Prior to undertaking the trek in the high Atlas and ascent of Mt Toubkal, Neil and I spent a few days as tourists exploring the country. We had flown to Gibraltar and after a couple of days exploring The Rock took the ferry to Tangier from Algerciras in Andalucia, Spain. Sailing from Europe to Africa is the way to go – it felt like an adventure, especially as we didn’t have accommodation booked for the whole trip.
We were expecting to be hustled for business by taxi drivers as soon as we came out of the ferry terminal building and we were. We even had one guy offering to take us to the ATM to get some cash before our ride. No thanks! We walked the 100m to the ATM and from there found a nice taxi driver who chatted away to us as he took us to the railway station.
We passed lots of ongoing construction near the port and the taxi driver told us about the current developments. The new king Mohammed VI (he came to power in 1999) is wanting to make the city a big Mediterranean resort and is putting lots fo money into constructing hotels etc.
The new railway station is one such tourist development.
However all the other stations on the line were pretty basic and the train was rather old.
And there were many make-shift encampments outside the towns
The train journey was about 5 hours and we spent some of that time chatting to a lovely young woman who had a degree in English Language and was just starting her Masters in Translation. She was really keen to practise her English.
Meknes has a very complicated set of city walls. They do not simply form a nice square, or rectangle,but form a maze-like structure. One of the main gates (Bab) in the walls is the ornate Bab el-Mansour.
After passing through this we wandered off the tourist path and through several souks catering for the locals not tourists. We got totally lost in one souk and had no idea which direction we should go to get out. We tried following what looked to be the larger amounts of people, but realised we were going deeper and deeper into this maze. We were rescued by a wee lad who offered to lead us to the main square. He set off and led us deeper into narrower and narrower alleyway — at two places going under the city walls. One of these underground sections was unlit and completely dark for about 50m! We did wonder where he was taking us! We were very relieved when we eventually arrived at the main square and was he seemed happy with the 3 Dirhams we gave him.
We booked into the IYH youth hostel in Meknes (pretty tricky to find as most streets did not have street signs and the few we saw were in Arabic!). The hostel was simple (only cold showers), but clean and quiet. In fact it was so quiet we didn’t see any other visitors the first night – although we heard a couple of people walking about. We had hoped to chat to other hostellers to get ideas of places to visit.
Thankfully we found it before the sun dropped rapidly about 6pm