The desert near Merzouga proved to be a life-altering experience, but not a relaxing one. I was in need of some serious relaxation, so I headed to the hippie town made famous by Jimmy Hendrix and Cat Stevens–who maybe liked it so much he converted to Islam,–of Essaouira, on the coast. The town is very cute and laid-back, but so small I ran into everyone from my desert tour, and ended up having another United Nations caucus over the fancy Moroccan specialty, pastilla, or pigeon in pastry. It was actually pretty good, though rich, and contrary to public opinion, tasted nothing like chicken. Pastilla, should you be interested, needs to be ordered a day in advance.
Coastal Village of Essaouira
On the 10 hour trip to Fez, I made friends with a Moroccan high school history teacher, who rapidly made a flurry of cell phone calls and before I knew it there was a guide meeting us at the train station, and our week, it seemed, had all been set in stone by Omar. This started to make me nervous, but it turned out Abdul, the guide, had his 14-year-old son Ishram guide us around the labyrinth medina. Thank the holy heavens for Ishram because if we thought the Marrakesh medina was difficult to navigate it was nothing in comparison to the 1200 year old medina of Fez. We saw some seriously startling sights there. For example, we saw our friend Humphrey the camel’s cousin’s head hanging from the butcher’s shop, a delicacy according to Ishram. We also were taken to Ishram’s home for mint tea with his 14,000 brothers, sisters, cousins, aunts, etc. Things were going really well until Ishram’s sister asked me to send her a digital camera when I got back to the States. I nodded, trying to get my husband’s attention while he was giving the small Moroccan militia of Ishram’s family a karate lesson.
To sum up my time in the Fez/Meknes/Moulay Idriss area:
Meknes–felt like 140 degrees celsius, switched rooms in the middle of the night searching for adequate A/C.
The Roman Ruins of Volubilis
Volubulis—I hired a car to take me to Volubilis and Moulay Idriss for the morning. There are Roman ruins very well preserved here. I highly recommend springing for the guide as the Lonely Planet book is difficult to follow. Though set in a beautiful valley, the enclosing mountains made it feel like 150 degrees celsius…my shoes seemed to be melting. Worth going to either first thing in the morning or earlier in the year. Bring a hat and a ton of sunscreen.
Moulay Idriss—holy pilgrimage site for Muslims….holy crap it feels like 180 degrees celsius…I’m beginning to look like Humphrey’s cousin.
Rabat–skipped it, too hot.
Casablanca—A once-sparkling city that now needs a power-washing. The architecture is still straight out of the movie, and there are great examples of art deco architecture here. I mostly spent my time at the beach, though.