Tuesday, May 4, 2010

The Travel Logs: Morocco, Part 2

Humans have this amazing thing called endorphins. Those crazy little chemicals have a way of wiping out traumatic experiences from the brain. This is why I can remember almost nothing about delivering my daughter without an epidural. I do remember immediately afterward when I jumped up from the bed, insanely happy and energetic, and a nurse entered the room and stared at the empty bed and then at me and said, "Are you the patient? Why are you up?" I felt great, because my body had done the wonderful natural thing it was supposed to, and now my brain was telling me that nothing terrible had happened, I had survived the trauma.

When we left for Morocco, it was for a 6 day trip. 11 days later, we returned by airplane, train, taxi, and van. It wasn't supposed to happen that way, of course, but all the misery of trying desperately to get home has been wiped out of my brain. I can't really relate many details about it, because I'd rather just forget it, and my brain is working hard to wipe the memory out.

Here's the bare outline of what happened, for those who still want to know:

Thursday evening: Our plane does not depart Morocco. We are told to come back in the morning for a flight to Dusseldorf, Germany, which is nowhere near home, but it's in Germany, so we say "sure." Ryan Air is taking no responsibility for us, as this is an "act of God" and out of their hands. We call our riad and they send Ali back to pick us up, so we can stay another night in Fes.

Friday: We show up at the airport only to see Dusseldorf is cancelled. Ryan Air offers us a flight to Madrid that afternoon as the only option for getting to Europe. Everything north of Spain is shut down due to the volcanic ash cloud (from Iceland...let's not forget how bizarre this whole thing is). We say yes to the Madrid flight because my stomach cannot take another tagine or cup of mint tea. Breck is still vomitting. All I want is to get back to western civilization, where everything is not covered in dust and minarets do not drone. We sit in an olive grove outside the airport all afternoon (see photo), picnicking and napping, like the locals do, until our Madrid flight, which does take off. We reach Madrid and realize the situation is not any better here. There are no trains to France or Germany for days. All rental cars are gone, and all buses are full. We spend the night at a nice hotel (The Confortel, Pio XII) for a good price.

Saturday: We spend the majority of the day at the rail station, standing in lines, talking in Spanglish to the ticket agents and trying to figure out what the hell is going on. We accomplish nothing. We decide to spend another night and see if flights start going out again. We see the sol of Madrid, watch a mariachi band and dancer perform, shop, eat dinner.

Sunday: We go to the rail station, accomplish nothing. The rain in Spain falls mainly on Madrid. Both children are puking on a regular basis. There is no news in English on the television, so we watch in Spanish and try to guess what they are saying from our limited memories of Spanish vocab. Life sucks.

Monday: I threaten Joel within an inch of his life: Go to the damn station and buy us a ticket to Barcelona or somewhere, I don't care where as long as we get out of rainy Madrid and move northeast toward Germany! He returns with tickets to Barcelona. We ride a lovely ICE train to Barcelona, which turns out to be an incredibly beautiful city. But the situation on the ground is no better there...rail station agents informs us there are "no regional trains that are going over the border to France" because, as usual, the French are striking. I volunteer loudly to prostitute myself to get home. Joel looks at me and says, "I hope you're not serious," but looks doubtful, he's learned not to underestimate my penchant for insanity. We check out the nearby bus station, where there is a mob scene with people of all classes fighting to get on a bus going to France. A cabbie sees our distress and volunteers to take advantage of it with a 400 euro cab ride to Montpellier, France. "DEAL!" I scream, practically jumping over Joel to shake the cab driver's hand. We have already booked a hotel for the night, so we tell him to pick us up in the morning at 7 am. We go out to the wharves where all the gorgeous yachts are docked on the Mediterranean inlet, eat at an outdoor cafe, spend silly money on wine and fish to calm our misery. Think life is not so bad and maybe we will come back to Barcelona some day under better circumstances.

