The Tao of “Hiccups”

A fellow Cat 6 traveler, reading about our most recent space a adventure (which had gone off like clockwork!), inquired whether we ever experience any “hiccups” along the way in our travels.

Oh, Mercy, YES!

We’ve experienced FAILURE: on several occasions (like our planned trip to Italy this past fall from Norfolk) we haven’t gotten out at all. One time, a few years ago at McChord, we called the terminal before driving down, called again when we arrived at lodging on base and were assured of seat release, checked into lodging, and, as we turned from the counter with key in hand, looked at the newly updated lobby screen to find the flight had disappeared.

We’ve experienced MULTI-DAY DELAYS: Our longest waits (so far) have been five days bumbling around between Andrews, Dover, and McGuire before getting out to our desired destination – Ramstein.  On a different trip, five days at Ramstein (with a futile overnight to Spangdahlem tossed in the middle) before something came up to the west coast. The flight wasn’t going where we wanted to go, but we took it, as pickings were slim, and our sign up was close to expiring.

Generally, we wait between one and three days while trying to catch a hop.

 We’ve experienced BEING BOOTED OFF A FLIGHT WE WERE MANIFESTED THROUGH ON: Manifested to Souda By, Crete, we were kicked off at McGuire due to duty passengers and gear boarding. They and their gear put the plane over the allotted weight limit, so off we went.

 We’ve experienced “IMAGINATIVE” ROUTING:  After trying for two days to get home from Yokota, we decided to backtrack to Kadena on the PE, hoping to secure seats back through to SEATAC the next day at the beginning of the run. We didn’t make the cut at Kadena. We ended up, later that day, on a C5 going through Hickam and on to Travis and Kelly Field, in Texas. During the flight, those of us seated near the crew were informed that they expected “issues” to develop that would “require” a delay at Hickam for the weekend. Upon landing at Hickam, we took ourselves off the manifest, deciding to just wait and catch something going to McChord instead.  Four days later, we took off for McChord on a C 17 thirty minutes before our original flight finally “resolved” their “issues” and continued on their way.

We’ve experienced HAVING TO PURCHASE COMMERCIAL TICKETS: To get home from Hawaii (twice), Alaska (once), and various east coast locations (3-4 times, can’t remember for sure) when there were no flights posted on the 72 hour forecast. Sometimes, the cost of waiting around is more than the ticket home.

So, yes, like most space a travelers, we’ve had our share of “hiccups”. But, we expect them, and so we’re prepared – mentally, physically, emotionally, and monetarily. We’ve always got several back-up plans ready in case the first option doesn’t work out. Sometimes, fortunately rarely, the backup plan has been give up, go home, and try again another day.

Lady Cat 6 has said this before: my sponsor and I think of space a travel not as “vacation”, or even “trip”, but deliberately as “adventure”. Once we walk away from our front door, we’re officially ON our adventure. Whatever happens, however long we have to wait, whatever we end up doing while waiting, wherever we ultimately end up, all the things that could ruin a vacation or trip, are all just part of an adventure.

 We’ve met wonderful people and developed lasting friendships while sharing delays. We’ve had experiences while stranded that we never would have otherwise – like wandering the waterfront parks and eateries in Tacoma, taking a boat trippast the Academy in Annapolis Harbor, spending a sunny day at the shore in New Jersey, and relaxing on a beautiful train ride through the autumn forests from Ramstein to Spangdahlem (and back). Heck, I never would have discovered my favorite German restaurant in the whole US – the wonderful Sebastian’s Schnitzel Haus outside Fort Dix – if we hadn’t been stranded at McGuire! I’ve got the AMC Museum waiting  on my list to visit next time we get stuck at Dover.

The Tao of “Hiccups” states: “Hiccups” will happen. Be prepared for them, but do not fear them or fight them. Accept them as they come, for they are opportunities to enrich your travels, offering paths you would have missed wandering down in a direct line between point A and point B.

OMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMM 

The “Road” to Morocco: The Final Chapter

NOTE: At the time of our travel, the Moroccan Dirham (MAD) was 10 to 1 USD. Easy to divide MAD prices by 10 to get the US equivalent.

January 20: Our tour of Morocco began in the hustling (literally!) bustling port city of Tanger (Tangier).  Waving off swarms of “mosquitos”, we made our way across the port, through the medina gate and up the tangled streets to the Hotel Continental (http://www.hotel-tanger.com/lhotel-continental-tanger-034 website in French), our base in the city. 

