The last morning in Fez is quick. Although the train to Marrakech doesn't leave until 10:40am, we set an early alarm, paranoid that our riad's interior facing windows let in too little light to wake us up, as it's equally dark at 10am and 10pm. After a quick breakfast of msemen, khobz, and krachel with jam, a small banana yogurt, coffee, fresh squeezed OJ and Moroccan mint tea, we leave to our beautiful (and somewhat rough around the edges) cave and head down the narrow staircase, ducking under the low slanted wood ceiling. We say goodbye to Aziz, the 20-something Senegalese riad host before heading out into the chaos. The night before Aziz tells us that he works 7 days without any breaks, and will continue "this life" until he finishes his studies and can find a better job. "The human rights in this country are less," he says with a small shrug, as if he were explaining that the sky is blue.
The $2 taxi ride to the train station consists of polite conversation in broken English and French. After buying our tickets, we head outside for some fresh air before the 7.5 hour ride. Platform one is filled with people of all ages. Some women are wearing colorful and ornate burkas, some wear pants, a blouse, and headscarf, and others look like college students stepping straight out of an American mall. It's not the first time since our arrival in Fez that we look around and realize we're the only tourists in the crowd. The train pulls up and we all file into the 2nd class cars, each of which is sectioned off into 8-person compartments.
We choose a compartment to ourselves, agreeing that, even with the lack of air conditioning (or air of any kind), this will undoubtedly be a more comfortable ride than the Reunification Express in Vietnam. As we roll through the desert hills, past orchards of Argan trees (which produce trendy Moroccan cosmetic oil), more and more people get on at each stop. For a good 45 minutes, each passenger pauses at our compartment then continues to move on once they see us smiling back at them. We're not taking it personally and relish the privacy until the rest of the train assumingly fills up and we're joined by four women and one man. Seven of the eight seats are occupied and one woman, with intense penciled eyebrows, blonde highlights, denim jacket, and boyfriend that she's (gasp!) touching, guards the eighth seat with her over-sized handbag. It's a nice group of people and we share a laugh at our own confusion when a man comes by and hands us each a full size toothpaste, toothbrush, and mint soap with a very animated sales pitch in Arabic. We have no idea what's going on and hand him back the toiletries as everyone else chuckles. Only leaving the compartment once during this long journey, we find the bathroom, located dangerously close to the open train door.
Continuing through the dry desert, candy wrappers and plastic bottles line the tracks. Similar to some of the places we've visited in southeast Asia, Morocco lacks the infrastructure needed to dispose of (let alone recycle) most of its trash, yet is dependent on imported plastic bottles for drinking water. We pass by makeshift shacks, no taller than 5 feet, some with mules parked outside and a few topped with satellites. Farmland, goats and four and a half hours separate us from Casa Blanca, a large and modern city with sizable homes and landscaped neighborhoods.
Just like McDonald's on the outskirts of the medina, there is an obvious division between the new and the old, the modern and the traditional. Or maybe it's as simple as a division of wealth. We certainly don't have an answer, but we continue to thoughtfully observe. The train rolls through the desert and the landscape evolves as we take it all in. Next stop, Marrakech.