The long slog home

So, after giving Casablanca (and if you are DaveKlein, Morocco in general) a big old middle finger, we were ready to come home. We were ready to assume that a dryer would always be at our disposal. We were ready to sleep in our own bed (albeit, in my little brother’s old room at my parents’ house). We were ready to speak English all the time. We were ready to see more friends. We were done.

We bid adieu to our second to last Starwood stay of our trip and hopped in a cab. I spent the whole cab ride looking out the window at the Casablanca traffic as 220 days sped through my mind. There was the time I got lost on a motortaxi in Mandalay. There was the time we made friends in Bangkok and felt a little normal. There were all the noodle soups. There were laughs on friends couches and beers and a few burgers. My pink hair was gone. Our beach times in Bali were gone. I felt like sand was pouring through my hands and I couldn’t catch it all. Why didn’t i keep up my sentence a day journal? How come I only took 3,500 pictures? Why didn’t we go to India? What will life be like when we return? I gave into travel ennui. I got cranky.

Which was good because that’s exactly what the Casablanca airport greeted us with. There were about 10,000 people dressed in white about to make the Hajj who clearly had never been on airplanes before and were standing in non-line-lines while talking animatedly. For a minute, I was jealous. These people were just embarking on the most important journey of their lives. Ours was over. Then, as you do, either a celebration or a protest broke out in the airport as we were checking in. Unclear. Throngs of men were chanting, dancing and holding up pictures of a dude. With a beard? The King? The not-King? Unclear if they were happy about him, sad about him, avenging him, or protesting him. But they had drums. And were screaming in Arabic. No one appeared to want them to stop. And then with all the people in white. Chaotic lack of lines. No one could hear announcements. I felt dizzy. Airline logos began to bleed together. The departures level swirling around me. I walked to the front of the TAP Portugal line and demanded to check in. turns out the “line” wasn’t for TAP but a fragment of the Egyptian Airways line at the next counter over. Hooray American brashness!

Then we got to security. Dave went through first and as usual had a short conversation about his passport case and the agent’s preferred soccer team based on his Chelsea passport case. They had a pleasant, final Moroccan interaction. Then the agent looked at my Domo passport case and was like, SERIOUSLY LADY? And starts pointing back at Dave and then pointing to my child’s passport case and laughing and shaking his head. The crankiness broke.

I laughed.

Then I focused on being exceptionally nervous. For weeks I had been scared of this specific part of the journey. After all my flying for work, and all our flying on the trip I had one last hurdle to face.

A 18 seater Beech 1900.



I don’t love little planes.  It’s just too much science per square foot for me to deal with. It requires a lot of hyper-vigilance from me to keep airplanes  IN THE SKY. A small one somehow requires more.


A box with a sandwich, a bottle of water, and earplugs lay at our seats. There was no flight attendant.

claustrophobic. We were in the back-middle of the plane

claustrophobic. We were in the back-middle of the plane

There was no door between us and the pilots.

handsome pilot who did the driving not the magazine reading

handsome pilot who did the driving not the magazine reading

I started to dry heave. I was about to lose it. Luckily the Portuguese pilots were EXCEEDINGLY handsome and I didn’t want to look like a baby in the presence of such hotness so I just kept wiping my sweaty hands on my jeans and making my bi-annual plea to the baby Jesus. ( I think the last time I did was when we were on that open water crossing to Gilli Air. )

Hilariously enough, the flight was very smooth. Do you know what co-pilots do? They look up from their magazine every now and again to adjust a knob a little. The end.  It was a beautiful day to fly. It was brief. Watching landing out of the windshield of the plane over beautiful Lisbon was something I don’t think I’ll ever forget. My time on the Beech 1900 is now a fond memory of the closest I’ll ever get to flying private.

As we disembarked I noticed our plane had a name– Esquilo! I thought this was cute! We later googled it and found out it means “squirrel” in Portuguese.  This was something good to know after the fact.

After a sagres beer in the Lisbon airport to kill the last of our Euros and the high of our tiny plane journey behind us, the rest of the day was an airport blur. We weren’t bound by time.  We flew to Frankfurt and landed very late at 10pm and checked into the airport Sheraton.

We slept in a bit too late (weee! not bound by time!) and make our flight the next morning by a margin that was a bit too close for comfort. We missed breakfast in the process too and had sailed passed “hangry” and were firmly in “HITCHY”. The Frankfurt airport is so big that the employees bike around. After 3 weeks in Morocco prices in Euros were so staggering we were too stubborn to buy food. We waited in grumpy silence. We ate all the food on the plane (thanks to my new favorite trick of being an ovo/lacto – vegetarian on planes, I got served first). I also had three glasses of wine on the Air Canada Flight. I got flight attendant side-eye. How could I explain to her what we had just been through? I quit before she cut me off and watched the Katy Perry documentary in a red wine haze suddenly missing the sequins and energy of my old job. I always felt a little like a showgirl for equality. Now I wasn’t a traveler anymore. I didn’t have the identity of my job. I didn’t live in DC anymore. I didn’t have pink hair. I wasn’t anything. I was on my way to unemployment and living with my parents.  I felt empty.

We connected in Ottowa before our flight to Philadelphia. Yes, you read that right. We flew (thank you, miles!) Casablanca –> Lisbon –> Frankfurt (Overnight on points!) –> Ottowa –> Philadelphia.

We went through Canadian customs with sudden smiles on our faces. NORTH! AMERICAN! ENGLISH! The kindly agent had told us to go get our bags since leaving Frankfurt we were told they’d be checked through to the US. They wouldn’t be. If it weren’t for him we’d have had some other adventures!

When we went through US Customs in Ottowa (since we were on a shuttle flight to Philadelphia) I started to get tense. I hadn’t seen my family in 8 months. Would they be the same? Would I be the same? I hadn’t seen most of my friends. What were they like? I suddenly felt the huge divide of time from when we left and that moment. People had announced pregnancies and had the babies! So much had changed. I’d changed. But also not? I felt like I had been away not for 8 months but 8 years.

And like that, we were home. My parents jumped up and down (well, my mother. My father was on one of those knee scooter things after having serious ankle surgery in March) outside the F terminal at PHL. And like that it was over. I think my mom double checked that I had 10 fingers and 10 toes.

