Sitting on a bus heading south to Fes, watching the lovely Moroccan landscape whiz by, I got lost in nostalgia for this place that seemed, as I said, so familiar yet so new. There were fields of lush green with sprinklings of patches of brightly colored spices and picturesque lakes, farmers, mules, shacks, baskets of harvested vegetables, and kids running around avoiding their daily chores.
Nothing can prepare you adequately for getting out of an enclosed vehicle to what is “Fes”. Nothing except, perhaps, a previous visit. It was sensory overload for all 5 senses. Clusters of old buildings, little shops, people, crowded markets filled with dried fruits, meat, live chickens, nuts, bread, jewelry, shoes, leather… Basically anything you can think of is around every corner. People are always out walking around, most women cover their heads with simple scarves. I found it all extremely fascinating.
Moroccan cuisine is worth it’s own full blog. But as I have proved to be horrible at writing as of late, we’ll cram a bit into this one! As I said, all 5 senses were overwhelmed during my stay, but mostly taste and smell for me. I was greatly impacted by the new combinations of flavors I experienced there. In my opinion, Moroccan cuisine should be #1 in the world! Think amazing tea made of fresh spearmint and loads of sugar, heavy flavors of saffron, cinnamon, honey, almonds and other exotic spices and things. They used crazy contrasts of flavors to create depth in a dish.
One night we decided to splurge and visited the 4 star restaurant/hotel, Le Maison Bleu, in Fes. For about $40 each, we immersed ourselves in a complete cultural experience: they served us pre-dining spirits, appetizers, a few delicious main dishes, dessert, live traditional music, and wine. It was one of the most memorable meals I’ve ever enjoyed. And man, I still dream about that dessert of orange blossom cream and filo dough. Uff… and the famous pastella.. a scrumptious mixture of cinnamon, powdered sugar, and seasoned meats in an empanada style of dough (think chicken pot pie, sort of, but much much better!). I vividly remember the smells and tastes and the feeling of being in the old palace like hotel, a refuge from the bustling city outside.
So, basically, my trip to Morocco was more like a gastronomical tour… that’s what every trip ends up being like for me! No better way to get to know a culture than to sample authentic local food. It just amazes me that such simple plants give us delicious flavors in themselves, but when mixed with other plants, spices, and foodstuffs can create a divine, harmonious medley of enjoyment.
Ooohhh, thank the Lord for food and flavor!
It took 35 minutes to cross the gap between the two continents. The Old World as I know it, meaning Europe, just became older. I stepped off the ferry and breathed in the African air before rushing along to find a taxi to get to the bus station. The craziness that ensued after this brief moment of simplicity didn’t stop until getting off the boat again in Spain 4 days later.
Walking along a road outside the port without a map, unsure of where to go or what to do, a taxi finally stopped my friend Stephen and I and offered to do the 3 hour drive at 7pm at night to Chefchaouen for 700 dirham (70 euros/80 bucks more or less). Definitely out of the question, seeing as how the bus was about $3.75/ one-way! He kindly informs us that the last bus to Chefchaouen left (appropriately) at 6:30pm. However, we insist that he take us to the bus station anyways, just thinking, “Ok, if the last bus left, we’ll just stay the night and hop the first one in the morning, no biggie, but it’ll be a way to shake this guy…” So, the taxi driver agrees to take us to what he calls the “bus station,” except that when we arrive it is this tiny, deteriorating shack made of stucco very similar in style to the booths that precede parking lots where you have to get a ticket to pay for your spot. He gets out, makes some commotion about how we did not believe him about the bus, points at the yellowing paper claiming it is the bus schedule, but all the while my clever partner in crime is eyeing this brightly lit building about 300 meters away and saying, “I think that’s the bus station…” We eventually kindly excuse ourselves from the scene and head towards the brightly lit building, which indeed is the bus station.
Walking into the bus station was my first real taste of being in a completely different and predominantly male culture. We march up to buy our tickets, and then are heading outside to await the bus when we pass this huge room full of men looking in the same direction, eyes fixed on something towards the ceiling. We walk in thinking it might be a TV monitor with the bus schedule and promptly discover that it is just all men watching a soccer game. Well, then in walks me, this little blondie girl, in the middle of pure masculinity… hmm… you can imagine my extreme discomfort. I ducked out immediately and shyly covered my head with my scarf, partly wanting to blend in, but mostly wanting to hide my embarrassment.
The bus ride was a beautiful nocturnal journey winding through the Atlas Mountains. I almost fell out of my seat a few times when the driver took the turns a bit too hard. Getting off in Chefchaouen, we were greeted by a 30-minute climb completely uphill to get to the hostel. The room was beyond interesting, with an animal skin hanging on the wall and the bathroom with a shower curtain as a door. You could literally sit on the toilet and shower at the same time if you wanted…
Chefchaouen was beautiful and enchanting. Painted completely blue, it seems like a familiar wonderland; a place you encounter in your dream world. It was surreal, yet as I said, somehow familiar, provoking a distant sense of nostalgia. We were outsiders spying on the daily mundane activities of the townspeople. I liked the slow pace of life, even slower than that of Sevilla. And I loved seeing that on this new continent, humanity maintains the same basic characteristics; people enjoy the same simple pleasures and laugh and work and are humans. It was fascinating. After one day, it was time to move on to the bustle of the city once again.