Marrakesh is the most modern of all the cities I have seen since arriving in Morocco – even more so than Casablanca. There are KFC’s; McD’s and Zara boutiques everywhere. A crazy blend of developing and developed world. It’s busy and cosmopolitan and here for the first time I see local women as well as tourists, (soooo many tourists) with hair and arms uncovered.
Outside the medina walls the smell of human urine mixes with that of donkeys and the fumes from the cars and buses. Within the medina it is much bigger than Fes el Bali (old Medina in Fes) it is also filthier, (It reminded me of Naples) now it is not only organic waste from the stalls and donkeys but human litter and oil and grease from the many, many scooters that race in what seems a suicidal manner around the narrow lanes and yet, somehow avoid hitting anyone..that I see at any rate. I wonder at the fact that poverty and litter are so often correlated… Is it a self defeatist sense of not deserving better? Does anyone know if any research has been done regarding this?
As do most road trips in Morocco, the drive to Aït Benhaddou, our next stop takes a while and Pierre and I try to find a place to eat lunch which we saw recommended on trip adviser. As it turns out we can’t find the place we originally planned to go to but after bumping along barely there mud paths through palm trees and around earthern plastered homes, giving way to the odd donkey and boys on bicycles, we came across a most charming looking place.
Leaving our desert adventure for a mountain one we took about three or four hours – driving here is not like back home – 80km could take an hour …or two and a half. It depends on how many villages one has to go through (pedestrians, donkeys, bikes all have right of way here) and how well tarred the roads are as well as how many gendarme stops there are. So far we’ve been stopped twice but as soon as they hear you are not local they send you on your way and have always been very polite.
From Midelt we head to Merzouga through the Ziz Valley. Morocco is full of surprises and the Ziz Valley is one of them – a slash of green palm trees in the otherwise ochre and rust landscape. We stop to admire this beautiful valley and …a nomad comes down from his shelter above – Bonjour, You are welcome he says.
Moulay Idriss is perched on top of a hill and is considered a holy city. Although tiny and unassuming in appearance it has great importance to Muslims and many undertake pilgrimages here. It was here that Moulay Idriss arrived in 789, bringing with him the religion of Islam, and starting a new dynasty. In addition to founding the town named after him, he also initiated construction of Fez. The mausoleum of Idris is only open to Muslims but there are plenty of café’s and people selling wares along its winding narrow roads. We drive through slowly admiring the views but keep going. We still want to see the City of Meknes.
Our first morning in Fes began with a roof top breakfast of fresh fruit, homemade bread, French toast and boiled eggs with the most aromatic spices I have ever come across– who would have thought that cumin went so well with boiled eggs! It seemed strange to be going to see Roman ruins in Morocco and yet just after breakfast there was Reda, our driver from the previous day waiting to take us to see Volubilis – a UNESCO World Heritage Site with Roman ruins from 3 BC. Reda turned out to be our almost constant companion during our three days in Fes. Having studied psychology, English and philosophy at college as well as being a proud Fesi, with great knowledge of and love for his home place we could not have asked for a better guide.
Our train from Casablanca arrived 40 minutes late. We scanned the hall for a board with our name and seeing none debated what to do. Just as we are about to email the Riad and make our way towards the taxi’s outside a gentleman walks up to us “I’ve been here all the time” he says reassuringly, ‘Welcome to Fez” – he leads us to the taxi and we drive along the streets of Fez reaching a packed village centre, the car crawls along, our driver passes pleasantries with people walking past, everyone seems to know one another. Eventually we reach what looks like a dead end with two arches way too small for a car. An old man is reclining in what looks like nothing more than a deep, square shaped, home-made wheel barrow. Our car stops and the old man jumps up surprisingly sprightly and with unexpected strength he hoists our bags into the ‘wheelbarrow’ and with a few words in Arabic to our driver who tells us to follow the old man, we find ourselves being lead towards one archway magnificently decorated in blue mosaics.
As in life, when travelling it is not so much where you travel to, so much as who you travel with. Without a doubt my favorite traveling companion is my husband Pierre. Not merely because Pierre is so thorough in his research and planning that it’s like having my own personal travel agent ….. though I admit I do love this fact 🙂 Rather you want someone who will be able to fully embrace the adventure while accepting the less glamorous parts of travelling.
One advantage Europe most certainly has for me over the US is its shorter flight time….though one is always grateful to finally get off the danged plane.
And relieved when you see your luggage has likewise made it safely off 🙂 we were especially glad to be reunited with our toothbrushes. On every other longhaul overnight they give you a little toothbrush together with your eye mask & ear phones….so I hadnt bothered packing ours in the carry on. Of course, Air Frances onboard packet did not include a toothbrush….pretty yuck after 10 to 12 hours of travel a couple of “meals” & a glass of wine.