Well Morocco really has been giving us a run for our money and keeping us on our toes. We’ve had all 4 seasons in the past 6 weeks and we were obviously naive when we planned this trip with regards to the weather, yes rain and cloudy days but snow and ice never entered our minds, but c’est la vie. Keith has done an amazing job with all the hazards of driving in Morocco and after last weeks driving conditions I think we’re about ready to head right up north when we leave Morocco………… to Iceland 😂
Thursday 8th February
Ifrane is 1600 metres above sea level, we’re high!
Sleeping on the side of the road in Ifrane wasn’t so bad after all our initial concerns. I think we were both so exhausted from the stressful drive that we slept better than we thought. We were relieved that Eugene was still in one piece in the morning.
We were parked right opposite a small lake it looked amazing, it was completely iced over and it looked like a skating rink, if circumstances were different we might have had a go! There were ducks on the lake skidding around when they landed. The snow was so deep when I opened the habitation door and stepped on to the snow I was up to my thigh, neither of us have seen snow this deep before, it did look beautiful but we were just not in the right mood to get out and appreciate it.
We had put the heating on overnight to stop the boiler from freezing up it has an automatic dump valve to stop the water freezing in the pipes if the temperature falls below -5, but unfortunately we didn’t have the heating up high enough because when we got up we realised the boiler had dumped 90 litres of fresh water underneath Eugene, making a huge sheet of ice right underneath us, “fook” said Keith or something similar.
We had to decide whether to stay put or move on. We could stay we’ve got gas for cooking but now the freshwater tank was empty we wouldn’t have any heating or water to flush the toilet possibly no sun for the solar panel and no electricity with more snow expected later today we could be here for days and it would be a very cold and grim few days. Do we leave into the unknown. Fez is only an hour away, but without knowing what’s ahead of us we were both leaving the decision up to the other, it’s up to you Keith you’ve got to drive. The decision was made when the bin man came by “is the road to Fez good” he just looked at us blankly, “la rue pour Fez bon” he nodded and pointed the way out of town, okay let’s go the bin man says the road is good. First issue get off this skating pad we’re on and we’re at the top of a hill so needed to go down. There was another camper parked a length away from us so we need to be sure we could get past them first, all clear to the left go….. slip, slip, slide close my eyes, squeeze my bum and we’re off into the road, phew that wasn’t bad!
It’s 9am when we set off, the first 10 minutes out of town were a little hairy 3 foot of snow at the roundabouts and the dreaded ice, but that soon clears and the road is great. But we’re at the top of the mountain and we need to go down it’s still early and cold -3 so there’s ice on the shadowed parts of the mountain pass, we have a few hairy moments but the ice and the snow starts to disappear as we get lower and we can finally start to relax.
Besides the ice, potholes and mad drivers we also have to dodge the kids who are standing at the side of the road selling almonds, well actually are running into the road in an attempt to make sure we can see what they are selling and if someone does stop they all run across the road without looking to get there first some of these kids look no older than 4 years old.
Our campsite is Camping Diamond Vert which is outside the main city of Fez. It’s expensive at 120dhm (£10), the toilet and shower are not that good according to the reviews so I’m not even gonna take a look. We take a walk into town. This part of the city has lots of development going on new roads, footpaths and houses, but as usual unfinished and the footpaths are either trip hazards or full of crap that we have to walk on the road, which frankly is probably the safer option. As usual we find a cafe, completely different to our usual type this one is very modern but it’s overlooking the roundabout, now this is entertainment. There are 6 entrances and exits to the roundabout but after an hour slowly sipping our coffee watching there is no way we can work out what the f&*k is going on, who has priority or even if they are all going round the roundabout the same way! If you want a taxi you stand in the road at an exit, in the middle of the road to be exact and the taxi stops in the middle of the road and you get in, how the hell no one is killed is beyond us, but it beats an hour watching television. We are praying we don’t have to come through this tomorrow.
