The Marrakech Cure

It was a week after the passing of a dear friend that an email alert popped up with a deal to Morocco round trip for $440. My husband and I had always talked about going, and in a spark of ‘why not because we could die tomorrow’ I decided I was going. I then texted my husband, “guess what, I just bought non-refundable tickets to Marrakech!”

Ten months later, and with two friends, we embarked on our first real vacation that wasn’t a ‘working trip’ after a crazy year of both my husband and I having surgeries a few months apart, his near death experience, and the resulting PTSD. I’ve traveled internationally all of my life, but this was great to go somewhere completely unfamiliar and where we knew no one.

We landed at sundown and stepping off the plane (old school down a flight of stairs onto the tarmac) in the heat at the edge of the Sahara, I knew this would be different, and just what we needed. We spent an unforgettable week with our dear friends in the heart of the Medina. My husband wrote half of his next novel on our riad balcony. Souks, palaces, gardens, hidden alleys, amazing mint tea, and a lazy coffee on any terrace we could find with the echoes of the call to prayer. Our raid, Dar Jaguar, was amazing I think partly because we were literally the only guests there. Every morning breakfast was served on the rooftop and we had one night where the chef made us dinner. We even had resident turtles in the courtyard, which for some reason I was very excited about.

There’s so many riads in the city and I’m glad I didn’t book anything at a fancy modern hotel. They are surrounded by walls and a bit outside the old city. I would almost compare the surrounding city to Palm Springs. Condo communities and golf courses are being built everywhere, and you need to go by car if not by scooter most places. I would never in a million years drive a car there — just crossing the street is tempting death.

A pilgrimage to Jardin Marjorelle was in order to pay tribute to Yves Saint Laurent; it was overrun by fashion bloggers I almost had to shove out of the way in narrow walkways. We missed the proper museum opening next door by five weeks but maybe one day we’ll go back. Yves’ partner, Pierre Bergé, whom he bought the property with, passed away one day later.

Of course, the cats who roam the city rooftops came to visit us every morning at breakfast, and this might have been the best reason of all to stay in the Medina. One in particular slept on a motorbike seat in our alley and really liked us so he followed our group into the riad next door all the way to the roof when we had wine. I had a habit of buying from shops that had a nice cat sleeping outside, but maybe that was because the owners will strong arm you in a charming way the second you notice the cat.

Our friends were able to buy the carpet they desired, and that was a whole Odyssey lemme tell ‘ya! I did get used to the wheeling and dealing culture and even had fun for a while, but by day 6 it was exhausting. I think at one point I never wanted to shop again, but that didn’t last. Sometimes you had to pick out what was cheap crap from China and what was real, but we mostly stayed around the perimeter of the souks and didn’t go into them. I don’t think I could have handled it. My friend and I had to physically fight off a henna women trying to make us sit, and those gals are strong! I learned to say a few phrases in Arabic and I must have said “no thanks” 80 times in one day. At one point on the way to the mountains I did get trapped by a clasped bracelet when a man came out of nowhere and handcuffed me with it; my husband was nowhere to be found because he narrowly escaped a cobra being put around his neck so he ran back to the car. I ended up getting 3 other silver bracelets for a steal from the cuffer because I carried little cash and was told a few times I “barter like a Berber” because — well, I’m kind of a bitch.

I’m still shocked at how other tourists from Europe dressed (we rarely saw Americans, we met, like 2) mainly the women. I tried to cover my shoulders at all times and my tattoos, but I think I saw more ass, tits, and skin in Marrakech than at any strip club. A lot of women didn’t get the memo when you wear a white caftan, you have to wear more than a thong under it! The men were going crazy, it was hilarious. It could get up to 107 degrees but I still covered up. I know it is really lax in Morocco but I just didn’t want to be the ugly American. But not to worry, the episode of AbFab when they go to Morocco played out in real life in front of us almost every day. People assumed my husband was a British rock star detoxing, but they still tried to get him hash, and one restaurateur tried to arrange a private car for us to get him to the flashy club he owned.

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Now for the big news. We booked a tour to the Atlas mountains where we took tea with a Berber family, rode camels, and bartered hard for anything and everything. I never want to ride a camel again. Put it this way, horses are way more comfortable! It was the mountain hike that solidified for me that after years of work, I didn’t need my cane anymore. A cane I’d had since surgery seven years ago. I didn’t realize what we had signed up for (and we decided not to do the mule ride) but this was a lot more physical activity in very treacherous terrain! One wrong step and you go splat, or break a bone. I threw my cane out in the trash at the airport in Marrakech upon leaving. Between the hike and dodging scooters in narrow alleys daily, we’ll call it physical therapy Moroccan style! I’ll still need a cane if I wear heels and I still won’t ever be able to run again, but to not have to drag it around with me everywhere has been so freeing!

[As an aside, please, the next person who says “I didn’t recognized you without your cane” I’ll never speak to you again and I might trip you when you aren’t looking. Oh let’s be honest, women never say this to me, only men do. WTF is that about? It’s not funny. Don’t be a dickhead.]

I caught a cold on our last day and fought it off with mint tea, and Moroccan aspirin was pretty hardcore! I’ve kept some and now wish I had bought more to stock up on. It makes me wonder what other goodies the pharmacy had that are better than what I get in the US. We almost stocked up on spices but were afraid they would get dumped at customs with our day in Amsterdam or coming back to the US. Oh, did I mention I only packed half of a carry-on suitcase for this trip so I had room for all the stuff I bought? I literally left one side empty! I was away for about 10 days and survived. I was going to do a packing video again of ‘ how to pack for Africa with practically nothing’ but you can see I did something similar with my husband here.


