Monday, May 25, 2009

Morocco: An Extra Day!

I woke up early, and headed down to the lobby a full 30 minutes before the call time. I’ve taught myself to be particularly early on departure dates to be absolutely certain that I don’t get left behind. Once we all boarded the van, we were driven 90 minutes away to the Casablanca Airport. On the way, we were able to see more of the Moroccan landscape, including Casablanca in the distance. None of us could help but notice the difference in interaction between pedestrians and vehicles here: people walking within inches of swiftly moving vehicles, people lingering in the street as traffic passes by, but most shocking: people walking on the freeway! There was even a couple, both dressed in fine business clothing, standing on the freeway, as if awaiting a ride. I’d never seen anything like it.

Driving to the airport:

Once we arrived at the airport, we each checked in, handing over passports and luggage. Well, then it was my turn. Suddenly, the check-in agent became cold and abrupt: “You have missed your flight and must go to the ticket agent”. Of course, this information struck me as being spurious and inaccurate. I once again checked my cell phone (where I stored the email message outlining my flight information, reference number, etc.), and showed the printed itinerary I’d been given, which confirmed me on the 9:40am flight, to the check-in agent. She was not moved. “This information is incorrect. You must go to the ticket agent.” Ok. Fine.

So, as the other members of our group looked on with curiosity and growing concern, I walked to the ticket agent, explained the situation and received an even more shocking response: “You were booked on the 7am flight, and you missed it. You now have 2 choices: you can fly to Paris today and spend the night in Paris, or stay another day in Morocco and fly tomorrow morning at 7am. What do want to do?” Apparently, the flight had been overbooked, and the agents refused to acknowledge that their airline had made an error. There was no waiting list, no standby possibility, etc. I was officially stuck in Morocco…alone. After trying to get something to happen for an hour or so, with an agent who was even more rude than the first agent, I finally told my lovely band mates to go ahead and catch their flight. They were very kind in waiting with me to resolve the situation. I hugged them all goodbye and considered my two options. I decided it would be best to stay another day in Morocco, as I didn’t have any way to contact my friends in Paris to set up accommodations for myself (my cell phone doesn’t work outside of the USA). Thankfully, the driver who had delivered us to the airport had not left, and he allowed me to use his cell phone to call our hostess and tour guide, Wissal, who contacted the resort and arranged for me to return to my hotel room for another night. The driver, who spoke no English at all, grabbed my luggage and returned me to the hotel, 90 minutes back in the other direction.

Driving back to the hotel:

Upon my return to the hotel, I immediately headed to the breakfast restaurant to eat. I’d be awake since 5am and was desperately hungry. On Saturday, I’d met a couple of ladies who were in Morocco vacationing, and who are the friends of a Wonder staff person. One of the ladies, Daphne, happened to be in the restaurant having breakfast at that very moment, and invited me to join her. Daphne and her friend Tiffany instantly took me in as a friend and I spent much of the day with them, a beautiful example of serendipity. Later in the day, we went to dinner in the resident Moroccan restaurant, enjoying a delicious traditional Moroccan meal. I had a sampling of Moroccan salads, my favorite being the smoked eggplant salad, which I ate with the whole grain bread that was brought to our table. Yummy! After dinner, I went back to my room and occupied myself with various tasks, deciding it would be better not to fall asleep, given my 3am call time.

My new friends, Daphne, Tiffany and Abdallah:

At 3am, I went to the lobby, and as expected, my driver was there, ready to again take me to the airport. This time, he was driving a fancy Mercedes sedan, which allowed him to move much faster. This trip only took an hour’s time. We arrived at the Casablanca Airport 30 minutes before the check-in agents arrived, and as before, the driver (whose name I didn’t get) waited with me. Apparently, whoever this man was, he wasn’t simply a driver. Once I had my ticket, he attached a fancy badge to his jacket and the security people virtually genuflected in his presence, as we sailed through customs and security with ease. He pulled my computer case and carry-on bag to the Gate, confirming that I was in the right place at the right time before departing. He was utterly gracious, and despite my awful French and Arabic, seemed to understand my sincere expressions of gratitude.

On a somber note, this morning, I turned on my computer to check the reviews of the concert and was stunned to learn of the terrible stampede that had taken place. Apparently, Moroccan star, Abdelaziz Stati performed after us, and following his concert, as the crowd was leaving, a fence collapsed and 11 people died in the ensuing haos. I extend my deepest condolences to the families of those who died.

Overall, my first trip to Africa was a rousing success. I did thoroughly enjoy myself, fiasco notwithstanding, and was duly impressed by the hospitality of our tireless hosts, Wissal and Amr, our various servers, including Abdallah and Hanane, and the entire staff of L’Amphitrite Palace Resort & Spa.



Finally, many thanks to King Mohammed VI, for his exceptional generosity towards all of us during our stay, and to his staff for making sure I was taken care of after my flight SNAFU. I am left with a beautiful impression of the Moroccan people, and look forward to returning one day to see more of the country! Shukran and Barak Allah Ufik!

Photos from my last day in Morocco:

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