Friday 9 February
We’re going into the old town of Fez, Keith has found a camperstop which is a carpark outside the city walls. It’s only 15 minutes drive but as usual it’s absolutely mad, cars all over the place, switching lanes, Keith doesn’t have a good thing to say about any of the inconsiderate and ignorant Moroccan drivers, I could tell you what he’s saying but I’ll leave that for you to imagine and just as well the dashcam has decided it’s not holding any recordings today or else I would post them.
We get to the carpark in one piece, which just 3 weeks ago a fellow camper stated on a Facebook page that we follow, they stayed here the night without any issues, well not today. The guardian says no camping, I point out to him there is already a camper parked in front of us, he pretends he doesn’t see it, “Non Camping”, can we park for the day only, no sleep, “no”. Before we’ve got time to respond a man appears “hello madam can I help” we explain we want to day park or camp overnight. He goes to the guardian and it’s clear there is some argument going on, they then go to the tourist police car parked nearby. The man comes back and tells us that Camping is now not allowed in this carpark, we tell him we only want parking for the day and point out the camper parked nearby, he goes back to the tourist police car.
Apparently the tourist police phoned their boss who said we could park for the day only, ok fine we’ll park for the day. I look on the parking sign 1dhm (5p) for the day, bargain. Our interjector wasn’t going to leave it at that he was an official tour guide (so he says and he showed us his official badge, and he spoke with the tourist police, so he must be kosher!) he wanted to be our guide for 3 hours for 200dhm (£18). We had already discussed that we would get a guide because it’s recommended, this guy is official, 3 hours 200dhm, speaks English lets go. Before we set off I tell him we don’t want to go to any shops, we are not buying anything, “ok madam, if you want you buy if you don’t want you don’t buy”, we are definitely not buying anything.
It’s Friday (like a Sunday to us) and it’s very quiet. Our guide takes us through the very narrow streets and tells us the history, he takes a few photos of us with our SLR camera but he’s not done a good job and I end up deleting them all bar one which I manage to selvage. We are both quite underwhelmed by the Medina after all the hype on the internet we were setting ourselves up for this to be a noisy and smelly experience and for us to be harassed by the vendors, it’s not happening not that we’re complaining. The streets are narrow and not all of them have shops or cafes.
Our guide takes us to Medersa Bou Inania which is a former college for Muslim intellectuals so he says. Pay the man 20dhm each, we might not want to see this whatever it is, but it looks like we’re going anyway. Keith pays up and we’re in. The Medersa was built by Sultan Bou Inan in the 14th century but it has been beautifully restored in recent years. It is decorated with gorgeous mosaics, carved plaster, cedar lattice screens, impressively large doors and a marble water fountain in the middle of the court yard. The tiles are beautiful and our guide explains that there are no pictures within the tiles, they are script, flowers and Andalusia which is a 13 pointed star and the 5 pointed Moroccan star. Our visit is timed with a group of 20 or so Japanese tourist who are flaunting themselves for the perfect photo, it’s quite amusing to watch, snigger.
Next went went to the Agana Bouanania the famous ‘water clock’ which is actually the remains of the ancient water clock. It’s an hydraulic clock which was completed on the 6th May 1357. Our guide tells us we can’t go inside so it’s difficult to see exactly how it works standing out in the street, but it’s pretty impressive from the outside. Whilst we’re walking our guide stops for a toilet break 10 minutes, talks to all and sundry 50 minutes and his phone is constantly ringing and to his ear and I’m starting to get a bit pissed off with him.
He tells us he is taking us to an impressive house of a teacher, oh yes a teacher, we get inside it’s a carpet shop. The guys are all over us but we act a little uninterested. We’re taken upstairs to see the loom, luckily it’s Friday and no one is up there. Down stairs they start the spiel, try as you might mate we’re still not buying a carpet, he tries again and they get persistent then Keith says “we’ve already bought carpet in Essaouira so we don’t need any more” geniuses that’s why I love you thinking on your feet, anyhow we’re not buying carpet and they eventuality give up.
