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We are now in Africa! Morocco

November 7th, 2023

Morocco, officially the Kingdom of Morocco, is a country in North Africa. It overlooks the Mediterranean Sea to the north and the Atlantic Ocean to the west, and has land borders with Algeria to the east and the disputed territory of Western Sahara to the south. Morocco also claims the Spanish exclaves of Cueta, Melilla and Peñon de Velez de la Gomera, and several small Spanish controlled islands off its coast.

Its official and predominant religion is Islam, and the official languages are Arabic and Berber; French and the Moroccan dialect of Arabic are also widely spoken. Moroccan identity and culture is a mix of Arab, Berber, African and European cultures. Its capital is Rabat, while its largest city is Casablanca.   It is approximately the size of the state of California. 

The region constituting Morocco has been inhabited since over 300,000 years ago, and the first Moroccan state was established by Idris I in 788. It was subsequently ruled by a series of independent dynasties, reaching its zenith as a power in the 11th and 12th centuries, when it controlled most of the Iberian Peninsula and the Maghreb.  Centuries of Arab migration to the Maghreb since the 7th century shifted the demographic scope of Morocco. In the 15th and 16th centuries, Morocco faced external threats to its sovereignty with Portugal seizing some territory and the Ottoman Empire encroaching from the east. Morocco was the only North African nation to escape Ottoman dominion. The ‘Alawi dynasty’, which rules the country to this day, seized power in 1631, and over the next two centuries expanded diplomatic and commercial relations with the Western World. Morocco’s strategic location near the mouth of the Mediterranean drew renewed European interest; in 1912, France and Spain divided the country into respective protectorates, reserving an international zone in Tangier. Following intermittent riots and revolts against colonial rule, in 1956, Morocco regained its independence and reunified.

Since independence, Morocco has remained relatively stable. It has the 5th largest economy in Africa and wields significant influence in both Africa and the Arab world. Morocco is a unitary semi-constitutional monarchy with an elected parliament. The executive branch is led by the king and the prime minister, while legislative power is vested in the two chambers of parliament: the House of Representatives and the  House of Councilors. The king holds vast executive and legislative powers, especially over the military, foreign policy and religious affairs; he can issue decrees, which have the force of law, and can also dissolve the parliament after consulting the prime minister and the president of the constitutional court.

Morocco claims ownership of the non-self-governing territory of Western Sahara, which it has designated its Southern Provinces. In 1975, after Spain agreed to decolonize the territory and cede its control to Morocco and Mauritania, a guerrilla war broke out between those powers and some of the local inhabitants. In 1979, Mauritania relinquished its claim to the area, but the war continued to rage. In 1991, a ceasefire agreement was reached, but the issue of sovereignty remained unresolved. Today, Morocco occupies two-thirds of the territory, and efforts to resolve the dispute have thus far failed to break the political deadlock.

The Moroccan flag has a red field with a green pentagram in the centre. The green star represents the five pillars of Islam, and the red represents the blood of the ancestors and unity.

 Currency: The Dirham – about $0.10 US and $0.13 CDN

Diesel price: 14 DH – about $5.26 USD a gallon

License Plate:      (non EU obviously)

Beer is very hard to find – in special shops only: Casablanca, Stork and Flag although Heineken is the most popular – remember it’s a Muslim country!

While boarding the ferry from Spain to African Spain, we saw that the other motorhome on board that was from Nova Scotia!  They boarded right after us and were parked beside us.  We all went upstairs together and spent the journey chatting.  Jeff and Stuart had shipped their vehicle to Europe in the spring, went home for the summer and came back early last month.  They want to spend the winter somewhere warm like us.  It was fun to compare challenges and chat about our journeys.  We are travelling in different directions through the country so our paths may not meet.

The hour flew by quite quickly and we said our farewells only to meet up again at Moroccan customs 5km down the road.

Getting out of Spain took just a few minutes and by 11:33 we were at Moroccan immigration in a line up for about 20 minutes before getting stamped in.  When they give you a visa in Morocco you also receive a “Moroccan ID number” which they hand write above the stamp in your passport.  (We learned that when we check into a campground or hotel, they not only want your passport but this number as well.) Then customs took about a half hour.  They took our vehicle paperwork to the office, then inspected the rig, brought in a dog and then gave us our “white card” and we were on our way.  That entire process took about 50 minutes in total.  While we have a visa for 90 days, our vehicle can stay up to 180 days.  This works great for us as we will go to Canada for Christmas, return for a couple  of days, and they fly to various place over January and February.

