The drive to Fes proves to be white-knuckled. Roads narrow even more, and twist around “S” curves as we climb through the fabulous heart of the Rif Mountains. Snowcaps in sight, we glimpse at Grand Canyon-like vastness, but must focus on the road ahead. Again, we watch for donkeys, sheep, goats and people popping up from out of nowhere. But now, we encounter a different twist…cars tailgating us, honking, flashing their lights, and the driver motioning for us to pull over.
First, I think that I am driving too slowly. So, I pull over, and the car behind me pulls over also, and jockeys in front of me. So, I take off again. Another car tailgates, then passes me and slows down, waving me over. We begin to think that maybe something is wrong with our car. At that, I pull over. Two young guys approach my driver’s side window and shake my hand. One reaches into the car and shake’s Mare’s.
“Hello! Welcome! he says. “Come to my house. My wife will feed you and we can smoke hash.”
“Thanks, but we have to get to Fes.”
He stays persistent in broken English. “No, I will show you my family and how we live, come!”
I laugh, and slowly roll the car away. He follows me for a while before giving up. This long, slow travel on hairpin curves might be the most nerve-wracking I can remember driving in any foreign country. We are lost again. We pass through some dirty, dusty towns which are crowded with men, yelling and whistling at us. Finally, passing through the town of Ketema, we realize we’re heading in the right direction, because it is on our map. (Remember, these are the days before cell phone GPS) The crowds of men increase, along with the yelling and cat calls, as if we have a neon sign above our car that blinks, “Tourists Need Kif.” Some pedestrians even run alongside our slow moving vehicle. I simply smile and laugh, pretending to be stupid…not a stretch by any means. I must mention that the elder men, dressed in long robes with pointed hoods, do not harass or bother us at all. It is the young men dressed in western clothing. We drive on, still puzzled.
A car, a Mercedes, follows me, blinking lights, and honking his horn. No way will I stop, remembering Ahmed’s advice of never letting anybody in the car. The driver behind me persists, for close to thirty minutes, beeping, hand gesturing for me to pull over, so I start to have fun, laughing, making my own meaningless gestures, shrugging my shoulders, and finally he leaves. Shortly after, I pass somebody and get pulled over by the police. They laugh at my lack of understanding the language. Once they figure out that I don’t want to pay a $400 Dirham fine, they let me go, and one says in broken English, “Slow down.”
Finally, we find Fes, filled with traffic chaos, air pollution, and an impending accident. Yet, another example of the disadvantage of a rental car…if on a bus, we simply would get off and hire a taxi to take us to Hotel Splendid, a moderate place that we hope has a clean bathroom. We quickly realize that we will not find that targeted hotel, as this city is huge…1.6 million and still counting.
A guy in a scooter pulls next to my open window. “Where are you going?” he asks.
I look at Mare. Without saying a word, we know we have no choice. “To the Hotel Splendid,” I respond.
He nods. “Follow me.”
Mare says that he will want to be our guide. But we agree that we need one. I follow him through impossible traffic, but somehow the traffic chaos works, similar to a school of fish. A long ride later, scooter-guy pulls up in front of Hotel Splendid. How splendid. I give him, Arjay, ten dirham, and promise to meet him outside the hotel tomorrow morning, for a tour of the Medina, which is three kilometers away.
When we tell him where we drove from today, he laughs. We learn that we just toured the heart of kif country where 50% of the World’s cannabis supply is grown. It kills me to think that I just traveled through the heart of cannabis land, and did not even get stoned! Further investigation reveals that the town of Ketema is considered “lawless” and that fugitives flee there from the Moroccan authorities. Whether those men following us wanted to sell us hash, or rob us, or take us to their homes just for fun, who knows? Sometimes it pays to be naïve, but we are sure whatever the motive, it would have cost us something.
Tonight we walk the streets of “New Town” Fes…imagine that, “New” is about 700 years old. Traffic and pedestrians jam the place. Huge crowds of men fill every sidewalk café table, sipping tea. Not a woman in sight, except for Mare. Where are the women? What do they do? The men stare at us. A couple men comment on Mare’s blonde hair. Are they also looking at her black eye?
We find a small café’ and order tajines, (skewered, spiced meat) along with a delicious lamb stew. We will have to wait to go back to the hotel for a cold beer.