Fes, Meknes, and Volubilis

It’s no secret that I love taking photos. During most of my free time I can be found with a camera slung around my neck—whether I’m exploring a city, traipsing through my backyard, or taking photos of my beloved Australian Shepard Scamp, my camera is ever present. For each photo I take, however, there are at least 7 more I wish I could have. Opportunity is a large part of what makes a great photo great. While I’m all for making your own, there’s only so much wiggle room you can get in a crowded medina or a pushy market, etc. etc.

Patience became the virtue of the weekend as we headed out on our first in-country trip of our program. Our itinerary included stopping in Meknes and Fes, two imperial cities as well as exploring the Roman ruins of Volubilis. It was an awesome trip, but it was exhausting—we were constantly on the move, packing in as much as possible in 3 days, not that I’m complaining. The lulls in our time generally came in the form of waiting on others in shops or delays in traffic while we travelled between cities.

I think much of my patience was used, however, behind the viewfinder of my camera. Fes is a much more touristy city than Rabat or even Meknes, and Volubilis was crawling with people from all over the world. Naturally, I had no desire to capture these people in my photos, so I had to pause, hold my camera steady and wait for the gap that would come between groups of people.

I’d pause in the ruins and anxiously wait for the last person to disappear behind a pillar, or to be hidden within the shadows, absorbed by the landscape. It was tedious and somewhat frustrating, but in the end I wound up getting better shots then what I would have had I just snapped and moved on. I applied this philosophy within the medina as well, waiting to catch a shopkeeper unaware (that sounds much more nefarious than it is, I just really wanted some nice photos), snagging a carefully composed picture rather than a blurry mess, which many of my earlier snaps had resulted in.

Moving on from my musings, the trip was phenomenal. Fes was every bit as beautiful as promised. Prior to leaving, everyone we talked to said it was gorgeous and they were right. Huge gates with hand-carved and carefully painted embellishments could be found at each wall of the city, towering over the scores of people and busy traffic lanes. The markets were much more organized than the medina back in Rabat, with stalls toting out polished, carefully written signs advertising their wares and wood latticework covering the alleyways from the scorching sun. The alleys were much more intricate and tightly compacted than those we had seen previously, I made sure to keep the guide in sight at all times for fear of losing my place. Later, half the group returned to the hotel and the other half stayed to continue exploring the Sooqs (markets). The weaving of the alleys and stalls seemed to have no rhyme or reason and it was fun to just get lost within the walls of the medina, swallowed up by the flurry of activity.

Alas, Fes is tucked between the Atlas Mountains, and the constant climbing downhill and then back uphill was murder on my legs, which have yet to adjust to the heavy workload I’ve imposed upon them in recent weeks. By the time we hailed a taxi, we were dead on our feet, ready to keel over and nap beneath the African sun.

During our guided tour, the coolest aspects were definitely the tannery, the Argon oil shop or the shop where they wove and embroidered scarves, blankets, and other fabrics. In the tannery, the largest in Morocco, we watched the dying of the hides as well as got the opportunity to purchase finished products. Upon entering, we were handed sprigs of mint to hold to our noses—the hides are bleached in pigeon excrement, sold to the tannery by locals for 20 dirhams a kilo on Saturdays— the smell is less than pleasant.

The Argon oil shop was interesting if only for the fact that we got to see how the oil is made, observing how the nuts are taken from the tree, peeled, and crushed to reveal the seeds which hold the oil. We were informed that the slivers of the nut were edible, so naturally I tried some. Edible as used in this situation is a very subjective term. Apparently they are actually eaten, just generally crushed and mixed with milk and sugar—the ones we ate were not. At first, it tasted basically like an almond. Then the bitterness hits you. I nearly choked on the bitter, oily taste that sat in the back of my throat for more than half an hour. I will not be trying the Argan seed again.

The shop with the scarves and the blankets was one of my favorites. It was a calmer experience than we’re used to—no yelling or crowds of people. We got to see how the loom worked and the production of their different wares. I wound up buying two scarves because they looked so beautiful. I don’t even wear scarves, but I suppose I’m going to have to start. The shopkeeper also demonstrated for us how to wear the scarves on our heads, showcasing the different styles to keep the sand away for our desert trip next week.

Velubolis was just as incredible, just in a different way. To walk through the stone ruins and experience the ageless wonder of the 42-acre city was breathtaking. To be surrounded by so much history, to walk where the Romans walked, to see the area that was their South most border—it was an experience I don’t know that I’ll ever be able to top. It’s incredibly humbling to stand beneath structures that are so ancient I can hardly comprehend them with my twenty years on this Earth. Their massive size coupled with the history embedded into their foundations are awe-inspiring.

Like I said, patience is a big thing around this trip. The ability to wait is an underappreciated one. There were several times on the trip where things didn’t quite go according: we got held up behind a marathon when we drove to Velubolis; my outlet converter was broken in the hotel; several people got sick throughout and after the trip. Despite this, or perhaps because of these setbacks, depending on how you look at it, my weekend was amazing. I wouldn’t trade the experience I had for the world.

I will say, however, that when I returned to Rabat, I wanted nothing more than to just be horizontal and not move for 6-12 hours. Of course, things don’t always go according to plan and me, being me, gave into my restless nature and wound up at the beach. The crashing waves against the rocks combined with the stars and the subtle sounds of the music filtering in from the festival down the way created the perfect atmosphere to end a great weekend.

 

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