Next it’s the tannery. We walk into a shop full of handbags, actually it’s wasted on me I’m definitely not a handbag girl. Our guide talks to a guy in full pointed hooded coat for about 2 minutes. I say to Keith something is not right here, sure enough “I’m sorry monsieur madam my wife she calls, my baby is not well I have to go, I leave you with this man he will show you things and take you back to your van, can you pay me now”. F(&k without thinking we give him 200dhm, then… I ask Keith the time 12.30, 2 hours, f&#king 2 hours and we’ve been dumped. And actually whilst he and Keith have been talking along the way we discover they’re the same age, so his baby not being well is probably a cock and bull story and we’ve been had.
Anyway the guy in the pointy hooded coat takes us upstairs and upstairs and upstairs to a roof terrace. At the top he gives us each a sprig of mint, I immediately put this to my nose knowing what’s coming, Keith however puts his in his pocket! The smell is like something you’ve never smelt before, as we neared the edge of the terrace to over look the tannery, it hits you (your stomach in your handbag). Because it’s Friday we’re seeing the full working effect of the tannery, there’s only a handful of men with one or two pits being worked. Our man explains that after the animals are slaughtered they’re skinned and the pelts are soaked in a whiteish mixture of pigeon poop and lime which makes it easy to separate the dead wool or fur from the skin, which is then left to dry and later used as cushion stuffing. The pelts are then put in a huge spinning machine, like a washing machine. The tanning and color-adding (indigo for blue dye, saffron for yellow, mint for green, henna for brown, charcoal for black, and poppies for red) involves the pelts being left in the pits of varying colours before they are hung out to dry on the roof tops. I’ve almost got the mint growing out my scalp as we lean over the terrace where we can see a guy scraping the hide of all the fir and fat. Unfortunately we don’t get to see all the colours of the hides drying only a few red and natural but it still pretty impressive. As we leave to go downstairs Keith looks a me with the mint stuck to my nose “so that’s what’s it’s for”, errr yea!!!
Back downstairs the guy tells me that every woman who enters his shop buys at least 3 handbags, well not me I’m not buying even one. We head further down to the shoes, no not buying them either. This guy is getting a bit peeved because we won’t buy anything. He then takes us outside and tells us the way back to our van is straight up, no left, no right, straight up and then he walks off, charming we’ve been dumped again. The Medina is a labyrinth of about 9500 streets, some so narrow you are nearly the kissing the person trying to pass you coming from the other direction and some are dead ends so we better get this right or else we’re here for a while.
After about 40 minutes of going straight up we get to the main gate and find the carpark. We have some lunch and decide that we’ll go back into the Medina. We’ve read there are coloured walking routes within the Medina which are coloured plaques with arrows on some of the buildings. There are 6 routes and each has a different theme. As went enter back into the Medina we see the signs overhead and follow the arrows for the red route, it’s dead easy we’ve walked for over 6 miles and didn’t get lost, well a just little bit and found our way back out, why didn’t we do this this morning and save ourselves 200dhm.
Back in the carpark we get ready to leave and I go to pay, 20dhm it cost us, what happened to the 1dhm on the sign obviously doesn’t apply to us, ripped off for the second time today.
We head back to Camping Diamond Vert for the night and it’s started to rain. The rain continues all night and so do the dogs constantly barking.
Saturday 10 February
We’re up early and it’s still raining but soon clears as we get closer to Meknes. As we get closer to the city the traffic gets busier and busier and for a while Keith is a little stressed trying to work out where he is supposed to be within the flow of traffic, as usual it’s all over the place. We manage to find the carpark in the centre of the city where we will stay for the night, and it is the worse scruffiest carpark I think I’ve ever seen, it resembles a tip. It’s right next to a busy roundabout with the bus station and the entrance to the Medina. There’s only one other camper here but the carpark is rammed with hand carts, cars and people.
