Sunday, January 4, 2015

An easy day trip from Fes

I've always found that one of the best ways to see a country is by road. Getting away from a city and its tourist hub means that you can see the country how the locals do. Finding a town that is not visited by tourists regularly is often the highlight of my trip. If you only have a few days in a city it's unlikely that you will be able to get out and see more of a country. However, if you are staying for a bit longer, it's well worth doing at least one day trip, no matter where you are in the world.

During my week in Fes, I did two day trips. The first one included a visit to a lake, waterfalls, a few towns and also a Cedar forest where I had the opportunity to feed Barbary Macaques. 

It was really easy to get a guide for the day. The staff at our riad organised everything, and our guide Noelle arrived right on time with an eight seater car, enough to fit the five in our group and herself. Before arriving in Fes, I was unsure about whether it was better to hire a car or to get a guide. Most people recommended getting a guide, the main reason being locals know how to negotiate the "crazy" drivers that were apparently everywhere in Morcocco. I found that to be untrue, but I found so many reasons why it is better to have a driver, with the following being just a few.

1. The drivers are also guides, so Noelle took us to places that I had no idea existed in Morocco. If I was driving on my own I wouldn't have even seen half of what I saw.
2. It is incredibly difficult to park in some towns and cities such as Meknes and Moulay Idriss. The driver will drop you off and then go find parking, and they usually know the best spots to park as well. Also, if you don't know the parking rules you could get slapped with a fine. 
3. You don't have to worry about getting lost trying to find some little lookout or town, as the drivers know exactly where they are going.

For the whole day, it cost us 1000 dirham altogether. The whole day of driving was 8-9 hours, so I think it was well worth it to have a guide, a nice big car and the sense of security that comes with being with a local.

The first stop of the day was a lake. I don't actually know what the lake was called, but it was about 40 minutes away from Fes. It was empty of tourists and a nice surprise as I wasn't expecting to see any large lakes in Morocco! There was a young guy who was offering horse rides around the lake, so I got a 10 minute ride for 30 dirham (just over £2). However there was no set price, and he asked me what I wanted to pay. I didn't feel like this was a way to rip me off though, he just seemed like he was happy to do it for any amount. It was so nice riding around the still lake, and it was actually the first time I had ridden a horse without someone pulling it by hand ! I would love to learn how to ride a horse properly now!

I didn't realise it at the time (thank goodness!) but I found out afterwards that there can be some pretty nasty parasites in fresh water in Morocco. Yikes! I'm so glad I didn't touch the water.

Next stop was the waterfalls. Once again, I have no idea what they are called, but they were another half an hour or so from the lake, through windy roads. This was the point that I realised the horse riding thing was not just a one off. Two guys came up to us as soon as we got out of the car, and since we were the only tourists around they were really keen for us to have a ride. Once I told them I had already had a ride, they were fine but still followed us around for the rest of the time we were there. The advantage of that was the picture I got above. I actually think that the owner positioned him there for a reason which was very nice of him! The waterfalls were beautiful and relaxing, and once again I'm so glad I didn't stick my hand in as there could have been parasites in there!

The next stop was for a morning tea break in the town of Ifrane. Driving there I started seeing small patches of white along the road. Wait what? Snow?? I couldn't believe I was seeing real snow in Morocco! Especially since it was around 15 degrees that day. It turns out that Ifrane is a winter snow resort and has the nickname of "Switzerland in Morocco". If you were blindfolded and dumped in Ifrane, you would definitely swear you were in Switzerland or France! 

After having a drink in Azrou, we carried on and had a quick stop at a stunning lookout before driving to the town of Azrou.

What a contrast to Ifrane! Whilst Ifrane was quiet with wide, tidy streets and sparkling restaurants, Azrou was crazy! There were people and cars everywhere, and the much more authentic looking restaurants were packed with locals eating lunch. We sat down at a restaurant chosen by our guide, and waited for a menu. I've discovered that the way of finding a true Moroccan restaurant (besides it being full of locals) is that they won't bring you a menu unless you ask. I guess they assume that you would know what you want and as the menu is pretty much the same in most restaurants, we probably should have anyway. We ordered a variety of food including salads, barbequed meat and a couple of tagines.

As we were waiting for our food, I quickly noticed a strange thing that was happening. The waitress kept moving chairs and tables around. A new batch of customers would come and she would whip away two separate tables from our left, find chairs out of no where and have a perfectly arranged table waiting for them on our right in under a minute. By mid lunch, there were tables and tables of people expanding to the side past the restaurant! I think it's the best idea ever not to be wasting extra seats if people don't need them. The waitresses in this restaurant made sure that everyone had the exact amount of chairs and tables needed for their group. I wish it was done that way in London as it always makes me so annoyed to see one person sitting at a six person table when you really need it!

Lunch was delicious, and although I was slightly worried about the cleanliness standards of the restaurant, I ate almost a full plate of salad and didn't get sick! In fact, I didn't get sick the whole time in Morocco even though I was brushing my teeth with tap water, drinking fresh juice and eating the salads. Woo hoo!

After lunch, we got going on our way to the part of the day that I was most looking forward to. Feeding wild Barbary Macaques! I had never seen monkeys in the wild or fed them for that matter so I was bubbling with excitement when we pulled up at the Cedre Gourmand Forest. 

I had tried to contact a sanctuary for the Macaques that was nearby the day before, as they teach you about conservation and take you on a trail to see the monkeys and tell you about their behaviour etc. However they didn't get back to me, so I took the second option of seeing them in the forest. Here there is also Cedre Gourmand, which is a massive and extremely old Cedar tree. It is pretty much dead now so it's just the trunk and branches spiking off of it, but it is still pretty impressive.

Once we arrived, I was surrounded by four horses and their owners as soon as I got out of the car. I told them (the owners that is, not the horses) I had already been on a ride earlier, and they went away. Although I felt kind of bad as I saw them all walking slowly away side by side!

When we walked to the edge of the forest, we bought a couple of bags of peanuts from one of the people selling them. I stepped into the shady forest and could see loads of monkeys running about, grabbing peanuts off tourists. Our guide, Noelle warned us to hold on tight to our phones and cameras as the Macaques have a habit of grabbing expensive technology from people! A Macaque scampered up to us as Noelle opened a water bottle and it happily started slurping it down. I've realised now that giving them water is much better for them, as being stuffed with peanuts couldn't be good for anybody, let alone little monkeys. If I went back again I would definitely take water and fruit rather than peanuts.

It was really fun feeding them though, and seeing how they all have completely different personalities. I ended up with a ring of monkeys around me at one point. The alpha male was there in control of everybody and when he didn't approve of one coming up to get food he would screech and run after him. The alpha kind of scared me though. You know the evil ape in Planet of the Apes? Yep, that's who he reminded me of. So I ended up getting my brother to carefully distract him whilst I fed the others. After about half an hour and a couple of bags of peanuts later, I found a baby monkey (pictured at the top of this post). He was adorable! He was so tiny and skittish, and every time he reached out to grab a peanut he would look around to see if anyone was going to bully him over it. I sat with him for a bit feeding him peanuts, and I wished I could have taken him home with me!

It was such an amazing experience feeding the Macaques, but I wished that I had taken food that would have been better for them. They are an endangered species now because of illegal poaching and logging, and can only be found in Morocco, Algeria and Libya, along with a small colony in Gibraltar. And although peanuts won't necessarily kill them, it would be much better for them to be eating a wider variety of food.

After tearing myself away from the Macaques, we got in the car and headed back home. We got back at around 6pm and I can definitely say I slept well that night after seeing so much within just a couple of hours of Fes!

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