Was up before seven. Headed to the travel agent which I thought opened at 8, but didn't until 9. Then the only English speaker wasn't in until 10 - I obviously missed the 8:55 train I was hoping to catch. While I was waiting I went and bought a ticket for the 11 o'clock train. I came back to the agent at 10 and was told the ticket would take no more than 15 minutes to issue. When 45 minutes had passed the travel agent started to explain that things in Morocco are not like in the US. She did send someone to get a refund on my train ticket though. She also told me that a grand (shared) taxi would be cheaper (35 - 40 dh vs. 53 dh), and much faster (1.25 vs. 3 hours) than the train. Just under 90 minutes later I had my plane ticket to Dakar for the 17th of September.
The grand taxi ended up costing more (60 Dirham) and took over two hours (plus waiting for it to fill for 30 minutes) and was incredibly uncomfortable (four across in the back seat of a typical Mercedes). I finally got to Meknés a mere two and a half hours later than I'd planned.
The travel agent had also told me than Meknés was a very dangerous town, and that I should only stay one night in the nicest four star hotel I could find, regardless of cost since otherwise I wouldn't be safe. Well in my guide book the youth hostel is shown right next to the Transatlantic hotel, so I figured if the hostel looked to dodgy... I couldn't find the hostel and was getting psyched up for the splurge, but then I found it. It is pretty dodgy, but at less than one percent the cost of the four star I decided it was acceptable.
Spent the entire afternoon walking. Explored the Medina, the souqs, especially the food souq, and wandered through the workshop area where I definitely didn't belong (had a parade of kids following me at one point), but was welcomed to watch the various craftsmen. Saw the Bab el-Mansour (the Imperial gate that Meknés is famous for), and walked the entire circumference of the Imperial city past Ismail's place complex (now one of the official residences of King Hassan) to the Agdal (an artificial lake). I was very disappointed by the "..Beautiful, grand artificial lake" it was dirty and scummy and looked as if it had been made with cement. Next to the lake is the Heri es-Souani granaries and stables which were very impressive. The stables are in ruins, very overgrown, and utterly magical. Standing in one corner it looks like a tropical forest with regular arches stretching as far as you can see through and over the growth. They once held 12,000 horses - they are big. The granary vaults are pretty interesting, there are two floors and water was circulated with an elaborate set up (I assume fed by the artificial lake) under the floor which kept the grain cool.
After walking so much I tried to hang out in a large courtyard and write in my journal but the locals were too friendly. I tried to be friendly back to the first one, but then he tried on my sunglasses and told me they were a good gift (after he had asked for a ten dollar bill which he needed to complete his collection), I took the sun glasses back, then was verbally assaulted by him when I wouldn't drink his liquor with him. As soon as I had escaped him almost an exact repeat took place, then a third when I moved again. At this point I gave up on enjoying the atmosphere of the imperial city and headed out. I had excellent Tagine at a small hole in the wall cafe, it was spicy with some sweet vegetable that made it very different, but good. While walking back through the old city I was told many times that I was going the wrong way and that the hostel was not that direction - all lies. At the city gate a vender asked where I was going and told me I could go the other way which was lit, but I quickly told him I was ok, he just shrugged. I felt guilty because he was just trying to help, but after the last half dozen people I'd just run into had clearly lied or tried to scam me I was suspicious. I don't like being so cynical but what else can you do? The hostel was pretty much deserted, the workers singularly unfriendly and unwilling to answer questions and the blasted music until long after midnight. I resolved to leave tomorrow.
[Entry written later from notes: 19 September 1998]