Made in Morocco (Pt. 2): Recapping My Two Week Tour
Day 3 – Meknes, Volubilis, & Fes
Meknes wasn’t as truly a memorable day or location compared to others on our agenda.
Not that it wasn’t worth seeing.
The morning found me temporarily alone with my included breakfast of yogurt, eggs, bread (duh), olives and coffee, for which I’d figured out finally to order black with a side of milk to gauge the amount to pour in on my own.
I’d take credit but it was actually Wendy’s genius idea.
Then, Tanja, Carmen and I hailed a turquoise blue taxi to the city center to enjoy some free time before we had to meet up with the group for lunch.
We used the app, MAPS.ME, which can be used offline and sans data, to navigate around.
- Overcast skies, nice breeze, but still a bit muggy.
- The Royal Stables – UNESCO World Heritage site, only 10 dh to enter, but either we missed the memo or there was no option for a tour guide or pamphlet, so we wandered on our own and found out later via Google that this place is a few centuries old. Also, about twelve thousand horses were housed there at one time.
- Way too many stray dogs and crumbling alleyways as we walked through the lesser-seen part of town.
- Watched an old man angrily chase after a group of boys with a stick. I could only assume they stole something.
- Paid to use a bathroom near a restaurant in the main market square only to find out it was lacking a western toilet and had a hole in the ground, for women wearing the traditional dresses. I decided my chances were better off holding it for another couple of hours.
- Drank mint tea while relaxing in the square and admiring the architecture of the art museum across the street.
- CAMEL BURGERS and more mint tea for lunch!
Let’s detail into that last one, because it’s pretty cool.
We snaked through the medina and were split into two groups, half of us in a tea shop stall and half of us just across from them in a grill shop stall. Neither are considered restaurants, as they are like NY style store fronts with a couple benches for seating inside.
Locals buy their own ground meat by the pound in another part of the medina. Then they bring it to the cook, where I happened to be seated in the most ideal spot for pictures, who will throw it on the grill for them.
Why wouldn’t they just cook it themselves, you ask? With homes being so close together or actually connected in the old medina, very few are equipped to handle charcoal grills or ovens indoors. But it works out.
Old ways still work even in a changing world. It seems like a small task, but it’s a needed job nonetheless.
Anyway, we were all served our extraordinarily sweet mint tea from the tea guy while we watched the grill master mix the ground camel meat with different spices like their favorite coriander, onion, a sort of mild red peppers, and some salt. He then made sausage rolls, placed them in a metal-wired rack and placed them on the grill.
He did it all barehanded.
I watched as he snatched the cooked patties straight from the burning grill and stuffed them into the sandwich bread.
Boom, delicious. I’m not kidding. You’d never know it was camel meat: fairly lean and great flavor.
For the record, all of the portraits I intentionally took of Moroccans were done so with permission. No one wants to feel like an object or spectacle.
I don’t remember having to pay for a photo of an individual, but most travel sites will recommend that you have some change in your pocket for just such an occasion.
After lunch, our bus driver, Lacsen, met us for the first time and drove through the city back to the hotel to pick up our bags from storage.
By that time we all had to use the restroom badly. With there being only 4 men in our group, the line for their room was not trailing out the door. So, me and a couple other ladies unashamedly used those stalls.
Moha didn’t seem the least bit shocked. When in Rome, right?
Speaking of Rome…our next stop was Volubilis, another UNESCO World Heritage site.
In all honesty, I wasn’t super excited about this place before arriving. I love history, I just generally don’t get a thrill from museums and a guy naming off a lot of dates and names of historical figures.
But this visit was a game changer. And it had a lot to do with our hilarious guide, who was savvy but knew how to keep things interesting with his own twists and theories, too.
This 3rd Century BC archaeological site of Roman ruins is one of the largest and most preserved in the world.
Hebrew and Roman text could faintly be seen on some headstones. Massive mosaic tile floors depicting stories from ancient mythology, such as the story of Hercules’ hero test, are still almost wholly intact. I had no difficulty imagining a once-bustling city full of impressive archways, columns, and toga-clad men.
We toured for over an hour, finishing right as the clouds were being dismissed by the sun’s rays. Then we all grabbed a quick refreshment–I eagerly devoured a chocolate covered pistachio ice cream bar–and jumped on the bus.
Fes, overnight for 2 nights at Hotel Olympic
We arrived into Fez (spelled Fes in-country) in late afternoon. As soon as Wendy and I settled into our room, I headed out again to familiarize myself with the streets.
I had packed my 2 liter water bladder with me, which really came in handy to fill with large water bottles along the way. I never did drink Moroccan tap water, but I did brush my teeth with it and never had any issues.
Better to be safe than sorry, though.
So I stocked up on water and bought some fresh bananas and a mango from a street vendor. Then I ran into the German girls and we were very bad influences on each other, buying a whole box (for only like $2!) of various pastries to try.
I also had a train wreck of a time trying to find a shop that sold razors. In my procrastination of packing I’d forgotten mine at home.
