Funky Old Medina

DSC07134tannery.JPG

This blog entry about the events of Sunday, June 27, 2004 was originally posted on July 03, 2004.

DAY 253:  Founded in the eighth century and declared a World Heritage Site in 1981, Fez is one of Morocco’s premiere imperial cities with a “bustling, colorful medina [that] epitomizes Morocco.  No visit to the country is complete without seeing it,” says Let’s Go.  With only two days left in Morocco, I supposed at least one in Fez was in order.

“WE’RE IN RABAT,” I said, tapping Sebastian on the shoulder.  He was the deep sleeper between the two of us, even cramped in an overnight bus from Essaouira.  We got our bags off the bus at the bus terminal in Rabat, Morocco’s capital city, a place we had been recommended to skip if we were short on time.  We shopped around for a bus to take us the four extra hours eastbound to Fez — one was leaving immediately.  We got tickets for that bus but perhaps took too much time for a pee break (two minutes) because we missed the bus.  A guy at the bus company led us around the terminal to figure out what to do, leading us to a petit taxi; he wanted us to take the taxi to catch up to the bus, most likely at an additional cost.  We weren’t sure if it was a scam to get more money from us or not.

“[We’ll just take the next bus,]” we told him in French.

The man argued in a mix of Arabic and broken French that our tickets were specifically for the bus that left already and that we had to take the taxi.  He sighed when we turned him down and so he put us on the next bus.  Both Sebastian and I fell asleep on it.

We were rudely awakened when the bus stopped on the shoulder.  Ha, another breakdown, I thought.  I must be a jinx after all.  But nothing was wrong with the vehicle.  It had caught up to our proper bus and we were frantically called to get off, get our bags and get on the other bus.  There was some truth in the bus terminal guy in Rabat after all; it’s a shame that with all the shadiness of Moroccans that deal with tourists, a foreigner always assumes he’s up to something.


FOUR HOURS LATER, we finally arrived in Fez, right outside the old medina wall.  Entering inside, we were greeted by the usual touts, one of which had a business card of the hotel we made a reservation for the day before.  We trusted this one this time and he led us to the Hotel Cascade, a cheap hotel in a convenient location near the ornately-painted Blue Gate.  After settling in, we took to the narrow streets of the medina (old city), only wide enough for pedestrians and the occasional pack mule or horse.  Fez boasts the largest media of all of Morocco’s cities, with a maze of streets and alleyways so confusing that even the independent traveler-minded guidebooks suggest hiring a guide.  A guide would help you find your way through the web of streets where everything looks similar, and more importantly, keep the other touts at bay from hassling you to be your guide.  I could have passed as a guide in m y galabiyya, but at 42°C (107°F) it was way too hot to wear it; our hotel manager said Fez had the highest temperature in the country that day.

Forsaking the cost of a guide, Sebastian and I winged it while wandering independently anyway; sometimes it’s just nice to get lost.  Immediately we were hounded by restaurant and shop touts who were a bit more bitter about tourists turning them down or ignoring them.  A bag vendor tried to sell Sebastian a bag he was mildly interested in, in a polite and friendly way telling us he’d give us a good price with no games or pressure.

“I kinda like that guy,” Sebastian told me as we walked away politely, not interested in the man’s goods.  But then the man called to us in English from behind.

“You wasted my time!”

“I take that back,” Sebastian said to me.


WE MADE A MISSION of trying to find Fez’s famous tanneries, where citizens dried and dyed fresh leather of cows, sheep and camels.  Even with a map and a compass it was near impossible to find in the medina’s labyrinth and we often found ourselves going in circles or backtracking to familiar sights, like the Mosque Quaraouiyine, the ninth century mosque built by Fatima Al-Fihra that also housed the world’s oldest university.  The touts took advantage of our lost, confused state — knowing damn well sure we were looking for the tanneries without us having to tell them — and tried to either lead us there (with a catch presumably) or have us check out their restaurant (Sebastian mentioned we might be interested in finding a nice place for our last night in Morocco) or sell us souvenirs that we didn’t want:

“Sixty for the bag,” one said in English.

