Arabian Nights in Fez
We arrived in Fez with no place to stay.
Armed with our IPads and the ease of the Internet, we knew that we could look up places to stay in a jiffy, so we were not worried that we will have to settle for a dingy room.
Hotel websites can be so misleading….
The photos on them may have been taken years ago when everything was new…. And now everything is moldy and run down…
Guest houses and Riads can look glorious but be impossibly dingy or located in a dark alley or really out of town…
Nothing can replace seeing a place with your own eyes and getting to feel the harmony Feng Shui (or lack of it) of the place.
Our plan was to stroll around, get the feel of the town, and then decide where we wanted to stay, by knocking on doors of Riads and hotels, and asking to look at rooms.
We left our backpacks in the car, and left the car at a parking lot that was guarded by two men.
A young man, and an old man, both of them had between them five or six rotten teeth left at most….
I wondered if it was all the sweets and sweet teas combined with bad dental hygiene, or the absence of care, that was causing this country-wide lack of teeth problem….
The day was very hot, and we walked around town for many hours.
Some places had lovely signs, but were located in really dingy alleys with donkey poo smell or bad sewer smell.
In one case, we meandered around many lanes, following a sign for a guest house, and never found the place.
In another case, we followed a sign to a guest house for many lanes, and changed our mind after we almost got there, when the last alley transformed into a narrow dark tunnel and we surprised a thin guy who was peeing in it.
He emerge smiling and zipping up his fly… Saying in broken English that yes…. The guest house was just around the corner… We turned around and kept walking.
By sunset, we took a dive into the wonderful Clock Cafe, and refreshed our spirits with some good food and drinks.
Sitting in the Clock Cafe, we enjoyed the huge Egret (from the Heron family) who sat on the top of the nearby Minaret, cleaning his feathers and looking out stately all over the city.
We found on the TripAdvisor Website a Riad that came highly recommended and gave them a call.
Since it was already evening, they offered us a room at a very discounted price.
When we came to inspect the room, we saw that they offered us their BEST suite for the price of a discounted room.
We decided to stay in this large and comfortable suite, in this beautifully restored Riad, for the next three days.
The next day we set out to explore Fez. (also spelled Fes)
Fez is very different from other parts of Morocco we’ve seen so far.
On every corner young men offered to guide us around the Medina to show us the sights.
They call them “Faux Guides”, because they latch themselves on to tourists, supposedly trying to be friendly and just point the way,….. but they expect to get paid handsomely for their “forced and unannounced tour” and often get aggressive when the tourists refuse to pay.
This was the first time we encountered so many forceful “Tour Guides”.
We merely had to stop for a moment, to pull a bottle of water out of our backpack, and men ran from all over to ask us what were we looking for…. Where did we want to see?……. Have we seen the Tannery?…. The Medrassa?… The Mausoleum?….
It was getting very annoying, so we decided to “hire” a young boy who approached us.
He spoke only a little French, but we told him the names of the places we wanted to see, and we strolled behind him, photographing and taking in the busy Medina.
At time, older men tried to latch onto us, and ignored the ten year old Youniss, who was protesting that we “belong to him”…..
But we ignored them and followed Youniss loyally.
The Fez Medina is crumbling down, as any place that is more than 1200 years old be expected to.
Supporting wood beams were placed to hold up buildings and to support buildings from crumbling into one another.
The Medina is peppered with wonderful historic buildings, Mosques, a few Medrassa, and many courts, each holding a different kind of Souk, or specialty market.
The transportation mode was small donkeys, or men with hand made wooden wheeled carts.
There were markets devoted purely to metal work, where the workers lay copper sheets on the road and cut the patterns with big hand scissors, hammer pots and trays into shape, and forge all sorts of decorative items.
There was the famous Fez Tannery, where we were handed fresh mint leaves to hold by our noses, and to help us enjoy the honeycomb shaped tanning vats, where leather was being processed and the smells of wet animal fur, decomposing flesh, poo and urine, were overwhelming.
We walked by a narrow section of streets where clothing and fiber were dyed in primitive buckets and vats, by men with permanently dyed forearms in the color of bright yellow or indigo.
The fiber they dyed was laid down in tall batches on the dirty street, and the clothing were hung to dry on nails on the walls of the nearby houses.
There were areas filled with tiny shops and stalls selling colorful Nougat sweets dotted with whole almonds.
Many dozens of old men and women were begging for coins.
We passed by many tiny overcrowded shops selling henna and ancient beauty products, some that are known today to be toxic.
Others were healthy and were made from spices, like rouge for ladies cheeks, made from Saffron and red seeds.
Moroccan women use the outer peel of fresh walnuts, to permanently dye their lips black.
It was considered very beautiful.
The day was hot, and we strolled around this ancient city, which seemed to have everything to dazzle the senses. Colorful leather products of all kinds, clothing, herbs, spices and oils, food stalls and food snacks.
Yogurt and fresh juices, fresh produce, fish and meat (with or without flies,) a freshly slaughtered camel’s head hanging on a hook in the butcher’s shop, ornate mirrors, Mosques with ornate plaster and wood carvings, beautiful mosaics everywhere and narrow streets filled with offerings.
When the heat and the crowd got to be too much for us, we paid Youniss our little entrepreneur guide, and went into the Clock Cafe, for a good meal and some Mocha cappuccinos.
It was almost a full moon and we sat on the rooftop terrace, listening to a band of four women singing and drumming traditional music.
The heat fatigue blended with the rhythmic drum music, combined with the full moon and the smell of the perfumes that a merchant poured on my forearm, made me light headed…
It is easy to lose the imaginary perceived boundaries of your body, and get carried away into dark musical nights in Morocco….
But who needs sharp senses when all you are doing is looking for joy?
All we are looking for is to explore an ancient place with new eyes and gentleness in our hearts.
We are looking for good food and drink, nice things to photograph and to walk among our brothers and sisters on the earth with gentleness.
I do not wish to notice, not attract the dark side of people.
I smile with warmth into the hard eyes or those who look at us as just a walking wallet, a tourist to extract from, and I gladly lay my sharp senses to rest.
Another good exploration day is over, and all we need to do is to make our way back to our Riad, take showers and rest.
I trust that the nearly round silvery moon will guide us back safely to our hotel.