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Index page | Casablanca | El Jedida | Oualidia | Safi | Essaouira | Marrakesh and back to Casa | Fes | Meknes, Volubilis, and Moulay Idriss | Ifrane and Mt. Ayachi, 3737 m. | Meknes and Tangier | Spain
Bobbi, Dusty, Glenn, and Vance in Morocco and Spain
MEKNES, VOLUBILIS, MOULAY IDRIS
Friday, June 23
We knew the train left that morning at 9:45 for Meknes, but I had to change some money at the huge Bank de Maghreb which blocked the view of the park out our hotel balcony window. I tried to get there as soon as it opened at 9:00, but once inside, I was faced with a series of bureacrats just waking up. I gave over my cash and secured a ticket for the caise, but there had to wait while the man inside counted his change for the day. Finally he finished putting rubber bands around each bundle of cash just so, and resignedly, he fumbled in the papers that had accumulated in his in-box. Mine was on top and I had my cash moments later, but it was by then 9:20 or so.
I raced back to the hotel and collected my family. I paid the bill as they trickled downstairs. We left our packs there, intending to return later in the day and get a grand taxi from Fes to Ifrane. This turned out to cause us aggravation later, since the most heavily traveled route to Ifrane it turned out was from Meknes. But we didn't know that at the time and so we locked ourselves into a trip back to our hotel at Fes.
We went outside on the main street to hail a cab, but we had to split up as usual. Dusty and I were about to take off in our cab when Bobbi and Glenn got out of theirs. Their driver, they said, didn't want to lose his place in the queue for a trip to the train station only a couple of blocks away. We decided to hoof it at that point. We arrived at the station to discover the train, on time for a change, had just left.
So we went to the buffet and had expresso and cafe au lait and delightful pastries, ten bucks for all four of us, and soaked up the shade from the parasols blocking the bright sunshine and enjoyed the view of the parking lot between the station and the new city of Fes.
From the parking lot grands taxis were departing and it was obvious that was how we were getting to Meknes, so once we had had our breakfast, we sauntered over and piled into one. An hour later we were driving through the modern part of Meknes. Studying the map, I asked the driver to let us out at a bridge that would head us into the old town about a kilometer away. According to the map, we would have to drive around the old town to arrive at the grands taxis stop, and from there we'd still have a similar walk to the old city. Since things tended to close at one, it would be better to get out early and try to reach the monuments as early as possible in the day.
We marched up a busy commercial street and asked directions at a turning, and without being hassled, we were straightforwardly pointed the way to the Bab El-Mansour, the main old gate outside the old medina of Meknes. We reached it at about 11:30. I had been there before, with Bill, who had parked his Mercedes nearby, and we had got out and had a look, back in 1974. There was nothing there that I recognized. There was a big open El-Hedim square opposite it with the entrances to the souk and old residential quarter branching off. We paused in the shade of a parasol and had fresh squeezed orange juice from one of the vendors there.
We then passed through the Bab El-Mansour and marched off in search of the Tombeau de Moulay Ismail. Moulay Ismail was one of the more colorful Moroccan sultans, whose notoriety put him on par with Ivan the Terrible. He seems to have been rather quick with his decisions to decapitate people at whim. When his architect had completed the Bab Mansour, he had asked him if it was his best work. Trick question! The architect was sure that given the right materials and more work experience, he could surpass this his more humble effort. Wrong answer. The architect's career ended rather abruptly at that point. We walked along the walls trying to discern the entrance to the mosque containing the great leader's last remains. But when we found it, because it was Friday, prayer time, we were told to come back at 15:00. We were propositioned outside the tomb for a caleche ride for $12 to the grannary and stables, but we felt that everything would have been closed by the time we arrived at these ancient sites, so we declined.
Instead we walked back into El-Hedim square and into the old souk area. We were blissfully left alone to wander at will, and people whom we asked for directions to the Bab El Khemis pointed the way without threatening to intrude. The Bab El Khemis was as imposing a structure as the Bab El-Mansour, but its main attraction to us was that this was where the grands taxis and buses left from. With Meknes shutting down for the afternoon, it was time to go off to the Roman ruins at Volubilis, 5 km from the religious center of Moulay Idriss.
We found the station and by 12:30 we had boarded a bus for Moulay Idriss. The bus was dilapidated and we sat in the growing heat while a stream of vendors passed through the bus, selling water and trinkets to the passengers. Finally at around one, the bus maneuvered its way out of the station, and by two we had finally arrived at the turning off the country road to Moulay Idriss. Here the bus stopped and we were given a choice to either get out and make our way to Volubilis from there or continue up the hill to the town at the top. We opted to get out and walk.
It was a pleasant day, sunny but not too hot, and our walk lay in the shade of the poplar trees lining the roadside. But we didn't have to walk, there was a taxi van parked in the shade and its tout explained that the ride to Volubilis was only 2 dirhams each, though that wasn't to Volubilis itself, only to the turning off the country road three kilometers away. So we road to the turning and by 14:30 we were walking down a lovely lane with the ruins visible before us. In the fine weather, it felt like Italy or Spain in summer.
The ruins themselves were fairly impressive. They date from around the time of Christ give or take a couple hundred years and were still inhabited in the 18th century when Moulay Ismail decided he could use the marble for his palaces in Meknes. We spent a couple of hours there popping from the shade of triumphal arches to the shade of columns, admiring the numerous mosaics left in sitio, and building up a thirst.