“That’s too much,” I told him.

“How much you want to pay for this bag?”

“I don’t want it.”

“But what price would you like?”

“Well, if I wanted it — and I don’t —  in Marrakesh, they sell it for thirty.”

“Okay, you buy it for thirty,” he said reaching for the bag to shove in my face.

“I don’t want it,” I said, walking away.

“Come on, thirty!  Thirty!  Thirty-five… come on,” he said, his voice trailing off as I got farther away.  Funny, we was actually raising the price on me.


LET’S GO SAYS TO FIND THE TANNERIES, follow the path of the six-sided cobblestones until you smell the funky stench of fresh leather and dyes.  Even with that said, we still couldn’t follow our noses (there were walls in the way) and gave up, caved and asked for directions to a secluded store owner.  Immediately his associate came to our aid and it became evident why we couldn’t find the tanneries on our own; there’s no official entry, the classic overlooking vantage point was only found by entering a store with a balcony nearby the big vats.  The catch of course was the hard sell on goods in the store after you take your pictures (other picture above), but Sebastian and I managed to politely decline the offers of the salesman without him getting pissed off.  We were led to another guy who brought us to a spice store who was going to give us a whole sales pitch, but we stopped the process before they got pissed for declining them.  “We’ll just go on our own now.  You save your time, we save our time,” I told him. 

We declined more guidance touts (including kids that we questioned if they should be in school), explaining to them that we wanted to just wander and get lost on our own.  Our wanderings led us to a much less crowded area where people lived and other kids played in a small plaza.  Our only guidance came from multiple arrowed green signs we noticed that pointed to the “Jardin Snan Sbil.”  At almost every turn we saw one of the modern signs for this supposed garden and followed them like it was a scavenger hunt for about an hour.  The green signs hung from above led us through the maze, passed yummy pastry shops and quiet residential streets — but to no apparent garden at all.  In the end, it actually led us out of the medina in the most indirect way possible to an area near our hotel.  And after all that, we discovered the garden was closed for the day.

As a consolation we visited the nearby museum situation in an impressive former palace with a ceramic and perfume exhibition.  Tiring from all the walking afterwards, we just vegged out in our room with a bottle of wine we bought in Essaouira and makeshift wine glasses


“YOU WANT A RESTAURANT?” asked another tout later that night when Sebastian and I went out after an early evening siesta.  He, like the owner of the restaurant near the hotel, desperately wanted to do business with us, if only we were hungry.  “I can show you one.”

“No thanks, we’re not hungry now.”

The tout cut to the chase.  “You want hash?  I have hash.  Good stuff.  Come one, give it a try.” 

“Why do they always come to me with this?” Sebastian vocalized his thoughts to me. 

“I think it’s because of your hair,” I told him.

“Good stuff.  Just try it, come one,” the tout continued.  “If you don’t like it, you keep your money, I’ll keep the hash.”

“We’ve heard that one before.”

The tout followed us no matter how hard we tried to politely get rid of him.  We mentioned we were looking for internet, and that most were closed.  “I can show you another one.  It’s open all day and all night,” the tout said.  “Come with me and try the hash.”

“No, thanks.”

Suddenly the guy’s desperation for a sale turned him into a less friendly guy.  “Are you a homosexual?” he asked Sebastian.  “Are you gay?  You want a big cock?  I got a big cock right here, a big Moroccan cock!” he continued with a sarcastic demeaning tone. 

“No.”

Eventually he gave up and left us alone, leaving us to find internet at the late hour of midnight on our own.  There was in fact a 24-hour internet cafe just outside the medina where we had a session.  Hungry around one in the morning — and wrongly assuming that a snack stand would be open — we found ourselves with no choice on our last night in Morocco to eat nothing Moroccan, but food from our emergency stashes.  I donated a can of tuna and Sebastian a bag of freeze-dried peas.  It was our culinary Moroccan anti-climax, but satisfied our hungers in the meantime.  It had been a long, tiring day, from bus rides to street mazes to offers of “big Moroccan cocks.”






