Bus stop, Wet day, He’s here, I say, ‘Please share my umbrella’

Crossing the border is easy:  You just walk to a taxi stand, take a taxi to the Moroccan border, clear the Moroccan border, walk to the Spanish entry border at Ceuta, clear the Spanish border, taxi to the ferry, buy the ferry tickets, take the ferry to Algeciras in Spain, taxi from the ferry to Algeciras bus station, buy bus tickets, take the bus to Malaga, get some euro and then take the city bus from the Malaga bus station to city centre.  Easy Peasy, well actually, a sort of a Keystone Cops routine . . .

Taxi took us to the Moroccan border with Ceuta, Spanish possession at the tip of Morocco

Walking in the rain past the crowds of Moroccans waiting to clear security to enter Spain via Ceuta
The long fenced off walk-way from the first Morocco border point to the second Moroccan border point
Clearing the Spanish border in Ceuta
Taxi from the Spanish border in Ceuta to the ferry
Buying the ferry tickets
Ferry crossing to Algeciras, Spain on a luxury ferry
Taxi from the ferry to the Algeciras bus station
Catching the bus from Algeciras to Malaga
Finally found the bank in a mall by the Malaga bus station to get Euro to pay for the city bus to Malaga city centre
The city bus from the Malaga bus station to the city centre
Back ‘home’ again, to our same Malaga apartment building
Two more fun days in Malaga and then off home!

A Medieval-like Medina

Tetouan, Morocco, Wednesday, October 31st – November 1st, Hotel Al Mandari

Carpet shop rooftop

Again we have hauled our bags up a hill to our hotel, a shorter distance and easier to find than in the last town. We are in a modern ‘Holiday Inn’ type of hotel a few blocks from the Medina. We have a king size bed and a roomy bathroom in which everything functions correctly, always an appreciated novelty when travelling in Morocco. We have luckily hit a bit of a heat wave here in Tetouan. Unluckily the air conditioners were turned off and converted to ‘heat only’ on October 15th as usually air con is not needed after this date. Unaware of this, we turned the on the air con in the middle of the night and, in our stupor were unable to detect the source of the heat that seemed, inexplicably, to be filling the room. Hotel management has shown no interest in doing anything to rectify this situation.

The Medina in this town is the most authentic that we have seen. Once one passes the few tourist shops on the outskirts It is literally like stepping into medieval times. We feel like we are the only tourists in town, having seen nothing that would contradict this opinion. As in many other Medina’s, the food is very fresh with luckless chickens being killed, plucked and drawn in front of you when you order them.

Chickens in the market

There is a ‘hardware’ souk (market street) with rows of stores selling plumbing, electrical etc. supplies and another long souk of second hand hardware, house goods and clothing. The most interesting area is the souks of the Artisans. Here there are shoe makers, jewellery makers, metal workers, furniture makers all plying their trade from the same tiny shops that their ancestors have used for hundreds of years, with the addition of some power tools but still producing hand made articles.

Zellij tile cutting craftsman

With industrialization and international trade, there is a decreasing market for the highly specialized skills of artisans and their numbers are decreasing as they seek more lucrative jobs. An attempt is being made in Tetouan to remedy this. They have set up an Artisanal Medressa or school where children aged 14 complete their secondary schooling with a strong focus on learning artisanal skills. We were able to see the children at work learning, carpentry, wood carving, zellij tile cutting and design, plaster carving and embroidery, only some of the skills taught here.

Plaster work is carved, not poured into mold and is not waterproof so wears poorly
Learning how to cut designs into metal

Wandering through the subdued almost silent Medina on a sabbath Friday, closing day, we were glad that we had spent some time here on Thursday night amongst the hustle and bustle of shopping in preparation for Friday couscous with the extended family. We came upon the Museo Regional Del Nacionalismo in a beautiful old Dar. Admission was free and we were given a tour by the ‘Director’ of this impressive, once beautiful official government house, in much need of repair. He showed us the kitchen which had its own well that still functioned, although it was no longer in use. Feeling regretful about the state of the house and, in fact, most of Morocco’s heritage sites, we gave the man some money “for the restoration”. He was very grateful to receive it and tucked it under some papers on his desk, either to run it upstairs to the office later or to pocket it once we had gone. Who really knows? At any rate, he was very helpful and generous with his time, walking us a long distance in the Medina to find one of very few stores open at which we could find some small wooden boxes to bring home for the boys.

