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
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!
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
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!
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?
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!