FezPosted: December 1, 2011
We travel on towards Fez and being in the Rif, (could read Kif) mountains, we are advised not to take a certain route. Morocco is the 2nd biggest producer of marijuana in the world and fellow travellers tell tales of being blocked on the road by young men on bikes and quad bikes, trying to sell marijuana. Twice already in the streets of Chefchaouen, Antonio is offered Hashish! No one I know would be more unlikely to buy it!
Heading south via Ouazzane, the scenery is still stunning and the theatre of life, roadside, amazing to see.
Women walk with the tools of their trade; a tarpaulin mat for catching olives and a 20 foot bamboo stick to thwack them from the trees. It’s a land that demands an immediate return. We see orange trees, we then see vendors on the side of the road selling bowls of oranges. The same goes for olives trees; a small olive press in action and jars of marinated olives ready to buy. Food miles – ZERO!
Fez is our destination and Tom Tom Roger, and a small man on a motor bike that won’t be refused, lead us to Camping International, a 20 minute taxi drive from the Medina of Fez.
Through the campground we book a taxi guide to take us to Fez for dinner and again to the Medina the next day. All for an almost unbelievable price of 200 DH. (About 20 Euro) Even though we have been taught to impress on him, “no shopping” in our tour, we know for that price, a Fez guide, Berber or Arab, will not able to resist – perhaps just one visit, for one moment, to see the artists with the loom, the artists with the leather, perhaps the artists with the copper!
Alas, with Rachid, we immerse ourselves in the Medina for almost 5 hours. It’s an incredible place. Dirty and ramshackle in parts, vibrant and enlightening in others. Life in all its glory! It is thought at least 1,000,000 people live within the Medina walls, although the “official” statistic is one million in all of Fes. Rachid says this is a political ploy to detract the figures from the high level of unemployment.
There seem to be a lot of young men, standing around or walking with little purpose, and for me there is always a sense of an element of danger. Just a donkey deciding to bolt with a full cart would easily crush us in the narrow streets. Today, we are caught in the crowds of men leaving the Kairaouine Mosque from Friday Prayer. (25,000 descend on the mosque via many different entrances.) They walk calmly enough but I have already seen expression of the hot headed, “craziness” of the Arabs and fear a calm procession could quickly turn into an angry mob!
Rachid took us to the famous Fez sights; the Medersa Bou Inania, a 14th century primary school, now mosque; the Kairaouine Mosque and University, claimed to be the oldest university in the world; the tomb of the founder of Fez, Moulay Idriss II and finally the infamous Fez tannery – the oldest and largest working tannery in Morocco. I had been warned about the smell and we were given fresh mint to hold as we entered. Not being the height of summer, the smell was not too bad. Another blessing for traveling off season. And, yes, we did see one or two “artists” but a firm resolve not to make too many purchases at this early stage of our trip kept us in good stead and we managed to move on without too much angst.
We also had an incredible surprise. Just as we were leaving Rachid suggested we visit a Riad we were passing as he thought it was owned by an Aussie guy. Well, not only is Max Rowe Aussie. He also lived around the corner from Antonio as a child AND even went to the same primary school in the same year!! They may have sat next to each other!!! While they caught up on their memories of the discipline served by Marist Brothers Theo and Christy, I ducked up and around the 3 floors of the Riad. A very nice option for accommodation in Fez in a brilliant location. If we return to Fez we will definitely spend a night at Dai Dar Imdman. http://www.fes-hostel.com
It was a stunning day in the medina and coming out to the “real world” I had to wonder which seemed more like a dream?
As we continue on our drive to Zagora the next day, I reflect to Antonio that I think I now know who the real hero of Moroccan infrastructure is. The Donkey! This hardy, strong, co-operative little creature is utilised here to the max. In the medina and country side alike, it is never long before you see a donkey burdened, ploughing or dressed, waiting to work. Morocco could not function as it does, without the donkey.
And so today, December 1st, we leave civilisation as we know it. A lift in a 4 WD takes us 90 km east to the desert outpost, M’Hmid, situated just 40 km west of the Algerian border! We meet our camels and for 6 nights and 7 days will ride these humpbacked beasts in the wild, golden sands of the Sahara Desert. Wish us luck!!!!!