Travel Writing Awards Entry

By Megan Edmondson

Due to extensive flight delays, as we climbed the rickety stairs to our plane I could say I was only feeling relief to be finally on my way to trading in stormy London for sunny Marrakech.  To say this feeling was short lived would be an embellishment! Stepping into the Royal Air Maroc cabin nearly caused me to hurtle myself back down the metal steps and start a campaign to celebrate the joys of tube travel!
Being transported back to 70’s style air travel (wallpapered cabin walls!?) could in some situations be considered kitsch and cool, but when combined with dirty ash trays in my arm rests, air hostesses that need to read the emergency escape plan during their presentation (I mean, come on! I know the plan!) and being seated next to the aircraft door that was migrating across the floor; only set me on edge.  Once the engines groaned themselves into life and our time trap was dragged into the air, I could only grip the armrests and pray that the food would be a highlight! It of course, wasn’t.
We landed and were delighted to find a man holding a board sporting our names (none to enthusiastically given it was the early hours of the morning now!). The drive into the city was an assault on our senses – the heat, the sites, the music blaring from his little dashboard and the fact that our bags were in the back with no ‘boot’! Every bump or corner had me straining out the window to see if one of our bags was left in the middle of the road! Pulling up in a small street framed by rubble I hoped that the grand red gates was our riad, but the taxi man waltzed on past them laughing at our crestfallen faces and pointing down the ‘road’.  Pulling our bags along the cobbles and trotting to keep up with this mountain of a man, I couldn’t help but notice that the road that I had assumed was empty (due to the early hours and the lack of lighting!) was in fact framed by wizened old men making husky comments that I was glad I didn’t understand!
Finally turning into an alley and knocking loudly on a large door, we were deposited into the care of a stooped, nightdress clad woman whose grip of the English language was practically non-existent! We were shown to our room and tears of relief and exhaustion started to cloud my vision when my travel buddy snatched the promotional card from the table and announced that we were in the wrong place.  After checking and double-checking the name on our confirmation email printout we marched downstairs to try to communicate the mix up with the clearly tired riad owner! She showed us our names on her list (which was good enough for me at this point!) but my friend was persistent in her quest, and when the ‘you pay me’ came out (we had already paid over the ever reliable internet!) our resolve to find our ‘real riad’ was strengthened!
Walking out of the riad back into the darkened street towing my pink rollie case behind me, handbag clutched in a claw-like grip and passport shoved down my pants was not exactly how I had pictured my first night! We found a new cab and gave him the address of our riad and although he had not heard of it, he was sure he could find it.  This resolve started to waver after he had been driving around for about 20mins.  We stopped outside a nightclub where he left us in the car, parked amongst abandoned bikes, scooters and empty cabs; took our email and went to confer with his ‘colleagues’! While he was laughing and pointing every which way with his mates, we were close to melt down in the back seat – tired, lost, needing the ladies and racking up a huge cab fare! When our very persistent driver returned to car he was wearing a huge grin, which we took to be a positive sign… however when he said our riad address didn’t exist, we realised he was laughing at us, definitely not with us! It was at this point that I was pretty keen to head back to the airport and back into the death trap of a plane that delivered me here!
However our kindly cab driver (who must have had daughters of his own, or just wanted a huge tip!) rang the number of the booking agent and spoke to them, who then found an English-speaking agent who he passed onto us.  The conversation went a little like this…
Them: The name on the email is the name of our company, not the name of the riad you were booked into
Us: Oh….
Them: Our drivers are very experienced and he did take you to the right riad.
Us: Oh…
Them: You should have stayed where you were, that is your riad.
Us: Oh…
Them: We will call them to alert them you will be coming back tonight and that it was a mix up.
Us: Oh… Thank you.
Them: Enjoy your stay. Goodnight.

The cab driver laughed the whole way back; he even walked us to the door to share the laughter with the riad owner.  And granted yes he did get a huge tip, as did our riad owner who didn’t seem to hold the whole ‘storming out’ incident against us and was a very friendly and accommodating host!
After surviving that first night in Marrakech, I knew we could handle anything else this trip would throw at us… just maybe not the flight back!