Iglesias de Nuestra Senora de la Victoria, 1926, Spanish Catholic Church

The new town section of Tetouan has a more European feel than other places we’ve been in Morocco. The Spanish influence is evident in the architecture, the wide pedestrian avenues, the parks and the level of organization in general. We had to leave town early on Saturday morning. Sadly, because the Medina was in a state of slumber on Friday, we did not get the photos that we should have of this most authentic Medina. A reason to return to Morocco!

Beautiful wide avenues with European style buildings in the New Town
Place Hassan II, big European style square in the New Town

Chefchaouen – Beautiful Blue City

Chefchaouen, Morocco, Wednesday, October 29th – 30th, Hoteliere Chez Aziz

Chefchaouen seen from the bus

The bus from Fez to Chefchaouen took 4&½ hours, one hour longer than advertised, which is understandable given the mountainous, narrow, winding road. As we approached Chefchaouen, my stomach churning, we were rewarded with a beautiful view of the blue city in a spectacular valley below.

City walls seen in the distance date from 1471

We walked uphill rolling our suitcases towards the hotel, 20 minutes rather than the 3 minutes we had erroneously presumed, but good exercise. The town was dead quiet, the daytime tour buses either hadn’t arrived or had released their passengers closer to the top of the Medina to make their way leisurely down to a lower level pick up point. The small but pretty Chefchaouen Medina gets 100,000 visitors a year, mostly day trippers from Tangier, a 1&½ hour bus trip

Main square, Place Outa el Hammam

Our very funky hotel looked like it had been plucked out of Bolivia and plunked down in Chefchaouen. It had colourful, chunky primitive tiles everywhere, a rainbow riot of fabric furniture coverings, brightly sparkling light fixtures and steps up and down to different levels. The balcony that we had been looking forward to was one of those ‘French’ affairs that are little more than a waist high railing on a mini platform extending a few inches out from a full length window. The view onto the hills was beautiful. The hotel terrace upstairs had sweeping 360 degree views of the hills surrounding the town.

The funky hall in our funky hotel

The Medina, due to the large numbers of day-trippers is quite touristic with many shops selling souvenirs. It is stunningly beautiful with its doors, walls and stairs painted in contrasting white and all shades of blue; turquoise, navy, ultramarine, indigo and more.

Stunning shades of blue are everywhere in Chefchaouen.

We visited the Kasbah dating from 1471, built to fight off Portuguese invaders. In 1920 the Spanish seized Chefchaouen to form part of Spanish Morocco. This started the Rif war in which the Berbers in the Rif Mountain region rebelled against both the French and the Spanish. In 1925, a group of rogue American WWl pilots proposed to the French the bombing of Chefchaouen. They were, arrogantly, fighting for ‘the white man’s civilization’. This terrible act of aggression was actually the first aerial bombing of civilians as it took place more than a decade before Franco’s bombing of Guernica in Spain.

The tower of the Kasbah

In the afternoon we hiked up a hill to the Spanish Mosque for some breathtaking views of the town. We later found an Italian restaurant where we had great pasta and, tired of tajine, we returned on our second night. The waitress spoke passable English and, on the second night asked us what was the secret to being married for so many years and still being happy together. She had been married for just one year and said that she thought it was going okay so far but did not want her marriage to become like her parents. Of course there really are no secrets and as we conversed I began to see that it was really a cultural difference.

At the top of the climb to the Spanish Mosque

Traditionally in Morocco men do not help with household chores. They work during the day and go en masse to coffee shops in the evening where they sit with other men for hours, in a woman free zone. The women, many of whom now work outside the home during the day, spend the evenings either at home with the children or out doing family chores toting along the children. Our waitress said that her parents never go out together and enjoy themselves, as we were obviously doing. Her mother was married at 15 years of age and is 15 years younger than her father. She mentioned a couple of times that her mother has suffered a lot, but did not get into specifics, which I’m guessing could mean anything from boredom and intimidation to physical abuse. She was rather skittish and I wondered if this was a possible result of domestic violence.

The Grand Mosque in Chefchaouen

We told her some pat phrases, truisms which she already seemed to know and to practice in her young marriage. We had an interesting discussion about how things are changing in Morocco and getting better for women. Women are able to make more choices and younger men are helping out at home.

