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Photo by Josephine Flohr, Elephant at Camp, Namibia

I haven't been everywhere...
but it's on my list!


Photo by Josephine Flohr,
Elephant at Camp, Namibia



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  #481  
Old 12 Mar 2015
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We left Chefchaouen feeling very optimistic about our tour through Morocco. It was such a great introduction to a country that is so rich with culture that we were both excited to see what lay before us. This sense of elation was not to last.

Our continuing journey from Chefchaouen south to Fes was an unremarkable 3 hour ride through green fields dotted with farms and the occasional town. We pre-booked accommodations on the Internet and because our riad was located in the medina (old town), and all of our research indicated that finding these places were very hard to find, I made sure to arm myself with as many maps and GPS co-ordinates as I could find online.

Upon reaching the ourskirts of Fes, a motorcyclist pulled up beside me and struck up a conversation. Normally, I am very friendly, especially with a fellow rider, but my guard was up after reading so many stories of the hustlers in big cities. He made some small talk, and I just nodded. Then he asked me if I had accommodations booked already. There it was: he was commissioned to bring tourists to the hotels. Wow, these hustlers really grab their marks early - we were over 5 kms away from the medina!

I told him very clearly we had accommodations booked. Then he asked us where we were staying. Uh-uh, no way I'm telling you! I shook my head at him and sped off. Neda followed, and then our moto-hustler kept pace behind us through traffic. I stared at him in my rear-view mirror in confusion. What did he want? We weren't going to his hotel. What monetary gain would he have in continuing to follow us?!? I radioed Neda that I was going to pull over until our Klingon rode away. He stopped right beside us and continued to try to make small talk. I told him to go away and stared at him in silence for over a minute until he gave up and rode off. Unbelievable. I still couldn't figure out what his game was. But we were going to find out very soon...

This wasn't the last of our moto-hustler. Our friend was keeping pace with us *in front of us*, slowing when we slowed, speeding up when we caught up to him. He knew we were headed to the medina and it was obvious he was determined to find out where we were staying. There was nothing I could do about it, I didn't want to delay our arrival any more.

We pulled into the large parking area where I thought our riad was located. It was littered with moto-taxis waiting for fares emerging from the medina. I looked around and couldn't find our place. I approached one of the taxi riders to ask for directions and he told me to get in and he would take me to the riad. I declined. All the maps said it was right here. Neda heard the exchange over the radio and told me, "Why did you even bother asking, they're just after our money".

I knocked on one of the other riads and someone came out to give me directions to our place. It was right next door! The problem was that we had come up on the back-entrance where the parking lot was and the gates were unmarked. Gah!!!! So much unnecessary hassle and annoyance and irritation.

Our host came out to lead our bikes into the parking lot and then helped us carry our soft bags into the courtyard.

Before we could even take off our helmets, he announced: "You are welcome! Would you like some mint tea?"

Wait, wait... I know the answer to this question!


The medina in Fes is a true labyrinth! This is one of the better marked signs...

As we got settled in, our host informed us that we had a visitor. Strange? Who else knows we're here? A tour guide introduced himself to us and tried to sell us a guided tour of Fes. We thanked him and told him no. Undeterred, he told us that Fes was the worst city in Morocco to navigate and it was impossible to find our way around the medina by ourselves. He made it very clear that a guide was the only way to see the old city. We were unconvinced. The tour was too expensive for us so we declined once again. He sold hard, but we stood our ground and he left empty-handed.

Our host overheard this exchange and asked us if we knew the tour guide. We shook our heads. Our host told us that the guide had knocked on the front door and told him that two motorcyclists from Canada had asked for him personally. He described us to the host and based on that, he was let in.

I now know why the moto-hustler had followed us to our hotel. He was also paid commission by tour guides for informing them of when new tourists came into Fes, what they looked like, what they were riding/driving, etc, so they could gain entrance into the riads or hostels where they were staying. Our host was very angry that he was deceived. I'm guessing partly because the hotel had their own tour guides that they got commission for!

We hadn't even stepped foot outside in the city and I was not liking Fes very much already.

That evening, Neda and I huddled together in our room feeling very discouraged and dejected. We had experienced aggressive hustling before in Cuba and didn't deal very well with it - hiding out in our hotels most of the time. We had to ask ourselves: is this how we wanted to spend our entire time in Morocco? "Snap out of it, Gene and Neda! Look at where you are!"

