On Knowing When to Turn Back
“Please don’t let us die! Please don’t let us die! Please don’t let us die!”
This is what ran through my head in a loop for nearly the entire two hour taxi ride from Tangier to Chefchaouen. This was our introduction to our relaxing, laptop-free, work-free vacation in Morocco. Our driver seemed to think he was in a race car, and yet he jerked the wheel and over-corrected when going around curves in a way that reminded me of a teenager learning to drive.
He passed cars without really being able to see oncoming traffic. He drove too close to the car in front of him when he obviously couldn’t pass. He sped up and slammed on the breaks constantly. It was a nightmare. Worse than any crazy driving I’ve ever experienced in any of my past travels.
This was all after several days of traveling from Italy to Spain to Morocco. It was our fourth day of being in transit, and to top it all off, I accidentally left my jacket on the bus from Sevilla to Tarifa, where we caught the ferry to Tangier. Morocco is cold in the winter, and without my jacket, I was freezing in the death taxi since the driver had his window open.
By the time the driver dropped us off outside the medina, I was a mess. I made it about 10 steps from the taxi before I started crying. Andy gave me a big hug, we found a shop selling sweatshirts and got something to replace my jacket (sort of) and started looking for our hotel. (The majority of the medina is pedestrian-only, otherwise we would’ve been dropped off right at our hotel.) Finding our hotel was so difficult, I crumpled into a pile of tears in the middle of an alleyway.
We spent three nights in Chefchaouen and two nights in Rabat. I’ll write more about those cities later, but the short version is that about 95% of the time, we weren’t having fun. It was colder than we expected and hoped for, it rained more than half the time, and the food was making us both sick. Not food poisoning sick but, without getting graphic, it wasn’t a pleasant effect. I’m pretty sure it was that the food was way too oily. Once I realized the food was affecting me at every meal, I started to worry. The last thing I wanted was to really get sick again.
Once we arrived in Rabat, we started thinking about the time we had left in Morocco. Our next stop was Essaouira, which is a coastal beach city. Given the temperatures and the endless days of rain in the forecast, it felt like a bad choice. After that we had several days scheduled in Marrakesh, which is probably the most popular city in the country, but it’s also reputed to be quite overwhelming and chaotic. And as much as we were looking forward to our desert tour, I worried that sleeping in the desert in December would be miserably cold. (The tour company confirmed this when I emailed them to cancel.)
Ultimately we decided we couldn’t go on. Forcing ourselves through 12 more days of stress and not enjoying ourselves and getting sick from the food didn’t seem wise. We lost about 175 euros on a few things we couldn’t cancel, but it was worth it. After our two nights in Rabat, we boarded a train to Tangier and then hopped on a ferry to Tarifa, Spain. We spent one night there, and then headed back to Sevilla by bus, 10 nights earlier than scheduled.
I still want to see other parts of Morocco. I still want to take a desert tour, although Andy is more excited about the camel riding part than I am. But we need to be in the right mindset, we need to be healthier, and we need to go during warmer weather. So we’re not writing off Morocco completely, but cutting our trip short and turning back was absolutely the best decision for us at the time.
By the way, as soon as I realized I left my jacket on the bus, I emailed the bus company in broken Spanish to see if they could find it. A few days later, they wrote back to let me know they did find it, and they were holding it for me in Sevilla, so now I have my jacket back!
Steph (@ 20 Years Hence)
December 15, 2014 @ 6:32 PM
I’m sorry to hear that you had such a rough time in Morocco, Ali, but for what it’s worth, I think you guys made the right choice. We faced something very similar at the beginning of our travels when we visited China. We had initially planned to spend 2 months there, but decided to leave after only 3 weeks. We had some good moments and I think I would even consider revisiting different parts of China some day, but at the time, we were just really not having fun and it was just a lot more challenging than we had been prepared for. We decided that it didn’t make any sense to stick it out if we really weren’t enjoying ourselves and flew to the Philippines instead—we ended loving it there, and spent 2 months there instead. We still consider cutting our losses in China one of the hardest—but most important—lessons we learned on our trip. Morocco will always be there waiting for you, so good for you guys for recognizing that what you were doing wasn’t working and making changes!
December 16, 2014 @ 9:47 AM
Thanks Steph! It was a hard decision because I kept thinking about how much we had been looking forward to the trip and the desert tour we had to cancel, and I felt like we were giving up or chickening out or something. But it really was the best decision, and we felt so much better within a day or so of getting back to Spain. No matter how much we wanted to see more of Morocco, it wasn’t worth the money if we weren’t having fun, and it definitely wasn’t worth my health.
December 16, 2014 @ 1:51 AM
Sorry to hear your holiday didn’t turn out as planned!
December 16, 2014 @ 9:47 AM
December 16, 2014 @ 10:02 AM
I’m sorry to hear that your trip was rough (that Moroccan food got me as well:( ). However, I found this post so nice to read because it was honest and I was so impressed you did what was right for you. I’ve been in similar situations and stuck it out because I thought I should. Sometimes, things worked out. But other times, I would have been better off if I had been honest with myself and honored what I needed at the time. Thank you for giving me the courage to do that in the future!
And if you do go back, Essaouira is lovely and my favorite town in Morocco. And if you stomach can’t handle the food, Essaouira is full of restaurants serving delicious fresh salad, sandwiches and amazing French food.