We were home.

I had tomato pie. I took the world’s longest shower. I slept for precisely 400 hours.

It felt like waking up from a dream.

In a lot of ways,  it still does.


Casablanca — Here’s Lookin’ at You, Craphole City I Never Want to See Again

Since we’ve been back the most common question after “So what was your favorite place?” that we get is “So what was your least favorite place?” We went to so many amazing places and saw so many amazing things that answering the first question is difficult. Answering the second question is not difficult at all. Casablanca was easily the most terrible city we encountered. Horrible people, polluted, concrete sprawl. There was literally nothing redeeming about this place. We had to come to Casablanca because our flight to Frankfurt (via Lisbon) was flying out of Casablanca. We had to get to Frankfurt so we could fly home to America. People are always SO upset when they hear how awful Casablanca is, presumably because there’s a movie! And it’s called Casablanca! It’s a great movie! Casablanca has to be great! I have to question whether these people have actually SEEN the movie because even in the film, Casablanca is a shit hole filled with corrupt officials and murderous backstabbers. Life imitates art or vice-versa?

Getting to Casablanca from Essaouira was irritating because we had only 2 awful transit options. There was ONE bus that took 7-8 hours driving up the coast. This was ruled out because it left at some obscene time and because after one coastal bus turned vomitorium we were not ready to take another ride. The other choice, equally long, was to backtrack by bus to Marrakech and then take the train to Casablanca. This had a few benefits in that, first, I love taking trains and secondly, it wasn’t even going to be that bad a transfer as the bus station and train station in Marrakech are literally in the same building. So bus to train it was. Little did we know how awful this was going to be.

The bus morning bus ride to Marrakech wasn’t actually that remarkable. There did seem to be an awful lot more white people on this bus (and irritating white people at that –ethnic pants wearing dreadlock sporting long-term travel types that are pretty ubiquitous in SE Asia) but so be it. We got to the bus station which was pretty chaotic but nothing insane. Some British gap year girls (inappropriately dressed for a muslim country) were loudly berating the train ticket counter staff because they couldn’t purchase a train ticket to Essaouira. I was able to politely (and, inside, gleefully) inform them that they can’t buy a train ticket to Essaouira because THERE IS NO TRAIN TO ESSAOUIRA. “WHAT!? NO TRAIN?! HOW ARE WE SUPPOSED TO GET THERE!?” Uh, take the bus dummies. I was told that they would NOT be taking a bus and they asked where they could find a private driver. I shrugged my shoulders and they huffily walked away. I hope those snotty children had a horrible day.

There was a bit of confusion about which track we were supposed to be on and we boarded a train that, for about 10 minutes, we thought might be the wrong train (in turned out to be the correct one in the end).  I don’t know what about my public transit experiences in Morocco made me think that their train system would be nice, but I just had this notion for some reason. It was difficult to find seats on the train but we eventually did. A young woman was sitting across from me spitting me DEATH STARES because I’d had the gall to ask her to move her shopping bags off the seat so I could sit in it. He rage eventually grew too hot and she actually got up and moved about 30 minutes into the trip. I want to try to accurately put into words how uncomfortable this train ride was but I won’t do it justice. We’d just gotten off a 4 hour bus ride. We were sweating. It was hot. The air conditioning on the train was broken or never worked in the first place. It must have been at least 95 degrees in that train car. The seats were very close together. Across from me were two French gap year kids one of whom was wearing very short shorts and insisted on putting his foot up the whole time. I got to know him…intimately…without ever exchanging a word.  The train interior was dusty and dirty and gross. The landscape was barren and boring. It was 4 hours of just sheer boredom, discomfort, sweat and a Frenchman’s scrotum directly in my field of view.

We finally arrived in Casablanca. I was hot, dirty, hungry and furious. And now I was going to have to haggle with a Moroccan cab driver. I was not going to take any shit because I just WAS.NOT.IN.THE.MOOD. We were accosted from the moment we left the station by cab drivers. This is fine, this is standard.  Our strategy in these situations is to bypass the most aggressive cabbies and find the one minding his own business smoking a cigarette away from the herd. We tried to do this but a few of the cabbies broke off from the herd and began following us. We got to negotiating and they quoted us some outrageous price – Like $6 to go less than a mile and a half. I was in no mood for this nonsense. We must have haggled and walked away from about 4 different cab drivers. They were getting mad at us for shopping around and they began to yell at us. We finally found a guy willing to bargain a BIT and we just gave up and got in his cab. Screaming cab drivers was our welcome to Casablanca.

We went to our hotel. We only had about 24 hours in Casablanca. I had wanted to go see the ONE tourist site worth seeing, the Hassan II Mosque which is one of the biggest in the world and it sits right on the coast line but it was too late in the day and we were exhausted.

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Beautiful. Too bad I’ll NEVER SEE IT IN PERSON.

The other thing tourists here want to do (not that there are many because Casablanca pretty well sucks) is go to “Rick’s Café” like from the movie.  I have good news and bad news. The good news is that you CAN go to Rick’s! The bad news is that it was opened in 2004, so not exactly authentic. That means that for 60 years there was not a single soul in all of Casablanca who had the bright idea to open up a crappy bar, slap a “Rick’s” sign above it and charge way too much for shitty drinks to be consumed by dumb tourists with deep pockets. That boggles my mind.

We were hungry and thirsty so we went out to go find a store to get some snacks and drinks. We walked around for about an hour and literally nothing about this city appealed to us. It’s gray, dirty and depressing in an urban sprawl kind of way. There is an immaculate new tram system (which almost ran us over) but I am not sure exactly where it goes that would be useful for us. We were accosted by an insane man with a lazy eye on a street corner. He spoke excellent English which sent alarm bells ringing in my head. Anyone that speaks fluent English that tries to strike up a convo with a tourist on a street corner is up to no good. He actually, if memory serves, tried to ask me a question about sports. He just sidled up to me and asked “Do you like football?” I said, “Yeah, it’s great” and bolted across the street. We were whistled at, touted, and generally stared at as we walked around the city. I haven’t felt that unwelcome in a place in a while. We got some biscuits and waters and went back to the hotel. We rested. Dinner time approached. Kat and I looked at each other. We’d had 8 hours on buses, trains and cabs. We were sweaty and dirty. We were just done. Done with Casablanca, Done with Morocco and, in this moment, really done with traveling in general. These are the moments, and there are many of them, that people don’t think about when they hear the words “around the world trip.” In that moment, there was only thing to do:

This is, in fact, the actual McDonald's we ate at though this is not our photo.