Next entry: Out of Africa

Previous entry: Jamming in Morocco




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Comments for “Funky Old Medina”

  • I am First…....

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  07/02  at  09:30 PM


  • Wow….can not believe I got to be first…..love the wine glasses….will have to remember those as I always travel with a corkscrew but never seem to find any glasses!  Great pic’s, love the architecture and colored tiles!  Keep up the great writing Erik.  I am interested in your comments coming up of Europe as I have visited many countries there….what countries after Spain are you visiting????? Rose in Windsor Ontario

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  07/03  at  01:38 AM


  • Amazing title Erik… where’s the MP3?

    I can’t believe that tout!!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  07/03  at  03:14 AM


  • ERIK - are the tanneries worth it to go to Fez?  Seems like a long way just to see one thing (that smells bad too)
    I was actually expecting those kinds of touts all throughout Morocco based on what I’ve read (that the touts are terrible).  But, not quite that rude as the one at the end.  Geesh.
    I can’t believe my mom was first LOL wink

    Posted by Liz  on  07/03  at  03:55 AM


  • Erik -
    Thanks for the fantastic pictures of the castles and palaces - again I’m amazed by the intricacy of the mosaic!! WOW!

    BTW, the “night” photo doesn’t work. :( I live for all your pictures!!

    Thanks for catching us up - and taking the time out of your having fun! It’s a sacrifice and I know I appreciate it!
    Cheers!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  07/03  at  04:50 AM


  • please please come to my store…i serve you tea…you try the hash and my cock…i give you the best prices…how much do you want to pay for my cock?  thirty? thirty-five?

    hahaha….

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  07/03  at  06:02 AM


  • ROSE:  After Spain… don’t know… any suggestions?  I’m thinking Florence, Avignon, Paris (meet up with Fred, Ethiopia), Amsterdam (meet up with Pepe and/or Maaike), then Luxemborg, and Germany to see relatives… 

    LIZ:  Fez was on the way…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  07/03  at  11:52 AM


  • love the makeshift wineglasses….
    you guys are very resourceful, who’s idea, yours or sebastian?

    I get tired just reading the running around you do & the loooong bus rides…
    have fun in spain…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  07/03  at  05:44 PM


  • I remember seeing those tanneries before - it was a stop on an episode of the Amazing Race.  They had to search through a vat with a big stick to find a clue!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  07/03  at  07:58 PM


  • SILENTADMIRER:  wine glasses my idea, but we used Sebastian’s knife…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  07/04  at  03:48 PM


  • Erik:
    If you go to Florence, I have some suggestions for you. I spent a summer there during college.
    Let me know if you need any info

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  07/05  at  04:26 AM


  • EL ZEE:  Assuming I survive the bull run (or even worse, the stampede of drunk people), I’ll probably head out to Florence next week sometime… email me…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  07/05  at  05:41 PM


  • Parental Advisory Recommended: Strong use of language, drug references; sexual content.
    Not what I remembered from “The Labrynth” Where’s David Bowe?

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  07/05  at  06:13 PM


  • Oh go to Florence… it’s amazing—so many brilliant minds and creative geniuses lived & worked there. I’d love to send you on an Art History Scavenger Hunt…

    And the gelato… ooohh.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  07/06  at  01:24 AM


  • the balkans are kind of neat.  i don’t know much about touristy stuff there. i just enjoyed the culture and some of the food. lake ohrid in macedonia is pretty.

    Posted by Alyson  on  07/12  at  05:49 AM


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This blog post is one of over 500 travel dispatches from the trip blog, "The Global Trip 2004: Sixteen Months Around The World (Or Until Money Runs Out, Whichever Comes First)," originally hosted by BootsnAll.com. It chronicled a trip around the world from October 2003 to March 2005, which encompassed travel through thirty-seven countries in North America, South America, Africa, Europe, and Asia. It was this blog that "started it all," where Erik evolved and honed his style of travel blogging — it starts to come into focus around the time he arrives in Africa.

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Out of Africa

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Jamming in Morocco




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