Finding Maison Moi Anan

Fes, Morocco (Days 2 & 3), Wednesday, October 27th – 28th , Dar Dalila

I was pleased to discover that there was a Glaoui Palace nearby, as I have developed an interest in the ruthless ascendance to power of this family. The Glaoui Kasbah that we had seen in the desert was the defensive stronghold of these feudal warlords from which they ran their avaricious empire based on conquering, controlling and collecting ‘taxes’ and levies from the common people. The French put them in charge of Marrakech from which they ran a huge Mafia style prostitution and drug ring in the first half of the 20th century. This city palace in the outer ring of the Fes Medina was just one of many show palaces where Thami El Glaoui demonstrated his wealth and braggadocio, attempting to gain prestige and influence with the French and other Europeans. This was all to no avail as he never did get the British knighthood he coveted and, as I mentioned in an earlier post, he was stripped of most of his wealth and possessions when he backed the French whom the Nationalists expelled.

A sitting room in the Glaoui Palace

The custodian of the palace is a lethargic old man dressed in Berber costume. He lies languidly on a padded bench just inside the entry alcove and rouses himself when inquisitive tourists enter. When asked about his connection to the palace, he says, in broken English, that his grandfather used to work with the famous Thami El Glaoui, which most likely means that he is a descendant of one of the many slaves owned by the Glaouis, or perhaps of one of Thami’s henchmen.

The original kitchen in the Glaoui Palace

For the price of admission we were able to tour the limited, but large and impressive parts of the place that are open to the public. Much more is behind closed doors leading to sealed off courtyards and even more rooms. This once marvellously extravagant and elegant home is now a virtual death trap, with falling pieces of plaster and wood, cracked zellij tiling, broken chandeliers and doors as well as a disconnected ancient electrical system, leaving some areas of the visit completely dark. Most of the palace was blocked off and we were not allowed upstairs to the galleries at all. Astonishingly, the antideluvian custodian lives all alone in this cavernous palace with his vicious watch dog chained to a railing; the building being in such terrible disrepair that it is difficult to imagine exactly where and at precisely what level of discomfort he subsists. Our host, Geoffroy estimates that it would cost around 10 million Euro to purchase and restore the unwieldy behemoth to its original glory: unless of course the system of mass slavery, that so advantaged the Glaouis, were to be revived.

The decrepit courtyard of the Glaoui Palace

Dinner at Chez Rachid, recommended by our Dar, was good. My eggplant salad turned out to be a much appreciated warm dish of cooked vegetables. Pierre had a tasty lamb tangine. We sat with a young German couple who are driving through the country and have had no problems with police. They have been stopped and had their papers checked but have not been asked to pay bribes, which does sometimes happen, but more often to women travelling on their own.

Produce store in the Medina

As we sat breakfasting on the terrace with a couple from New Zealand on our second last morning at Dar Dalila, the skies opened and the rain fell. We hurriedly transferred our many breakfast items to the knee high authentically uncomfortable tables under an awning. This short but intense downpour is the first we have experienced so far in over 5 weeks of holidaying. It was not nearly as much rain as the country needs right now. The rains have been sparse and late and agriculture is suffering.

The Fes River, running through the medin

This seemed like a good day for phone shopping so Geoffroy drove us into town where I could purportedly buy an iPhone 6 for a mere $100. Of course after some discussion with the vendor, only an iPhone 7 was available and with a price tag of $400 – a slightly more impressive amount of change. I opted instead to spend $25 to have the battery replaced in my old hand-me-down Samsung (thanks again cousin Colleen, I’ve gotten a lot of mileage out of this phone since you gave it to me!)

Getting our shoes shined in the Medina

If anything were to convince me that I really need to have a reliable phone that holds a charge, it would be our search for a Thai restaurant called Maison Moi Anan, deep inside the convolutions of the Fès Médina. The phone got us so very close – we could tell – but then turned us around this way and that until we were so discombobulated that we thought we might have to give up and try finding our way to the now familiar restaurants at the Blue Gate or Bab Bou Jeloud.

The Blue Gate Bab Boujeloud, built in 1913 by the French replaced a 12th century less elaborate gate that can still be seen today to the left of this gate

There were legions of Kidnapper Guides’ waiting in the alleys on the obscure route to Maison, leaning against the walls, some passively murmuring and some purposefully insistent, using phrases such as; ‘Where you go?’, ‘Need help?’, ‘I show you’, ‘Medina very difficult, phone no good’, ‘Speak English?’. I was about to cave and pay a Kidnapper when we ran into a French couple.

