Last weekend, we decided to take a daytrip to Meknes since neither Hanane nor I had been there before. We got a later start than we intended but figured it would be no problem since Meknes is only an hours train ride from Fez and Fez is only a 40 minute taxi ride from Sefrou.
The taxi was a simple thing since that is a part of my normal commute, 10 dirhams each in a grand taxi and then a petit taxi to the beautiful new train station in Fez. 23 dirhams to get us there and then another 20 dirhams each got us on the train in second class seats which I find to be not too much different from the first class seats anyway.
Arriving in Meknes we weren’t sure which station to get out at so we got out out the first “Gare De Meknes’. Immediately we both noticed that Meknes has a very different vibe than Fez, much more laid back and slightly more cosmopolitan. People didn’t pay any attention to us and we strolled the broad avenues until we found a nice little cafe to sit and sip an espresso in. Even the cafes seemed less imposing than those in Fes since we saw a fair number of women in each that we passed. This was both of our first trip to Meknes and since we didn’t have as much time as we had hoped we would, we decided to simply call it an exploratory mission where we would get the general vibe of the place and figure out what we wanted to do the next time.
We decided that we’d like to see the ancient Roman ruins of Volubulis but upon inquiring where we should find a taxi we were told that it was late in the day and we would most likely not find a taxi back if we were to go. Keep in mind it was only about 2 pm. Most people we talked to said that we should catch a taxi to Moulay Idriss and from there another taxi to Volubulis. As usual, we were traveling with no guide books so we wandered over to where the taxis to Moulay Idriss were queing up.
Along the way we passed some sort of exhibition, quite a nice movie theatre, and a restaurant that made Hanane’s eyes light up with possibilities “The Chicken Palace”. It was filled with Moroccan business people and smelled great.
At the taxi stand we encountered our only tout of the day who offered to take us to Volubulis for 300 dirham, an incredibly excessive price. We didn’t even bother arguing but walked away and got in a taxi to Moulay Idriss for another 10 dirhams each. At this point, Hanane’s energy was flagging a bit and she told me that she would rather just go to Moulay Idriss, have a look around, and then come back and eat at the Chicken Palace. I tried to argue a bit but it was pointless as the point of the day was for us to both enjoy ourselves and arguing seemed counterproductive to that end.
The drive to Moulay Idriss was beautiful with vineyards, orchards, and stark landscape that is starting to turn green with spring spread out in every direction. Approaching the city was like coming upon a citadel on a remote plain as the city sat high on the hillsides above. I counted at least five Saint’s tombs or monuments along the way.I’m sure there were more and we could both feel the baraka pulsating in the place as we stepped out of the taxi into the narrow twisted streets of Moulay Idriss.
My initial inclination is to always go straight to the high point and so with Hanane shuffling unhappily beside me we climbed to the top of the town. I admit that I felt a bit of regret at being so close to Volubulis and not seeing it and perhaps that is why when she suggested we take the low road, I insisted on the high. Sometimes I’m a bastard that way and I know it.
It wasn’t a terribly clean town and the men all had big asses, that is there were a plethora of donkeys loaded with goods, a usual site in Fez but not one we see a lot in Sefrou.
Sometimes it seems like Moroccans are obsessed with shoes….
It was the souk day and most of the merchants were packing up and heading home. There is a beautiful fountain near the top in a nice little park but sadly it contains no water only dried and brown leaves.
We journeyed downwards then into the heart of the Medina and found ourselves in a stunning little square surrounded by small hanuts and food stalls on all sides except that containing the tomb of Moulay Idriss I, the founder of both Fez and Moulay Idriss.
Going inside there was a lot of conversation around us as people tried to figure out if I were Moroccan or Muslim. Finally a young guy said “He can’t go in there, he’s not a Muslim” and Hanane laid into him telling him that I am and that as such I have the right to see the tomb. Yes indeed, I paid my 300 dirham conversion fee.
Inside we found pilgrims praying and soaking up the baraka of the place. We dropped some coins in the slot and touched the tomb thus moving some of the baraka into our own bodies, sat for a while, and then made our way back to the taxi stand but not before buying a little earthenware bottle and cup covered in the creosote like tar that Moroccans believe assists in maintaining good health. It smells like smoke and is certainly some sort of pitch, but I’m not sure exactly what kind of wood it is, it’s possible it is creosote. The jar and cup were a whopping 10 dirhams more plus another 10 for some figs to munch on our way to the chicken palace.
The drive back was no less beautiful and then we walked to the chicken palace which was indeed delicious with a sort of ginger sauce on the roasted chicken, fries, a nice salad, and a couple of sodas. This set us back a whopping 90 dirhams. After this, we decided to check out the exhibition and then perhaps see a movie before heading home but this plan was scrapped when I realized it was a circus. Hanane had never seen a circus. It was a tired little French circus with 3rd class seats for 45 dirhams each. Once inside there was no enforcement of seating but we liked our seats.
It was fun but not very good. The three tigers were sort of fierce and the cirque du soleil-esque spinning woman amamzed me as she spun around while hanging from her neck butthe balancing act fell off his balance, the elephant was old and miserable and when a bratty little French kid made it lie down and then danced on it wearing his white sneakers I wanted to go down and smash him. The clowns were annoying, the plate spinner broke as many as he spun, and the tigers quickly faded from my memory. Hanane’s favorite moment was when the plates began to break, she decided to start counting loudly to see how long they took to fall off. I’m not sure what her thought process on how long was success was, but she laughed loudly. She also enjoyed the cotton candy. I liked watching the trained horses run in circles. No photos allowed but I snuck one of Hanane with the elephant behind her since it was the first time she has seen elephants or tigers. Of course my camera still has no display so it is point, shoot, and hope for the best.
We left a bit early but the train was delayed and so we ended up sitting at the second train station Gare de Meknes Soltan for about two hours. She got tired, I got grumpy, a crazy beggar begged for a fig, and a crazy old man told us how he had lost his memory after he retired.
We got back to Fes about midnight and I dragged us away from the petit taxi sharks outside the station, finally we caught a taxi to Atlas where we cuaght an illegal taxi to Sefrou. He wanted to wait for another person but finally I just paid for the extra seat to get us on the way 45 dirham total, more than the train to Meknes! The train had been another 20 each, the petit taxi another 8, and the strain of waiting in the dirty little Soltan station, wandering the streets of Fez at midnight, and finally wandering through my Casbah at 1 am (waty later than I am comfortable with) took a lot of the enjoyment out of the day.
All told about 400 dirhams for a pretty good day. It would have been better if we could have stayed the night but since we still don’t have marriage papers, that wasn’t really an option for us yet. I look forward to seeing more of Meknes, finally seeing Volubulis, and I probably won’t go back to any more Moroccan circuses….