 

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While the grand old place is somewhat run down, we chose it for its history (Churchill, and other luminaries and scoundrels have graced the premises over the years), and because it’s clearly visible right above the port and so fairly easy to get to, “unaided”, on foot.  Our room (second floor, no elevator but yes air conditioning and heat!) was a bit dated, but clean and comfortable, and the price ($45 USD, terrace-top breakfast included) was right! After wandering around the streets and having dinner, we turned in to rest up for a full day of exploring.

Following a lovely roof top breakfast overlooking the port, we set out. Our must-sees were the original American Legation museum,

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which documents Morocco’s being the first nation to recognize the US. Next, a ramble up the hill through the busy street markets to Saint Andrew’s Anglican Church (open for visits when there is not a service going on), and the Roman Catholic Cathedral (locked up except for Mass times). The Kasbah, a hike to the top of the town, has a fabulous museum documenting history and culture from pre-Roman to modern times.  We had a truly delectable fish dinner and lemon tart dessert near the hotel at Restaurant Rif Kebdani (http://www.rifkebdani.com/ ) – it was one of our best meals in Morocco!

January 22: Off to the train station (Gare) by taxi (take Petit Taxis in town in Morocco – Grand Taxis are for longer distances) for our departure for Fez. We bought tickets for the entire journey all at once at the Tanger station, so we wouldn’t have to be standing in line at every stop. First class tickets (6 seat enclosed compartments) are extremely reasonable, and guarantee a window seat if you want one. We found our car, compartment and seats, settled in, and relaxed for several hours watching the varied scenery glide by. Agricultural fields, olive groves, herds of sheep and goats with attendant shepherds/goatherds, seashore, Morocco’s got it all!

Arriving in Fez, we caught another Petit Taxi to the gate to the medina for our walk to our lodging at Dar Seffarine (http://www.darseffarine.com/ ). We would NEVER have found it on our own if Sponsor had not been there last year; he was picked up at the station and shown the way. Our room was one of the two deluxe suites and the price – $130 per night, was well worth it! There are, however, very nice rooms for considerably less. All include breakfast on the roof! Expect lots and lots of stairs and no elevators; there were 49 steps up to our room, and more to get to the rooftop garden!

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Both of our nights in Fez, we dined at the Dar (for an extra fee, a bit less than we would have spent at a restaurant). It was easier than trying to find a place to eat in a strange city, and afforded the opportunity to visit with the other guests. The typical Moroccan food was quite delicious!

Fez is a much larger city than Tanger, and the medina and souks are quite labyrinthine, so we had arranged for a guide (Rachid Sebbar – rsebbar2@gmail.com tel: 06 76 64 97 55) to help us make sense of it all and keep us from getting lost. It was fascinating seeing the local craftspeople, hearing their stories, and learning how life in the medina has not changed much over the centuries! People still bring their bread dough to the neighborhood baker, and bathe in the neighborhood hammam. Tile patterns are still cut and set by hand, cedar and other wood is hand-carved, copper and tin are hand-hammered into pots, pans, utensils, and cut into intricate lamps, and slippers and carpets are hand-sewn and woven. It was well worth having an expert on hand to explain, and introduce us to the crafters!

January 24: Caught the train to Rabat, the capital of Morocco. As we traveled along, we struck up a conversation with two of our compartment mates – Officer trainees of the Moroccan Army. They told us all about their training, and enjoyed hearing about our travels. We made reservations on the fly at Riad Dar Zouhour (http://www.darzouhour.com/hotel-en/ ), for about $45 per night; breakfast, as always, included. Lodging was a manageable, fairly straightforward walk from the station with the help of google maps.

 

Rabat is a seaside city and most of it is walkable. Our day started with a mint tea at the beach, followed by visits to the Kasbah, Andalusian Gardens, and the Tomb of King Mohammed V, located next to the never-finished Hassan Mosque, which, with its many columns, reminded us of something out of Pompeii.

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From there, we took a taxi to the ruins at Chellah, which is a site containing the remains of both Roman and Arabic settlements, and over 100 active stork nests!  I never knew storks made such a racket, constantly clapping their beaks – it was quite a cacophony!

January 26: Five hours on the train from Rabat to Marrakech. Another Petit taxi ride to the Bab Agnaou gate to the medina, and short walk to the wonderful Riad Bab Agnaou, named for the gate (https://www.riadbabagnaou.com/ web page in French).  Our room was about $45 per night, including breakfast. Again, we never would have found it had Sponsor not been met at the train and escorted last year. You can be, too!

Marrakech can be overwhelming, there’s so much to see! Tombs, palaces (The El Badia is stunning, with its woodwork, carved stucco, and tiles!), gardens, museums, and the huge souks (I’m still kicking myself for not purchasing the hand-made, bright red slippers with the turned-up toes for $8, but, traveling with only one backpack each, I just had no place to put them!).

