Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Ways You Know My Parents Are Related To Me

I may not have said this before but my gift of constantly getting into random mishaps likely comes from my parents. I come by it honestly. And apparently it's genetic (sorry future children!).

Case in point: In the last year, my dad had a rental property both flood and catch on fire simulataneously. While my mother has been tortured for several weeks by a bird she lovingly refers to as "Bang Poop" because this bird has decided to bang it's head repeatedly on practically every window in my parent's home, early in the mornings for no apparent reason. And as if being woken up by that every day isn't annoying enough, every time the bird hits it's head -

it poops down the window.

These are the things that happen to my parents. And I got to see all of our powers combined this past weekend when I went to stay with them for Memorial Day.

My parents recently got into camping in a trailor they bought last year, so I stayed with them in Pigeon Forge in an RV campground. When I arrived, I was already sporting two bandaids on my right side from having two more moles removed unexpectedly earlier that day (thankfully at a different dermy than the one I used here, but not an incredibly pleasant experience nonetheless).

Over the course of three days, I ended up with two bandaids, a vasoline covered arm, benadryl covered insect bites down my leg, and a swolen bruise on my ankle. Meanwhile, my father got a blood blister and cuts all over his ankle as well.

Not surprising at all.

But what was really a perfect example of my family's luck was - my bed.

The camper has one bedroom and two hidden bed things in the living area. I was to sleep on the couch one but it's mattress had recently popped.

So we got another one.

That one also started leaking air making me a half-girl, half-mattress burrito by morning.

So we got another one.

That one ended up being too big for the dimensions of the bed, forcing me to sleep on the mattress propped up the wall on one side, causing it to slope downward to my side.

So we got another one.

And this one fit perfectly! I felt like Goldilocks finally eating the right porridge and I get up the next day, the day we leave the campground and go back to my parents' house an hour away, and--

the bed won't deflate.

I have no idea if my parents ended up getting another one after that, but that whole scenario is just so typical of us.  At least I know I'm not adopted.....

Monday, May 21, 2012

It's All Fun And Games Until You Get Sick Four Different Ways

I feel like even my travel stories end up revolving less about the place I was visiting and more about yet another random mishap I had, so I tried to actually talk about Morocco in the last few posts.

But I can't help myself. There were mishaps and how could I keep that from you?

The problems didn't end when I missed my bus the first day. Or when I arrived in Casablanca for our first tour group meeting and I didn't have any of the materials I was supposed to. Or when the Moroccan spa treatments Angie and I signed up for included me walking into a room to find Angie happily hanging out in her full bikini after my scrub-down lady made me strip almost completely (and let me tell you, having a loofa that makes sand paper feel like kitten fur come at you while you are topless is less than relaxing). But the problems went medical. Sigh.

It started with a sore throat and head cold. I did not think to pack any medicines but whatever, I can keep going through a head cold.

Then: it was nausea.

It came out of nowhere. Angie and I were about to go to sleep when I have to run to the bathroom and lose my dinner suddenly.

Hmm, this is a little more problematic considering our bus -- the bus we spend a lot of time on most days --

has no bathroom.

(Don't ask me why a seniors tour should ever be put on a bus with no bathroom, but that's how it was)

So now I need intervention. And of course I don't speak french or arabic and we are spending time in old souks that don't exactly have CVSs, so I'm at our tour guide's mercy to find me medicine that will keep me from vomitting out the door of our bus as it rolls through north Africa.

And here's where I remember a horrible yet hilarious story of a friend of a friend's trip to India. This guy took meds given to him by a local right before he left the country and ended up POO'ing HIS PANTS while being in nearly a coma on the flight home. People had to wake him up to get him to take care of it and he ended up wrapping a towel around himself like a diaper and passing out again, while continuing to have issues all the way home.

So you see why I had a substantial level of fear regarding taking meds I'm not familiar with.