“Excusez-moi, savez-vous ou est la Maison Moi Anon?”

“Non, mais nous cherchons aussi!” they replied.

“Okay,” I said, “if I find it, you give me money and if you find it I give you money.” This amused us all.

The Medina can seem a little scary as dusk falls

Together we searched out the restaurant down a tiny, winding, descending street that they had previously reconnoitred and abandoned as it seemed completely improbable that there would be a restaurant there, but there was. We ate together on the terrace, a meal that could have come from a Thai place in Vancouver. One of our more expensive dinners, but a pleasant change from tajine, and, best of all, they had wine! We took the contact info from the French couple and may look them up in Carcassonne next year. When we left the restaurant I told the head waiter that I had a money making proposition for him. He could make money while also make his restaurant world famous by selling t-shirts to his customers saying, ‘I found Maison Moi Anan’. I would have bought one and may even have one made when I get home.

Very typical, very narrow Medina lane

The bus ride between Fes and Chefchouan is a long one, almost 5 hours. Oddly there was a 30 minute lunch stop at an enormous country coffee shop that sold nothing but coffee, no food except for prepackaged cookies. Across from the coffee shop was a butcher busy cutting raw meat portions for bus passengers who took their cut portion a few steps over to a grill guy, who cooked the meat and then stuffed it into one of the large pita sandwich breads. Neither of us were hungry enough to learn more about this such as: Who do you pay, the butcher, the baker or the shish kabob maker ? How long does it take? Can I eat it on the bus? Are your hands clean?

A butcher shop in the Medina. There is no refrigeration but all the meat is very fresh.

Opening The Gate

Fes, Morocco (Days 1 & 2), Wednesday, October 26th – 27th, Dar Dalila

The train trip from Meknes to Fes was a brief 35 minutes. The taxi driver agreed to Pierre’s offer of 30 MAD and he took us over to his cab beside which a local customer had been left to wait. As taxi sharing is common in Morocco, we all piled in.

Each city has its own colour for taxis. In Fes they are all red.

Geoffroy, our host at Dar Dalila, was very welcoming and, when I told him that my phone battery was almost completely dead, he offered to take us by car later to a phone store in the new town. He also loaded onto my phone, ‘Mapsme’, a particularly good navigational tool for the Medina, and then programmed in a tour for us to follow that would take us to all the major sites. Geoffroy is a French expat, in his forties who spent 7 years looking for the perfect house to turn into a 4 room Dar B’n’B. He took only 4 months with a crew of 15 artisans working 7 days a week to restore the Dar to its former glory . . . to the astonishment of his neighbours, many of whom had done restorations as well but over a period of years. He is Alsatian and speaks several languages including Arabic. His partner Mahmoud, about the same age, had never left his small home village until a few years ago and seems quite adapted to city life, if a bit quiet and shy.

Looking down from our room into the Dar Dalila courtyard.

We spent the afternoon wandering around in the Medina and had a very good chicken pastilla for lunch. This phyllo type pastry-wrapped curried chicken with its incongruous icing sugar topping is a pleasant tongue tingling surprise with every bite.

Chickens in the Medina are killed and butchered when you order them

The Fes Medina is quite a bit bigger than that in Marrakech with narrower lanes and even dimmer lighting. Our first night time walkabout, looking for dinner, was a little unnerving as we would find ourselves in a suddenly narrow, dark walkway, then at a fork in the path, leaving us quite uncertain as to where to go. It was definitely eerie and somewhat menacing if one allowed slight trepidation to become panic. We did find the restaurant we were seeking and had a nice light dinner at the Cafe Cinema. I want to try to duplicate their tomato cucumber gazpacho.

Typical street width in the Medina. Some are even narrower.

Having made it through the night time Medina once, we were much braver and more confident as we nonchalantly made our way home. Although there are stretches of ominously vacant and dimly lit pathway, other tourists or locals do appear every few seconds. Breakfast at the Dar was good, with the regular bread, jams, eggs and the addition of a dairy product that I must find at home: rich, creamy fromage frais, a kind of yogurt made from cream. I am finding that as we continue northward on our trip butter is being replaced by an oily yellow solid that cloys in the mouth, some sort of tropical oil based margarine. Others may not mind or even notice this, but I am a butter fiend.

