After spending New Year’s Eve camping on the Erg Chebbie sand dunes, our camels retraced their steps and took us back to our departure point, about a 1.5 hour camel ride from our camp to Merzouga.
Natalie and Holly decided to get up close and personal with this young camel.
Leaving the camp we drove through the old garrison town of Erfoud and traveled along the scenic Ziz Valley (pictured below with Kate) lined with date palm trees.
We spend the night in the town of Midelt (nothing special) but we did see some wonderful scenery along the way that reminded me a lot of the U.S. Southwest.
The next day we left our hotel in Midelt and traveled across the Middle Atlas mountains. There we still a little snow in some places and we saw many, many flocks of sheep and goats.
While in the Atlas Mountains, we stopped to watch a troop of Barbary Apes (not true apes but a species of macaque monkey). This is the same species of monkeys we saw in Gibraltar.
Our road trip with Mohammed came to an end in the city of Fes. We took one last photo with Mohammed as we unloaded our luggage from his Hyundai Minivan.
Our oldest daughter Kate is a teacher in the Bronx, NY. Her Christmas break was almost over and she was leaving very early the day after we arrived in Fes, so she just had the afternoon we arrived to explore Fes. Our riad was located in the medina (old city) and we decided to walk to the tannery (Tannerie Chouwara). Getting to the tannery was a challenge but we were able to follow the map the riad had provided and Fes, unlike Marrakesh and other Moroccan towns has a color coded sign system to assist tourists. We had no shortage of young men who offered to be our “guides”. I found this to really be a bother. Even though I repeatedly tell them I don’t want a guide, they continue to follow. I complained several times about being “bird-dogged” by these “guides”. We then got to one of the leather shops that was several floors high and has a terrace on the top floor overlooking the tannery.
Here are Kate, Rebecca, Natalie and Holly on the terrace overlooking the tannery:
From Fodor’s Morocco: “Terrasse des Tanneurs. The medieval tanneries are at once beautiful, for their ancient dyeing vats of reds, yellows, and blues, and unforgettable, for the nauseating, putrid smell of rotting animal flesh on sheep, goat, cow, and camel skins. The terrace overlooking the dyeing vats is high enough to escape the place’s full fetid power and get a spectacular view over the multicolor vats. Absorb both the process and the finished product on Choura Lablida, just past Rue Mechatine (named for the combs made from animals’ horns): numerous stores are filled with loads of leather goods …” “…One of the shopkeepers will explain what’s going on in the tanneries below – how the skins are placed in successively in saline solution, lime, pigeon droppings, and then any of several natural dyes: poppies for red, turmeric for yellow, saffron for orange, indigo for blue, and mint for green. Barefoot workers in shorts pick up skins from the bottom of the dyeing vats with their fee, then work them manually. Though this may look like the world’s least desirable job, the work is relatively well paid and still in demand for a strong export market.”
We stayed in a fantastic riad in Fes: Riad le Calife. This riad was recommended to me by a friend and it was truly wonderful. We at dinner there several nights and all of our breakfasts. The riad is run very well by a Frenchman and his Moroccan wife. They were extremely helpful and the staff was friendly and well trained. Our room was three flights up, but worth the climb. The room was large and well-appointed. We were told that Fes is located in a natural bowl and that we could get a good view of it from the terrace on the roof. Here’s one of the views of Fes taken from the Riad le Calife’s terrace.
Riad le Calife’s terrace has two parts, an open breakfast room on one side and covered conversation areas that are perfect for taking Moroccan tea.
Here’s another photo I took from Riad le Calife’s terrace at sundown.
Adventures in the Souk (market):
We spent a fair amount of our time in Fes, shopping in the souk. Portions of the souk are food markets, with all sorts of food for sale. One we found interesting was a very thin pastry made by taking a small of dough, rolling it really thin and cooking it by placing the dough sheet on a heated round object. Holly below is admiring this woman’s considerable technique:
Colorful cloth and clothing are everywhere in the market.
Here Natalie and Rebecca negotiate a volume discount with this merchant. (Rebecca is not displaying much of a poker face.)
Natalie the Negotiator:
Natalie proved not only to have a “poker face”, but a real “killer instinct” when it comes to negotiating with shopkeepers.
