Meknes and Volubilis, Morocco
When you need to get around outside the cities in the non-European countries, and you haven’t rented a car, it’s almost always worth it to hire a driver. It might cost $50 to $100 for several hours, but it saves time and effort. Some drivers like the excellent Juber Wilson in Trujillo, Peru, are knowledgeable companions. Others like Makken, the Siem Reap, Cambodia tuk-tuk driver, will move hell and earth to get you where you need to be.
So on the advice of a woman I met at the riad, I’ve jettisoned the fool-hardy cheapskate plan to grand taxi my way 25 kilometers to Moulay Idris and walk 10 kilometers to and from the Volubilis ruins.
My driver is a friendly guy who speaks limited English. He gets me there in good time, dodging bad drivers, big trucks, and tour buses through the olive groves and rolling foothills of the diesel-stenched countryside outside Meknes. He does try to upsell me on taking his taxi over the scenic route to Fes, bypassing the train, but it doesn’t seem like a good deal and I have business at the station there.
Set against the backdrop of the surrounding mountains, Volubilis is a bucolic sight.When I get out of the cab at Volubilis, he taps his watch. “I will see you in one hour.”
“Three,” I reply.
“Two,” I respond as I walk away.
Ruins are my favorites, and if I can spend a full day at Pompeii, I can easily burn two hours or more here. Take what it says in the guidebook and double it.
Past the entrance, I am set upon by guides offering 150 dirham an hour tours, but I don’t have the patience for them. I’ve got a good map with explanations and I tend to linger. “No guia,” I tell the last of them as I head down the path. “No necessito guia.” I’ve decided to be Spanish today.
I have lousy luck with weather at Roman ruins. Cloudy at the Roman forum. Freezing rain at Pompeii. Today there are dark skies and thunder in the distance. They make the pictures more dramatic.
Despite what I overheard some Englishman say, Volubilis is not bigger than Pompeii — certainly it is not as well-preserved. Nevertheless, it is a tremendous site, set on a hill, with an almost intact forum and basilica, an aqueduct fragment, and a splendid triumphal arch. There are good mosaics here and there, particularly in the House of Dionysos and House of Venus. My favorite is an elaborate circular mosaic in one of the baths with an elephant and a bear among the details.
Set against the backdrop of the surrounding mountains, Volubilis is a bucolic sight. I more than fill the time, and aside from a brief spit rain, the bad weather holds off. By the time I’ve returned to the car, the driver has given up on the journey to Fes. We survive the slow, chaotic crawl back uphill to Meknes, just in time to make the scheduled 1:33 train, which of course does not arrive on time.