I’ve always been one to dip my toe in first before wading into the pool, lake or sea. While I’ve watched others, admittedly with a bit of envy, plunge right in, I’ve never been able to overcome this personality trait.
We arrived in Morocco for a week long stay and I realized, as we drove the difficult road to Fez after crossing the Straits of Gibraltar, that the visit is, among other things, a way of testing the waters of traveling to places that are a bit more exotic than Europe. In other words, I somehow managed to unconsciously build a toe dip into our itinerary.
Throughout the 240 Kilometer drive that would average 2 hours in Europe, but took closer to 6 hours in Morocco, we were reminded by sites and circumstances that we had crossed a border, something that had happened much more subtly throughout Europe.
Our drive, on the hilly, winding, potholed and narrow highway took us through cities, towns and villages, often behind huge overloaded trucks that struggled to keep moving forward. We drove past straw and mud huts, vast apartment buildings and all manners of housing that fall between the two extremes. Donkeys burdened with precarious loads balanced on their backs, along with a rider sitting side saddle on top and shepherds that ran the gamut from wizened elders to very young children, tending flocks of cows, goats or sheep, often with babies strapped to their backs or with children playing at their feet were common sites. We drove past a celebration, spilling across the highway with a group of men singing and banging drums and women dancing in brightly colored chador’s and robes. We saw men praying by the side of the road and a room divided in 2 and filled with people during their prayer at a gas station rest stop. We saw cars crammed to overflowing flying down the windy roads, taxis, buses, cars, tractors, 3 wheel trucks, mopeds, bikes and donkeys as means of transportation. Fruit and vegetable stands dotted the road, sometimes seemingly, in the middle of nowhere. Stalls with people selling tea and barbequing meat served as gathering places throughout the drive. An amazing aqueduct system emerged out of nowhere on one stretch of road, while groves of fruit trees and freshly plowed fields filled the landscape. The streets bustled with people in all manners of dress, from blue jeans and t-shirts to long flowing robes with hoods pulled up to cover their faces.
Getting lost on the poorly marked highway was all part of the adventure and we were thankful for the many people walking on the highway that understood our one word request for Fez. (While many people in the cities and larger towns speak French, we found that those in the villages were more likely to only speak Arabic.)
Our final leg of the adventure was our arrival into Fez and our Riad. Arriving more than a bit road weary we were greeted with a warm welcome, hot mint tea and a bowl of sweetened almonds which we enjoyed while completing the check-in process.
Later, over bowls of vegetable couscous and Tagine, we all agreed that the next step (after returning to Europe and dropping off the car) would feel more like a plunge than a toe dip, but that thus far, the experience of the more exotic was something to look forward to, even if it did leave you feeling a bit overwhelmed.