Travel trips: from Morocco
"Any travel plans?" It's a question commonly asked of retirees.
For some of us, it involves frequent visits to grandchildren. For others, it's cross-country reconnections with distant friends, or maybe a weekend at the ocean or a day of hiking.
This year — after a lot of discussion and deferred gratification — we are indulging in a two-week adventure in Morocco, an all-Muslim country in northwest Africa.
As I write this, my husband and I are halfway through what could be called a "magical" holiday. Before leaving we were advised that was the word most often used to describe a Morocco visit. Mostly, it's accurate.
The nine-hour flight to London and three-hour flight to Marrakech were easier because of frequent-flyer upgrades left over from my husband's before-retirement life. Our eight-day apartment rental is in Morocco's third-largest city, which has a reliable, although aging railway system that allowed short side trips to Fes and Casablanca.
Living inside urban Morocco gives us greater insight into local culture but leaves us completely on our own in terms of navigation. I used to think the biggest problem you might experience during international travel was losing your passport. Not true — it's crossing the street ... particularly in African and Asian countries where you encounter busy intersections packed with honking "petit taxis," motorbikes with multiple riders, and the occasional donkey-pulled cart — all moving fairly rapidly without concern for pedestrians.
We are using a "fit-bit" app (www.fitbit.com) to track our mileage, and our daily walking and dashing across wide streets burns a lot of calories. So to keep up our energy, we have been eating copious amounts of tagine (a subtly spiced Moroccan stew) and tasty couscous with raisins. We've tried to pass on the super-sweet pastries and Moroccan mint tea (a small glass stuffed to the brim with fresh mint leaves, more than a half-cup of sugar and a little warm water).
During our first week, I was verbally assaulted by a camel (they are really cranky critters), and one day my husband ended up on the bad side of a snake charmer who wanted payment for taking a picture. Other than that, it has gone well. We were able to see inside one of the world's most beautiful mosques, Hassan II, in Casablanca. No matter what city we are in, five times each day we hear the call to prayer, an always-male-voiced chant emitting from loudspeakers placed throughout each city. It is strangely soothing. I will miss it.
But I'm turning this into a travelogue. I intended to focus on a few less-considered travel tips for older adults on the go. Reminders such as "keep your prescription medications on your person, never in checked baggage." Better yet, don't check baggage. Travel light. But keep an extra stash of medications together with a copy of the actual prescriptions in a separate place. A small first-aid kit is important. We both left with seasonal colds — individual packages of tissues are critical.
Carry hand sanitizer and disinfectant hand wipes. Use them on any remote-control devices, and on the flushing mechanism of the "toilette."
This country was once a French colony, so while Arabic is the language of record, French is predominant.
The best understood and warmest greeting we encountered in Morocco is one palm gently placed on the left side of your chest as if to say, "You are in my heart." That should be the way we always embrace each other — no matter the country.
Reach Sharon Johnson at Sharon@hmj.com.