We were also warned that people will follow us down the street, offering a tour or to help us find our hotel, looking to be paid. Since all of us are white, we were also told to expect stares, as well as cat-calls to the ladies. Morocco's Wiki travel sections "Cope" and ""Stay Safe" summarize the type of place we were headed to, but since we did our research ahead of time, wore Muslim-appropriate clothing, and stayed aware, we avoided any major problems or surprises.
Day 1: Sunday, March 28, 2010
Iz, Mara (Iz´s friend from UW studying in Barcelona this semester), Jimmy, and I flew to Tánger Sunday afternoon and took a taxi straight to the train station once we arrived. (Mike, if you recall, wouldn´t be arriving until Monday, due to human error while purchasing his plane ticket weeks earlier. He simply mixed up the day.) We enter the train station and Iz heads to the first window. The plan is to take the overnight train to Marrakech, where we had hostel reservations the following night.
Izzy: ¿Inglés o español?
Man behind counter (MBC): Eeenglish.
Izzy: Ok, could I get a ticket to Marrakech, for the 9:00pm train tonight?
MBC: That will be a problem. Tomorrow should be alright.
Izzy: There´s no train at 9:00pm today?
Izzy: Are there any trains to Marrakech that leave earlier than 9 today?
Izzy: But there are trains to Marrakech tomorrow?
So... we had to regroup and figure out our options. Bus? Rent a car? Jimmy was the only one of us four who could drive stick. So that would mean he drive the whole way. We walked to an information desk and asked the man behind the counter about rental cars, then the bus station. When we mentioned the bus station, he told us "No, no, busses are very bad. If you take bus, you will die. Very unsafe. Why don't you take train?" We told him that there were no more trains today. He told us yes, there's one at 9pm. We pointed to the man we had talked with earlier and said that he told us there were no more trains today. A bunch of Arabic flew out of his mouth as the information desk man started talking with the MBC. I crossed my fingers and hoped the MBC had been mistaken, or that we had misinterpreted his English. Information desk man came back to us a few minutes later and from what we could understand, turns out they were doing some sort of construction on the rail. They decided to stop running trains to Marrakech that day because it was a Sunday, so they figured less people would be traveling.
After talking with this information desk man, we decided to take a five hour train to Rabat, the country's capital, and then we would catch another train to Marrakech the following day. We bought our train tickets, then had a little over an hour to go find something to eat.
Learning some Arabic on the train
It was nice meeting people on the trains, but knowing when to get off was another story. There are no loudspeakers to announce city names when we stopped, nor maps or signs or anything in the train. The stops along the way all looked the same; small unlabeled little villages. So, we had to ask the people in our compartment to tell us when we got to Rabat, otherwise we would have had no idea. The stops were quite interesting, as well. When the train would start to slow down before entering a station, the passengers just open up the train doors themselves, while the train is still moving, then hop off at the station. The stops were very brief as well, just enough time for people to hop off and on, and then it was moving again. The train doors stayed open until a passenger decided to close it, or until a train-staff member walked through and saw one open. Way more sketch than any US train, that's for sure.
We got to Rabat around 10:30pm and walked to the first hotel we saw, right across from the train station. Rooms were pricey, but realizing we didn't really have a choice, we inquired about two rooms. The WBC (Woman behind the counter... now you're catching on) told us they were all booked that night. Dang. We asked where other hotels were, and she gave us a map of the city and marked them with a pen. It was maybe a 15-20 minute walk to the next hotel. None of us had eaten dinner, either. We found the hotel. They had rooms. Really freaking expensive rooms, twice as much as the last place. But we didn't want to sleep outside, so we got two rooms for one night. We watched a bit of world cnn, the only program in English, then passed out in our beds.
*Though of course, I couldn´t blog about these warnings until after I made it back; didn´t want mother to worry...