Fes: “Wait a second, there’s mountains in Morocco?”

19 Feb

As mentioned previously, I know absolutely nothing about Morocco. It’s very exciting. Sorta. Everything’s new, including the topography of the country.

Did you know that Morocco is largely a mountainous country?

I didn’t. So when we got our orientation meeting with Dr. Michael Peyron (crazy British Berber expert who is hilarious) on what would be happening on the Fes trip and he mentions mountains, snow and cold, my first thought is: “I packed for Cairo. Cairo = desert. Cairo = warm. Cairo = flat. Morocco = does not compute.”

To the clothing store! I pick up a wool coat for $20 (or 180MAD) and some long sleeve shirts. Macarena buys a pair of sneakers, because the way Peyron was telling it, we’d be hiking all over the Moyen Atlas (Middle Atlas, region of the Atlas mountains, one of two big mountain ranges in Morocco I probably should have known about.)

Friday: We have to be at AMIDEAST by 7, so our host mom, Saida, is adorable and makes us breakfast at 6:30 and says we have to give her a call when we get to Fes. ADORABLE. We are split up on to two buses, and somehow or another the larger bus (holds 18) ends up being almost exclusively the Cairo kids. Weird…although not really.

The drive to Azrou, our first stop, is gorgeous. It looks so much like driving through California during early winter and things are actually green (yeah, California is a bit weird) that at some points I would completely forget I was in Morocco. Then we’d pass a country mosque/herd of sheep with sheperds/cart pulled by a donkey/homes made of stone and thatch and go, “Oh yeah, Morocco. Holy smokes I’m in Morocco!” Good times.

Our first stop, as mentioned, is Azrou, a semi-big town south of Fes and Meknes. Azrou means rock in Berber, so what do we do while we have a short 45 minute stop in Azrou? Climb a big rock. It has amazing views of the town and surrounding valley it’s located in.

We load back up into the buses and drive further up and further in to the Moyen Atlas. We pass through the cedar forests, aka MONKEY FORESTS, which are home to the Barbary Macaque, an endangered monkey. We see a few of them as we drive by. Very strange seeing monkeys in the snow, but there you go. We stop for lunch at a little inn/restaurant in the middle of a huge plateau. It’s very warm outside (NEED A HEAVY COAT MY BUTT PEYRON!) and there’s snow on the ground. Good times. We load up into the buses again and head out for a quick stop where Berbers usually hang around with their horses. Some of the students ride them, but I could see that the horses were badly treated….I’m not going to condone that, regardless of cultural differences in terms of animal rights.

We stop in Ifrane to pick up a professor from Al Akhawayn University. Ifrane is a strange town, because it is essentially a little Swiss town. It was built as a hill station when Morocco was a protectorate of France, so French officials could escape the heat of Rabat, Casa and Fes and make for the cool foothills of Ifrane and have it look like home with winding streets, little chalet houses and imported ducks. Weird, but cute.

Finally, we make it to Fes. It’s about 5pm at this point and we’ve essentially been driving all day. We have the rest of the evening to ourselves, so Mack, I and a group of girls (non-Cairo kids, largely, except for the two Georgetown AUC girls) go get some Italian. Some decide to go out later that night to a bar. I however started getting a headache and was worrying it would be a rebound migraine (it happens) and went to bed. Glad I did, because apparenlty the bar was SKETCCCHHHHYYY.

Bringing me to this fun issue: Being a women in a non-Western country. Sexual harassment is a constant issue, and shebabs (which means young man in Arabic, but we use along the same lines of guido) are very, very rude. They’ll follow you, walk close beside you, and say very inapropriate things to you. Not fun. But you just ignore them and keep walking, or if things get desparate (and they sometimes do), go into a shop and ask for help from a shopkeeper, or ask an older woman to help you out.

Back to Fes: The next day, we had breakfast, and the group was once again split into two. This time, Mack and I went with our lovely new friends the AMIDEAST Rabat crew. We went into Fes el Bali, the old medina (old as in 1200 years old, no big deal) and had Professor Schuub (Ifrane guy), guide us around and show us all sorts of things, like a tannery, and a madrassa, etc. Good times.

We went back to the hotel for lunch, then switched off with the other group. We drove through Fes with Dr. Peyron, to the top of a hill and were given a lecture on the importance of Fes as a Berber-Arab city. Don’t remember anything of what he said, but whatever. We then drove back through Fes to some Merinid ruins on another hill (aka 800 year old ruins, once again no big deal).

Then we headed back to the hotel, had dinner at a sushi place, which was AMAZING DELICIOUS NOM NOM NOM. I’ve now had sushi twice in Africa, both times it was fantastic. Haha. Although Makani in Cairo was better. Anyway.
Next morning, AMIDEAST Rabat kids and the 4 AUC Cairo girls (that includes me) went into the medina on our own to do some shopping, since Fes has one of the best medinas in Africa. I got a leather purse (Fes is known for leather) and some other trinkets. I tried to barter, but man, I am just not good at it, but hey, got three months to do better!

We left Fes at this point and went to my favorite part of the trip, Volubilis, these Roman ruins about 60 miles away from Fes. They were gorgeous. I clambered over walls thousands of years old, sat on columns collapsed with age. I wonder if I could go camping there….hmm. Research time.

PICTURES PICTURES PICTURES: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2093667&id=1066620072&l=c7caf4c34a

We headed home after that, driving through Meknes (which I’d like to actually visit sometime).
And that’s this past weekend!

Next post: This past week, including: the Arabic class saga, Yakout, and the Prophet’s Birthday!

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