Travel In The Time of Covid – Moroccan City of Fes

Because of omicron, our only “traveling” these days is in our minds, with a memory boost from photos of days gone by.

We fully recognized how fortunate we were to be able to have ONE international trip in 2021. Before the borders slammed shut two months later, we spent three glorious October weeks touring Morocco. Sadly, as of late January, 2021, Morocco’s borders remain closed.

During our trip, our focus was on experiencing this fabulous country, so my blogging fell way behind. What better time to write about the three previously neglected cities of Fes, Marrakech and Casablanca than over the next few days, when there is little else to do in New Jersey but cook, eat, read or shivver.

Fes

Although I devoted one blog post to our spectacular Fes riad, we were too busy enjoying the wonder and glory of that city for me to blog about it.

Every souk in Morocco is quite an experience, but I think the one in Fes is the most elaborate and labyrinthine. Even Mostafa, our excellent guide, needed help from a local guide to get us through the marketplace.

You see just about everything in the Fes souk. Take a look: The head mounted outside the stall is thought to be proof that the vendor sells authentic camel meat.

Somehow, we managed to make it through the trip without being offered a sample.

You are probably wondering why I included the next visually unimpressive photo. Don’t worry. I’m going to tell you. That equipment you see on the trucks is for shooting the next Indiana Jones movie. Timing, however, is everything in life. Had we arrived a day later, Harrison Ford might have been on site, and perhaps we would have caught a glimpse of the action. Of course, what is far more likely is that the entire area would have been blocked off–probably with those barriers you see on the left. Anyway, watch for that cafe in the movie, and remember, you saw it here first.

Weddings are a HUGE deal in Morocco. Like Indian weddings, they go on forever…and necessitate multiple clothing changes. The souk has a whole area devoted to shops like this one, selling wedding caftans, which, as you can see, are LOADED with bling.

Weddings are expensive events, and not just for the bride and her family. You see, it is customary for the future groom to present his intended with baubles, including a jewel encrusted gold belt, as part of the marriage proposal. That is her “insurance policy” in case the marriage goes south.

During our time in Fes, we had dinner with a Moroccan family, who graciously showed us the video from their niece’s wedding. The bride changed her caftan SIX times during the many, many hours of the ceremony! Because of the colossal expense, our hosts told us many brides opt to rent their outfits.

Take a look at how narrow some of the passages are in the souk. They veer off into different directions, acting as natural protection from foreign invaders, of which there were many, back in the day.

Hint for future travelers: When I purchased my Sketchers, my purchase was placed in a bag that can also function as a backpack. When I tossed it into my luggage at the last minute, I had no idea how much I would use it! My regular backpack proved to be too heavy and HOT on my back, and this freebie from Sketchers was perfect for the trip.

Here’s another hint for future travelers:
When you visit the tannery, bring along either Vicks or Tiger Balm to dab under your nose, unless, of course, you think the stench is part of the experience that you don’t want to miss. Although the guide will give you a sprig of mint to hold under your nose, I definitely needed something much stronger. I don’t know how the workers can stand the smell of the hides being dyed and softened with materials like pigeon urine!

Like the rest of Morocco, Fes is a city of contrasts. After spending the day in the centuries old souk, we felt like we had time traveled when we arrived in the modern part of the city. Look at this beautiful avenue, complete with motorized vehicles the kiddies can drive. When we visited Ouarzazate a few days later, THEIR avenue included larger play vehicles, for kids of ALL sizes.

Our evening ended with a walk through this beautiful gate (one of MANY beautiful gates in the city) into another marketplace near our riad.

Our group can’t resist a photo op!

Volubilis and Meknes

During our three day stay, we had the choice of remaining in Fes, on our own, or taking the optional trip to view the ancient Roman ruins at Volubilis, then visit Meknes, the imperial capital of the late, great Mouley Ishmael.

Since Mike has never met a Roman ruin that he didn’t love, it’s not hard to guess which option we chose.

Although it was interesting, I have seen many Roman ruins and mosaics, so I was more fascinated by Meknes.