First things on our agenda were cash and sim cards.  We stopped in the small city of Fnideq for both.  We were headed to free parking lot Fran found on our mapping app but it was full but across the street was a pay lot with plenty of room beside the Mosque.

chickens need water too!

We had lost our Spanish cell service a couple of km into Morocco and were on our own looking for these but after asking people, we found both; Fran went into the sim card shop (Maroc Telecom) and Doug went to find cash as she was in a line to get service.  The first bank didn’t pan out: machine was down but then someone helped him find another and it worked.  He joined her in the phone store and a few minutes later we were served and got two sim cards (we needed our passports and Moroccan ID) but were told we had to charge them elsewhere.  We went to a guy on the street whom we’d spoken to earlier but, “no, he didn’t do that company” so a man nearby heard what was going on and took us to a phone store.  He spoke Spanish as did the store clerk, so all was good.  We each got 30GB for less than €30 and each got a bonus 15 GB on top of that.  The fellow set them up and we were on our way.   That was very kind of that stranger and he didn’t even want a “tip”.

We bought some nice fresh dates at a street stall on our way back to Minou and picked up some bread for dinner.  After paying for the parking (less than fifty cents for that hour or so) we left the village.

About one minute after we began driving we could hear someone KNOCKING on the back wall of the motorhome!!! WTH!?!  Doug looked out the side window and could see nothing and then it happened again!  Then Doug saw a young man who looked like he just jumped off our back end!  We could see from the rear camera that the bike rack was down so he must have been hanging on to that as there is very little bumper back there to stand on.  That was SO strange!   When we stopped we checked and all seem fine, it was just undone on one side and easy to click back into place. (Late we saw one of the small clips was actually broken but it’s not a big deal.)

Fran had found a wild camp in a beach parking lot about 3km south of the town and we figured that was far enough for such a busy day.  There was a nice boardwalk and of course, we had to check out the beach.

The sky was blue, the sun was warm and the beach was quite nice and super long.  The parking lot was quite large and virtually empty.  All around were a couple of men landscaping and dozens of women edging, finishing up and cleaning up after them.

We had brunch and then took a walk along the beach and of course, as per usual, Fran had to dip her feet in.

And then we returned to Minou to do some more trip planning for next year.  We have booked 3 of the many flights we need and booked our stay in the Maldives.  That was enough for one afternoon as booking online while it sounds easy, can be frustrating when you are dealing with other countries currency and airlines.  Sometimes it takes three tries, sometimes the credit card gets rejected and we have to confirm with our credit card company that, “yes, that was us” and we do it ALL over again including imputing names, passports info and the extras you need to pay for.  Yes, these are first world problems, right?

We had a pretty quiet night for our first night in Morocco and awoke to a lovely sunrise over the sea:

and left our spot after our morning routine.  We had hoped to use the nearby bathrooms to dump  our cassette but they were locked. We carried on south stopping for diesel (at 14.18DH) and we asked about using their bathroom for dumping and they agreed.  They were squat toilets so easy to use and clean any splatter.

Views on the drive:

So far the country is very clean and the landscaping is being maintained.  Much  of the main road has been lined with palm trees.  Most of the buildings are white, some with blue trim, some with green.   We did encounter large sections of road work but no real delays.  We continue to see mountains and begin to see olive trees.

It should be noted that so far in Morocco, we are finding that many people understand and speak some Spanish or French and a few English.

We then stopped for groceries at a large Carrefour before moving on looking for mechanics.  We’ve been making a list of a few minor items that we wanted taken care of thinking Morocco would be less expensive than in the EU.  First place didn’t pan out – there was no mechanic at the coordinates given on iOverlander.  A fellow said many have come looking for Ayoub but he’s either been gone a long time (the post was from 2019) or the coordinates are wrong.

