Friday, May 3, 2019

GSH: 2019 – From Minurets in Morocco to Ports in Portugal - Volume 1

No need to send out SOS messages or rescue workers... we are alive and well despite our total disappearance for the past 5 days.  We've been in the bowels of Morocco... having fun and working hard. Usually, at some point in the event, Bill releases us to our own travel instincts and makes us find our own way (including plotting transportation, hotels, routes etc.) across several countries ... at a very fast pace.  An exhilarating - but exhausting - leg, we had to plot from Morocco to Gibraltar then through Spain and on to Portugal.  Five days ago, Bill opened the leg in Marrakesh, Morocco  and we had to make our own way – following our own path and strategy-to-get-the-most-points-along-the-way.  There were dozens of possible paths.  And lots of red herrings and tempting but dangerous off-shoot options.  The trick is picking the most points-rich route while on the run.

And then … the best announcement … we could team up with another pair of competitors for one country AND rent a car in one of the countries.  We did Morocco – by car – and with team Order and Chaos (Quick reminder, they are the team of doctors from California.  Salvatore – or Sal - is a head and neck surgeon as well as world expert on Escher wood prints and fossils.  Super smart.  Vi is an emergency room doctor with tons of interesting stories from working on medical crisis teams after national disasters … think Sudan, Haiti, Nigeria…).  Our double team sounds like the start of a bad joke… “2 doctors and 2 lawyers walk into a bar…”

We so enjoyed this leg. This trip is exponentially more fun when we can share the experiences with other people: seeing their reactions, hearing their observations, appreciating different perspectives.  Sal (Order) and Vi (Chaos) were a true delight… working hard and providing comic relief when most needed. Sal and Vi are also blogging and their blog posts are very witty and insightful… 

Going into this difficult travel leg (it is a Par 6), Rainey and I still in first place but not by much. We need to win this leg to ensure a victory.  I was tired and we actually had the conversation of.. should we take it easy or ramp it up and go hard.  We chose the later because the personal growth of this trip is when you test yourself, push yourself WAAYY outside of your comfort zone and wait for the magic to happen.  There is an amazing world out there ready to charm you ... you just have to give it every opportunity.  So, we took off running… I can’t remember the last time we got more than 3 or 4 hours of sleep as we have been walking, running, hiking and biking our butts off. 

We completed over 100 scavenges this leg, so here are just the highlights:

Henna tattoos:  Where to get the best Henna tattoo in the Marraskesh souk (50 points)... apparently the spice store. Who knew?

Ballooning:  Points for a hot air balloon ride over Marrakesh (100)… we were up at 4:30AM and in the air as dawn broke. Our balloon pilot was a gorgeous Russian young woman who handled our balloon (and the quirky wind that morning which left the other balloons grounded) like a true master. There must be a story there as well as to how she ended up in the back end of Marrakesh... !!!

Dance, dance, dance fever:  We have watched belly dancing, flamenco and even danced ourselves (because it was International Dance Day and there were points at stake)

Competition points for going to Casablanca:  370
Charm points: 0

For a city with a very cool name and an almost mystical reputation, Casablanca totally underwhelms.  Actually, it just SUCKS.  If anyone ever offers you a free ticket to Casablanca, turn it down and visit the Jersey Shore instead.  Casablanca is shabby and run-down. It's like a moldy éclair (once fancy; now nasty).  Only interesting scavenge here was to go to Rick’s Café from the movie “Casablanca” (OK… it's a replica of Rick’s Café that was painstakingly re-created by a somewhat crazed American woman and #1 fan of Ingrid Bergman who cashed in her 401(k) and moved to Casablanca to live her dream).  There is even a piano so Sam can play it again “for old time’s sake.”

Best Boot Story:  We came back to our car from the yucky  market in Casablanca to find a yellow boot on our car.  We all looked at each other with horror… hours of delays and bureaucratic haggling lay ahead .. plus probably some impressive fine.  There went our ranking in the competition.  We would lose this leg.  Urghhh.

But then ... the nearest shop owner yelled down the street for Harem. And here came Harem ... sauntering up with the boot key… and a request for money from the tourists.  Aah… I get it now... it's a scam.  But not a very good scam.  Harem needs to go to Advanced Trick-the-Tourist school as he only asked for $3 (that’s not a typo… THREE DOLLARS) to release us from bondage. Harem does not understand world economics or what the tourist market will bear on this topic (I’m thinking at least $40 per boot).  But 5 minutes later, and a few dollars lighter,  we were back on the road. Crisis averted.

Minarets:  I think we have seen every Minaret across the whole of Morocco.  I'm totally over minarets.  They are ALL tall and rectangle.  Hey Islam...  Jazz it up a little ... How about an oval one? Or a circle?

My favorite was the Chellah Necropolis in Rabat.  Giant storks now live and nest all over the decrepit minaret... because why wouldn't you let your 11th century treasure just get shit on by large birds? In the US, this would be a national treasure (or at least as well visited as the pretend Noah's Ark in the middle of nowhere)... in Morocco it has "gone to the birds."

