Friday, 27 April 2012

A day in Fez

This morning we left the rain of Ifrane behind.  After 10 days of training in the fresh air it was time to travel back to London.  Just a short trip to Fez, and another leg of the journey would be over.  Though I'm disappointed to be heading home, I've had a huge smile on my face all day today.  Usually when I come to the end of a trip I'm ready to go home; ready to get on with the rest of my life.  This time around, another week would have been greatly appreciated.  As hard as I wished though, it was not to be.

And so why do I have a smile on my face?  Well because I'm really enjoying my last day in Morocco I suppose.

This morning after inadvertently bargaining with a taxi driver (the jist of the story is I walked away from taxi driver because I couldn't understand what he was saying, he thought I thought the price was too high, he gave us the ride for a song), we headed down the hill towards Fez.  It was nice to see the country in daylight, even if it was through the pouring rain.  As we approached the city the rain stopped and I knew then it was going to be a great day.

We got a mini taxi from the new town to the gates of the medina in the old town and then stepped into what can only be described as a dream.  Along the narrow winding streets were tiny shops which sold everything from colourful pottery, wooden carvings and intricate silverwork to tacky plastic toys and big cotton knickers.  The smell of food from the small restaurants and stalls was divine, and the sight of a fully laden donkey trotting down steps in alleyways barely wide enough for two people to meet only added to the feeling that we were in a different world.

As we're are flying later today, both AnnMarie and myself had our small trolley suitcases with us, something which brought us a lot of attention.  We were offered all manner of accommodation for the night, and one guy even promised the luxury of an indoor shower.  Such a shame we couldn't take up on the offer.  We soon warmed to all the attention, and it was nice to hear English been spoken again - the perfect reintroduction to out everyday lives.  In fact we really got into the swing of it, and smiled as we said 'no hotel required' and made an areoplane imitation before the friendly locals could even get the word 'hotel' out of their mouths.

And it wasn't just hotels that we were offered.  One young man seemed particularly obliging.  'What is it you're looking for?' he said.  'Hotel? Food? Husband perhaps?' Alas the thousand camel I thought he was offering turned out to be just a cow and camel.  Beggars can't be choosers I suppose, but for some reason I didn't even think that offer was completely genuine, and passed on this occasion.

We seem to be getting the hang of the 'point-and-hope-for-the-best' approach to ordering food.  For 10 dirhim (about 80p) we managed to get a large selection of cookies and pastries from a small bakery where nobody spoke English.  And before we left the medina we had a delicious £6 3-course meal which will hopefully see us through to home.

And just like that our few hours in Fez was over.  Time to go to the airport and board a plane back to London.

This has been one of the most enjoyable trips so far.   Morocco may not have been how I expected, but it was definitely what I needed. I'm sad to leave, but already excited because I know that some day I'll be back. Let's just hope that it rains a little less next time round.

Back in Africa

Although it was almost dark as I touched down in Africa again, the greenness of the countryside greeted me, and surprised me yet again.  Even though all my previous preconceptions of Africa have been wrong, Morocco I was sure would be dry and barren!  Wrong again it seems!

As I take the 1 hour taxi ride between Fez and Ifrane, I can tell that there is a stark contrast between North Africa, and the sub-Saharan parts of the continent which I have previously visited.  Despite this, I can also see the similarities.  In the dark and teeming rain, the drive up the mountains to my home for the next 10 days has all the dangers of driving on the roads of Africa, but none of the excitement.  Darkly clothed people walk on the verge of the unlit road, making their way home in the downpour; the lights of the taxi silhouetting them, and saving them, at the last moment.  As the road twists and turns further up into the middle atlas, the taxi driver makes halfhearted attempts to pass laden trucks, pulling alongside them, before the lights of an oncoming car makes him think better of it.  I look forward to seeing some of the countryside in daylight.  When we eventually arrive in Ifrane, I can tell that the town is nothing like the Africa I have seen before; the light dusting of snow which has just fallen reminding me that I'm a long way from the sun-drenched plains of the rift valley.

As my first day indicated, Morocco is anything but dry.  In fact it rained almost all day, and only just before evening fell on Friday could I eventually venture out and investigate my new surroundings again.  After hurting my little toe earlier in the week, I decided to give it one more day to recover, so a run wasn't planned, but it was nice to finally get out of the apartment.  I had awoken earlier in the day to the sight of a stork on a nearby rooftop.  I quickly crept out of bed, grabbed my camera, and carefully opened the window to catch a shot without frightening her away.  Ten days later she doesn't seem to have moved, and I later realised that there are about 8 other storks nesting within sight of my bedroom window.  In fact the town is full of them.  On that first evening, I also discovered some monkeys playing at the edge of the forest; the closest of them within touching distance of me.  Unfortunately my camera wasn't so close this time, and I haven't spotted them since.  Just my luck.

I was very apprehensive about coming to Morocco.  As a Muslim country I was worried about running around, particularly on my own, and was very glad when AnnMarie joined me on Sunday for the remainder of the trip.  In fact, now it's difficult to see what I was so apprehensive about, and why I would ever have left a place like this out of my research, just because I might get a little bit too much attention!  Apart from our distinct lack of French, we're doing just fine.

Ifrane is a university town of approximately 10,000 people, situated at just over 1,600m in the Moylen (mid) Atlas.  In the forest just above the town sits the green-roofed royal palace, the summer residence of the Sultan of Morocco.  During the winter months, the town is a ski resort, and with it's distinctively European, rather than Moroccan, architecture, the town has a very alpine feel to it.  The town was built as a hill station during French occupation, a place where the colonials could go and feel like they were at home.  While there's not much to do on rain days (of which we've had many), Ifrane offers a plenitude of lovely walks, and of course lots of places to run.

Morocco have a great tradition in distance running, and legend Said Aouita was the first to use Ifrane as a training base.  Today numerous Moroccan and French athletes train here, and it's easy to see why.  Good food, relaxed atmosphere, cheap cost of living, smoothly surfaced roads, and miles and miles of trails make Ifrane perfect for running.  Shame about all the rain though!