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Marrakesh to Fes

On Saturday lunchtime I moved to the Hotel Ayoub which was perfectly acceptable, albeit a lot smaller than the sprawling Mogadar. Once again it was a hotel that didn’t serve alcohol. Two in a row!

I walked back to the Medina via Rue Yves Saint Laurent. It was possibly the nicest and most expensive street in the whole of Marrakesh. Yves ashes are scattered in Marjorelle Gardens located on the same street. Although YSL was born in Algeria, he spent a lot of time in Morocco. I was looking to purchase a bag for the things I’d accumulated. One thing I don’t need is an another bag, but I don’t want to leave my Tuareg cassock behind.

The shopkeepers of Marrakesh won’t let you browse. They insist on escorting you around their merchandise in an attempt to show you everything they have on offer.

As I was walking through the streets, I got chatting to a guy pushing his moped. Abdul was a tall chap in his 30’s, well dressed and seemed quite well educated. He said his brother was studying in London. Then he told me about some of the best places to go in the Medina and he said he’d walk with me. None of this Chinese shit, were his exact words. Then he suggested getting on the moped, so we did. We went racing through the narrow cobblestone streets missing pedestrians by a whisker. I was holding on for dear life. He deposited me at a Berber chemist and I was treated to the delights of cactus oil as a natural collagen and argon oil for something else that would be life-changing. I managed to beat the guy down in price – not that I wanted any of this stuff of course.

As I came out the shop, Abdul was waiting and took me to the next place which was a shop selling ornaments down some back alley. Anyway, I wasn’t interested in what he was selling, so I walked out and dispensed with Abdul’s moped service. It was quite interesting seeing the Medina at high speed though.

On the way back, I went to Jemma El Fna which is a large square in the Medina and I was particularly interested in looking for the snake charmers. There were several quartets of men with a bunch of snakes. Cobras, vipers and one guy had a grass snake which he tried to put around my neck. I declined his kind offer. This wasn’t the sort of snake charming you see in the movies where the snake is in a basket and the man blows some kind of mystical horn instrument and the snake slowly rises. The snakes were already risen and there was no basket. He did however have the horn. The snakes were largely ignoring him. It was a third rate performance at best.

On Sunday the call to prayer started at 5:14 am. I actually quite like the mystical sound, even though I’ve got no idea what’s being said. We left at 8:30 with a fairly long drive to El Bin Ouidane, via Ouzoud Falls.

Our drive took us to the Atlas Mountains and the elevation reached 5000 ft at one point. The highest point in Morocco is Mount Toubkal at 13,671 feet – the highest mountain in North Africa.

Ouzoud Falls were fairly impressive at the top. We trekked down and they were highly impressive from below. They are the highest waterfalls in Morocco with a maximum drop of 330 feet. We spent a couple of hours there including lunch. There were also monkeys (Macaques), providing an interesting sideshow. I fed one by hand and then he decided to hold my hand. We bonded.

We pressed on to our hotel for the evening – the El Bin Ouidane, situated beside a man-made lake which supplies a third of Morocco’s electricity. It was a quirky place and our group were the only guests. I liked it a lot. We dined as a group.

Monday, we left early and headed for Fes. We had a long drive ahead and fortunately we could rotate seats in the minibus. I exchanged my wheel arch from the day before to a single seat at the front.

Ridouane (34) is our guide, and after picking up supplies at a Carrefour, he promised us we could stop for a picnic. We were hoping for some kind of oasis – palm trees, a pond, benches, but it ended up to be some muddy scrubland with a few rocks scattered around, in the middle of nowhere. I found the only rock that you could actually sit on. Some Moroccan boys walked by with a herd of goats at one point. I gave them cheese and a banana.

Our first proper stop for the day was Meknes which used to be the capital of Morocco. Morocco has four imperial cities that have all been the capital at one point. Marakesh, Fez, Meknes, and the current capital, Rabat.

We went strolling with our guide through the labyrinth of streets at a pace. I really wanted to see all the Nike trainers we encountered on the way, but there wasn’t time.

Meknes was good – the Medina (old town), the Kasbah (fortress), etc, but the highlight of the day was our next stop at Volubilis, a Roman ruin which once had a population of around 20,000. Who doesn’t love a “wo-man wuin”. It was settled around 40 BC and the Romans stayed for 300 years before being ousted by the Berbers.

We finally reached Fes after about 7 hours of driving and it was another alcohol free hotel – for two nights. Highlights from the last two days – the waterfalls and the ruin.

There are nine of us on the tour. Five males and four non-males. Four older than me and four younger. I’m the middle child. A good fun bunch. More about them in the next blog, Fes and the Sahara.

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