Monthly Archives: September 2013

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Kat

Kat

DK

DK

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.

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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.

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