December 16, 2014 @ 12:07 PM
Thanks Emiko! I’m glad you enjoyed the post. It was really hard to make this decision, and I did feel like we should stick it out. I think sometimes there’s a lot of value in doing that because sometimes things turn around or sometimes getting through the tough situation is rewarding. And I might have pushed through and stayed in Morocco if it weren’t for the food and my health. But in the end, I’m glad we cut the trip short. It was absolutely the right decision for us at the time. It’s hard to tell sometimes what the right thing is, but I’m glad I could give you some courage to be honest with yourself about cutting your losses in the future.
I’m glad you liked Essaouira so much, I’ve heard wonderful things! We’ll try again in warmer weather. I think it would’ve been miserable in December.
December 16, 2014 @ 7:26 PM
We spent a day in Tarifa together and took the ferry to tangier. Surely you remember me.
Bad to hear that your marocco trip was not exactly as planned, but i can absolutely understand that, as my first 2 days in tangier were a hard school, but making the first annoying marocco experiences in tangier, helped to enjoy the rest of my trip to marrakesh, Casablanca, Rabat and tangier again. It was really fantastic.
I am glad to hear that you have your jacket back.
December 17, 2014 @ 8:46 PM
Hi Michael! I’m sorry your trip started off a little rough too, but I’m soooo glad to hear you had a good time during the rest of your trip through Morocco! We really do want to go back and try it again someday. There was just so much that went wrong, and we couldn’t recover from it. Thanks again for helping me with my email to the bus company. I was so excited when they finally responded a few days later! By the way, we ended up spending the night in Tarifa on our way back to Sevilla, and we ate dinner and lunch at that same cafe. Tasty sandwiches, and we’re creatures of habit sometimes!
Let us know if you ever end up in Freiburg!
December 16, 2014 @ 8:58 PM
I think you made the right call. I’ve done things before in my travels simply because I had them scheduled, and usually my attitude is so lackluster that it’s not worth it. I’m sure your extra time was better spent doing something else.
I do hope you head back to Morocco someday, though. I loved Marrakech and the desert experience is unlike anything else I’ve ever done (and yes, I went in December too!). But it’ll still be there if/when you’re ready to try again and there’s a lot more world to see in the meantime.
December 17, 2014 @ 8:48 PM
Thanks Becky! As much as I questioned the decision as we were making it, once we were back in Sevilla relaxing and getting healthy again, I knew without doubt that it was the right choice. Morocco is definitely still on our radar, and the desert tour really does sound amazing. We’ll find a better time for it someday!
December 16, 2014 @ 10:07 PM
I had a similar mad taxi experience in Morocco. It’s just kinda how things go in some parts of the world. I definitely understand cutting your trip short and why wouldn’t you? You’re free to do what you want and if you’re not having fun I don’t see the point of continuing. That’s the great thing about long-term travel, you can change you plans at any moment! If you do want to go back I suggest going in the spring before it gets ridiculously hot. At least you’re in lovely Spain now. 🙂
December 17, 2014 @ 8:52 PM
That taxi ride was so much worse than any other crazy ride I’ve ever had anywhere else in the world. I really thought I was prepared for crazy driving, but man was I wrong! I’m definitely glad we changed our plans and went back to Spain. Now we’re in the apartment we originally rented for a month, and even though the weather hasn’t been great, it’s a really nice city. And yes, spring or fall for our next trip to Morocco!
December 21, 2014 @ 3:36 PM
That sounds like an experience I wouldn’t have enjoyed at all, but we both know people who would have loved the “authentic experience” of it all.
By the way, I got to ride a camel when I was in Cairo. After ten minutes, I was sort of over it. They’re very tall and they walk like they’re made entirely out of knees. I suspect Andy wouldn’t have as much fun as he thinks.
December 22, 2014 @ 2:20 PM
I like authentic as opposed to the Disney version of things, but I’m not the roughing it type. And yes, I expect the camels to be miserable, but then so does Andy. Somehow he’s still interested in riding one, so we’ll do it eventually. I’m hoping the experience of seeing all those stars out in the desert will make up for the hellish camel ride!
Justin @ Root of Good
January 25, 2015 @ 5:38 AM
“You got to know when to hold em, and know when to fold ’em” as they say. If you aren’t having fun, why keep pushing yourself, right?
We made the same choice this past summer while on a five week road trip to/through Canada from North Carolina. After 2.5 weeks of being on the road with our 3 kids (the youngest one just turned 2), we decided we had enough. The really dirty airbnb apartment we rented in Quebec City was the hair that broke the camel’s back. After one night, my wife and I decided that was enough vacationing for one summer and we packed up the car and headed back to Raleigh.
January 25, 2015 @ 12:16 PM
You’re right Justin, sometimes it just isn’t worth the pain. At the time, I hated having to cut our trip short because I *really* wanted to see the places we had on the rest of our itinerary. But it was completely the right decision, and luckily I knew that so quickly once we got back to Spain. I’m glad you were able to recognize that your trip wasn’t working out either. Sometimes it’s worth pushing through the hard stuff, but sometimes it really isn’t.
Justin @ Root of Good
January 25, 2015 @ 6:52 PM
I figure we can always return to see what we missed. In our case, we squeezed in a turbo-paced driving tour of historic old city Quebec City instead of exploring on foot for a few days. Maybe we’ll go back, but maybe not since we sort of got to see it already.
January 26, 2015 @ 11:17 AM
Exactly, you can always go back later if you want to!