From the laidback Moroccan blue town of Chechaouen we drove down to the city of Fes along roads that were generally good, but that in places were crumbled at the edges or even subsided.
While admiring the amazing green scenery, the abundance of donkeys, shepherds in djellabas walking their flocks, young farmers tanking it on horse and cart, and the many children that ran from wherever they were to the roadside to wave at us with huge smiles, we also kept an eye on the oncoming vehicles that frequently strayed on to our side of the road… All this in continual torrential rain.
The overtaking we witnessed was white-knuckle risky at times and some vehicles were pretty loaded, so much they looked as if they’d topple over with the combination of top-heavy weight and sloping camber… But the motorways and most main roads we travelled on were just like we know in England – only with less potholes and much less crowded! Some of the crash barriers on hairier parts of the mountain routes had been driven through and not replaced. Driving took some care and consideration on these bends…
It was all life in the moment stuff. Like the best travelling is, keeping you in the now every second.
Although Morocco’s only ten miles across from southern Spain it was like entering another world, one that was so much poorer and that in places was still like a scene from a couple of thousand years ago – mystically Biblical. Even in the middle of nowhere there were still people walking along every mile of the way, most in the peak-hooded djellabas if they were men or with hair covered if women and often with beautiful bright-coloured clothing.
And starting from Tanger Med port where we’d arrived there were police road blocks every 30 minutes. Guns and metal road spikes were on display. But we were quickly waved on every time by police who often looked like they meant business, although who also often broke into wide smiles when we gave them a wave.
On the way to Fes we stopped at the expansive and amazing Roman ruins of Volubilis, the greatest ruins we’ve ever seen. They definitely fitted the bill of Education By Astonishment! The boys loved running around there in their djellabas and wellies in the rain. For some of the Moroccan visitors to these ancient ruins the boys were a great distraction – and they received gifts of sweets and chocolate along with many cuddles and kisses!
After a night at a nearby campsite (Camping Belle Vue) we moved on for Fes. We’d been warned that the campsites in Morocco for us campers used to our Camping And Caravanning Club sites in Britain or the Club’s approved ones in Spain might not be quite up to scratch.
However, overall the campsites we stayed on were fine, just with no hot water – and due to the perpetual rain plenty of cold water: they were mostly waterlogged! At least our boys enjoyed splashing in the puddles…
The Fes campsite was a 15-minute taxi ride from the city, ideal as there was no way we were taking our motorhome into the crazy city! Put it this way, our taxi driver would have been great on the dodgems at a fairground…
Founded in the 9th century and home to the oldest university in the world, Fes has the best-preserved medieval city in the Arab world with the labyrinthine medina of Fes el Bali (founded between 789 and 808 AD – and which is, incidentally, the world’s largest car-free urban zone). On our way to the medina we stopped to gaze at the splendour of the golden-gated King’s Palace. As ever, amazing doorways and beautiful intricate patterns adorned its walls, its opulence standing out dramatically from its surroundings, like a golden pebble in the centre of a pile of dusty rocks.
The medina is of and from another world. Made up of some 9,000 narrow and sometimes dark streets, with everything sold there from intricate lamps, beautifully decorated pots, woven rugs and jackets, leather everything and sweet-smelling spices to (perhaps…!) Converse sneakers and some awesome Arsenal leather slippers! As well as food such as tasty tangine and of course couscous. The smell there was a mixture of the spices used in these foods, and donkey pee and poo. Watch out for the handcarts and some heavy-laden donkeys charging up behind you (especially if you’re heavily laden yourself with tired little boys on your shoulders…)!
Fes felt largely lawless on our visit, despite the presence in the centre of armed police flanked by armed soldiers every 500 metres. The traffic was chaotic and everyone seemed to take it in their stride when we saw a man chasing another while throwing several large rocks at him.
Beggars were everywhere, especially in the medina where it was so sad to see elderly women asking for charity, but also there were beggars that in the medieval streets there looked medieval themselves due to the various visible illnesses they had that have been eradicated in the western world. The vision left us feeling otherworldly, as if we had entered a dream, nightmarish in parts yet alluring in others, and sometimes mingling together, the sorrowful harshness of one clashing with the mystical beauty of the other.
There were also aspects of Morocco that took us back to an older Europe: the sight of craftspeople skilfully making their ware before putting it on sale in their little shops; smoking in public places (including a petrol pump attendant who came towards us and ditched his still lighted fag on the floor by the pump!); small well-stocked shops with owners who know their customers (and scarcely a supermarket in sight, even in the cities); and plenty of face-to-face contact rather than face-to-screen…
Then the Moroccan people were so wonderfully friendly and almost innocent in their joy compared to what we might be getting more used to in the west. We didn’t get hassled too much as we’d been told could happen, and we’ve never had so many people looking so genuinely delighted to see our children, some almost falling over in their utter delight at this vision before them of two small blond boys. At one point some young schoolgirls were literally screaming in a fit of Daniel & Darley mania!
But there were aspects that greatly saddened us on this trip – such as the terrible state of many of the animals: skinny and sad-looking, especially the donkeys and cattle as well as the many stray cats and dogs. Undoubtedly Morocco is a poor country economically and many of their owners, where there were owners, are also going hungry.
Also the rubbish that was dumped in places was not just a terrible eyesore but a great hygiene risk. As we drove north for the ferry, both Debs and I felt a huge sadness that such friendly and spiritual people had in many cases such hard lives. We’re still processing mixed feelings about it all. Just ten miles from a European mainland where in places people have much more money than sense, where some people eat so much they get ill and die from being overweight contrasting sharply with a country where some people have so little food they get ill and die from being malnourished.
And yet, we also saw more smiles in our days in Morocco than you’d see in a year in the City of London… This no doubt is to do with the simple fact that people still spend time talking and being together (rather than being in the same room/train etc but not together). As well the country’s faith.
We even saw mini mosques at the motorway service areas. Close to Tanger in the public toilet next to one of these mini mosques I saw three young guys, dressed in a western style of jeans and casual shirts, thoroughly washing their hands, feet and faces before taking their shoes off at the mini mosque and going inside to pray.
Getting on the ferry was swifter and much more organised (as in it was organised!) than our entry to the country, and from the boat we saw our first blue skies for more than a week as we waved farewell to Morocco and turning the other way hello to Gibraltar and Spain. It won’t be a forever farewell however, as we’re sure the memory of Moroccan smiles will pull us back one day soon to its shores.