Thursday, September 7, 2017

Drinking from a Firehose in the Middle of the Desert

Entrance to our riad in Fes
Blogging is relatively easy for me when  we have a lot of down time; the post is mostly about one or two topics, or describing a day or two.  It's especially easy when I can use a robust lap top computer with strong internet instead of an iPad tablet.  So, how to distill the last jam-packed six days, hundreds of photos, and countless topics on a tablet into a single post?  I really can't, as we have been trying to drink from a firehouse of Moroccan experiences, sights, sounds, flavors, history lessons, and interactions.   Maybe when we get home I can fill in the gaps and go into detail with some carefully curated photos.  Meanwhile, for those who have encouraged me to write more (and those of you who who haven't), here are a few drops from that hose. And by the way, its not all desert here.  We've rode through miles of orchards, olive groves, irrigated farms, and forests.

Our pre-trip group of 6 merged with 8 travelers in Rabat, the capital city on the Atlantic Ocean.    It was the second day of the El IAd, and the streets were basically deserted.  We toured one of the king's several palace grounds, several ruins, walked the promonade at sunset, and had an amazing meal in a spectacular former mansion hidden in a narrow alley.  Rabat isn't the typical capital city of  a developing nation--it's clean, modern, and mellow.  Drivers actually stop at stop signs and they rarely honk their horns.
(Below mascot at ceramic tile cooperative, followed by Rabat monuments)

Inland about two hours from Rabat, but still in the north, Fes was founded in the 800's between the Rif and Atlas Mountains.  It had a sewer system from the beginning.  We stayed in a riad (a large home with a central courtyard) that was built 400 years ago in the part of the city that was established in the 1200's.   It was actually three raids combined and modernized, and it is spectacular.  (Trip advisor says it's only $108 per night, but it feels like $1,008.).  It's a 1/4 mile walk through alleyways to get there.
We spent a day with a guide exploring the inner city, a laybrinth of alleys, shops, factories, and homes accessible only by foot or donkey.  With 64 miles of alleys, it is the largest non-motorized urban area in the world.  We walked only 5 of those miles.  We visited a Jewish temple, a tanning factory, and a beautiful 800-year old Madrasa.            

Below:  Tannery in Fes

Below:  Madrasa photos

The Madrasa (an Islamic school teaching all subjects to students of all faiths) was the most interesting.  So much of our modern academic system and terminology is based upon them, such as words like endowment, chair, scholarship, etc.

Below:  scene from inside the old medina
While here, we divided into small groups to have dinners with local families.  Our gracious hosts lived in an apartment in the newer French section and they were so eager learn about us, to candidly answer all of our questions and treat us to some tasty Moroccan lamb tangine.

Volubilis and Meknes tours
Volubilis is an amazing set of well-preserved Roman ruins encompassing 100 acres and 1.6 miles of walls.  Founded in the 1st Century, it has mosaic tiles in the floors of some homes, a sewer system,  and more.  Much of it was either destroyed by the 1755 Lisbon earthquake or looted for sultan palaces, but so much still remains intact.

Seventeenth Century Meknes is the onetime home of the Moroccan sultanate.  It boasts the largest city gate in the world and a 25-mile perimeter wall. The old city has a massive structure that housed 12,000 horses and a granary that could hold several years' worth of wheat.

Below: stables & Grainger of Meknes

We concluded our three-night stay in fascinating Fes with an informal dinner on the rooftop, watching the sunset and the full moon rise in the 100 degree heat.  Today (Thursday) we head toward the Saharan Desert, with a lunch stop at a ski resort high in the Atlas Mountains.  We've been to a lot of interesting places over our 40 years of marriage, but Morocco has to be one of the most interesting, and unique.  It's relatively clean,moderately priced, and the people are friendly.  All-in-all, it's been a most pleasant surprise!

Your happy traveler and frustrated blogger,


  1. Thanks for the write-up. It is nice to learn about a country that most people will never visit.

  2. Love the blue keffiyeh. What clothing are you expected to wear outside of your riad? Are you with a group?