We had to forcefully talk ourselves into an attitude adjustment. Something told me that this was not going to be the last of our self-pep-talks.


Next morning, we enjoyed a typical Moroccan breakfast of carbs and more carbs

Our riad, which is a Moroccan guesthouse, was a serene and beautiful place. It was quite a contrast to the storm of hustlers that we had experienced on our way in the Fes. Hopefully we would have a better experience in the medina today.

Anyway, enough of the rant, the rest of this entry will be just pictures, because pictures are fun. Yay, pictures!


It's all about the Babs in Morocco. Bab Boujloud (above), Bab Chorfa, Bab Streisand...

Bab means "Gate" in Arabic. Because most of the medinas are walled off, every entrance has an intricately decorated Bab. They are the main attractions in the medinas and are the few things that are well-signed. A popular thing for tourists to do is to go around taking pictures of the all the Babs in the medina like they were collecting shirts from Hard Rock Cafes.

Although they're neat-looking, personally, I find other things more interesting.
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  #482  
Old 12 Mar 2015
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This one chicken woke up when I took a picture of his buddies.
Ever wonder where the expression: "Don't risk sticking your neck out" originated from?



Fes is known as the pottery capital of Morocco. Subtle difference from Chefchaouen, which is the pot capital...


Resist the temptation, Neda! Resist!!!


The roots of veiling in Islam are modesty and decency. Or at least I thought it was...?

So far Morocco has been an interesting contrast of old and new. We've seen women wearing full head-to-toe burqas, while most of the younger women only wear headscarves. Even fewer walk around with their hair showing. There seems to be a general tolerance for whether womens' heads and faces are covered or not.


A group of brightly garbed women walk past another of Fes' decorated doorways

So far we were doing fairly well in Fes' medina. The streets were unmarked and narrow and were not laid out in any sort of pattern. They were lined with vendors all calling out to us to come take a look at their wares. Every now and then a hustler would ask us if we needed directions, but we declined knowing they would only demand money for simply pointing the way.

Besides, I had a secret weapon: I had my motorcycle GPS nestled neatly inside my jacket pocket and it was silently tracing our path away from our riad and around the medina. The night before I had programmed all the GPS co-ordinates of all the sights we wanted to see.

HAH! Take that, you two-Fesed hustlers!
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  #483  
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Madrasa Bou Inania

A madrasa is a place of study for the islamic religion. Located right in the heart of Fes' medina, Bou Inania also serves as a mosque.


More Moorish tessellations? These tiles in Morocco are called Zillij or Zellige and are very commonplace in Fes


The old (mosque) and the new (Crocs) at Bou Inania

We are quickly learning that any carpeted area in a building is a prayer area and is off-limits to non-Muslims. This just makes me more curious and I try to sneak a peek into these areas any chance I get.


Like Chefchaouen, there are no dogs in the medina in Fes. This family of cats
is celebrating the 15th anniversary of the exile of the dogs in Fes.



A quick greeting in the crowded souk

A souk is the traditional Berber word for "market". Although the medina is mainly stores, there are people who actually live inside the walls of the old city, and the "souk" is meant to distinguish the areas where the stores are concentrated. There are many different souks in the medina, some are focused on food, others on clothing and others on pottery and lamps.


Neda almost got souked into this store, enticed in by some genuine leather slippers


A serendipitous shot I found on the camera. Was initially going to discard it until I checked it much more closely...


Walking past a wall of colourful textiles
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  #484  
Old 14 Mar 2015
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Our sightseeing tour of Fes continues with less ranting, more pictures:


It's all about the doors and gates in Morocco. Beautiful colours!


Cat silently begging for food outside a butcher stand. Unlike dogs who whine,
cats will stare a hole into your head until you feed them... Because they're evil.



More carpets means another mosque. So curious to see what's inside!


The women have a separate area in the mosque to pray

From being in Morocco for the last few days, we have noticed that there is a pronounced segregation between the men and women. From an early age, the girls and the boys congregate separately. Even with Morocco's moderate attitudes, I think it is still considered indecent for a woman to be seen in the company of a man that is not family or her husband.
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  #485  
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Another neat shot I found on our camera. The blurring is natural and not photoshopped.
The donkey remains calm even amongst all the chaos surrounding it in the medina!


