March 15-17, 2000
The Portuguese German-French couple (Yan & Andrea) offered to give Paco and I arrived, so I decided to go with them to beat the bus into town, scope out the place and find a hotel.
The scenery between Chefchaouen and Fčs has vivid landscapes to inspire any painter. Swirling green Van Gogh wheat fields dance in the wind. Further down the gray road is bounded by wild green shrubbery and golden wheat on the vertical and red earth, tan sands and a clear blue sky on the horizontal making a panoramic view of a giant colored sand bottle (you know the ones you can win at the shore... they got the idea here).
Arriving in Fčs, I booked a hotel in the old part of town with the P/F-G family and headed out for the bus station.
It looked a little confusing, so when I guide attacked me, I figured it was worth tipping for his services. We were standing near the bus drop off point for the old town and I explained, and showed on a map that I wanted to go to the new town CTM bus station about 2 kilometers away. If he wanted to lead me there, then I would go with him.
The guide understood and off we went. In to the old town, around a few blocks and arrived at a new bus station. I was still confused and gave him 10 DH (I only had 12 on me). When I figured out he had taken me to the other side of where I started... the new building across the street where the buses departed from, he was gone.
I was pissed. Back to the drop off point I spotted his bald head and bright orange jacket and explained my frustration. Now he told me he didnīt understand English (all that had to be understood was C-T-M). I guess he didnīt understand maps either. He told me bus 11 would take me there (he seemed to learn English). Not satisfied with this, I explained I had given him all my money (this pretty much was true) and he gave back the Durhams he basically ripped off of me a few moments ago. We parted with smiles and on good terms and he restored my faith in the humanity of hustlers.
I couldnīt find the bus, but lugged my bags halfway and then took a cab to the station. No Paco, no Juan, no Julia. I waited and still no sign.
During the wait, I noticed a cute Moroccan girl and she actually looked back! Actually, we talked for a minute (she didnīt know English, but we looked up words and spoken in English/French). In Islam, women arenīt supposed to talk to men or something.
Anyway, she was waiting for her sister to pick her up, who I got to meet along with her brother-in-law. She invited me to dinner with her family in Taza, where I planned to stop to see the mountains for a day on my return route to Spain. I promised to call her and she blushed calling me a beautiful American. It was time for her to go and I had remembered what I learned from the girls in Spain. I gave her a quick kiss on each cheek.
She looked like I just raped her. What the heck? I think she then started wiping one side with a kleenex. (I later learned that men only kiss men in Islam... more on this when I write to you about Taza)
I had some time to kill before the next bus from Fčs and found an Internet place. Paco and the gang had arrived and found places. Apparently, the bus was full so they hired a taxi all the way to Fčs. We would meet for breakfast the next day or at an Internet place the next night.
Back into the old section, I caught the views of ram horns in the corner of my eye. Hanging in the stores were heads, freshly chopped with still moist tongues, glassy eyes and bloody fur at the bottom. Thatīs pretty wild! But I didnīt want to stare, I looked down at my feet where a babbling brook of blood flowed between my legs down the medina street, unseen or ignored by the other pedestrians. The holiday feasts were imminent.
I spent the night on a saggy bed that felt more like a bad hammock and woke up to another muezzin chant, that was still most interesting to me, but less chilling now. Garbage donkeys (I donīt think trucks fit down the streets) were loaded before dawn and a new day began.
I met up with the gang in the new town with my bags in hand. Paco met a Kiwi guy who found a great deal. Single rooms in the new town for 25 DH each (thatīs about $2.50 US). Paco and I moved in at once.
Apparently that night they went to a club. They were looking for one that wasnīt entirely men. When the guy at the door said that "yeah, thereīs girls in this club" it turned out to be something of a brothel (women donīt go out at night here). They sat down for some tea since they also donīt drink here (itīs against Islam). The tough guys have Coke or a glass of milk. On this note, hash is not against Islam.
One guy left the place and was chased by a bunch of guys with knives. Seeing the nervous look, the owner came over to Richard and Paco and told them "not to worry, everything was fine, that guy just didnīt pay."
Richard, the Kiwi (that means from New Zealand, BTW), was a character Iīll use if I ever write a book. He lived in London working as bicycle courier. He was a smart guy who appreciated the good life and freedom of being self employed. For the past year and a half he paid no rent. He was a squatter. I always thought that meant someone who lives in the rubble of an abandoned building. Apparently not so. He enjoyed all the benefits of his neighbors who paid a few hundred pounds a month for rent. The electric was wired to by pass the meter and he had a fully functioning home.
There were times when "a man jumps on your shoulder to do some Spring cleaning" and heīd find a new place. He also knew how to have the guides find him the best hotel deals while at the same time heīd talk to them and not be bothered by them following him around (at one time we had five guides following us as we repeated that Richard was our guide). "Where you want to goah? What you want to see? I take you there." My ears grew deaf to these sequence of words.
His feet were dirty and he claimed his clothes were dirty black a day before. The woman at the hotel there will hand wash, dry and fold a load of laundry for 50 DH. I think he got a lower price by giving her the soap. This woman, was another interesting person. She only spoke Arabic, so none of us had a clue what she ever said, but I think I signaled Iīd send her a picture of her partying with us on the rooftop.
Since Richard, Paco and I rented the three rooftop rooms, crude, but perfectly comfortable, we also had the entire roof to watch the sunset, layout the blankets, light candles and snack with our friends (Juan, Julia and a Canadian couple we added to our gang during the day).
If Chaouen was the quaint town in the city, then old Fčs is the metropolis. Both places have changed very little in the past 1000 years - just a few bare light bulbs added in some of the rooms and a taxi buzzing around.
The medina is an endless maze of markets. I could find my way out, but it was by chance that Iīd get to a specific destination in there, and of course, everyone knows this and will be happy to be your guide. I learned to look like I know exactly where Iīm going while totally in a daze. Trial and error got me to where I needed to go and while with the group, we got a pack of kids to lead us around.
There are rarely posted prices in any store or market. Itīs all up to make a bargain for everything from goats to Nike slippers with Tommy Hilfiger logos. If you have a guide, the lowest price is automatically about 30% higher for their commission. "Buy all the things you want here and we make a nice package deal."
I donīt think thereīs much crime here. They honestly rip you off. Itīs not something negative with the right attitude, itīs part of the culture.
While standing in line, if you leave too much of a gap between you and the next person or take to long to start your order, someone cuts in front. When in Rome, do as the Romans. They donīt mind at all when you stand on the heels of their shoes so no one sneaks in. Itīs the way it works.
Itīs also true about the writings on the hostel wall in Lisbon. Maybe you donīt always have to do as the Romans in Rome. Bring some toilet paper, a trash bag and a clothes pin and youīll be fine.
Morocco continues to be a great cultural adventure that Iīm enjoying learning about first hand. It might be too different for some to recommend it to all. Itīs not a place for "whinners and complainers." Then again, neither is backpacking or budget travel.