Not to be missed is the ongoing sideshow that is the Jemaa el Fna square, with its musicians, snake charmers, magicians, dancers, storytellers, food stalls, restaurants, and people, people, people! We enjoyed overlooking the scene while enjoying lunch and dinner after mingling with the crowds.

January 29: Our time in Morocco was swiftly approaching an end, but we wanted a chance to take a quick respite from the frenetic pace of the cities before returning to Spain. So, at the mercy of a sweet little old taxi driver who had absolutely NO idea where he was going (he pulled over several times to inquire of police, other drivers, and a couple of teenage boys), we were off to the Supratours (http://www.supratours.ma/en/  a component of the ONSF rail system) bus station (right behind the train station!) for a quick overnight to the seaside town of Essaouira (buy tickets the day before). Upon arrival, we purchased tickets for the return trip. Our reservations were at Riad Al Zahia (http://www.riadzahia.com/ ), again, in the medina for about $50, with breakfast. It was an easy walk from the bus station with map in hand.

This was our relaxation stop, so we didn’t have any sights or activities on the agenda, just poking around the alleyways of the medina (we found a tiny, still active – according to the docent – Jewish synagogue that was open to visitors), having coffee at the beach, and people-watching in the main square. Nice!

 

January 30: Following a succulent fresh fish luncheon (with wine! Not many restaurants in the medinas of Morocco serve wine – though Morocco produces some lovely wines!), we hopped back on the bus to return to Marrakech and the Riad Bab Agnaou for our final night in Morocco. Our “last supper” was celebrated at the same spot as our first: the Kasbah Café (http://www.kasbahcafemarrakech.com/ ), just a couple of blocks from the Riad.

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We took our time after dinner, relaxing at our table on the terrace, sipping our mint tea and listening to the evening call to prayer emanating from the minaret across the street. At last, it was time to return to the Riad and pack up for our departure.

January 31: Bidding our hosts adieu, we shouldered our backpacks and headed out to the taxi stand for our ride to the airport and flight to Seville. From Seville, it was just a short train ride to Rota, and our C17 flight home.  

At last, we had come full circle in our exotic tour of Morocco…for now. We hope that someday, soon,

We shall return!

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The “Road” to Morocco, Part 2: Both Sides of the Pancake

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The second we disembarked from the ferry in Tangier, we were immediately engulfed in a buzzing “cloud of mosquitos” – young men, one after another, insistently “offering” to “guide” us, or “help” us find someplace to eat or stay (for pay, of course)!  The introduction to Morocco was molto intensivo!

In the interest of providing a balanced report, let me first talk about the “downside” of visiting a country that is a dizzying combination of first, second, and third world.

The medinas (ancient cities) and their souks (tangled mazes of equally ancient shopping alleys) are a third world experience. You will frequently smell urine, and sewer gas, and other odors, while out and about.  The streets are not clean (though the bathrooms are!). There are no sidewalks. As you walk along, you will share the space with mopeds zipping by (in both directions), small, motorized vehicles of all shapes and iterations, donkeys, horses, carts, and even cars and trucks.  You will see beggars sitting in doorways and in front of mosques. You will probably see thousands of stray cats (though not many stray dogs). You will be confronted with the heads of animals hanging outside butcher shops to “advertise” the types of meats available. If you express any curiosity or interest in an item you see in a shop in a souk, you are going to get a sales pitch (and, probably, a glass of mint tea). The pace of life is loud and frenetic, a bit frenzied for those who are accustomed to a more sedate, modulated existence.

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And then, there is the constant, incessant, presence of those aforementioned “mosquitos”. While the port area of Tangier was, by far, our most “in-your-face” experience with them, we ran into more benign variations of the species on a daily basis, throughout the country.  To be clear, none of these people appeared dangerous or frightening. Irritatingly persistent is the most apt term I can think of. They were all very friendly, and respectful, in their own pushy way. Eventually, most gave up and said goodbye, and headed off to find another “victim” when they were finally convinced we were not going to take advantage of their services. They are a fact of life for tourists in the medinas.

That’s the downside.

On the other hand, the transportation system is first-rate. Morocco is investing heavily (thanks to China, most likely) in high speed rail. We saw TGV trains parked at stations, awaiting the completion of the new tracks that will accommodate them. Construction of those tracks was busily taking place along the routes we traveled. Beginning sometime next year, the trains will come into service, cutting travel time significantly between major cities. The current train cars are a bit dated, but they are clean, well maintained, and comfortable.  Personnel in train stations and aboard trains spoke English wherever we went, so there was no language issue. It was a real pleasure to sit back and watch the countryside glide smoothly by. 

