Fabulous Fez or Moroccan Mayhem?
In Meknes we stayed at the fabulous Riad Hiba where the manager kindly organised us a Grande Taxi to take us to Fez.
These taxis are Mercedes Benz. They are old. They don’t have air conditioning, and sometimes they don’t have seat-belts working either.
Make no mistake; the Riad staff will most likely get a cut of the fare, but they also will organise that the taxi driver rings the Riad at your next destination, and someone will come and meet you and help you with your bags. And this is exactly what happened for us.
So when we arrived, we were met just outside the medina gate, and we walked in through a small maze of lane-ways and down stairs, which lead us to the Riad.
When we arrived the manager offered us mint tea, and we waited whilst he was meant to organise us some-one to guide us through the Medina of Fez.
I was a bit shocked at the over-priced quote of the guide, and thankfully another guest arrived who had experienced the tour yesterday, and agreed with me it was overpriced. So we then asked for a local guide.
Our guide has finally arrived – apparently a German teacher, and so he led us around the old medina of Fez.
We are told this is the 3rd or 4th oldest city in the world, and I do know UNESCO recently organised for the repair of the wall and some of the area.
It is old – of course it is!
But you need to look at this in a way of original tradition. Alleys and steps that meet and merge. Intersections where donkeys have no room to pass you with their load. Archaic and no longer functioning old mosaicked water fountains, where old men sleep the heat of the day away. This is the medina. For us it is full of intrigue and wonder. For me it is like an electric shock of culture.
We have subconsciously with our travels learnt to take it all in. This means we both have a good sense of direction. We notice things. We take photos and this all helps absorb in things pertaining to our surroundings, and in Fez this can be critical. This is really a skill anyone can learn with practice. Look at your surroundings and remember the small detail. It is also a great thing to teach children, in case they get lost.
I always give Explorason the address and phone number of where we are staying, and he keeps it in his pocket. If they don’t have a business card, then write it down on a piece of paper. It is good to have one each.
As we wander through, things like this partly decapitated cow head are good reminders of our way to return.
So through the Souk, we go and we stop at a brass decorator. In here, he boasts a photo of a visit from Royal wife, Lady Camilla Bowles. He shows us his work.
I have seen photos of the Tannery, and this is really my main aim with taking the Guided walking tour. I have seen coloured pools of leather dye, and I specifically wanted a photo of these vivid colours.
We head to the first view point (which is a totally overpriced business) and are given a piece of mint to smell if the aroma overpowers us.
Our guide explains that these workers are paid to dye the leather by the piece, not by the hour. How sad they must slave in the sun, and this must also be an issue of quality, as they work in the stinky hot surroundings.
But the area we are standing gives me a totally different viewpoint from the photos I have seen. So I ask if we can go to the other side of the dye baths.
After some unsuccessful heavy pressure selling attempts of their exorbitantly priced wares by the staff member, we are led down some lanes, and up some stairs to the opposite side.
Ahh – we are nearer the side I want, but the angle is still wrong, and there was a distinct lack of colours dyes – this is of course dependent on the day you visit and the colours they are dying. Sadly our day was mainly neutral.
This is not the place or the angle I had see for the photo I wanted and I wanted it specifically for a purpose.
This is the difficult thing when being with others and a guide. If it were just us, we would pursue how to get the right place, and as this photo was the reason I wanted to do the walking tour in the first place, I am feeling restricted and somewhat frustrated.
The guide then leads us to a set menu restaurant. We have to haggle price with the staff man, as I don’t want a 3 course menu, but thankfully he changes it for us. Really I just want to eat at a local priced place.
I am over the way we are led to tourist places, and asked to pay tourist prices. As long term travellers, although we are not backpackers, there are ways around this. But it turns out the salad is a myriad of small bowls and quite delicious, and Explorafriend likes it, so that is good.
But by now my frustration is paramount as it is 140 – 170 DH.
In a nutshell, Explorason and I are travellers, and not tourists. I realise we both don’t like this whirlwind travel form, that we have with this two week rushed trip around Morocco. Explorason has conveyed he also wants to slow down. But as our Explorafriend only has five months to see Europe we are fitting in with her agenda.
By the time we get back to the Riad, I am needing some time just to slow down and enjoy this place, and to soak in the real culture. So Explorason and I take off, while Explorafriend has some personal time. It all works well for all if us I think.
At first, nice local lads try to lead us and walk with us, but I tell them I need to be alone, and they are great; happy and understanding as they give us Australian jokes and call me “kangaroo lady”.
Explorason uses his great sense of direction, and before long we are smack in the middle of the Souks (market). It is getting late, but we find some great things, and we meet really lovely people.
We take in all we see, and I start to relax as I see the real culture.
We especially had a ball with a group of young boys, where one was clearly a real funny boy. They want their photo taken, and we show them after each one, and they are clearly delighted.
Toward the end I stumble across a somewhat disorganised store, and we head in. The owner is disabled. His feet deformed so badly that they twist completely behind him in a greater than 180 degree angle, yet he hobbles with a smile to help us. He has good English, and we start to talk. I like him, and feel I can trust him, as he tells me about his wife and his home in the Atlas Mountains. I talk to him about a scarf I had seen on a lady there. I have seen none of these for sale, and I would love one.
He goes to the back and brings me out one that his wife has hand stitched, along with a vest she also stitched.
He tells me the story on the scarf. He says I can buy it! I am really impressed and excited, and to me this is my most treasured possession of Morocco. I hope he is being honest with me, but I look at it and I can see the raw edges are all hand-stitched too, so I believe he is. I will treasure this scarf and use it to decorate a home – when we get one.
