Hang a left

“What did you do this weekend, Nova?”

“Oh, you know. Just fell in love with Morocco.”

Technically, I fell in love with Marrakech, which was something of a surprise even for me. It’s a place that I wanted to visit for several years, but had put off time and again because I wasn’t sure how the locals would receive a single white lady. Quite honestly, they didn’t do so hot on that front, but the place was so unfamiliar and chaotic that I didn’t really have a chance to get hung up on it. I mean, Moroccans hassle everyone and I, for one, was too busy trying not to step on a performance snake in the town square to worry about whether or not I was getting special attention as I passed through. In fact, I gave up on the idea that I shouldn’t be wandering around unescorted around the same time I stopped bothering to use a map – which is to say I quit both right away.

And I couldn’t have been any happier with the outcome.

If there’s one person to whom I owe a thank you, it’s the man who picked me up at the airport. Not because he did a great job. Quite the opposite, really. He showed up a full hour late carrying a piece of legal paper that simply had “Nava” written in ballpoint pen. Fifteen minutes later, he tried to drop me off at a building that even I could tell was a hospital.

“This is not the rijad,” I said. At the time, I wasn’t totally sure what a rijad was, but I was almost certain it wouldn’t have a sign for a  long-term care facility in front of it. “Rijad Nafis,” I added.

“Oh!” he said. “Rijad Nafis.” And with that he shifted his van into reverse and drove backwards down the street and directly into a concrete planter. Coincidentally, this pot was just past the series of narrow corridors that would lead me to my guesthouse, which made it the perfect landmark for my turn off. Every night when I walked home, I said to myself, “Left at the big mosque, through the door by the canon. If you pass the planter that looks like it’s been hit by a truck, you’ve gone too far.”

Back it up. Hang a left. Thanks, mister.


For the first two days in Marrakech, I stayed in the Medina, a major political, economic and cultural center for Muslims dating back to about 1070. I drank a few gallons of tea, ate some tajine and tried my best to find a pair of leather slippers that would fit my enormous feet. Then I visited a few palaces and sat in some gardens and drank another gallon of tea.

By day three I was no longer content to look at tiles, so I agreed to the rijad manager’s suggestion that I visit a waterfall. The only details he offered about the trip were that the falls were “very nice” and they were “45 kilometers away by car.” He did not mention that it was a 90-minute hike from there, nor did he warn me that the last little bit involved some moderate-level rock climbing.

“There’s no way I’m getting up there,” I said to the guide as I stared at the small cliff in front of me. He sighed as though he heard this complaint a hundred times a day. Then he clapped his hands and, out of nowhere, a man with a ladder appeared. The guide paid him the equivalent of $2 and gave me a small bow.

“Up you go,” he said.

The falls were worth the trip, but this view made the day. I call this photo, “Girl with tiny village.”

When I returned from the waterfall tour, Abdul, the rijad manager, was eager to sell me a camel ride. Because I’m a person who learns from my mistakes, I didn’t commit to that idea until I had more information.

“Maybe,” I said. “Where does it go? And how long is it?”

Abdul held up one finger while he dialed a cordless phone. After a quick conversation in Arabic, he handed the receiver to me. “Here,” he said. “You talk.”

“Hi….” I said into the phone, not sure what to say next.

“I’d like to ride a camel,” I announced. “Tomorrow,” I added, as though that would clear things up.

“What time you want to go?” the man on the other end asked.

“What time do I want to go?” I repeated. Shouldn’t that be up to the camel people? Since when am I calling the shots?

“Yes,” the man answered. “Daytime… nighttime…”

“Wait a minute,” I said. “You do nighttime camel rides?”

“Oh sure,” he said. “You want nighttime camel ride, no problem.”

Tempting as that sounded, I went with a morning tour because this man also couldn’t answer any of my questions about terrain or length or whether or not a camel can climb a ladder. I’m willing to take a few risks, but if I’m going to fall off a cliff, I at least want to see it coming.



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