Kasbah in Rabat:  This was one of the unexpectedly charming and WOW scavenges. I've never even heard of Rabat, Morocco (my ignorance since it is the capital city) but it is a nice, French-influenced city with wide streets and cafes. The Kasbah is a delightful warren of alleyways and homes and a few shops all within a walled area next to the sea.  Everything inside the Kasbah is painted blue and white (this theme will be repeated at the Blue City the next day… so remember it). 

At sunset, we stopped at a Kasbah café and had mint tea and cookies – served by a man who was unexpectedly dressed like a pharmacist (no idea why).

Meknes’ wall:  Meknes is a tiny city / more like a village between Rabat and Fes.  We stopped there on our drive to Fes because it was a point-rich haven.  One challenge was to stand ON what surrounds the city of Meknes… not an easy feat as the city walls are – as you can imagine - purposefully tall and impenetrable.  

But we found a rooftop café that was built right against the wall.  I climbed over the banister - and onto the city wall - for a quick photo.  Since I'm terrified of heights this was a “Do Not Look Down” moment.  But Rainey (Mr. “I always follow the rules and this does not look safe or legal”) would not do the pose … so out I went.  No pain, no gain.

Meat market:  The Meknes meat market is a pit of blood and stench and gross-ness.  This poor man’s job is to slap an entire dead cow onto his back and haul it into the market ... over and over again ... all day. He was drenched in blood and guts.  There may be worse jobs in the world, but I’m struggling to think of one.

Square performers:  There was 100 points for doing a 10-minute street performance in a town square.  Sal and Rainey set up shop in the center of Meknes.  Rainey juggled white socks (bought moments before in the market) and then rocks (for variety).  

Sal was a full repertoire performer: doing mime, juggling,  interactive play with passersby and even  a thoughtful and carefully executed “look at how my thumb disappears” number.  It was hysterical.  The looks on people’s faces was priceless.  You know the one … the “what are these crazy tourist people doing now.  We may need to call the authorities” look.  Throughout the next several days, one of us would spontaneously start giggling at just the memory.

Fes Souk:  Rainey and I went to the Fes souk probably 8 years ago and left with a negative impression of Morocco in general and Fes in particular.  The constant heckling and harassment from shop owners and over-crowded alleyways made me feel uncomfortable and even a little unsafe.  Since then, Fes has totally cleaned up its act. The Fes-El-Bali (Old City) is now a charming and fascinating experience.  We were allowed a hire a guide (usually tour guides are against the competition rules but Bill made this specific exception) which was a life saver as he nimbly led us through the souk labyrinth and directly to all the interesting stuff. 

The Souk is divided into areas and each area specializes in a different craft or type of wares.  I liked the dyeing area … where they use a variety of natural pigments to color and treat clothe and thread.  Look how interesting:  when you put the wet thread into this green sludge… it comes out purple.  Fairy dust and magic is my scientific explanation.

Chouwara Tannery:  After bleaching the cow hides in vats of pigeon poop (which helps explain the unbelievably AWFUL smell of the tanneries), these men work all day in the blazing sun violently beating color into the leather.  They stand in knee deep concrete pits filled with toxic chemicals and stomp on the hides like Lucille Ball and the grapes.  This scene was eerily similar to the Dhoubi Ghats in Mumbai …(raise your hand fellow India  lovers who get this obscure reference). This is also on the list for Worst Job in the World.

Honey Alley:  An entire alley of shops selling only varieties of honey.  We got to taste test 4 different kinds from giant vats.  They were each totally different and distinct in flavor… crazy, huh? My favorites were lavender and orange.

Chefchaouen:  Since that name is impossible to pronounce, this city is known as the Blue City because it is … well … BLUE.  By mandate, every house must be painted some shade of blue and white (although Greek Isle Blue seemed particularly popular).  Somehow the cheesy effort works.  This was the night where you got 50 bonus points if you slept at a hotel that cost less than $50.  We got below that with a tiny room on the third floor (no elevator) of a funky hostel with a blue hued exterior and a kaleidoscope of colors inside. No luxury, but not awful.


Bountiful Bees: Bees may be dying elsewhere , but in Morocco they are alive and well and swarming the street food sweets (which are all dripping in honey anyway).  But don’t worry, when you buy a treat, they just brush off the stuck-on bees and wrap it up for you. A few extra bee wings stuck to your sweets? Just added flavor.

The colors of Spice:  The most colorful and smell-enhancing stalls in every Souk are the ones selling spies.  Dozens of different kinds … in giant barrels. Who needs this much spice in their life?  I still have that gnarly shaker of garlic salt - that I bought in college - in my pantry.  Moroccans must bathe in this stuff.  And you have to appreciate the presentation skills.

Road signs:  No idea what the Exclamation Point road sign means… but we saw a lot of them.  Universal symbol for "An Oh-Shit-Moment is Ahead"???  Beats me.

Camel Décor: Pay attention Madison Avenue.. The Moroccan Souk vendors have definitively established that you will sell more camel meat if you prominently display a severed camel’s head at the front of your shop (said no one ever).


Unknown said...

Glad to hear all is well. I was, indeed, wondering.

Unknown said...

Glad to hear all is well. I was, indeed, wondering.

jen do said...

We are hoping to do this trip one day (the global scavenger hunt), we just have so many trips and not enough time off. We were wondering if you pay for all the activities out of pocket, or if you get a stipend from your trip fee or something. How does that work? Thanks! Hope to meet you one day! -Jen


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