Tuesday: Three and a half hours and (430 euros less) later, we arrive at the Montpellier rail station, and see that a train is leaving for Lyon in 30 minutes (the Spanish ticket agents are lazy ass liars...trains are running fine in France). An agent assures us we don't have to wait in line for a ticket, we can just jump on and pay the conductor after we depart. There is a mad scramble to get on and we do not get seats, we have to settle for sitting atop our bags on the floor of the dining car. I feel we have reached an all-time low, but the conductor has pity and never asks us to pay, so we ride for free and I am satisfied. We get off at Lyon and see a train to Strasbourg leaving in 30 minutes, but think our kids can't handle riding for 4 hours on the floor again. We settle for tickets to leave that evening and call our friends back at home to see who will drive the hour from Heidelberg over to the French border town of Strasbourg to pick us up. Anne and Matt say they will be there at 10:30 pm when we arrive. They seem like saviors when we meet them at the station, we are bedraggled and stinky from wearing our clothes over and over (I've hand washed in the bathtub of hotels until I have blisters on my hands) and the kids from puking on theirs. They have brought Joel and I each a big bottle of German beer...they have read our minds. Our kids stay awake until they see the German border and cheer, then fall asleep...Germany is home to us.

Postscript: We spent more money trying to get home than we did on our actual vacation to Morocco. Goodbye tax return.

Post post script: Iceland, I would have visited you, but I spent the money for that trip on your stupid volcano. Forget you.

Post post post script: I do not believe in "acts of God"...I believe in acts of Satan.

Post post post post script: On the upside, I now consider myself a "seasoned" traveler.


  1. My "bare outlines" tend to be a bit verbose. Sorry 'bout that.

  2. oh, please print this and keep it. You'll laugh at the insanity one day. i guess it makes you thankful for a clean home even if there are cheerios on the floor and pizza stuck in the crevices of the couch. Life is good in our civilized world with uncivilized children.

  3. Funny how we remember things, or what how we choose to remember them. Now that the suffering is over and I've had plenty of time to sleep between my soft sheets - I look at our five day, "act of God" (or perhaps Satan) journey back to our home as an adventure or badge of travel. An comedic epic memory and experience which is told and retold - perhaps in tall-tale form - throughout my aging life. I like those stories. I like those memories.

    What I remember. Of course I remember long lines, heavy bags, kids crying, Kim screaming, me screaming back, and many more frustrating inconveniences, but in the mist of that I remember being a part of something colossal. Something myself nor the rest of Europe or the globe could control. There in the middle of Madrid, was me in the mist of tens of thousands of other individuals stuck trying to go north all because of a volcano thousands of miles away. All of us, like hopeless characters in a burlesque plot. You couldn't help but smirk at the humor.

    What I remember the most. I remember our picnic lunch under an olive grove outside the Fes airport. The mariachi band playing in the main square of Madrid. Seeing the high Spanish plains on the train ride to Barcelona - which made me understand why the Spanish settled in Mexico and the southwest. Eating in an outdoor café along the boardwalks in Barcelona. The magnificent site of the lights on the houses in the hills above Barcelona.

    The beauty of the Pyrenees and the French Mediterranean on the Taxi drive to Montpellier. I know this is weird, but actually knowing what if feels like to have no seat on a train - from Montpellier to Lyon. Being in our own compartment on a train while seeing the French rolling hills from Lyon to Strasbourg. Knowing we have friends who would set-up hotel reservations and come pick us up in France at midnight - not bad for only living in the country for nine months.

    Yeah, it was expensive. Yeah, it was stressful. Do I care. Not really. I'm sure my DW would say I felt and acted quite differently during the trip. But you know what, we weren't suppose make it home until a Saturday or Sunday. We made it on Tuesday. I'd say we beat the volcano, and to me that makes all the difference.

  4. Thanks for filling in the details we didn't know. We're thankful to be traveling with you guys and not alone this summer. Jay has purchased airline insurance. And Mollie is so right.

  5. Wow, what an adventure, better to read about than to experience. I'm glad that you all made it home safe and sound. Nothing verbose about this at all; I loved it.

    John G. Morris

  6. I would love to know what your kids remember about that trip in a few years! It would probably be something totally different that your memories. I think you had a great adventure and should keep it as, not an act of satan. LOL!!