A views along the drive past a reservoir:

We stopped for brunch in a parking area on the side of the highway and after several stretches of road work, we saw a car wash with the possibility of an oil change – two more things on the list.  After a lot of Google Translate to Arabic, Doug managed to get a price for both and those items were taken care of (except the lubing part).

Here, Fran put on our Morocco sticker on our map of Europe – we’re almost full now: (note the countries on the left are unsafe at this time like Russia, Ukraine etc. so we won’t be getting a chance to travel them this time around):

It was now after 3pm and we thought we should just get a spot for the night.  It had reached about 22 C / 73F today and now it was cooling off already.  Fran found a wild camp about 7km / 4mi away and we drove there.  It was an empty and large spot just inside what is deemed a nature reserve.  After parking, Doug met a young man outside and between Spanish, French, English and hand gestures, it seems this fellow was growing his own hash and it was “really good” – we’d read that the locals will try and sell you such so it actually happened to us!  It is, however, illegal in Morocco.

By dark, there were three more vehicles parked here with us so we weren’t alone but no one was noisy.  It cooled down some more but it never got too cold inside Minou that night but it was chilly first thing in the morning.

After exercise, tea and showers we headed into the city of  Chefchaouen to find a mechanic/body shop.   The place we had in mind, we did find with a local’s help; we were just a tad away from it and it had no sign.  The fellow there did not speak English but with Google Translate, Doug managed to communicate what we were looking for and he put us in touch with a young man who speaks good English and he took us to a place to get the bumper work done.  Yasim found us a contact to fix a curtain problem so that fellow took that way, and said he’d take us to a taillight guy tomorrow.  We left Minou in his hands and he drove us to the edge of the old city to spend a few hours wandering and seeing the sights.

Chefchaouen is known as the “blue city” – it’s not certain why it’s so blue; some say the Jews began painting buildings blue to defy the Nazis; some say it’s to fend off mosquitoes and other says it’s for the colour of the sea. There are a lot of cats here too, like in Greece and Turkey.

We find here in this city, many more people speak English, Spanish, French and more.  Yasim himself speaks many languages.

We walked into the city via an old city gate called Bab El Ain and then made it to a main square called Place Outa El Hamam where we found a place to have some lunch; many of the restaurants here have English menus (it’s much more touristy that we expected here but we could see why).  We picked a spot and filled our bellies.  We were sitting across from the Grand Mosque and The Kasbah.

We’d never been in a “Kasbah” before so off we went to explore that.  A kasbah is a citadel and this was not that big but interesting with a lovely garden, a former prison and a Portuguese Tower which we went up to see the views which were amazing over the blue city.

So now you can sing along with the Clash:

Sharif don’t like it,

Rocking the Casbah, rock the casbah

Sharif don’t like it,

Rocking the Casbah, rock the casbah

So many lovely little “blue alleyways”:

Olive Tree Street:

The outside of a little art gallery with a restaurant with pretty doors:

The then “three blue doors”:

It’s really a pretty and peaceful city to walk around; all the blue just makes you feel calm and relaxed.  We ended up climbing up, up and up to the top gate called Bab El Marhouk and here we could see the city walls.

The last spot was another pretty plaza called Place El Haouta:

It’s now about 2:45 and we’ve not heard from our “new friend”, and Doug needed a barber, so Fran walked back on her own and he found one.  Minou was inside the garage now and the bumper work was being completed and even though they’d already taped up the entire outside of the rig to paint it, they opened up a section so Fran could get inside so she could get some things done while we waited for them to finish – they let us plug in too.  Doug arrived about an hour later and the bumper work with new paint was done by the end of the afternoon (forgot to take photos while they were working.)

When they were done we had shiny bumpers all around the coach:

The workers allowed us to stay parked inside for the night.  It seems here in Morocco they don’t work after dark and they returned around ten the next morning.  They finished up the work under the hood where we wanted the rust spot removed and doing the lubing that we didn’t get done with the oil change and then we had to move Minou outside but they continued to let us stay hooked up to power.

