Port Tangier Med to Fes
We finally crossed the Straits of Gibraltar, after a long delay, and landed in Morocco in late afternoon. Next the dreaded customs formalities, endless queueing for the inevitable paperchase…..or maybe not? We breezed through in half an hour, including exchanging money and arranging motor insurance (900 dirham or about £75). We felt our luck had just changed.
The original plan was to ride to Chefchaouen, about 2½ hrs from the port, and find a campsite. It was however, already 4 p.m. and we didn’t want to arrive in the dark. We decided to wing it and stop as soon as we saw something suitable. Apart from Jen getting blown off her bike, we arrived at an hotel about an hour later without a major problem.
Up early the next day, or as early as Jen could cope with, we packed and set off towards Chefchaouen, about 50 miles away. We were feeling quite smug that we had survived our first day in Morocco. Too smug, too soon I think. The next town, Tetouan, was meant to be a dot on the route; a dot that we hadn’t planned to visit. We had momentarily got off route and pulled over to check the map. A motor scooter pulled up alongside. The spiel is generic, someone must have written a guide for Moroccan touts.
“Hello my friend, I have a brother/sister/cousin/son who lives in London/New York/Paris.”
Insert the relative and capital city of your choice.
“You are in luck my friend, it is a special Berber market in Tetouan today, only once a month.”
I faltered and was easily hooked.
“Follow me, safe parking”
We didn’t buy a ‘one of a kind’ Berber carpet or a white metal teapot, nor did we get away scot-free. We just about left with our dignity intact, our guide less friendly and decidedly grumpier than when we first met. His tip was a bit lower than he had hoped for and he had no sales commission either.
We had pre-booked an Hotel in Chefchaouen, the Dar Dalia. When we arrived, probably looking lost and confused, we were again accosted by another chancer. Mohammed directed us to a secure parking and after some explanation, offered to show us to our hotel. Mohammed was a much less pushy and a more endearing character than Abdul in Tetouan. We wandered through passageways and climbed numerous steps and were eventually deposited in front of a small and unprepossessing, blue painted building, sporting a sign announcing the Dar Dalia Hotel.
We were a little earlier than had been planned and a knock on the door produced no response from within. Miraculously a tall, imposing man with an official looking ‘maillot jaune’ appeared and proceeded to phone the hotel manager. He handed the phone to me. The voice on the other end said,
“You’re a little early, I’ll be there in 9 minutes.”
The hotel was a gem, 5 minutes from the medina and beautifully appointed. For the duration of our stay, the ‘maillot jaune’ guarded the bikes around the clock and even disguised them with local drapery.
Chefchaouen, ‘The Blue City’ was, possibly, the best of introductions to Marocco. The town was both tranquil and busily welcoming. Simple food could be found throughout, with a variety of small restaurants clustered around the main square of the medina. To the east the mountains reared up a thousand metres above the city. In celebration of the Chinese New Year bright red lanterns decked the palace walls.
After 2 restful days, in Chefchaouen it was time to move on, to Fes. We had coordinates logged into the phone, the route mapped out and fuel in the tanks.
The north of Morocco is verdant with crop production everywhere and a seemingly endless supply of water. The road was in a good state, mostly, which meant that we could relax and enjoy the ride in sunshine and perfect temperatures.
When we arrived at the Fes campsite, we were in for a disappointment, ‘closed for the winter’, we were informed by a young man guarding the entrance. A quick search on booking.com found the ‘Hotel Agapanthe’ some ten minutes away. About an hour later, after some too-ing and fro-ing we found it. At the end of an unpromising dirt road a modern hotel presented itself. Tired and aching we were relieved and grateful and, after an acceptable meal, we slid between the sheets of a king sized bed.
The plan for the following day was to find another campsite, this turned out to be the simplest of tasks. At the end of the dirt road from Agapanthe turn right and then turn right again, voilla, the Camping International, Fes and it was only 10.30 in the morning.
The guy running the campsite organised a guide for us for 1.00 p.m.. At the appointed time he arrived; by scooter. Abbi flagged down a ‘Petite Taxi’ and we were off. Fes is difficult to describe and for this part of the blog a short vignette will suffice. The centre (medina) is an innumerable series of tight lanes and passageways bounded by brown plastered walls rising vertically. The walls often stretched three or four stories above our heads, blocking out all direct light. Reach out your arms and your hands are able to touch the buildings on either side of the street. The walls are punctuated by stout doors, wooden for the grand entrances, metal for the kitchens, and few windows to be seen. The view from any window would be muddy brown, due to the proximity of the walls of adjacent buildings and would afford little light to the interior, rendering them redundant. Most buildings have an inner courtyard open to the sky, letting light flood the interior.
The medina is a place of numerous artisanal activities. Raw materials are brought in on donkey carts or small wheeled push carts. Carpets, leatherwork, metal household goods and numerous other products are created within the secretive walls of Fes. The smallest nook would house a tiny workshop, large courtyards within a building may contain a complete production line. All done by hand, without the aid of powered machinery.
After two nights at the Campsite International Fes, we finally turned toward the coast and the capital city of Rabat.
To be continued