Sultan Mouley Ishmael started Morocco on the road to greatness, after he ejected the British from Tangier. But that’s not his only claim to fame. He made The Guinness Book of World Records for fathering more children (888) than any other human, at least so far. No doubt it helped that he had about 500 concubines and 4 wives to share that monumental task! But what I want to know is whether he remembered all those names — of the kids AND their mothers. And how did he have the time or the energy to conquer so much territory?

With that huge a family, it is not surprise that the sultan went on a building rampage, utilizing Christian slaves to help construct his enormous structures in Meknes. When the slaves were exhausted, and thoughtlessly died on the job, he simply had their bodies tossed into the walls, to become part of the structure. To me, that’s taking recycling to the extreme.

I can’t remember whether this door was in Moulay’s stables or the granary (that’s what happens when you blog months after the fact–you forget so many details!) Whichever it was, it was massive, as you can see from the photo of one of the doors. It dwarfs my 6’3″ husband.

That’s all for today. Next post will be our memories of Marrakech.

Helpful Hints for the OAT Morocco Trip

We still have 6 days before our trip ends, but some members of the “Friends of OAT” Facebook page will be traveling to Morocco soon, and have asked for hints. This post is especially for you, but I hope it will be useful to others as well.

Options

  • Pre-trip to Chefchaouen- if it is offered, don’t miss it!
  • Optional trip to Tetouan – I’d pass on this one and spend time in Chefchaouen instead. You’ll see plenty of medinas and mellahs on the main trip. If you’re lucky, your guide will do what ours did, and take the slow, scenic route to Tangier.
  • Optional trip to Volubilis and Meknes – we enjoyed it, despite having seen mosaics in Sicily and ruins in Ephesus. Full disclosure: we are ancient history nerds.

Packing

  • The weather in October has been perfect so far. All that we’ve really needed is a light jacket. I will confess to wearing my heavier pants for the sunrise in the desert. I packed ‘em, so I’m using ‘em.
  • I didn’t bring shorts because I had read wearing them would be culturally insensitive. Having seen young Muslim women with all kinds of outfits, I have concluded shorts would have been okay in many places ( but not all).
  • I was prepared to be taking off my shoes frequently, so only packed slip- ons, no sneakers. The number of times I’ve had to remove my shoes – one.
  • Most of the riads and hotels have lovely pools, so it is a good idea to bring a bathing suit, especially when you are in the Sahara. We just got back from a very refreshing hour at a hotel pool located about 15 minutes from our tent.
  • So far, everywhere we’ve stayed has had a hairdryer. Some are attached to the wall; others are like what we use at home.
  • I thought I’d be rinsing clothes out in the sink. That would have worked out fine, but I had no place to hang them. I suspect our riad would frown upon my hanging my “small” (as they say in Africa) from their balcony.
  • Laundry service is available in Fes, Ouarzazate and Marrakech. So far, we have used the service in Fes. It was convenient, inexpensive and well done.
  • At times, it would have been nice to have my LUMIX 150 with its zoom. But those times were unpredictable, and I wouldn’t have wanted to carry it with me all the time. Bottom line? My iPhone takes photos that generally meet my needs, so I was fine leaving my camera at home. For the true photographers out there (we have one in our group), carrying the camera is well worth the additional weight.

Food

The food has been great. No one in the group has had digestive problems. Most of us have avoided uncooked vegetables, but one couple, who has lived all over the world, has been eating everything without any issues. Me, I take no chances. I eat what Mostafa, our guide, tells us is safe.

Miscellaneous

  • I didn’t need to bring packs of tissues. Every bathroom, so far, has had an adequate supply of toilet paper. Be sure to drop the used paper on the waste basket. Don’t flush it.
  • I brought Vicks VapoRub for the tannery visit. A little dab under each nostril helped to block the stench.
  • So far, it has been easy to charge phones everywhere, including the Sahara .
  • You CAN get cell service in the desert. Just no Wi-Fi
  • Be sure to bring a back pack. I also brought the bag my sketchers came in as a small backpack. I have used it more times than you can imagine.
  • If you want good quality scarves, buy from the weaving shop on Fes. If you don’t care about quality, then you can get a great deal in the market in Rissani. I did both.
  • I also bought a caftan in the Rissani market. It has been perfect for the desert! There will be photos in future posts. I’m not pressing my luck by uploading big files.

