Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Rampage to Morocco

During my trip to Spain, I wanted to take a quick side-trip to Morocco, just so that I could add Africa to the list of continents that I've visited. To tell the truth, I wasn't that excited about the trip in general. Neither Spain nor Morocco was on my list of places that would be interesting to visit. I was going largely just because it had been so long since I'd seen my brother's family so I didn't want to take a lot of time in Morocco away from them.

But my sister-in-law is an organizing dynamo. I barely mentioned my desire to visit Morocco and she was all over it, looking up tours on the Internet, emailing and calling tour companies. Over several days of offers and refusals, one tour company eventually offered a pretty amazing deal on a 4-day, 3-night individual tour with my own personal "guide" (the reason for the sneer quotes will become apparent). The offer was too good to pass up, so the day after I arrived in Spain, I was micro packing from my 2-week luggage into a 4-day bag.

My brother put me on a 7am train to arrive in Malaga a bit before 1pm. This was, according to my "guide", enough time to get to Algeciras for the 1:30 ferry to Tanger in Morocco. And it would have been enough time, too, if my "guide" had bothered to either get gas or buy the ferry tickets before picking me up at the train station.

When she picked me up at the station, I was mildly impressed that my "guide" had a bottle of water waiting for me in the car. Very organized, I thought. That was the one thing she did the entire trip that suggested any level of organization at all. She was even disorganized about the water. I kept my bottle on my side of the car, on the floor by my feet. Which would have been fine except that she kept putting her bottle down there too, and then would ask me if I knew which bottle was which. No, I didn't. The freaking bottles were identical. The only way to distinguish them is to keep them in DIFFERENT FREAKING PLACES. WHEN YOU KEEP PUTTING YOURS RIGHT NEXT TO MINE, WE CAN'T TELL THEM APART ANY MORE SO STOP DOING THAT, YOU DITZ.

Sorry for the shouting. I'm too polite to actually shout at someone, so I have a lot of rage bottled up inside me that may come out during this account.

As we are driving down to Algeciras, my "guide" starts pulling out various documents from a compartment beneath the steering wheel and asks me to hold them. She wants to make sure that she has all three things she needs. She pulls out three things and hands them to me. I hold them for a few minutes as she drives along. She seems to have forgotten the incident. I kind of wave the documents I'm holding to attract her attention. The effort fails. I'm thinking, "OK, you have verified that you have all three documents, now you can put them back. Why am I still holding them?" I didn't say anything, just put the documents down on the dashboard.

I ask her if she wants the money now. She had asked for cash and I wanted to get it into her hands before anything happened to it and I didn't want to have to declare it going over the border. The "guide" wanted me to count it for her as she drove and then gave me instructions on how to divide it up, putting some in her purse and some in her brief case.

I was a bit annoyed at being given menial chores by someone who was supposedly working for me, but I assumed there was some reason for it, having to do with the fact that we were late for the ferry. I was wrong. She did things like that throughout the trip. I think it is her way of compensating for her extreme ditziness. She tries to shovel off little responsibilities (like holding documents) onto other people in hopes that they are more organized than she is. Quite remarkably, I am more organized than she is, and I'm one of the most disorganized people I know.

Well, since we were late for the ferry, she did this cute trick of pretending to drive down the wrong lane, past a bunch of other cars to a spot that was still empty. Then she pretended to be surprised, backed up a bit, gunned the engine and tried to hurdle the concrete barrier with her 4WD Land Rover. All a misunderstanding, you know, but throughout the trip it became apparent that she didn't think that rules applied to her.

My "guide" got hung up on the barrier with her front wheels over and her rear wheels behind because she had no clue how to handle her vehicle. She tried several times to get over by gunning the engine, but she only had one wheel on the barrier and just the corner of that wheel so she couldn't get traction. I tried to tell her how to handle the problem, but she was incapable of following the simplest of instructions.

Did I mention that she was an American ex-pat? There was no language barrier, my "guide" just couldn't grasp simple instructions like "square up with the barrier" or "get both rear tires on the barrier at the same time" or the several other ways I tried to explain the solution. Finally I got out of the car and directed her, "Turn your wheels that way. ... No that way. ... The other way. TURN YOUR WHEELS THE OTHER WAY. ... THE OTHER WAY ... NOT THE WAY YOU HAVE THEM, THE OTHER WAY. OK, now, back up .. NO, BACK YOU'RE MAKING IT WORSE. No, don't turn your wheels that way, turn them back like I told you before, now back up. ... put the car in revers and back up ... OK, now turn your wheels the other way ... turn your wheels the other way ... OK, I'm making a motion like I'm steering a car, do this. No, this. OK, Now, ease forward, you don't have to gun it ..."

That's when she gunned the engine again to literally bounce over the barrier, (not so literally) nearly killing me and another man who had come over to help/observe. Then she raced over to park in an illegal spot and took off to get the tickets, leaving me to run a hundred yards or so to the vehicle.

She eventually came back to inform me that the ticket counter was closed. We had missed the ferry by five minutes. After she had stopped for gas on the way.

We drove another twenty minutes to catch the 3pm ferry in Tarifa. The 3pm ferry in Tarifa was out of service, so she bought tickets for the 5:30pm ferry, and the first day of my Morocco trip was officially hosed. We had another bout of excitement when she lost one of the ferry tickets and were kicked out of the line to board the ferry. I eventually I found the ticket behind her seat.

I later learned that we could have taken a 2pm ferry from Algeciras, but that would have landed in Ceuta instead of Tanger. My "guide" wanted to land in Tanger, I infer, because she knew the way from Tanger to Fez (sort of) and she didn't know the (shorter) way from Ceuta to Fez. Since the other way would have been about an hour shorter, her lack of knowledge cost me about four hours of my Morocco trip (her lack of planning cost me the fifth hour).

Then I had the pleasure of a five hour drive through rain and darkness at high speed on dangerous roads with a barely competent driver with a bad habit of running stop signs and red lights. I was so tired that even the terror couldn't keep me awake, but the erratic driving did. Every time I would doze off, she would make an abrupt maneuver to wake me up. Usually these abrupt maneuvers occurred when my "guide", through lack of attention, found herself too close to a barrier or a vehicle that she was passing and would jerk the wheel the other way. Did I mention that I was terrified?

My "guide" misplaced all three toll tickets during the drive because she kept putting them on the dash where they were blown away by the wind from the open windows. Each toll station was an adventure as she searched in a panic for the missing ticket.

It was freezing outside but the windows had to be open or the windshield would frost over. I don't know whether this was because my "guide" didn't know how to use her vehicle's climate control system or whether the Land Rover really did just have a badly designed defroster. I suspect the former.

Counting the documents that she didn't have organized before she picked my up, the lost ferry ticket, the three toll tickets, and the document she lost while we were waiting in the vehicle customs line, my ditzy "guide" mis-handled six important papers on the first day. This is not a performance to instill confidence.

Tomorrow: my tour through an ancient walled city and the performance of a remarkable salesman.

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