Nov 5, 2006

Tourist Time!

I think I managed to upload all of my Casablanca photos before our internet connection crapped out, and I was getting too lazy to write a huge post on the blackberry.

I'll try to do a quick review of the last two days. While I arranged the first half of the trip (admittedly with large chunks unplanned except for the host we were staying with), I found myself running out of time and booking a tour with an agency specializing in Morocco.

That pretty much involved us checking their website and finding the suggested tour sounded interesting, emailed them with the time and place we would start and end, and commented that we'd like to try an Anthony Bourdain style goat in the desert. The agency asked me the level of hotel I wanted to go with and quoted me a price a few days later.

The first part of the trip we spent a lot of free time wandering semi-aimlessly and hitting gold occasionally on things that we stumbled upon. Although rewarding, it definitely chewed up a lot of time, and there were things like the Catedral in Granada we missed out on.

Fes began the first part if the agency planned trip. After getting off the train, we followed directions to get to a hotel arranged by the agent, where a mention of the name of our travel agent set things in motion that whirled beyond our comprehension, in arabic.
The hotel price was half board and included dinner. I figured we could give it a shot since we were staying two days. Foodwise it was a bad call, but easy on the pocketbook. At least we had a taste of chicken tagine and meat skewers. The hotel was very basic, and clean enough. There were towels and soap provided, and even an old air conditioner, which helped since we had to bunker down after finding mosquitos in the room.

The next day we met a guide in the foyer at a preset time. Our guide, Halid, dressed in a sports jacket, was a little cold at first, but soon warmed up. He opted to walk initially instead of taking a cab, and I have to admit that I was initially suspicious of him for bring cheap and minimizing costs.
However, he turned out to be an awesome guide. He basically took us through all the sites mentioned in the lonely planet, all efficiently. It was probably also much quicker since it was a friday, the muslim equivalent of sunday, and many shops were closed and the medina uncrowded. While we weren't allowed inside a mosque, we did get to see a madresa, a Koran school, Some of the sites, like the tannery or carpet coop, included both an informatiobal aspect and a sales aspect. Our guide stayed completely out of the sales aspect, even helping us to get away from salesmen quickly.
He seemed like a pretty devout Muslim, and was very enthusiastic about explaining various aspects of. his faith. He also dropped us off at a restaurant for lunch as he. headed to the mosque. The tourist. restaurant was very nice inside and served very good food, six or so moroccan salads, a chicken pastilla and a beef tagine, with fruit and tea for dessert.
Stuff we talked about reminded me of conversations I've had with co-workers that really showed that I didn't have a good understanding of Islam. Often I've been told of the 5 pillars of Islam that must be followed for entrance to heaven, which certainly makes it sound as I one is earning his or her way there. However, they also believe that if you're not quite good enough, the prophet Mohammad has the power to forgive you and grant entrance to heaven. While this certainly clashes directly with Christianity, it also bears the same image of a gracious God, who offers salvation and forgiveness by grace.
After lunch he brought us to see a few more places we asked to see. We had asked about dinner, and he not only suggested a place, but also brought us there to check it out for our approval before making a reservation and arranging a ride for us.

We tried to take a cab back to the new city, but given that it was friday, cabs were few. He ended up negotiating a ride on some random guys minivan. The van reminded me of the starting scene from the Insider, but it worked out well.
We spent the afternoon wandering the ville nouveau, which could have been a poorer neighbourhood of a european cities with city streets. We had coffee and fanta and sat and chatted business and watched people for a long while, which seemed appropriate for a cafe.

We returned to our hotel to meet our ride. Instead we got the owner of the hotel with a cab and a call from Halid appologizing about not sending a proper ride. The dinner menu was similar to the lunch, we ordered a harissa soup, pigeon pastilla and a roast lamb (complete with smoky wood flavour, but with no salt) and enjoyed the two hour show with live music, singing, drum performance, belly dance and magic show.
With the guide, the day was full yet still relaxing. It didn't feel as adventurous but I thought it was a worthwhile way to see Fes.

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