Mom and I wanted to go away for a weekend while she was here, so we’d been brainstorming for almost a month on where we should go. It wasn’t until I was talking with one of my friends here whose friends had just gone to Ifrane to see wild monkeys that we decided on Fes, Ifrane, and Azrou. Mom and I want to Fes last year, and I’ve been a few times since, but it’s such a special city, so we both felt good about going back.
Mackenzie and I don’t have class on Fridays, we the three of us headed out Friday morning on the train for Fes. Normally, the train takes about two and a half hours from Rabat, but since it was raining, the journey was closer to three hours, and that’s before you factor in the hour extra we waited for our train. Morocco seems to fall apart in rain.
We got to Fes around midday, and made it no problem to our Dar. We stayed at Dar el Bali, which is a beautiful little Dar in the middle of the Medina run by a Belgian family. Dar is Arabic for “House” and is used in the names of most of these little guest houses. The Dar was perfectly decorated, and had the most beautiful indoor courtyard. On top of that, they greeted us with tea and cookies, which always gets you some points in my books. That afternoon, we went to the Hammam, which is one of the only things Mom and I really regretted missing last time. Traditionally, Moroccan homes didn’t have showers, so a Hammam is a public bathing house. Now people go every two weeks or so, even though most people have showers now. We opted to go to a private one, instead of a public one, which means we got our own room and a hired lady to clean us. We went into this tiny room, with a marble slap on either side. There was water everywhere, and in between the two slabs was a water fountain basin filled with near-boiling water. The lady came in, and quickly got to work. First, she poured buckets of the hot water on each of us and scrubbed us lightly with a special brown soap. Next, she pulled out a scrubbing mitten and went to work. I could not believe how strong this woman was. She scrubbed every inch of me, and more dead skin than I could have ever imagined came off. It was horrifying to see how much dead skin we usually have on our bodies! After, she rinsed us and washed us again, before wrapping us in massive white robes and bringing us tea. I’ve never felt so clean!
The next day, we rented a driver and car to go to Ifrane, Azrou, and the Mid Atlas mountains. Our driver picked us up from our Dar, and took us through the Medina to his car waiting at Place BatHa. No cars are allowed in the Fes medina, and even if they were, there’s no way they would fit!
Our first stop was in Immouzzer, a little town in the Mid Atlas mountains. Our driver offered to take us to visit Fatima, a little Berber woman he knows, who is one of the last remaining Berbers in this town to live in a cave. Apparently, the entire town used to be made up of different caves, but most people had moved into houses. Fatima could not afford to buy a house, so instead she lived in her cave, and opened it up to tourists for a little bit of money. Even after about 15 minutes of driving, I could not believe how much colder it was there, but the cave was nice and warm. She made us some of the famous Moroccan mint tea, and we sat and talked while we drank. She didn’t speak English or French, so our driver translated for us. Once we finished our tea, she offered to dress us up in Berber clothing. She gave us each a beautiful shawl, and dressed us up with Berber jewelry. My favourite part was when she took turns wrapping up our hair in a berber head scarf, which had little gold plates hanging off of it.
Our next stop was this beautiful waterfall near Ifrane. It was absolutely freezing out, but we still made our way down to explore the forest and see the waterfall. It looked like a fairytale. Even though it was cold, the sun was shining in through the trees and lit up the waterfall. Ifrane is sometimes called Swiss Maroc because, supposedly, it looks like Switzerland. I’m not sure about Switzerland, but it definitely didn’t look like Morocco. Founded by the French, Ifrane is a ski town now used by rich Moroccans and Europeans. All the architecture looks straight out of Switzerland or a Bavarian town. You would have no idea it was Morocco if you didn’t already know. One of the biggest differences about Ifrane is how clean it is. It’s not that the rest of Morocco is necessarily dirty, but Ifrane is definitely remarkably clean.
Our next stop was Azrou, a little town farther into the mountain range. We had a quick stop here, that turned into a longer stop when we realized all the shopping to be had. Azrou is apparently the carpet capital of Morocco, or so the carpet salesman told us. He was selling Berber carpets, each made by different families from the town. After some intense bargaining, Mackenzie and I walked away with a beautiful red one for our apartment back in Ottawa!
Next we drove to visit the Barbary Apes, the initial reason for our day trip. Known both as the Berber Macac and the Barbary Ape, these monkeys live in
the Cedar forest in the Middle Atlas Mountains of Morocco, and are about the cutest things you can possibly imagine. We were driving along through the forest until our driver suddenly pulled over and pointed outside my window. Across the road, a monkey sat on a little fence, staring at us. I rolled down my window and held some bread out. It ran across the road and grabbed it straight out of my hand, before hopping on top of our car and staring at us through the windshield.
Eventually our driver shooed him away, and we drove to a little clearing in the forest. When we got out of the car we were surrounded by them. We were lucky we had some leftover bread from breakfast. We each hid a piece in our pockets, and tore off tiny bits to feed to the monkeys. You just had to hold out a piece of bread and they would reach up with their hands and feed themselves, just like people do. It was so incredible! If it hadn’t been absolutely freezing out I would have stayed out there forever! Before long the monkeys could tell where the bread was coming from and started reaching into our pockets and our coats!
Eventually we ran out of food and had to say goodbye to the apes. At this point we were starting to see patches of snow. We kept driving and soon we were completely surrounded by snow. I could not believe we were still in Morocco. It felt like we were in Saskatchewan or Ontario or anywhere other than the desert nation I’ve been living in for the past three months. And it was absolutely beautiful. We made a little stop at a ski hill where people were out and about skiing and tobogganing, which was so much fun to see! It felt like home.
Sunday morning we visited the famous tanneries in Fes where they dye most of the leather that is sold in the country. Between the tanneries and all the little shops, we managed to get a good amount of shopping done. We headed back to Rabat midday, with enough time to have a nice evening for Mom’s last night. The week went way to quickly, and I can’t believe she’s already gone!