22 Jul,2016 By Jagabond
As I struggled and sweat myself to sleep last night, I remembered that there were worse things than a heat wave in Southern California. In fact, I recalled my long weekend in Morocco during intense summer temperatures reaching triple digits. I booked the absolute worst hostel with no windows or other circulation, so every morning I would awaken within a damp outline of myself on the sheets.
I knew there was more to my trip than the sauna hostel, so I dug out my old notes on my weekend in Fez and decided to document my memories. I’m aware that Morocco is not in Europe, but it’s really, really close. My ‘Lonely Planet‘ Europe guide even has a section on Morocco, so I figure it’s a gray enough area that I can include it on my ‘Europe-only’ blog. Like any trip, there were ups and downs, good memories and bad. I like to collect travel memories like butterflies…”trips become memories, memories become treasures.”
1. Easy transport options – I must once again praise these European budget airlines that fly direct to Morocco for less than 100 euros round trip. The flight was longer than I was used to, but not unexpected for an excursion to another continent. Luckily I downloaded a great gin rummy app for my phone that day, so the flight time went by quickly. I paused long enough to capture a nice view from outside my window as we descended.
2. The festival – One of the reasons I visited was the ‘International Festival of World Music’, an annual fest in Fez that features a multitude of musical acts typically with African and Middle Eastern influences. Most of the fest was free, but the one act I paid to see was outstanding – a quasi-rock band featuring a woman singer with a great voice. To top it off, there were these two female back-up singers in turquoise dresses that added a cool R&B feel to the music. A minor annoyance was a woman behind me who kept asking me to move so she could see better…for a standing room only show I’m not sure what she expected me to do.
After that the fest continued in the ‘Jardin Jnan Sbil’, a beautiful walled garden in the center of Fez. I saw another act there, more of a Middle Eastern lounge singer. There was also a new age guy talking about how music can heal all illness, and leading the crowd on a 30 minute meditation…strange but unique. I then observed a performance artist who painted spontaneously to music. She was young – didn’t look a day over 18 – and she ended her performance with a ‘seizure’-like episode that appeared to be quite rehearsed and for dramatic effect.
3. The food – In San Diego, my favorite restaurant is ‘Kous Kous‘, a place owned by a Moroccan. I fell in love with the food years ago so I was looking forward to this aspect of my trip…and it didn’t disappoint. I spent the entire weekend eating plate after plate of vegetarian tagine, and it was magnificent. Even better were the ‘salads’ before the main course, which reminded me of the tapas in Spain. They served bread with a variety of cold plates, including tomato/pepper salad, eggplant (don’t usually like it, but the eggplant here was great), lentils, and spiced carrots…I was often full before the main dish came out.
4. Dressing like a Jedi – What Star Wars fan hasn’t wanted this? I found a shop in one of the marketplaces that sold robes, and I tried out my best Obi-Wan impression. I actually came close to buying it, but I wasn’t sure where and when, if ever, I would wear it again. I guess I could’ve armed myself with a lightsaber and blended in at San Diego’s Comic-Con.
5. Feeling the heat – Once I left the airport, the heat hit me like a wave – over 100 degrees…so glad I packed nothing but t-shirts and shorts. The climate of Fez reminded me of Bahrain, where I previously lived, so I adjusted quickly. Aside from the aforementioned sweaty hostel experience, my days were spent wiping my brow and constantly hydrating. Maybe traveling to Morocco in December would be better, as I’ve heard this is a popular Christmas destination for those who want a more secular experience. The heat was even riling up the animals…especially the lion that bit me!
6. The plight of animals – The primary low-light was seeing all the animals either astray or at the market to be sold for food. I can accept that and deal with it, but it still sucks for me to see it. I saw hundreds of stray cats, and zero stray dogs, not sure why that was. Thinking back I also don’t recall seeing any domesticated dogs…where are all the dogs in Morocco? Maybe that’s why cats like these can sleep so calmly…
They also really put the donkeys to work here hauling all kinds of stuff to be sold at the market. I’ve seen donkeys used and abused in places like Santorini and Rhodes, but the added impact of the extreme heat made this more sad.
7. Where’s the beer – There’s nothing like a hot mint tea on a sweltering summer day! Oh wait, I mean a beer…but good luck finding that in Fez. I drank a lot of mint tea during this trip, as they only served beer and wine at the nicer hotels and restaurants…but truthfully the mint tea was incredibly good. Between the over-consumption of tea and the routine hydration, I was always aware of where the nearest bathroom was. I did try one local beer that was above-average, which was named after a very famous movie.
8. Chaotic markets – The markets were packed during the busier hours, much like New Orleans during Mardi Gras where you moved with the mob. I lived in the Middle East for a couple years, and they had markets similar to this. I had forgotten how aggressive the sellers could be. If you looked at something for a second, there was someone running up behind you to tell you how ‘authentic’ it was, and to begin negotiating a price. Despite me being annoyed by this tactic, I still haggled my way into buying souvenirs – two ‘man rings’ that looked pretty cool and some odd looking guitar picks from a music shop. I had to be careful about taking pictures here, as many of the locals didn’t appreciate it. It’s hard to ask permission when taking a picture of a crowded market, but I’ve read before that Morocco was strict about this…what I read was right, so I limited myself to subtle pics from my iPhone.
Have you ever been to Morocco? What are your thoughts, memories and experiences?