Our first few minutes in Meknes are spent wedged into a tiny Isuzu minivan, probably from the early eighties. Bernhard, Lorena and Casey sit in the windowless back, while I’m next to the driver, whose XXL figure is comically oversized for a car like this. The chassis seems to have been repaired – poorly – several times, and I’m so far forward in the car that in case of an accident, I would probably be the main component of the crumple zone. All of this makes me even less enthusiastic about the driver’s preferred method of minimizing the time spent per ride: inventing extra lanes whenever there’re cars moving slower than he’d like, squeezing his sardine-can-on-wheels inbetween trucks and busses with admirable precision, too much speed and a whole lot of confidence in the bus and truck drivers.
Our hotel is fairly basic, but quiet, clean and cheap. Our plan is to have a stroll in the medina, which will hopefully have less hustle than the one in Fes. But instead of getting lost in the medina, we get lost just trying to find it! After enlisting the help of some local kids and an unplanned tour past the royal palace and the mausoleum of an important sultan, we finally find Bab Mansour, the gate to the old city. The clouds have turned a yellowish gray, as if it’s going to snow. The medina itself is pretty much as we had hoped: there’s plenty going on, but there’s no hustle to speak of. In the women’s clothing quarter, fabrics are being made with noisy machines using bicycle wheels, and countless rolls of colourful threads. Meknes’ Medersa Bou Inania (named after the same person as the one in Fes) is quieter but no less beaufiful. The decoration
We say goodbye to Casey the next morning; Bernhard, Lorena and I have a day trip in mind. We ask a guy and a girl for directions to the taxi stand. Instead of just pointing us there, they accompany us while chatting about their lives and plans for the future. They study economics at Meknes university; the girl plans to move out of Meknes upon graduating, just to see something new… A pretty modern and very recognisable wish! At the taxi stand, they negotiate with different taxis to get us a price that’s as close to a local (non-tourist) price as possible, which takes quite some effort. After experiencing the endless hustle in Fes, where seemingly nothing is done without some expectation of money, we’re all hugely grateful for their kindness. We do get what we pay for though; the least shiny of all the 1980’s Mercedes taxis,
The archaeological site itself is covered in wildflowers; a stunningly beautiful setting for the ruins. It’s easy to imagine living here, with the streets and basic layout of the villas (which were really luxurious and advanced!) clearly visible. Lorena is our guide for the day, using her Morocco guidebook to point out the buildings, mosaics and history; her excellent explanations only cost us a freshly picked wildflower (Bernhard) and some dried figs (me) 🙂
The next morning, I leave on a fruitless train trip to Tanger (hoping in vain that Morocco’s only Victorinox dealer will have the Swiss army knife model I lost; as it turns out, they sell a stunning range of three different models, all grossly overpriced even after haggling). After wasting most of my day on that, I go to Rabat, the nation’s capital. The most exciting thing that happens to me here is a hustler who tries to take off with a few of my Dirhams (after I refuse to change them for his Euros; perhaps I would’ve trusted him more if he hadn’t first tried to sell me some hash?), but as I give him my best “don’t mess with me” face he gives up (although apparently I am ‘a fucking person’). Besides that incident, it’s nice to unwind a bit at the patisseries (Morocco’s favourite bit of colonial heritage) and the beach, and to