We first kind of met when I discovered that there was a kitten locked in the cupboard beside my bed. I was lying in bed reading and could hear these plaintive little meows coming from my right. I opened up the windows to see if there was a cat on the street below, but nothing. Back in bed, I could still hear this soft meowing. Thinking I was crazy, I tried to ignore it. Then I heard some rattling, and opened the window again. More nothing. Next, I could swear I saw the cupboard doors shaking, but the door was padlocked shut. Surely nothing could be in there, right? I was crouched beside the cupboard, ear to the door, when Veronika came in. Looking for confirmation that I hadn’t in fact lost the plot, I asked if she could hear anything in the cupboard. As she came over, I got the confirmation I wanted – another little helpless meow, and a little white paw shot out of the gap at the bottom of the door. There was, in fact, a kitten locked in the cupboard! Next, we had to find someone who had a key to the padlock. Once the kitten was free – and very grateful I might add, purring her little head off – we discovered that this was the cat that Nadja, who runs the hostel, had been frantically looking for a few hours earlier. God only knows how it got itself locked in – the cupboard was full of blankets, so I’m guessing she found it a comfortable place to sleep and was locked in there inadvertently, only to wake up very confused and upset hours later. We chatted about random stuff for a while after I noticed that she was reading a book by one of my favourite authors.
The next day, I was planning to wander around the medina myself whilst she was doing the guided tour, so we didn’t catch up until the afternoon, when it turned out we were both planning cheap and healthy dinners that required visiting the souq again. Rather than take the very straightforward route down the stairs and along the main road, we thought we’d try and find our way through the twisted alleys of the medina. This meant that it took significantly longer than expected, given that we spent a good deal of time headed away from the fresh produce section of the souq, but it was interesting to wander through the residential areas. We eventually made it where we wanted to go, and stocked up on tomatoes, capsicums, cucumbers, onions, marinated olives, sheep cheese, Happy Cow cheese, fresh bread, melons and some delicious pastries. We hauled our dinner back the hostel feeling a measure of success.
We got chatting over dinner and discovered that we had a lot of similar interests. While Veronika studied Zoology to my archaeology and history, we both seemed to be fascinated with anthropology and evolutionary psychology and ended up talking for hours about the most ridiculous thing, each of us slipping into passionate monologues about various topics – the kind that we’re both used to making people drift off during. It was too crazy, meeting someone from the other side of the world [Mexico, living in London] in a little hostel in Fez who was just as interested in crazy things as me. We’d also both been eyeing the belly-dancing costumes on display in the hostel, and decided that we wanted to play dress- ups. Accordingly, we stripped the mannequins and proceeded to tie ourselves into the outfits. Of course, this meant that we had to parade them and pretend to belly dance in front of everyone, but we had a good time dancing and later posing for photos – in our dorm, as one of the guys who ‘worked’ at the hostel [I say ‘worked’ as no one ever actually saw him doing anything that could possibly be construed as work] was a bit creepy, quite sleazy, and spent the whole time I was there hitting on every girl who stayed there. We switched so we could both try each costume.
The next day, we decided that we’d take the train to Meknes for the day. We took a petit-taxi to the train station and as we were walking in, Veronika stopped to pick up a feather from the ground. I asked her whether she was going to put it in her hair – as this is what I have a tendency to do with random feathers I pick up – and she burst out laughing, as this was exactly what she had planned to do and she thought I’d read her mind. Apparently people usually explain to her about all the mites and diseases she could get from a feather, as they do when I do the same thing. It only got worse [or better?] when she called me ‘gypsy woman’ in a fake Kazakhstani accent in a Borat quote, and I knew exactly what she was saying.
We got on the train to Meknes, believing that it would take about an hour to get there. So we got comfortable, and after about 45 minutes a ticket inspector came to check our tickets which very clearly stated Meknes as our destination. He asked us where we were going and we advised Meknes. He shook his head and explained, to our disbelief, that we had passed Meknes about 15 minutes earlier. He told us that Kunetra, the next stop, wasn’t for another hour or so. Luckily, he didn’t ask us to pay the extra fare – I think he realised that we had only little shoulder bags and were not trying to get a discount fare to Casablanca. He was probably thinking how these stupid foreign girls couldn’t even manage to catch a train! It was almost 1pm, and we wouldn’t reach Kunetra until 2pm; we had to hope there was a train back to Meknes shortly after that so we’d make it there and still have time to explore. There wasn’t much to do except wait until the next stop and I was glad I’d downloaded a book to my phone the night before, after our conversations about random things had led to discussions on the evolution of human sexual behaviour and the different theories about this [how exactly I’m not entirely sure] and I remembered a book I’d read on this. So we both sat there on the train reading Sex at Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality, me on my iPhone and Veronika on her iPod. A brilliant book, by the way, which I’d highly recommend, and no it’s definitely not pornographic! When we got to Kunetra, we discovered that the train back to Meknes had been delayed, so we managed to catch it and arrived in Meknes just before 4pm. That must be a record, taking four hours to get from Fez to Meknes!