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Buses make connections to locations trains do not service. Again – the equipment is clean and comfortable. Again – personnel at the stations spoke English. Many buses even have wi-fi available! Seating is assigned, so if you have a preference for the sunny or shady side, figure out which is which and ask for seats on the driver’s side or opposite. The rest stop we visited on the way to and from Essaouira was comparable to the Autogrill or other similar type of establishments along the autostradas of Italy and Germany.

Taxis are kind of hit and miss. They’re supposed to be metered, but most are not. You can (and should!) bargain for the price. Taxis right outside train and bus stations (and, probably airports but we didn’t come in that way) are most expensive at first glance, but most will bargain down to between half and two thirds the original price. Also, if you walk a block or two away from the station and hail a cab, the starting price will be less expensive.  The exception to this, at least in Marrakech, is taxis to the airport    (a 10-minute – 2 mile – ride from the medina). All the taxis we saw had official-looking stickers on the windshields indicating a standard charge for the airport, and the drivers held firm. Our most expensive fare, which was to the airport, was the equivalent of $5.  The others ranged between $2 and $4, which made taxis a great “bargain”.

Of course, there are wonderful architectural and cultural sites to visit, and shopping, if you are into shopping, is a marvelous adventure! Morocco is a place where hand-made craftsmanship is still highly valued, and, even if you’re not in the market to buy, you can see the people who make the goods at work in shops and stalls and squares throughout the medinas. Everyone is happy to explain their particular expertise, and proud to show their wares.

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Moroccans as a people are very welcoming and friendly! Almost everyone speaks some English, and many are quite fluent in our language. Morocco was the very first nation to recognize the US, while we were still fighting our revolution, and Moroccans are very proud to point out that fact to American visitors. “We are your oldest friend!” was almost always among the first words spoken upon learning we were visiting from the US. Also almost always, there was some expression of uncertainty about whether or not the US would continue to be friends with Morocco, but that’s another tale. Expect this topic to come up in conversation, though, because it will. Moroccans are very curious people!  They are proud of their country, their King, their history and culture, and eager to share and to learn. We found them to be gracious and open hosts!

Whew! Two posts in and I still haven’t gotten to describing the places we visited in any detail!

NEXT: Tangier, Fez, Rabat, Marrakech, and Essaouira! 

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The “Road” to Morocco, Part 1: Logistics

Ever since my sponsor enjoyed a solo trip to Morocco just about a year ago ( Let Your Sponsor Go! ), he’s been on a mission return, with “moi” in tow. Thus, our first overseas space a adventure for 2017!

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From Rota, Spain (via space a from Norfolk), we planned a circuit, taking the ferry across the Straits of Gibralter to Tangiers, spending a couple of nights each there, Fez, and Rabat, then finishing up with several days in Marrakech.  From Marrakech, we tucked in quick overnight break to the relaxing seaside town of Essaouira before departing for Seville on Ryan Air and making our way back to Rota for the return hop to the east coast.

Our transportation looked like this:

January 17: Depart NAS Norfolk on Patriot Express (PE) for Rota. Room reserved at Navy Gateway Inns and Suites (NGIS) on base.

January 20:  Rota to Tangier. Walk out the Rota gate to the bus station. 30 minute bus ride to Cadiz, transfer to 1 hour, 45 minute bus to Tarifa. 5-minute taxi from bus stop to port. 30-minute ferry to Tangiers, Morocco. Spain stamps passports out at the ferry terminal, and Morocco stamps them in aboard the ferry.  Look for the line aboard the boat and get in it.

Once in Morocco, we traveled mostly by train: http://www.oncf.ma/Pages/Accueil.aspx  (page is in French, buy first class tickets). All prices below are conversions from Moroccan Dirham (MAD) to USD equivalent.

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January 22: Tangiers to Fez (about 4 hours/$16 PP)

January 24: Fez to Rabat (about 3 hours/$12 PP)

January 26:  Rabat to Marrakech (about 5 hours/$18 PP)

January 29/30: Marrakech to Essaouira and back by bus http://www.supratours.ma/en/Produits-services/National-transport   (3 hours including 30 minute food stop/ $8 PP each way). Tickets sold one-way only, purchased bus stations in Marrakech and Essaouira the day before travel. 

January 31: Marrakech to Seville via Ryan Air. Seville Airport bus to train station. Train to El Puerto de Santa Maria. Taxi to NGIS. 

February 1: 0445 roll call for 10 hour C 17 ride back to Norfolk.

Easy peasy, yes?

We got out of Norfolk on our first try, on the planned date – YIPPEE! From Rota, all the transportation was clean, comfortable, and pretty much on time. Everyone spoke English at the train and bus stations, both in Spain, and in Morocco – there was no language issue making arrangements. We couldn’t have asked for better travel!

NEXT: Experience Morocco!

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