It got to the point that if someone wanted to buy something, we’d call Natalie in to handle the negotiations. Natalie is the master of “the walk away” and other useful negotiation strategies to get the best price. Shopkeepers who of course are the real masters of negotiation, and always start off with a price at least double what they are willing to accept. We usually counter with a third of the price they first offer and hope to end up at about half of their original price. They also used many amusing phrases like: “This is a very democratic price.” I never did figure out what a “democratic price” is, but it’s apparently meaningful to the shopkeepers. Also frequently heard: “You look, no buy, YOU ARE WELCOME.”
This is one shopkeeper’s way of letting buyers know that camel meat is for sale. We also saw severed cows heads and sheep heads hanging by other meat shops.
One last Moroccan Road Trip – Meknes, Moulay Idriss & Volubilis:
We hired a car and driver for the day to take us on a trip to Meknes, Moulay Idriss & Volubilis. We went first to Meknes where we stopped first to see Bab Mansour.
From Fodor’s Morocco: “Bab Mansour
– Widely considered North Africa’s most beautiful gate, this huge horseshoe-shaped triumphal arch was completed in 1732 by a Christian convert to Islam named Mansour Laalej (whose name means “victorious renegade”) and looms oer the medina square. The mable Ionic columns supporting the two bastions on either side of the maind entry were taken from the Roman ruins a Volubilis….”
Moulay Ismail Mausoleum: Again from Fodor’s Morocco: “One of four sacred sites in Morocco open to non-Muslims this mausoleum was opened to non-Muslims by King Mohammed V in honor of Ismail’s ecumenical instincts. An admirer of France’s King Louis XIV – who, in turn considered the sultan an important ally… The mausoleum’s site once held Meknes’s Palais de Justice (Courthouse), and Moulay Ismail deliberately chose it as his resting place with hopes he would be judged in his own court by his own people. The deep ochre-hue walls inside lead to the sultan’s private sanctuary, on the left, heavily decorated with colorful geometric zellij tiling. AT the end of the larger inner courtyard, you must remove your shoes to enter the sacred chamber with Moulay Ismail’s tomb, surrounded by hand-carved cedar-and-stucco walls, intricate mosaics, and a central fountain.” (Natalie, Rebecca and Holly by the central fountain.)
Heri el-Souani (Royal Granaries)
From Fodor’s Morocco: “The Royal Granaries were designed to store grain as feed for the 10,000 horses in the royal stables – not just for a few days or weeks but over a 20-year siege if necessary. Ismail and his engineers counted on tree things to keep the granaries cool enough that he grain would never rot: thick walls (12 feet), suspended gardens (a cedar forest was planted on the roof), and an underground reservoir with water ducts under the floors. The high-vaulted chamber on the far right as you enter has a 30-foot well in its center and a towpath around it – donkeys circulated constantly, activating the waterwheel in the well, which forced water throught the ducts and maintained a stable temperature in the graneries.”
“Out behind the granaries are the remains of the royal stables, roofless after the 1755 Lisbon earthquake. Some 1,200 purebred, just one-tenth of Moulay Ismail’s cavalry, were kept here. Stand just to the left of the door out to the stables – you can see the stunning symmetry of the stable’s pillars from three different perspectives.”
From Meknes, we drove 14 miles north to Moulay Idriss.
From Fodor’s Morocco: “Moulay Idress is Morocco’s most sacred town, the final resting place of the nation’s religious and secular founder, Moulay Idriss I. It is said that five pilgrimages to Moulay Idriss are the spiritual equivalent of one to Mecca; thus the town’s nickname: the poor man’s Meccca.”
We didn’t stay long in Moulay Idriss, non-Muslims are not allowed the tombs and until recently were not allowed to spend the night in town. We did however stop long enough to enjoy lunch.
Only two miles away from Moulay Idriss are the Roman ruins at Volubilis. “Volubilis was the capital of the Roman province of Mauritania (Land of the Moors), Rome’s southwestern-most incursion into North Africa.”
Many beautiful original Roman mosaics can still be seen.
Storks seem to build their nest on the high point of every ruin in Morocco:
The countryside of Morocco on the west side of the Atlas Mountains in December and January is green and fertile. This part of Morocco reminded me of California.
To close out our trip to Morocco we made our way back to Casablanca from Fes by train.
Here is Natalie in Casablanca.
We did a little last minute shopping in Fes in traditional shops and the new and very modern shopping mall, the “Morocco Mall”.
We flew out of Casablanca’s airport. Natalie to Los Angeles. Rebecca to London. Holly and I flew to Nairobi Kenya, via Paris.
Next up: AFRICA – The Safari begins!