The ride into Meknes was a short 33 km from Volubilis, but after all the walking I’d done earlier I was pretty tired and hungry. I like to think I’m pretty street wise, but I fell for two scams which I think (know!) if I’d been fresh I would have been unlikely to have been a victim.
The first was when I was offered help to push and lift my bike up the steps into my cheap hotel. Struggling with the steps and with my helper alongside, my pocket was picked. Fortunately I only had a 20 dh note in it, but I was furious with myself. I did wonder at the time why he did not ask for a tip though.
The second was when after putting my things in the room, I went round the corner to the nearest food stall. I was bushed and hungry, so when one of the guys started putting plates in front of me I just tucked in. The only thing I asked for was chicken, the rest was ‘presented’ to me. Looking back I know just how stupid this was, but as I said my guard was well and truly down. When I came to pay, the guy asked for 67 dh, probably four times the cost of my meal. I refused to pay and things got quite ugly. In the end I dropped 40 dh on the table and walked away, to angry words which I didn’t understand, fortunately. Again I was furious with myself as I knew the golden rule is to ask prices before committing to anything.
So I’m afraid all I wanted to do was leave Meknes the next morning and put the above down as experience and more lessons learned. As it happens, later chatting with a couple of Brits in the hotel, I picked up a useful tip which actually saved me having my mobile phone stolen. The tip was to attach a short cord with clip to your mobile and ensure it is firmly fastened to the bottom of your pocket. As I later wandered round the Medina in Fez, sure enough someone tried to pick my pocket, which incidentally was also zipped up!
Back to Meknes though and I left early the next morning, wanting to arrive in good time in Fez which was 58 km away. As it happens I made very good time, mainly due to the almost flat roads and good road surface with a 2 ft shoulder alongside. It seems cycling is quite popular here. I had mixed feelings when I arrived in Fez, as some of you will know I have an aversion to big towns and cities and Fez has quite a reputation for touts. Sure enough on the outskirts alongside they came on their mopeds, offering all kinds of services, all of which I declined.
Lonely Planet (LP) listed two hotels in the ‘on a budget’ bracket, the first being the Hotel Royal in the Ville Nouvelle (new city). I found it quite easily and the room looked OK, but there was only hot water in the morning and no wifi, so I passed. The price had gone up too, something which I’ll notify LP about. The second was the Hotel Central which took a lot more work to find, but eventually I got a nice room with balcony, hot water on tap and wifi – sheer bliss. Even better was the ridiculously low room price of 150 dh, or about £12. Not bad for a central city room with a view!
My plan was to spend a rest day here, do my washing, some much needed shopping and then explore the Medina. On doing a google search I discovered a large supermarket on the outskirts of Ville Nouvelle which would be my first stop in the morning. I should explain that although I’m on a very tight self imposed budget, it is almost impossible to do shopping because of leaving the bike and the cheap room prices mean I’m willing to compromise on my wild camping.
Next morning I took my first petite taxi to the Marjane Hypermarket where you can buy just about anything. I did a BIG food shop (no idea how I’m going to pack it all on the bike!) and got a taxi back to the hotel. I was pleasantly surprised on the return journey, when on giving the driver a 20 dh note, he gave me change. If this country could rid itself of the thieves and touts, I’d probably stay here!
The shopping was quickly dumped in my room, then I headed out to walk the 3 km to the Medina looking all the world like your usual tourist with the camera round my neck. Offers from ‘guides’ along the way were stoutly rebuffed and I enjoyed my stroll. The first photo opportunity was one of the huge arches spanning the carriageway which signified I was nearing the Medina ->
Shortly afterwards I passed the area where they hang out hides to dry on the hillside, an amazing sight with a huge area covered in animal hides of all colours. They even drape them from the trees and cacti ->
Next up I reached one of the gates to the Medina, Bab Guissa. The gate itself was closed, but you could walk into the Medina via an alley on the left. Being inquisitive, I walked around the back of the gate hoping for another image, but sadly rubble was piled in front of it. I did however get a nice picture of the adjoining archway.
As I walked down the alley, I passed the area where they loaded up the donkeys. I had not yet entered the bustle of the Medina proper and was actually in the residential area.
The children pulled at my jacket and became quite a nuisance following me, so I quickly tried to find my way out of the maze of narrow streets. It’s very squalid and the rubbish is just left everywhere, a real shame as otherwise it would make for fascinating photography.
I finally managed to end up in a large open area, where all types of clothing and shoes were being sold from wooden tables. I could see another Medina gateway across the courtyard and after having a good look around made my way through the gate and into the busy streets.
The Medina is a real assault on the senses, as I learned in Chefchaouen. Photography is OK as long as you don’t annoy the locals, some of whom are not happy having a camera around, while others welcome anyone ‘promoting’ what Morocco has to offer and openly accept tourists taking pictures. Here are some more images from my wander around Fez Medina ->
An American film crew did an expose on the Moroccan ‘art’ of aging their wares, by means of secret filming. If you want to learn more, a Google search should find it.
The only shopkeeper I allowed to persuade me into his shop was a Berber selling carpets and then only because he promised me pictures of his craftsman. I was of course given the hard sell, but explained I was cycling and had nowhere for a carpet. I was then encouraged to email the pictures to all my friends!
And below is one of the finished items. I must admit the quality was truly stunning and if I had a home, I would have bargained for one.
By this time it was late afternoon and time to start the long walk back to the hotel, so I searched for the nearest gate. For any techies out there, I was using my iPhone and GPS MotionX to wander around the Medina, so I never got truly lost and found heading in the right direction relatively easy.
I took a different road back to the hotel and came across another Archway, called Bab Jdid.
As I wandered along the main pedestrian area, I spotted local photographers taking pictures of tourists in front of what looked something like a lion. They were making a mint and were not happy when I stopped and waited (quite a while until it was free) to take my own picture.
The pedestrian precinct is probably the cleanest area in Fez, and quite pretty too. The light was fading and I had to compensate heavily to get these photographs.
After my worries about visiting Fez, I have to say I’ve enjoyed it immensely and taken a well earned break. Tomorrow I’m back on the bike and also looking forward to getting back to ‘roughing it’ once again.
If you’ve got this far, I hope you’ve enjoyed Fez with me.