23.05.2014 - 25.05.2014 87 °F
We parted ways with the quaint town of Chefchaoen and headed further south to the the city of Fez. Here it is spelled Fes but the autocorrect always changes it to Few, so I will stick to Fez. The bus arrived late and we departed with four more backpackers from around the world.
Upon arrival to Fez, we decided it was best to take a taxi as it would only be about 12dh, or $1.50. This was despite Ben's insistence that the taxi ride would kill us. Having traveled in China, it didn't faze me as I was more interested in the meter rather than the mopeds bumping into the taxi whenever it stopped. Or the lack of following the lines if it meant that it slowed down the ride. Immediately after the car stopped we were surrounded by kids telling us where the hostel was and that they would show us the way. This was to be a constant in Fez for the rest of the trip. We climbed to a fort on the outskirts of town to get a better view of the city. Then we headed through the Blue Gate (which looked green to me), which is the oldest gate in Fez.
We headed into the depths of the Medina (the old city) with a bad map given to us by our hostel and a myriad of warnings received by other travellers. Here again we we beset by men of all ages telling us they were our friends and they knew where we needed to go. In all but one case we actually turned the opposite way they pointed and ended in the correct spot. The one time this trick failed, we simply back tracked to that point and went the other way. At the end of this street the same boy waited and pointed the way. Once again, we ignored him and headed the opposite direction and successfully found our way. Another trick is to ask people with actual jobs or women. We did this three times and were never lied to. Once, when we asked a group of girls, they pointed in the direction I thought we should be going anyways. A male teen then started to tell her to give us bad directions as he kept pointing in the opposite direction and making a lot of turning motions with his hands. An argument ensued about whether to lie to us or not. We went with the girls directions as they confirmed what we thought anyways. Her English was impeccable, showing that she attends school, while the males often had limited and heavily accented English.
Another issue with the Medina is the narrow and crowded streets. There is over 3,000 of them in the old town although there are only a few that you really use. While the faux guides are persistent, often following for a long time or stepping in front of you, you must be persistent in saying no and push past them. They are a nuisance and what you need to watch out for is the donkeys loaded down with cargo. There wasn't enough room in an alcove when a donkey with leather came down the road and I ended up pinned between the wall and the donkey. Another time, Ben wasn't quick enough and was hit by a donkey carrying rugs.
Spending days twisting our way through the maze of streets, we eventually learned the layout fairly well albeit with a few wrong turns here or there. If you have one of the major destinations in mind, then there are signs around to point you in the right direction. They are set up high so the locals can't easily mess with them. I found a few signs that had the arrows scrubbed off and some that were written over. While there are stalls everywhere, most of the same type will be in the same area which makes navigation easier.
The major highlight of the Fez medina is the tanneries. Here they process the different hides to make the leatherwork this city is known for. Once you find them, you must enter a store where they assure you that it is free only to find out they will charge you for pictures. They initially said 5dh per person but we got them down to 1dh each. Most everything is negotiable here. They do give you mint to hold to your nose but it really isn't any worse than some of the streets.
As for food, we were reluctant to try the street food here as the turn over was low. Closer to evening, more of the locals started to eat but by then the food has stood out all day. We opted for restaurants that were more expensive but were highly regarded by Trip advisor and other online review sites. Unfortunately, the food was mildly spiced and seemingly no salt was used. Either Moroccan cooking isn't what it is back in the states or we were getting whitey cooking. On our second to last day we finally found a good restaurant near the Blue Gate called Thamis. Nicely spiced and flavorful and with the best prunes I have ever had. There was also this great cat at another place that quickly ate up the chicken I gave him.
This was a free appetizer served to us. Lentils, fried potato patties with harissa (hot sauce).
This dish is mutton with stewed prunes. Overall the dish was very sweet with cinnamon but the mutton and bread really even out the flavor.
Here is a great simple meal. Meatballs in a tomato sauce. Crack an egg in the middle and you have a great meal with bread.
Another staple of the Moroccan kitchen. Grilled meatballs with shredded beets and carrots. Open up the bread and make a delicious sandwich. Staple of many bus stops.