Anyway, THANK THE LORD these meds were fine and I didn't get sick anymore from that particular issue, though I did still have a fever and feel crappy from the head cold.

A few days later - I have another issue. This time more similar to poor India Plane Boy's. 


Thankfully, it was during the night again and I didn't even wake Angie during my trips out of the bed (even when I accidentally fell into the light switch and then layed in bed uncontrollably giggling) but did I mention this happened in the hotel room where we can't shut the door all the way because it would trap you inside? And that there is a toilet paper shortage throughout all of Morocco? Yes. Because being sick for the third time in a few days wasn't enough of a complication.

I end up thankfully finding some old medicine in my makeup bag and had grabbed a roll of toilet paper from another hotel when we left because I knew I'd need it for places that didn't have any, which was a good thing considering we had just run out in this hotel room. (Seriously, the lack of toilet paper got old. When we finally landed back in the states I used a restroom in JFK and nearly teared up with joy over having enough toilet paper. I wanted to wrap it around myself like a dress. I wanted to jump into a pile of it like leaves. I wanted to roll it over my head and pass it to everyone around me like they do at the end of The Blue Man Group show in Chicago....)

Anyway, after feeling better about having meds and TP for the time being, I start to panic again because I know I'll need to wake up and get back on the bus.

The bus with NO BATHROOM.

So I'm praying hard AGAIN and again have to wake up and search for more medicine. At this point I don't even know what to treat -- head cold? nausea? the ..other ...thing? Angie can't even deal anymore and she simply walks past our tour guide and dead-pans "we have another issue" and just keeps walking.

I bet my tour guide was so happy to see me leave.

So thank the Lord again, I'm much better the next day and am able to enjoy Marrakesh and its square full of people, snakes, and monkeys, and I think "what the heck? I'll get a cheap little henna tatto like the other people are doing."

And fast forward to two weeks later and I still have the design on my arm.

In a rash.

The ink is long gone but yet the design is still perfectly there, just red and raised like some intricate pattern Chloe scratched violently into my arm. I'm taking steroids to get rid of it and scaring myself finding things on the internet about the evils of black henna and what all it can affect the rest of your life.


I didn't even choose black, I just went with whatever the first artist that approached me had. I've had real henna (the orange kind) before for a friend's Sikh wedding and was fine but apparently black henna is basically a super concentrated black dye that you should not put on skin.

It would've been safer to risk whatever the snakes and monkeys would've done to me. Good grief.

So now I'm praying again and hopefully can report soon that it's all fixed and this freak incident is behind me. But seriously, who is surprised this happened:

And to think I was in Nicaragua where three of my friends got the swine flu (see: here) and I was completely fine! On this trip, I get sick four different ways. Sigh. Keeps life interesting I guess.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Morocco part quatre - the rest of the trip

Days 4-10 become a blur, with some highlights being:
-Son sports a Motley Crue shirt.
-Precious Peter asks Angie, out of the blue, "Did you dress up for Haloween?"
-we hear yet another quote proving we are on a seniors tour "I'd hate to lose my suitcase because I don't want to lose all my Chico's clothes!"

We see much more of the country and I realize at some point that the song "Arabian Nights" from the cartoon Aladdin has been steadily playing through my head the whole time. And I think this is because I expected Morocco to look like miles of sand dunes. And it does -- in the Sahara desert, if you drive an hour to see the sand dunes. But otherwise, Morocco can look like anywhere.  Desert, rivers, mountains, we even saw a random ski resort along the way that looked like it belonged more in Switzerland than Africa.

And it turns out, a lot of movies are filmed in Morocco for that reason - you can make it look like anything. Even, Aladdin, like here:

Ok, so maybe I don't look quite like Princess Jasmine....

But you gotta admit, this is an Arabian Nights kind of place

We see other beautiful scenes and stay in great Kasbahs like this one:

(where I have the second topless scrub down of my life in their spa. I never learn...)

