|>||>||>||Colin, part I||.|
Things to see in Morocco
Let me tell you all about morocco and all my adventures, mishaps, and
I spent an animated two weeks in the former French colony jumping from the coast, to the mountains, from the oasis to the periphery of the sahara desert. I met a lot of people, many Moroccan characters and have a great deal of info for anyone who would consider this amazing paradise for a short visit. I couldn't believe anyone would have any complaints about this place.
I started out on my journey sleeping in the airport, just like I ended it, except with not as much excitement. I flew into Casablanca and from there, immediately took the train with an American couple who had been studying in France for the past year. Even though I was heading to Rabat, the capital, and they to Marrakech, we had a good chat about how they rode in a shabby truck filled with fat Mauritanian women sitting on top of each other and arrived at a friend's parents' home. There they sat around in the sweltering heat and hung out with the family slaves (no kidding, it some places its still chic).
After we parted ways, I was on my way to Rabat and when I arrived, I went straight to the youth hostel, found a bed and crashed. Sleeping on airport benches isn't a necessary part of the package; I wouldn't suggest it. After spending two nights in a row camping in international airports - we could make a contest out of this - Athens, then Munich, my back was a chiropractors dream and I was most pleased to find a mattress on which I could sleep. The next day, I met three Australians and we hung out in Rabat. We went through the medina - old city - which is fairly small for the imperial cities: Rabat, Meknes, Fes, and Marrakech. I also visited the kasbah, which means fort, an earthen clay concoction which has partly stood the test of time. White is the color for Rabat as the kasbah and many of the buildings there are covered in a white paint, which is quite blinding in the sun when it is high in the sky. When in Rabat, go to the beach to catch a glimpse of the sunset. We did, its beautiful.
That's about all I did in Rabat and the next morning I caught the train to Fes, another imperial city which is the intellectual and artisan capital of Morocco.
The train ride was nice, especially when an old muslim man sat in my cabin and taught me some Arabic. Make sure you take a lot of water with you in summer. The locals drink maybe a glass or two there a day, but we're silly westerners and that means a lot of water. I don't know how they do it, but they do. I have my conspiracy theories, but not here tonight, okay.
I got to Fes, and that is where I had my first incident with a faux guide. Everyone who wants to take advantage of the tourists, stands at either the train or bus stations, or at the entrance of the medinas. Figures. The guys who present themselves to you will show you professional cards that prove they are anything from official tour guides, employees at the hotels, hostel workers or the King of Morocco. They'll even take you to the desert, whether you come back or not, well, that's a whole other package deal. They'll take you anywhere you want to go, except where you really want to go. Even if you've already been there, they'll take you back. Whatever. The first faux guide told me that the hostel in Fes was closed, but it wasn't. He told me he would take me to a hotel, though. Very cheap. Also, he had a taxi driver waiting for me. Only 30 Dh, which of course is about five times what it would have cost.
I broke away from all those guides. They seemed upset, as not to understand why someone would start running when they called him, "friend." That's their signature call, like a cat's meow, or a dog's bowwow. If you hear it, RUN!!! There are certain variations: "my friend," "hello, my friend," "Do you remember me from (insert location every tourist goes to)?" ect. Memorization of these key phrases is necessary to the survival of your budget while on vacation in Morocco.
Now I've made my way to the hostel in the hot sweltering sun. It was good to get away and the next day I took an official guide, yes, they do exist, but they are also on the take, in other words, they get kick backs for taking you to certain shops in the medina and more if you buy stuff.
About the medina in Fes, it's the largest in Morocco. All of Fes has been designated as a living historical monument. The wall around the medina is 14 kilometers and is the most impressive creation I saw in Morocco. Shops abound among small alleys and all around mosques and above one another. At once you'll be walking through streets filled with animal droppings and urine only to the walk inside some the doorways into a setting that can be described as nothing less than palatial. When in Fes, you must see the tanneries. This is where men, only men, take the animal hides and tan them in dyes mixed with saffron for yellow, mint for green, indigo for blue, ect. At the same time, all kinds of nasties such a pidgeon poop and animal brains are mixed in to help make the dye. The smell is brutal and if you are faint of heart and/or stomach, then ask for something to cover your face. Just go to the edge of the terrace to yack if you cant handle it. They would probably just use it in the dye.
I spent the entire day in the medina with the guide and she took me all kinds of places, like mosques, expensive shops where I was offered "student" prices for everything, some museums with great views of the medina from bird's eye view and then some more expensive shops.
That night I went back to the hostel and told the manager about how wonderful the medina was but that there was still something that I wanted that I didn't get there but would have to wait for Marrakech. Wouldn't it figure, he knew someone who ran a shop that sold the very thing. That night I went out and bought it. This is just to warn that even those running hotels and hostels are just as much on the take as anyone else. I wonder what his cut was.
The next day, I took the manager's advice and headed for a desert town, Rissani where a hostel was and the next day I could go out to the desert for a camel trek. I took a bus ride through down the valley, through some French colonial outposts and alpine resorts built for the Moroccan rich and famous. Just south of the town of Azrou, we drove past some cedar forests where several barbary apes were sitting and eating with workers on their lunch break. Shortly thereafter, we hit the middle Atlas range and people on the bus started puking. It didn't help that it was hot and Moroccan air conditioning, which I told the bus had, was the luxury of the window being able to be opened. I must have a steel stomach because every time we took a weaving turn people would start puking like it was some sort of funny movie where no one can help but yack on one another. I was glad we periodically took breaks so I could step out and get some fresh air, which was really polluted and filled with dust as cars and trucks passed us by.
After 12 hours, I finally made it to Rissani, but not after nearly a dozen 'guides' tried to convince me that I should go with them into the desert. They're persistent, which must mean it works a great many times. My question is: who the hell would want to go into the desert with some strange guy with that car salesman smirk on their face becoming more evident as they tell you about how cheap their deal is compared to everyone else's. Some of them took only two minutes before I shooed them away from me and others spent the entire 30 minutes repeating themselves. When one didn't convince me, his friend would try to convince me. There was an intricate system. It didn't work on me, but it must on others.
The hostel manager found me on the bus when I got to Rissani and I spent the night after meeting two Australians and Japanese. The next day, I went out to the desert and went on a trek among the dunes at what is the edge of the Sahara desert. When the sun sets out there, thee is nothing but silence and the colors of the dunes, become surreal. I slept out in the desert and the only other person with me was the camel guide. I preferred that way, no other stupid tourist to make funny comments about the dunes or stars or sunset or talk about something that would piss me off and lead me to killing him in the desert.
It was awesome! The stars came out in full force once an almost full moon set behind the dunes and I could finally see the arm of the milky way, which the berber people call the Sky River. I had never seen it before and had completely underestimated the magnificence of it. In the morning, I climbed the dune to watch the sunrise. As it did, a wind picked up against the dunes and once again, time for the changing of the colors. At this time, our camp was overrun by a herd of lost sheep, which the camel guide ran off.
We took off about seven, so we could get back to camp before the summer heat became too much. Two hours out and two hours in.
continue to part II