The storeowners and passerbys thought it quite funny that I was taking pictures of this donkey carrying supplies through the medina. The old city is crammed full of tourists, local shoppers, hustlers and storeowners. And this is on a weekday in the off-season! I can't imagine what it's like on a weekend in peak season!


One thing we have not mastered successfully in Morocco is the art of haggling. I am trying to pick up some tips here...


This artisan was carving the intricate patterns from memory with no template


Such amazing and precise artistry!


Looks like a shield! I was going to ask him if he could make me one coloured alternating red and white with a star in the middle. Then I remembered where I was...
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  #486  
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This is another place we wanted to visit: a leather tannery

There are many hustlers offering to lead us to the famous leather tanneries of Fes. They really don't need to offer up directions, you can smell the tanneries from a mile away. Just follow the pungent aroma of animal excrement. From a terrace
which doubles as a leather store, you can watch workers toil away in large vats that look like ink pots from above. Except instead of ink that is used to dye the leather hides, the vats are filled with liquid pigments that are composed mainly of natural dyes, pigeon droppings and cow urine.

The payment for this terrace tour of the tannery is voluntary, but we are "strongly encouraged" to donate 10 dirham (€1) each, I think more for the sprig of mint that they give you to place under your nose as your walk around. Personally, I didn't find the smell too strong, but this is the Moroccan winter and I can't imagine what the odour must be like wafting up from those vats in the heat of summer!


The workers ensure that the animal skins were thoroughly soaked in pigeon poo!


After hearing the tour guide talk about what they used for dye, I didn't want to know which ingredient made yellow leather...


Worker scraping off excess flesh, fat and hair off the hides with a knife


Back in the medina, we try to get rid of the smell of pigeon poop out of our noses
by inhaling some Moroccan spices
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  #487  
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Getting ready to leave Fes, we check the weather outside


Like a lovelorn teenager, the rains have managed to find us even after we've fled to another continent.
The restraining order doesn't seem to be working. Witness protection program is up next...



"When I say Hello Mrs. Thompson and press down on your foot, you smile and nod..."


One last shot of our bikes in front of one of the Babs (Chorfa). Bye Fes!

We leave Fes on a somewhat muted note. All the warnings of the hustlers that we have read about in Morocco seem to have come to fruition here. And to top it off, it's raining again.
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  #488  
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It's only about 60kms or an hour between Fes and Meknes, so we left late in the day in the middle of a Moroccan downpour. Like the scenery we've faced up in the north part of this country, it was a fairly unremarkable ride. Things start to look a bit more interesting as we approach the walls of Meknes' medina.


These high walls are a key feature of the old city. There are supposed to be nine monumental gates that lead into the medina. Riding around trying to find one right now...

Unfortunately, the riad that we've booked is right inside the medina, which is closed off to motorized vehicles. We park on the ring road that circles the old town. I did my homework and armed with a Treasure-Island-style map on my iphone, I grab my motorcycle GPS off its mount and dive into the medina on foot while Neda stays with the bikes.

The showers have tapered off to a drizzle by now and the riad is supposed to be about 500m inside. I ignore several hustlers who offer to guide me for a fee while holding my GPS in front of me as if it were an electromagnetic shield that would ward off the touts!

The riad is at the end of a cul-de-sac that would have been impossible to find without a map. A knock on the door revealed a kindly-looking man who introduced himself as Rashid, and he quickly invited me in out of the rain. "Would you like to sit down for some mint tea?" We still had to move the soft bags off our bikes and find parking, so I told him to keep it warm for us...


We had to park outside the medina, so once again, we paid an attendant to watch our bikes.
We caught him napping on the job later on!


So we've discovered that staying in the medinas in Morocco is a three-trip process because of the no-motorized vehicle rule. First trip is the exploratory hike to find the guesthouse, armed with a GPS, dodging hustlers. Second trip is a sherpa trek, 50 lbs of softbags hanging off every shoulder, elbow and hand ("One trip or die trying!!!!"). Third trip is to find parking outside the medina and then walk back to the riad. It is friggin' exhausting, especially doing it with full motorcycle gear and rainsuits on...

*phew* So ready for that mint tea now!


Without a map, there's no way we could have found our riad, tucked away in a cul-de-sac deep within the old town

After taking the temperature of our mood, we've decided to stay a few nights here to decompress a little. We're wary about moving too fast or dawdling too slow, but in reality the optimal pace can only be confirmed in hindsight. After so long on the road, we're still not able to get it exactly right.