Today they started checking the brakes and while doing that found a few loose brackets holding up the axle so they went to get those parts.  The curtain has not returned as yet and the tail light guy did not pan out so he’s reaching out to someone else.  One issue we have is the driver’s seatbelt; it’s frayed in one spot and although it passed the French inspection, we were told it would not next time  (we think the guy may have missed it in the pre inspection).  The curtain guy offered to “patch” it up but we fear that won’t pass muster, so they while they are looking for the brackets for the axle, they’ll look for a seatbelt and we’d like the antenna repaired as well as the outer coating is quite deteriorated.  (Much of this work is for getting it ready to sell next year.) We will probably be here another night.  The list is getting shorter and we hope it gets done by tomorrow night so we don’t have to hang around till Monday but, really, we are not in a big rush at this point so getting it all done would be nice.

Seabelt before and after:

So that night we had quite the drama!  We were parked outside the garage tonight but still plugged in.  We went to bed around 10:15 and less than a half hour later, the cops showed up.  Doug went to the door and they told us we could not “camp” here.  He tried to explain (they spoke a  little English and we claimed to speak no French) we were not “camped” but just parked as we were having work done at this garage.  It took a few minutes but they left and then returned with an English speaking officer.  Doug again explained the situation and they said they’d call their supervisor.  They came back to the door and said, “no we could not stay here, it was illegal and dangerous – lots of crime in this area” (contrary to what Yasim told us).  They asked for and took Doug’s passport insisted and insisted and finally made us unplug (we were hoping the extension would still be there come morning as we cannot get to that end with the doors clocked up)  and they made us follow them to the only campground in town and it would only cost 10DH ($1USD) and he’d pay?!?!?

So we prepped the rig, and followed them about 3km to the Camp Azilan.  There was a night guard there and he told us 95DH so Doug was surprised and told the officer “you said you’d pay” and he said no.  We told the guard that was too much because it was nearly midnight and we’d have to leave in the early morning to get back to the garage (keep in mind we are driving with no tail lights).  He offered us a “good price” of 50DH without power and then he wanted passports as well to check us in.  The police left and we settled back in again.  Fifteen minutes later the guard knocks on our door saying we have to move, we are not in a proper spot!  Doug says no and we’ll move in the morning.  Then he left us alone to get what little sleep the night would bring.

Neither of us slept great or enough, of course, but we did take advantage of being in a campground in the morning.  Doug dumped our cassette, checked for the showers (they were locked) so we showered in Minou and then filled up and after we were ready, drove over to the grey dump and got rid of that.  So we got something for our $5.

We drove back to the body shop and fortunately our big extension cord was still there so we plugged back in and waited until ten for the workers to show up.  Nothing happened until Yasim arrived of course which was a half hour later.  He told us we’d have to move his garage (he doesn’t own the body shop place) and there the rear brakes could be checked (the front were fine).  Fran went for a walk back into town again as yesterday she’d stayed in Minou doing website stuff pretty much all day since we had power.

So today, the curtain was returned but what he’d done didn’t work so he had to redo it and it wasn’t what we’d initially wanted but it will work and it’s well sewn.  Doug gave the same guy our backpacks to do a bit of repair; he couldn’t fix Doug’s but he could do Fran’s.

When Doug picked up the taillights he was very frustrated; all they did was tape them up!  They did not remake the broken glass like they had done in Turkey.  They told him that he didn’t have to pay but they had done a better job than he had so he did give them something but that was very frustrating.

Then the saga of the rear brakes began; they did need replacing but Yasim did not have the right pads but they went to a place (it was a house) that would have them.  Doug was skeptical but it turned out they were going to “make” them.   Yasim’s shop was down a bad road so rather then go there, Minou was parked on the side of the road and they did the work there.

Fran returned from her walk around two and they had not even begun the work as yet.  About a half hour later, the new pads arrived.  Yashim showed them to us and then began to work at installing them.

In most countries this would be an hour’s work at most.  By 5:40 when the sun went behind the mountains it still was not complete. Seems the brake pads were a bit too big and they were sanding them down to make them fit – slow work that is!  At times, Yasim was alone working and other times there were 2 or 3 others helping.  They were finally done around 7:30 and then we had to go pick up the backpack from the handyman.  It was ready.

Now the payment had to be made.  Doug had recorded the prices he’d been quoted and asked for the prices of the parts Yasim had purchased.  The bodywork quote had included doing chip repair and painting the hood but we’d decided not to do that and it was like pulling teeth explaining to Yasim that that amount had to be deducted from the quote.