This is, in fact, the actual McDonald’s we ate at though this is not our photo. 20 dirhams for a filet-o-fish?! Highway robbery!

Judge us. I don’t care. I’d do it again in a heartbeat. Sometimes you just need a taste of home. We didn’t want to deal with finding a restaurant, getting there, dealing with the language barrier. We just wanted something quick and easy and, most of all, familiar. We darted to a McDonald’s we’d seen earlier in the day, went inside, ordered (it was the most crowded, chaotic McDonald’s I’d ever been in. MOBS of teenagers and a very harried employee taking peoples’ orders with a wireless device) got our stuff to go and bolted back to the hotel, refusing to look at anyone or anything. We ate our burgers and fries happily in bed and I hooked our laptop up to the tv and we watched American sitcoms. Casablanca was all happening right outside our window but it might as well have been a million miles away. We had traveled tens of thousands of miles over seven months and now we were doing all we could to try to feel like we were back in America. It was time for us to come home.

NOTE – Apologies for the lack of photos. We took no actual photos of Casablanca because why on Earth would we want to remember this place?

Essaouira – Vomit Bus to Paradise

We were happy to be taking leave of the all-inclusive resort in Agadir and all the pasty British people that live there. Very happy to finally check out and remove that goddamn blue wristband that I had to wear for 5 days to mark myself as one of the white tourist cattle that was entitled to free, crappy, all-you-can-drink martinis. Blerg. We were VERY excited for our next destination – Essaouira. A laid-back, quiet beach town famous for its windsurfing. When we told Moroccans we were headed to Essaouira they ALL said the same thing: “Lucky you!”

We got out of the taxi leaving the chatty driver and the (almost definitely) prostitute (see previous post) behind. We had gone to the bus station a few days earlier to buy our bus tickets in person because, surprise, the bus company’s website was broken (from what I can gather it NEVER works as when I asked hotel staff to assist in purchasing the tickets I was met with a shoulder shrug). So we’re waiting there for the bus…and waiting….and waiting. We began to panic that we’d done something wrong or that the bus was coming to a different part of the station or a different station entirely. No one spoke any English and even if they had, the bus station workers were much too engrossed in smoking cigarettes and scowling at anyone resembling a paying customer to answer my questions. So….we just waited. The bus did eventually arrive, an hour late, but better late than never.

The bus ride was pretty short – maybe only 3-4 hours. It was one of the most beautiful bus rides I have ever experienced. It was also one of the most awful. Not quite as bad as Burma’s 12 hour JESUS-I-HAVE-TO-PEE-BUT-THERE-ARE-40-MONKS-IN-MY-WAY-AND-THE-BUS-DOESN’T-MAKE-ANY-STOPS variety, but still bad. The route took us north directly (and I mean DIRECTLY) on Morocco’s rocky picturesque coastline. It was amazing scenery to look out as our bus drove along cliffs over the Atlantic. Occasionally you’d see caves where people had made homes right into the rocks. The road was incredibly twisty-turny and, on top of that, it also would go up incredibly steep climbs and then down steep drops. This did not abate for 3 hours. I do NOT get car sick EVER but even I was feeling a bit queasy. The 80 year old woman behind us was not of as stout a constitution as us. She immediately began vomiting into a plastic bag. Violent, wretching, incredibly smelly vomiting. This also went on for 3 hours. It was a situation where it was just so awful but she looked so frail and old. As a frequent traveler, my initial reaction to anything that inconveniences me is rage but, as Kat said to me, “This is somebody’s grandmother. How would you feel if that were your grandmother?” Mrs. Banh Mi makes me a better person every day.

Of course, that’s all in retrospect. At the time, I was not a happy camper. We stopped at a rest stop – really more of a shack with toilets (holes in the ground) and a few guys running a coal barbecue with about 6 whole animal carcasses hanging next to them. Normally I live for that sort of stuff but I wasn’t in the mood for food. Kat wanted some potato chips. We asked how much and were told some exorbitant sum like 20 dirhams — about $2.50.  This was highway robbery. That bag of chips wouldn’t cost that much in AMERICA, much less in bumblefuck western Morocco. Kat didn’t care. Her stomach wasn’t feeling right and she needed some starch in there. I refused to pay (and the guy refused to bargain). So for the umpteenth time a minor domestic ensued. These always play out the same way. Kat wants something. I am too cheap to pay for it. She gets upset. I realize I’ve made a mistake and relent. But THEN she doesn’t WANT it anymore. So we both sit in silence for 10 minutes until we both just agree to get over it. Needless to say, Mrs. Banh Mi got her chips in the end – along with an apology from me.

We got back on the bus. More wretching ensued. I cranked up my ipod and tried to remember Buddha’s teaching of the impermanence of the totality of human existence.

We finally arrived at Essaouira. We were staying at a traditional Moroccan home-stay called a riad. Homestay isn’t quite right. Imagine a B&B in a traditional Moroccan home. A guy from our riad was there to meet us at the bus station. Our bus was hours late and he had waited there the whole time. He also insisted on carrying our bags. For our whole stay in Essaouira he helped us, guided us and was generally kind beyond belief. When Kat’s watch broke he INSISTED on fixing it himself. It’s small kindnesses like this that transcend cultural and language boundaries that make longterm travel a special thing.

Our riad ( Riad Malaika was so wonderful. Friendly staff, beautiful building.

The view from right outside our room looking straight down to the fountain in the central courtyard. The breeze blowing over the water helps keep the building cool.

The view from right outside our room looking straight down to the fountain in the central courtyard. The breeze blowing over the water helps keep the building cool.