Making ourselves at home
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  #489  
Old 18 Mar 2015
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Our guesthouse is a beautiful three-story building. Neda hangs out in the terrace while I work on the blog downstairs


RideDOT.com's Neda-tor-in-chief proof-reads the latest blog entry at breakfast. More carbs on the menu...

Breakfasts in the guesthouses have been mainly an assortment of flat breads, pitas, cakes, pastries and various jams. Proteins are sorely missing from the menu. Thankfully Neda sneaks down some of the food we smuggled in from Europe. So now we can have a blend of the Moroccan and the West: Peanut Butter and Djellaba sandwiches for breakie!


This is the square where we left our bikes to carry our softbags to the riad

From our many walks to and from the bike, we've noticed that Meknes is quite a bit smaller and easier to get around than Fes, and not as confusing. In Latin America, you can tell how complicated a border crossing is going to be by how many helpers swarm you. Same in Morocco, you can tell how big and labyrinthine the medina will be by how many hustlers offer directions for money.

One good thing about going back and forth through the medina is that the hustlers now know our faces and most of them stop hassling us. Most of them...


Outdoor veggie market


That's a lot of tajine pots!

While Neda likes visiting all the stores that sell pretty scarves and dresses targeted towards western tourists, my camera prefers the markets that cater to the locals. The last time I was this shutter-happy was back in Guatemala. It's taking a while to write these Moroccan blog posts because of the sheer number of photos I have to wade through!
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Bab el-Mansour, one of Meknes' most elaborate gates


Bab er Rih (Gate of the Winds), Bab er rah, Bab er ah-ha-hah-hah...


We paid a visit to the Mausoleum of Moulay Ismail

The Mausoleum is the final resting place of one of Morocco's ruthless and monomaniacal sultans, Moulay Ismail. He killed anyone who stood against him and built opulent monuments and palaces in dedication to himself. It's good to be the Sultan!


Many slaves and prisoners toiled ceaselessly to create intricate tiles and reliefwork in the mausoleum


There is a small mosque inside where non-muslims may enter! Finally!
We had to take off our footwear to enter. Our Shoe-Guard's name was Rae Lenard
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The tomb hall was very fancy


Neda found a niche for herself


A young admirer of the fancy tilework in the courtyard of the mausoleum


Medina, medina, medina (Menzel?)

We're getting a bit Medina'd out, hopping from one old city to another. We've done some research and there's a lot more to see in Morocco than the mazes of souks and hustlers. We've decided that after Meknes, we're going to do more riding and less Medina-ing.


Not sure exactly what was going on here, but the colour of this lady's robes was perfect!
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Fancy horse rides for hire in the main square


Daily life in Meknes


Battlements of the old city's walls


Cemetery outside the city walls


Neda couldn't resist picking up a little something in the souks. One of the ladies in our riad showed her how to tie a headscarf the Moroccan way

Neda really makes an effort to talk to the local folks everywhere we go to understand the culture, which is something I greatly admire about her. Because we're spending quite some time in the riad just relaxing, she got to know our host Rashid and talked to him extensively about his travels in Morocco. After Meknes, we want to cross over the Atlas Mountains and head southwards into the country, but Rashid told us that he was in Ifran (about and hour south of Meknes) this last weekend and there was snow on the ground.

Hmmm... perhaps it was too early to cross?
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Our restaurant experience: more mint tea!

We went out for another Moroccan meal. This place was highly recommended, but when we got to the door of the restaurant, it looked to be someone's house! We knocked, not knowing if it was the right place or not, despite the small hand-painted sign near the entrance, and then we were led inside through a living room, past the kitchen and into a dining area that looked more restaurantish. Ok...


After a looooong wait to build up our appetites, we finally got our food

We were warned that the restaurant took a long time to prepare the foods. We discovered why - like a lot of the restaurants we had seen in Central America, they save money by not keeping any food in stock. When someone comes in to order something, they just run out into the souk, buy the ingredients and make the dish from scratch! A lot of customers call ahead to order their dishes.


Neda had couscous again, and I tried a delicious chicken pie called Pastilla, crusted with almonds


Bikes are moved back out into the square to begin the tedious process of packing up

After a few restful days in Meknes, we're going to shed ourselves of the medinas of Northern Morocco to do some exploring by motorcycle! Yay!
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We've decided to venture further south, over the Middle Atlas mountain range. Despite Rashid's warning of snow on the ground, it's the most direct way to gain access to the more interesting geographies of Morocco. Hopefully we won't run into too many problems.


