Morocco, Take Two

We were originally scheduled to fly to Morocco on March 30, 2020. Well, we all know how THAT went. As late as March 3, 2020, we pondered canceling our trip, still uncertain as to whether or not it was safe to travel. Fortunately, the decision was made for us, so we were spared the anxiety and turmoil that other travelers experienced when they had to cut their trips short before everything closed completely down.

We had planned to take three other trips in 2020, our most ambitious travel schedule ever. So much for well laid plans. Like all the other travel enthusiasts out there, we discovered that 2020 would be the year that our big travel plans centered around obtaining groceries.

Fortunately, all our trips were with OAT and the company made rebooking painless, with generous travel credits. In fact, our rebooked trip is even better than the original, because we are including the pre-trip to Chefchaouen, an option that was not offered for our 2020 departure. Our fingers are crossed that in about three months, we will be doing an instant replay: packing and getting geared up for our trip.

So what do you do when you have about a year and a half interlude? If you’re me, you read a whole lot. The photo atop this post shows just some of the books I’ve read in preparation for our trip. These were all purchased from Thrift Books, an on line store that has an abundance of affordable second hand travel books in great shape.

If you are only going to read one book, I highly recommend “Dreams of Trespass” by Fatima Mernissi. Written in 1994, when she was 54 years old, Mernissi takes us back to her childhood and introduces us to two very different harems: the Fez home of her paternal grandparents and the country farm of her maternal grandparents.  What I loved most about the book is it is written in the voice of a 9 year old girl. She asks “what makes a harem”?  Do you need to have multiple wives (“farm” grandfather had 9) or can you have only 1 wife (like her father and uncle) and still be a harem? Does the harem have to have high walls (like in the city of Fez) or can it be wall-less like in the country? Ultimately, she concluded that unless you are a sultan, a harem was simply the home for an extended family; it offered a refuge for divorced and widowed women.

When Mernissi was a child, Morocco was a French “protectorate”.  Remember that famous scene from the movie, Casablanca, where the Germans are out-sung by the French, who stand up and belt out La Marseillaise?  Were there any Moroccans in that scene?  If you are wondering what life was like for those  conquered by the European “Christians”, Mernissi gives us this glimpse: “Christians, just like Muslims, fight each other all the time, and the Spanish and the French almost killed one another when they crossed our frontier.  Then, when neither was able to exterminate the other, they decided to cut Morocco in half.  They put soldiers near Arbaoua and said that from now on, to go north, you needed a pass because you are crossing into Spanish Morocco.  To go south, you needed another pass because you are crossing into French Morocco.”  I wonder what song the Moroccans would have sung had THEY been in Rick’s cafe?

Mernisi learned about World War II by listening to her male relatives who “talked about the Allemane, or Germans, a new breed of Christians who were giving a beating to the French and British, and they talked about a bomb that the Americans across the sea had dropped on Japan, which was one of the Asian nations near China, thousands of kilometers east of Mecca.  The news about that bomb plunged father, Uncle Ali and my young cousins into deep despair, for if the Christians had thrown that bomb on the Asians who lived so far away, it was only a matter of time before they attacked the Arabs” 

That’s the beauty of travel.  It allows you to connect with people who, on the surface, seem so very different only to learn how much of our hopes, fears and desires are shared.  

 

To GO or Not TO GO, THAT is the Question

In September of 2018, we signed up with Overseas Adventure Travel for a March 2020 trip to Morocco. Why plan so far in advance? We wanted to travel with friends, OAT limits their groups to 16, and popular trips sell out quickly. We had no difficulty recruiting 11 friends to go on the tour with us. So far so good. Fast forward to today, with departure date rapidly approaching. As my favorite philosopher, John Lennon, once said, “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.”

Well ol’ John was right. “Life” has certainly jumped up and slapped us in the face. Within the last two months three travel buddies had to drop out. One member of a couple was diagnosed with a serious medical issue, then another fell and fractured her knee. Their future absence made us realize how much we were looking forward to spending time with them.

