The landing at Fez airport was delayed but there was no explanation for this but at least Ryanair couldn't play their 'arrived on time' fanfair'. When we stepped from the plane at about half past seven we were greeted with an unexpected chill blast which cut through our clothing into our flesh and meant that we had to turn our jacket collars up and button up our coats against the wind because the temperature was dangerously close to zero and even though it was December this surprised us.
There was a lot of congestion at passport control and an entry form to fill in which was probably the worst designed official form that I have ever been faced with. Despite dealing with all this bureaucratic nonsense however the queues actually went down very quickly and when it was our turn to be processed we were given our unique identity number which was theatrically stamped into our passports and waved through to where a supervisor checked them for a second time presumably to make sure it had been done properly by the first official.
Before travelling I had read some advice that said watch out for taxi drivers in Morocco who will gladly overcharge unsuspecting tourists. That is no different from anywhere else in the world of course but I was mindful of that and took the second piece of advice which said when arriving for the first time it was advisable to take a pre-booked shuttle service because finding places for the first time and in the dark can be difficult. At €30 it was a bit expensive but our driver, Abdul, was waiting for us as promised in the arrivals hall and he quickly loaded our bags and set off for the city just twenty kilometres away.
The traffic was mad and so was Abdul as he carved his way through the rush hour traffic coping brilliantly at roundabouts with the ludicrous French driving rule of priorité à droite where vehicles from the right always have priority at junctions and roundabouts and which was evidently still the norm here even though the French themselves have seen the sense of virtually abandoning it in their own country. There was no real lane discipline that I could make out with drivers simply filling any available space that opened up in front of them and the thirty minute journey was one extended game of ‘chance’ where drivers simply waited to see whose nerve would fold and who would yield first. We flashed past motorbikes and donkeys pulling wooden carts, pushbikes and pedestrians and at one point even encountered a camel train.
As he drove he pointed out the tourist must-see sites along the way and then took us through a narrow gate into a busy road with small shops on one side and a high wall on the other that turned out to be a school building that would be overrun with children the next day. He parked the car and unloaded our bags and suddenly darted into a side road, no more than an alley really with an uneven surface with houses and shops along one side, then through a dog-leg turn and into a narrower lane and by now we were glad that we had taken the shuttle bus option because we would never have found this place by ourselves that’s for sure.
Another turn and then a dead end with a wooden door in the wall but nothing to indicate that this might be our destination. He rang the bell and someone inside approached and let us in. Here was a complete contrast to the medley of noise and confusion outside with an atmosphere of peace and tranquillity in a tiny eight room guest house with an inner courtyard and a swimming pool and tables set out for dinner. This was the Riad Layali and it was immediately charming and delightful. We had chosen well and we were introduced to the staff, served mint tea and allocated our rooms.
We filled in another official form which seemed to serve no purpose other than to confirm what we had said on the entry form but the staff insisted that it was important because they had to register us at the police station tomorrow.
We had selected a Riad for our accommodation because we wanted to stay inside the walls of the old towns rather than in the modern corporate hotels of the new city on the other side of the walls. The Layali looked perfect and had good guest reviews and we were not disappointed. We had excellent rooms on the first floor with internal balconies overlooking the pool, nicely furnished bedrooms and big bathrooms.
As it was our first night we had chosen to eat at the Riad this evening and in the courtyard a table had been prepared for us so after we had moved in we made our way to the table and settled down for evening meal. Being in an Arab Muslim country we had been concerned about the availability of beer and wine and had brought some with us just in case but, and I don’t want to sound like an alcoholic here, we were relieved to find that the Layali had a licence to serve drink so we ordered the local varieties and then had a first meal of Moroccan salad, chicken tagine and fruit desert. To be honest it was a bit disappointing and not nearly as good as we had had in Marrakech a year previously but we ate it anyway and washed it down with the beer and wine which tasted almost illicit being here in a Muslim country.
It had been a long day and there was a lot to do tomorrow so we didn’t stay up late but went to bed looking forward to a good night’s sleep. Unfortunately no one told us about the Adhan which is the Islamic call to prayer, recited by a man called the Muezzin at various times of the day and starting it seems in the middle of the night. In total the Adhan is called out in every mosque five times a day, traditionally from a minaret, summoning Muslims for mandatory prayers and the main purpose behind the multiple loud pronouncements of every mosque is to make available to everyone an easily understood summary of Islamic belief. In the old days this would have been done by shouting from the highest window by the man with the loudest voice (like Brian Blessed perhaps) but now it is done with the help of loudspeakers and although Kim was oblivious to it all there was no way that I could sleep through this.