Today is Saturday, September 24th and we have been traveling now for 109 days (more than 3.5 months). Michele writing with Mike supervising. On Wednesday night, Sept. 21st, we went to the Malta airport to take our late night flight to Casablanca, Morocco. Immediately, I felt some unease since the waiting area near the gate consisted of Moroccan men and Moroccan Muslim women wearing headcoverings. (Morocco is made up of 99% Muslims.) Here I was, white skin, blondish hair, in a short sleeve shirt. Needless to say, Mike and I really stuck out. The entire airport and flight experience was very unusual. First, when the airline employee walked up to the counter, all of the Moroccan men ran up to the counter in a mob. The employee said something and they sat down. Then when it was really time to board the plane there was no queing (lining up). It was simply a scrum (pushing and shoving to get to the front). For whatever reason, Malta Airlines lets people board from either the front or back of the airplane and this makes for a big mess when boarding since many people boarding in the back need to make their way to the front and people boarding in the front need to make their way to the back. It was a big mess! Next, when the dinner was served, many of the people questioned whether the chicken was “hallal” despite the fact that the flight attendants assured them it was. Muslims will not eat meat unless it is hallal, meaning the animal has been killed in a special way. So, they either refused the meal or asked for something else. The flight attendants said things like, “either you eat it or you don’t – that’s it!” and “this isn’t a restaurant!” A bit later we heard an announcement that people were smoking in the bathrooms and that if this behavior continued and the people/persons were caught they would be turned over to the airport police upon landing. When we landed, the entire planeful of Moroccans clapped and cheared. It was all so interesting!
Once we got to Casablanca, we quickly discovered that there are two languages in Morocco – French and Arabic. However, we did manage to find the bus station office and perchased tickets for the 11:30pm bus ride into Casablanca. Turns out Mike and I were the only 2 people on the bus. We figured we would just walk to our hotel from the bus station because we had a map – yes, a sketchy map, but we figured we could make do with it. When we got off the bus, we started walking in a not-so-great area around the bus station, trying to use our map. Someone yelled, “Taxi?” “No thanks, we’re going to walk” we replied. The guy started laughing. Well, now we know why. There was no way we could find our way to our hotel. Not all of the streets were labled and with our pretty crappy map, we just couldn’t figure out where to go. So, we walked back to the bus station, saw the same guy who had laughed at us, and with our tail between our legs, so to speak, had to get the taxi. Of course, there we were trying to bargain after midnight in a bad part of town. We did pay several times the normal rate but the normal rate is about $1. We arrived at our “3-star” hotel (which is like a 1 or maybe 2 star hotel in the US and went to bed at 1:30am.
The next day, we got up early, took a petite taxi to the train station and went to Fes. The mode of transportion within each city is a petite taxi, which holds 2-3 people. If you have backpacks or bags, you have to put them in the box on top of the little taxi. Mike and I have now learned that when we do this, we should clip our packs to the top or else they could disappear. Anyway, we are in Fes now and have been here for 3 days. Fes, and Morocco in general, is much different from anywhere we have been. The first day we walked around just getting used to the people and the culture. Mike and I very much stand out here. Many Moroccans wear robes and slipper type of shoes. Most of the women have headcoverings. We, on the other hand, are light skinned and wear Western style clothing. Despite our initial intimidation of the Moroccans, we have found them to be very friendly and kind people.
An interesting thing that immediately stands out here is that there are no women sitting out in front of the cafes around town. People watching is a national past time here but only the men do it. It is very strange to see cafe after cafe with the many tables outside filled with men only. We learned that it is o.k. for couples or women to go into a cafe as long as they go upstairs and/or sit in the back. The front tables outside are for the men. The other thing, as I mentioned previously, is that very few people speak English and every sign, newspaper, menu, and all other printed material, is in French and Arabic. So, we are learning both!
Fes is made up of 3 parts. We are staying in the new part of Fes, ville nouvelle. Today we hired a guide ($18) to show us around the other two parts of Fes, Fes-el Bali, where the medina (old center of town) is and Fes el Jdid, the Jewish part of town. This tour was very enlightening. Below is a picture of the Fes medina:
We went with our guide to the souq (market) in the medina, where the streets (actually alleyways) are extremely narrow – so narrow that only animals (donkeys, horses) are used to transport goods. These alleys are probably 6 feet wide and there are hundreds and hundreds of shops there selling food, spices, clothing, woodwork, carpets, leather, and everything else. Below is a picture of the tannery in the Fes souq. We can’t communicate to you what this place smelled like but to quote Lonely Planet, the tanneries have the “unmistakeable odor of animal excrement and body parts.” When we went to look at the tannery, a women handed us mint leaves to put up to our noses to help with the stench.
Today we bought bus tickets to go to Chefchaouen, a town set in the Rif Mountains. Our bus for Chefchaouen leaves at 8:00am tomorrow. So next blog, we will be there. Bye!
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Tags: Category #15: Morocco