Our hallway

Our hallway

Hell, even the entryway into our bathroom was amazing

Hell, even the entryway into our bathroom was amazing

We took breakfast on the roof each morning

We took breakfast on the roof each morning

Essaouira is a popular destination and has been for quite some time. Apparently folks like Jimi Hendrix spent time here and this was a popular hippie/backpacking spot back in the 60’s. It remains a beautiful town with a historic medina feel despite the influx of tourism. There were a TON of tourists there – but they were mostly Moroccan families (though there was certainly no shortage of white people). It was the only place in Morocco where I was openly offered drugs – twice. There did seem to be a few hippy-types who would come to restaurants high as all hell and sit there and smoke cigarettes and drink coca-cola. We spent our time there wandering the windy streets inside the old fortress walls, walking on the (INCREDIBLY) windy beach and generally relaxing in the riad which despite the heat outside was cool and breezy with white walls and the traditional fountain in the center of the ground floor. We both loved being there and were very sad to leave. There isn’t a TON to do but that’s not the point. You just go and let the chill vibe wash over you.

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Of course, there’s always time for goofing around:


Whenever I think of Essaouira, I will think of this picture:


Americans attach a lot preconceived notions to Islam and especially the Burqa and to the woman underneath it. This woman in her burqa and her sunhat says a lot to me. When a friend of mine asked if I had learned any grand truism about life from my trip I said not anything huge other than the universality that, really, we’re all just trying to live our lives and, hopefully, we’re lucky enough that once in a while we can spend a sunny day at the beach with the people that we love. I felt pretty awful about snapping this picture (we tried to do it surreptitiously) because this woman didn’t leave the house trying to be some sort of cross-cultural example to be displayed to the world — but she just spoke to me so much that I had to take it.

On our final night we elected to have dinner in the riad, prepared by the staff. We ordered the day before and we were able to watch (and smell) ALL DAY as the staff prepared our dinner. One of the cooks was preparing to leave for the day as we were eating. I saw her go into a room wearing one headscarf and come out in a different, more modern, headscarf. She shyly came over and asked how we were enjoying the food. It was, of course, amazingly delicious and we told her so. She smiled brightly and said, “Oh good! Very good!” and she hustled out the door. I loved that little interaction. She was proud of all the work she had put in all day and wanted a little bit of recognition. Chefs, no matter where they are from, are always the same.

This was a delicious lemony eggplant and ground lamb thing that was served as a starter.

This was a delicious lemony eggplant and ground lamb thing that was served as a starter.

The traditional and ubiquitous Moroccan soup, Harira. Usually made of chick peas, tomatoes and lentils.

The traditional and ubiquitous Moroccan soup, Harira. Usually made of chick peas, tomatoes and lentils.

The main course, obviously HAD to be, the classic tagine. I forget the one on the right but the one on the left was a beef and prune tagine which BLEW OUR MINDS. The best thing we ate in Morocco hands down.

The main course, obviously HAD to be, the classic tagine. I forget the one on the right but the one on the left was a beef and prune tagine which BLEW OUR MINDS. The best thing we ate in Morocco hands down.

Dessert was a series of cute handmade cookies -- including one that was shaped like the pointy cone-shaped hood that you see many older Moroccan men wearing

Dessert was a series of cute handmade cookies — including one that was shaped like the pointy cone-shaped hood that you see many older Moroccan men wearing

And, of course, no Moroccan meal is complete without mint tea. The teapot is gorgeous. Let's just agree to ignore that definitely racist handle cover.

And, of course, no Moroccan meal is complete without mint tea. The teapot is gorgeous. Let’s just agree to ignore that definitely racist handle cover.

After a few days and a wistful, windy walk on the beach it was time to leave. Our time in Morocco was coming to a close. We had a flight to catch out of Casablanca in two days. We had heard that Casablanca (correctly, as it turns out) is a miserable shithole and not worth spending any time in. So we only had one night budgeted there. We also had a hellish travel day ahead of us to get there. If you are a Banhmiandyou fan who likes to read posts where I am furious and full of rage, just you wait. This next one on our journey to, time in, and chaotic escape from Casablanca is a doozy.

All Inclusive Agadir: Morocco Makes a Crap Martini

Since Morocco was going to be our last stop on the trip, we wanted to go out with a blast. Morocco is a pretty neat country in that it’s got a lot of stuff to offer — mountains, deserts and beaches. After spending over a month in the UK, which was every bit the tropical paradise you imagine, we decided we wanted a beach vacation. So after our time in hot, dusty Marakech some time on the coast sounded grand.

We decided to try something new — 4 days at an all inclusive five star resort. We’d never done anything like this before, but it sounded pretty great. We’d stayed in nice hotels all over the world on points (thanks Starwood!) but we ALWAYS encountered the same problem at these places. They were usually a bit out of the way and the food at the hotels was always insanely expensive. So getting 3 meals a day on a budget was always a challenge. The hotel staff was never much help either because they just assumed that because we were staying at their fancy hotel that we could spend more than, oh, $4 on a meal. Loyal readers will remember the embarrassing situation we had in Turkey where the staff balked at helping us book bus tickets because we could hire a private driver for “only 400 euro.” So the idea of an all-inclusive resort where we wouldn’t have to worry EVER about where to eat, how to get there and how much it would cost sounded GREAT. At this point in the trip, we were both just FED UP with logistics planning.

We boarded a bus from Marakech to Agadir. Agadir is in Morocco, but it isn’t Morocco. It’s a lot like Nha Trang in Vietnam. It’s a beach resort town completely devoid of culture or personality. It’s got an airport and loads of British and Spaniards fly directly there, hit the beach for a week, gorge themselves at the resort buffet and then jet back home. The bus ride, from what I remember, was relatively uneventful (there would be much, much, MUCH worse Moroccan mass transit experiences to come in our future). One little quirk of bus travel in Morocco is that you have to pay a nominal extra fee for your bags – like 50 cents or so. So, take note! If you’re traveling in Morocco, this is not a scam. Just the way it is.

