Four people per couchette. The way it worked out, we were given a full cabin & then two of us would have to volunteer to sleep with a couple of strangers. Done. Well before the trip, Lauren & I decided to roll the dice and bunk up with a pair of whatever was in our God-given plan. Two twenty-something females barely above 5 feet, we were our posse's sacrificial lambs. No big deal, it was an honor.
As we set foot onto our moving bed and walked down the narrow hallway to our couchettes, it was evident that everyone was a tad uncomfortable. Our car conductor took our tickets, and then hurriedly guided us toward our sleeping quarters with a bit of a heavy hand. It was quite difficult to understand him. He acknowledged this. He removed his ashy cigarette from the grip of his teeth, reactively breathed a cloud of smoke into my mug, and spoke louder while widening his deep, brown eyes as if that tactic unlocked my newfound key to translation. We'll take our chances. The couchette numbering was in English. Lauren & I say goodnight to our friends, and enter our couchette only to find that one of our bunk-mates was already situated. He was a gentle, older man from southern Spain. While he couldn't speak a lick of English, we knew how to butcher Spanish well enough to hold a polite conversation with him. Enter Swiss hiker. He knew some English. We exchanged pleasantries and then Lauren & I continued our game of Rummy 500 on our top bunks. Before packing it in for the night, I decided to venture out of the couchette to locate a bathroom. Option #1 had water seeping out from underneath the door. I'll pass. Option #2 smelled of a scent [read:repulsively pungent odor] that I hope to never accidentally inhale ever again. I'll forgo my hygienic routine for the night. Gum, mints, and anti-bacterial lotion will have to suffice.
Now, we were lucky in the sense that neither of these two men seemed as though they wanted to maim us in any way or had the intention of stealing our large, blue backpacks, ladies pants, or passports; however, the Swiss hiker had essentially no problem getting NUDY HUX in the presence of complete strangers. I, fortunately, had the front row seats to this peep show as he was sleeping directly underneath Lauren. She got to creepily watch the precious, old man snooze while I had the pleasure of drifting off to the sweet sounds of a nearly naked man's snoring. Normally, the "birthday suit" ensemble wouldn't be a problem for me, but given the circumstances, I just didn't feel like we were ready to take it to that next level. Oh well- you win some, you lose some.
After a long night of sleeping with one eye open, our conductor - still smoking - raps on our door to inform us that we're rapidly approaching our destination. We jump down from our bunks and join the wise Spaniard in the hallway to catch our first glimpse of Marrakech. The sun was beating down across the endless scape of flat land.. my first thought? Thank goodness there aren't any hills.
I thought you should know.. tips for traveling on an overnight train in northern Africa:
- Change into your sleeping attire prior to boarding the train (it will help in avoiding awkwardness among potential couchette-mates).
- Perform your hygienic routine prior to boarding (including anything requiring a need for water).
- Use the lavatorial facilities prior to boarding (can you identify the theme here?).
- Smoking is allowed. If you're in the market for clean air, consider other transportation options.
- Invest in a fanny pack. Place money, passport, & other essential documents inside. Zipper it up. Wear this around you & underneath your clothing during your sacred slumber.
- Don't drink the water. Enough said.