Sellers are locking up and cleaning up, and we head back to the Riad – quite a feat when the Souks have closed shop, as the area looks completely different, but this is when Explorason shows his great sense of direction and attention to detail. He in fact surpasses me with his skills leading the way back.
We buy some figs and snacks to share for dinner with Explorafriend who had stayed back at the Riad.
When I get back, I lay out my scarf and feel so pleased with my purchase.
Next day we are going to Chefchaouen for the night so I’ll blog on that separately. But it was not without me walking feeling completely ill, and after the worst night sleep. The centre courtyard inner area was alive with people til 2:00 a.m. And there was a dripping water air-conditioner that resembled Chinese torture in our room – to name just a few noises – and there were others! Needless to say I was a bit of a wreck. But onward we go, as we were running out of day.
We return from our overnight adventure with a somewhat sick Explorason who has food poisoning from some “off” pizza.
We had bought some items to post back to Australia throughout the past two weeks, and so we head to the Post Office. It seemed to take forever to even organise the guy at the Riad to get a taxi or help us with the boxes, and it was quite a push. Later I was informed some staff at this Riad supposedly are quite a smoker of marijuana, so I wouldn’t be surprised if he was in “cruise mode”.
Once we even got to the medina gate, again it seemed a very disjointed matter to even get a taxi. We go to the Post Office in the New Medina area as the guy from the Riad indicated to us that the old Medina Post Office was closed – something I found out later wasn’t even true.
On arrival at the Post Office we are sent to the shop next door. Here the guy not only weighs the boxes, but measures them, and comes up with the most ridiculous price for postage I have encountered in all of our world travels! Something like $300 to $400 AU – I can’t remember, but as he failed to show me the measurements, I think there was some liberal assistance on his behalf? I decline to send, and I there and then I decide to repack my hand luggage and send when we have completed our Europe sector. Explorafriend has a box that weighs around 20 kg (she had really enjoyed shopping in Morocco), and she decides to repack and return tomorrow.
As we return to the medina, a man comes along stating he can take us to a shipping wholesaler, and we think this might save Explorafriend some money – based on what he tells the hotel staff. So we hop in his 4WD and head off. It is difficult, as I’m here to help Explorafriend, and it is the last day to post. Explorason is also still feeling sick, and I desperately need to get him a meal. So we are pleased when the driver gets him a bread roll to tide him over. All in all, we waste the next two hours with no cheaper shipping options. This man then says he knows another shipping agent and wants to take Explorafriend tomorrow in the morning prior to the flight.
Explorafriend agrees for him to collect her, and come back for us at the Riad, and then take us to the airport – mind you, he is much more expensive than a regular taxi (and we have to watch our budget), but we agree as it helps her sort out the postage, and I also feel bad as I was the one who originally mentioned about what it had cost me in other countries to post (this has normally been about $50 for under 10 kg). Plus his vehicle far surpasses an un-airconditioned local taxi.
He is a nice man with good English, and even though I can’t work out why he has so many businesses, I do think his air-conditioned and nice car is definitely making Explorafriend feel a bit better about Fez. He is doing his best, and I think if I returned to Morocco I would use him to lead us to good wholesalers and would recommend him.
He also says he has a home he rents out in the new part of Fez, and on driving through Fez I think it looks beautiful, and would be a place I’d love to stay. The new medina is definitely lovely, even though it is very western in style. Something I’d consider if I returned.
As we have no food and Explorason has barely eaten in two days, and are on the edge of the medina, we head back in to the Souk market. After much hunting to try and find a place I thought would impress our colleague, I am amazed I find the same restaurant where we had lunch. Explorafriend had previously really liked it, so I was pleased for her, and we head back inside.
It looks nearly closed, in fact the entire Souk looked nearly closed, so it seemed like a good idea to stop here. Unfortunately the experience was not so good, as Explorafriend ate but wasn’t hungry, and Explorason had been sick so he didn’t eat much either. I paid for us all and we left.
I wanted to end my time in Fez with a good memory, so Explorason and I went out to a nearby hotel for a drink whist Explorafriend stayed back in her room at the Riad.
We tried two hotels, but being Ramadan there was limited alcohol and crazy prices and also no-where to sit outside and use wi-fi. So all dressed up and no-where to go, we headed back to the Riad for some Internet time and a lemonade. Not the way I would have liked to spend the last night in Morocco.
We wake in the a.m. only to find ourselves locked in the Riad. There are no staff to be found and we knock and bang on the front door and yell out to no avail. After half an hour a sleepy guy comes from upstairs in a not so happy mood. Explorafriend has to take off with no breakfast to do her post, and the staff member adamantly denies we have been knocking for half an hour. I think he has smoked too much ‘whoopee weed’ last night (I’d gone upstairs two times in the previous evening to find him with his friend on the balcony ‘rolling’ some substances).
Explorason still has a very upset stomach and I have to wash his underwear and shorts twice in the hope they’ll dry for the airport. Alas my first aid is back with the car in France, but as soon as we get back I can give him something.
We are collected after breakfast by Explorafriend and the driver. He drives us through the new medina to the airport, and I am really impressed at what I see of this area – lovely palm trees and modern buildings. Fez is a big and busy city. Most come for one or two days, and I can see why they don’t get a chance to really experience the city. In my mind I’d loved to have stayed about five days and to have relaxed and gone out each day to a different part. Maybe one day we will return – who knows !
So Morocco is over – what is next?
“Stay tuned for more”…says Explorason to you from the distance as I type this.