Life on the road is never boring for us, it seems. We left Guatemala and had an overnight stopover in Miami on the way to Morocco. The latest drama is that in Miami we took money out of an ATM (only forty bucks, just enough to get us out of America – we planned to withdraw local currency in Morocco), and Paula put the card in her pocket afterwards. This is most unlike her – she’s usually very particular about putting valuable things away immediately – it’s much more like what I would do. Anyway, we catch the bus to the airport, take out the card to pay for the baggage storage, and it aint there. We assume it fell out on the bus. We’d planned to bring two cards for exactly this situation, but the first hitch occurred before we even left Australian soil – I forgot to pack my card. Anyway, we caught our plane to Madrid then got on the phone to the bank – they cancelled the missing card, but were a bit stumped as to how to get cash to us. We have a visa card but you can’t get cash out with that and while we thought we could pay for things like the hotel with visa, we knew it’d be no good for buying food and small goods. Eventually they said to call back in an hour to see if they’d managed to come up with something. An hour later we call, but no answer yet – please call when we get to Morocco. We were getting a bit doubtful by now, so luckily we made a call to Jan to see if she’d be prepared to wire us money through Western Union if the bank didn’t come through. Paula had been panicking since the moment of discovery of missing card, and talking with Jan really bolstered her spirits.
We figured that with only 30 bucks to our name (we spent a bit on the baggage storage) we’d better be careful with our remaining funds, as we didn’t know how long it would be till we got more. We did have to change some of it to Euros though to use the internet in Madrid to get bank numbers etc. We were fed on the plane to Madrid, but as we are accustomed to eating every two to three hours, we were hungry even before we’d got half way through our 4.5 hour stopover in Madrid. I had saved three cheese triangles from the plane and I fed two of them to Jesse, who was very happy to see some food, even such a pitiful amount.
Arriving in Tangier was a bit of a shock though. I didn’t think there was an airport in the world without public phones, but it turns out Morocco is one of them. No phone available to us. We talked to some very official looking men in uniforms but no go. The taxi to Asilah was going to cost US$25, and we only had US$16 left (and some Euro coins but money changers don’t take coins). Basically we didn’t have enough money to leave the airport. Things were getting pretty tense by this stage. A man with very limited English seemed to understand our predictament, and suggested that we could catch our taxi and that maybe the hotel could pay for it and add it to our bill, then when our money came through we’d pay the hotel for the lot. I can’t imagine anyone in Australia taking on this deal, but he managed to find us a taxi driver who would accept it, and off we went. It was now several hours since our last meal and we were all really hungry. Poor Jesse kept asking for milka and I gave him some, but didn’t want him to suck it all out of me as I was already in a daze from low blood sugar. We rationed out the last of our water with little sips each in the taxi. The first hotel we tried wasn’t accepting the deal, but the second hotel had a nice man, Karim, who spoke quite decent English, and he was prepared to take a punt on us. He paid the taxi driver and showed us to our room. It was definitely a more expensive hotel than we could afford on our usual budget but we figured we weren’t in much position to choose. It was nice to go into a big cheery room that had a good shower (something sorely missing in Guatemala), a clean toilet and a lounge area as well as sleeping nook.
