Thrice Shocked!

The Dude (aka dad) and I were en route to the Sahara Desert (~850km/530mi from Chefchaouen) and decided to stop for a few days to visit Fès and the surrounding cities (Meknès and Volubilis). I wanted to see them (especially Fès), as they are all UNESCO World Heritage sites, but more importantly, I wanted the Dude to experience a little more city life before spending several days off the grid in the Sahara Desert and at Mount Toubkal, North Africa’s highest peak. As he is much more of a city boy, I didn’t want to push my luck 😁.

The drive through the Rif Mountains toward Fès was AMAZINGLY beautiful! The densely forested hills are scattered with all kinds of agriculture (including highly illegal hashish), cascading waterfalls and streams, and hundreds of small, some-what isolated Berber villages. I could see snow-capped mountains off in the distance. I just couldn’t get enough of the landscape. If only I had a different camera lens with me and more time…

sights... sounds... smells... the city SCENE

sights… sounds… smells… the city SCENE. The streets of Fès el Bali including the Chouwara Tanneries.

The Dude had a few questions for Moha about the thousands upon thousands of trees scattered throughout the Rif Mountains – especially the olive trees. Next thing I knew we were backing up… We continued to drive in reverse for a minute or two, until we got to the olive press that Moha had seen in someone’s yard. (Lesson learned – if you miss your turn, feel free to reverse until you arrive at your destination – even if it’s a few blocks or more 😱). In any event, Moha pulled onto the property and the owner appeared, along with 2 of his very young children. They exchanged a few pleasantries in Arabic, Moha motioned for the Dude and I to join him, and the man began showing us his olive oil production process. Immediately afterwards, the man invited us into their home to join him and his wife and children for Moroccan mint tea and lunch. I am still in shock at how open and kind Moroccan people (especially those from the small towns and out in the countryside) are to complete strangers! Their EXTRAORDINARY hospitality has left me speechless…

Upon arriving in Fès, I got the 2nd shock of the day and was quickly reminded to not judge a book by its cover… We pulled up outside the medina and noted that most of the structures looked rather shabby and quite dilapidated. I got “The Look” from the Dude… When I travel, I have minimal expectations, am quite flexible in dealing with most situations, and am quite comfortable sleeping on the ground in a tent. (In fact, I LOVE my sleeping bag!) The Dude, on the other hand, prefers more plush accommodations but can also be quite flexible if he has to. In any event, Moha led us down a maze of VERY narrow alleys, and we finally came upon a large, nice looking door. We rang the bell, and were ushered into the most opulent riad – hand-cut mosaic tile floors, hand-carved cedar ceilings, beautifully upholstered chairs, 6 guest quarters, all overlooking a center garden with a fountain. Such hidden beauty!! I got “The Look” from the Dude, but this time, it was followed by a smile. He LOVED the accommodation that Moha suggested. Moha explained that by having very modest exteriors, ALL can live in the same neighborhood, regardless of their socioeconomic status. If you ask me, riads and dars are the way to go for accommodations in Morocco if you prefer something similar to a boutique B&B.

sights... sounds... smells... the city SCENE

sights… sounds… smells… the city SCENE. The streets of Fès el Bali including the Chouwara Tanneries.

The 3rd shock was learning that most Moroccans (especially those from smaller towns and out in the countryside) don’t recognize daylight savings – even those who actually change their clocks. This caused quite a bit of confusion in situations that involved a specific time… The AMAZING chef (Beso) at the riad where we were staying asked what time we would like our dinner served, and I indicated that 20:30/21:00 would work well. (The current time on both my iPhone and his watch was 18:30). He looked at his watch and said, “Dinner will be served at 19:30.” To make things clear, I suggested that we would be ready for dinner in 2-2.5 hours, and again he said, “Dinner will be served at 19:30.” Moha overhead the entire exchange, shook his head and chuckled, and then explained that we were both right as many don’t observe the daylight savings time change 😜.

Volubilis, Meknès, and Fès were fascinating in their own right… But I am more than ready to experience the Sahara Desert!! 🐪🌵☀️

Still quite challenged with a decent internet connection…

#iluv2xplore #dreamexplorediscover

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My Moroccan Addictions

My name is Hilary, and I am an addict! Moroccan mint tea (aka “Berber Whiskey”)… olives grown and pressed just outside Chefchaouen… Moroccan bread (especially the khobz and msemen/rghaif)… tagine… I just can’t seem to get enough 😋. Moroccan mint tea (green tea blended with mint leaves) is considered a drink of hospitality and is served everywhere – prior to check in at Riads/Hotels, prior to exchanging money at some shops, upon entering people’s homes, etc. – and, as Moha explained, to turn it down is seen as a sign of disrespect. Thank goodness I LOVE tea. Olives – black, yellow, and/or green – and/or – whole or tapenade – are served with almost every meal. I loved olives before but now I really LOVE them 😘. The bread is pretty darn good too. As it is a staple in the Moroccan diet, most meals include 2-4 different kinds of freshly baked bread. Moroccan tagine… So SO SO So good!! I have had 2 beef, 2 chicken, and 1 lamb tagine in the past few days – all with different ingredients (from root vegetables to prunes and apricots to lemons and olives to dried fruit and nuts) and all INCREDIBLY scrumptious! Moha suggested that if we journey to Erfoud (his hometown) or Essaouira (his current city) either his mother or wife will show me how to make it. I will be one happy girl 😊😊😊. Last but not least, the pastilla is quite tasty! Not quite addicted… AND I will never look at pigeons the same… So, do I tell the Dude that he just had a meal made from rats w/ wings???

Believe it or not, the Dude and I have done something other than eat/drink 😜. After spending such a short time in Casablanca and Rabat, we decided to spend a few days exploring Chefchaouen – at Moha’s suggestion. Chefchaouen, also known as the “Blue City,” is such a uniquely cute little town. And, YES, almost everything is a shade of blue. The walled town is a maze of VERY narrow, steep alleyways (most that look eerily similar) that twist and wind up the side of the Rif Mountains. The alleyways are filled with tiny workshops and cooperatives whose merchants make things such as woven fabrics (for making djellabas), leather goods, cedar furniture, olive oil, goat cheese, bread, etc. – all using local resources. It seems that everyone has their role within the community. Lucky for me, I was able to feed my love of Moroccan bread by finding the baker that has the community earthen oven. Not only does he sell bread, he also bakes (for a small fee) the raw dough brought in by the townspeople.

Chefchaouen, Morocco. Chefchaouen (“Shef-SHAH-wen”) is nestled in the foothills of the Rif Mountains, and is known as the “Blue City.” Like many other Rif Mountain villages, Chefchaouen is relatively rural. It was initially inhabited by Rifi Berbers, who were joined by Andalusian Jews and Muslims after fleeing Spain beginning in the 15th century. It is such a uniquely cute little town. And, YES, almost everything is a shade of blue — with the exception of the BRIGHTLY colored woven fabrics and handicrafts.

Although the Dude and I were only in town for a few short days, Chefchaouen and the Rif Mountains more than exceeded my expectations! I could really feel the warmth of the people and closeness of the community… Many that we met shared how excited they were that we (as Americans) decided to visit their country… All of the kind people that we met, plus the extraordinary scenery made for a wonderful visit.

Better/more pictures forthcoming… Still have yet to find a decent internet connection 😉. Headed to the Middle Atlas Mountains and the Sahara Desert and doubt there is any connectivity. Stay tuned…

#iluv2xplore #dreamexplorediscover