"Promotion Man"  Chapter 2
The Adventure:
The hiatus... a very long one

Two weeks after giving notice to his friends at Atlantic, Dick, his wife and young son Christian left Atlanta and flew to Paris. They had no agenda, any travel was done on the spur of the moment and every day was an unplanned adventure, after all, it was a once in a lifetime opportunity.

"The first day in Paris we regretted not reading the travel tips more carefully, we'd packed and planned for every contingency and had arrived with five huge bags of clothes that we now had to drag around town and by the time we crashed on the hotel sheets that night we were totally exhausted. The next morning we sorted and prioritized every item and anything that didn't fit snuggly into two backpacks was tossed in a box and shipped back home. With our first big problem resolved, bring it on, we were ready for anything." 

We visited nearly every Paris museum, took every walking tour, stuffed ourselves at every dining experience, but after a week we were satiated and ready to unwind and for a change of scenery, maybe at a beach. We looked over some brochures in the hotel lobby and decided to take a train south through France and regroup in sunny Portugal. We boarded the night train at the Gare Saint Lazare Paris's main train station and began our first train adventure. In the middle of the night we were unexpectedly awakened to change trains at the French boarder, we sleepily produced our passports to the officially dressed agents that passed through the compartments. This was the first boarder crossing we'd experienced, disconcerting the first time, but we got used to it before long and soon we were officially on our way down the beautiful rocky coastline of Portugal and on into it's capitol city of Lisbon.

Lisbon is an ancient and beautiful old city, a contrast of modern bridges and meandering cobblestone streets lined with whitewashed houses and red tile roofs. We took our time looking around and decided to take the local trolley car tour to all the more popular sight, finally exausted we decided to find a quiet place to unwind. Back at the Lisbon train station we climbed aboard an old wooden streetcar that rumbled up the coast and delivered us to the seaside village of Estoril. By asking locals townspeople around in the market square about lodging, we were directed up the hill to a rambling ivy covered villa overlooking the village, the market and harbor. The view was beautiful and the villa was staffed by a friendly Portuguese family that prepared wonderful home cooked meals for us everyday. For the rest of the month we just relaxed and forgot about the world outside. We took long walks around town, explored nearby historic castles, we enjoyed the warm hospitality and friendly people of Portugal.

I would love to return to Portugal, the people were great, the food was fantastic and we would have stayed longer, but after a month of being lazy it was either time to move on or put down roots. So we decided to visit Morocco and the next morning we set off from Lisbon by train to Algeciras, Spain where we boarded a large ferry and once underweigh we passed through the Straits of Gibraltar on our way to the small Spanish colony of Ceuta on the north coast of Africa.

The Seine, Paris

Dick & Christian, Paris

View from Villa

Villa in Estoril, Portugal

We arrived at the colony of Ceuta in the tropical heat of midday, instantly we were surrounded by a mob of street kids, beggars and vendors that were hawking everything from straw hats to hashish. After lingering long enough to make a small purchase, we made a dash to the town's dusty central bus terminal that was crowded with traveler milling around the ticket booths, we arrived just in time to see our recent fellow ferry passengers leave the terminal in a fog of street dust, aboard what we found out was the last bus to Morocco until morning. A uniformed man standing nearby, overheard us griping about missing the bus, he'd obviously seen people in this same situation and for a price offered to drive us in his Mercedes limo into the city of Tetouan a few miles inside the Moroccan boarder.

We very were anxious to make it across the boarder before sundown so we would have time to look for a comfortable and affordable hotel. With no other alternatives, we haggled a few minutes with him over the price and then agreed to a price we thought was fair. We got in the back seat of the comfortable black Mercedes, a young traveler we recognized from the ferry passed by and asked if we had room for him. He was from the Netherlands and we quickly decided to take him with us, he threw his backpack into the open trunk and climbed in the front seat. We all settled in and the nose of the Mercedes edged through the crowd and the pothole filled city streets of Ceuta, out onto a thin strip of asphalt road and headed south through the barren rocky landscape toward the Kingdom of Morocco.

