Saturday, 24 September 2011

Beyond the Mountains

It has been an exhausting week. We have been working very long hours to try and stay on top of things. As I have mentioned before we have few hardcopy resources. Our Reading and Science programs are online, and our Math resources have not arrived. For the rest of the Language Arts we are expected to use the internet and design materials to best suit the curriculum. While this is good in many ways, such as you are not tied to one book and potential activities you don't like and it ensures you teach directly to the curriculum, it also means that we are constantly scrambling to get to know the curriculum, plan activities and plan assessment. Today is Saturday and we spent five hours working. Last weekend we were out on Friday and then away for the weekend. This meant that we spent the rest of the week trying to catch up. Combine this with a midweek evening trip down to Fes to see a friend who is leading a photography tour, and our school's Open House evening and this week has felt endless.

Taking last weekend away from school work was worth it, even if it made this week a little stressful. For an anniversary treat we went to stay in a riad in the medina in Meknes. Meknes is one of Morocco's four imperial cities and is 60km away from Ifrane and Fes. We took the bus down for a change, thinking we'd get more space and comfort than in a grande taxi. The increase in space was marginal but we did gain quite a lot of height. While this might usually be considered an improvement with the better views, it also means there is a lot more rolling and movement along the windy road. Having consumed a good share of two bottles of wine the night before I spent the entire 60 minute journey clinging the seat in front and trying to control my breathing to prevent being sick. It was with great relief that we arrived in Meknes. This relief was relatively brief as once there we had to stand in the blazing sun in the big square outside the medina while we waited for the manager of the riad to come and fetch us. As most riads are tucked away in windy back streets and hidden behind big walls, it is near on impossible to find them on your own. While we were waiting for our man we got to take in some of the goings on in the square. This large area was once used for announcements and public executions but is now a haven for caf├ęs, lantern shops and a wide variety of street sellers. The most interesting of these were the African witch doctors. The area is renowned for its medicine men who mix up all sorts of weird and wonderful concoctions. One popular ware is dried ostrich legs and feet, complete with shrivelled skin and claws. Later in the evening the square filled with people watching performers. Snake charmers and dancers tempt people to part with money to get the tiniest glimpse of a performance. We watched a snake charmer for five minutes. There was a whole lot of shouting and parading around but very little action from the snake. If it was a snake at all. It was impossible to know for sure as it remained tied in a bag.

The witch doctors are under the umbrellas.
The riad we stayed in was stunning. At 200 years old it has been lovingly restored by a French family who used it as a home while they were teaching out here. Since they returned home 18 months ago it has been used as a hotel. With only four rooms it is an oasis of calm in the bustle and noise of the walled medina. We stayed in one of the two suites that opened onto the enclosed courtyard. Open to the sky with shade from the orange laden trees, the comfy courtyard loungers provided the perfect place for nursing a hangover. I have wanted to stay in a riad for a long time. It is impossible to know anything about what is behind the imposing doors and high walls from outside. Stepping through the door into a hall and then out into the enclosed haven of the internal garden is kind of magical. The experience was everything and more than expected. 

Our welcome mint tes at the riad.
Some of the beautiful details
The double doors to our room.


Compared to the medina in Fes, this medina was small. When we were in the Fes medina we found it surprisingly easy to navigate. This might be due to the fact that we stayed on the main routes. In Meknes we were not so mindful and wandered without too much thought for direction. I can honestly say that within five minutes of leaving the riad for the first time we wouldn't have been able to find our way back. While the shopping area is very condensed and we quickly walked through it, we soon found ourselves disoriented amongst narrow streets and the doors of peoples' homes. We stumbled out the other end of the medina and had to follow the wall back around to find another way in.

The windy alleyways in the medina
Spice stacks

We have been advised by a few people that for shopping it is best to look in Fes but to shop in Meknes. With less of a crowd, fewer tourists and a more compact area to cover, prices are also cheaper. Moroccan haggling is legendary. And we were expecting to find ourselves in quite a few long winded bargaining discussions. Surprisingly most people we have tried to bargain with have shown very little interest and are happy to let us leave without decreasing the price at all. Locals and expats alike always say the real price is 50% of the starting price and not to buy at full price. This is somewhat hard when faced with shopkeepers who are happy to let you walk away with no apparent interest in trying to make a sale. We did have one scary experience where a guy was asking about $120 for a mirror and then ended up chasing us down the street offering it us for $30. He had been so hard sell that he scared us away. We ended up leaving the medina with a 3ft black lantern, numerous pairs of shoes and four wall lamp shade to replace our dodgy pink ones. The apartment is still a work in progress but we are getting there. It might just be heading towards the nicest place we have lived in. Now we just need some visitors to show it off to... bring on November.

Bit of a funny one... on the way back we stopped to do some food shopping. In the store there was a food court with a selection of restaurants. Entertainingly one of them was named 'Bangkok Cafe... Japanese Restaurant', specialising in sushi and Chinese food. Looks like I'll be sticking to our Thai food at home still.

1 comment:

Val said...

Fantastic photos Tanya - looking forward to seeing your lovely apartment very soon!