Saturday, July 2, 2011

Another week, and still no cars. But ...

Another week, a new month, and we are licking our heels in Fes, enjoying the 50 degrees heat (not!) while waiting for the news of our cars. And at last positive news! The containers are in Casablanca, have been identified, and an appointment has been taken for Customs inspection Monday 4 July. But first the rest of our story.

We had an invitation from a sister of a school friend of my wife's brother, living in Fes, to crash with them. They had just completed a new house, and had rooms available, so we bought cheap matresses and settled in.

Of course a visit to the old town was obligatory, and we had the advantage of Najeeb taking us to his friends, and warding off insistent guides.
Iside the old Medina of Fez
Fes is an ancient town, on the main route from Algeria, and has been a centre of political activity since ancient times. We were taken to an old mosque in the Medina, which also has an university attached, reputed to be the oldest in the region.

This ancient city has seen conquerors, Sultans and sages come and go. Ibn Battuta, Ibn Khaldun, among others described the business acumen and the wisdom that resided here in times gone by.
The gates to the old city
We left the women to continue the exploration while we went by train to Rabat to do the Cameroon visas, only to receive a severe talking to as we should have applied in our country of residence. Secondly, in our covering letter, we called our trip a safari, which the First Secretary understood to imply hunting, and he wanted to know what weapons we are carrying, as we would be in Cameroon in October, when they expect to hold elections.

After patient and humble explanations and apologies for our bad application we received the visas, valid only for the month of September, which will create problems for us if we are to see everything we want to. We will have to do this later.

Now we made in internet booking at the Central Hotel in the Medina of Casablanca, and were back on the train. Arrived there, we found the hotel basic, rather ramshackle, but friendly. Lines of men sit on the pavement watching the young men and boys racing their scooters around the square, and they talk and argue until four in the morning, when the azaan from the nearby mosque, instead of sending them off to prayer and work seem to send them to bed, as that is the only time the place was really silent.

Safmarine received us at nine, and assured us that they will do everything to speed up delivery, provided we pay what is owing. Now, it is to be remembered that we paid everything up front in Cape Town on the basis that we will receive the keys of the vehicles here, pay the road tax, and leave.

But first there were outstanding charges of some R 5 000, then a guarantee of R 5000 per container to put down, and then we have to make our own arrangements to transport the two containers from the port to the depot!

We tried through friends to find a clearing agent, and eventually fell on Los Cargos, on the basis that they had cleared a car last week.

The director listened to us with an air of amusement, and undertook, at cost to his company of some R 2000, to handle the matter. He undertook to identify the containers, arrange transport, book with Customs to have the chassis numbers checked, and to transport the containers to where the cars could be driven out.

Ali Baba had a cave..
On his assurance we returned to Fes, again by train, to dissuade the girls from buying the entire handicrafts centre, and to rest a little.

On Saturday morning we received assurance from Los Cargos that the containers had arrived, had been identified, and that Customs would be ready for us Monday morning. So, back we will go, once again by train, to have another battle with red tape.

A few words on the market procedures: Some people, used to Supermarkets where prices are fixed, get upset at being cheated when merchants want you to haggle down the price. One has to see it from their side. The merchant has products that he bought at a price he negotiated, but for him the products have little intrinsic value, he cannot eat it! On the other hand you want it, so for you there is a value attached, that you would be prepared to pay. We are used to having a basic, set price, but here that is not known to the buyer.

The best practise is to have an idea what you are prepared to pay for the smile on your mother's face, or that of your friend, when you unwrap the gift that shows you remembered her or him.
Where will that go on the Cruiser?
Some South African tourists felt they were being ripped off, and had hard feelings about their visit to the country in general, and we could not blame them when we heard how their 'guides' took them to restaurants with R 600 menus and were deeply aggrieved when the people did not want to eat there.

The authorities in Fes, as in other markets, have done much to get rid of aggressive touts, but we had to deal with people who seemed to feel they had a right to act as agents when we wanted to buy anything, eat anything, or be paid when we just look. Very irritating.

The girls found a handicrafts centre, where there were few tourists, no touts or guides, and a calm atmosphere. You could see people weaving carpets, making ironwork, and doors, and you could buy with a minimum of haggling, although prices were perhaps higher than you would have been able to arrange in the medina. Worth the cost, in my opinion!

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