Fez, land of surprises

Trip Start Mar 11, 2007
Trip End Apr 13, 2007

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Flag of Morocco  ,
Friday, March 30, 2007

The bus ride down out of the mountains towards Fez was relatively uneventful.  It got warmer and the fields were greener.  Lots of what looked like wheat and probably mint in the fields.  Oranges too.  They have so much more flavor here and in Spain/Portugal than in the states. 

I had mentally and physically prepared myself for Fez. Batten down the hatches.  I took all valuables out of my pocket and hid them away and covered my backpack with the raincover to hide the zippers.  Once out of the bus station I grabbed a petit taxi (love those names) and headed for the Medina.  Oddly enough, the driver used the meter, which starts out at 1.4 Dirham, or 14 cents at the 10 to one exchange rate with the dollar.  Try that in the States.  He was a nice enough guy who tried to speak English and kept reverting to French.  "Oui, Oui misseur" was all I could muster.

At one point I asked him what park we were passing and he turned to point at something and almost hit an old man.  No more questions from me after that.

It cost only 1 and a half bucks to get to the main gate of the ancient city. It's one huge zoo enclosed in 800 plus year old walls.  Maybe half a million people live within these walls and another million or so in the "Ville Novelle" created by the French during the Protectorate.

It's pretty hard to describe.  Alley after alley of shops selling anything and everything with people calling to you to buy their wares.  Cars can't get in, so donkeys do the heavy lifting.  That and motorcycles fitted with big bins on the front.  Back alleys that don't allow donkeys have a wooden beam across the alley to prevent them from passing.

As I entered initially, I was verbally assaulted by the touts and young boys for a hotel room. I had 3 in mind and had made a mental note of the map, to no avail.  The first one was full but one kid latched on to me to see his hotel. I couldn't find my second option in the melee and it was getting dark fast.  I was an easy target with the pack.  Long story short:  a half hour of walking around a rabbit's warren and being shown crappy rooms in faraway alleys and I finally made it back to my original spot and took a cheap room next to my first choice. I managed to ditch the kid after some aggressive threats.   I locked the door and laid down for 10 minutes to recuperate.

After that, I had an enjoyable walk through the souqs, (shops) in the Medina.  I stumbled past the camel meat butcher shop.  How'd I know?  I almost ran into the freshly cut camel head hanging next to the leather shop cranking out Bob Marley tunes.  Speaking of strange contrasts, on the bus down, a guy next to me used his cell phone MP3 player to play Muslim prayers for all the bus to hear. 

Everyone seems to have cell phones but I don't think they can afford to use them much.  Three times now I've seen guys scrolling through their ringtone options and playing every one, including a baby crying.  Who thought of that one?

But the most bizarre thing to happen in the bazaar today was running into a college friend.  Eastern Illinois alumns will be surprised to know Carol "Laser Beamer" saw me walk by the Medina gate near a mosque and started following me.  Some of you know the story of how Jerry Brahler, another old EIU buddy saw me in the Alcazar in Sevilla 6 years ago.  Small world!  She's vacationing with her husband and daughter here and we plan to eat dinner in an hour or so.  She wasn't sure it was me, so she followed me for a block before calling out my name. I thought she was a tour guide tout, so I ignored her until I saw here.  Too fun.

Two days is enough in Fez for me, so I'm heading out tomorrow.  My friend Mike is meeting me in Casablanca in 3 days. He's living in Zurich and will be moving back to the States, so one last vacation is in order. That should be fun. We plan on hitting the beaches and doing a camel trek in the Sahara in the east.  I'm not sure yet, but I think I'll take a train to Rabat the capitol city.  Or if I change my mind, I may stop in to Meknes, another large city on the way towards Rabat.
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