<-----And see spices like this

eat tagines like this----->

see gates and walls like this:

And see more town squares filled with more snakes (you seriously have to start watching where you step!)  They keep them in bags and under boxes so you never know how many there are until you get too close and they try to put one on you, or make you pay money just for glancing their way:

There were also monkeys

and henna artists in the square. One monkey owner attempted to put one on my arm but I scurried away, hearing our tour guide's voice in my head saying "they may carry diseases!" I did succomb to henna though (in the end, I should've gone with the monkey, but more on that later):

And we learn various words like "Shukran" (Thank you) and "Insha'Allah" ("God-willing," used often for when people really don't want to do something -kinda like how someone in the South will say "well Lord willin' I'll get to your order before the end of the week..." It is also used as "I hope this works!" etc.)

And we end our trip back in Casablanca, where we learn the fine art of being Frogger in a real life video game of life or death through the craziest traffic ever like here:

And finally get settled onto our flight home just in time to hear the flight attendant spew out instructions in french and arabic and all we catch is "Insha'Allah..."


which is a little disconcerting because I really don't like to hear "well, God willing!" from the people about to take me airborne. But thankfully we make it back safely to the U.S. and start washing out camel smell from our clothes....

Shukran Morocco! Great trip :) (....EXCEPT for all the health issues I had....which will have to be in yet another post. I promise we are almost done!)

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Morocco part trois

Day 3: Son is wearing Iron Maiden today.
Precious Peter asks Angie: "Do you know where Alexandria is?"
then, at some point later asks me "Did you know Abraham Lincoln's parents are from Wales?".....

Today we looked around the Imperial city Fes. Fes, like a lot of other Moroccan cities, has two parts: the modern part that looks like most European big cities complete with designer shopping and cafes; and the Medina - aka the Old City - which is walled in and feels like you've stepped back into medieval times.

Fes' Medina is incredible because it's the most confusing, labrynth-like place I've ever been and to add to the drama of trying not to get lost, you constantly have to listen for "Balak! Balak!" which means -- "Get out of the way!" or, most often "There is a donkey on the loose behind you!"

Not even kidding.

We had a photographer follow us around snapping pics of us through the souk and this is one he shot of me. Note the skeptical look on my face and the fact that the donkey clearly has the right of way:

So the souk inside Fes has lots of things for sale, including animals....to be eaten. I actually saw little chickens get their throats slit in front of my eyes against my will -- I will now be known as Dana the Vegetarian. *shudder*  But before that, our tour guide saw a bunch of them in cages and for some unknown reason poked at one through the cage bars, making it squawk. I looked at Angie and said "our tour guide just sucker punched a chicken!" which was probably the first of many things our senior friends probably overheard and thought "the way kids these days talk! I don't get it!"  Another time I'm sure that happened was when we went to the tannery -

where they use PIGEON POO to dye fabric. Barf.

The smell is indescribable and we had to snort mint leaves to survive, like so:

Anyway, Angie and I were busy entertaining ourselves as usual and I may have said something like "your FACE smells like Pigeon poo!" which made us giggle but likely caught some judgement from our fellow tour-goers. Later, one of them  scolded Angie like a child for jokingly calling me an idiot. Clearly, we had some generational translation issues. (We spoke Sarcasm; They spoke ...Chico's Clothing.)
So back to the Medina. It's amazing how you walk down these narrow non-descript alleys in there thinking its all just mud walls and dirt floors, but if you actually walk into a door -- a whole other world exists on the other side! Multiple-story houses filled with gorgeous mosaics; mosques with indoor gardens and fountains - amazing. One tour guide told us Moroccans do not like to show their wealth on the outside, but rather they enjoy their nice things and gardens, etc. on the inside, where it's just for them and actually an integral part of their lives. I liked that philosophy.

Outside in the alley

Inside -- taken from 2nd floor in a carpet store

Also inside - restaurant (complete with belly dancer, of course)

Another guide told us that it is customary for people to spend a lot of time together and how things like making tea for each other take hours because that shows you care for each other. He said he could see how that might not make a lot of sense for people who work all the time, but then he said something profound:

"Some people have nice watches. Other people have time."