The bus took about 3-4 hours (with a stop at a rest stop/prayer area. The bus driver might have stopped to pray because we were stopped there for a LONG time). It was mostly highway driving with relatively boring desert scenery. Something I noted about Moroccan buses or, rather, about Moroccan bus passengers, there is gum EVERYWHERE in Moroccan buses. People chew gum and then just shove it in any ol’ nook or crevice they can find in between the seats. It’s pretty gross. Don’t worry, they also spit it onto the ground (I stepped in gum TWICE while we were in Morocco). We got out of the bus at the Agadir station, which is about a 10 minute drive from the beach. We found a cab driver to agree to our price (which I knew was too much, but cab drivers at train and bus stations the world over run a cartel and you will pretty much NEVER get a fair price there, so just deal with it). So we got in this guy’s car, he shuts the door and immediately an argument breaks out between him and some other cabbies. No idea about what. Kat and I have seen this movie before. We waited a minute to see if it would end. It didn’t. We just got out of the cab (we ALWAYS keep our bags in the backseat with us, never in the trunk) and started walking away. Another cabbie ushered us away and we got into his car and he took us to the resort.

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So, this is all very nice, right? And, sure, the grounds were nice. You can’t really tell because it was cloudy for the most of the time we were there, but just outside this resort area was the beach. Like, 15 seconds walk. So best of all worlds! Pool! Beach! Unlimited booze! Unlimited food! What’s not to like?!

I cannot accurately describe the scale of this place to you. To walk from our room to the main lobby was at least a 7-10 minute walk. There were hundreds upon hundreds of rooms. Meals were taken in two HUGE dining halls with hundreds of other people.  Check-in was delayed for some reason. While other people ranted and raved and screamed (because they came ALL THE WAY FROM ENGLAND. That’s, like, TWO HOURS AWAY!) we just politely say “Oh, ok, let us know when things are ready. These things happen.” Let it be known, that you should ALWAYS be kind to the people that control where you sleep. We eventually got our room key (we got lost going there, THAT’S how huge this place was). We walked in and…there must be some mistake. We were in a 3 room, two bath suite with a yard that went directly out to the beach. A suite that cost over $1000 per night. Slowly we pieced together that the resort must be overbooked and because we treated the woman at the front desk like a person and not an animal, she slipped us an upgrade.

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So! Free food and booze! Sweet suite upgrade! Beach access! How could we not love this?! Well…it turns out that we just don’t like the all-inclusive lifestyle. First, you’re surrounded by pasty English people who have no other interests than getting drunk, eating obscene amounts of food, and also getting drunk. There’s not much to DO other than eat and get drunk yourself. The food, I have to say, really was pretty good…given that they fed a thousand people a day. By far the best buffet food I’ve eaten. The resort also had two smaller restaurants that you could go to if you booked a day or two in advance. We did do that one night and went to the Moroccan themed restaurant and, I have to say, it really was lovely. But I can’t really say many other good things about this place. It’s just so HUGE that it’s incredibly impersonal and you feel like fat, white people cattle being herded from feeding session, to the beach, back to the next feeding session. On top of that, there just isn’t much to DO. It’s not like you can go out in Agadir, which is nothing more than resorts and concrete. They have a fake souk set up for the more adventurous English tourists who want to buy fake handicrafts to bring home to Middlesborough or Sunderland or whatever godawful middle England place they’re from.

So Kat and I basically did nothing. We ate a lot of food. Drank a lot of booze  (Free minibar even!). We slept. It was nice…but it was also sort of not enjoyable for us. There wasn’t any freedom. There wasn’t anything interesting. I found myself actually being sort of depressed there. I would think about how sad I was that most tourists at the resort would not go out and see what real Morocco had to offer. I was sad at how the local staff at the resort was treated by some of the more narrow-minded tourists. I was sort of put off by the the way I was treated by the staff — another white dumdum without a name. Just a fat, rich tourist with an all-inclusive wristband. Oh, did I mention we had to wear a blue wristband 24/7? It was easy being at the resort and after 7 months of travel, I thought I wanted easy. Turns out that long-term travel had changed me. I didn’t want easy. I wanted travel. I wanted a cultural exchange. I wanted an experience. I wanted a good story to tell. I didn’t want it to be difficult either…but, truly, I now believe that for a travel experience to change your life, you have to earn it.

But, what the hell. I’m at an all-inclusive resort, so let’s live it up. I tried and failed for 3 straight nights to order a martini at the bar. Turns out that a Muslim guy named Moustafa isn’t exactly the best fellow to be tending your bar. Who would’ve seen that coming?

I dub thee FAIL BAR

I dub thee FAIL BAR

Turns out that in France if you order a “martini” you’ll just get a cold glass of sweet vermouth. Who knew? So after that fail, I asked for a “Vodka martini.” This was met with a side-eye and before I could stop him, he just dumped sweet vermouth and vodka in a glass, dumped some ice on top and handed it to me. I figured I must be ordering the drink wrong. Maybe it’s called something else? After all, it’s a martini. It’s literally TWO INGREDIENTS and it’s a CLASSIC drink, so surely they’ve must know it. Yet, I continued to stubbornly ask for the same thing and somehow expect different results. The next time I asked for a “Vodka Martini” I pointed at the cocktail shaker and made a shaking motion. Again, side-eye. Basically, he just made the same crap drink again but this time he just made it in the shaker. I’m sure he was thinking “Why does this asshole care whether I make his weirdo drink one way or another way?”

I finally got fed up. It was our last night. We were sitting in the outdoor area while there was some horrifyingly racist black African tribal themed performance going on in the theater. I went up to the bar and ordered a “vodka martini.” Moustafa, I’m sure also fed up with me by me, warily began assembling the ingredients. I stopped him. NO. I pointed at each bottle I wanted. I point at the shaker. I pointed at the ice. I pointed at the glass I wanted. It took a few minutes but I walked Moustafa through all the steps of making the martini I wanted. I thought eventually a lightbulb would go off and he’d go “Ahhh! So you wanted a blahblah!” but no. This was clearly foreign to him and he seemed quite intrigued by how this would all turn out. Eventually, the martini was made and served. Was it a great martini? No. But it also wasn’t a cold cup of sweet vermouth, so I counted that as a victory. I gave Moustafa a big tip for his trouble, but I’m pretty sure if he could have struck me dead at that moment, he would have happily done so.

