus station and try again. Or forget the trinkets and head to Essaouira on a different bus or in a shared taxi.

But first, one more try.

In the end, I begged the bellhop at the hotel next door to hold my bag for me. I did tip him handsomely, but he seemed to do it out of pity.

Now luggage-less, I walked to the street and hailed a taxi. Good. The guy used the meter without my asking. He didn't know where the hell we were going, but I named the nearest sight (the Kasbah) and that go us close enough.

I negotiated heartily for my trinkets but paid much more than I'd planned too. A British woman overheard the transaction and grabbed the same deal. The artist thanked me for the additional sale, and then the British woman thanked me for the deal. Hey, where's my commission?

I walked over to the Djemaa El Fna, the touristy center of Marrakesh. This is what most people think of when they think of Morocco. Snake charmers, vendors, hustlers, henna, and magicians. For me, I was interested in the four dirham freshly squeezed orange juice. And maybe some lunch.

The juice was perfect, but it was too early for lunch.

I got into a taxi to go back to the gare, but the driver demanded fifty dirham.

"No. Meter."

"Okay, 40."

"No. Meter."

"Okay, 20."

"No. Meter."

He shrugged and motioned me in. He started driving and then said "20."

Whereupon I let loose on him a stream of anger, demanded he stop, and got out. First taxi driver argument of the trip. Not bad.

The next guy used the meter without my asking. Ten dirham back to the gare.

I got my luggage, grabbed another ten dirham ride to the grand taxi station, and bought two places in a Mercedes bound for Essaouira. The usual number of passengers in these cars is six. That's four squished into the rear seat and two into the front seat. This is as uncomfortable as it sounds, so I wanted none of it. I bought the two seats in the front, but my plan to be safe and comfortable was thwarted when I realized there was no seatbelt.

The four teenagers who had bought the back sheet shot daggers at me. They also "entertained" for two hours with their mp3 players on their phones. Joy.

The driver sped to the coast, and just a few hours later, I pulled my pack onto my back and wandered around, hugging the coast for direction, and found the medina, and then my riad.

In off-season, rates plummet. So I'd gotten a gorgeous riad for 20 euros a night. I settled in, showered, then raced up to the ramparts for sunset.


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