Snap. Americans may be focused on the wrong kind of wealth most of the time, you think?

More in the next post...

Monday, May 14, 2012

Morocco Part Deux: Snakes, Seniors, Socks and Sandals

I mentioned before that there are a lot of different languages flying around that country. And because of my "ethnic ambiguousness" it quickly became hilarious letting the salesmen in the souks (markets) guess where I might be from as I walked by: "Bonjour!...Hola!...Merhaba?....Buongiorno?...Hello!?...."

(At one point I also got "Konichiwa!" but that was just because I accidentally got mixed in with a crowd of Japanese tourists which completely confused the poor locals...)

I realize most of these salesmen just know one word in several languages, but a lot of people in Morocco do speak several languages, typically Arabic, French and a tribe dialect. But the Arabic there is a strange hybrid of spanish and Arabic. And for whatever reason, when Angie and I first arrived and couldn't find a taxi that understood where our hotel was (because there are THREE Ibis' in Casablanca and we definitely were taken to the wrong one right off the bat), we were asked if we could speak Arabic, French, Italian or Russian. So, perhaps some people in Morocco speak everything but English. (Sadly, Angie only speaks some German and I only speak some Spanish so we ended up asking several cab drivers, more loudly each time, "DO YOU KNOW WHERE THIS IS?" as if volume helps with translation. We finally jumped in a cab and hoped for the best). We eventually got to our hotel but the Fun With Ethnic Backgrounds didn't end there.  

I was asked more than once if I was Arab or Berber (the native Moroccan people). Angie, who looks very Irish, was actually told by a native "You -- definitely American," which made her point out the humor in the fact that my features are actually Native American -- natively American -- yet American is the last thing people guess for me, go figure.

But back to the trip.

Day One: We meet part of our tour group and realize – we are likely on a Senior Citizens tour by accident. Perfect.

We also tour around Casablanca a bit which sounds romantic but really is just a giant, dirty city like most giant cities. Though there is a nice waterfront area with palm trees and nice houses akin to Beverly Hills. And the World’s third largest Mosque is there which was a pretty spectacular building:

Day Two: It is confirmed that the majority of people on our trip are, in fact, retirees and Angie and I take this in stride because it is just so typical for both of us to have our dreams of travelling around Morocco with hot men shattered in an instant.

We tour around the Capital city Rabat (walled city, King's palace, old ruins) and Meknes, which was the site of my first unsettling encounter with a snake charmer, as seen here:

I went from being intrigued, to annoyed when the guy really didn’t “charm” anything, especially not me since he insisted that we pay him more to watch and then nearly forced a snake around my neck. I’ve had a snake around my neck before, but I knew its loving owner. I did not trust this man or his snakes.

It was also on this day that Angie and I started getting a feel for Peter, a quirky little English man who typically sat in front of us on the bus. Precious Peter was very sweet and we eventually found him endearing but it took a bit. He would out of nowhere turn around to look at us and ask things like “Are you going to London for Jubilee?” or “Do you have insurance?”  I couldn’t even arrange my features into the slightest resemblance of anything but complete surprised confusion every dang time and Angie and I spent many hours giggling later over whatever new question out of left field he came up with. It became almost a game.

Kind of like the game where we guessed the next Band T-shirt another Brit would be wearing. One of the few non-retiree people on the tour was a father/son duo from England. They were very quiet and the only reason I noticed them at all was because Son was sporting a Pink Floyd shirt through mosques and ancient city gates. I instantly liked him. (I also could not judge him when he began wearing the same band shirt on more than one day. As part of my "I'm not really planning for this trip at all" boycott, I didn't fully think through how chilly it might be and brought short sleeved-shirts and one blue hoodie that I essentially wore every day of the trip, making my photos appear like my entire 10 days occured on the same day and making my hoodie smell less than desirable by the time we finally headed back to America.)

