Goodbye Ruby, Hello Fés!
Since the marina in Rabat was so secure and inexpensive (by European standards at least), we decided to take the train up to Fés for the night. Originally we had planned on doing this as a day trip, but the train takes 3 hours so I put my foot down. Nick agreed on the one proviso that our accommodation in Fés had a bath. Deal!
So we waved goodbye to our boat, feeling a little nervous since this is the first time we’d left her overnight since leaving Conyer, and got the train to Fés. As usual, we were at the station in plenty of time, but this was unnecessary; the train was 10 minutes late. After the down-to-the-second punctuality of the Spanish train system, this came as a bit of a shock. However, the comfortable first class carriages more than made up for this tardiness. The upgrade from second class was only a couple of pounds (although the total cost of the return tickets was in the region of £15 each), and, not knowing whether we’d get an Indian-style ‘second class’ or a more European standard, we went for first, which turned out to have wide, comfortable chairs- more like armchairs- in 6-seater compartments with air-conditioning so cooling that it was actually a relief to go into the outside warmth.
We stayed at a Riad called Riad Zamane- heartily recommended- and, once we’d settled in, had some mint tea, and confirmed that, yes, there is indeed a bath in the bathroom, we ventured out to the medina, which is after all the main reason anyone would want to come to Fés.
Fés is a medieval Moroccan town and is famous for it’s sprawling, maze-like medina, which is one of the biggest in Morocco. A local man on the train told us- several times- that there are 9,500 alleyways in the Fés medina. This was right after he started speaking in Arabic to us, and when we answered in French he looked between us with confusion.
(In French) “Aren’t you Moroccan?”
“French, then? Your French is excellent.” (This to Nick, obviously. No-one could ever accuse my French of being excellent.)
“Thankyou, but no, I’m English.”
He looked at me. “But, you are Moroccan, aren’t you?”
“No, I’m Australian.”
He nodded slowly, as if needing time to absorb this unexpected news while Nick and I looked at each other, both clearly thinking the same thing: our tans are obviously better than we thought!
But then the man rallied and started telling us in great detail, all about Fés and it’s many, many alleyways, how we mustn’t let anyone take us anywhere to offer to show us anything, if we want a guide, get one at the station as they are cheaper, only hire an official guide, they will have a badge, expect to pay 250 Dirhams for one, no more, if we want to buy something we must haggle, it’s expected so don’t worry, how are we getting to the hotel? Oh, a transfer, otherwise there are petit taxis at the station… etc. Eventually he went to have a smoke somewhere (he never returned, who knows what happened) and his place was taken by another man in a suit, who also greeted us in Arabic, with whom we had almost exactly the same speech full of advice for negotiating the medina of Fés. All very friendly here, as I’ve said before. You wouldn’t get this on a UK train.
So, into the medina we went. We didn’t bother with a guide, and the only map we had was the one memorised in my head from the Riad (it hung on the wall, and, oddly, they didn’t have any paper copies). However, despite all the dire warnings about getting lost, it really wasn’t too disorientating. There are two main streets that run parallel to each other, with many alleys running off them.
Yep, It’s A Medina Alright
Well, what can I say about Fés medina? In many ways, it was very similar to the medinas of Rabat and Salé, which I’ve already described in my previous post. Add a few geese, many more cats or kittens, and several donkeys into the mix, not to mention the addition of constant attention from (usually) young men wanting to show us around for a few hundred Dirhams, as well as many more white faces and the occasional tourist group being herded around like cattle, and that’s Fés. Those working in the shops and stalls were genial, and even the waiters hovering out the front of restaurants, doing the old, “Hola! (yes, we must look Spanish also) Sir! Where you from? Cous-cous? Tagine? English? French? Good food, tasty, good price, please sit….” were quick to leave you alone and always had a smile. In all, although walking through Fés medina wasn’t entirely without hassle, it was all good-natured and we had a very enjoyable afternoon taking in the bustling atmosphere. We even had our first ‘street food’, which was a delicious bread roll stuffed with chips, egg and tomato sauce. Perhaps not what you’d typically think of when contemplating Moroccan street food, but we saw some other bloke with it and thought that it was a far safer prospect that the sheep’s head meat sandwich…. which seemed a popular choice with the locals.
That evening we splashed out and dined in at the Riad. The food was excellent, although I’m yet to have a tagine that totally knocks my socks off… must try harder, obviously.
The following morning we spent a happy hour eating pancakes and drinking yet more mint tea at a rooftop cafe in the middle of the medina, and then made our way back to Rabat. Our fridge was empty apart from a few pots of yoghurt and some chorizo, so we succumbed and ate dinner at McDonalds.
The next day we were determined to find a decent supermarket, and so decided to take a taxi to a hypermarket we’d seen from the train the day before. We were rewarded with a clean, large, stocks-everything-you-can-think-of type of supermarket, and stocked up. With a fridge full of meat and a hanging net full of fruit and veggies, we took a last wander around Rabat.
We were struck, again, by how few tourists there were. I say few. I mean, I counted two tourists in the entire day, and that was me and Nick. Walking through the medina, which was a much calmer and gentler paced experience than in Fés, we were completely ignored. We concluded that, although Fés had been a rewarding experience and we’re glad we went, we preferred Rabat and its slow, authentic, yet vibrant and bustling atmosphere. We meandered through the medina’s alleyways, buying a bag of olives here, some spices there (Nick was planning a tagine for dinner, which turned out to be delicious, like everything else he cooks), a couple of bunches of fresh mint and coriander- but the best was saved for last when, just as we were passing through the gate to exit the medina, our attention was drawn to a tiny old lady behind a tiny old table, selling what looked like cookies. We bought a small bag and they were FRIGGING AMAZING coconut macaroons. So good.
The next day we left Rabat and followed the pilot boat back down the river with a sense of sadness at leaving such a fantastic place. We will definitely be back, hopefully by yacht again.
We had a fantastic sail to Mohammedia. The winds were light, but we put out the code zero (a type of sail for sailing in light winds) and made good progress. The sun was shining, but there was a gentle breeze in the cockpit, and we spent the passage reading and drinking tea- just for a change.
Coming into Mohammedia was a little nerve-wracking, not because of the entrance or conditions, but because we weren’t sure there would be space for us. Rabat marina had been rife with rumour that there was no space for visiting yachts in Mohammedia, the source being an Irish yacht that had been turned away the day before. We emailed and got no reply. We tried calling for a full 24 hours before someone picked up the phone, and were finally told that, yes, there was a berth for us. However, when we radioed in upon our entrance, we were told that there wasn’t anything, we had to move on. We insisted that we’d reserved a berth, there was a pause on the radio, and then we were instructed to enter the marina. We were helped into a space that was so narrow, we didn’t think we’d fit- and it was a close thing. But we slid in, with barely an inch to spare (well fendered, obviously), and were, once again, glad that we were able to communicate with the authorities in French.
Mohammedia is, I’m afraid to say, a rather uninspiring town. The pilot book describes it as ‘prosperous and elegant’, and it looks like it’s trying to be… but isn’t, quite. Certainly there are palm trees galore, and manicured gardens around every corner, including a very large, beautifully maintained park not far from the marina. But there are also many apartment blocks part-way through being built, with no evidence of any recent work, and the bars and restaurants all have a rather tacky air to them.
However, it’s not overly offensive, and we’ll stay here a day or two before making our way south once again.