Saturday, July 11, 2009

Rabat to Marrakesh

I was a little worried about today's train ride. Yesterday, I'd strategically aimed for the new double-decker rapid train from Fez to Rabat, but today I was not going to have such a nice option. I've been on a lot of trains over the years so I'm not sure why I was concerned.

Maybe because I was thinking back to the second-class car I'd been on in Egypt in 2007. I didn't talk about it much on the blog post that day, but there's an element of over-enthusiasm involved in friendly interactions that can sometimes become a burden. I am an advocate of public transport abroad because I believe that taking public transport is what puts you in direct contact with normal people in the countries you're visiting. But I'm not a tireless advocate. Far from it. The first hour of having your photo taken and comparing notes about cars sold in your home country can be priceless. But several hours later, when you're still the pony in the dog-and-pony show, it can become an burden.

I needn't have worried. After I sat outside a photo shop and downloaded all my e-mail on their signal, I headed to Rabat's Ville train station and boarded a first class car. My compartment was fully of business people far more interested in their paperwork than in me. We traveled to Marrakesh in the air-conditioned car, the near-silence broken only when the coffee seller came by.

The train arrived a little late in Marrakesh, which meant that all the taxi drivers were on a shift change. It took me 20 minutes to get a taxi to Bab Laksour, and from there I shouldered my pack for the ten-minute walk into the old city.

I followed the instructions to proceed to the Mouassine Fountain, then turned down a small alley. "Easy," said the instructions.

No. Absolutely not easy. The alley snaked back into the medina, and had several branches. Right? Left?

"Excuse-moi, ou est Villa Mouassine?" I asked a guy with a Vespa in front of his door.

He had no idea. Neither did anyone else.

I found #86, which was the address. No sign. No indication of anything behind the door except a normal Moroccan home.

I backtracked and asked a ceramics seller by the fountain.

"Sometimes they don't have signs. You just have to knock."

So I walked back through the winding alley, past some really young feral kittens, and knocked on the door.

The front desk clerk answered and invited me in for a juice and some wi-fi. I went up to my room. I'd thought I'd scored a great sale price on a gorgeous riad-style home. But it was tired and uninspiring. I'd seen so many gorgeous guesthouses on websites. I'd scored wonderfully in Fez, not so wonderfully here.

But it was okay, so I unpacked and went outside to check out Marrakesh.

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