If only there was video surveillance of my charade performance, trying to visually describe what I was searching for.
Eventually, a local man who spoke enough English pointed me in the right direction.
Good thing, too. I was starting to think shaven legs weren’t going to be worth the hassle.
That night most of us walked around the block with Moha to another “snack” place where we ordered meat skewers and soup. Bread was readily available, as always.
I tried the lamb (kefta), chicken, and beef heart. Yes, you read that right. I knew what it was going into it, and I still loved it.
Afterwards, one of the only two guys from our group (besides Moha and Lacsen), and I ended up splitting a pot of mint tea and pastries outside a local “bar” where we people watched.
There were women clad in modern clothes, some wearing hijabs but also jeans, and others completely covered.
Sometimes young men walked by holding hands or arm-in-arm. Homosexuality is illegal in Morocco, but it is not seen as inappropriate or strange for men to show affection to their male friends and women likewise with other females.
While we sipped, we discussed everything from politics and education to world travel and personal backgrounds.
It was a good night, and it promised a better tomorrow.
Day 4 – Fes
Fes is the oldest city on earth that has never been destroyed.
I was awestruck by the clash of worlds, both modern and ancient moving together in harmony.
I was confounded by the many contradictions: it’s safe to say they don’t put as much stock or effort into upkeep or outward presentation.
Walls are weathered and crumbling–doorways humble and unassuming. Wood planks have been braced between alleys to add to the endurance of the structures.
Yet, we’d make a turn into an entryway and suddenly find ourselves inside a palace.
According to our guide, this was done long ago in reverence to the Evil Eye. People believed showing off what one had would bring scorn upon him.
I couldn’t help but think of that scripture when Jesus scolds the pharisees for keeping the “outside of the cup clean” and not washing the inside, too. Who cares what our lives look like outwardly if all is corrupt and amok within us? Better the other way around, for sure.
While materialism isn’t an obvious struggle for Moroccans, they still care quite a lot about the work of their hands. I watched as the men at the pottery place, Tamegroute Pottery Cooperative, barely glanced up from their tasks except to briefly smile.
Such attention to detail and pride for one’s livelihood has all but dissipated in much of the rest of the world. Everything now is mass-produced.
But here, though time is valued and work is done efficiently, it’s all still hand-crafted and thus unique. Everything is molded, painted, chipped, engraved, and pieced together by hand. The utmost care is taken to create their masterpieces of mosaic fountains, tables, and so forth.
Likewise, at the leather tannery, the workers are literally in the vats of dye with the cow hides. At the silk shop, the men diligently work on a loom to weave scarves.
Although some of these products were exponentially expensive, regardless of the currency used, I couldn’t help but think, that at least in this way, it wouldn’t hurt us all to get back to basics.
Later that night, a few of us attended a three-course dinner in a renovated home. The terrace offered 360 degree views of the city and the main hall boasted colorful, ornate ceilings that went on forever. There was also live traditional music to accompany our meal.
A long day and a long night meant for a great sleep.
Highlights and flashbacks
- In order of pictures below: Saw the Grand Palace, got a bird’s eye view of the entire city, and visited a pottery shop that made me wish I was rich. Then we entered the sometimes single-file-only streets of the medina to the leather tannery, a three-course lunch, and the silk shop.
- Gray clay can be cooked in forever and it’s tough enough to stand on. The pottery shop owner proved that one. But terra cotta, the red clay, will eventually leech lead into food so it’s best not to cook with.
- Learned three important Moroccan phrases: Meshy-mushky (unofficial spelling) means “no problem.” Yalla means “let’s go.” And ballak means “watch out” or more appropriately “get out of the way!” if a donkey cart is on your heels in the narrow Fes medina.
- My half of the group got separated from the front and followed who-knows-who for several minutes until Moha caught on and made us wait until he found our city guide, charismatic Hischam.
- Storks mate for life. Once they make a nest (usually on a tall perch like a chimney) they will always return to it. The locals, instead of shooing them away, end up accommodating and building extra chimneys instead.
- One of the men in a pool of dye spotted me and gave me a quick hang loose sign before he continued work. I was able to send the sign back, and get a shot of him, but not with him looking unfortunately.
- The smell at the tannery is really as bad as everyone says, and it seems to linger with you, too, despite the sprig of mint they hand you upon entering.
- The oldest madrasa, or university, was founded by a woman.
- Older man sitting outside the silk shop shared his opinion about Trump for a while, then offered–no, insisted–I sit on his ripped little cushion when he got up and went inside. Made me think that it’s not the gift that matters, but the heart which gives it.
- I got pulled up on stage not once but twice at dinner. The first was with a few other girls on either side of a local dancer. The second was for the magician’s show. I stayed in the safe zone and simply tapped my feet and clapped my hands for both occasions–no need to completely make a fool out of myself.
- The phrase of the day would probably be sensory overload. So much hustle and bustle, such organized chaos, such a blend of old and new, so many colors, textures, and sounds; my brain was still downloading long after my eyes closed to sleep at night.
I promise I’ll try to make these shorter from here out 🙂