I need to set some things straight from the beginning. Morocco was never high on my list of desirable destinations. I cannot really justify why, it just never seemed attractive enough. Guess what. I could not have been more wrong.
Everything started when I got invited by some great friends to a two-week roadtrip through this land. It seemed like a great adventure, so why not? Anyway, I always believe that each place has its own beauty. You just need to make sure that your heart and mind are open enough to see it.
The plan was very clear. We only had the airplane tickets that set us the start and end points – Fez and Marrakesh – and fifteen days in between. Nothing else. Yeah, and of course a car in our disposal. Seems like a good plan, doesn’t it? My usual unorganized me didn’t even bother to check a few things about Morocco, thankfully my fellow travelers had bought at least a travel guide (that I checked after boarding on the airplane). My only inputs for the land, were a few words here and there about how wonderful Morocco is and to my surprise almost anyone I knew seemed to have been to Morocco at some point in his life!
Unfortunately, with these overly positive words, a crack was also opened when I let some negative experiences from others to get into me. Fear is the worst thing you can ever let inside you. Fear not logic. Fear is the little monster that makes simple small things become huge. I keep noting to myself that I should not also be fearless just mindful. More on that later.
We landed on Fez just as the sun was setting. Africa!! Palm trees and a beautiful mixture of orange colors from the sun blurred by the sand dust. Matina started shouting with excitement. While I am a little bit more restrained, I felt that this exactly echoed my feelings as well.
It was already night by the time we got on the highway from the airport to the old city of Fez. Overly excited and curious, we were wondering how are we going to find our way to the riad we were supposed to stay. I noticed that Matina was not as excited now but rather nervous. “Guys, I dont want to make you anxious, but I think we are being followed”, she broke her silence.
Panic! Do you remember what I told about fear being the worse thing?
Matina was indeed right. A few local boys on scouters had spotted us being tourists and had followed us to try to get us to use them like guides in the small alleys of Fez or get us to go and sleep to their riads. What is a typical thing in these countries suddenly was made huge by fear and the night. In the end, we just found a perfect place to leave the car and one of those boys got us to the riad we had booked in no time. All well and done, first adventure finished 🙂
The second was supposed to start right away, when we had the brilliant idea to go for a walk during the night in the old town. We fortunately soon realized that the only thing that we could manage was to get lost, so we called it a day. You see Fez, to be exact the old medina of Fez, is a true labyrinth. A place of mystery and history. A wonderful exhibit of a magnificent and admirable culture; no wonder it is listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Crowded and dirty, super densely populated, noisy. But at the same time exciting and magical – so many things pop up in such a constrained place, you are constantly bombarded by images, sounds and of course… smells! I remember myself taking photos of different signs or shops just to have visual marks on how to find our way again. The smells would guide me when that was not enough (ok that and google maps whenever there was an opening and you could see the sky).
It is also a place full of contradictions. Such as for example, the difference between internal and external spaces. Get on the street and prepare yourself to feel the rush of neverending movement, an endless give or take and a scenery that mostly resembles what we have in mind of an ant nest. Get in a riad or any other building, close the doors and the whole world is far away. You find yourself in an oasis of calmness.
In my more personal notes, Fez seems to be a place where the past fights with the present; a clash of a conservative religious-centered attitude with a more modern generation that tries to find a balance between the old and new ways. I was rather afraid, feeling unease walking around with my camera. People generally gave me the impression of being more closed and more than a few times I was forbidden to photograph. As these were the first days in the country, I think I didn’t really know how to behave and maybe I am at fault here rather than the others.
I realized that when I was going through my photos from Fez and Meknes, our second stop. Although in general these two cities seemed very similar in more than a few ways, in the one afternoon we spent at Meknes, I managed to have more photos than two full days in Fez…
Meknes was a rather important stop in my journey. It marked the last big city that we would encounter for the next several days and it also marked the point after which I felt more comfortable with the people. There is always one such point in each journey, you just have to stay long enough in a place to discover it.
The weather was already upon our heads when we set our course towards the Atlas mountains. Ready to meet… Africa! That was the only word ringing on my mind, when I saw unexpected images like those.
I guess my ignorance of Morocco had led me to believe that basically the country would be mostly desert and ok, some olive and orange trees near the sea. How wrong I was! The next few days were going to be a major surprise.
We headed towards Azrou, a town deep in Middle Atlas. Judging from the scenery that we encountered before reaching the town, as well as the wording in its description in the travel guide we were reading, we came with high expectations, only to get disappointed. I am pretty sure that if we hadn’t read the travel guide, we would feel better about the place we visited, but anyway. In the end, I think we can just keep to our memories the most kitsch hotel we ever stayed, with beds still wrapped in protective nylon covering little fake diamonds!
What was a rather disappointing night, became a wonderful experience in the morning. You see, Azrou may not be the best town you can visit, but the surrounding area is magnificent! We hit the road to a round trip along the lakes in the mountains with the weather constantly changing, just to help create a moody atmosphere.
We ended up in Ifrane. If the previous scenes were out of my mind for Morocco, then Ifrane was the most out-of-place city we visited. If someone told me that through a time-space warp, we found ourselves in the Alps instead of Morocco, I am not really sure I would not believe him. It is not only that buildings looked totally european and nothing like our previous encounters – this I guess can be attributed to the French. But the whole nature, rivers, climate were screaming alpine instead of… Africa. Morocco definitely kept surprising me.
Next morning we hit the road again. The plan was to finally see the desert. Because as much as you may enjoy the surprises and the wonderful forests, mountains, rivers and lakes, well…. you came to Morocco to see Sahara.
The desert is going to be part two!