I feel so very fortunate to be on this trip. Perfect weather, great food, breathtaking scenery, once in a lifetime activities, welcoming, friendly Moroccans, congenial travel companions and excellent guide. Who could ask for anything more?

On the Road to Rabat

I love that OAT allows their guides the flexibility to modify the itinerary. Yesterday, instead of driving directly to Tangier, we took the scenic route. We returned to Tetouan, driving through the lovely modern section, then along the coast, stopping in the resort of Smir.

It was off season, so all the shops and restaurants were closed, still it was easy to see why Smir would be a popular vacation spot. Sadly, the self cleaning, solar public toilet was also closed, so no video of its operation. You’ll just have to use your imagination.

Until this trip, I had no idea that Spain retained control of two cities in Morocco. Ceuta is almost directly across from Gibraltar, so ships passing through the Straits have to pay Spain for the use of that passage. We were able to see Ceuta off in the distance from a roadside stop, but weren’t able to visit this heavily guarded border.

The other Spanish city, for those with inquiring minds, is Melilla. You can Google it.

We stopped to catch a glimpse of the Rock of Gibraltar, but it was only visible through binoculars, so again, no photo, but that’s okay, because Tangier is more visually compelling.

Morocco is definitely a country on the move. Their new port in Tangier is the largest in Africa and is shipping out huge quantities of cars every day. We were able to view some of the Renaults and Peugeots manufactured in Morocco from a distance.

Our drive took us to the very windy spot where the Mediterranean and Atlantic Ocean meet. Dave’s elf hat was on his head long enough for this shot to be taken before it went sailing over the cliff. And yes, it WAS a very steep cliff, but fortunately Mostafa is athletic, and heroically retrieved Dave’s hat.

Before the trip, I’d been warned that Tangier was dirty, crowded and a somewhat scary place. That may have been the case years ago, but it was not our experience.

Relaxing in the square in the medina

We walked up a very steep hill to visit the old Portuguese fortress and were rewarded with several spectacular views.

On our way to the fortress
Tangier’s old port can be seen from the fortress

Morocco really treasures their long, positive relationship with the USA. Our visit to the American legation offered further proof.

I sure hope this comes up as a trivia question one of these days!

As usual, my posts lag behind our experiences. Tomorrow we leave Rabat for Fes. Forgive any typos…no time to proofread.

Tesla’s Maiden “Voyage”

I’ve already confessed in prior posts that I am not a “car person”.  I’m not an engineer, or scientist or mathematician either.  So, my observations about my first long distance drive will seem really basic to those who ARE any of the things that I am not.  If any of the aforementioned happen to stumble upon this blog, PLEASE feel free to comment.  I would be enormously grateful for your insights, corrections and helpful hints.

The Driving Experience
From my 1,450 miles of driving during my 5 months of ownership, I already knew my Tesla was pretty damn amazing, well before I set off on my first long distance journey.   What I DIDN’T know was how incredibly relaxing a trip can be even when you’re the driver.  Want to take your hands off the wheel to get a cold drink, or rummage through your cooler?  No problem.  Self drive has it under control.  Are you usually tense when you are in stop and go traffic?  That’s a thing of the past, because the car stops and goes with traffic, allowing you, the driver to enjoy your surroundings, eat, change up your music – whatever you want.

When I missed the turn off for the Tappan Zee (now Mario Cuomo Bridge, but old habits are hard to shake) I was forced to drive over the GW Bridge.  What would normally be harrowing was just a long and least favorite experience.  I didn’t have to worry about being hemmed in on all sides by trucks.  The Tesla kept me safely in the middle of my lane.  

About being in the middle of the lane, I have learned I normally drive much closer to the right side of the road, so as I was learning the ins and outs of self drive, I freaked out when the Tesla pulled me to the left.  I was afraid it wasn’t going to self correct in time.  I’m glad that I practiced using the self driving feature on the winding, hilly country roads in my area so I could gain confidence in its safety.  

