We arrived in Fes and shared a dilapidated taxi with an Australian couple who was on the bus with us from Chefchaouen. The taxi dropped us off right outside the medina and we walked up to the first hotel we saw and checked in there, as it was super cheap, yet again. Once dropping our bags off we went out to explore the medina.
We stopped off at one of the first restaurants that we saw and each ordered a salad. We saw the meal being prepared ON THE FLOOR!!! They were using plates and bowls, but not a counter. After we got our delicious floor food, we remembered that Rick had told us to only eat cooked food. We dove in anyway, hoping for the best.
After we ate we started to walk around. The medina was a huge maze filled with shops selling everything one could imagine from touristy paintings and jewelry to shoes to illegally burned copies of DVD’s. We spent some time wandering around. As it started to get dark, we figured we’d stop by a place closer to our hotel where the locals were all drinking mint tea. We spent quite a while here sipping our tea and people watching, when all of a sudden we saw our friend from Tarifa and Tangier, Robin, just wandering by. Natalie ran over to him and chatted for a bit, and we found out he was taking the 2:30am train to Marrakech. He was with some new friends and was off to find food, but said that if we decided to take the overnight train, he’d see us at the train station. After much thought and realization that our hotel was a giant dump, we decided we’d eat the $7 and take the overnight train too.
When we got to the train station at 2am, we saw Robin writing away in his journal and we set up next to him and talked about our adventures of the past few days. When it was time, we boarded the train and headed out. We quickly discovered there was no heat on the train, and spent the night shivering and trying to get some sleep. Once the sun came up, the train quickly warmed up and was much more bearable. We arrived in Marrakech around 10:30am and were so happy to finally be somewhere sunny and warm!
We grabbed our million bags of stuff and got off the train, with a minor setback…there was a huge gap between the last step and the ground and Natalie was holding her bags in such a manner that she couldn’t foresee the giant gap and fell down and twisted her ankle. Robin ran off and found her some ice, which we were ever so grateful for. After sitting and icing a bit, Natalie braved it and got up and managed to hobble the way with us to the taxi. We were all in such awe as the taxi weaved his way through the Djamaa El Fna (the main square)There were monkeys on leashes, snake charmers, women offering to paint henna tattoos on hands of tourists, men singing, dancing and playing instruments. In addition to all of that, there were hoards of people walking, riding bikes, motorcycles and cars. It was unlike anything we had ever seen before! After being dropped off by the taxi driver, we found our hostel easily off on a quiet side street. We checked in and were thrilled with how nice this place was (in comparison to what we had been staying in, at least).
We took a while and relaxed and each enjoyed a nice, long, hot shower. It was a little slice of heaven there! Jamie and Keriann decided to brave the crowds and try to find some lunch for us, while Natalie rested her quickly swelling ankle. There was a Film Festival going on in Marrakech and on the way back, Jamie and Keriann saw a famous American actor/ producer, Fisher Stevens, a face you may recognize from Lost, Numb3rs, Ugly Betty, Always Sunny, etc. Using Jamie’s fine photography skills, we snapped a quick photo and headed back.
We enjoyed a nice lunch of chicken kebabs, tuna and fries. And decided it was time to check our bank accounts. This proved to be quite devastating for Jamie and Natalie. Keriann had pretty much enough to get by for the rest of the few days, but after our spending spree in Chefchaouen, we had far less than we had imagined. When we had transferred funds into our accounts, we hadn’t accounted for spending as much as we did on gifts and it takes three business days for the funds to transfer from one bank to our Schwab account that we’ve been using while on the trip to avoid any ATM fees. It was Saturday, so by the time any money would transfer we would be back in the States.
After eating, we headed off with the guy from our hostel to a Sahara Excursion office to book our Sahara Desert Excursion. We had hoped they would take credit cards, however their machine was supposedly down, but the woman told us they would take US dollars (which, we luckily had some). We booked our excursion for early the next morning and wandered off into the maze of shops. We spent some time wandering around, picking up odds and ends along the way and then met Robin for dinner. At 5pm everyday, the Djemaa el Fna fills up with tons ands tons of stands selling food. We walked through getting harassed to come try nearly every stand, just to settle on an extremely packed stand with nobody harassing people to come try their food. It was a simple set up, with 10 workers packed inside cooking up sausages on the grill. They were so great, and were served with a tomato salsa, which was also heavenly.
After dinner we walked over to the big movie screen that was set up for the festival and playing an old Tarzan film, in French. We watched for a while, and then said our goodbyes to Robin and went to bed, as we had to be up bright and early for our desert adventure the next morning!!!!
We stored our luggage at the hostel, as we decided we would stay there again on our last night in Marrakech. We got to the excursion office, were introduced to our tour guide, Mohammed, paid and were on our way. Mohammed was a nice guy, but he told us absolutely nothing about what we were doing the entire two days we were with him. We headed off in the van, just the four of us. We didn’t know what was going on or where we were going. Little did we know the next 36 hrs were going to be a complete blur of uncertainty and mystery. Mohammed was the fastest, craziest driver we’d ever had the pleasure of riding with. We were driving through the mountains, which are incredibly winding on their own, but with Mohammed’s driving we felt like we were riding The Scrambler! We stopped off at a very touristy (and expensive) rest stop for a bathroom break and to get our bearings back. Along the way, Mohammed would stop and ask if we wanted to take photos, but wouldn’t tell us about anything. We would ask questions here and there, but he offered up very little info.