When we were finished with the ruins it was obvious that getting out of there was going to be a problem. There were some tour buses in the parking lot, but the only taxi there had been hired by someone else. The driver said he would come back for us (he didn't) and we decided rather than stay in one spot we would walk back up the access road to the main road. We arrived there at about a quarter to four and sat in the shade opposite a shop whose owner came out and told us that a bus would come in ten minutes. Meanwhile someone else came from the shop and started making small talk with us, showing off the number of languages he could speak, and delighted that his Spanish was better than ours. He was starting to become tedious to talk to when it developed that his agenda was actually to get us to come across the road to his shop and await the bus there (on the wrong side of the road). Just looking, of course. Meanwhile, twenty minutes had gone by and others had appeared and begun walking toward Moulay Idriss, casting doubt on the shopkeeper's claim that there would be a bus. A share taxi arrived, but at a word from the shopowner, pulled away without us. The shopkeeper explained that the taxi would have cost 2 dirhams each just to take us to Moulay Idriss, and the bus would be 7 dirhams all the way to Meknes. By his reasoning he'd saved us two dirhams each.
A little fed up, an no bus in sight, we started hiking toward Moulay Idriss. Just then a truck appeared with 20 people standing in it. It stopped and we piled aboard. It was one of those scenes, sun shining down on 20 friendly faces of people all standing in the back of a truck, most immediately those of my family. Spirits rose, and the situation was so ludicrous we were all smiles. At the turning for Moulay Idriss the bus headed up the hill and we stayed aboard. Someone had told us we would find grands taxis up the hill. But short of our goal, everyone got out when the driver stopped for gas.
I got a friendly faced character whose body I'd been pressed against on the ride up to show us how to find the grand mosque, the point of pilgrimage to this town. He seemed to try to explain and then indicated he would show us but in all innocence he delivered us over to a faux guide. The guide told us this was a holy town and it was necessary for foreigners to have guides there. We told him we'd just go on without him till we were stopped, and we got him to point the way. Then we headed out on our own.
We followed the pedestrian traffic till we were stopped by a sign saying "interdit au non Muslims." We headed into the souk area, following someone who pointed us to a terrace. He was speaking in German, so finally I told him in Arabic I didn't understand a word he was saying (not true) and he left us alone. We had the idea though that we were to find a terrace overlooking the town, so we made our way up the steeper streets. In the alleyways, residents would head us off if we went wrong, and point us up the stairs till we came across the terrace. Coming back down, same thing happened. As soon as we veered off the main path, a resident would appear and point us the right way. No one tried to attach themselves to us, but the people there did seem to have an idea of where foreigners should and shouldn't go.
It was almost five when we got back down to street level at the top of the hill on which Moulay Idriss perched. I stopped at a phone kiosk and tried to call Pete in Ifrane, but there was no answer. We were supposed to go there that evening, and it was then about the time he would be looking for us, but obviously we had a long way to go to find our way back to Meknes, return to Fes for our bags, and then make our way up to Ifrane. In the center of Moulay Idriss we found grands taxis without difficulty, costing just 7 dhms each into Meknes, and we shared the cab with two other riders. It was a pleasant trip back down the winding country roads, but when the taxi reached Meknes, it stopped at the outskirts. We tried to negotiate for a grand taxi to take us from there to Fes but we were told 300 dirhams for the cab, an inflated price since that was not the normal stop for grands taxis from Meknes to Fes. The system of transport was grands taxis on the hghways and petits taxis in town, and we had to split up again and take two petite taxis to Bab al Khamis, 10 dihms each, which was where I assumed the grands taxis for Fes departed from.
This assumption was possibly incorrect. Recall that in the morning, we had left the grand taxi from Fes before it had arrived at its destination because I had wanted to walk to the town center from the bridge rather than from a point on the map near the Bab Al-Khamis marked grands taxis. Now, back at the Bab Al-Khamis in late afternoon, we fell into hands of an arranger of taxi rides who took charge of our journey. He put us in a taxi and told us the price would be 250. I said, wait a minute, we came here in the morning for just 16 dirhams each. He said that this was not the grand taxi stand for Fes and that it would not be possible for us to go 'collectif' from there, that it would cost us 250 for the taxi, special. Even though he eventually came down to 200 we walked off in frustration, since attempts to negotiate with others drivers were interfered with by the man who thought he owned us, and who was now telling the other drivers to stay out of it.
Not quite sure what to do, we decided to put some distance between us and our self-appointed handler. And in fact, across the street our luck was different. We found another taxi rank and discussed our predicament withthe drivers there. There were no taxis going to Fez at that point but one of the drivers offered to lay one on.for 16 dhims a person, the normal fare. So we got in and waited while the driver called out Fes, Fes. But this wasn't the place for Fes taxis so not surprisingly there were no other takers. So after a few minutes I offered to pay for the other 2 empty seats, and we set off for Fes in a taxi that cost me 96 dirhams for all 6 places. It was almost seven when we arrived in Fes. Since we'd seen at the taxi stop in Meknes grands taxis filling up for Ifrane, we were wishing we'd carted our bags to Meknes, though in this case we'd have had a problem with storing them. As the driver pulled into the grands taxis station at Fes near where we'd had our breakfast that morning, I asked him if there were taxis from there to Ifrane He said it would be possible to hire a driver, but we would have to pay the fare there and back, maybe 400 dirhams. This was the price from the train station, but I suspected there might be another grands taxis station dedicated to Ifrane traffic. On the way back to the hotel I manage to get through to Pete who confirmed this. But Pete thought it would be too late to get a taxi that night, and he assumed we might have to come up in the morning. He had arranged a hike for the next day and he figured if I left early enough I could make it at about the time he and his friends were planning to leave. I was determined to try for it that night. We continued on to the Amor Hotel and got our bags. Familiar with the routine by nw, we got two petits taxis to take us to the grands taxis station at Place de l'Atlas for 5 dhms each. As we had arrived before sundown, there were still drivers there and one agreed to take us to Ifrane for 150. We agreed, and we were in Ifrane at 9:00 that night.
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