Trip Planning
When I used the Tesla trip planning app, it assumed that I would be starting on the trip at the current charge level. I had never charged to 100% before (the physicists know why, but WE don’t need to get into the technical details here) so the app led me to believe that I wouldn’t be able to make the 260 mile trip without stopping to recharge.  Wrong.  If I chose to do so, I discovered I could have easily made it the entire way, with at least 20% battery to spare.  

The Tesla navigation app recommends charging stops along your route. Take a look at the information the app provides for each charging station:

The app is designed to minimize charging times, so for the return, the trip planner suggested just one stop of 15 minutes. (I started my return with less than a full charge). Here’s the thing.  If you let the car sit after charging is completed, you get a 5 minute grace period.  If you linger longer,  as shown in the photo, you are charged $1 a minute idling fees.  That’s one way to make sure that the charging stations are available to everyone who needs them.  But, if you plan on stopping to have lunch and a bathroom break, you may WANT a longer charge time.  

Sad to say, I discovered the battery has a much longer range than my kidneys.  MY need to stop occurred WAY before I needed to charge.  Here’s another thing: for a reason that is obvious to the physicists and engineers, (but a mystery to me) a battery charges faster when it is closer to empty than when it is closer to full, so that’s something else to factor when planning your stops. So many things to consider.  I’m proud to reveal that I did somewhat better on the return trip mastering the car/body connection. One unanticipated snag was the charging station in Madison was “temporarily out of service”, disrupting my plan to charge while visiting with a friend. Fortunately, I knew that BEFORE I headed back, so was able to reconfigure my stops.  All these “discoveries” will make my next trip stops so much easier to plan.  

The “other’ charging stations
None of my family members have an outdoor outlet, so I couldn’t charge overnight using a regular household current. The closest chargers were two EvGo stations offering both slow and fast chargers. I had planned to use the fast CHAdeMO option but instead I experienced rude awakening #1: the adapter that came with the car didn’t fit. I would have needed to purchase the correct adapter for $450 from the Tesla store. I also discovered that the charging speed of even the FAST (CHAdeMO) connection was significantly less than what I would experience at a supercharger. (DEFINITELY not worth spending $450!) Next came rude awakening #2: I couldn’t get the included J1172 adapter to fit on the nozzle of the slower option. I was afraid of damaging one (or both) so I gave up and decided this would be something I would try once I got home (and had my trusty husband by my side). Luckily, there WAS a Tesla Supercharger about 15 minutes away, so that’s the one I used. The whole point of this stream of consciousness rambling is that home charging is essential for electric vehicle owners AND you need to give some thought to charging stops BEFORE you head off. It isn’t QUITE as easy and convenient as stopping for gas. At least not yet. So, no cross country trips in the Tesla will be in our near future.  I’d rather plan our stops around where we want to be, rather than where we have to charge.  

Supercharger options

Energy Consumption
The discoveries keep coming. Here’s another. When you let the car drive itself, energy consumption improves. At least it did for me. Here’s how I could tell. The energy app shows average consumption over three different ranges. 300 watt hours per mile is the expected average, but the thick solid line in the graph below shows the expected average when the terrain (and possibly external temperature?) is taken into consideration. The dotted line shows my actual results for the past 30 miles. If it is below the solid line, I’m doing better than expected. (This is one example where being “above average” ISN’T a good thing). Notice the little green triangle? That’s when the battery was recharging itself. If I continued to drive the way I had for the past 30 miles,  I would have sufficient energy to go another 157 miles. What’s puzzling is when you add the averages (actual and projected) you come up with 390 miles, which is far greater than the EPA range of 322.
This, by the way, was not my graph from the actual trip. Self driving widened the gap between the solid and dotted lines in a very positive way.

Everything Else
My 6 and 7 year old grand nieces proclaimed me their “coolest aunt” strictly on the basis of my car ownership. The ability of the car to fart upon command was definitely a huge hit, as was its ability to go from 0 to 60 in 4 seconds. They dubbed the fast acceleration “the rocket” and requested that I do “the rocket” again and again.

One final observation.  Having self drive and navigation, however does NOT eliminate the “back seat” driver, even when he (and so far it has ALWAYS been a “he”) sits in front.

Love ya, dad, but one driver per car is sufficient

 

Car Buyer or Cult Member?

