“didja know we’re riding on the marrakesh express…”– close, but as they say– no cigar!! it IS a train, though.

up verrry early, to sneak out of cadiz in darkness. the highway quiet and almost deserted, and escaping town marvellously easy– cadiz, expect to see me again sometime!! the run to tarifa, where the ferry is, easy as well, although i almost managed to have an accident in the parking lot.

the ferry is modern and pretty quick, but i have no access to the upper deck, as that requires some sort of a luxury ticket. we leave in early light and the coast is distant and grey, but finally tangiers becomes real through the windows. interesting and different– the architecture really hits one almost right away. they are making inroads towards becoming one with the rest of the world though, the taxi driver informed me on the way to the train station– “look at all the new subdivisions– come back in a little while and all this open space will be housing”. it is early, as morocco is on a different time zone– two hours before the time in spain, and that is a lucky thing, as the train leaves quite early in the morning.

the train station is vast and be-marbled, the floor a study in large stone tiles, and there are rooms for people to practise islam, with comfortable rugs– even the ferry had a tiny postage-stamp-sized one. the ticket to meknes (pronounced “meka-ness” by most i spoke to) is about 85 dirrham, or less than $10, although it takes several repetitions of the ticket vendor’s mumbled french for me to understand– he gives me a pitying look as well– sigh!!

but the train comes chuffing into the station on time– well, perhaps it didn’t actually chuff, as it looked as if they ran with electricity, power lines strung overtop of the rails– maybe the chuffing was in my brain. we left the train station quickly and on time as well, and i can attest that it DID go clickety-clack!! it was a fairly long run to meknes, but interesting. i saw plenty of what i think were salt operations, flooded areas where people scraped out banks of crystals with a tannish tinge. lots of herds of sheep as well, and donkeys with riders, horses or donkeys pulling wagons with automobile tires, big fields and areas of stone and small mountains, railroad workmen and rail parts here and there, rails stacked high, rail ties and forms for cement, bags of cement and workers with pails tossing it around, small stations where we stopped for a minute or five. trees and fields again, towns– the town itself seemingly spotless, but the areas on the verge full of plastic thrown away– bags and bottles, glass and pieces of small bush festooned like clotheslines with more bags. town architecture put together in such a different manner, a totally different flavor, and i blessed myself for being able to experience even so small a part of the country. towers and habitations, buildings and streets, all looking soft with the paint and materials used. hills came along and then we went up and slowly came down again. the ride was about 4-5 hours long and fairly comfortable.

received a recommendation from someone travelling along in the same car as to where to stay, and so got a ride from the owner into town– he was young, canadian-educated if i remember correctly, and quite the fast talker– nothing nefarious, he could just talk a blue streak!! was made comfortable, and given advice as to what to do and when. i had been thinking of visiting some local ruins– ancient roman stuff– in the late afternoon, but was councelled to go in the morning instead– well, for once i took the advice. so i sat and got comfortable and took a fine moroccan meal– the round bread loaf, and some salads and salsas, very tasty indeed, the actual meal one of cous cous. i liked it, but felt it to be only so so cous cous, was looking forward sometime in the far future (as this was just a short foray into unknown territory) to sitting down to a sumptuous meal somewhere. however, with the melon after the meal came the most heavenly grapes it has ever been my pleaure to feast upon– so good i ate even the ones that looked not so healthy.

after a little rest-up i took a tour of the medina (basically old town) with one of the family, and i found it to be somewhat run down in places, and charming in others. walls of a mere hundred or two hundred years’ age everywhere, and many older as well. got the full tour, with visits to the metalworkers and woodworkers, pottery etc– and of course, the cousin, the rug merchant. but many examples of great woodwork, tiles, plastering and painting to be seen in places, moments where someone really took some time and made something special.
i exited onto the an enormous square, bordered on one side by an old fort wall, complete with marvellous arched entranceways. the sqare was so vast that i could never get any shot that gave any indication of space at all, and it was full of people. there were some stall selling things and others were eateries– or perhaps coffee places would be more the correct term, places pretty much fully masculine, no women to be seen.

the people in the space of the square were varied though, and so were their amusements. i saw a huge group of people in a circle, and looking inside i discovered an elder gentleman, who was relating something– could have been poetry, or perhaps a story, my arabic is so nonexistent as to be useless– quite the typical tourist, i.

but next morning was going to be very busy, so i was soon to sleep. left early in the morning, ruins-bound. volubilis (which means “morning glory”) is situated up in the hills above meknes, about 40 minutes away in the ubiquitous mercedes taxi, and i took a tour with joe pesci– well, no, it wasn’t joe himself, but someone who looked just like him, and if you listened carefully, you could fool yourself into thinking it was him talking too. however, that was about as impressive as it got– he never really got too deep into his stuff, relating mostly things i already knew. as for me, i was cranky about the light– it was quite flat and featureless, and i was having major problems with taking my photos– what a whiney butthead i can be at times!! however, we continued on to the end, and i am sure that we were both happy to see the last of each other– and then i went and shot some decent, if not spectacular, photos.

to do this i had to use all my photographer’s knowledge and wiles, which included bribing the guard to shoo some people who had ensconsed themselves on the steps of a temple, as if it were a pic-a-nic area. a low trick, i admit, but…. well, i have no real excuse!!

well, this little blurb is running on and on, so i am going to give the quickie description of the rest of the day. it wasn’t particularly unpleasant, just more of an endurance race, as i went back to the train depot, waiting for the train that arrived late, and it was quite full going back, the weather warm and the air dense. i saw much the same thing on the way back, which is more a fault of too much travelling in too short a time, rather than there being nothing to see. now time was against me, as the two hour difference made things difficult, but i got back to tangiers early enough to catch a not too late ferry– BUT!!– it was from the other line, and so i had to wait an extra hour, and then this ferry sat yet another hour before leaving the dock. after midnight in spain when i got back, and no room at the inn (found out the next morning that there had been, big mistake!!), so i had to find other lodgings, in a comfortable if noisy place– whew!! was i tired!! but by the next morning i would once again be back in barcelona…..

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