Wednesday, December 29, 2021

Morocco - and home!


I arrived in Morocco within a day of March 1, 2020 (it’d be great if I looked at my actual arrival day). There were rumors of a pandemic spreading from Asia, though it was less of a concern for me than the possibility of bedbugs in my hostel(s).


Here’s looking at you, kid. I don’t have a whole lot to say about Casablanca, as I did my usual routine and explored. I didn’t get into Rick’s, as my backpack did not contain an acceptable set of clothing and I was unwilling to buy something better. I wandered, I mingled, I had a good time. My most vivid memory is of how good the public transit was in getting me to the spots I wanted to explore - and how good the food was when I wandered into a spot. I recall eating a large, shared meal with either couchsurfers or hostel-folk, though I didn’t make friends the same way I had over the rest of the adventure.

Speaking of friends, my visit to Casablanca was interrupted (in a good way) by friends visiting...


A couple wonderful friends (indeed, a friendly wonderful couple!) decided to visit Barcelona and invited me to link up with them. I’d been to the city before (see: wacky rally 4), but had not explored the city to my satisfaction. While this visit was only a few days, we visited the Gaudi cathedral, a major cemetery, and lots of little things in and around town. Small moments stand out, like the cafe we took shelter in as it rained after exploring the cemetery of Spanish republicans or the lesbian bar that was a friend-of-a-friend’s “neutral” spot (nothing against the bar; I just got understandably weird looks for invading a safe space). There’s more for me to explore in Barcelona… someday.


After Casablanca and Barcelona, I headed to Marrakech. I made sure to listen to Marrakech Express on the train from Casablanca. Over the next few days, I wandered around the medina, got mugged (for the first time in all my travels!), saw some gardens, saw a museum or two, and, naturally, ate some great food.

This was, however, March of 2020. I don’t remember the exact timeline, but Italy quarantined, Spain quarantined, and then Morocco quarantined. I was limited to my hostel - the employees were the only ones allowed out (in order to get us food). We made our own fun - and we turned into a sort-of German consulate after messages went out over a German WhatsApp group saying the hostel was open to stuck travelers. I don’t remember what all we made, but I made French Toast and an older man made Labskaus (at my request). Otherwise it was card games and being weird - and interesting parallel to being confined to the train across Canada that started my trip.

As the “two week” quarantine started to morph into something else, I decided to get out of Morocco.


Sometime after March 10, but before the 15th, I bought a ticket to Manchester, UK, in the hopes that I could spend quarantine with a friend in a country that spoke English. The flight was scheduled for the 20th.

The Moroccan government said all commercial flights were canceled after the 19th. The Marrakech airport echoed this. The airline I booked with, however, said they were still flying. I had a chance.

I packed up everything I had been traveling with, said my goodbyes, and made my way to the airport knowing well that I might have to return to the hostel that evening. While the airport was fairly empty, there was activity. I found the airline’s booth and it was, unfortunately, empty. I asked around and, sure enough, all commercial flights had been canceled.

But what was that big line outside?

Sometimes it’s pretty easy to spot Americans. There were several hundred at the airport. I asked someone in line what the deal was and, apparently, they were all in line for evacuation from Morocco as provided by the US State Department. This was news to me.

I signed up on the State Department website and got in line. Eventually I made it to someone with a hi-viz vest and they confirmed I was on the list - I was number six standby. They had five planes evacuating all US citizens from Morocco via Marrakech. People had taken taxis/trains/hitchhiked from all over the country. If six people who had signed up didn’t show or if the State Department got a sixth plane, I’d get a spot.

Trust me, I considered my luck. I happened to be in Marrakech. I happened to book a (canceled) plane on the 20th. I happened to wander into a group of Americans. There’s a joke about a man in a flood praying to God to save him. A bus offers a lift when the water was low and he refuses, saying “God will save me”. A boat offers a lift when the water was at his roofline and he refuses, saying “God will save me”. A helicopter offers a lift as he’s atop his chimney and he refuses, saying “God will save me.” He drowns. At the pearly gates he asks why God didn’t save him. It is relayed to him that God sent a bus, a boat, and a helicopter - what else could he want?

I offer this joke to say that I paid the State Department $1,500 to get me on the last plane (either the fifth with six no-shows or the sixth out of nowhere) out of Morocco.

From Morocco we landed in Heathrow, for which I have a short anecdote about my leadership tendencies. I found myself in line with hundreds of others waiting for buses in Heathrow Airport. There had been no direction from the State Department other than “go to X hotel and return to the airport in the morning”. I watched as bus after bus pulled up, waited, and pulled away empty. Eventually, I went up to investigate and found that we’d all been assigned to different hotels and these hotels were all on different bus lines. The people further back weren’t filling up the buses for fear of cutting in line - even though the people in front of the line were waiting for different buses. I took it upon myself to chat with the drivers and find out which buses went where, then went down the line instructing several hundred fellow evacuees on which bus they needed to board - line or no line. It was a simple act, but one that was desperately needed. I was on one of the last buses to leave the airport. As a major boost to my ego, when I got to my hotel I got handshakes and free drinks from people I’d helped on buses ahead of me.

The morning of March 21, 2020 I boarded the plane to Newark, NJ and arrived seven or so hours later. One final complaint while we’re here - the plane was one third full, with all of us in economy. It was some bureaucratic decision somewhere along the line to pack us all in like sardines during a pandemic instead of spreading us out across the plane. Or, at least, packing the plane full so as to be efficient in repatriating us. We could have pulled straws or something.

Aaron, who visited me in Georgia, picked me up at the Newark airport and drove me back to Philadelphia. My trip was over - a victim to coronavirus.

Of course, not being responsible adults, the two of us visited two local bars that were secretly open during the first “two week” quarantine in the city. It was my homecoming, after all!

I wish I had a better ending to this story, but here we are. I left my house on August 4, 2018 and returned on March 21, 2020. I suppose I should figure out how much I spent - it was somewhere between $60 and $80,000 (I lost track mid-2019). I’ve spent the past two years of pandemic hoping to finish this narrative and this is the best I can do.


  1. I've really enjoyed your writings and was pleasantly surprised to see you've finished up the journal! Cheers to having more adventures soon.