I awoke early to the street traffic outside my hotel window. The plan for the day was to head to Hassan II Mosque and take a tour. That’s right, a non-Muslim entering a mosque. It’s rare, but Hassan II Mosque allows visitors at certain times to take a tour of the unbelievably large and beautiful structure. It’s truly a marvel to see and is one of the most impressive religious sites I have ever seen. As a matter of fact, it is the second largest mosque outside of Mecca.
I’ll leave all the interesting facts up to you read at its wikipedia page. You can also watch this video I shot in HD (you’ll have to click the link to go to the vimeo page to watch the HD version. It will only play in SD embedded in my blog).
I decided to walk to the mosque since it was early and I got lost in the medina. What a site it was though. The walkways are very narrow and cramped with vendors bringing their produce through to get ready for the day. Plenty of live animals waiting to be sold and butchered, eggs, potatoes, and more were making their way to the market.
After about 45 minutes of walking north through the medina, I ended up right back where I started. Apparently I wasn’t going north the entire time. I opted for one of the plentiful and affordable taxis. I believe it only cost 10dh which is less than $2.
After my short tour of the mosque, I headed back to pick up my things at the hotel and made my way to the train station. I managed to find my train just as it was about to leave the station. I boarded and took my assigned seat in the correct compartment thanks to one of the attendants. I probably wouldn’t have been able to decipher my ticket without him.
The compartment had six seats and I was the fifth and final passenger to sit there. There was a Moroccan man dressed in western attire and a couple wearing traditional djellabas. I said “bonjour” and sat down excpecitng a quiet six-hour train ride. I was surprised to hear the couple start speaking to each other in English with British accents. After talking to them for a while I learned they were British-born Pakistani and purchased the djellabas during their holiday in Marrakesh.
We talked a lot during the train ride and the Moroccan man chimed in with some information on Fes as he was from there. Soon enough, he offered to set me up with his friend who was a guide (considered a requirement for navigating the medina). I had heard the warnings of unofficial guides and was reluctant to trust him. He assured me he was official and would show me his id card that they are required to show. Eventually I agreed so he called him on his cell and asked him to meet us at the train station.
He was waiting for me when we arrived and was very friendly. He showed me his id, tucked it in his pocket and we got in his car along with his driver. He offered to drop me off at a hotel and then pick me up the next morning for our tour. The only problem was that he refused to take me to any of the hotels I asked to go to based on my guide book. He had an excuse for every one whether it was dirty or used by prostitutes. I began to realize he was hustling me and asked to be dropped off at the hostel. He reluctantly agreed.
When we arrived it was closed. I assumed he only agreed because he knew they would be closed at that moment. I knew I needed to ditch this guy and luckily for me a tall backpacker came walking up. The guide was talking to his driver over by the car and I mustered up enough French to tell the guy that I needed to get away from this guide and to pretend to be my friend. He told me that the book said the hostel opened at 6:30 so we had an hour to spare.
I went over to the guide and told him I was going to get food with my friend and that I wouldn’t need him anymore. He insisted on meeting me back at the hostel to make sure I found somewhere to stay. I didn’t have any way to change his mind and left, hoping he would be gone when I returned.
I learned the backpacker’s name was Dominique and he was from Germany. He spoke a French a bit better than me but his English was very good so we opted to use it. We walked to a cafe and did as all Moroccan men do in the afternoon. Sit on a cafe patio and drink mint tea for an hour or so.
The hostel was open when we returned and sure enough, the guide was sitting there drinking tea with the owner. He got up, and told me the place was all full and he would take me some where else. I asked the owner if this was true and he said yes, but gave me an odd look. The guide started speaking Arabic to him and even though I didn’t understand most of what they were saying, I could tell he was pressuring him to turn me away.
I went up to the guide, gave him 100dh and thanked him for his help but that I was going to go on my own. He gladly took the money and agreed to leave but not before he gave me his phone number so I could call him tomorrow if I needed the tour after all.
Once he left, Abdullah, the owner, came to me and apologized. He said that the guide is official, but he works off the clock to make more money and basically was threatening him to turn me away. He was glad I understood his hint and stayed. His bed situation was pretty unorganized and he had a difficult time finding beds for Dominique and I but eventually he put us in a private room that we split.
After hanging around the hostel for a while I heard three English travelers being turned away by Abdullah because he didn’t think he had enough beds for the lone male (the rooms are not co-ed). As they were about to leave I told them to stay for a few minutes and I spoke to Abdullah. I reminded him that there was an open bed in one of the male dorms because Dominique opted to share my room instead of taking the last bed. The three of them were glad we figured out a solution because it was dark at this point and it would be difficult finding someplace to stay.
I chatted with them for a while and asked about heading out to dinner. They agreed and so did Dominique so we headed out to a restaurant that Lonely Planet recommended. It was definitely marketed to tourists as everybody there was American, but the food was wonderful and the price wasn’t too bad.
Once back at the hostel we sat outside on the patio for a few hours chatting. The weather was wonderful and it was nice to have conversation that wasn’t challenging due to language barriers.
I learned that Lauren, Lizzie, and Rob had hitchhiked all the way from England. Coming from America, this was one of the craziest ideas I had ever heard. Apparently though, it is a fairly common thing to do in Europe. They weren’t homeless travelers or anything. They were all university students and did it for charity. They had people sponsor them financially and then the money went to charities of their choosing. I thought it was not only brave and adventurous, but very respectable that somebody would do that to help others.
We headed to bed after a while and decided to tour the new medina on our own the following morning and then take an official tour of the old medina in the afternoon.
It was an extremely long day that had its ups and downs but when it was all over, I was quite pleased I was safe and made some new friends along the way.