Moving on to Meknès

It’s quite a wrench to leave the comfort of Riad Tizwa, and nice I will be returning for the last two nights.

Merieme had organised a driver to take me to Meknès, Rédouane turned out to be the brother of the driver who collected me from the airport, the big difference being that Redouane spoke good English (his brother had been a dropout at school, he explained, and now regretted it).

Redouane has a degree in Ancient Arabic Literature. He still loves the subject but unsurprisingly there are not many jobs going. So, he combines taxi work with being a guide in the medina (he was proud of having passed some diploma to accredit him as an official medina guide).

As we drove out of Fès his guiding instincts were evident: he was much more informative than Amin had been about the extent and history of the royal palace estate in Fes el-Jedid. And as we left the town behind and drove through a hot plain, with olive plantations, vegetable farms and dry fields which have yielded their wheat crop, Redouane said The ever growing development of Fes was replacing extremely fertile land. When I asked about irrigation he explained that underground there were huge reservoirs of water, usually brought up these days by pumps. When I queried the idea of unlimited water (explaining a bit the increasing concern in Europe about judicious use of water supplies), he acknowledged that this year many farmers were complaining their water supply was dwindling, as the rains had not been as heavy as usual.

When we reached Meknes, I paid for the taxi – and gave two tips, as the actual driving was done by another guy. All very complicated.

I was met at the ancient Bab Mansour by Mokhtar, a young man whom I later realised was the front of house guy for Riad Selma, where I am staying for three nights. I have of course been totally spoilt by my Riad Tizwa experience, so finding a cheerful but tacky riad, with gaudy Moroccan features was a bit of a reality check. It reminded me a bit of some of my Indian stays. But hey, the price is good.

In the afternoon I crossed the main square to have another look at Bab Mansour. Oh dear, I was disappointed. Apart from it being almost hidden behind tourist buses and busy local traffic – and being a target as usual for Chinese taking selfies – I was not particularly impressed by the architecture.

This huge arch was built in the seventeenth century as the entrance of the imperial city being developed beyond (and now apparently in a dilapidated state).

I was equally unimpressed by the Place el-Hedime which I had just crossed. Thus seemed to be just a large space, with snake charmers and horse rides for visitors. I suspect it might be more lively in the evening. As it was I witnessed the only sign of violence since coming to Morocco: to young men ferociously chasing each other and having a fisticuffs, soon surrounded by a crowd and the arrival of police. A little later I saw two boys of about 12 having a similar bust up, and wondered if this was coincidence.

There was rather a nice covered market beside the square. I bought some olives – in recognition of the status of Meknes as olive centre of Morocco – and may come back to the sweetie counters……

More mundanely, I stopped at a phone stall near the riad and bought a Moroccan SIM card plus some credits – all for less than ten quid. It’s an Orange SIM card, which just goes to show you how the first world is ripped off by the phone companies. I have come to realise that pretty well everyone – including women – has a smart phone, though few have iPhones of course. I didn’t get to ask what the phones were being used for, but this photo I took in Fes shows a group of boys clearly enjoying some game on their phones.

Back to Riad Selma, where sitting on the roof, watching the sun set I had a really good tajine, apparently thé spécialité de la maison, with almonds, cinnamon and I think honey.

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