Because the trip is so popular, their spots were quickly taken by other OAT travelers –also known as friends we haven’t met yet. So, there will still be 16 of us on the trip. But wait, we aren’t finished. Unless you are in a coma, you have probably heard about the coronavirus. So far, none of us has allowed it to disrupt our plans.

Fortunately, according to our State Department, Morocco is looking safe. Still, we have to fly to get there and back, and our plans include a three day stopover in Paris before we enter Morocco. Although the State Department hasn’t identified France as a “do not travel” country, another source indicated that several cases have popped up in France.

What to do? Sadly, we have to acknowledge that being over 65, we have aged into the “at risk” group. Fortunately, we are relatively healthy, and are up to date on all of our shots. Still, we recently experienced another country’s health care system, and although the outcome was positive, visiting my spouse in the Alice Springs Hospital was not a high point of our trip to Australia. (Clearly, it wasn’t my spouse’s either.) On a positive note, although we learned just how wonderful our medicare supplement coverage is when we are outside of the USA, we hope to never have to use it again!

As of today, according to the US State Department, Morocco and Paris have only the usual warnings about terrorist activities, but that is the world we live in. Given our record of gun violence in schools, churches, shopping malls, movie theaters, we could just as easily be mowed down by a home grown terrorist shooting his assault weapon. I refuse to let terrorists, either here or elsewhere, win. A virus, however, is another matter.

As of today, Morocco has reported its first case of the coronavirus; its victim, a man who returned from a visit to Italy, is being treated in a Casablanca hospital.

In Paris, a protest by workers closed the Louvre for two days, until the Museum staff assured the workers that “proper measures” to ensure their safety were being taken.

What happens if we get to Paris, and Morocco decides not to let anyone into the country from France –or from the USA? Let’s face it, several states have reported outbreaks, with many of the victims having no known source of contact. Our response is being managed by Mike Pence, who is not noted for his expertise in the medical and scientific arena. Maybe other countries will view US as being problematic? What if we make it to Morocco, an outbreak occurs and we can’t fly home? What if we catch a cold or some other nasty thing on the flights, either to or from our destination and we have to be quarantined until we are tested and certified as okay? So many “what ifs”. One thing that’s certain, if we go, my plan to travel with “carry on only” has been abandoned. I want to be sure we have enough clean clothes to get us through any “what ifs” that come our way.

In addition to cancelling all trips to China, South Korea and Mongolia, OAT has allowed travelers that signed up for their Italy trips the option to cancel right up to the date of departure, choosing either to apply their payment to a future OAT trip or to get a refund, minus a small processing fee. That gives us peace of mind.

What will we do? We will prepare as if we are going to take the trip, watch the news, check the internet and wait to see how it all unfolds.

Melbourne, Part Two

Okay, I’ll admit it, I felt really, really guilty, when I learned that while I was having a grand old time on the Great Ocean Road, my beloved husband was suffering in a Melbourne hospital, as I confessed in my last blog post.

After seven days in a town that is hotter than hell ( well, maybe not hell, but definitely purgatory), I feel my penance has been completed and I am free to share the rest of the photos from our glorious time in Melbourne.

Originally called The Sow and the Piglets, these rock formations were wisely renamed The Twelve Apostles, despite their originally being only nine of them. One has since crumbled, so now there are only eight. I spent most of my career in marketing, so hey, I get it. Nine was close enough, if you just round up.

Not surprisingly, the gambit worked, and the rest is history. The Apostles are definitely a beloved Australian tourist attraction.

The beach is lovely too, and if you are willing to walk down (and climb back up) eighty steps, you too can get your picture taken on this gorgeous beach.


I was definitely game. My favorite photographer was otherwise occupied, but one of our fellow travelers offered to take my picture. Foolishly, I neglected to check my phone until I got all the way back to the top, only to discover a technical glitch. No photo. Andy, who you will soon meet, wearing a bird for a hat, offered to go back down with me, so he and I got to climb down (and UP) 160 steps!


