March 1, 2011
Morocco Day 3
Chefchauan to Fes
Everyday here is a new adventure. This morning, we were supposed to meet Aziz again at 9:00AM. I’m not quite sure what he does from when we reach our hotel to when we see him in the morning, but he completely disappears. The lady that booked everything for us on this tour says that he prepares himself for the next day, prays, and freshens up. Basically to me, he is like a teacher. He exists when he is our tour guide, much like a teacher during the school day. Then when he is off, he simply just disappears.
Anyway back to the day. At 9:00AM we left our hotel. It wasn’t as nice as the hotel in Rabat (it only had four stars) but it was still cool. It was a riad located in the Media of Chefchauen. Chefchauen is a Berber city that is nestled in the Rif Mountains. The Berbers are not Arabs, Aziz made sure to tell us. They are ethnically different, although since the Arabs came in the ninth century AD, the Berber ethnicity has been mixed into the overall Moroccan culture.
This morning, Aziz guided us through Chefchauen, walking the narrow streets of the Medina. It was a great walk and I took some pretty awesome pictures. I have to say it helps when what you are photographing does all the work for you. I just zoom, point and shoot. The blue and white buildings of Chefchauen were stunning. Aziz walked us through the Medina to the spring where the city gets its drinking water. He told us that the water originates in a spring in the middle of the Rif mountains.
After taking some pictures of the stream, seeing some women washing their blankets in the water there, we headed off to the Roman city of Velubilus. It was a roughly three hour drive from Chefchauen to the V. The countryside was much like the rest of the country we had driven through. Lots of green pastures with a river snaking through the countryside passed by my window. Then we got to the city.
I can’t quite remember the history of what the guide told us about the city, but that’s what Wikipedia is for. I’ll try to remember everything that happened as best as I can. The first thing that we did when we got there was use the restroom. They say as Westerners that you should drink bottled water. I have had no problem drinking water in my time in Europe, so I still down my three liters a day. That proves to be a bit uncomfortable when you are stuck in a car for a few hours at a time. Basically I was about to burst, although I wasn’t the only one.
This was one of those pay toilets that people outside of the US are so fond of. Now for one Moroccan Dirham, I’m expecting a little quality. Miriam and JoAnn are in front of us and the attendant hands them some toilet paper. Dad and I walk by him and we get nothing. Good thing I didn’t have a big bran breakfast, I suppose. Anyway, after seeing yet another hole in the ground with raised footprints to squat on, I finish up, wash my hands and walk down to meet our guide who will take us on the tour. Dad and JoAnn catch up. We wait. And wait. And wait. A couple minutes later Miriam pops out. None of us are quite sure what took her so long, but we decided not to press the matter.
So after all four of us used the facilities we met our guide. Aziz didn’t accompany us to the actual site of Velubuils, so we had another guide, Hasan. Dad is terrible at remembering names so kept calling Aziz, Hasan, which is also the name of the father of the current king of Morocco. I don’t understand how the man, who for fun quizzed me as a child about the most arbitrary of facts, cannot remember the name of our guide, whom he has known for the last two and a half days. Anyway, he finally could remember someone’s name because he had been dying to call someone Hasan the entire trip.
I don’t mean to make fun of the man at all because he was a great guide and incredibly knowledgeable. The thing is he only had about three teeth. Literally, his mouth was almost empty. I figured it would be rude to ask to take a picture, but as someone with almost a decade of orthodontics behind him, I am fascinated by teeth. Anyway, throughout the course of the tour, we learned that Hasan speaks English, Arabic, French and Spanish. We assume he must speak some Italian too because aside from studying in Spain, he went on an archeological dig in Pompeii. He told us all about what the city was used for back in the Roman times, and then what happened with the Berbers came. I can’t remember most of it, mainly because I was distracted by his teeth and my picture taking duties (no one in this family besides me and Jennifer ever take any photos!).
After we finish up with Hasan, we meet Aziz and go off to the first Arab town in Morocco. It is called Mullay Idris, named after the first Arab ruler of Morocco. It is said that Mullay Idris is a descendent of the Prophet himself. In the town, we saw his shrine, but only from afar. Only Muslims are allowed to get close to it.
From there, we were off to Meknes. By this time it was almost 1PM and none of us had eaten. We decided to stop for lunch in Meknes. Because we were already there, Aziz agreed to take us on a tour of the Medina of Meknes. It wasn’t on our itinerary, but it wasn’t out of our way. We saw a beautiful gate that is a World Heritage site. We walked around and saw huge carts piled high with Sheep’s’ wool. We even saw a few rug stores. Meknes was a pretty cool town, but we had to get a move on to Fes (yes, it is also written as Fez, but the French way and the only way I have seen in this country is Fes).
When we got here, we parked the van and took a walk to our Hotel. This is probably the nicest one we’ve stayed at so far. It is in the Medina of Fes. For anyone who has been here before, they probably remember how narrow the alleyways of the Medina are. It literally felt like walking in a hedge maze, just replace the hedges with forty-foot stucco walls.
Our hotel is truly worth its five stars. I have had my own room in every one of the places we’ve stayed in, but this one is amazing. From the three windows I can access a little terrace. I don’t think I’m supposed to go out there, but I did. It’s pretty neat. The lobby is this huge room with amazingly detailed tile work on the columns. Blue and white stones are intricately interwoven to form amazing geometric shapes. There seem two be two different courtyards, the main one with a bar on one side and a fountain in the center of it. We had dinner at the restaurant just next to the bar, and the food was just as good as anywhere else! They even found a way to make vegetables taste good.
I’m excited to spend the full day here tomorrow!