As we approached the checkpoint gates at the Moroccan boarder the driver slowed down, we saw the bus we'd missed earlier at the terminal was now stopped in front of us. All the passenger were milling around outside in single file by the bus and a half dozen of the armed boarder guards were searching through each piece of their luggage. Another guard standing in the middle of the road beckoned us with his hand to advance and stop, he leaned forward into the drivers window and deftly plucked some folded cash from the hand of our driver, the guard grimly nodded and waived us through the checkpoint. Wow... our limo driver and new very best friend had just saved our asses from a luggage search by the Moroccan boarder guards. We couldn't help ourselves, we started laughing and didn't stop until we drove into the city of Tetouan. ...Our adventure had definitely started.

We'd arrived in Tetouan at dusk, still light enough to see that it was an dirty adobe outpost with crumbling walls and failed streets who's main industry at the time apparently was drug trafficking, because everyone we passed on the street was trying to sell us hashish. The town as I would remember later, reminded me of the Star Wars "pirate city" on Tatooine and the bar scene, complete with hooded figures lurking in dark alleys.

Our limo driver and new best friend, went out of his way to find us a decent hotel for the night, we thanked him and dropped off our backpacks in our rooms. We hadn't eaten since morning and ventured into the dark streets to find something to eat. We found a small restaurant, no one spoke English but our passenger friend from the Netherlands also spoke French and we ordered a delicious local dish of "couscous and pigeon". Later, walking back to the hotel we saw a couple of our fellow ferry passengers that had finally made it through the boarder checkpoint and were now looking for a place for the night, we led them back to our hotel and told them our boarder guard story. They were not happy campers.

Under the circumstances, being alone in a foreign drug mecca was dicey at best and the idea of going native seemed like the best thing for us to do. We wanted to go deeper into Morocco to our destination city, Fez. Acting on a tip from a fellow traveler, we awoke at daybreak and began to search for a green school bus on a street not too far from the hotel. We finally found it parked on a side street, the creaky looking old bus had obviously seen better days, there was a rope cargo net on top that held passengers luggage and that pinned live chickens and small farm animals firmly onto its roof.

We gave the driver cash for a couple of tickets and got onboard, immediately we noticing that no one else from the ferry was onboard. We suddenly felt very alone, we waited in silent anticipation until the driver was satisfied his bus had enough passengers to make the trip. Apparently it was, so he slid into the worn out drivers seat and grinding the gearshift lever forward the bus lurched out of town through the early morning haze in a cloud of diesel smoke.

The bus climbed up narrow gravel roads that twisted and turned through steep mountain inclines past miles upon miles of cultivated poppy farms. Occasionally the bus would stop to pick up a Gypsy families waiting along the road by a tent city or motor caravan and by late afternoon we'd made it to the top of Morocco's rugged Atlas Mountains. After a day's jarring travel up through white-knuckle mountain roads, we began a slow decent down the mountain road as acrid smoke from overheating breaks wafted up through the floorboards. Descending into the foothills and late in the evening we finally reached the still raging hot desert flats, after a few hours through the heat we entered the ancient walled city of Fez through splendid arched Moorish gates.

Fez is an ancient city that sits straddling the banks of the Fez river and for a thousand years has been the center of trade along the silk road coming from the far east, a center for the spice trade, colorfully dyed fabric rugs and hand tooled leather and ivory. The city is isolated, cut off from the rest of the world and Morocco by the Atlas mountains on one side, endless desert on the other... So here we stood, engulfed by exotic smells of spice and pack animals, surrounded by an ancient old world and witnessing the sights that travelers to the city hundreds of years ago would recognize, we truly were in a different world.

We quickly adjusted to our new surroundings and toured the thousand year old medina and it's labyrinth of narrow passageways that accommodated the traffic of both people and pack animals, doing our best to avoid being stepped on by the heavily laden donkey caravans. We were approached by a small child guide who spoke seven languages fluently and offered to guide us through the maze of stalls filled with spice and colorful fabric goods. We located several out of the way merchants trading traditional Moroccan hand-woven rugs and wall hangings. We looked through the shops, haggled for bargains, lingering at turn of the century French sidewalk cafe's, ate croissants and sipped the traditional Moroccan sweet mint tea, acting like we'd been there forever. At the end a day of sightseeing we'd relax at the hotel after an exotic meal, puff on exotic herbs from a classic wood and ceramic hookah and watch the colorful sunset over the desert from our balcony. Life was good.


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