Monday, June 6, 2011

Fez: Medieval Medina

I woke up early in the morning and caught a train from Tangier to Fez Morocco. The train trip took about 5 hours and I arrived in Fez at 4 PM. I took a taxi to the hostel but the taxi dropped me off in some unknown place and I was approached by a “tour guide” within 10 seconds of exiting the cab. I figured he was yet another unlicensed tour guide but he had all of his teeth and spoke English very well so I figured I will let him show me where my hostel is rather than getting lost. After I got to the hostel he waited for me outside and seemed very disappointed when I told him I didn't want a tour. He didn't want to give me a phone number because he really wanted me to schedule a time for him to meet me. He finally left and I checked into the hostel.

After checking in, the lady working at the hostel gave me a map and showed me where the medina was. I decided I would go check it out on my own. I lasted about 10 minutes on my own before I figured I better wait and take the hostel tour the following day. The medina is the worlds oldest and largest functioning medieval, car-free city/maze/labyrinth in the world. It is difficult to describe the experience of the medina as it is completely overwhelming to every sense. There are smells of cooked and raw food, every kind of spice imaginable, donkey's, trash and other smells I have never experienced both good and bad. In the middle of the medina is the worlds oldest functioning leather tannery. They use ancient methods which consist of cleaning the leather with bird crap and dying it in the open air. This place had one of the worst smells I have ever experienced, thankfully we were given sprigs of mint by the shop owners to help with the smell. The medina has 9000 different streets and ally ways and 400,000 inhabitants; walking through it is an out of this world experience. After spending yet another hour in a carpet store, explaining that we didn't want to buy one, we enjoyed a traditional Moroccan meal of tagine, couscus and multi-plate salad starter.

After the tour I relaxed for a few hours before heading out, in search for dinner, with a couple of people I had met in the hostel. Our first attempt was to head for the madina and find anything that looked edible, but we ended up with an especially pushy and annoying tout (or “guide) who we simply couldn't lose without returning to the hostel. After returning to the hostel we went to a sandwich place that was not too far away. We ate chicken sandwiches and french fries as we watched cockroaches crawl across the walls waiting for us to finish.

My first day in Fez was interesting, exciting, frightening and mind opening. I hope that the photos and story are able to give it some justice. More on Fez in the next post.

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