Our riding day starts off with a lesson in Arabic writing


Just south of Meknes, we stop at a scenic overlook, with beautiful vistas of the distant mountains to the west


We're not the only tourists, people from all over the country visit this area


More bikers pull up to admire the view with us

This couple pulled up in their Moroccan touring rig and smiled and nodded at us. I went over to look at his bike to try to figure out what kind of motorcycle it was since the sticker on the side said, "Batman Motorcycles". To my surprise, he had changed more than the tank sticker, even the engine cover was engraved, "Batman".

I tried to strike up a conversation about his Batman motorcycle, but the couple didn't speak any French at all. I did some research later and I was mistaken - the official languages in Morocco aren't Arabic and French, it's Modern Standard Arabic and Berber.

French is considered a "prestige" language, used mainly for commerce and government, but it is considered the de facto second language of the country, despite only a third of the population being able to speak it. Even with the language barrier, we were still able to convey to our biker friends "Beautiful scenery!" and "Have a safe journey!" through the international language of pantomime.

Never did figure out the brand of motorcycle...
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Sitting with the locals having a fried chicken lunch on the road in Boufekrane. Reminded us of all our meals in Latin America!

There are absolutely no hustlers outside of the medinas. A few people stop to look at our motorcycles, and during lunch, a couple of them ask about where we're from, but instantly we recognize that there's no hidden agendas, just curiousity. I can feel the mental guard that we put up in Fes and Meknes slowly begin to fall and we're feeling much more relaxed about being in Morocco.


As we ascend the Middle Atlas, we are surrounded by cedar trees, their limbs laden with... snow! Uh oh.

It is quite a sight to see snow appear on the ground in Morocco. This is not what we were expecting to see when we crossed into Africa! The Middle Atlas is the most northern of three Atlas Mountain ranges in the country and the peaks of this range reach over 3300m (11,000 feet) above sea level. We were nowhere near that elevation, but still high enough for the snow on the ground to pile up higher the further up into the mountains we climbed.

The road skirts the edges of the Azrou Cedar Forest, but we get a good taste of what the scenery must look like. It's a popular tourist destination, with the trees here growing up to 200 feet tall over a lifespan of 400 years! Along the road, we hit a traffic jam, cars were stopped on both sides of the road making the passage between very slow. What were they stopped for? We got off our bikes and hiked into the forest to find out for ourselves:


Monkeys!

Actually, these are Barbary macaques, indigenous to Northern Africa and named after the Barbary Coast where they originated from. They were everywhere up in the cedars, looking down at the crowd of people gathered below taking pictures and offering fruit up to them. I'm not sure how friendly they were, but they must be very used to human presence. This guy gladly took the banana that was being handed up to it.


Ah, a better portrait! To get his attention, I had to act like a monkey...

Back on our bikes, we left the snowy cedar forests and climbed higher up the Middle Atlas. We watched in wonder as the snow banks on either side of us grew higher and higher, sometimes reaching up over the height of our helmets! We had read that although the Moroccan government does a very good job at clearing the snow regularly, sometimes after a heavy snowfall the road can still be impassable for quite some time.
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New to motorcycle travelling? New to the HU site? Confused? Too many options? It's really very simple - just 4 easy steps!

Horizons Unlimited was founded in 1997 by Grant and Susan Johnson following their journey around the world on a BMW R80G/S.

Susan and Grant Johnson Read more about Grant & Susan's story

Membership - help keep us going!

Horizons Unlimited is not a big multi-national company, just two people who love motorcycle travel and have grown what started as a hobby in 1997 into a full time job (usually 8-10 hours per day and 7 days a week) and a labour of love. To keep it going and a roof over our heads, we run events all over the world with the help of volunteers; we sell inspirational and informative DVDs; we have a few selected advertisers; and we make a small amount from memberships.

You don't have to be a Member to come to an HU meeting, access the website, or ask questions on the HUBB. What you get for your membership contribution is our sincere gratitude, good karma and knowing that you're helping to keep the motorcycle travel dream alive. Contributing Members and Gold Members do get additional features on the HUBB. Here's a list of all the Member benefits on the HUBB.




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