The following four days after Casablanca would be one of the greatest travel journeys of my life. Over lunch at Safia’s house a day or two prior, her brother, Kacem, offered to drive us to the Sahara. I thought he was wanting a road trip but in retrospect I realized that what he did for us, leaving his one-year old son and his beautiful wife behind for four days, was the most generous act of kindness anyone could ever do for his sister and her friend. The drive through the Moroccan roads and the Atlas Mountains were extremely difficult to maneuver, and in hindsight I don’t think Safia and I would have made it on our own. I believe Kacem knew this, and he offered to drive us giving us the impression that he was just wanting a road trip all the while knowing he was being an angel of the highest order.
Our first stop was Fes, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Although Safia and Kacem were not keen on going there, they, being the kindest Moroccans, obliged me. I have seen pictures of Fes and the colorful leather tanneries there, and I couldn’t wait to take pictures. When we arrived, much of the Medina as well as the leather tannery I wanted to visit were closed because it was a Friday, a day of prayer in Morocco. As a result, I was almost in tears but I didn’t let my friends know it. We did, however, walk through the Medina, and we found a kid who led us to a smaller leather tannery. I read about the bad smell of the tannery and we could smell it, getting worse and worse as we neared the tannery. When we got up to the top, I was expecting a beautiful sight: white vats with colorful leather dyes waiting for me to take their picture. But instead, all that we experienced were a shock to our olfactory system. The most vulgar, vile, disgusting smell overwhelmed us, and I wanted to vomit. There was nothing left to see but then again, maybe the smell destroyed our ability to see. We quickly left and afterwards Safia said that at one point Kacem, too, almost threw up because of the vile smell. We were happy to get back in the car as the sun began to set. We were on the move again.
I can still see the overview of Fes in my mind as I write this, and boy, was it spectacular. We stopped at the top of a hill overlooking the entire city, and the view did not seem real. I always feel so in awe when I’m witnessing someplace beautiful, but when I’m watching the sunset over a dream destination, the beauty always overwhelms me. As we drove away, I got sad as I always do when I leave a place, but the breathtaking view of Fes hypnotized me into a calm trance. I could not tell if I was dreaming. As the car window was open as we drove away, the sound of the windy air was starting to wake me up to reality. Yes, this WAS real. I was absolutely in Fes. I was alive. The beauty started to fade as we drove further away. Again, I was wondering if this was all a dream. In the quiet backseat of the car I was sad again. Fes was becoming a memory. Happiness greeted me, though, as I realized just how lucky I was…we were on our way to the Sahara!