We wandered around the little medina of Meknes, and it was a lovely change from Fez – much more relaxed and laid back. It took us a while to make it to the souq as we walked through the more industrial section first rather than taking the main entrance and tourist trail. We watched people spinning cactus silk into threads to make ribbons, and people mending random metal items. We found a little artisan’s workshop where they make beautiful metal goods intricately inlaid with silver wire, and watched as the artist hammered the thin silver wire into detailed patterns on a large plate. Without even realising it, we both chose a ring each with the exact same design – leading to jokes about how we’d met our Mexican/Australian twin. It was just hilarious, after all these other little things where we discovered we thought the same. A lovely man named Ahmed showed us his home and some traditional carpets and brass goods he had there, asking nothing from us.
We ended up getting led by a young guy into his family’s ‘cooperative’ shop, filled with colourful Berber carpets and kilims, blankets, brightly painted tagines and jewellery, brass teapots and coffeepots, and mirrors inlaid with camel bone. We enjoyed glass after glass of overly sweet mint tea, while the young guy showed us carpet after carpet. We practiced our pouring-tea-from-ridiculous-heights skills, and tested out our drumming abilities.
Veronika bargained down a small carpet, which came with gifts of large ceramic ashtrays for each of us [I later gave her mine, as it was only going to be either broken or left behind]. While it may not have been overly culturally appropriate, he gave me a ‘traditional’ Berber massage in the old style his grandmother had taught him, and it was very professional. My shoulders, which had been aching, felt amazing afterwards. We must have been chatting to him for hours, as suddenly it was after 8.30 and we needed to get the 9.06 train back to Fez.
After politely declining his persistent offers to stay with his family, on the premise that all our stuff including necessary medications were in Fez, we managed to get out of the medina and back to the train station in time. We arrived back in Fez around 10pm, too late to revisit the souq for more supplies however we had enough vegetables and melons, and made do with day-old bread.
We spent the next day exploring Fez’s medina after buying our bus tickets to Essaouira and Chefchaouen in the morning. When we entered the medina, apparently in the very local market section there was a guy with a stall selling pistachio juice….
For the most part, we had a great time in the medina, although one very persistent man almost caused me to lose my temper.
Veronika was much more patient, although even then we just had to walk away in the end. He had invited us to have tea with him, and we really just wanted to walk around. He was also a bit annoying. Despite that we were very polite to him, he just kept following us and wouldn’t take no for an answer. we went into a little shop where they were demonstrating the making of Argan oil in order to escape him. Unfortunately he had waited around the corner where we couldn’t see him, and when we left half an hour later he followed us again, claiming he’d called his family and they were busy preparing things for us to visit, making tea and food. We continued to explain that we were not interested, we appreciated the offer but preferred to walk around and be left alone. He then became quite aggressive, going on about how rude we were when he’d gone to all this trouble, how we had put his whole family to a lot of trouble. I was getting pretty pissed off at this point, given that we had never given the impression that we would go anywhere with him and he was blaming us for his own refusal to give up despite that we had repeatedly declined his offer. Personally, I don’t see how we were particularly rude. He followed us, he wouldn’t leave us alone despite our repeated requests that he do so, and he tried to force us into going to his home which we had no interest in doing.
We eventually got rid of him, and we found our way to my favourite patisserie for ice-cold jus d’orange and cakes. I had the biggest, and most delectable, eclair I’d ever eaten. It was amazing. We headed back to the hostel and decided to visit a hammam. I had already been two days earlier and didn’t get everything I was promised, so I wanted to try a different hammam. We got the hammam packages – a towel, a mat, a scoop and a kese glove – from the hostel, and wandered down towards R’cif Square. A man who we’d met earlier at the patisserie offered to help us, and directed us to a very very local hammam. It was great. It was full of local women, and no one there spoke a word of English, French or Spanish. IT certainly wasn’t anything fancy – the place was old and dusty and looked about to fall apart – but it was nice to have a local experience. We had a rather large Moroccan woman, probably in her late 50s or early 60s, fetching bucket after bucket of water for us, some hot and some cold. While I used my little scoop bowl thing to mix up the hot and cold water to something more bearable, the woman scrubbed Veronika down with the kese glove. Then it was my turn. I was quite shocked at how much dead skin there was to be removed, given that I’d been to the hammam only two days before. I like to blame copious amounts of sunscreen and the amount of dirt accumulated from the medina. The woman was incredibly strong and stuffed my hand in her ample bosom as she scrubbed the hell out of my arm. I probably should have learned how to explain in Arabic that my freckles will not come off, no matter the effort put in. As she focused all her attention on us, some of the other women there got annoyed when their buckets [each person has about six] were not being refilled. I gave the woman the conditioner when she went to wash our hair, as I knew that she would be brushing our hair like crazy and it’s not so enjoyable when the shampoo knots it up. After this, we had a brief massage, lying on the very hot marble floor. It felt great – she worked a lot of the knots out of my shoulders. We left feeling very clean to enjoy the remainder of our salad for dinner.
I was a little sad when Veronika departed for the bus station – it’s always a little sad when you’ve met someone you get along with like a house on fire! I thought I’d have a lazy evening and an early night, however there was a new French guy staying in the dorm with me, and we ended up talking for ages about travelling in the Middle East and where to go to in Africa, as he was half Eritrean and Somalian. And inevitably, talk always turns to politics….Does that only happen to me?
The kitten had long ago adopted me and spent its third night curled around my neck purring like mad.