This is our tale of woe from this past weekend with friends Matt, Mary and daughter Carolyn. At the end of it all, Mary used writing about the experience as a way to work through her emotions. I, on the other hand, was way to discouraged to even think about writing. But the story must be told. So what follows is taken from Mary's blog (she's a better writer than me) with my own thoughts inserted here and there.
With the end of Ramadan approaching and a long weekend ahead, we planned a family vacation to Essaouira, a port town about 5 hours from Rabat. Essaouira really sounded like my kind of place…artsy, walkable, moderate climate. It’s touristy enough to be comfortable for visitors, but the local economy is still in tact and the town runs on its own merits. Our awesome friends (that's US- I can take that kind of description!) reserved a riad right in the center of town. Together, we prepared 9 full meals to feed our caravan of 7.5 people for the entire long weekend.
Perhaps our Honda Odyssey was trying to tell us something when, after we packed her up, her trunk refused to latch shut, but at this point in my pre-vacation bliss (the part before you get in the car for 5 hours with a 1-year old), I refused to think ill of the van’s intentions. After rigging the door shut, everything went well until our first rest stop. Upon restarting the engine, all the lights on the dash lit up in warning. “Big woo,” I thought. “Onward!” But shortly afterward, at 65mph, the car began to lunge forward violently in protest. Annoyed, but resigned to the wisdom of safe transport, we stopped at a roadside service station for a quick look. The van expressed further disapproval (or maybe modesty) when she denied access under the hood. It took 4 grown men 30 minutes to pry it open (no exaggeration), only to conclude that nothing could be done. We were almost 2.5 hours from Rabat at this point and the only thing we could do was press ahead to Marrakesh, the next closest city.
At this point, I am still unwilling to give up on Essaouira. We were about halfway there afterall. We could just dump the car at a service station, rent a working vehicle, and pick her up in a few days on the way back, vacation delayed but still in tact. But back on the road, it became clear that we would be very, very, very, very (let’s go with 5 “very’s”) lucky just to make it to Marrakesh. The car got slower and slower, punctuated only by more violent convulsions. For the first time, I started to fear that we would get stuck out in the middle of nowhere. And I mean nowhere…
Slowly, things started to look a little more urban, but not after several scares, A LOT of sweat, and a few near-miss collisions thanks to the schizophrenic vehicle. (I kept receiving texts like "If we make it, it will TRULY be an answer to prayer" AND "holding breath") I breathed a sigh of relief when we finally spotted a Shell Station, but the adventure was not over yet. Our friends who were graciously still with us through all of this proved to be tireless translators and (with their GPS) navigators. They led us from one service station to the next until, having admitted failure, we finally landed at the Four Seasons Marrakesh. This is kinda what our trip looked like:
After that, things started looking up a little. Nothing short of a fancy resort could have given us any respite and the Four Seasons more than fit the bill. Then, an embassy co-worker happened to be staying there (and who was also an ex-employee), showed up to negotiate a discounted rate for us. We were very grateful. (By the by, you should have seen our battered cars pull up next to the Range Rovers. We piled out wearing our (at best) grungy beach clothes, lugging tired and cranky toddlers. We were the hillbillies for sure compared to all of the beautifully dressed and coiffed Europeans parading by this BRAND NEW resort. We definitely brought the classy quotient way down at the Four Seasons that day)
Our big obstacle now was to figure out how and when to get home. In the end, the only real option was to tow the car back to Rabat and catch a ride with our friends. If the Islamic Eid had fallen on Sunday instead of Monday, we might still be sitting in Marrakesh, but at 8pm, it was announced that Monday was the big day. Yippee! The next morning, we found a truck. He showed up just a few hours later. There was just enough time for a morning swim. (And a night spent with G sleeping perpendicular in the bed between Joe and I)
We piled everyone’s luggage into the van atop the tow truck and all 7.5 of us crammed into our friend’s car. We waved goodbye to our worldly possessions and said to the tow truck driver, “See you in Rabat.” He replied, “In’shah Allah” (Lord willing), which tempted me to think we would never see him or the car again. But we did. Afterall, this is not Tanzania. He showed up about 2 hours after we arrived in Rabat and loaded the car safely into our driveway.
Sadly, we did not see Essaouira or much of Marrakesh outside of the resort. Our little excursion wasn’t cheap either. (Room service for kids to eat dinner because restaurants aren't open until after sunset during Ramadan!! You think room service is expensive normally...try room service at the Four Seasons. Good night, nurse!) But to frame this in a more positive light, I would call this an excellent learning experience and an exercise in family cooperation. Futhermore, we made it home safely (if 2.5 days early).
Essaouira- we hope to see you soon. Mary- thanks for the great post!