[I am an ardent advocate of solo travel. I have never passed up an opportunity to bash /argue against group travel. However a recent travel experience has realigned my thoughts on traveling with strangers.]
The night before the start of my Marvelous Morocco trip I arrived at my hotel in Casablanca after 10 pm to a note that read ” Hi I am Aziz, Your COE ( Chief Experience Officer, in plain speak our guide). I am sorry you have missed dinner with the group since you have arrived late”.
I heaved a sigh of relief. Group tours were not exactly my style. If I had not won the contest hosted by Cox and Kings I would not have had anything even remotely to do with a group of complete strangers in a foreign land.
Inevitably I met the group over breakfast the next morning. I was down even before the coffee had been brewed, my body clock still five and half hours ahead of the standard time in Morocco. One by one the ‘group’ spilled in to the rather small restaurant hauling their luggage after them. I did a quick count. Six and then me . That was a total of seven.
There was Brad from Ohio, Larry and Serge, partners from Canada, Mary, Janet and Peg, a mother- daughter -sister trio from Michigan.
Between sips of coffee and freshly baked bread we made small talk. Breakfast in that rather small restaurant would be the first of many meals we would have together, by choice.
The Marvelous Morocco trip offered by GAdventures was a fast paced tour covering a lot of ground in a short time. What this meant was that the seven of us would spent long hours in the mini van driving across Morocco. Every day in the morning we would be packed into the van and whisked away to the next destination some of which were about ten to twelve hours away.
Sometimes couples in love look back over time at the series of events that eventually brought them together. If I were to apply the same principle for our group and look back at a particular event that warmed me to my group would be me wanting to use the restroom in the granary of Moulay Ismail. We had taken an unplanned detour in Casablanca and as such arrived rather late in Meknes. So we went from sight to sight ‘chop chop’ trying to make up for the lost time. Not wanting to disrupt the guide or the attentive group I held my peace through the tours of the Mausoleum of Moulay Ismail and his stables. But before we were done with his granary my bladder was threatening to explode. I must have been a sight to behold because Mary came up to me and said in a matter of fact tone ” I think you should declare an emergency. Stop the man and find the nearest toilet. I know I would do that’.Thank you Mary if not for you I may have had an embarrassing repeat of a pre-school experience that I have vowed to never ever mention.
Somewhere before the end of day one I realized that Mark Twain was right. Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness. Case in point – I take you to my quote in the beginning of this piece ‘ I would not have had anything even remotely to do with a group of complete strangers in a foreign land.’
At breakfast on day two the seven of us were strangers no more.Each had their reason for being there. This trip to Morocco was Brad’s gift to himself for his 40th birthday which he celebrated with us over a nice dinner to the tunes of Moroccan folklore. Mary and gang had originally planned Morocco as a short day trip from Portugal but eventually squeezed Portugal into a week and made room for 9 days in Morocco. For Larry and Serge it was break from their regular beach holidays.For me it was adventure of a lifetime thanks to Cox and Kings!
After about half a dozen plates of tangine and pastilla, a whole lot of bread,a couple days of upset stomachs, one camel ride, a smelly tannery and many many bottles of water later it was time for goodbyes. We made assurances that we would meet again,somewhere. Plans were formed, next year; a couple of years later. Emails were exchanged interspersed between many rounds of goodbye hugs.
Most times when I bid goodbye to random strangers who have moved to the acquaintance cadre without being upgraded to friends I know I will not be meeting them again; definitely not by choice. But it was different with this group. A week back we were acquaintances purely by virtue of having signed up for the same tour. But on that last day , by the forsaken pool table at the Dela Rosa hotel in Marrakesh were stuck somewhere in the limbo between acquaintances and friends; leaning closer to friends.
If one’s age is measured by the friends one make then I have aged a bit this September, six measures older to be exact.