Lost in the Medina

Trip Start Apr 01, 2010
Trip End Apr 18, 2010

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Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Hi from Fes, home to Morocco's largest and most labyrinth-like Medina (old city).

We drove here last night and checked into the hotel. With just enough time to splash water on our faces (I still can't get used to the pace of this trip), we headed out for drinks at a nice hotel that has a terrace overloking the Medina. We were hoping to make it there in time for the call to prayer at sunset, but we just missed it. The views, however, were quite spectacular. I couldn't get over how big the Medina looked.

After a drink, we went around the corner to a traditional Riad - or Moroccan-style house - for dinner. The five-course meal was easily the best food I've had so far on the trip. Everything was delicious. Accompanied with a bottle of wine that we'd picked up at the shop across from our hotel (surreptitiously, since alcohol is tolerated but somewhat frowned upon here in Morocco), we all ate and drank ourselves to oblivion. I really need to learn to make chicken pastille, because I don't know how I survived my whole life until now without it.

This morning, an early start as we met our local guide and headed out to see the sights of Fes. Starting off at the Imperial Palace, where we joined the masses of tourists all photographing the intricately-carved gold doors. It's one of Morocco's most famous sights, so naturally it was crowded. Next, atop a former military fort for a panoramic view over the city. In the morning haze, it wasn't nearly as beautiful as it was at sunset last night, but the size of the Medina was no less impressive by daylight.

From there, we visited a pottery and ceramic tile factory, where we all splurged on dishes or trinkets. Everything is painstakingly hand-made, and the working conditions for the employees were pretty frightful, though we were told that this is actually considered one of the better places as far as that goes. Hard to imagine.

Then, we headed into the Medina. The narrow streets are completely maze-like, and donkeys have the right of way. Just walking around inside the markets is an adventure. From the little kids deftly picking pockets to the frequent cries of "balak!" (watch out!) when a cart or a donkey is coming the other way, it's every person for themselves. We absoultely needed the local guide, or else we might still be in the Medina by next year, looking for a way out.

In the course of the day, we visited a former Madrassa (religious school), the outside of several mosques, shops selling everything from spices to produce to freshly-slaughtered chickens, a weaving demonstration (more shopping), a giant leather tannery and shop, a carpet-making cooperative (a few people even splurged there), and a jewelry artist. Sure, I was fully aware that I was being herded from store to store with the sole aim of getting me to part with my hard-earned cash, and at times I longed to be able to explore at my own pace, but it would have been impossible in Fes. I ended the day having acquired a ceramic mug, a jewelry box, and a tablecloth. Now I just have to figure out how I'm going to get them home.

The group travel thing is starting to grate after just a few days. Everyone's plenty nice, but there's only so much togetherness I can take. I'm looking forward to hopefully having a bit of time to just chill out. We'll see how it goes.

Tomorrow, we head to the Atlas Mountains and we'll be in the desert for the next week or so. I'm not sure when I'll next have an Internet connection, so I'll update when I can.
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