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Fez or Fes? It’s in Morocco

April 4, 2011

Doors to the Kings Palace

Our trip to the city of Fez started out after a quick boat trip across the Strait of Gibraltar, a day in Tangiers, and a long train ride with a rough transfer in the darkness.  It was during this train ride that we met a new friend named Abdul and his wife.  I still don’t know her name, she spoke zero English but liked to smile and nod a lot.  Both were quite friendly and had older children that lived in the States and New Zealand, and younger children that were still at home in Fez.

After a long conversation with our new friend, he advised us that we were scheduled to stay in a pretty terrible location once we arrived in Fez.  We had been planning to stay inside the medina a few hundred meters past the Bab Bou Jeloud, which is the gate most Westerns enter through.  He suggested that instead we stay at a hotel that was just as cheap and much nicer on the other side of the city.  We are certainly glad we took his advice.

Fez Medina

For those of you that do not know what a medina is, don’t worry, I had no clue before I stayed in one.  A vague description is a walled in city that contains numerous, often confusing, streets.  These street are also very narrow, so cars do not fit down them and most do not even allow motor bikes.  However you always need to be on alert when walking, otherwise you will be run over by a donkey carrying a heavy load.  Medinas will contain mosques, schools, various souqs, and more.  While in Fez and Marrakech we pretty much stayed in the medina the entire time – it was the fun place to be.

Once we arrived to the train station, we took a taxi to the hotel with our friend’s wife and got all set up for the night.  After a welcoming cup of tea and some interesting conversation on politics and war downstairs with the locals, we headed to bed.  Then the next morning when Jen and I came down for breakfast, there were our friends.  They not only bought our meal but they also brought an extra traditional Moroccan dish for us to try.

The leather factory

Once finished we of course had tea.  With anything and everything you have tea, period.  Then we were headed off for the day with our friend as a guide.  Winding and twisting all through the streets of the medina, I had absolutely no clue where we were, just a general sense of where we came from.  Eventually, we were taken into a leather factory where we got a firsthand look at everything that went into processing fine leather.  This particular factory was the oldest in Fez and our host was quite proud that he had been on Survivor and MTV Road Rules.  It was interesting to see all the different pools of dyes and the men working the skins.  Also, for the record, in the picture, the white pools are full of bird poop – it helps break it down.

Another thing that was fantastic about our friend is that he would tell everyone not to hassle us.  We had read quite a bit about Moroccans and their ability to sell, haggle, hassle, and do just about anything to get you to walk out the door with a purchase in hand.  Luckily all of this was avoided – except for one place.

The Moroccan Rugs we almost bought

After journeying through more of the medina and seeing all of the food, goods for sale, mosques, schools, and more we came into a large home.  All around us were tons and tons of rugs and before we knew it they were being laid out in front of us.  Many of them were gorgeous and ranged in size from doormat to huge 12’ by 24’ rugs.  We glanced at them and figured we would be on our way.  It was then that we started getting sold hard by the man displaying them, and it wasn’t to just buy one but seven.  All for the mere price of around $50,000.  Obviously the guy did not get the fact that not only are we on a tight budget but we are broke and I am going back to school soon.  He reassured us that if we bought them we could sell them in the US for thousands more and make a profit.  When we told them we had no money to give him he said Visa and Mastercard would cover it and not to worry about the credit limits, all we had to do was call and they would understand.  The guy was crazy and would not stop.  Eventually we got him down to two rugs for around $3,000.  It was at that point, after much tea, I finally had to forcefully and sternly tell him ‘no’.  Well of course he got mad, very mad actually and started yelling to take everything away and was very upset with me.  So, we left.   And now we certainly have a new memory.

Fez Mom and Baby

After the long ordeal we took more turns and twists in the medina and suddenly to our surprise ended up in a home.  Abdul had taken us there to eat lunch with his family.  His daughters who were probably about 9 and 11 were there working on their schoolwork, along with his 2 year old niece.  It was very interesting to see how they all interacted with each other along with what the inside of someone’s home looked like.  As you might guess it was very modest and very small.  Of course we did not take any pictures so as to not be rude.  Abdul’s wife came out and after hugs and kisses, which I wasn’t expecting from a Muslim woman, she brought us a delicious and huge lunch.  It had everything from a beef tagine to olives to fried sardines to oranges.  It was amazing how much food we all consumed.

Eventually we finished up our meal and toured around the medina even more, finally ending up in Abdul’s own store.  This is where Jen tried on clothes for what seemed like forever and bought a couple of scarves.  I even tried on a traditional Fez robe and hat and I will spare you that picture.  Everything was quite colorful and all hand made by the men and women in the store.  That night Jen and I did nothing except watch people from our balcony and rest.  We were pretty beat from the long day.

Chickens - they were for lunch AND dinner

The next day our friend arranged a car to drive us outside of the medina to tour the rest of the city.  It was great to get the chance to see everything from the surrounding hillsides of the city.  The pictures do not do it justice.  Also, if you notice the buildings with green roofs, those are typically mosques in the city.  The tour also took us to the gates of the presidential palace which is used a few times a year.  We were not allowed to photograph certain parts but Jen is sneaky and did so anyway.

Then, we were taken to a pottery factory and got to witness all the stages in making true Moroccan pottery.  The place had several amazing pieces that were all beautifully done and actually not that expensive.  Jen wants to one day have all of our dishes custom made in a place like the pottery factory – I kindly reminded her that I am now a poor student and can’t afford it anytime soon.  Regardless, it was neat to see and we bought a huge plate.

Making pottery

The rest of the day was spent with Jen and I wondering through the medina by ourselves, sans guide.  Honestly, I was incredibly proud of us.  We did not get lost at all and made it to every single spot we wanted to see.  From the westerner’s gate, to lunch, to the shops, and back to the hotel we did it all and celebrated our accomplishment with some mint tea.  It was a great way to end our visit to the city.


One Comment leave one →
  1. Jim Traner permalink
    April 19, 2011 08:01

    Fex sounds great.
    Was the carpet seller a friend of your friend or someone’s shop you just tripped into? That experience sounds like it was stressful, but rewarding in terms of the cultural experience.

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