The guardian comes over to see how many nights we’re going to stay, we say one night and then we’ll see how noisy it is, the other alternative is a campsite 10km outside the city. The guardian is a very tall scary looking guy in a dark hooded robe, he speaks English and wants 100dhm for 24 hours, blady hell that’d expensive with no facilities, but we pay anyway. He tells us the toilet is in the building in the centre of the carpark, I can tell you now I’m not using that. He then asks if we want a guide to show us round the city or the Medina 100dhm for 3 hours we tell him no we don’t need one. 10 minutes later he’s back with a guide he introduces him as his friend who works for him and has children (what’s that got to with it I don’t know) and he speaks very good English he now wants us to pay him 200dhm, err no I’ve already said we don’t want a guide he argues with me that we do need a guide but eventually walks off muttering to the guide when I shut the door. Next the boy comes over to change our windscreen wiper blades, no we don’t want them changed he insists there very good, don’t care don’t want windscreen wiper blades there’s nothing wrong with the ones we’ve got. Next the guy to wash the van, oh yes please finally something we do want, 100dhm (£8) and when we get back from our walk Eugene is absolutely gleaming.
The souk and main square are literally right outside the carpark, the noise is tremendous sirens, cars, hooters, whistles, people shouting and loud music but it feels exciting this city is absolutely alive. Our first challenge is to try and cross the road. There are 2 lanes of traffic going in opposite directions but, being as we’re in Morocco 2 lanes have turned into 6. The pavement which is about 50 foot wide has 2 lanes of horse and carriages parked and the remainder of the pavement is now the road and we get hooted at standing on the pavement because we’re in the way when the taxi wants to pass. The horse and carriages look anything but inviting the carriages are decorated in white satin material and really don’t look nice at all and may be better placed on ‘my big fat gipsy wedding’.
The main square has got everything. There are decorated horses for you to sit on and have your photo taken but the horses have their front legs tied together so they don’t walk off and they stand there in the same place for hours on end. Small monkeys dressed up in clothes, a snake charmer whose throwing the snake onto people like it’s a scarf, an ostrich and peacocks god knows what you do with them, someone walking a sheep around, remote controlled sit in cars for the kids there’s a lot to take in. We get a coffee and sit and watch. Someone is selling single cigarettes, nuts, snails to eat, cakes, donuts and some other weird food, shoes, clothes, cds, have your hand henna tattooed, a guy has set up pick the bottle (fishing poles with a ring on the end you need to get over the neck of the bottle) too much.
We head into the Medina which is inside and spills out into many side streets, we’re actually not sure if we’re inside or outside at one point. Oh my god this place is amazing, it’s absolutely crammed with shops, stalls, carts, some goods for sale just thrown on the ground that we try not to step on and people we can just about get through the crowds. It is so packed with people and stalls we have to take tiny steps and are pushed up against each other, worse than a very busy liberation day back home lol.
The shops are set out according to what’s being sold. All the shops selling the same things are together. 50 shops selling the same pairs of shoes, the same handbag, socks, coats etc. There are men on sewing machines cutting fabric and sewing jogging bottoms, tops, football kits, handbags, shoes. Shops selling secondhand mobile phones there must be 100 of these, parts of mobile phones, tv remote controls, radios, TV, kitchen appliances if you want a part for something it’s here. The shops only sell the one thing, you can’t sell secondhand remote controls and TVs or handbags and shoes, it’s one or the other. The cake street smells amazing but it’s right next to the meat market, skinned rabbits hanging up with fir still on their paws, tail and head, pigeons in cages then we saw one being taken out throat slit and butchered, huge carcasses hanging up and a stall with just testicles, cow hooves and heads. We follow the streets walking miles you want it it’s here and we end up right in the back streets, blady Steptoes yard we’ve found it, the stuff here is so old or mangled it’s difficult to decide what exactly it was and who the hell would buy it.