Given that I’m looking a bit chunky, that extra exercise was probably a GOOD thing!

Our stop at the bird hangout was great fun, although I will admit it’s a bit of a jolt when one of these guys unexpectedly lands on you, but Andy took it all in stride.

Paul, our tour guide, (shown instructing Jenny, a member of our OAT group) , kept us enlightened and entertained during our entire day together.

He told us The Great Ocean Road was built to employ returning war veterans. (Sorta like FDR’s CCC during the Great Depression).

About 3,000 former soldiers labored to build the road for almost thirteen years. Because of what we now call PTSD, dynamite couldn’t be used to break through rock; construction was done with pick and shovel.

This war memorial was built to honor the thousands who never came back from the war.

Other highlights from our time in Melbourne included a visit to the Mornington Peninsula, where we visited the Moonlit Sanctuary.

Unlike the Tasmanian Koala, this guy was awake. These animals sleep twenty hours per day, so somehow we managed to time it just right.

We didn’t have as much luck with the wallabies and kangaroos. They clearly were used to being fed frequently, and weren’t motivated to hop over for a snack. But the ducks and birds were quite happy to take a handout.

And this wombat? All we could see were his feet and hands! I think he had a “Do Not Disturb” tag hanging on his barrel!


Another notable visit was to the Abbotsford Convent. Now art studios and an educational center, it was once a “Magdalen Asylum” where up to 400 women and girls were sheltered. They were either orphans,”fallen women” or had no where else to go. They were also a source of free labor.

For “three hots and a cot”, they worked doing laundry for hotels and the weathy of Melbourne. As you might expect of a Catholic institution, prayer and chapel attendance were mandatory, as was penitence. This went on until 1975.

Today, the convent is beautified by art. I was particularly intrigued by these hand painted fabrics, which were very creatively displayed. I leave it to your imagination as to what this artwork symbolizes. It certainly has meaning for ME.

Here’s a close up of one of the fabrics. They were all different and were all exquisite.

Tomorrow we head for Sydney, our final destination on this slightly modified tour of our seventh continent, so I’ll leave you with one last example of what my new iPhone 11 camera can do.

Alice Springs, Australia

In the early ’80s I was captivated by a Masterpiece Theater Miniseries, “A Town Like Alice”, so much so that I read the book upon which the series was based. Who knew that about 35 years later we’d be spending two nights in this “bonza” town in the Northern Territory, right after our stay in Melbourne.

There is still so much more to say about Melbourne, and I will eventually get to that, but first, I bring you Alice Springs with a summary of why this is a town we will never forget.

Our hotel, the Doubletree, is located right across from the Todd River. Both the river and the mall (among other things) are named after Sir Charles Todd, who brought communications to the area by constructing telegraph wires or stations or something along those lines. (Clearly I wasn’t all that interested). His wife’s name was Alice, and I’m guessing that at one time the area had a lot of natural springs?

Check out the Todd River.

What, you’re having trouble finding it? That may be because the “river” is bone dry. You see, this area can go for YEARS without rain. It actually looks a whole lot better on Google maps, portrayed as a blue ribbon surrounded by green borders. But no. It is all brown and dry. But the walkway is nice.

So, why did Mike and I decide to skip Uluru and the Great Barrier Reef to spend an additional five nights ( count ’em, FIVE nights !!!) in Alice Springs?

It was a nose bleed. Yes, you read that right. But WHAT a nosebleed! Enough to warrant a 3AM ambulance ride, a hospital stay of three nights, with a trip to the operating room thrown in for good measure. Thanks to the wonderful doctors and nurses in Alice Springs, our hero is out of the hospital and on the mend. But he needs to rest up, so we are hanging out in Alice Springs for those extra days, then flying to Sydney, where, if all goes well, we will be able to rendezvous one last time with our wonderful group before we all fly home.

Exactly HOW did Mike get that geyser of a nosebleed?

No, his boomerang did NOT circle back and whomp him in the nose!

