Getting to Fez was quite a challenge. Upon inquiry, I discovered that the two large bus companies’ buses went to Fez at 8:30 and 10:00 PM, which made the arrival time in Fez at 2:00 or 4:00 AM! The desk clerk in Al Hoceima said that there was a small bus company that went at 9:30 AM—ah, much better. I taxied over to the bus depot the day before to buy my ticket (best practice here in Morocco). The young woman, speaking in a mixture of Spanish, French and sign language, told me that the bus went at 10:00 AM and that I should buy my ticket the next day when I got on the bus. When I reported this to the desk clerk, he looked skeptical; sure enough, on Sunday when I went to the bus depot, the young woman now said that the bus would not be going today. Now what?! After conferring with a man, she said I could go to Targuiste and get a bus to Fez from there. In light of the language problems, each of these communications took a long time and many repeats to be sure I was understanding correctly.
We arrived about 10:15 AM; I hung out in the little café in the bus depot. When I tried to find out when the bus for Fez would come, I got, “two hours—11 and half; if no bus then two hours, 1 and half.” These numbers were not adding up very well, but!—much to my surprise, the bus going to Fez did arrive at 1:30!
We had a beautiful drive over the Atlas Mountains. There were many trees in bloom and wild flowers decorating the scenes. A young man sat ahead of me who could speak a tiny bit of English. I was sitting next to his mother, I think.
At one very disreputable-looking town, he told m that this was the drug capital of Morocco! Local Color!
Late in the afternoon, dreading having to find the hostel in the dark, I called the hostel and got Assiz. The problem is that the taxis can only go a little ways into the Medina, where this hostel is located, and then you have to walk this way and that to find the hostel. He said to call him when I got to the bus depot and he would come and pick me up! Yay! When I arrived and tried to call, for some reason I couldn’t make the number ring. I tried several times. Then I noticed that I had a message, so I attempted to get that. (You’ll remember I’m not very good at this.) Well, suddenly my phone, which I had bought a few years ago in Ethiopia, was in French! I tried again, GOT him, and was quite relieved. I described myself and we agreed to meet in front of the depot.
I had forgotten to ask what kind of car he would be arriving in. In a few minutes, a motorcycle screeched to a stop and Assiz stuck out his hand, introducing himself. I climbed aboard with my pack, and off we roared, through the horrible traffic. There were cars and pedestrians all over the place—we even bumped one pedestrian a little. Luckily, we arrived safely at Assiz’s very lovely hostel—an old family home fully restored.
The hostel was fully booked out with 36 guests. There was a pair of American twins from Kentucky! In the morning we all had breakfast in the Living Room, which was nice. Later I did a little exploring in the Medina, but not so much that I would get lost, which is easy to do.
For linner, I was surprised when I asked if a restaurant served wine, and the waiter said that they did! I waited and waited, and finally he brought a CocaCola bottle with red wine in it—I think this was strictly against regulations. And it wasn’t too good, but it was an adventure. Later that evening Assiz asked his friend to drive me to the ‘Marjane’ (supermarket) as that is the only place one can buy wine in Fez. I bought two bottles of Ksar vin rouge, but they didn’t have an opener. I had bought one in Al Hoceima, but it didn’t work, so I left it there. Abdullah (my driver) described the ‘Moroccan’ way to open a bottle of wine. It seemed to involve heating the top with a cigarette lighter, then ‘two spoons;’ then rub it this way—and the cork will come out! I thought I’d better get an opener, which later I did.
At sundown we spent time on the terrasse, which is up on top of the building. I had brought some sweets, which we shared. There’s quite a mixture of nationalities here in this hostel, but luckily for me, they all speak English. There were a few minor construction projects going on to get ready for a busy summer, I think.
“Into the Medina!” I hired Midi, a young 20-year-old to guide me around the Medina for a couple of hours.We saw old Madrassas, fountains, bakeries, beautiful houses, a kindergarten, a beautiful plate store (since they would ship to the USA, I actually got to negotiating until I caught myself!) and a Berber Pharmacy, where I bought two tiny bottles of oil of jasmin and oil of myrhh. (Much more suitable than the plates!)
Midi found me a cork puller, so I tried out my Ksar wine in the hostel with another guest before eating my linner. All was satisfactory.
Tuesday night the proprietor of the hostel went about changing the room configurations. The small room with four bunk beds that I was in became a single room with a double bed. Luckily, I was able to take that room, which I will have throughout my stay of about 11 days altogether. This is the best of both worlds—the interaction of the hostel but a private room and bath! The price difference is about $15 vs. $30.
In the meantime, of course one has to watch out for all manner of traffic, including donkeys carrying cargo. I enjoyed seeing two old caravanserai called Fondouk Kast Smen and Fondouk Tazi. One is mentioned by Leo Africanus in the 16th C. saying it dealt in the sale of honey, butter, olive oil and dried salted meat that were kept in beautiful ceramic vessels. Too bad, even though the products are the same, they’re now kept in blue plastic barrels.
I managed to keep from getting lost and even found a restaurant that Midi had shown me yesterday, that I was eager to try since they served pastilla made with pigeon, not chicken—which is mostly used nowadays. I marked its location and after going back to the hostel to rest and also to have a glass of my Ksar Rouge, I walked back to the Restaurant Laanibra. According to Midi, it was very famous. It was in a beautiful old house, not unlike my hostel. I did have the pastilla, which is very good but quite sweet (powdered sugar and cinnamon on top of the crust) so a little goes a long ways. An expensive treat, but well worth it.
That evening I attended a Sufi Music Concert. They’re having a week-long festival—this one involved one singer and about eight instrumentalists. The music was interesting, but a little of this goes a long ways, too. I had a very nice conversation with a couple from Montreal that sat next to me. We all ducked out, as did many people, after a good sampling of the music. Still it was fun to interact with the crowd and get a sampling of Sufi music.