From Malta to Marrakech, but Slowly

The next day it was, sadly, time to depart Malta. Or so I thought. Once again, Tunisia messed with my day. Geographically, the fastest way to get to Morocco from Malta is to cross North Africa, changing planes in Tunis, Tunisia or Benghazi, Libya. Politically, however, that route is not so fast. Since there was open fighting in the streets of Benghazi, I knew not to go there. But unknown to me, the Tunisians had planned a labor protest strike on the day of my flight. I’d been sitting for four hours in the airport when I knew that my connection was shot and I’d either have to stay in Malta or in Tunis for the night – if the plane even showed. If you read my blog about Tunis, you know that I wasn’t going to stay there again unless there was no choice! Honestly, you’d think I would have known better in the first place to plan anything through Tunisia, but I was foolishly optimistic.

It was at this point in the day that I did something I have never done before: requested my luggage back from the checked baggage area and refunded my ticket. Of course, Air Tunis wanted me to go back to the ticket office in town (now closed) and get my refund there, but I wasn’t going to be able to manage it since I planned to leave before they opened again. I’d been on the phone for 30 minutes with American Express arranging another ticket for the following day through Frankfurt, Germany. Not a geographically expedient route but one definitely going to arrive in Morocco! Fortunately, the Tunis Air office manager was in the airport waiting to get on this horribly belated flight, and he was willing to give me cash for my ticket and then get reimbursed later. So, standing next to my big suitcase in the airport, after writing a letter by hand about why I couldn’t make my connection and needed a refund, I received 102 Euros in cash. It all felt rather weird, but I got my bag and my money and headed on back to the hotel. I still had a bed, a swimming pool and a decent place for dinner. And no Tunisian gigolo to go with any of it!

The next day, I went to the airport again, and was perfectly successful on my Air Malta flight out to Frankfurt, then into Marrakech via Royal Air Maroc. No delays, no weird problems, and I even got a pretzel. The riad’s driver met me at the Marrakech airport. Holy crow, the airport. How the place has changed! I mean, really changed. The tiny little pink stucco airport I remembered was now a major construction project with two big stories and a wing addition the size of a football field. There was a Dior shop up in the departure area (There’s a departure area?? Not just one big room for everyone?). Oh my gosh. There were more than two gates. And what’s this? Mopeds everywhere! And what are those flowered fabrics I see? Hey! The women are driving the mopeds, sometimes by themselves! Amazing! And wonderful! What an improvement. The native ladies were still covering their heads but not their whole faces and they nearly all had on long Moroccan caftans with pants instead of burkas. Driving, wow – I was thrilled for them. I was a little sad not to see all the donkeys on the road but progress has arrived in Marrakech, no doubt about it.

Tradition is still alive, especially the best parts: my hotel welcomed me with rose water for my hands, and for my refreshment there were dates, milk and of course, mint tea. I was shown to a quiet and lovely room where I freshened up, ordered some dinner to be eaten later, and then girded myself for the souks. I had a list of things to purchase, a short time to do it, a strong will to negotiate and a fistful of dirhams. I was ready. The trading has gotten a little harder along with the signs of progress, though, as often happens. Still I did not despair. Before you knew it, I was saying “La shakrun” (“no thank you”) and walking past, never stopping, but making notes about the places I wanted to revisit. Fortunately now I know the souks well enough to know that I must be very observant about which way I go and how I move, and who is watching me. That way, I can find my way back to wherever I want to be, I will know who is up to no good and who I don’t want to bargain with.

An hour later that evening, when I had explored my options and knew where I wanted to shop, I began to negotiate and eventually, two hours later, I had most of the things on my list. I was even entertaining the idea of buying something the next day from the lamp shop. For now, I had to leave the cobras, dervishes, dates and food stalls of the Djema El Fna to hurry to have my dinner at the inn. And I am so glad I did! That is some of the best food I have had in a long time and every bit of it was all of my favorite foods. I don’t know how they did it, but we had a small tagine, some small couscous, a bistilla (pigeon, egg & cinnamon pie in a phyllo-like dough), and cucumber and tomato salad – everything I love was there. There were even little cookies for dessert. I was in heaven. What a way to end the day. Even Tunisia couldn’t spoil it!

My beautiful riad's courtyard.

My beautiful riad’s courtyard.

Spices in the souks

Spices in the souks

The souk in Marrakech, Morocco.  Men in traditional dress.

The souk in Marrakech, Morocco. Men in traditional dress.

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