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Experiences

“You Can’t Get There From Here”: The Long Way Home

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.

On March 11th, 2020, my family, along with my best friend and her family, boarded a plane to Marrakech, Morocco. My friend Abby and I were both in our last year of high school, and we knew this would be our last big March Break trip with our families. We wanted to make it memorable, and it was, for reasons we didn’t expect.

What we didn’t know is that in the span of 10 days, the whole world would be totally flipped upside down.

The days leading up to our departure, we continuously checked the Government of Canada’s travel warnings. We knew that there was a virus of concern spreading, but on the day of our departure, there was an announcement saying that travel could continue as planned and simply encouraged people to practice good hygiene in high-traffic areas, such as airports. So, we boarded our flight as planned, with hand sanitizer and wet wipes stuffed in our carry-ons.

We were excited, and a little nervous, which was to be expected. We were traveling to a country that none of us had been to before. We had been planning this trip for months—our Airbnb’s were booked, our excursions were confirmed. We were prepared for anything—or so we thought.

The first few days went as expected: we took a food tour of Marrakech so that we would have ideas of where to eat, and the next morning we took a shopping tour. The people were nice, and we learned how to barter. That night, my mom informed us that the government had announced that  schools back home would be closed for the two weeks following the break. We were so excited—it would give Abby and me a chance to catch up on schoolwork we missed, as well as recover from the jetlag.

The next day, we set off for our four-day trip to the Sahara Desert, stopping in different cities along the way. So, the nine of us piled into a van, ready to see what else Morocco had to offer. We visited breathtaking valleys and the rose capital of Morocco, and we saw how Argan oil, butter, and paste are produced. We drove through the Atlas Mountains on switchback roads for hours. At each of the hairpin turns, I thought that we were going to topple over the side of the mountain, since there were no guardrails to prevent us from falling off the road. One of the highlights of the trip, for me at least, was visiting Aït Benhaddou, a UNESCO World Heritage Site where tons of movies and TV shows were filmed, such as Jumanji: Into the Jungle, The Mummy, Gladiator, and Game of Thrones. The hike to the top was all stairs, but the view was worth it.

On Sunday, March 15th, as we were driving to meet the group who was taking us into the desert, the Moroccan government announced it was suspending all international flights as of the 19th. Our flight out of Morocco was scheduled for the 20th. At this point, we realized how serious the situation had gotten. Our parents were trying to decide whether we should turn around and try to make it to Casablanca to try our luck at a flight, but we ultimately decided that we wouldn’t have made it. Air France assured us that our departing flight was still running as scheduled, so we decided that we would continue as planned and head into the desert. Not many people can say there was a rainstorm and a sandstorm on the same day while they were in the Sahara, but we can. We rode to our campsite on camels, with the sand whipping and scraping at any exposed patch of skin. As uncomfortable as it was, my skin had never had such a thorough exfoliation.

When we arrived at the site, we were the only people there, aside from our hosts. We took the time to sandboard (which is basically snowboarding on sand) down the massive sand dunes by our camp. We then changed into warmer clothes and headed to the dinner tent for our supper.

We left early the next morning, riding back out to the city on our camels. The sunrise in the desert was surreal. It felt like something out of a movie, and for a little while, we were able to forget how dire the situation we were in was.

On the 12-hour drive back to our next Airbnb in Marrakech, reality returned, and the adults of the group started to try to figure out how to make it out before the country shut down.

When we made it back to the Airbnb, we were greeted with a dinner of chicken tagine, something we had become very accustomed to. I was too nervous to eat, and ended up pushing the food around my plate. The kids went to bed, and our parents stayed up, connecting with the Canadian Embassy in Morocco, our local Member of Parliament, the travel agent who helped us book our flights, our families back home—basically anyone who could help us find a way out.

The next morning, we found out the chef at the Airbnb had left, scared of catching Covid. Fear was spreading faster than the virus, which was spreading throughout Morocco. We ended up going out for a walk through the souks, but on our way, we ended up being mugged. We turned back home, and on the walk, Abby and I were harassed by a group of young men. My dad started to pretend to cough up a lung to scare them away, which worked.  We still laugh about it today. When we finally made it back, the host at our Airbnb told us we shouldn’t go back out. He stated that because of the virus, the locals were wary of foreigners and would jack up prices, call us names, or worse.

That night, we had a basic meal, watched a few episodes of whatever cheesy reality show was on Netflix, and headed to bed while our parents worked in conjunction with my uncle, who was home in Canada, to find a flight.

That night, I woke up to a message from my mom saying that they found us a flight and that we had to leave for the airport early the next morning.

That day, we boarded an emergency flight from the Marrakech airport to Copenhagen, Denmark, where we stayed overnight in customs, unable to leave the building. Our bags were on the other side of customs, which we were not able to retrieve, so we patiently waited to talk to the customs officials to see what could be done. Since we were not allowed past, one of the officers offered to take descriptions of the bags and ensure they made it to our next flight. He then told us where we could find places to rest in the airport, since our layover was overnight. We ended up sleeping on cushioned benches, directly under the air-conditioner. It’s safe to say I didn’t get the best sleep of my life that day. The next morning, we wandered around the airport in search of breakfast, and I had my first real Danish.

From there, we headed to England to try to fly to France to connect with our flight home, but found out that you could not fly to France without a French passport. We were stuck, but at least we were in a country that spoke our language. We ended up taking a bus to Heathrow Airport, where we found out that all the flights to Canada were currently full. The worker at the Air Canada booth booked us on a flight for the 22nd of March, but told us to come back early the next morning to see if anyone had canceled.

We found a hotel to stay in, ate dinner, and then showered and changed for the first time in days. That night, we had difficult conversations; we had to figure out what we would do if not all of us could get on the same flight. We ended up breaking our group of nine into three groups: Abby’s family of four would go first, my mom and my two brothers would go second, and my dad and I would fly out last.

That night, it’s safe to say that no one slept very well. Early the next morning, my dad, Abby’s dad, and Abby headed to the Air Canada booth to see what had changed. At that moment, fate had smiled upon us, and the lady we spoke to the day before had already booked us for an earlier flight before our group even arrived at the airport. Miraculously, all nine of us made it onto the same flight, in the same row, right back to Toronto Pearson Airport where we had flown out of.

When we made it home, the country was almost unrecognizable. The airport was deserted, the highways were totally empty, and the parking lots were bare. We truly didn’t realize how bad the situation in Morocco was until we watched the news. We then understood why our families were so panicked.

Looking back on the trip almost two years later, it seems surreal. It feels like something out of a movie. I can’t say I wish it didn’t happen, that I wish we went somewhere else, or nowhere at all. I learned a lot from the trip—I learned how even if the world is crumbling down around me, I’m safe as long as I have my family, and that a little kindness can go a long way. The trip was less like a vacation, and more like a life experience, and knowing it ended well, I wouldn’t change a thing.  

Jaime Nemett

UWindsor '24

Jaime is an undergrad student in Forensics Science with a concentration in Biology at UWindsor. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, music, drawing, and rewatching her favourite TV shows and movies.
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