Around noon, we stopped again and went into a restaurant where Mohammed told us to order food and we’d come back in 40 mins and eat it. It was much more expensive than we were planning on spending for lunch (as just dinner and breakfast the next morning were included in the rate for the excursion), so we just ordered two meals and split it. Mohammed then walked us around to some shops and simply said “Walk around and come back and eat in 40 mins.” We followed his orders and walked down untill we came to a man outside a shop who (like normal) asked where we were from, and managed to wrangle Keriann in to write a “Thank you” note to his friend, James, as he claimed he couldn’t write in English. We figure that’s how he gets people into his shop to buy things, but went in anyway. Keriann wrote as he dictated while brewing up some tea. The man then dressed us up in the traditional Moroccan garb while we drank tea and he showed us his jewelry, in hopes that we’d by some, but we didn’t fall for it (this time). After telling him his stuff was very nice but we just couldn’t afford it we had about five minutes to see the rest of the town and head back to lunch.
Lunch was fine, nothing special and certainly not worth what we paid, and hopped back into the van to our next unknown destination. We pried out of Mohammed the name of the city, Aït Benhaddou. We learned (from Wikipedia) that the neat looking houses we saw outside the shops are beautiful examples of kasbahs, which are types of traditional Moroccan houses.
Unfortunately, these kasbahs sustain damage during each rainstorm. Most of the residents of the town now live in a more modern village at the other side of the river; however, there are still ten families live within the ksar. We drove for a few more hours stopping occasionally for photo opps and bathroom breaks. Later in the afternoon we were dropped off with a few other travellers and some camels. We were assigned camels, and after picking out names for them (Simba, Nala, and Ornery Oscar- he threw a fit when Jamie tried to get on!), we were on our way.
We trotted through the desert in our line of camels, riding off into the beautiful sunset….well, away from it, rather. Camels give a surprisingly bumpy ride and our bums are actually still recovering from all the fun!
We arrived at our desert campground for the night and were led by our guide to a tent we had all to ourselves. We hung out for a bit, and were joined by our camel tour guide, Hussein, for some tea. Hussein didn’t speak any English, and we don’t speak any French or Arabic, so our tea party consisted of a pseudo-game of pictionary in order to find out if there were any snakes or scorpions in the desert we had to worry about. There weren’t.
After tea we had a delicious Moroccan dinner and then joined the rest of the gang around the bonfire. Several excursion groups had met up at the campground and all the guides met up to sing, play drums, and even dance around the fire. It was so great to see a performance of some real Moroccan traditions, and we really enjoyed taking part in the fun! We got ready in the desert bathrooms (read: over the sand dune) and headed to bed.
The next morning we woke up bright and early for a traditional Berber breakfast (bread, orange spread, and some tea & coffee) and got ready to remount our furry friends. Simba, Nala, and Oscar were pumped for another ride back towards town, but our ride was cut a little short when Mohammed picked us up early along the way. We hopped in the van where we proceeded to fall asleep and/or get nauseated by Mohammed’s crazy driving. We prepared ourselves for backtracking the 7 hours back to Marrakech, but Mohammed must have been eager to get back, as we made it back in less than 6. He said “Okay,” let us out of the van, and we parted ways. We headed back to the hostel then went back into the market to spend the last of our trip money on some Moroccan goodies. We headed back to the same stand for a cheap but delicious sausage dinner, taking in once more all the insanity of the medina- monkeys, cobras, dancing, hassling, shouting, kids standing up on the back of motorbikes, and the overall feeling that you could get run over or trampled to death at any second! We headed back to our hostel to work some magic and somehow fit all our crap into a backpack and a newly added carry-on bag, and called it a night.
The next morning we enjoyed our last breakfast and were accompanied by two hostel employees to a cab they had arranged for us. They were so nice and carried all our luggage, but unfortunately we had more than the cabbie had expected (we barely fit, really!), so the charge was upped by 20 dirham. We had spent every last dirham cent we had, but luckily he took a couple American dollars to make up for it! We made it to the airport with plenty of time to spare, bidding farewell to Morocco, its warm weather, blue skies, and palm trees, knowing full well we knew what we’d be getting into upon arrival into Chicago….
So there we have it. 20 countries, 109 cities, and 127 days of travel. Our trip was an amazing, eye-opening, challenging, educational, exciting, refreshing, frustrating, breathtaking, surreal, and life-altering experience with a bittersweet ending. We are ecstatic to be back with our families and friends but will absolutely miss the joys of the traveling life. Thanks to everyone for following us around Europe. We appreciate all the support along the way!
Check in on us from time to time, updates to follow…