It had been over 24 hours since we’d all had a decent sleep, and Jesse was manic with tiredness. We wanted to just fall into bed but thought we’d better try and sort out our money situation. First stop was the bank to change our $16 us into dirhams – we got 144DH for our money. Next stop was a café where we ordered salad and chips. A meal for one person but it was just enough to fill the three of us and happily it only cost 15DH. It had been 9 hours since we’d eaten, which is surely a record for me in the day time. Next stop was the post office where we confirmed there was indeed a Western Union and a phone. Now we were in for our next shock. There doesn’t seem to be any such thing as a reverse charge call in Morocco – or perhaps there is but we had no way of conveying such a concept in French. We tried the number we’d gotten in Madrid for an English speaking operator but no go. It took us about an hour of intense frustration to ascertain this. Meanwhile Jesse was absolutely crazed from lack of food and sleep – just running around in circles screaming manically, poor boy. We were so frustrated and tired and still had low blood sugar even though we’d eaten, and weren’t exactly patient and chilled mummies for him. Feeling very depressed, we went back to the hotel where I decided to put Jesse to sleep. It was 5pm and we just couldn’t think what to do. Paula went out again and hunted down some tourists, who said that international calls were cheap – just pay for them. So we did this, but the phone was eating up our money and a good chunk of it was gone when the phone cut off from our brief conversation with Cec – and we still hadn’t gotten through to him that we just needed him to wire us money, urgently. Paula came back to the hotel in frustration, and after mulling over the possibilities we decided she had to go back and ring him again, be as concise as possible. Happily Cec was ready for our call this time, and despite being cut off four times, we were able to get out the guts of the money-wiring needs. I imagine Jan and Cec didn’t get a lot of sleep that night, poor buggers. Paula bought us a bottle of water for 7DH, and came back to the hotel. I’d drifted off and she woke me to give me the current report. We now had 80DH left. I figured this was four meals and three bottles of water, which if strung out could last us two days. We didn’t know how long it would take the money to get to us, how much more red tape we were going to encounter, how urgently Jan and Cec realised we needed the money etc.
We decided I should go to the internet and email to confirm everything. I almost fainted when I saw the price of 7DH for half an hour – in Guatemala it was very cheap. Actually 7DH is very cheap, but on our current budget it was scary. I negotiated 15 minutes for 3DH and got to work. I planned to quickly type in the details so Jan and Cec weren’t so very confused and in the dark, but it turned out the keyboard was arabic!! I didn’t know that there was a country in the world that used a keyboard other than the QWERTY keyboard I’m so quick on. I couldn’t figure out punctuation and time was an issue, so with two fingers I punched out as fast as I could an abridged version of our situation and what we needed. I think it had a very desperate tone due to lack of punctuation and capital letters, but at least they would have got the gist of where we were at.
After this I went back to the hotel and even though it was only 6.30pm, we decided to sleep for the night. We were exhausted and this way we wouldn’t need to spend more on dinner. At eleven, Paula woke me to say Pip had called the hotel and that money was wired. We were elated. Though only cautiously so – who knew how many more obstacles we would encounter in picking it up. Jesse woke up too, and cried for food. Poor boy. I didn’t want to give him milka because I was so hungry and depleted myself, but in the end I did, and eventually, with much petting along from Paula too, he slept again, right through till 7am. I had the best sleep and didn’t wake til 7 myself. Poor old Paula was next to Jesse and got kicked all night, so she was far more ragged than both of us when we woke.
Jesse and I left her in bed and went in search of food. In the previous 26 hours we’d had only one small meal. It turned out that the hotel provided breakfast – hooray. It was standard Moroccan fare – white bread and jam and a croissant – but unlike the food in Guatemala it was fresh and delicious. Jesse was so happy to see food that he laughed. He laughed with joy with every mouthful he took, ate way more than usual, and we even managed to convince the hotel owner to get us a glass of warm milk for him which he lapped up with delight. I never thought I’d see the day that I’d be happy to have him drinking cows milk rather than breast milk. There was a little bread leftover so we snuck it back to our room, not knowing how long it would be before we next shelled out for a meal.
We waited till 9am for the internet café to open, then rushed back to get the details of the wire. This time I was savvy and negotiated 1DH for five minutes. The details were there and I frantically scribbled them down and typed a quick thanks before dashing out the door within the allotted time frame. It didn’t take too long for us to do the deal at Western Union – only a couple of small hitches which meant walking all the way back to the hotel and back again, but then we had the money in our hot little hands! I don’t think I’ve ever felt more relieved in my life.
