In the morning, we were sipping coffee in a London park, watching pigeons peck at the sidewalk and basking in the rare sunshine that had replaced steady drizzle. Three trains and a plane later, we were worlds away in Morocco.
The air was hazy and brown as we landed in Salé, the old pirate town. As we filed out onto the tarmac and stood admiring the gorgeous geometric patterns adorning the terminal, a dry breeze swirled around us. A blur of documents and questions and we were out in the terminal, exchanging crisp pound notes for stacks of lightly crumpled dirhams. Outside, a man holding a “Chelsea” sign ushered us into his SUV, and we set off into the Moroccan evening. Palm and olive trees lined the road as we drove (on the right side, for the first time since Shanghai, six countries earlier). On balconies high above, women stood like ghosts, enveloped in huge swaths of flapping cloth that glowed orange in the setting sun.
As darkness fell, we passed under the huge gates of the medina, and wove our way through the maze of clay-colored buildings, past pyramids of spices, racks of fluttering cloth, crowds of children kicking soccer balls. Once I’d lost all sense of direction, the car pulled to a stop, and we piled out with our backpacks.
Our driver led us deeper into the neighborhood. The locals turned to watch us pass. A prayer call echoed through the tiny streets and followed us down an alley, where we found a huge, ornate wooden door. Inside was our riad, three stories stacked like the layers of a cake, with a hollow core of courtyard open to the starry skies.