header photo

Melissa & Dave - Adventures at Sea

Hoodlums and hoodlums to be

Came down to breakfast and were served an entire table full of breads.  Croissants, flat bread, French bread, what looked like English muffins.  Sigh.  Breakfast seems to be the big challenge food allergy wise.  Both of us are allergic to wheat and eggs among other things.  We’ve had eggs every morning for the past 6 days – because it seemed the least worst option (some allergies being worse than others).  But since yesterday Melissa got a terrible tummy ache – most likely from drinking coffee on an empty stomach – but still – time to maybe not eat the eggs this morning.  Before booking each and every hotel Melissa had emailed them months ago and asked if they could accommodate the allergies.  All the hotels we booked assured us that they could.  And she emailed them again a week before we departed to remind them.  Alas, our first hotel in Marrakesh seems the only one to really think it through.

So Melissa says to the waiter that we can’t eat the breads.  She does the google translate thing to French on Dave’s cell phone “allergic to wheat”.  Ahhh they say, how about some eggs?  They eventually brought some orange slices, tomato slices, and chopped onion.  Gonna be stopping for lunch early today.

When we went to pack the car, there was a troupe of young grade school age school girls walking past.  They yelled out “Bonjour!”.  Melissa replied, “Bonjour!” whereupon they started chattering to her in French.  What is this?  Young girls wanting to talk to the foreigners?  Wow.  Alas Melissa’s French is no where near good enough.  So she says “petite Français, English?”.  They continue to chatter at us.  Dang.  Would really have loved to talk to them and see what they wanted.

The drive across the mountains (yes again) takes us into serious fruit tree country.  Very pretty and green all around.  Passing through one of the forests Dave spots monkeys, but there is no where to pull over and park to take pictures darn it.

We stop in El Hajeb as google maps shows it lined with tons of cafes.  And sure enough we drive down the street and see tons of little places.  So we park the car and start to walk back up the street.  Melissa, emboldened by yesterday’s experience seeing local women without scarves decides to forgo it today figuring the closer we get to the big city of Fes the more accustomed people are going to be with tourists.  Maybe not the best of decisions.  Very traditional town.  And in about 20 cafes we walked past – not a single female in any of them.  Tons of men drinking tea or coffee, but not a single female.  Lots of women on the street going in and out of shops – but not one in the cafes.  And we are getting lots of stares.  Ok, yeah, time to exit stage right.  We make a U-turn and head back to the car.  So much for that early lunch.

Melissa didn’t take pictures there, but here’s one from another travel blog.

When we reach Fes, we are back in the land of crazy drivers.  The google maps turn out to be not quite as spot on accurate in Fes and there are lots of small twisted streets so navigation turns out to be a little challenging.  A guy on a motorcycle pulls up and wants to talk to us.  Oh yeah, here we go again with the “helpful” locals.  We try to ignore him.  Alas he is insistent and finally Dave relents and rolls down the window to chat at a stop light.  At the next light he offers to find us a great place to stay.  No we say, no thanks.  Next light he insists again, we tell him, “we have reservations”.  He continues to follow us till we take a wrong turn and have to back track.  Now he’s offering to lead us where we need to go.  We tell him no.  He says follow me.  We take a turn away from him deliberately.  He doubles back and chases us down again.  Melissa gets pretty annoyed and tells him we are fine and he should go away.  He continues to follow us.  A second motorcycle appears and Dave thinks he sees the two guys chatting.  The first guy finally peels off and the second one closes in and tells us he would be happy to help us.  They are working in pairs now?  Seriously?  We pull over near the hotel and call them as their instructions had been to get near them and call and they would come and show us a secure place to park.  We call, and the guy is still banging on the window insisting on “helping”.  We continue to ignore him and a few minutes later a very nice lady comes to help us find parking.  This was the most obnoxious the scam “helpers” have been to date.  Melissa is reminded of what Gavin De Becker says in his book “The Gift of Fear”, to watch out for people who don’t hear the word “no” and go around it – even if their reasoning seems like they are trying to help you.  Nice polite people respect boundaries and will back off.  Scammers won’t.  Don’t let your own politeness get used against you.

The gal who runs the Riad Alya here is adorable.  Her name is Ahlam.  She first takes us to an underground parking spot with a security attendant 24x7 where we will leave the car for a couple of nights.  Then back to the Riad where we get mint tea and relax in the lobby.  Once we are all checked in, its time for a little tour of the place.  Built almost 200 years ago – a lot of the mosaics are original and are spectacular.  Ahlam remembers all about the food allergies and a discussion ensues about what she can feed us for breakfast.  We ask about sausage and she look at us like we are nuts – “Not at breakfast!” she says.  Hmmm.  We finally relent and tell her omelets and fruit will be fine.  Not ideal as its more eggs, but hey, at least she tried.

She then takes us to our room which is enormous.   Two sitting areas, one with two big leather chairs and a table, a huge king size bed, and a bathroom that is as big as the bedroom with two sinks, shower, and huge jetted soaking tub.  Even has a little fridge.

Its 3pm and we are now starving.  We drop our stuff and head out.  In the reception area Ahlam tells Melissa she looks like a local with her scarf on.  But she offers to arrange it properly.  So she gets out a pin and redoes the scarf to look truly like a local.  Then she shows us the map and where to go for lunch near the famous blue gate only a few minutes walk from the Riad.