First port of call was to make a budget. We’d planned to ask for $1,500 but the communication was too brief and disjointed, so they just made up an amount, and generously sent $1000 - turned out later this was the maximum amount allowed anyway. The fee for this was a whopping $70 – ouch. I didn’t want to have to ask for more money and I didn’t want to depend on visa or anyone else getting money our way. And I didn’t want to go hungry again. I set about apportioning the money – some for the taxi back to the airport, some for our stopover in Singapore, etc. I quickly ascertained that we definitely couldn’t afford to stay in the hotel. We had half an hour before the midday check out time, and I dashed down to the front desk to pay our bill and then go hotel scouting. Karim, the man at the desk, was very kind and offered to walk with me to find something that was 200DH a night or less. We left Paula and Jesse to pack up the room while we searched. The cheap places were either stinky, dismal and dirty, or else tiny (that’s ok, though space is better with Jesse) and with a shared bathroom. The shared bathroom is actually quite a problem because it’s so very hard to shower with Jesse and bring him back to the room with both of us wrapped in towels the size of a teatowel – and also I haven’t got any pyjamas that cover me so a midnight toilet trip entails getting dressed in the dark. If we’d brought more stuff we could have got around this, but as it was we kept it down to one backpack for the three of us, and it turned out paying more for a private bathroom is really essential. Eventually though we found a very Moroccan style apartment, nice and big with a kitchen, a fairly clean looking modern toilet and shower, a bedroom, and a big lounge room. It’s all tiled in decorative Moroccan tiles, it smells fine, and Karim negotiated hard on my behalf. I gathered it was supposed to be 300DH a night but he convinced them that if I paid upfront for five nights, to give it to me for 200DH.
So we’ve settled in here, done a shop at the market to buy food for cooking, and discovered that the apartment is somewhat dirtier and dingier than I’d originally noticed. I think because the tiles shone I thought it was clean. But they’re just very glossy tiles and had had a quick mop over them. The bed threatened to fall apart as we tried to move it over to make a space for Jesse, so we hastily returned it to its original position. The caretaker is this old dero who sleeps in the next room along – he has a camp-like existence that seems very rudimentry, and not especially hygienic. Part of the deal had involved an extra sheet being provided so we could make up a bed for Jesse from one of the couch cushions. The sheet wasn’t delivered so I went to remind him. He tried speaking to me in Arabic but no go. Eventually he got up, went to his bed, pulled off the sheet and handed it to me. I almost fainted with horror. I just couldn’t decide whether to hand it back and sacrifice Jesse to the revolting, dusty, stinky mattress, or whether to take it. I decided to hang onto it and give it a good wash in the morning. In fact, now that we’d observed their methods of hygiene, I decided I’d give all the sheets a wash.
So now it’s morning, and my chest and sinuses are clogged up with dustmites – thankfully the shower is good with continuous hot water and I locked myself into the bathroom, turned it into a steamvault, and managed to cough out much of it. The sad thing is that it’s raining and the apartment is cold and it doesn’t look like anything is going to dry. The sheets shall remain dirty for another day. Paula, however, has put her premenstrual energy to excellent use and scrubbed the bathroom, toilet and sink with a vengeance, so things are definitely looking up. I do think, however, that we misjudged the weather in Morocco – apparently this weather is normal for this time of year, and we are extremely under equipped for it, clothing wise. We’d pop out and buy ourselves a coat each, but alas our budget turns out to be even more stringent than I’d realised.
I made a very strict budget, in the interest of not meeting with a starvation situation again, and have discovered that we will have to make do on a budget of 70DH a day for food, water, internet etc, with an additional 50DH set aside for groceries. To put this in perspective, the first lunch we bought after we got our hands on the money cost 75DH. So this is a pretty tight budget. We’ve also got a few hundred dirham set aside for buying things we might need (such as coats, and I’d hoped to buy a real cheap plastic bike for Jesse to play on), and for buying a few of the things we want to take home (spices, paint powders and a few tagine pots). If last night’s scouting is anything to go by, one coat costs 350DH and we’ll never get three of them and any of the things we want to take home. Bugger. I keep eyeing off the pastries – the food here is actually so yummy – and will get one or two as a treat after we’ve got to the end of a day with something left over from our 70DH. I’m sure the poverty is good for us – I didn’t want to become accustomed to having so much money – but at the same time I would rather like to be warm and lusciously fed.