Do they pee in your food?

Trip Start Dec 16, 2009
Trip End Jan 09, 2010

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Flag of Morocco  ,
Saturday, December 26, 2009

We checked out and left our backpacks at the front desk before heading out to the Hassan II Mosque. Having some issues getting a taxi, a local guy took us down another street and hailed us a taxi. I figured he was angling for a tip, and he asked for a little something to get some breakfast - I handed over 10 dirham, but then he said he needed another 5 to get something to eat. Whatever, I gave him another 5. Then he noticed the 4 or 5 single dirham coins I had, and said that they were only worthless coins, so might as well hand them over too. Having already fallen for the story, I figured what the heck, might as well! At least he didn't grab on to my leg and start fake bawling to get the money.

The mosque was absolutely stunning, both the building itself, and its location overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. The mosque was built upon land reclaimed from the ocean, a reference to the Quranic verse that God's throne was built upon the water. The mosque was completed 15 years ago and shockingly, only took 6 years to build.

The scale of the mosque is enormous, spacious enough for 25,000 worshipers inside and another 80,000 in the courtyards and squares, and is large enough to house St. Peter's in Rome. It truly is a remarkable piece of architecture.

After a very long and hot walk back to the city centre, we had lunch in the pedestrian zone, at Chick'n D'wich, a fast food joint that really wasn't all that fast. The plan was to quickly eat, pick up our backpacks, then catch the 13:15 train. This didn't happen, as it took a good 20 minutes to get our food. We ended up relaxing a bit longer than intended in the cool little courtyard, since we had time to spare, now that we would be catching the 14:15 train.

Off to the train station - it was delayed almost 45 minutes and as a result, was completely packed. We walked through a good 5 or 6 train cars until we finally found a couple of seats together. Paying the extra for first class and the accompanying seat reservation would have been a brilliant idea today!

On board, Hicham, a student returning to Fes, started chatting with us. I had read in the guidebook that local authorities in Fes had cracked down on touts and faux guides, so some had taken to getting on inbound trains posing as students, trying to lead tourists to the carpet shops and hotels owned by their supposed relatives.

He offered to take us on a bit of a tour tomorrow, and kept mentioning that it was purely as a friend and that he expected nothing, that he only wanted to practice and improve his English. As much as I wanted to believe him, that he was doing this just because he was a nice guy, it's difficult to trust that there were no ulterior motives. He gave us his phone number and we said we'd call him in the morning, never sure if we would - it's something that needs to be discussed.

At the station - we had the usual difficulties getting a taxi, with some trying to go off meter and charging us 4-5 times the local's rate. We walked past the taxis immediately outside of the station, but had further difficulties hailing one on the street because there were so many other people waiting for one.

We finally arrived the medina at Bab Bou Jeloud, a beautiful blue gate that leads the way into the heart of the Fes medina. The manager of the guest house told us to text her when we were in the taxi, and then she'd send somebody to walk us there.

Dar El Hana - another nice little guest house, not as fancy as some of the Riads we've been staying in, but nice nonetheless. It's currently being run by Erin, an Aussie girl who will soon be moving to Marrakech to teach English. Her mother is good friends with the owner, who is taking some time off because her son just had a baby, so it ends up being a win-win situation as Erin was more than happy to move to Morocco.

We were served mint tea and some incredible little cookies made by the guest house's cook, very soft and flavoured with coconut and nuts, then dusted with powdered sugar. So yummy, a plate of those would have made a delicious, if unhealthy dinner.

Erin had a number of restaurant recommendations, which all ended up being in the guidebook, as well. There were three places we wanted to try, and we made our way around to all three in order to review the menus. It was very interesting to see that with the fixed-price menus, the asking price wasn't set in stone. Not even trying to negotiate, the touts would drop the prices, going from 70 to 50, and in some cases, down as low as 40!

It just shows what a great premium they make on tourists - if you can sell a meal for 40 dirhams and still make money, how good are your margins if you normally charge almost double that? The touts feigned anger if you walked away, so we were a bit worried that they might pee in our food if we went back. And perhaps there is an inverse relation between quality and price - maybe the less you pay, the more pee you get in your food!
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