We’ve spent a couple of hours wondering around without any hassle and no one has tried to get us into their shops, apart from the carpark guardian, the scary one with the hooded coat. We’re lost in the Medina, initially I don’t see him then he calls after us and then grabs me by the arm he wants us to go into his family’s shop, we tell him no but he carries on and eventually gives in when we walk off, apart from that it’s been nice, easy and stress free. It was difficult to take photos because of the amount of people and the tight spaces but I’ve managed to get a few.
On the way back to Eugene we stop to get a few things, a kilo of oranges, strawberries, dates, salted peanuts, a massive bunch of bananas, 8 bulbs of garlic (didn’t need 8 but can’t buy one bulb it was to difficult to ask), 12 eggs and two cream cakes for 50dhm (£4.20).
We head back up to the main square about 7pm this city is practically bursting with people and cars where have they all come from. The square now has carts selling snails in a broth you get poured a bowl and pull up a chair around the cart there’s loads of them so it must taste good, but we’ll give that one a miss. Huge crowds have gathered around the story teller he’s really animated and the crowd loves it, but we can’t make head nor tail of what the story is. The magician is here but the crowd is so deep we can’t get near enough to see what’s happening. A boxing match which is crowd participation, put on a pair of gloves and fight the person who’s got the other pair on, we quickly move away from this one in case someone hands Keith a pair of gloves, or me for that matter. There are stalls set up selling clothes and shoes with the guys standing on top of the stalls trying to out shout each other with the better offers. The candy floss smells amazing. The animals we saw this morning are all still on exhibition, it’s such a shame. We head down the street and the food stalls are in full swing the smells of the meat (we think they are beef sausages, but not sure) and burning fires all mixed together.
By 8pm everything is shutting down and by 10pm there’s only a trickle of people and cars. As we walk back to the carpark I notice a skull of a cow just left on the bench, strange!
To say we’re in the middle of the city we don’t have a bad night.
Sunday 11 February
We’ve decided to stay here another day to further explore the city. As we walk up the road the street is full of small cages with birds being sold. There’s budgies, lovebirds and parrots, and then there’s sparrows, goldfinches, Coughs and other birds we don’t recognise. Some of the birds are in cages that are far to small for the amount of birds in them and actually we’re not sure if they are being sold as pets or for the pot.
We head off up the road towards the way we had come in the day before. This part of the city is newer, new roads, roundabouts, a park, Mac Donalds, Pizza Hut and a few other food chains that we don’t recognize. We walk up to the park and sit on the bench overlooking the road and roundabout, when you sit back and watch the traffic it’s even scarier than driving through it. We head up the street to the city, but it’s Sunday and apart from a few cafes all the shops are closed. We decide to push the boat out and have a Mac Donalds for lunch, it was good.
We have another walk through the Medina and it’s more packed today then yesterday. We try to go down some of the other streets to avoid the crowds but it’s absolutely bursting and far too crowded for us. We head back to the carpark for a few hours and go back to the square and Medina at 6pm. Like last night it’s buzzing and we can hardly move but we wonder round the square, sit and watch surely this can’t go on every night it’s exhausting just watching let alone trying to set up and sell something.
We’ve really liked Meknes 100 times better than Fez and if we come back to Morocco we’d definitely come back here although we might stay in the campsite next time.
Thanks to everyone for your kind wishes to get well after I posted my video on our Facebook page last week. Things seem to have improved a bit this week, although it’s not noticeable to anyone looking at me. I can feel the muscles in my left cheek reacting when I’m concentrating trying to smile and my top lip occasionally goes into Elvis mode, that i definitely not a good look. We have over 300 followers and 6 of you including my mum have all suffered something similar. I been have sent me messages by some of you of your experience or the experience of a family member I know it’s patience and time that will see me get better.
A la perchoine
Shirena and Keith