When we were planning our Morocco trip, we reached out to the Facebook Brain Trust for advice on where to travel. A number of friends volunteered what was likely great advice: Essaouira on the coast has been occupied since paleolithic times, and its peaceful harbor has made it a favorite spot for Moroccans on vacation (and Jimi Hendrix, who, despite rumors to the contrary, wrote Castles Made of Sand two years before visiting). Inland Chefchaouen offers a peaceful respite from the hustle and bustle of the cities, and its uniquely blue buildings are said to harken back to Jews who settled there after the end of the Spanish Reconquista in 1492.
So, naturally, we ended up in Fez, which nobody recommended.
It’s tough to explain, really. The thinking went something like:
- Let’s do both
- They’re six hours apart, and Fez is right in between, so maybe we can stop in Fez
- That’s too much traveling, we should only do two
- That’s too much traveling, we should only do one
- Essaouira and Chefchaouen are too small to support a 5 – 6 day visit, so we should go to a bigger city with more to do
Anyway, best not to second guess these things, spilt milk and all.
And Fez did turn out to be a good visit, although we had squeezed it dry by the end of our six day stay. We would hace preferred to leave earlier, honestly, but that’s one of the interesting lessons of traveling outside of the first-world tourist-city circuit: sometimes there ain’t no way to get thar from here.
For example, to leave Fez and return to Lisbon, we had two choices:
- Take a taxi to the train station followed by a 6 hour train ride from Fez to Tangier followed by a taxi from the train station to the ferry dock followed by a ferry from Tangier to Tarifa, Spain, followed by a bus ride form Tarifa to Seville, followed by a train from Seville to Madrid, followed by a train from Madrid to Lisbon
- Take a plane from Fez to Madrid followed by an overnight train from Madrid to Lisbon
Obviously, the second option sounds better. The trick of it is that that plane from Fez to Madrid only flies once every three days.
Clearly a First World Problem, but it confounded us: really, not just the flight is sold out, but there isn’t a flight at all on the days we wanted to leave? And of course, the days didn’t line up on the way in or out.
So fine, we spent two extra days in Fez, one on either side, so we could avoid the tumult of trains, ferries and busses and to make our way back to Lisbon.
To boot, the end of our visit was marred by theft: Marcus set his brand new camera on our rooftop terrace and went inside to grab a bite to eat before taking some evening pictures. When he returned, it was gone. The roofs form a parkour-friendly course of leaps and climbs that allow the limber unfettered access to the entire sprawl of the old Medina. Apparently, someone on some other rooftop spotted the camera and spidered his way onto our roof in the time it took to sample a tajine.
We were given some hope of a return by the driver for our riad the next day, Mohammed, who declared emphatically and confidently that we had but to call the police and they would find and return it. The way he explained it, this type of thing happened all the time: a wallet or a camera was stolen, the police were informed, they knew who to speak to, and it would be returned.
I’m not quite sure how that was all supposed to unfold (summary beatings leading to confession? Or just an invitation to split the reward?), and I have yet to find out, as we left with the police still investigating.
We did manage to add a few more adventures to our trip, though: a hike up the nearby Jebel Zehroun mountain (which included a surprise discovery of a wild tortoise, a finger shaking Berber and a cuckooing cuckoo); a stop in the Mellah, the old Jewish quarter (more or less drained of Jews since the inception of Israel in 1947), with it’s ancient synagogue, mikvah and cemetary; the obligatory shopping for locally made ceramics.