21.08.2007 30 °C
FES – It is now around 8:30 PM local time here in Fes, and I am only just now getting a chance to review what has happened over the past twenty-eight and a half hours. They started fairly in-noccous enough when I parted ways with my father at Charlotte-Douglas International Airport. Unlike my flight over back in May, though, this trip was going to be slightly trickier. First off, instead of taking Royal Air Maroc’s (RAM’s) daily flight from JFK to Casablanca, which would have required taking a domestic flight from Casa to Fes (something which I have heard needs to be avoided if possible), I instead flew from Charlotte to Philadelphia, from which I departed to Charles de Gaulle in Paris and then finally on to Fes. Additionally, this trip was somewhat com-plicated by the fact that as soon as I got on the ground I needed to make my way to my hotel, which I will discuss later. On top of all of this, this was my first time in Philadelphia’s, Paris’s, and Fes’s airports, which exacerbated the fact that I was doing all of this on my own for the very first time! Needless to say, it was a bit daunting for he who is with very little solo travel expe-rience.
Keeping in mind these potential problems, I had decided to set up my flights in such a way that I had enough layover time to account for potential delays, so I wouldn’t need to worry about po-tentially missing a flight. The inevitable outcome of this travel schedule was that if my flights ran on time, I was going to have a marathon day involving close to 24 straight hours of flight and layovers until arriving in Fes. True to form, there were indeed no delays. My first flight – a 1:25 PM flight to Philly – was only about ninety minutes long, meaning that I had about three hours before my connector to Paris. Fortunately I still had cell phone service, so I spent most of the time talking to family and friends. After getting a last bite to eat in America (appropriately enough, a burger and fries from good ol’ MacDo’s), I got on the plane bound for France, which departed around 6:45 PM local time.
This was only my third overnight flight, and this flight gave me a chance to compare and contrast with my previous two on Delta/Alitalia and RAM/Delta (the first airline was the operator of the plane, in case you were wondering). The first thing I noticed was that the flight was not very full: in fact, yours truly got a three seat middle row all to himself! The obvious upshot to this was that I got a lot more legroom than usual, crucial to how well the flight goes for me. Another difference with US Airways was their entertainment system for the A330, which is what we flew over. Even though I was in coach (4 rows from the back of the plane, in fact), we received an on-demand entertainment system, complete with movies, TV, and even CDs. Given this new-found freedom, I decided to keep myself entertained. After reading this week’s Economist dur-ing takeoff, I decided to start a massive Sudoku book to the sounds of the Scissor Sisters’ Ta-Dah! Incidentally that was the only album of music I had with me after I was forced to reformat my computer during the summer, so the album which kept me sane while in Morocco also relaxed me during my return. Over dinner (an interesting barbecued beef dish with – among other things – a packet of organic white chocolate lemon cookies from Flat Rock, NC) I got to watch a fascinating show highlighting the rivalry between Hershey and Mars, the two largest candy man-ufacturers in the US. Finally, I decided to watch the film Breach, which is based on the opera-tion which entrapped Robert Hanssen, possibly the most damaging mole in American intelligence history. I highly recommend the movie. Finally, I tried to get a few hours of shuteye, but the next thing I remembered was them serving breakfast. Then I started thinking about jetlag over breakfast, and I realized something very funny: I don’t think that I’ve ever experienced jetlag. What I have experienced has been the extreme fatigue of running what amounts to an all-nighter and then getting to have another stress-filled day on top of that. If that’s what jetlag is, then I’ve had it; I’ve just never thought of it like that.
Finally we got on the ground in Paris at around 8:00 AM local time, which gave me a very slim window of almost eight hours in which to sit around with my bags, since I was switching air-lines! The reason why is because Charles de Gaulle (CDG) is like most major airports in that its terminals physically separate. In other words, we flew into Terminal 1, home to long-range in-ternational flights. Terminal 2 is where mainly Air France and its affiliates fly, while most short-range international flights and charters go through Terminal 3. After spending nearly three hours in Terminal 1, waiting for when I could find the check-in counter, I found out that I needed to go to Terminal 3. No big deal, though, as a quick ride on the fully-automated shuttle train gets you there, albeit with an additional five minute walk attached to it. After arriving in the terminal, I quickly learned something: As it deals with small carriers and charters, Terminal 3 doesn’t have much in the way of permanent check-in counters; instead, they are shared by the airlines as they are needed. The short of this is that I got to sit for an additional two and a half hours in the terminal with my bags at my side. Oh, yeah, there’s another problem with traveling solo: if you need to do important things like, say, go to the restroom, it’s not really possible until after you’ve checked baggage. Five and a half hours of torture later, I at long last earned a reprieve. The other problem is that focusing on not having baggage stolen for that long really numbs the mind, especially when you’re running on maybe ninety minutes of sleep (in large part my fault, I know) and when your reading is A Political History of Zambia (again, my choice; the book is really quite interesting, just a little thick at times).
After getting the baggage checked again and going through passport control again, I got to wait for another two and a half hours to get on my final flight, which was on Atlas Blue, RAM’s dis-count carrier (how a developing country’s national airline has a “budget carrier,” I really don’t understand), and it went straight to Fes. The flight was quick and straightforward; dinner and service were very good, as it has been for me on RAM. When we touched down and I walked down the staircase to see one of the peaks of the Middle Atlas, a massive smile came across my face. It was akin to returning home to me (well, kind of like a second home in my heart). Another passport control and customs check, and I was finally back in Morocco. A grand taxi (French for “large taxi” and not necessarily a grand ride!) ride into Fes took me to my hotel for the night: the Sofitel Palais Jamaï. The reason it is for only one night is twofold: first, nearly every hotel except for the Sofitel were booked up for tonight (again, my error); secondly – and more importantly – it is prohibitively expensive (my room’s going rate is close to US$300 per night, though I got it for significantly less). However, upon getting here, it has been truly one-of-a-kind. After checking in to a pot of mint tea to consume as I overlooked the medina at my own leisure (and having a talk with the concierge and general manager of the hotel!), I was taken up to my room, where a table had been laid out complete with roses and carnations, fresh bananas and peaches, bottles of spring water (a necessity here, for reasons stated in previous entries), and a box of Moroccan cookies, including a type of thin biscotti with dried fruit in it, a sesame seed roll, an oatmeal and almond cookie with a peanut “thumbprint,” a coconut and almond con-coction covered in confectioners’ sugar, an almond cookie that simply melts in your mouth, and a cookie that has a delicious almond filling (see a common theme here?). As if that wasn’t enough, the bed was turned down, complete with two espresso truffles! The hotel (and its incredible service) has been the perfect end to what has been an obscenely long day for yours truly.
I’ve certainly gone on a lot longer than I had anticipated, and as I haven’t had a full night’s sleep in…well, I’m not completely sure how long!...I suppose that I will wrap things up here. I will definitely try to get in the habit of publishing an entry once or twice a week, although unlike the summer, I will try to make each entry more of a column on a particular issue. That’s where you – my loyal readers – can come in to help. Think that my topics are mundane? Hear too much (or not enough, for that matter) about food? By all means, let me know what you think! Just drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org, and I’ll be happy to read your comments, praise, and even *gasp* criticism! Also, if you have any column topics you want me to address – from Moroccan tea culture to Islam in Morocco and everywhere in between – just send me an email at the same address, and I’ll try my best to answer your questions. After all, one of the biggest benefits of studying abroad is the ability to dispel rumors and stereotypes of the host country! Many people I have talked to were indeed surprised that the average Moroccan street does not resemble its Saudi counterpart. I’m just trying to give you what I’m seeing from my perspective.
Farewell from Fes for now.