A busy Medina square

We embarked upon what other guests are calling ‘Geoffrey’s Tour’ and found that it led us into some remote corners of the Medina and brought us to all of the important sites, some of which we had discovered the previous day on our own. There are in the Medina, areas where local craftsmen still practice their age old skills making hand crafted items. We came upon Place Seffarine and paused to watch the metal artisans positioned around the square pounding on their works. The enchanting rhythmic percussion seemed almoat synchronized as it echoed euphoniously through the square.

Place Sefferine copper pot makers

We were feeling quite accomplished at finding our way around this large and confusing Medina until we tried to find the famous leather tanneries. We were accosted by so many people wanting to lead us, for pay of course, to ‘their’ tannery, that we simply could not get away from them and ended up tipping 2 people as we were handed off, from one to the other. These traditional tanneries use a combination of goat urine and pigeon excrement to soften the leather and then colour it with natural dyes from plants, flowers and spices. The rank odour emanating from this fragrant mixture was overwhelming. I almost collapsed at one point, placing my elbow on a fence rail to rest my head in hope of avoiding the ejection of my morning repast. The ‘Kidnapping Guide’ ran to get me some mint leaves which he called “Moroccan Gas Mask”. I would not have been able to endure without the fresh clean scent of this mint that I rubbed and held under my nose.

Vile smelling vats for dying leather hides with natural dyes

Since, as we continued, I was trying to stay away from the Kidnapping Guides, we ended up becoming much more intimately acquainted with the entire tanning process than our nasal sensibilities appreciated. We somehow found ourselves right down on the tannery floor with the workers, far from the relative haven that other tourists were enjoying on the viewing terrace above. We had to carefully side step splashes from sloshing multicoloured vats full of the magical bouquet. I am sure that we now feature humorously in the photos of tourists from several nations. We did eventually make it up to viewing decks ourselves and got some fascinating photos.

Gettin’ down and gettin’ dirty with the tannery workers

Heading towards home, we became momentarily disoriented and made the mistake of asking directions. We didn’t really need to do this, as I had my phone in my hand and we would have eventually found our way. The young man, instead of just pointing the way, insisted on walking ahead of us ‘leading’ the way, even though I kept cheerily informing him all the while that my phone was working marvellously. Of course, when we got very close to our destination, he, and a friend who appeared suddenly, for purposes of mild intimidation I’m sure, asked for money. It was obvious that he chose to stop in a quiet area, just short of the slightly busier street leading to our Dar because he did not want other locals to catch him out extorting tourists in this way. It is illegal for locals to hassle tourists for money in Fez and there are undercover police everywhere working to make the Medina safe for tourists as the income and reputation are important to the economy. I was upset that this young man had refused to go away even though I had been telling him that my phone was guiding us home and asked Pierre not to ‘tip’ him.

Engraving on marble with chisels and hammers

Pierre seems to be less affronted than I by these ‘Kidnapper Guides’ and I have, based on a breakfast conversation with another couple, developed a theory about this. The woman said that she feels as I do and gets irritated with her husband who is more likely to engage with individuals who accost them. I considered this for a moment and realized that this could well be a difference between men and women and our interactions with unacquainted men. A middle aged western woman, having been young at a time when crude advances by men were perhaps more common than they are today in the west, would likely be preconditioned to terminate attempts by men at unwanted intrusions. She agreed with this perception on my part. We all laughed when I said that I had been mistakenly thinking that it was just that Pierre is a nicer person than me. I then related how I had walked a few blocks alone the day before in the new town, where there are few tourists and had been stared at and even ‘tongue clicked’, the Moroccan version of whistling, as if I were an 18 year old beauty, not a tired, wrinkled old gramma. Sexism knows no bounds.

Ethnographic Museum in a beautiful old Dar.