After 4 days in Agadir, it was time to go to our next destination, which we were really, really excited about: Essaouira, another beach town but one with a totally different vibe. Known as a laid back hippy town, popular with Jimi Hendrix, now well known for it’s wind-surfing and giant annual music festival. We were done with Agadir, but it wasn’t quite done with us. We got into a cab…but there was already a guy in the passenger seat. He was chatting away with the driver and we just assumed they were friends. Nope! Turns out the guy was from Kuwait and was on his way to another resort. We chatted with him for a bit, nice fellow. Our driver dropped him off at his resort. He got out and our driver turned to us and said “Very rich! Kuwait!” Uh, ok. Thanks? We can go to the bus station now? Yes yes, he insists. He drives around to the back of the resort and we see a woman walking around the parking lot. He honks at her, they exchange a few words and she gets in. Here’s where things get weird. It was about 10 am. The woman had a full face of night-time make-up and was wearing a velour tracksuit. I’d seen women in Morocco wearing this exact same uniform before in Marakech. I can’t be 100% sure, but I’m almost positive that this is the uniform of the Moroccan prostitute. It all fit. It wouldn’t surprise me if she had had a client at the resort the night before. Unclear to me whether our cabbie had arranged to pick her up or just happened on her by chance. Also unclear whether he was taking her somewhere or whether he was her next client. All I know is that she got in the cab and refused to look at us and refused to speak. Ice cold.

We desperately wanted to leave Agadir. We waited for our bus. And waited. And waited. After over an hour delay, our bus finally arrived. We boarded. And then we sat there. And sat there. The guy next to me got into a screaming match with the driver. He was eventually ordered off the bus. I have no idea why. But he had to get his luggage from the bottom. Conveniently for everyone, it was at the back. So everyone’s luggage was off-loaded and then re-loaded. FINALLY we got on our way. FINALLY, out of Agadir. Little did I know what horrors would await us on the bus ride to Essaouira. Let me tell you, if you haven’t ridden a bus with the sounds and smells of an 80 year old Moroccan woman violently vomiting right next to you, then you haven’t fully lived life. But that’s a story for our next post.

Marrakech: it’s not you, it’s us.

I had been to Morocco before. It was 2003 and I was studying abroad in Spain and a few friends and I stayed up one night talking about where we could go that would be DIFFERENT. At this point I was dreaming in Spanish, devouring lady mags with my handy dictionary, and was T-9 texting with friends making plans to drink copious amounts of red wine mixed with Coca-Cola before shaking my tailfeather at an outdoor disco. It was my first time out of the country and I wanted to see as much as I could and go somewhere as far away as I could imagine.

That place was Morocco.

omnipresent mint tea

omnipresent mint tea

So with a backpack, three changes of clothes, I set out to explore Morocco and it sounds like the beginning of an ERASMUS joke. “So a Pakistani woman, three Americans (one African-American) and a Finn take the ferry from Malaga to Tangier” and off we were for two weeks in Morocco. DURING RAMADAN.

I cried over the beauty of Chefchaouen. I bought a ton of crap in the souks in Marrakech. A guy kicked me in the souks in Fez. I still have a bump on my shin from it. I figured I’d never go back.

But after a rainy month in the UK, Dave and I wanted to return home tan at least since returning tan AND skinny wasn’t in the cards after the BEER-AND-CHEESE FEST that was visiting all of Europe and with just two precious weeks left in June, Northern Africa was bang for our buck in terms of sun, money, and an air of the exotic. We had met lovely Tunisians just the week before and had we known we might have headed there instead but Morocco was it and we were off.


We flew from Edinburgh to Marrakech and the second we stepped off the plane the deep, pulsating desert heat hit us. Being ridiculous, grizzled backpackers by this point we took the local bus to our five star Starwood hotel (booked on points) and it wasn’t even funny anymore. We had done this how many times? We didn’t blink at the bellhop eyeing our dusty bags as we checked in and then were upgraded. We immediately did laundry in the hotel bathtub which we proceeded to do daily because the heat dried everything in about 20 minutes.

We stayed at the Le Meridien N’Fis on an excellent use of points at 3,000 per night which included breakfast which was a DEAL. Situated right between the “cosmopolitan” ville nouveau and the medina (the old, walled city) we figured this would be an ideal spot to work on our tans during the heat of the day and explore during the mornings and evenings.


Our first afternoon we took a cab to the medina and walked around. We miscalculated when the “heat of the day” was over and started out around 4pm which meant that by 5pm we were absolutely soaked with sweat and sought comfort in a small cafe where we both drank 5 L of water and had some hot mint tea (which was oddly helpful). The heat of the day in Marrakech in June was stifling. 110 F. 113 F. The dry heat made it tricky — upon walking out of the hotel we’d remark “oh this isn’t bad!”. But then, it was bad. And we were stuck. We ate a nondescript dinner of tagine (our first of about 400 while there) and slept the deep yet unfulfilling sleep of the dehydrated.


The next day we ate a huge breakfast, idled by the pool and then at 5:30pm walked the mile or so into the medina. Still yet, we didn’t learn our lesson and it was impossibly hot but we were stubborn so there’s really no lesson at all then when faced with our pale, western resolve. We got lost in the souks and I noted that things looked a bit fresher than when I was there last. Also, there were about eight million more people there. All of them were puffy and English. A few were lithe and Spanish. We found a great cafe on the main square to people watch and then at an early hour for Moroccans and their European neighbors but late for us since we were starving we set off to eat at the touristy (but quite fun, actually) Jemaa el Fna market place. Dozens of white tents pop up and you can eat street food (though sanitized for tourism) and people watch some more.

our "friend" who spoke a bit of English, French, Portuguese, German, etc...

our “friend” who spoke a bit of English, French, Portuguese, German, etc…

After dark, we walked home along Mohammed V and were struck by the number of Moroccans who were out enjoying the cool breeze. Families having picnics. Kids on bikes. It was really pleasant to walk through “real” Morocco amid the tourist craziness of the Medina. The city came alive with locals.