Then the axle bracket job was a discussion; trying to get him to give a price for the brake work labour was even worse.  Finally, Doug added up the prices he’d been quoted, the parts and deducted what he’d already given him and came up with a total which turned out to be unsatisfactory to Yasim so he jacked it up some and paid him.  We paid about $700 for all that work in the end but it was a frustrating endeavour overall.

By now it’s about 8:30 pm – WAY later than we like to get parked for the night so rather than pay at the campground again or risk the police making us move there, we went back to the wild camp outside town we’d stayed at Thursday night.  There was one large unimog there and we parked in the exact same level spot as last week.

We ate a late dinner and went to bed before 10:30.

Note:  Fran seems to finally be over her cough from the cold she got before leaving Greece!  It always takes so long when it gets into her chest.

So finally on Sunday the 12th, we left Chefchaouen.  After exercising and have tea, we made our way down the scenic RN2 highway along the Rif Mountains.  The entire drive is 210 km but after reading the description we opted to do just over half of it turning south towards Fez.

The route was beautiful passing through olive groves, then lots of varieties of oak trees and finally at 1700m / 5578’ we reached cedar forests.

The locals love to wave and will wave back with a smile when you wave at them.  Many times, they gesture with a smoking or rolling gesture which we now know after being approached they are trying to sell us hashish.  This happened a lot along this route.

There is also a great deal of garbage on the side of the roads unlike what we saw in the first 100 km / 60 mi of the border.    Donkeys too are a frequent mode of transport of not only goods but people.  It’s the end of olive harvesting season here so often, we saw women with baskets on their backs carrying long sticks for beating the branches.  The donkeys would be carrying two baskets.

We turned off the RN2 at Issaguen and passed through the village of Ketama which was apparently quite lawless in its day and we read that we should not drive through this area at night; no problem for us.

What also happened six times was police check points but only at one did we not get waved through; the officer just asked where we were going.

We had a few wild camps in mind for the night after doing much of the drive to Fez.  The first did not pan out; there were large branches across two access points but the second was good.  It was a turn off from the highway (probably actually the old highway) but sections has been washed away so there were detours to get to the point.  It’s in the middle of large fields and when we parked there was a workers truck down below and we all waved at each other.  Twenty minutes later two boys showed up and one actually spoke some English.  We gave them Canada Pins and Doug made them balloon animals and took polaroid photos for them.  After that a bunch more came out of the woodwork.

For about an hour after Doug did the above we had kids coming back because they broke their balloons or bringing other kids and at one point, we just had to tell them, that’s  enough, no seconds and no more kids; but boy, were they persistent!  At one point an older man came by yelling at them and we think he was scolding them but it seemed like a game to them and it took a long time for them to leave and even after that a few more came back and we just kept saying goodbye in English, Spanish and French because some of the kids could  understand those languages but they were hard to get rid of.  Sad but really, we’d had enough and out of all those kids, only one said thank you in any language.

We passed through one small tunnel today.

Next morning we left at a reasonable hour and drove the remaining 30 km / 20 mi to a large parking lot we’d found on iOverlander and park4night on the outskirts of the old part of Fez. Enroute we saw our first camels – about a dozen (although later today we learned they are one humped so they are dromedaries) and then an equal number of the large black and white storks we saw back in eastern Europe.

This parking lot charges 50dh ($5USD) and you can park all day and overnight.  It sure wasn’t pretty but the location was just about perfect – in about 500 m /1670’ you are inside the Fez el Bali.

Our plan today was to join one of those free walking tours since we knew where a couple of them started from and they all seem to start at ten.

Fez (Fes in French), is a city in northern inland Morocco and the second largest city in the country. Located to the northeast of the Atlas Mountains, it is surrounded by hills and the old city is centered around the Fez River (aka Oued Fes) flowing from west to east.

Fez was founded during the 8th–9th centuries. It initially consisted of two autonomous and competing settlements. Successive waves of mainly Arab immigrants from Tunisia and Spain in the early 9th century gave the city its Arab character. After the downfall of the Idrisid dynasty, other empires came and went until the 11th century when the two settlements were united into what is today’s Fez el-Bali quarter (a.k.a. Medina of Fez). Under Almoravid rule, the city gained a reputation for religious scholarship and mercantile activity.

