Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Fes, Morocco: Journey of Two Days and Two Hundred Dollars

It wasn't easy, and ended up costing us a lot in a country with an economy a fraction of our own, but my friend Linda and I are finally here,being greeted with tea in our traditional tile-filled hotel in Fez (Fes in local lingo), Morocco. 
Pope wisely stayed in Spain on the farm. Touring is harder than hauling manure. This stuff is best left to young'uns with less sense and less money!

First, we spent the night in Tarifa on the southern tip of Spain, after a full day of bus rides from the small town of Torrox near the farm, via Malaga, Algeciras, and Tarifa. Got up and left our squeaky clean hostel an hour before the boat. But...
The fast ferry from Tarifa to Tangier (prepaid) didn't run because of high winds. We hadn't been notified even though the company had my email. A taxi driver (who understood my frantic pointing to a map and a watch) raced us back to Algeciras for a modest fee (20 km, $$) just in time to catch a slow boat to the Moroccan seaside resortt of Tangier Med.  Passed by the imposing Rock of Gibraltar. The second outrageously expensive taxi returned us to our original destination of Tangier (55 km, $$$$). A true backpacker would have waited for the city bus. But we needed to catch the next long-distance bus to Fes (300 km, $, VERY cheap!), since we were defying convention and tradition and NOT riding the Marrakesh Express. Naturally, we were the sole tourists on the bus. (The others being smart enough to avoid the chaotic din of the bus station.)
Finally, a third taxi was sent by the hotel (called riad) inside the maze of car-less lanes in the medina (walled city, 1 km, $$). This driver cost more than the whole bus trip. Instead, we could have spent our evening wandering lost with our luggage through a warren of crooked bricks and dead-end passages.

On the bus, we enjoyed a pleasant conversation in French with two young Moroccans, who used their cell phone to call ahead to our hotel in Fes to send the driver to pick us up.
After arriving hot, sweaty, exhausted, and confused and disoriented by all the clocks showing different times, we inevitably gave in to gentle, low-key, no-pressure coaxing and signed up for the very nice hotel keeper's dinners, tour guide for the Fes medina, extra night in the hotel, and driver to take us to the Middle Atlas Mountains Thursday then all the way back to Tangier Med Friday evening. ($$$$$$) 

No more sweaty bus rides or anxiety-producing transportation adventures! Time to start spending my investments and enjoy a comfortable experience. 

The landscape here is green with rolling hills--sharp contrast with southern Spain's dry, rocky, steep ridges. We saw many means of transport along the bus route--peasants on donkeys, donkey carts, motorcycles, bicycles, overladen trucks, vans, old Mercedes sedans.

In Spain, every passenger must wear a seatbelt, and you cannot cross a white line in the road. In Morocco, it's a hodgepodge of mildly assertive driving, traffic confusion, playing chicken to pass a slow truck, and usually stopping when indicated. (Nowhere near the degree of chaos in India; nowhere near the number of people or vehicles either.)
It's hot inside these clothes! We didn't see any uncovered women ALL DAY. One woman on the bus without a head scarf, but even she had long sleeves and high neck. So...we did the prudent thing.
At a rest stop, we cooled down with the safe, familiar, ubiquitous thirst-quencher.
Tomorrow, our first guide picks us up at 10 am for our whirlwind tour of the Fes medina. We await with unbridled anticipation the 5:30 am call to prayer.

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