The next day we set out a bit earlier to visit Ben Youssef Madrasa — the ancient Islamic college in the center of town. We enjoyed the architecture very much — I am a HUGE sucker for modern (or as it were, ancient!) Moroccan decor so I ate it up. After sightseeing before lunch, we lazed at our (really nice, actually) hotel pool before getting dressed up for a “nice dinner” in the ville nouveau.


Unfortunately, the restaurant we wanted to visit was closed on this particular day of the week and while we looked around for some of the cosmopolitan ville noveau, we mostly saw other lost tourists looking for the same thing, rich people in very nice cars and then the very poor selling trinkets. By this point Marrakech had drained DaveKlein and he was OVER. IT. I sort of see how he felt — Moroccans are a friendly people in certain situations. We sort of longed for the innate friendliness of the Thais, the Turks… Moroccans were tougher, more grizzled by tourism in addition to their almost ingrained business sense and language abilities. I don’t begrudge them this (after seeing what the puffy English and the lithe Spanish were wearing ) but it did make things seem oddly more difficult. It was the one Muslim country we had visited where tourists aren’t allowed in most mosques.





After being lost and very hot while dressed “nicely” we just gave up the next day and sat by the pool almost exclusively. We went to a neighborhood coffee shop for lunch and then did the least backpacker-y thing we could think of for dinner: room service.

It was glorious.


Marrakech is smokey. Hot. Beguiling. Dirty. European yet Not. Oldey timey but not. It was just not what Dave wanted. I had been there before and I think that had sort of jaded my view. My first memories of Marrakech were SO out there and crazy and I was open to the experience. This time around we were a ticking time bomb of Ennui. We wanted out, but just not yet. We talked so much in Morocco about dying to be home and now that we’ve been home for two months I will share with you this:

we were snotty, ungrateful jerks. We wanted a dryer. I wanted to see my father walk after a surgery put him out of commission for months while we were gone. We wanted to see Dave’s grandmother. We wanted a dryer. We didn’t want the constant negotiations. We just wanted home.


Marrakech: I’m sorry we mistreated you. There was a pool and room service had burgers and we were lousy guests.


Do you like old people, open water and rolling green hills? Go to Loch Lomand!(?)

Before we jaunted to Glasgow to eat well, generally feel puffy yet attractive and look at some amazing art we took a wee (HAR HAR) trip to Balloch from Edinburgh. The hour train ride flew by and in no time we made it to Balloch where we’d set out to explore Loch Lomand.

ahh the scottish countryside

ahh the scottish countryside

Here’s where we were grizzled travelers who were a bit over it. And were actually appropriately researched. We know Balloch was a tiny town, but the internets did not prepare us for how REALLY TINY a town it was. We had scheduled to have 20 hours in Balloch and for ONCE, the bed wasn’t too small, or too big, it was JUST RIGHT.

Though it was big enough for a confluence of many of my favorite types of humans

Though it was big enough for a confluence of many of my favorite types of humans

Our B&B was billed as being across the street from the train station, but for some reason it was still a bit of a SHOCK that it was in fact, through a small chain link fence and across a narrow road from the train station. It was a VERY small B&B — three rooms in a kindly couple’s house who I think were in their 50’s? The room was immaculate and Ikea chic, but like Hemnes chic, not Malm chic for all my budget-minded Ikea catalogers. The price was right at 30 pounds a person which included a really terrific breakfast but sadly for DK, no haggis.

We dropped our bags and immediately set out to find the local tourist office. It was precisely two blocks away.

The gateway to the loch

The gateway to the loch

We saw “the main drag” which extended exactly one block each way from the tourist office. We walked along and waved the locals, most of which were just killing time in their wheelchairs waiting for the blue light specials for dinner at the seven restaurants (which were all in the aforementioned two block strip).


The thing to do in Balloch is take a Loch Lomand (as it was pointed out to us, it’s Lah-MOND, not LOW-mond) boat cruise. We sprung for the two hour version (considering we had nothing else to do and we had already SEEN WHAT THERE WAS TO SEE in the previous 13 minutes).


It was cloudy, cold and drizzly (British weather for sure) but it was stunningly beautiful. I bet the guidebooks will hype this place more as time goes by — it’s really an afterthought of a tourist attraction.


After our river cruise we walked precisely 6 minutes to the “docks” and then walked back to the 2 block main street and gave up and had a beer.

"the docks"

“the docks”






Doing that Kate Winslet thing

Doing that Kate Winslet thing


Then we ate an early and sensible dinner (minus the sticky toffee pudding dessert) and spent the rest of the evening with headphones on watching separate netflix features because oddly, for a tiny town the internet was whip-fast and the ikea bed felt oddly like our ikea bedroom and we were just so tired from a few days of hustle and bustle. Maybe the folks in the wheelchairs knew what was up? I feel like Loch Lomand is where you go when you are taking your granny out for some fresh air before you take her to tea. Anyway, the effect was soothing. The lady of the house reminded me of a Scottish version of my tough but very elegant great Aunt and it immediately put me at ease. And we snoozed. Our. Faces. Off.

The next morning we ate our breakfast expertly cooked by the wife of the husband and wife duo and left our bags to go walk around the old Loch Lomand Castle.


Unfortunately, they were spraying the surrounding grounds with some pesticide? but you could still walk around the park. We waved at lots of dog walkers and remarked to ourselves how weird it was to be the only tourists around. Edinburgh was teaming with them — here we felt like we were the only ones passing through.  We had the park largely to ourselves which was picturesque.


I felt like every Jane Austen heroine tromping through the moor, taking the air, or whatever one in a petticoat who felt so many FEELINGS (including so much vexation and being cross!) was supposed to do. Dave enjoyed the walk but was ready to go and after looking at my Mr. Darcy(stein? berg?) it was a “RIGHT- let us to Glasgow” where we were in for a few days of scotch tasting, accent deciphering, and general readiness to trade up from British weather in hopes of some Moroccan sunshine.


Glasgow: The Baltimore of Scotland

You might read the title of this post and think that I am using the phrase “The Baltimore of Scotland” in a pejorative way. Rest assured that I most certainly am not. I went to college in Baltimore and I love that city. That grimy, gritty, blue-collar, drug-infested, relatively dangerous city. I really do. Because with all that comes character and an indomitable spirit. A sense of pride and heart that screams out “We don’t give a fuck if you don’t like us.” And for the brave who are willing to call it home and really mean it, the city will love you back in its way. Glasgow is much the same. I quickly fell in love with this city of obesity, rotted teeth and unintelligible accents.