It all started in Melbourne. He awoke very, very early with what he thought was strep throat. (It wasn’t). Being the considerate, resourceful guy that he is, he didn’t want to wake me or our tour guide, so he surfed the net to find St Vincent’s Hospital was close by. (Bad idea). I woke as he was headed out the door, unfortunately not alert enough to shout “NOOO. Don’t do it.” But then I figured he knew what he was doing, he’d get his antibiotics, then return to the hotel to spend the rest of the day sleeping off his illness.

While I was enjoying the magnificence of the Great Ocean Road, Mike was having his nasal passage assaulted. A nurse decided to ram a swab up his nose to do a flu test. That caused his FIRST nosebleed. (The afore mentioned nosebleed in Alice Springs was the SECOND one). The doctor cauterized the wound, (but not well enough) kept him in the hospital overnight and discharged him early Saturday morning, clearing him to fly to Alice Springs.

Although if we’d had our druthers, Mike would have skipped learning about another country’s health care system, however there WERE a few positives.

  • We felt lucky we weren’t in a remote area devoid of medical facilities AND grateful we both understood the local language (sort of).
  • We HAD purchased trip insurance plus we have high spending limits on our credit card, so we were okay paying (charging) up front.
  • We learned more than we ever wanted to know about travel insurance, electronic devices (phones, SIM cards, hot spots) which provides me with lots of material for future blog posts.
  • The hospital was only a mile away, so I got plenty of exercise walking along the “river”, from hotel to hospital and back, a couple of times a day.
  • I was able to download “A Town Like Alice” to my phone and reread it while waiting for Mike to get out of surgery. I had forgotten that I had liked the miniseries so much more than the book. Still it was a good distraction and it reintroduced me to the word “bonza”. What do YOU think it means?
  • We discovered how tuned in Australians are to what is happening in America, and how well informed they are about Trump, Pence, even Mike Pompeo! Some of them probably know more than many Americans. The nurses were curious about what Americans think of Trump, so we gave them our views and others’ views. Being liberals, that’s what we try to do. Present the facts. We had no idea how much other countries are counting on us to vote him out, something we heard frequently on our trip.
  • The hotel has a pool, so I could imagine I was taking a “sit in the sun and do nothing” kind of vacation. It didn’t take long for me to remember why I never go on that kind of vacation any more!
  • So, that’s why I haven’t been posting much these past few days. I know. A blog is an unusual way to inform friends and family of a somewhat traumatic event. (Mike’s nose was traumatized, as was my psyche).
  • Thankfully, all is well now. Happier posts will follow with better photos!
  • The Land of Oz

    As a kid, I was always fascinated by the Wizard of Oz. In addition to watching the movie multiple times, I read every single Oz book our library carried. So, I was quite excited when I stumbled upon the PBS series entitled The Magical Land of Oz . To my surprise, it wasn’t about Dorothy or the wizard at all, but was instead three wonderful shows about Australia, where we will be heading shortly. (No tornado required, and, I hope, none expected).

    Why is Australia called the Land of Oz? I didn’t know, so I asked Mr. Google, the source of much of my wisdom. Turns out, it has to do with the way it sounds when you say the first three letters of the continent’s name. Give it a try. Anyway, the shows are visually spectacular, much better than anything I can hope to capture with my photos.

    Speaking of photos, this is the first trip I will make without bringing a camera. Yes, I will still take photos, but I will be using my new iPhone 11 pro. After our son sent us photos he had taken with the wide angle, telephoto and regular lenses, and showed us what the camera can do with night shots, I was intrigued. It was definitely worth a trip to the nearby Apple store to just take a look. Silly me. I really thought I would be able to leave the store without making a purchase!

    Another purchase for the trip was a “lipstick” charger from Amazon. My friend Sally had been using one on our recent bike trip and I was quite taken with the little gadget. Even though the iPhone 11 is supposed to have a robust battery, I didn’t want to take a chance of running out of juice should I encounter a once in a lifetime photo op.

