I landed in Marrakesh on Thursday.
The customs line is long and chaotic. Some passengers are waved through. Others wait for security officials to check papers and ask questions. The tourists’ movements are calibrated, lips tight.
My turn. I walk to the customs desk. The official is in a passionate argument with two fellow officers. I wait.
Finally he faces me and takes my landing card. He scans the information and stops at the field marked occupation. I’ve written writer.
“What kind of writer,” he says, speaking to me for the first time. “Journalist?”
My throat tightens. I should have anticipated this. I search for the least threatening thing.
“Fantasy novelist,” I say.
“Fantasy novelist,” he says with a smile. “Welcome!”
He stamps my card and I’m through.
On the other side of customs is my friend Ian.
We’ve both recently had big life changes and haven’t had legit time together since. I proposed a trip to somewhere neither of us have been. So here we are in Morocco.
From the minute we walk out of the airport it’s clear we’re in a different place. A mix of chaos and ease. Your pick which energy to follow.
We spend a day in Marrakesh. The otherworldliness is welcome and our guide is kind and knowledgable, but the mood is not our speed. Every interaction is a hustle. Kindness followed by an ask. Comfort is hard to find.
Wanting quiet we walk the half hour from our hotel into the Medina. A man stops us. “You know me,” he says. He works at the hotel. He wants to show us something. He is insistent.
We follow him down many streets and alleys until we arrive in a small stone room. We’re met by a woman wearing a white lab coat. She smears oil on our arms. “Argon oil,” she says. “No smell.” We look for the man who brought us. He’s already gone.
The next day we rent a car and drive to the ocean.
Before the trip Ian suggested we each make a 60 minute playlist and the whole trip we listen to our mixes and nothing else. We’re lifelong music-heads, between us an incredible passion and knowledge. Time with either risks a potential seminar in deeper and deeper cuts. This constraint was a perfect proposal.
We listen to each mix on its own, then switch to a shuffle of both mixes together. Wires cross and join, new ideas form, the transitions between songs moments of anticipation. The thirty songs create an omnipresent texture.
After two hours we’re flagged down at a police roadblock. I stand next to the road before a police officer. He sits on a dining chair underneath the shade of a tree. A holstered gun is on his hip. We're in the middle of the desert. There’s nothing else around.
He tells me I was speeding. I owe $150 Moroccan ($15 USD). He fills out a form. I sign and pay cash on the spot. We keep going.
In Essaouira we find our speed. It’s a surf town. We rent an absurdly large villa for the two of us. We fill its rooms with stories, memories, theories of the world. In the end it might be too small.
We’ve both come with the task of writing and remembering. I propose a version of the Henry Rollins workout from The Creative Independent: write for 30 minutes then do 30 push-ups. Repeat.
We spend the day writing, exercising, swimming, and laughing at our good fortune. Two small-town boys from rural America carving an adventure on a new continent.
On our last day we head towards Marrakech to the Atlas Mountains.
The area is unlike anything we’ve seen. We climb single-lane roads through tiny villages. We crawl behind mules and bicycles. The land is surprisingly lush.
The road ends. We get out and hike another kilometer up the mountain. We make way for loaded pack mules coming down the trail.
At the top we see stone villages cut into mountain walls. We hear the rush of a waterfall in the distance. We're surrounded by the majesty of the mountains. We breathe and stand in silence.
Maybe fantasy novelist was right after all.