Anyway, here’s just some of the stupid amount of photos I took and bits of video, because I took a lot. We are planning on a trip to Tangier next year!


Is That All You Brought?

A statement made often when I travel by everyone from my hosts, to cab drivers, to airport security, to fellow travelers. People can never believe how I manage to only bring a few items with me whether it be a trip for 2 days or 2 weeks.  I bring my purse, and my weekender bag (or in more recent times, a carry-on roller). That is all. Because everyone asks how I do it, I shall now share. They say packing is an art, I think it is a talent passed down to people genetically — or so I’ve heard.

I began packing light and doing carry-on only back when I was a kid, maybe 10 or so. My luggage was stolen in Moscow and all the valuable and sentimental things had been stolen. 3 days later it appeared back at the airport after thieves took just about everything — even my socks and underwear (which being that it was still the Soviet Union, things like that were coveted and expensive to come by). After that I vowed NEVER to check luggage again! And so, I learned to pack light, or rather, pack smart.

When people tell me “oh, gee I just tend to over pack” I say “No! You are a hoarder and a pack rat, poor at planning, and are what is wrong with society today! Stop.” I’m sorry if that sounds harsh, maybe it’s just that this is a skill not taught, or people always assume they need more than they really do.

This is my weekender bag. It is about the size of a bowling bag, from Ben Sherman, and because it looks sporty no one would ever try to steal it from you. I have managed to fit 3 pairs of shoes (always pack them into the corners), as well as my clothes, underwear, hairbrush, toiletries, and so forth in this thing — even a large kimono once! I always pick out clothes I can roll tightly, and stuff them in while making rows on top of one another; kind of like building a pyramid, but in any order will do. Anything big or bulky I make sure to actually wear when traveling: boots and coats being key. At some point when traveling, I always come across a plastic bag from shopping, and I used that as my dirty laundry bag from the return journey…

Last year for the first time, I had to travel by myself with my gimpy leg. Oh sure, the airport has those beep-beep cars and sometimes people will help when they see me carrying crap and hobbling around on a cane. Sometimes. In general, the TSA and flight crew could give a flying fuck if you are mildly handicapped, partly because so many people were faking it to cut in lines at TSA checkpoints, that they now just assume everyone is faking it. The only plus side is I always get an aisle seat. After attempting to carry my weekender by myself + purse + a cane, I said, “screw it, I’m getting the dreaded wheel luggage”. But hey, I got a pretty cute one that fits in overheard compartments, and is loud enough that no one could mistake it for theirs. I have to tell you, I just packed for a 6 day trip to NYC, including clothing and shoes enough for two fancy events, and back-up options if I change my mind, birthday gifts for a friend, and more: I only filled HALF of this thing…


This is my train case, or sometimes called a vanity case. I used to bring this puppy everywhere until 9/11. As you can see, it looks like something you would carry plutonium or chemical weapons in. Can you guess my lock combination? Anyways, I stopped carrying this after driving back from Canada; the border patrol was FREAKED OUT by this thing sitting on my lap, “What is that, why is it in your lap?” “Um, it’s a vanity case, and I keep my passport in here”. When I went to unlock it, the patrol guys nearly drew their guns and told me to open it slowly….

So, now I have downsized to a little zipper clutch for my make-up. As you can see it is much smaller. I’ve been using this red ostrich clutch for 10 years now and yes it fits all my brushes…

They key is bringing only what you’ll need and go minimalist if you can: one lipstick, one eye shadow compact, eyeliner, mascara (I have a mini travel size one) and dual powder/foundation with a brush built into the case, like this. I also have travel size hair products, and most importantly, dry shampoo! One big comb and one small is all I ever bring with me, thin and takes up little room. I always get trial sizes of Garnier Fructis or Aveda because it seems to not suck as bad as some of the other brands for haircare.  On occasion I bring real hairbrush, and always feel guilty even though it fits just fine.

travel size hair products

Getting travel or sample sizes of things like toothpaste is easy, but perfume, mascara and so forth are key; Sephora always has samples you can get when you order online, because who the hell wants to pack a huge thing of perfume? What, you don’t travel with perfume on hand?

For men and women, hair conditioner works as a great alternative to shave cream — better in fact — as even trial sizes of shaving cream is pretty darn bulky and can get sticky in no time. You can also buy a shave cream stick, which my husband loves.

I pack generic face wipes instead of my fancy cleansers from home, the thin package saves room. I buy trial sizes of Dermalogica products, and those last through many, many trips as well as at home! Oh, and something else quite handy? A travel sized lint roller! I’m always so thankful when I have one with me.

In closing, I can’t really tell you what to pack when it comes to clothing, that’s up to you; personally I’m in the habit of washing t-shirts and things in the sink, so I pack very few of those no matter how long the trip. I also have a silk scarf obsession, I always forget to wear them , but I pack them anyways.

Really all I can tell you, is do the opposite of what she does here.

Do this instead, if you can.

Just be sure to remember socks and underwear for how many days you’ll be gone. The one time my husband didn’t have me help him pack, he went on a trip and realized he was stuck without either!