Fez reached its zenith in the 13th-15th centuries, regaining its status as political capital. Numerous new madrasas (colleges) and mosques were constructed, many of which survive today, while other structures were restored. These buildings are counted among the hallmarks of Moorish and Moroccan architectural styles. In 1276 the Marinid sultan also founded the royal administrative district of Fes Jdid, where the Royal Palace is still located today. During this period the Jewish population of the city grew and the Jewish quarter (the Mellah) was formed on the south side of this new district. After the overthrow of the Marinid dynasty, Fez declined and subsequently competed with Marrakech for political and cultural influence. It became the capital again under the ‘Alawi” dynasty up until 1912.

Today, the city consists of two old medina quarters, Fes el-Bali and Fes Jdid, and the much larger modern urban Ville Nouvelle area founded during the French colonial era. The medina of Fez is listed as a UNESCO site and is one of the world’s largest and oldest urban pedestrian zones (aka the worldest largest maze!). It contains the University of al-Qarawiyyin which was founded in 857 and is considered by some to be the oldest continuously functioning institute of higher education in the world. It also contains the Chouara Tannery from the 11th century, one of the oldest tanneries in the world and the largest on the continent.

The city has been called the “Mecca of the West” and the “Athens of Africa. It is also considered the spiritual and cultural capital of Morocco.

Upon parking just after nine, Doug went over to a laundry just a little inside the city to see find out if we dropped our laundry right now, would we get it back today and we could so we packed it all up, sheets and all, and took it over.  While waiting for the free tour, Doug got chatting with a guide and for $10 each, we could join his private English tour at ten and there would only be a total of seven people.  He also had audio headsets so it would be easier to hear him in the crowds.   There were two young ladies from Malaysia, a man from Germany and two young people from the US in this group.

This turned out to be well worth it as we saw tours where the guide had to yell to be heard and the groups were much larger.

Abdoul took us around the Medina for three and a quarter hours and we learned so much but, not too much, about the life inside this quarter.

  • It was like a walk back in time to the 9th century as we went lower down into the maze
  • There are 9000 streets in this 3 square kilometre area – but keep in mind that many streets change names as you pass through tunnels and archways.
  • When walking around there are street signs everywhere and there’s a trick to know if you want to head down them; a square sign means a through street and a hexagonal sign means dead end.
  • Many of the buildings/home don’t look like much on the outside as in their culture, the outside is not part of your home so the inside is where the decoration and ornateness comes in. You can tell you rich a family is by the type of door they have.
  • The large rich homes often have two doors; the main door which is fancy and used to have two door knockers; and a minor door, maybe around the corner, called the “husband door” which he would use if he wife was entertaining her lady friends so he could enter without seeing them as they would be relaxed and not be wearing all their required veils etc.
  • The two door knockers were set up like this: the smaller one made a low sounding knock so that the people inside would know that it was someone they knew at the door and the woman could answer the door; the larger one made a more booming sound and it would be used by delivery people etc and the woman of the house would not open the door only speak through the door if there was no man around to let someone in.
  • In this same vein, many of the houses had “hareem” windows – that looked like half a barrel sticking out the wall covering a window. It had slits in it so the women could see out but no one could see them.  This way she could watch the world go by (sad).  Also this hareem sometimes had a hole in the bottom if located near the front door.  If someone came to the door below that she wanted to allow in, she would drop the key attached to a rope down the visitor, they would open the door, and she would pull the key back up.
  • Many guest houses are called “riad” which means “garden” and they will have a swimming pool on the premises; if the guest house does not have a pool, it’s called a “dar”.

  • When the city began, they devised a way to get water into the city and waste out using one of the two rivers that run through the city to obtain water and the other was used to get rid of waste. This system continues to this day.   This is the exiting river at the lowest point of the city.
  • When the buildings were constructed, of course, there was no steel, so wooden beams were used to add more floors. Many of these are visible and in rough shape.  Since Fez became a UNESCO site in 1981, continuous restoration has been taking place and will probably be ongoing forever.  Buildings cannot be torn to the foundations, only repaired and stabilized as best they can.  If a building falls or becomes beyond repaired, it is taken away by the city and a new square is made.
  • The university in Fez is the oldest in the world (857) and still operates today although only teaching languages and religion.

