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Avoiding International Incidents and Other Noble Travel Goals: Part 1

The Huffington Post The Huffington Post 20/10/2015 Erika Lafrennie

This is Part 1 of a 3-part story.
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I spent a summer living in Morocco once. I was attending school and studying Arabic, but I only had class a few days a week, so every weekend I traveled somewhere new in the country. Most of the time I traveled by train but one weekend, a friend and I decided to rent a car to make the long drive out to the Sahara on our own. I picked up our rental car which turned out to be a little silver Peugeot that closely resembled an Easter egg, complete with the requisite festive decorations in the form of lots of paint transfer and dents, indicating that the car had definitely been circulating around Fes.
I wasn't nearly as worried about driving across the country as I was about simply getting the car back to my apartment. Lots of one way streets in Fes, and there was definitely no form of urban planning involved when they laid them out. And because I do like a challenge, I had no GPS and no map. Several ever-expanding, concentric circles later - think, "Look kids, Big Ben... Parliament!" - I managed to locate my apartment and, what's more, actually find a tiny corner spot to park in. At this point, the parking mafia descended to extort payment to keep the car safe.
As far as I can tell, they are self-appointed in their mismatched orange vests, indicating absolutely no authority other than they will probably call 4 of their friends to smash the car if you don't pay. So, I handed over 10 Dirham and prayed a little. We gathered up road munchies and music for the what-should-have-only-been 8 hour trip, and off we went. We got out of Fes without incident, and after about 45 minutes, the traffic completely thinned out and it was a mostly peaceful ride.
It felt really good to have the freedom that came with the car, and just to be doing something normal that we would have been doing at home. It was also a great way to see the wide variety of terrain throughout the country. We traveled for about 80 miles on dry and dusty roads of flat, beige monotony and then encountered 20 miles of hairpin turns crawling through lush, green mountains that looked remarkably tropical.
2015-10-19-1445265599-1964804-Sahara4.jpg © Provided by The Huffington Post 2015-10-19-1445265599-1964804-Sahara4.jpg
I feel I should take a minute to point out that while H was under the impression she could drive a stick shift, we actually spent three days doing driving lessons. Anyone who can remember learning to drive a standard can appreciate my very justified fear of coming home with whiplash. She actually did just fine - as long as we didn't encounter any other traffic on the road. The problem was that one minute, there was no one around for miles, and all of a sudden without warning, we would be in the middle of a town surrounded by herds of people on foot, swarming in the streets, along with bicycles, motorbikes, donkeys, other cars, kamikaze taxis, and just about any other form of transportation you could imagine.
This was also fine, providing we were able to maintain forward progress. Unfortunately, that was something of a challenge with the traffic and crowds teeming in the streets. She was having some trouble managing the brake, clutch, and gears all at the same time and kept stalling the car. Then, the pressure got to her and amidst the people yelling and horns honking, the goats bleating and donkeys braying, she had trouble getting started again. I don't think I would be exaggerating to say that in one particular town, she stalled 45 times. I'm sure my hysterical giggles in the passenger seat weren't helping.
At any rate, we managed to make it as far as Erfoud before we finally capitulated at 1:00 AM and, too exhausted to go any further, pulled over to consult the Lonely Planet guide for a hotel. We realized that we just happened to be parked in front of one they recommended, so we turned around and began the trek down the long and winding driveway up to what could only be described as a medieval castle, complete with buttressed walls and ramparts. It was completely dark from the outside, and rather intimidating, as we tried 4 different doors and prayed that someone would actually be around to check us in.
Finally, the fourth door opened and we entered the most cavernous and overwhelming hotel lobby I have ever seen. It was a palace befitting even the most hedonistic Sultan, with gigantic glittering chandeliers just dripping excess over huge, overstuffed Moroccan style furniture covered in red velvet. It was completely silent, and the echoes of our footsteps on the tiled floor seemed extraordinarily loud as we wandered around. Just as we were starting to think the place was abandoned, and that perhaps, somehow, we were actually on the set of The North African Shining, the desk clerk silently padded, barefoot, out of a dark corner and greeted us.
We got a room and, tired and hot, trekked off through the labyrinth of hallways to find it. It was at exactly the same moment that I was stomping a giant cockroach in our room that H announced the toilet wouldn't flush. Naturally. So, back to the front desk where we swapped rooms, and it was almost 2:30 before we finally collapsed into bed.
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Erika Lafrennie is the Founder of The Wanderlust Trunk, a gift box containing locally sourced, unique handmade goods from a new country each month. She would love to hear from you on Twitter or her blog.

FEZ MOROCCO © Anibal Trejo via Getty Images FEZ MOROCCO

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