The day started well. We both liked the Riad Aarou very much – and not just because of the clean, modern bathrooms!
We had been welcomed by a delightful woman – why did we not get her name? – who also served us breakfast on the roof terrace. We both had nice rooms, slept well, and in the morning found we were not only on the edge of the old medina but also a stone’s throw from a boulevards with a very French small provincial town ambience. Maybe as French small town dwellers this made us feel at home. Dan wondered if we could suggest the two towns twinned and we could become the regular ambassadors 🙂
Our project for the day was to do the Lakes Tour before returning the hired car to the airport. Even the guide book said that the first lake might be dry after successive years of drought. But we didn’t manage to find a single lake with water in it! Granted we took some wrong turns and were not always on the tourist marked route, but it was clear to us that this area has changed since the guide book was last revised three years ago. We could see shallow areas where there had clearly been water, but also signs of farming being done on an industrial scale, in particular new plantations of fruit trees, and lots of ancillary building development.
Yes, there may have been several dry summers but the real culprit we reckon was insensitive agriculture. How nice it would have been to meet a Moroccan agronomist who could have explained what is going on, what is planned for Moroccan agriculture and whether there are plans to conserve and use efficiently the water resources, which must surely dwindle with climate change.
It was frustrating that our tour had not turned out as expected, but – as glass half full people – we were fascinated by the rapid changes we could see taking place.
As our tour had been so brief, we had time to stop off at the next small town, Imouzzer du Kandou, and to wander round the market of what turned out to be rather tacky, very poor looking town. I think for Dan it was quite an eye opener to wander along such scruffy alleyways – evidence of rural poverty. I had seen similar places in other parts of Africa and in India. There were apparently troglodyte dwellings in the kasbah, but neither of us felt inclined to poke around as tourists to find them.
Hard to imagine that this place, which is over 1300 metres up, had been developed by the French and is still used by Moroccans as a weekend retreat from the hot plain round Fès and Meknes. What a contrast to Azrou, which had felt much more French and in a better economic state.
We then came down of this plateau into the hot plain, returned our hire car at the airport and took a hairy taxi ride into town, with a driver who had developed lane switching to a fine art, to be performed while talking to his mates on his mobile.
We were welcomed back like old friends at Riad Tizwa. This time I am in the only room that was available – the luxurious Room 1, a suite on two levels, my grand bedroom/salon and then up more stairs to the bathroom and dressing room – which tonight has been turned into Dan’s bedroom. Very grand and unusual, and lovely to have our own sitting area within my bedroom.
I then took Dan to see the grand town entrance, Bab Boujloud, stopped off for a thé a la menthe at my favourite cafe, showed him where the two main ways down into the medina start, strolled back to our quartier, Batha, and had supper at my haunt, Café Cinéma (where I was once again greeted like an old regular).
I feel gratified that Dan was as enchanted as I am by the riad, Batha, my choice of cafés – and the general cheerful bustle of life in this part of Fes. Over supper we got talking to two Australians who, like us, were returnees to this cafe for supper, not just for the food but because the staff are so nice, not least the lovely Merieme, the student of English, who, we learned today, is already writing stories and poems both in Arabic and English.
When we got back to the Riad, it turned out that Zohaïb, the student of English who works at the Riad at weekends, was a fellow student of Merieme’s, and clearly liked her as much as we did and was most admiring of her literary feats. I suspect there is more to the Merieme story, including an intelligent girl wanting to break away from traditional feminine role expected of her