Having finally bumped down to earth after an amazing 5 days in that little place across the sea called Morocco, I’m finally ready to blog about it. So please, get a cup of tea, as this is going to be a long couple of posts…
DAY ONE (Spain to Fes)
The first day started nice and early. It turned out I was the only person leaving from Estepona (unsurprising really…) so the bus came and picked me up from the football ground and headed onto Algeciras so we could catch a ferry across to Ceuta [N.B. for those that don’t know, Ceuta is officially part of Spain but is in Africa – basically the Spanish equivalent of Gibraltar!]. At the ferry port I met Rachel, Lutske and Audrey who had travelled down from Sevilla and we joined up with the rest of our 30-strong group of amazing international students travelling with We Love Spain.
After a short ferry crossing, we boarded a bus which was to be our home for the next 5 days met and our very Moroccan guide,Muhala. We then crossed the border into Morocco (with new passport stamps, wooo!) and began our first 7-hour journey of the trip, down to Fes. As soon as we had left Ceuta it was like a completely different world. It was not at all what I imagined Morocco to be like! Within an hour we went from a smooth tarmaced toll road, to luscious green countryside with potholes in the road (in the pouring rain), where we started to see the first signs of poverty: dogs waiting at the side of the roads for scraps thrown out by drivers; children walking home from school with plastic sheets over their heads; unfinished houses (although it soon became clear that being under construction is the norm for Moroccan buildings)…However, with all of this to see, the coach journey was never boring, especially with the commentary from our guide about life in ‘Al Maghreb’.
7 Hours, 350km and one toilet stop later (imagine, there’s absolutely nowhere to stop for at least 3 hours!), we arrived at our hotel in Fes in the pouring rain, ready to sleep and prepare for another day of sightseeing and travelling.
DAY TWO (Fes to Erfoud)
We woke up bright and early (on Spanish time, so it wasn’t as painful as real Moroccan time an hour behind Spain) to pouring rain and a morning in Fes. Fes is the second biggest city in Morocco and home to the famous Fes el Bali medina, a UNESCO world heritage site containing the world’s oldest university and thought to be the world’s largest car-free urban area in the world (or so wikipedia tells me). In other words, it is famous for its HUGE walled market, made up entirely of winding alleyways that you would get lost in without a guide! Although, as our guide told us that in Arabic, ‘medina’ actually means ‘city’, not market…
Our first stop of the morning was to see the King’s palace in Fes (I specify, as he seemed to have some kind of residence in every town we passed through). It’s a huge walled area so you can’t see much, but our Fes guide showed us the doors that have amazing intricate metal patterns and mosaics, all done by hand.
We then moved onto the medina. It’s hard to find the words to describe the place, as there were so many smells and sounds and things happening that you need to see it! It’s quite an intimidating place as people are constantly trying to sell you things or get their donkey loaded with goods, past you up the tiny streets. It’s not a touristy area at all so we actually saw the real-lives of the people that live there, selling anything they can, from any space they can find, or just doing their shopping. The place was crawling with stray cats and smelt of some of the worst things I have ever smelt (think raw meat sitting covered in flies…The strangest thing was that some of their produce was obviously very fresh (despite the cats…): when I was looking at a ‘shop’ filled with cages of hens (“ooh lots of fresh eggs”, I naively thought), the owner grabbed a chicken and slit its throat with a knife. Needless to say I stuck to the red meat at dinner…
However, we were lucky to have a guide that knew his way around so we got to see the beautiful mosques, the university and the tiny Qur’an schools (many Moroccans are illiterate, but can recite the Qur’an from a young age) hidden away behind doors. We also went to the shop of the son who had decorated the King’s palace doors who demonstrated how he made these intricate designs in brass with just a hammer and a nail. In addition, we visited the famous tanneries where we could see the leather being dyed in the huge stone vats and a silk weaver’s workshop where we were shown how all of the beautiful fabrics are made, as well as how to tie our own turban (yes this did come in handy later on…).
After seeing all of the poverty, I realised that we hadn’t actually seen anyone begging, everyone was selling and producing to make a living. That is until we were just about to get back on the bus and some young children ran up to us and grabbed our arms saying “we’re hungry” in several languages (it’s amazing how many languages the Moroccans can speak, but more on that later) which completely broke my heart.
As we left Fes, we started entering a drier and more mountainous region of Morocco. Two hours later, we stopped off in the mountains in Ifrane, a copycat of a Swiss ski town dating back from the French occupation. With the cold temperature, a ski station and the European style buildings, it felt like we had apparated into Switzerland! Obviously the King had a residence here too…
From here, we set off again, well-prepared for another 8 hours (and the rest of our 450km journey) of treturous Moroccan-style driving through the Mid-Atlas Mountains. It was the scariest driving experience I have ever had, but late at night we finally arrived safe and well at our hotel in Erfoud. We were well and truly in the Sahara Desert!
TO BE CONTINUED…HERE