    Of course, that wasn’t the only gadget that captured my attention. I also HAD to have the Lencent adaptor I stumbled upon when purchasing the lipstick charger. They both come with cute little storage sacks and don’t take up much room in my gadget bag.

    Because my replaced iPhone is few generations old, I decided not to turn it in, but instead plan to purchase a prepaid sim card for use in Australia. (Yes, my buying frenzy continues). After learning that, like New Zealand, free, unlimited WiFi isn’t widely available in Australia, I figured it was worthwhile to give a foreign sim card a try, using THAT older phone for accessing the internet. (An idea I picked up from one of the travel forums I follow).

    Here’s what my research uncovered: you need to pay attention to “credit validity”, which was a new term for me. I have since learned that it refers to the number of days the prepayment option has purchased, starting from the day you first use it. So, if you purchase a card with a credit validity of 7 days, and you use it on the 1st of the month, regardless of the gigabytes purchased, you are done on the 8th, and need to “recharge” (pay more).

    Why not go with Verizon’s travel pass? Well, if you use the internet ONCE during a 24 hour period, you get charged $10 for that day. It seemed like a better deal to get a prepaid sim card for 28 days for $30 Australian dollars (about $20 US, or two days worth of Verizon Travel Pass.

    Why wouldn’t I just use the Australian sim card, in my new iPhone, you ask? Good question. Here’s why: I know myself well enough to recognize that it is entirely possible for me to lose my original sim card, a significant concern.

    There are three mobile phone networks in Australia. Telestra, Optus and Vodaphone all offer coverage in the most traveled parts of Australia. Of the three, Optus is the only network that has a store in Melbourne Airport. So, given that this is a new experience for me, I decided that I wanted to interact with a human rather than purchase a card in advance from the internet (Amazon)and hope for the best. That way, I can have someone exchange the cards for me, and make sure that the phone is functioning correctly before we leave the airport.

    Thanks to the internet, I was able to check the coverage map for Optus, where I learned that coverage varies by type of device, something I never would have considered. It appears that the iPhone 7 may not have great coverage throughout Tasmania and parts of the interior where we will be visiting. Big decision: will I decide to be without WiFi when in those uncovered areas? Or will I trust myself not to lose my original sim card and just use my new iPhone? Bet you can’t wait for this cliff hanger to be resolved in a future post.

    Another cliff hanger: Will we get off the wait list for an upgrade to United’s business class? Here’s the deal. A free round trip ticket would have cost 240,000 miles each, whereas an upgrade is only 60,000 miles each, plus the price of an economy ticket and an additional cash payment. Given that we had nowhere near the miles needed for a free ticket, we opted for the upgrade, resulting in our waiting to see whether United can sell those seats for more than what we paid in cash and miles. It’s a gamble–one that does not make me a happy, loyal United customer. BUT, the other option would have been paying almost $8,000 each for business class. Of course, we could always stuff ourselves into economy for 6 hours to LA and 16 more hours to Melbourne. Yeah, we sure HOPE that’s not happening.

    Finally, we learned from our trip leader that during our tour, we can expect temperatures to vary from a potential low of 30 F to highs in the 90’s, with varying degrees of humidity. Hey, its a big continent, and we are covering a lot of ground. That makes packing even more of a challenge. This time, I’m using different packing cubes for cold, temperate and hot areas.

    Theoretically, the blue cubes can be compressed. Realistically, the plastic compression bags do a much better job so that’s what I used for my jacket. It is great for travel because the lining zips out, transforming the shell into a light weight rain jacket. Plus, the lining can be worn alone for cool days and shell plus lining will keep me toasty during those 30 F days and nights. Yes, it all fit into my duffel, was under 50 pounds, PLUS my backpack (carry on) had plenty of room to spare.

    Here’s the route we, and 10 other travelers, will be taking on our Overseas Adventure Travel (OAT) tour. Six of us have opted for the pre trip to Tasmania.

    See you in Oz!