Again, I am up with the muezzins. Yesterday on the train from Marrakech to Fez I am struck again by how similar the terrain is to that I bike all around in Oaxaca Mexico, mountains in the distance, agaves which look like four foot tall aloe plants the burnt orange and reds of the soil. It turns out this is not just my imagination.
We are joined in our cabin by Prof. Dr. Abdel jabber Arrach, a law professor at a university in a city along our route. He proves to be a wealth of information. One tidbit he shares with us is that many millenniums ago, before the “big splash” Morocco and Mexico were indeed connected before that bit of water the Atlantic wedged its way in between the two and to this day there are plant species that exist only in these two countries. We sporadically chat with the professor and look out the window and read our books. The first class compartment is very comfortable and I wish we had more trains in the states.
A donkey seems to be the farm equipment of choice and we speed past a great number of these sleepy looking equines harnessed to carts or their backs piled with some burden or other. They look like they are ready to begin snoring as soon as they stop moving. Standing still their heads bob slowly up and down and their eyelids droop a bit. In Marrakech I remember one man driving his donkey cart through the narrow cobble ways of the souks chatting with the animal as if he were trying to convince it of something. The donkey didn’t look impressed.
Dr. Arrach takes leave of us about a quarter of the way in our seven and a half hour journey leaving Sara and me alone in the cabin where we are able to flip the armrests up on the seats and stretch out and catch a couple Zs.
Later in the trip we are joined by a clean cut young man who informs us he is a teacher in Fez. He shows us pictures of his family and begins telling us his city. I am a little wary, wondering if he may be one of the unofficial guides, more interested in separating tourists from their cash than being a good city booster. We chat a bit about the countries we have been to and what it was like to be in Cairo when the presidential election was decided. He tells us how his 9 year old son is a huge Obama fan. I decide to be a good American ambassador and I dig into my backpack and give our new friend and Obama t-shirt that my son had given me for my birthday to give to his son.
As the ride continues our guy becomes more and more interested in our trip to Fez – do we have a place to stay already, do we have a guide, etc. etc. We inform him that yeas we have a place to stay, yes we have a guide and at the next stop he says he is going to meet a friend and he will see us later. I return to reading my guidebook on Fez and the very next section warns of con men posing as “teachers” on the train in order to fleece tourists. Live and learn. Perhaps our conversations with the real teacher Dr. Arrach had caused us to let our guard down a bit and perhaps our young flimflam artists had a pang of guilt after I gave him the gift – who knows? But the next three such characters that came into our cabin became a source of amusement for us as.
We arrive in Fez and after a wee bit of language problems arrange for a ride to our riad. Fez seems to be very different from Marrakech – first off, no motorbikes! Secondly the walled medina is hugging the hills and the pathways and streets are even narrower than we have become accustomed to. The city has a European medieval feeling in an Arab kind of way. I am reminded of Sara and my first trip abroad together almost a dozen years ago when we visited Rottenburg, Germany.
We settle into our riad then head out looking for a place to grab a bite to eat. We end up in a joint called Café Clock. Fez is known as the arts capital of Morocco and Café Clock is a hipster type place that one might find in the village in NYC or university town. We enjoy our meals so well that we decide to take an all day cooking class with the restaurant’s chef this Friday so I’ll tell you more about this place later. This morning we are meeting our guide Abdulla – he is affiliated with the school in Rabat we will be teaching at next week. We know he is reputable and is not going to cost us the shirts off our backs.