There were several other characters on the tour and many other quotes overheard among them, like this gem while we were taking our shoes off to enter a Mosque -

Older lady one, to older lady two, without a trace of sarcasm: 

"You are so smart to wear socks with sandals!"

Things you don't hear among the young professionals in D.C., well, ever.

On to Day 3 next post...

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Morocco Part Un

Hello Internet, I'm back from my latest African adventure! I figure this will take a few posts so we'll just start with Un (they speak French there...or Arabic...or Spanish ...or Italian....we'll get to that later but we'll go with French for now).

So, for anyone who does not know, Morocco is here:


And We. Went. Everywhere in it. Like so:

But let's start at the beginning, when we were leaving. Because, like my trip to Miami last year (here), quite a bit happened before I even got off the ground.

I tend to run in extremes and either I'm over prepared or not prepared at all for things. So when my friend Angie found a tour group who does tours of Morocco, I completely sat back and did basically nothing, figuring I'd land somewhere in Africa, meet up with this tour group of people I don't know, and they'd just tell me where to go each day. Which is basically what happened, except I also let my brain go when it came to packing, checking to see if I needed shots, checking to see if I needed....a Visa. (Fortunately, I did not.) You know, little details.

But I did finally book my bus up to New York where my flight was leaving.

.....I just didn't make it on that bus. Sigh.

This time it was not my fault! I called a taxi in plenty of time, waited the requisite 20 minutes that they said it could take, and -- still no cab. So I call the company, and what do they tell me?

Oh a cab hasn't been assigned to you yet, we'll dispatch one now.

Now? Now you will "dispatch one"? Now, like the exact time I need to be on my way to the place where I catch my bus? Thanks cab company. You are now dead to me.

So here's what makes all this even worse. I had given my access key to my cat sitter so I couldn't even get back into my building after realizing there was no cab to retrieve me, and

it was raining.

And one thing I didn't think to pack? An umbrella.

This is starting out well.

So now I'm starting to panic because the bus up to NYC is prompt and does not wait for people and I'm still a good 10-15 min drive to the pick up point. And I don't live in an area where you just hail down a cab.

But that's exactly what I did anyway.

I put my GIANT suitcase under cover, walked out in the rain (and I may or may not have been whimpering) to the corner by my apartment, and started yelling at taxi's that drove by. Even though the odds of one of them being empty and/or stopping for me there were low. (Of course the odds of someone I used to work with and/or date driving by and seeing me on a street corner in the rain yelling at traffic for no apparent reason are unreasonably high. Probably happened. We'll never know.)

But it finally worked! Except the cab was going the other way. And I still had to run back and grab my GIANT suitcase. So, fail.

But then it worked again! This time, I actually get in the cab and ask the man to please go quickly.

Which he does not. Sigh.

By some miracle, we do get to my bus pick up spot just about 1 or 2 minutes late and I think maybe, just maybe, I'll still make it.

I was wrong.

So I have to sheepishly text Angie (who is coming from a different city and is a generally organized person who, understandably, is already worried about travelling with me) that I've already messed up the very first leg of our journey and that I'd find another bus.

Then I proceeded to text her each time I got to a new exit on the Jersey Turnpike once on the new bus. Lesson Learned: this game is not as funny to others as it is to me.

I finally get to NYC in time to grab lunch and get on yet another mode of transportation - train this time - to get to the airport. And we meet a loud New Yorker who makes fun of how heavy my GIANT suitcase is and inexplicably asks if I have Bin Laden in it, then basically says he hopes my parents are in it so they can protect us in Morocco.

That was a recurring theme -- everyone who Angie and I told where we were going warned us that it wasn't safe. Everyone, that is, who had never been there. Don't listen to these people, Morocco is fine. Sheesh.

And that's how we started our trip. Next post we can discuss actually being in Morocco :)