PAULA MEHMEL: Shoot The Rapids — Morocco Day 4

The key to successful travel experiences, in my opinion, is pace. You can’t go, go, go all the time and really appreciate all that a country has to offer. At least I can’t. So some days you need to deliberately slow down to experience a country and not just see it. That’s what today was all about.

We had a relaxed morning as we packed up for our trip to Fes and had a lovey breakfast in our riad, the Moroccan version of a guest house. The space feels like a country home, with a beautiful pool, gardens and spacious areas to enjoy the mint tea that is the signature of Moroccan hospitality. Lest anyone think I have come into a great deal of money, the cost of our room was about $60 a night, including a full Moroccan breakfast.

We decided that this was a good day to experience our first Moroccan hammam. Hammams are Turkish-style steam baths that are a key part of the Islamic culture and most riads have them.

After disrobing, you enter a steam room where the attendant first showers you with warm water then covers you with oil with a light massage. After washing you again, she defoliates your whole body. And I mean your whole body. With a luffa. As I watched the ropes of skin peel off my body, I felt like Eustace Scrub in “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader” after he turned into a dragon and Aslan came and peeled off the outer layer to get him back to his true self. After this, she covered the whole body in clay, waited for it to set and then scrubbed it off. The final stage was having your hair washed. And in each of these stages, you are greeted with a different and amazing scent. By the end, you feel like a whole new person. It was one of the most luxurious experiences of my life, made even more perfect by the massage that followed, as the tension from my flight a few days earlier washed away.

In a state of euphoric bliss, I sat by the pool in the garden for a while, re-energizing, until our taxi arrived to take us to the University of New England Tangier Campus to connect with Johanna. She is one of 37 students from UNE studying in Morocco for the semester. It is a separate campus of the university, where they provide an incredible experience for the students, who learn Arabic, take a variety of classes and have cross-cultural experiences.

After giving us a tour of the campus, we returned to the Women’s Center, where Johanna volunteers twice a week, to purchase some textiles. It felt good to get traditional craft items and support their mission to provide income for women who have been victimized in their life and are looking for hope and purpose. Also, the craft work was exquisite.

When we got back, it was time to catch our train to Fes. We opted to travel the way the locals do, as that is part of the experience. Although we arrived in plenty of time, there was confusion about what train we were taking as the track listings weren’t clear. So we found ourselves running to catch the train. We ended up getting in the wrong car and had to walk through several cars that were completely packed pulling all of our luggage. Five Americans in a car full of Moroccans hauling suitcases and bags created quite the image. I’m fairly certain they don’t see a lot of Westerners on this train.

After we got settled in what I thought was a surprisingly nice second-class train for about 45 minutes, we needed to change trains. This time, we were able to get to the right car but it was PACKED and not nearly as nice. This was what I had expected. We ended up splitting up with Gretchen and Martha on one train and Johanna, her friend, Kailey, and I on the other. We weren’t able to find any place for our luggage and only one seat on the train. As a result, I ended up sitting with three men, with my backpack and CPAP on my lap and my suitcase jammed between us. Johanna and Kailey were seated on the floor of the train. I’m pretty sure blocking the aisle the way we did violated a code if they had them.

We found out that the train was free because tomorrow is Friday, the Islamic Holy Day,  and they provide free train service for people in the rural areas to go home during Ramadan. And this crowd was trying to get home before Iftar. It explained why it was so packed and also helped me understand the state of the young man next to whom I was sitting. He was clearly more rural, which here means less sophisticated, and clearly hadn’t  showered in the recent past. I must add this is an anomaly but it did make for a more challenging ride. But we got through and have a story to tell about it.

We disembarked around 7:30 p.m. and were greeted by the driver from our riad who took us to the palace where we are staying for next few days. And I mean palace. It is located within the walls of the Medina and was built in 1349. I felt like it could be a museum and is easily the most opulent place at which I have ever stayed. The intricacies of the tile and woodwork are mind-blowing. But the cost for the two-room, three-bathroom, six-bedroom suite complex for the five of us was $125 a night!! Hooray for being a Travel Ninja!

The staff were delightful, helping the girls with their Arabic, arranging for our guide for tomorrow and serving us mint tea (always) and our delicious chicken tangine dinner. The hospitality of everyone in Morocco never ceases to amaze me. I can see why people fall in love with this place.

Today was a perfect day to feel like royalty in the morning and evening, in between a taste of the realities of life on a second-class train. The perfect recipe for getting the feel of a country even as we were recharged to explore more tomorrow.

One thought on “PAULA MEHMEL: Shoot The Rapids — Morocco Day 4”

  • Stanford Edwards April 7, 2024 at 2:56 pm

    Have been enjoying the accounts of your experiences in Morocco and the excellent photos you have shared!


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