Thursday 23rd October – wish me luck for tomorrow we may ride!

These are the stairs down to the ground floor. There’s three flights like these as we are sleeping on the top floor terrace which is beautiful. We step from our room and overlook house tops. Get the warm breeze through and hear all the city’s sounds more clearly.

This is traditionally the rainy season and people are thrilled that the rain has held off while temps are a little lower. If that holds for us we’ll be the luckiest travellers in the world, having had it pretty much all our way so far.

This is a Mederassa or a mosque European people are allowed to visit and it sits inside all these alleyways and the mess that narrow streets with tens of thousands of people live in. It was a surprise to walk through the huge wooden doors and find this truly beautiful and ancient space. There are hundreds of tiny mosques everywhere so no matter where you are you can answer the call to prayer.

Whenever we meet someone I ask if they have done the desert excursion? Do they know anything about the camel ride and sleep out to experience the sunset? I want to know because while I desperately want to do it I am also a bit worried that we are a bit old for this kind of thing. We would be going from Fes to Marrakech via the desert. It’s not a merry go round that’s over in a minute or a swing that you can say, I want to get off now. Once you’ve driven ten hours to the Sahara desert and climbed on a camels back you pretty much have to keep going. “Don’t stay on it for three hours, warns Jude. Someone I know had blisters on their bum and they couldn’t sit down for a while”.Ewww…

I heard it feels like you’ve had your back realigned someone else said. Hopefully for the better not the worse. Jamie shows us a picture of the rug she has bought. It’s a Berber design that imitates the sunset in the desert that you’re supposed to see when you go on those camel rides. This rug is very similar to the one I have fallen in love with. I had told Gilbert I’m not fussed either way but suddenly I want this ride so I can see the sunset and I want the rug to commemorate it.

Arjuna whom we met at Josephine’s is Spanish and when I ask her she tells me with her whole body, she loved it! It was one of THE MOST AMAZING things she has ever done. She only did it the once and she will never forget the sound of the camels hooves as they hit the sand. “When you do it, she says facing me now as if there is no question, you must close your eyes”. As she says this she tips her head forward and closes her eyes. Her long sandy hair falling forward like a veil over her eyes and her long silky lashes sit delicately on her skin. She imitates the camels face in a slow gentle beautiful movement, and then she rocks her body as if she is on the camels back. I am mesmerised watching her as she puts her hands in front of her, like a camel taking long slow steps into the sand. “Plomph, plomph, plomph”. She opens her eyes with her body still in camel pose and looks up at me. “That’s the noise his hooves make as they go through the sound. Make sure you close your eyes and listen. Plomph, plomph, plomph”. Then she tips her head back and laughs. “You will love it” she smiles with her eyes twinkling and pulls her hair back away from her face. She should be selling camel rides I think because right now there’s nothing I want more!

We booked the trip after meeting Mohamed and Omar. They organise everything. We chose the three night and four day excursion that takes us through the mountains and kasbahs and to relax at a hotel where we can swim in the hotel pool and then ride the camels into the Sahara where we camp under the stars. Eat a traditional Berber meal and play music while we watch the sunset in an unpolluted night sky. Next morning we watch the sunrise and then ride the camel back to the hotel on the edge of the desert for breakfast. Sleep there the night and then travel to Marakech with another night somewhere to rest and all that the Sahara desert has in between.

A little problem is I didn’t feel so well today. I’m not sure if my tummy is rebelling or the heat, the noise, the smells have all been a little overpowering today and maybe I’m just a bit overtired. We headed through the alleys for some last jobs and then went to Cafe Clock. There is a multitude of clocks in here and not one says the right time. It’s bright and airy and the staff all speak several languages flitting easily between them.

This is where I went for the cooking classes and we pop in to pick up emails and grab a fresh juice but we are only there a few minutes when a group of local men breeze in with tools, and then a British guy and two other locals come and sit at the table. Their voices begin to raise and the British guy flits from English to something else, so I can only hear snippets. I have a mirror on the wall beside me so I can lift my head slightly and observe without turning. There is two things going on. The workers are being admonished for starting a job. “I’m running a restaurant here” “you’ll have to come back”, ” I don’t care, I’m not having you do this now” is the gist of the first group who reluctantly start to pack up their tools but interspersed with that is a confrontation at the table. “No, you will give me my deposit back or I will call the polzia” , “I will”, soothing words to clam him from from the other side of the table don’t seem to quieten him and his frustration increases with his voice pitch and tone until he pulls his phone out and makes like he’s dialling.

It’s over quickly and before we know it, the workers have gone and the issue resolved and I am back absorbed in my emails, when I suddenly hear an apology. “I’m so sorry you had to hear that, he says standing in front of us, if I might introduce myself. I’m Richard and I own this establishment. I just get really frustrated sometimes. Are you enjoying your time here?” We tell him we are loving it and we have been here a few days. We enjoy his cafe as a refuge and that I have done the cooking lessons which I enjoyed immensely. We tell him we love the many facets of the Cafe. Yesterday in for coffee we had the good fortune to hear a group telling stories ”

“Oh yes”, he tells us the story telling is weekly. They are translating old Arabic stories into English at the Cafe and we have heard the practise run because it’s actually tonight. We are welcome to return for that. He tells us his aim is to attract the young Arabic visitors returning from overseas or from the towns as well as the Europeans who are interested. Eight years ago he set up the cafe but then bought the house next door and connected them, so he now has a small theatre, a second kitchen for the cooking classes, extra toilets and extra rooms for separate gatherings and a larger terrace. He enjoys all the cultural elements of Fez and likes to have them within the cafe while providing a safe haven for travellers who sometimes get overwhelmed… may I get you something, cheesecake perhaps?” He offers. We assure him we’ve had a five star breakfast at Steves and were just taking a break.

It’s a funny thing but last night Gilbert had commented that with all these people squished into this space there didn’t seem to be too much friction. People going about their business without voices raised in anger and then when we went out we observed two altercations within seconds of each other. The second in fact in response to the first as people started to gather to see and hear what was happening right beside us. i motioned to Gilbert we should keep moving. Don’t want to be caught up in the middle of this if it gets nasty and he took my hand and we moved sideways. The guy in front of us turned and then side stepped us and pulled himself up short to look back and bumped into a guy striding down. The guy he bumped into suddenly turned on him and right in front of us pushed himself aggressively right up to the others face. We side stepped that as several other men began to surround them. “Gee, Gilbert said. Nothing anywhere and two in two seconds!” I turned back but couldn’t see what was happening apart from some raised voices and a sea of men. Good timing I think, walking through it at the start rather than being in the middle and not able to get free of the quick press of bodies.

After a short time I decide to head back and left Gilbert to complete. I decided I needed to rest. This is not the day to get sick. Just before the Sahara desert, but I’ll see what happens overnight. I daren’t let Steve’s housekeeper know for the local treatment for upset tummy is hedgehog soup. As if a prophecy, someone tried to sell me a hedgehog last night. I tell Fatima not to clean le chambre today as we are in a mess packing. She has so little English I have no idea what she thinks I have said but I doze quietly with the door to the terrace open letting the warm breeze flow through.

We are leaving early in the morning so Gilbert packs while I rest. All my talk of not buying souvenirs has dissolved, as I watch him pack the most beautiful things we have chosen to return home with. I had always said we might grab an extra bag for that, but seriously it would take a container to take everything I have fallen in love with here and we have chosen carefully. Gilbert collected his glasses and he’s rapt. A third of the price and they seem perfect.

You may not hear from me for a few days. Not sure what wifi connections are like out there…or toilets come to think of it….hmmm.

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