Am I having a midlife crisis? Or did I just join a cult? I’m way too old for either, but here we are.

I feel like I have done the car buying equivalent of bungee jumping, except I haven’t jumped YET. I’ve been strapped in, led to the edge, and am waiting to either jump or be pushed. My emotions keep swinging from exhilaration to terror. What have I done? The bigger question: Does every future Tesla owner go through this while awaiting delivery?

First, let me say that although I am still in shock that a car can cost almost as much as our first house, I didn’t buy one of the super expensive Teslas. And our little first house, bought decades ago, was in Ohio, a much cheaper area of the country. Still, for someone who views a car solely as a means of transportation, it’s a LOT of money, even for the Tesla 3, which is the least expensive model. (I DID spring for the mid priced 3–the one with the battery that lets you go a longer distance. The top of the line, the Performance 3 is DEFINITELY for those with a need for speed.)

So, how did this happen? How did a non-car aficionado end up ordering a cool set of wheels? Simple. My son guilted me. He took the number of miles that I drove last year plus the amount that I spent on gasoline, and converted it into how much carbon I released into the atmosphere. Not as much as most, because for the last 11 years, I’ve driven a Prius. Even so, he calculated that in 2019, I was responsible for one TON of emissions. He’s an electrical engineer, so the odds are good that his calculation was accurate. But then again, he knows I don’t have the skills needed to check his math.

He knows my vulnerabilities. I am passionate about protecting the environment. For years, I’ve carried a reusable water bottle, reusable grocery bags (including reusable produce bags). I recycle, reuse and refrain whenever I can to minimize my carbon footprint. Because I love to travel, I figure I need to do whatever I can to offset my the carbon from the flights I take.

I also really liked the Tesla’s safety features, such as blind spot monitoring, and assisted cruise control. For an additional $7,000, I could have had the self driving feature. I didn’t get it, and not just because of the cost. Quite honestly, when I tried it out, I was terrified. What is REALLY cool, however, is that all of Tesla’s model 3’s (built after 10/2016) have all of the sensors, cameras and radar needed for self driving already built in. Should I become comfortable enough to add that feature in the future, all I have to do is pay for it, then download the software via wifi. And that’s another cool thing: Tesla updates the software regularly, so once you own a Tesla, you benefit from the updates that flow over your wifi network. Sometimes a blessing, sometimes a curse. Only time will tell.

But back to those safety features. Even if you don’t spring for the super duper self driving feature, you still get “auto pilot”. If you are like me, and get into your zen mode while listening to the radio, you know that sometimes your foot gets heavy and you lose track of space and time – or maybe just the speed at which you are traveling. Am I right? Auto Pilot KNOWS the speed limits of the road you are zipping along, and will limit you to a number that you choose ( like +5 MPH over the limit). You can override the limit, but usually my problem comes from going too fast, not too slow.

Anyway, I am 4 days away from picking up the car that I ordered 5 weeks ago. What have I done while waiting? I’ve been reading the manual. Mike has been busy too. He oversaw turning our garage into a charging station. His mission was accomplished today.

Meanwhile, I’ve been hanging out on the Tesla Message Boards. I wanted to find out things like, does it get hot in the car because of the glass roof? Approximately how far can you go on 1 Kilowatt of electricity? (And is it a Kilowatt or a Kilowatt hour? ) How much does it cost to use a Tesla Supercharger? Stuff like that. Instead I found posts like this one, chosen at random and cut and pasted:

I have a pair of Model S non-P caliper in my garage just for that purpose. However, I’m on the fence about it once I did more research. The big gain for the RB S caliper option is the increase thermal capacity of the larger and thicker rotor. On the other hand, the P3D pad is slightly larger than S pad. And there are already a number of track oriented pad on the market for P3D. Whereas the S pad is available in street pad only, the only other car that uses the same pad shape is Chevy Cruise econobox.

Did it scare me. You bet. Even though I am generally fluent in English, I had no bloody idea what that post was about! But then I realized that many of the Tesla buyers are engineers or car enthusiasts — most likely both. I am neither. I’ll stick to reading the manual. And keep my fingers crossed. Four more days, but who’s counting.