We walked through several markets (souks) and foundouks – the latter are places where the traders would come back in the day, store they horses/camels, sell their goods and sleep upstairs.  Today they are fancy indoor craftsmen markets and many have been renovated to look as they did with nice woodwork and decoration.

We went through various sections of the souks: the wedding area, the jewelry area, the metal area, the sweets sections and more.  It just goes on and on and on!

One quick stop was the dyeing of silk (from the agave plant) at one of the old fountains:

Agave silk is a popular vegetable silk fabric.  The fabric is made from agave fiber which are extracted from the agave cactus.  It has an aesthetic very similar to real silk.

At about the 2.5 hour mark, we arrived at the Chouara tanneries – these were used in a challenged on The Amazing Race Season 3.  This was one of the highlights of the tour.   The tanneries in Fez began during the 11th century and this particular one started in the 14th and continues to this day and is the largest in Africa.

You are taken by a tannery guide into the site, up a few flights of stairs to a viewing platform where you can watch the action in the dyeing pits.  The dyes come from flowers and all natural.  The process of dyeing takes two months in total.

The first step is washing the skins in the white pools which contain limestone and pigeon poop!  The price of pigeon poop is 200dh ($20 USD) for one kilo!

After this of course, they take you through the various rooms of goods to see if you want to buy something.  Two young ladies on our tour had just come from Marrakesh and they told us the prices there are one quarter what they are here but could not attest to whether the quality was similar.

Here at these tanneries they use sheep, goat and dromedary skins with the underbelly skin of the latter being the finest and softest.    We were told if you want to take care of this type of leather, every six months you should rub baby oil on it with a sponge then iron it under a towel.

They showed us a little “trick” to tell if the leather is good quality or not: put a lit lighter up against it and it shouldn’t leave a mark.  (?)

After the tour ended just before 1:30, we went to find lunch.  We ended up at a little  Moroccan place with only four little tables right on the main souk drag, and had a few items including Moroccan pancakes, that came with mint tea.

Then we decided to just walk the maze getting lost on our own.  We wanted to find some local sweets and then just wander taking it all in.  At one point Fran saw some nice men’s belt and Doug had one fitted to him all for about $10 USD.  He looked at hats in another couple of shops but  nothing fit right – we’ll check in Marrakesh.

We found our sweets and then went to check on the laundry that wasn’t supposed to be ready until 6 but at 3:15 it was ready but we were a little shocked by the price – we had forgotten to ask so it was what it was.  Seems everything was washed, dried, pressed and folded – so maybe it was all dry cleaned?

We returned to Minou and spent the time making our beds back up before sitting down to do some Middle East planning.  We got through two countries before we’d had enough – not flights but just planning how many days we needed.

It was now 6ish and we locked Minou back up and walked back into the city to a restaurant just inside the walls with a roof top terrace for dinner.

Here we met a couple of men; one from Spain and one from Italy who have been friends for years and were travelling together to explore Morocco.  We each ordered a cous cous dinner and chatted with them while eating (and feeding a stray cat) and had a pleasant evening during which we saw the sun set over the fort.

Surprisingly we had a pretty good night in the parking lot and next morning after exercise, we left around the time our 24 hours was up.  We drove up to the tomb ruins to get some city views and before driving around the city to the other side on our way to find a grocery store.  Here we could see the city walls continuing and get a better view of the city without the sun in our eyes.

The first Carrefour we came to had no outdoor parking as it was in a big mall so we continued to the second one and it was a stand-alone store so that worked and we managed to pretty much get what we wanted/needed (we have been looking for broccoli since arriving in Morocco but cannot never find it – fresh mushrooms seem to be an issue too).

Then we drove into the “ville nouvelle” part of Fez to a campground for a night – at $12.50 with power and hot showers, it seemed like a good deal.  We got parked before noon, had brekkie and then began to continue with our planning.  We got the four countries sorted out with a list of sites and a loose itinerary and then Doug got online to begin looking at flights.

The weather has been pretty warm here in Fez but by no means unbearable and at night it cools off enough to sleep comfortably.  The sun shines all the time and life is good!

No checkpoints today.