We head out and get lunch at a little café and then walk through the marketplace.  It’s a bit different than Marrakesh.  It has a lot of the same tourist stuff, but its clear that the locals must actually shop here as you see normal clothes – sweaters, jeans and such, along with plumbing supplies, a key maker, you name it.  Interestingly the prices of things are lower too.  In Marrakesh we negotiated a vendor down to $30 dirham for a scarf.  That same scarf – the starting offer was $30 dirham here in Fes.  Melissa did want to find a nice tunic.  She had seen one she really liked a few days ago but it was too small.  So we are on the hunt for one.  Melissa stops in one shop and the shop keeper pulls out about 30 of them for her to see.  But they are “one size fits no one” and not very good quality.  The shop keeper offers them at $90 dirham (about $9 US)  So we move on.  A few doors down, she spots a nearly identical one to the one she fell in love with.  In that shop – upstairs – people are actually sewing – they make everything right there.  And the one she wants fits perfectly!  Ok, how much? 280 dirham.  He goes on about how they make everything themselves and what not.  Ok, gotta admit, he was good.  We just didn’t want to negotiate as he was so sweet.  What’s your best offer?  $250 dirham.  Yeah, ok.

We continue to wander till we wander outside to a small square.

We find a vendor selling sugar peas.  We ask how much.  50 cents US for 2 pounds.  We tell him yes, we will take some.  Back home at Metropolitan market 2 pounds would be $10.  We should have negotiated probably, but why?

The markets were super crowded and we had about enough for the day, so Dave pulls out his phone to figure out where we are and how to get back to the Riad.  We decide to hoof it – though it’s a ways and through the back alleys.  Oh well, we like to see the real city anyway.  A few locals look at us funny as most tourists don’t wander this way, but we didn’t feel unsafe, just out of place a bit. 

At one point we come across a group of 4 boys playing.  They spot Melissa’s camera and start hopping up and down to have their picture taken.  They are pushing one another out of the way to be at the front of the picture and are making faces.  Melissa snaps a photo:

And the boys immediately start grabbing at the camera.  A bit taken aback, Melissa realizes almost immediately that they just want to see their picture.  Melissa shows it to them.  Then they start demanding money.  Oh no way.  Melissa laughs and tells them no.  They continue to insist.  She is like forget it you little thieves in the making.  They follow us for several blocks demanding money.  We just kept laughing.  Then they try to be “helpful” and tell us they will take us where we want to go.  Oh no, Melissa says, no dirhams, no way.  A few blocks later they wander off.  Melissa says to Dave, “you still have your wallet?”  “Yeah, already checked.”  Sheesh.  No way in heck were we giving those kids money.  Just encourages them to grow up and be even worse.  Dave says, “But you knew that’s what they were after, right?”  “Nope.  Didn’t even dawn on me till they started asking for the money.”  Too many other places we have been where kids just get a kick out of you taking their picture.  Later Dave says that he heard the oldest boy in the red shirt – who stuck with us the longest -as he headed back to his friends say, “I got some!”.  Guess he had to save face with his pals.

We make it back to the Riad and ask for a bottle of rose wine delivered to the roof.  We head up there and are happy to sit and eat our peas and drink wine and look at the amazing view of the green countryside and the city below.

Melissa having spotted a winery sign earlier in the day asked the waiter if it was possible to go on a Moroccan wine tour and taste the wines.  “Oh no!” he says.  He goes on to explain that because Morocco is a Muslim country, alcohol has only been legalized in a few places.  He implied that the wineries have to get permission to operate from the government.  But because it is so anti-culture people worry that the fanatics will bomb the wineries.  So they are heavily guarded and no one is allowed into them.  Fascinating.  Makes us wonder how the wine is distributed to the hotels.  Under armed guard?  Also interesting that while every hotel we have stayed at has had plenty of wine, each hotel has wine from a different winery – but no choice between wines.  They have one and only one red wine and so forth.  Will have to figure that out as we would love to take a few bottles home.  The wine is surprisingly good for a country that isn’t known for wines.

Melissa decides to take a nice soak in the giant jetted tub.  Fills it with hot water and gets in.  Big electronic control that seems to work, but alas no jets.  She calls Dave for help.  He comes and goes through the same sequence of punching the buttons.  “Sounds like the pump has seized,” he says.  MacGyver opens the compartment under the tub and starts to poke around.  “Want me to see if I can fix it?”  “But you didn’t bring your multi-meter.”  “Yeah, that’s true.  It was in my backpack but I took it out before we left.”  Yes. Those that know Dave can be shocked at this point – we went on a trip without a multi-meter.

Dinner was split pea soup (is that originally Moroccan?), all the usual selection of salads, and the kafta meatball tagine.  The Riad has live music tonight.

After dinner Melissa goes to chat with Ahlam.  Melissa wants to know what “Babouche” means because the boys on the street earlier today had asked her if she was Babouche.  Imagining the boys might have been calling her names, she tells Ahlam she needs to know what a word means and it might be a bad word, she isn’t sure.  She says “Babouche” but botches the pronunciation.  Ahlam laughs, “Its shoes!”  Ah, this makes sense – the boys were trying to direct us to the shoe store.

She then writes our names in Arabic.  The top one is Melissa and the bottom one is David.

Go Back