As my regular readers will know, Pierre and I have been duplicating some of his 46 year old photos from a previous trip. In Fez we received the sad news from Geoffroy that we would not be able to photograph the Bab El Seba gate as it is now part of a closed-in locked up concert courtyard and is only opened for performances. We decided to give it a go anyways. We did get to the other side of the gate, a nicely restored edifice with 3 locked wooden gates. This was in the palace courtyard, Bab AL Makina Plaza. The palace guards told us that they thought the gate we were looking for was on the other side of this 3 door locked gate. Not about to give up on our mission, we walked all around the locked courtyard, up some stairs, across a dirt field, down some stairs and found what we thought might be the entrance to the locked court containing our gate. We confirmed for ourselves that it was, indeed, locked and started to head home. Pierre lingered a few moments and peeked between the door crack. He caught up to me saying, “Yup, it is the right gate”. Not to be left out, I ran back to have a peek, just as a young man unlocked the wooden door from inside and pushed his motorcycle out of the courtyard. We excitedly asked him if we could go in to take our photo and he said, “Sure”. He said he lived behind the gate in a house with his mother. Unbelievably, through a lucky coincidence and dogged determination, we were able to take our picture.

Pierre’s 1973 photo of Bab Seba
Bab Seba today, behind a locked outer gate.
The new triple door gate built on the other side of Bab Seba
A photo of an old gate somewhere in Morocco

Mysteries Of Meknes

Meknes, Morocco, Thursday, October 24th,Collier De La Colombe

The view from our Meknes hotel room

We awoke to Friday morning closing day. Friday evening is the sabbath in Morocco and many businesses close in observance. Meknes, not being a a heavily touristed area was very quiet and the major museum was closed for renovations. People here seem to find the moderate fall weather to be quite cool and are dressed very warmly, some in actual down jackets. Many have donned the traditional style of coat modelled after the jellaba, a kind of Druid robe complete with the pointy hood. They walk the streets looking like clusters of human sized Gandolfs, the women in shades of every colour, the men in subdued colours, sometimes even in stripes.

A man in a jellaba looking distinctly Druid like

As we wandered about the Meknes Medina we stopped to snap a photo in a pretty very narrow lane with yellow walls and lively red flowers. An elderly, distinguished looking gentleman had stepped out to get his mail and we asked him directions to a particular site. He said that he was going that way and we could follow him. He was a retired Preservation expert who had been born in Meknes, one of Morocco’s 4 royal cities but spent his life working for the king on restoration of the Rabat palace, and then returned to Meknes to retire. He took us on a two hour tour of the Medina to places where tourists would never go. We saw the ‘Sidi’ area where all those who worked for the King lived. During the French Protectorate their was a sign on the wall stating that Westerners were not allowed into the area. Our unofficial guide also showed us the house of the king’s 100 year old historian and took us down narrow walkways ending in impasses, or dead ends.

The walkway leading to the home of our unofficial guide

Our guide was very loyal to the royal family, as his wife was distantly related to them. I asked him if this meant that his wife was a Moulay, the term for relatives of the king who are also, therefore descendants of Mohammed. He told us that he himself was a Moulay or lord, and showed us his identity card with his ancestral lineage printed on it. His wife, he explained is a Lalla, lady. He later, discreetly pointed out to us a neat and dapper elderly passer-by in the street who was a cousin to the king. He also took us to where we could sneak a peek at the king’s golf course, used only by him and his friends on his rare trips to Meknes.

Our volunteer guide pointing out the home of the 100 Year Old Historian (now deceased)

At the underground Christian Prison we bought entry tickets and toured the dank dark rooms, formerly lit only by interspersed 2 foot wide holes in the roof, too high for prisoners to crawl up to and out of. Our guide shook a few hands, slapped a few shoulders and was admitted free of charge. Indeed, he seems to be acquainted with a lot of people in town, often stopping to greet passers by. The Qara prison, built in the 17th century, is massive and housed mainly Christian prisoners of war who were then used as forced labour to build Meknes. Our guide told us that all 14,000 of them were criminals. I suppose that being a Moulay and having made your living as an assistant to the king means never admitting the historic brutality of the royal rulers.

Exterior of the Underground Prison, Qara Prison, showing the holes for light and air
Inside the Underground Prison

We offered to take our guide to tea in appreciation of how generous he had been with his time and knowledge but he politely declined, telling us that the phone call he had taken a few minutes ago was from his wife who was asking if he had finished doing the grocery shopping. He showed us the folded cloth shopping bag he’d been carrying and we all laughed. He told us that he did not do this for money just for friendship. We shook hands and parted ways.

The golf coarse solely for the use of the king and his friends

This afternoon we finally gave in to the temptation of ‘the people’s food’ and ate at a sidewalk stall restaurant. We had eggplant, 2 tomato and onion salads, deep fried potato balls, bread, fried fish with one mint tea, all for $5.50. One could eat on the cheap like this everyday but it is not very relaxing as there is no calming atmosphere, lots of vehicle exhaust to chew, people walking by almost having to step over you on the sidewalk, and often someone standing very close, waiting for your table.

