Monday, September 14, 2009
Fes, Ancient capital of Morocco
Sept. 11, Friday
On the train to Fes
After a challenging morning, we're well in to our train trip to Fes, the ancient capital of Morocco. Last night was late, starting out with a nice gathering at Rick's Cafe of Casablanca fame (created only about 5 years ago!), but ending on a sour note due to confusion about some belongings left unattended by students from the ship. One of those times when you try to do the right thing only to have those you were trying to help blow up at you. So, I started this morning tired and a bit discouraged. Then Joyce and I missed the 8:15 train by about 5 minutes, which meant a 2 hour wait for the next with nothing in the neighborhood open. We were able to find a bad cup of coffee in the Hotel Ibis next door, and at least sit out the bulk of our wait in relative comfort.
We're riding 2nd class, which is quite nice. The two women next to me are reading Koranic verse (Friday is the high holy day) - it is time for the midday prayer according to Naima, our wonderful guide for the city orientation yesterday. I can't help but be impressed by how much prayer and Koranic text are a part of everyday life here for so many. I'm glad we're here during Ramadan, even if it is inconvenient for us non-believers!
Later, same day.
We've settled in to our little hotel, Batha, only to find out that almost everything is closed on Friday afternoon. Holy day. The bartender at our hotel is reading Koran and chanting in between sparse orders - it's hard to interrupt for something as vulgar as a beer.
The concierge recommended taking a taxi up the hill to the five star hotel Merinides - good idea!
Joyce and I are sitting on a lovely veranda with a panoramic view of Fes with its medieval wall surrounded by cemetaries. We're enjoying that Moroccan staple, mint tea, while listening to the growing thunder - we could witness a grand storm, if we're lucky. Ahhh.... the big drops are starting. Funny, rain is just not something I associate with Morocco!
What fun! We watched it coming, and then it hit. Torrents of rain, lighting and thunder, big winds. The veranda flooded, big potted plants fell over, we had to move indoors. Very exciting!
We ended up waiting literally 2 hours at the hotel last night for taxis to start running again after the "breaking of the fast" meal at sundown; in the meantime, we were befriended by a very nice Moroccan man,Taibi. Turned out he was staying at our hotel, having had the view at the Merinides recommended by the same concierge. He speaks a smattering of English, some Dutch, French, and quite a bit of German. We shared a taxi (20 dh = 2.50) back to the hotel, then he took me on a brief walk into the beginning of the Medina, which was quite calm on a Friday night in the middle of Ramadan. We had a good conversation about religion and Morocco's past and future. Nice to get to ask questions from someone living here.
Back in the train, first class this time (working air conditioning). 165 dh = $27 Joyce and I did manage a tour of the medina for 3 hours. It was pretty exhausting. Although I really liked our guide, Samira, she clearly works on commission - we BEGGED out of the embroidery and pharmacy sales pitches, after suffering through 5 others. I HATE sales pitches, no matter what country, no matter what language. Don't get me wrong - I wanted to buy a few things, but I so hated being corralled and harrassed, I only ended up buying a simple blouse (which I desperately need) for WAY too much. Sigh.