Guerrilla street art in one of Glasgow's dirty streets. To me, quite successful as I don't understand it at all but it still MAKES ME FEEL ALL THE FEELINGS

Guerrilla street art in one of Glasgow’s dirty streets. To me, quite successful, as I don’t understand it at all but it still MAKES ME FEEL ALL THE FEELINGS

Glasgow and Edinburgh are only about an hour apart on the relatively inexpensive train (TAKE NOTE, ENGLAND. TRAINS DON’T HAVE TO COST ELEVENTY BILLION DOLLARS) but there are worlds of difference. The Edinburgh accent is that classic delightful Scottish brogue that we’re so familiar with. The Glaswegian accent sounds like a foreign language. I’d find myself working on a tape delay in conversations with people as I’d have to replay what they said in my brain and untwist the vowels to translate it to standard English. Whereas Edinburgh is quite a touristy city filled with parks and, of course, the stunning Hogwarts-esque castle on the rock that towers over the city, Glasgow has relatively few tourists and exists for its own pleasure.

An example of typical Glaswegian character. Back in the 80's someone put a traffic cone on this statue's head as a prank. It has stayed there for THIRTY YEARS just because people thought it was funny. The statue sits outside the city's main art museum.

An example of typical Glaswegian character. Back in the 80’s someone put a traffic cone on this statue’s head as a prank. It has stayed there for THIRTY YEARS just because people thought it was funny. The statue sits outside the city’s main art museum.

Something else that I loved about Glasgow that came as a total surprise to me is that the city has a subway! Not just any subway; the third oldest subway in the world behind London and Budapest, having opened in 1896. It’s one line that goes in a circle. It’s orange, so sometimes known as the Clockwork Orange (though I think that’s stupid). It’s a right of passage for the city’s university students to complete a “Sub-Crawl,” meaning in one straight session to get out at each of the system’s 15 stations and have a pint at the nearest pub.

Art in the Glasgow subway system. I like the message.

Art in the Glasgow subway system. I like the message.

One thing about the subway being so old is that the cars are really small (you basically are bumping knees with the people across from you) and HOLY JEBUS IT IS LOUD. I couldn’t quite figure out who uses it and for what. Some times we’d be on it and it’d be totally empty, other times professional folks and other times girls going to a hen-do. Always, though, insane people looking as if they’re clutching a knife inside their coat.

Mrs. Banh Mi loved that the system mascot is a penguin.

Mrs. Banh Mi loved that the system mascot is a penguin.


A typical glasgow subway station. Pretty oldey-timey, right?

A typical glasgow subway station. Pretty oldey-timey, right?

Alright, I’m sure that not everyone is a transit geek like me, so enough about the subway. Glasgow is home to a large student population and has some really hip places to go and, surprisingly, has some pretty stellar food. We ate very well in all of the UK, once again proving those old American stereotypes of Europe are worn, outdated and obnoxious. (Spoiler alert: French people are actually pretty nice and they don’t smell.) Of course, some stereotypes are born of truth: English teeth are pretty abysmal. We found a well-reviewed Indian restaurant in Glasgow and decided to give it a go as we hadn’t had proper Indian since Malaysia. We’d had a “curry” in London, but that’s practically more English than it is Indian. Kat freaked out because she found Paper Masala Dosa on the menu, which we hadn’t been able to have have since we were in Kuala Lumpur.

Little known Katherine Sprissler-Klein factoid: Her favorite dinner is some form of starch with an assortment of dips. This fits the bill perfectly.

Little known Katherine Sprissler-Klein factoid: Her favorite dinner is some form of starch with an assortment of dips. This fits the bill perfectly. This is not a visual trick, btw. The dosa really is THAT big. Like three feet long. We also ordered mango lassis, which were a Bali and Malaysia staple we’d been craving.

I guess this is not a commonly ordered dish. After the meal the waiter came to our table and asked if we’d ever had paper dosa before and asked why we’d ordered it. We told him we had it many times in Malaysia and loved it. He said that he’d lived in Malaysia for many years and how he was so happy his restaurant could prepare it for us. Scots and Malays are basically the kindest people ever.

There are also some really cool pubs. We went to once place nearby the University that was in an old bank. It was really nice to be somewhere that felt out of the backpacker cheapskate scene and into a cool, underground urban vibe.

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While in Glasgow we went to two Scotch distilleries: Auchentoshan, which you’ve already read about and the Glengoyne distillery. I won’t bother writing much about Glengoyne as I found the tour sub-par and the whisky was unimpressive. One sort of neat thing about Glengoyne though is that the road that it is one (which our bus took to get there) is the dividing line between the lowlands and the highlands. The whisky is actually distilled in the highlands but the warehouse where it ages is in the lowlands.

Here's the road. The white building on the left is the actual distillery. The building in the middle across the road is the warehouse.

Here’s the road. The white building on the left is the actual distillery. The building in the middle across the road is the warehouse.

Getting to and from the distillery was a typical example of what makes Scotland so awesome and quaint. We got on the bus, really had no idea where we were going or what we were doing. We just told the driver “Uh…we’re going to Glengoyne.” He was all chipper and happy! “Oh! Grrrrrrreat!” We paid our fare and sat on the bus as it left the city and drove into the countryside past farms and sheep (LOTS of sheep) and through small towns. I was a bit nervous about where to get off, but I needn’t have been. The driver stopped right in front of the distillery (no stop was there or anything, he just stopped) and said “Ok! Here you go!” To get home, we just waited outside the distillery and when we saw the bus, we just flagged it down.

I really, really loved Glasgow. I much preferred it to Edinburgh, which to me was beautiful but way to touristy. Edinburgh felt too cutesy for its own good and too much like it existed just for Americans and Asians to come there and go “OH MY GOD IT’S JUST LIKE HARRY POTTER!” Glasgow doesn’t care about you. Glasgow doesn’t care what you want it to be. Glasgow’s doin’ Glasgow and I LOVE that about this city.