The blog is not finished! But after the Theft (yes, capital letters), the want/need to update the blog took second fiddle to dealing with the Theft and just finishing the trip sans computer. Since being home, it's been hard to get that motivation to complete it. But I will. Ever so slowly. Please be patient!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Beyond the Medina

The following takes place between Days 174-175, May 20-21, 2011

After the tour in the Medina the day before, I felt fairly confident that I could find my way around on my own. I woke up a bit later than Kelly and Jaime so I missed them. And knowing how maze-like and large the Medina is, I had no delusions of finding them that day. So I left the hostel, following the random signs set up for tourists leading from one gate to the next. There are numerous “tourist routes” set up with these signs to help tourists navigate. You just have to follow them.

IMG_6800Seeing as it was a Friday, most shops were closed for the Sabbath(Friday is the Sabbath in the Muslim faith, Saturday the Jewish Sabbath) which made the Medina a lot easier to navigate. And with less shops, I had less problems with hustlers attempting to get me into their shops. It was a fairly relaxing walk through the Medina save for the one time I was walking by a large mosque just as that particular prayer time finished up. Only then did it really get busy with people leaving the mosque and putting their shoes back on.

An interesting side note: in Morocco, all but two mosques are closed to non-Muslims. There even used to be a few towns that were only open to non-Muslims during the day, but it was forbidden for non-Muslims to stay the night. The town restrictions have all but been erradicated.

IMG_6795I managed to make my own way to the complete opposite end of the Medina where most of the sit-down restaurants and cafes could be found. I managed to find one that had a nice three-course lunch on for 70 dirhams, or less than C$10. The main dish in the area is tangine, which is actually the arabic name for the clay pot the meal is made in. It consists of meat(or not if you’re vegetarian), potatoes, carrots, peas, and other veggies in a nice sauce. For starters, a nice Moroccan soup. And for desert, orange slices with cinnamon. It was surprisingly very tasty.

After the relaxing meal, I decided to wander down a different road back to the hostel through the Medina. Remember what I said above about not having delusions of running into Kelly and Jaime? Well, I did. After laughing at the sheer implausibility of it all, we decided to sit down over a cup of mint tea(which is everywhere) to figure out the rest of the day.

IMG_6804We decided to once again attempt to find the Jewish quarter. I had the Lonely Planet book I had swiped from the hostel so we at least had a map to follow. When we finally found the Jewish cemetery, it was a bit hilarious to realize that had we walked the opposite way the day before, we would’ve found it rather than getting hopelessly lost.

The cemetery is an interesting area in the middle of Fez as it is the only Jewish cemetery in the city, and holds over 18000 graves, 6000 of which have no names(mainly from the typhoid outbreak that occured years ago). We wandered through the site in complete silence, looking IMG_6811at the white mounds that housed the graves. One that caught my attention was one that looked like a mini-mosque. It was actually the grave of a famous Jewish woman who had caught the eye of a Prince. When she refused to convert to Islam for him, he had her locked up until she died.

We made our way out of the cemetery and down the street to the synagogue, which I believe is the only one in the city. Or at least the biggest. It was a beautiful little building with a built-in hammam bath in the basement for the women. In a weird sense of voyeurism, a door in the floor of the main prayer room for the men can be opened to look down into the bath.

Getting back the hostel turned out to be a bit more challenging than initially thought. First,IMG_6826 many shops reopened so there were more hustlers on the street. I thought I’d be clever and pretend I spoke a different language. On the spot though, I could only think of french. Wrong choice. French is one of the official languages in Morocco. Idiot! Second, we lost track of the “tourist path” signs. We ended up in a completely different area of the city than our hostel and had to just wander aimlessly until we found one of the landmarks from the day before to get back on the right trail to the hostel. When we did, we hunkered down and just relaxed for the rest of the day.

The next day the three of us, along with an American-Canadian from Sweden, took the train from Fez to Meknes, a small city near some ancient Roman ruins. We started by wandering through Meknes’ very small Medina. It really wasn’t much and we did nothing more than find a restaurant to eat at and then leave to find a taxi to the ruins. IMG_6848

The ruins themselves were amazing to walk through. It was actually an entire town, with temples and outlines of houses still easily discernable. I could’ve spent the entire day there but I didn’t have that much water with me and I wasn’t willing to pay the highly exaggerated prices at the stand beside the ticket office.

Besides the large temple and the gate that seems to be pretty common in these types of ruins,IMG_6907 the great thing about this area was how relatively well preserved many of the mosaic tiled floors were. Many of the houses were named after statues or the images found on the floors. One, the House of the Trials of Hercules, had a mosaic floor showing, well . . . the Trials of Hercules. Another was called the House of Venus as the mosaic tiles were considered exceptionally beautiful, as well as a couple tiled scenes of a beautiful woman.

IMG_6922The taxi driver we had seemed pretty genuine at first, getting us from Meknes to the ruins in pretty good time and even waiting for us. After the ruins, he took us to a nice overlook above a small town near the ruins. The town is sometimes used as a substitute for Mecca, the city all Muslims are almost required to make a pilgrimmage to at least once in their lives. We were pretty pleased with this and thanked the driver for showing us this.

IMG_6930Our gratitude waned though when he did what our tour guide did in the Fez Medina. He dropped us off in the town right by the shops. All our guards went up and after taking one or two pictures, we got in the taxi again and just said we wanted to go straight to the train station in Meknes. He complied pretty easily.

That night, Jaime, Kelly, and I packed up our bags as we had set up a tour through the hostel to go into the Moroccan desert  for a three day tour. We enjoyed a free bellydancing performance the hostel provided us during supper and had a long conversation with the other people in the hostel over a mint flavoured shisha and mint tea. I’m falling in love with mint.

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