Bab Mansour, ancient gate to the Meknes Medina

Our hotel room is on the edge of the Medina and has a balcony with a sweeping view of the valley below with a large park, a section of the new town and meandering agricultural hills off in the distance. At about 5:30 pm as we sat enjoying the view, flocks of storks started to soar overhead in groups of 10 to 30 or so. This continued for about 30 minutes or so. They may have been flying back to their nests from daily food hunting.

A forgotten and unkempt courtyard in a secluded residential neighbourhood

Still recuperating from our desert journey, we ate in again this evening. The next morning the cook, knowing how much I appreciate the msemmen, made me 4 pieces and I put 2 into my pack for our travel day.

Looks like East Van art, right? It is a real live crow on a street lamp.

After Nine Days I Let The Horse Run Free

Day 6

To: Volubilis, Morocco, Thursday, October 24th, Collier De La Colombe

Snow in the Atlas Mountains

We left Midelt driving through the now familiar rocky flats until the Atlas Mountains again jutted up from the ground before us. As we ascended we saw more and more snow by the side of the road. Aziz stopped at a valley lookout point from where we saw a nomadic Berber camp of about 5 to 7 tents and a large herd of goats. As we were getting back into our car, a few of the children came running up from the valley below, living evidence of what I had read about lack of school attendance by tribes children.

Sheep at a Berber mountain camp

Continuing on our way, we found ourselves in Cedar Goureau, a high mountain cedar forest home to naturally occurring macaque monkeys who were quite happy to be fed the fruits sold to tourists by local venders. This was a major tourist bus stop and there was a wildlife centre detailing all of the now departed animal species that had once roamed these forests including lions, leopards and wild boars. The forest still harbours hyenas, deer, porcupine, foxes and hawks. Some displays also described the problems with illegal logging going on in remote areas of the forest.

Feeding the overly tame macaques in the Atlas Mountains

Lunch in Aznou was a splurge calorie wise. Pierre enjoyed a merguez sandwich and I had a tasty hamburger spiced with cumin. We have been sprinkling cumin on our morning eggs and I am now resolved to put some in a pepper shaker at home, or maybe even in a grinder for fresher flavour.

Macaques are indigenous to this region

Unfortunately, Aziz was pulled over and given a 100 MAD or $14.00 speeding ticket. Compared to speeding tickets at home this is very cheap, but we think it represents a lot of money for him and I am sure that the travel agency does not pay him very well, since drivers who speak English or French would command higher salaries.

Volubilis, ancient Roman ruins in Morocco

After lunch we continued on our way to Volubilis to see the best example of Roman Ruins in Morocco. (Man, those guys were everywhere!). Mostly dating from the 2nd century, the ruins remained substantially intact until they were devastated by the 1755 Portugal earthquake and subsequently looted by Moroccan rulers seeking stone for building Meknes. We saw quite a few worrisomely unprotected floor mosaics here and there amount the ruins. We had fun at Volubilis duplicating a few photos from Pierre’s trip 46 years ago, and did detect evidence of continued ruination.

Pierre’s photo taken at Volubilis 46 years ago
The same phot, 2019. Note the further deterioration in the loss of the near right pillar.

In Meknes we said good-bye to Aziz at a busy corner where he dropped us off to walk up some street stairs and along a narrow alley to our hotel. We gave him what seemed, from his appreciation to be a sizeable tip and, since we have enjoyed his sense of humour Pierre counted out the first 700 MAD, our originally intended tip, then paused before putting the last 100 in his hand and said, “This is for the police”. And I said, “ But don’t give it to them!” We all laughed, hugged and then he had to hurry off as he was partially blocking traffic.

Exhausted after 6 days of travel and a different hotel every night, we dined in our hotel restaurant and dragged ourselves to bed. They had wine! It was good!

46 year old photo of floor mosaic at Volubilis
Same photo 46 years later. Note the restoration done to some areas.

Breakfast next morning was good as well, boiled eggs, a variety of pastries, 4.5 star msemmen bread and a strange almond flour, anise seed kind of powder that we were uncertain as to how to consume.

Farewell to our driver, Aziz. Enjoy your next tour to the desert!