Notes From a Trip to Asia
Feb. 1, 2018
This trip got off to an unexpectedly traumatic start.
I had been methodically both (1) plotting out my travel itinerary (while booking flights and hotels) and (2) slowly packing up the ‘bare minimum’ essentials in all the usual categories. (It is always problematic to fly from a cold climate to a tropical one, as one wants to avoid dragging around clothing – perhaps needed only for a cold night or two – that becomes a weighty burden from that point on.)
When the day of my departure arrived, I got up around 5:30am and went about the routine(s) of the morning. Feeling confident in my detailed plans, I found myself dreamily researching hotels in Boracay Island in the Philippines when I happened to glance at my iPhone and, to my horror!, saw that my Ryanair departure from Fez to Madrid was NOT at 3pm (as I had somehow logged into my brain) but was in fact just a little more than an hour from when I noticed the mistake! An utter panic set in, the likes of which I had never before experienced. Alas, I had been so lost in creating my complex itinerary that I had failed to check/re-check the details of my first simple but ESSENTIAL connecting flight out!
The irony of it all hit me hard.
Here I was, a sometimes ‘bragging master’ of travel, and yet I had fucked up the very first flight that would launch me into a 6.5 week trip … to a long list of places I had never before visited. An itinerary that already included some 15 separate flights to four Asian countries (plus two nights in Madrid) with changes in both Munich and Frankfurt.
Once I had (only slightly) calmed down, I tried to analyse my predicament and a possible solution. I soon set a desperate plan in motion by phoning Zouhir who was having breakfast … somewhere in the Medina. I asked him to phone Hamouda, my sometimes chauffeur, to see if – against all odds! – he could try to get me to the airport, er, on time. When Zouhir phoned him, he was still sleeping but he said he would immediately swing into action. Meanwhile, Zouhir quickly returned to Dar Balmira and we grabbed my luggage and made our way down the narrow alleyways of the Medina to the road at Rcif where Hamouda said he would meet us. I was sweating, huffing/puffing and shaking, certain that all of this was impossible … and impossibly happening.
A few minutes after we arrived, Hamouda turned up and, once he managed to turn his car around (in the ever messy anarchic/chaotic Medina traffic!), we jumped in with my luggage and headed off. The airport was about 18-20 km away and I knew that we would have to pass through some heavily trafficked areas … over some stretches of asphalt that had, literally, melted away during the hottest months of the recent summer. However, Hamouda proved to be a master of vehicular intimidation. As is usually the case in Morocco, there are no rules to obey if one cannot see the police. (Plus the entire system is based upon fear and contradictions between religion, state imposed controls and the raw character of human survival.) And so Hamouda broke every traffic law ever conceived … and, all the while, he somehow managed to keep sniffing ‘taaba’ whenever we stop. I am not talking about stopping at red lights – those he wormed his way through to the front and then sped through them! – rather these stops were determined by a pile-up of vehicles.
(About the ‘taaba’: I was once ‘sort of’ addicted to the stuff. I might still be if it had been consistent in quality … enough to always give the user a powerful short-lived high. But I managed to wean myself off the stuff, fearing the possibility of eventual lung-related problems: i.e. cancer. This is snuff: what men indulged in back in the 19th century … and yet there is still little or no research today as to its ultimate effect on the body.) Finally, somehow (a ‘somehow’ really beyond my more conventional understanding of reality), we arrived at the airport ‘end point’ for vehicles. Zouhir dragged my 4-wheel suitcase up the stairs to the terminal door. And as this is the new terminal in Fez Saiss – the protocol has tightened up significantly in the past couple of years – only passengers with a ticket are allowed to pass beyond this point. Still, as I was entering the terminal a few minutes after the scheduled gate closing time (!), I had no hope of actually making it onto the plane. Because I was sweating and, no doubt, looked like someone in a serious state of ‘meltdown’, people accommodated me every step of the way … until my suitcase was scanned … and I was made to open it. At first, I had no idea what they were looking for until it occurred to me that it was likely my corkscrew that the X-ray machine had detected. (Is a corkscrew really a potential weapon? Gosh, I think I’ve lost at least 3 or 4 so far to this ridiculous security practice.) Of course, any ‘card carrying’ Muslim certainly wouldn’t have one to begin with!
However, the nice thing about these Moroccan Security men is that they’re always mild mannered, even playful. I recall that, once, when they did a body ‘pat down’, I had even found myself getting an erection … a pretty rare physiological event these days! Anyhow, I unzipped my toiletries’ case and gave up the ‘lethal weapon’ and was allowed to continue on my way. At the gate, my bag was taken and I assumed that it would be placed in the passenger cabin which I thought might have been the rationale for seizing the opener. But no, it was placed in the hold … so there was really no reason to lose yet another opener. Nevertheless, despite all odds, I found myself walking to the rear entrance of the plane as if nothing out of the ordinary had ever happened. [The airline (Ryanair), of course, had earlier sent me at least half a dozen e-mails about arriving at the airport three hours before departure and emphasizing their latest restrictions on luggage.]
Thanks, not to Allah but, rather, to a stoned daredevil driver and a bunch of more or less laid back airport officials, I made it on board – even though I arrived well after the gate ‘cut off’ time. So my long and complicated trip to Asia managed, at least, to get past the starting gate! And this foolish aging traveler had to face up to his muddled mind, a lesson hopefully not forgotten on the voyage ahead.
All in all, if I am to make this trip happen without the proverbial train ‘going off the tracks’, I will need to get myself on board about an additional 20 flights … several of which I have yet to book!