I left Moulay Idriss by a Meknes city bus, which was designed for mostly strap-hanging, and so I had to stand all the way into Meknes, which took about a half hour. I found a young man and a woman who could speak a little English and asked them where I should get off to get a petit taxi to my hotel. They both got off with me, and helped me flag a taxi, and explain about my hotel—not a well-known place, I inferred. The Maroc Hotel, which I had read about in the LP and called to reserve, was just fine, in a very good location. I was only about four blocks from the Bab el-Mansour, the gate at the Place el-Hedim, which is the huge plaza that represents the heart of the old city. Even this little cheap place ($12/night-private single) had sinks in the rooms (showers and toilets in the hall) and wifi! Still I had to provide my own towel, TP and soap—not a problem as backpackers all travel with these!
Then I took a calache ride (horse and buggy in French) to see the city, but that was limited, too. There was a huge ferria going on and crowds of people were streaming to it. This had caused the police to cordon off many streets that apparently the ride would normally cover. Originally I had bargained the ride from 250 dirham to 150. An hour was promised but the ride only lasted 35 minutes since so many streets were unavailable, so I paid the man 100 dirham and that seemed to be satisfactory.
The Dar Jamai Museum was bigger and was housed in an even prettier building than the Meknes Museum. Morocco is full of beautiful things!
By late in the afternoon on Saturday, the Place el-Hedim was teeming with buyers and sellers. I’m not sure if this is always that way on Saturday, or if it was connected to the big crowds attending the ferria that I had seen in the morning. It’s a huge square, with a huge gate.
I took the walking tour laid out in the LP Guidebook,which went through the souqs, some medina, and up to the north wall with the Bab Berdaine. It wasn’t nearly as confusing as other medinas that I have visited, but that meant it wasn’t nearly as fun, either! I did find a restaurant that I had been looking for—‘Mille et Une Nuits’—it took me awhile to figure out that this was about A Thousand and One Nights and not about Nuts! The Berdaine Mosque seemed quite new, and the Bab Berdaine was very grand. As always, it was just fun to poke around. However, the weather had turned cold and windy so I returned to the hotel early.
On Monday, my 78th birthday, I took a bus to the small town of Azrou. When I checked into my hotel and presented my passport as usual, the desk clerk wished me ‘Happy Birthday’ when he gave it back. He had noticed my date of birth. I celebrated by having a lovely (local) trout dinner with a bottle of wine. Well, no, I didn’t drink the whole bottle but took the remainder with me. As I was leaving, the waiter offered to wrap the bottle in a newspaper to uphold moral decency, I guess. There really isn’t much alcohol in Morocco, at least that I can see.
I visited the Tuesday Souq, which brings people in from many towns and rural areas around Azrou. It’s really a huge enterprise with everything on sale including animals, kitchen wares, clothes, produce, luggage and everything else you could think of. Most interesting, though, were the people. Most were very friendly to me. In one case when a person indicated he didn’t want his photo taken, another man called out questioningly, “Francia, Espana, England?” When I answered “A-mer-i-ca,” he gave me a thumbs up and indicated that I should be allowed to take a picture, which I did.
Today I got the morning bus to Er- Rachidia, which is way down south in desert country. A woman with a tattoo on her forehead was one of the passengers. After about four hours of bus ride, we stopped at a town and consolidated bus loads—I was moved to another bus. I sat next to a student who knew a little English, which is pretty scarce in these parts. On the highway in the middle of nowhere we encountered some sort of parade or demonstration. The bus ride went through beautiful desert scenery. Two more hours and we were in Er-Rachidia. I got a nice hotel right next to the bus station. This appears to be quite a new town, judging by the buildings. I shall do some exploring tomorrow before moving on the next day to the Todra Gorge.