Fez Madness, Morocco

Arriving into Fez after dark, I couldn’t help but smile and laugh. The touts were much more creative here with their attempts to part tourists with their money and the amount of buzz and people out in the medina was staggering.

As I was withdrawing some money from an ATM, a tout nearby started to talk to me asking me where I was from and which hotel I was staying in. I gave no indication of acknowledgement or even hearing him so he started to say ‘oh you’re ignoring me aren’t you? Well that’s too bad because my uncle’s hotel is the best in the whole medina and I would have shown you there for free.’ I couldn’t help but laugh, and then dived into the crowds of people in the medina to go looking for my hostel.

One of the main medina entrances. This one was known as Bab Bou Jeloud – The Blue Gate

The narrow streets were much better lit than Tangier and seemed a bit cleaner. The shops had brightly coloured wares hanging everywhere all over the walls and strung overhead. Sizzling street food was cooking on the sides while every few minutes a Moroccan man would ask if I was lost and needed some help finding my hotel. When you’re wearing a big backpack and front pack, it does make you stick out like a sore thumb. Being blonde and foreign also doesn’t help. Luckily I had decent directions saved into my iPhone notes from the hostelworld website on how to find my hostel.

Arriving at the hostel, I was informed the dorms had been overbooked so I was getting a free room upgrade to a private room with ensuite. I was very pleased!

The next morning I was less pleased. I was moved to another hostel which did turn out to be a nicer one luckily. But the manner in which it was done felt kinda scammy to me. I made sure to check I wasn’t being expected to pay more money or losing the good location within the medina. It didn’t help that the guy working the desk when I arrived at the new hostel was an idiot who when I asked him to check the wifi modem as there was no signal at all, he insisted that both my iPhone and laptop must be faulty as the wifi was definitely working. Doofus. I was tempted to say told you so later on when it was discovered an essential plug had indeed come out of the modem.

I spent that day wandering deep into the medina. Fez’s medina is meant to be one of the largest in Africa. I got very very lost intentionally within the twisty streets and felt immersed in the culture of the Arabic markets. It felt very special hearing the wailing of mosques very now and again.

An impatient donkey waits

Chickens for sale

I even stumbled across a tannery accidentally and got to have a look around to see the leather-making process. Of course afterwards I was ushered into a leather goods shop and wearing a lovely handmade red leather jacket before I knew it. With the price tag of 1500 dirhams (about €150 which is actually a bargain compared to Italian leather jackets which are more like €200-300 or more), I turned down the jacket to the disappointment of the shopkeeper. However I was still invited to have mint tea with him later once he finished work (I also turned that down) as I was such a lovely sweet lady.

Overview of the whole tannery

Close-up of some of the workers

I was really glad to have this mint leaf! The smell was terrible as animal faeces are part of the curing process

I decided to again try the idea of stopping somewhere for lunch the next day. Which would have been a good idea anyway as my next stop was Marrakech which is quite a distance away with at least a good nine hours on the train. I went to sleep feeling pretty happy and safe about being in Morocco.

A view of the city from the terrace of a restaurant I had lunch at

A stray cat admires the Merinid Tomb ruins on the hill

Where I stayed: El Yasmine Riad (1st night) and Dar Zohor (2nd night)
Price: €13 a night in a 4 bed dorm
Overall: It was very nice and Moroccan but I don’t think I would stay there again. It did have a scammy undertone with not only the hostel switching thing, but the activities you could do through the hostel were all mildly overpriced. The Dar Zohor hostel had it’s own restaurant but the prices were actually nearly double the price compared to other restaurants out in the medina. And the mint tea tasted terrible.

 

A Little Blue Village called Chefchaouen

Again being very impulsive, I decided to catch the bus towards Fez rather than the train so I could stop for a few hours in a little mountain village called Chefchaouen. So many other travellers and local Moroccans highly recommended it to me so I decided it was worth a visit.

However there isn’t a train station yet in Chefchaouen so the bus or taking a grand taxi is the only way to get there. I felt too nervous to try haggling my way into a grand taxi so picked the bus as the easier option.

Within Morocco are two different types of taxi. Inter-city ones for larger distances are called grand taxi and are generally bigger ‘saloon-like’ light coloured cars. Within the city itself are smaller brightly coloured petit taxi which you use to get around short distances. Taxis are very cheap to use. And most do have a meter so it’s a good idea to insist your driver uses it to prevent getting overcharged. There are taxi stands everywhere or you can just wave one down. Most drivers are happy to take multiple different passengers all going in the same general direction rather than the usual system of just one customer at a time.

With regards to the bus, for tourists it is recommended to use the CTM company as it’s run by the government which means prices are regulated and it runs in a sensible manner. The CTM staff are usually reasonably multi-lingual from dealing with so many tourists. After buying your bus ticket, it is then an extra 10 dirham to ‘check’ a bag and have it stored in the underneath compartment.

Arriving in Chefchaouen I was annoyed to find out I couldn’t store my backpack anywhere at the bus station. The concierge office was closed that day (it was a Sunday) so I had to take all my luggage with me into the village. But I soon forgot about the weight of my bags as I was very distracted by the beautiful blue painted buildings all surrounded by green mountains and fresh chilly air.

 

I particularly loved the contrast of this Moroccan man’s traditional orange kaftan against the blue

I had my breakfast/brunch sitting just downstream from a waterfall at the top of the medina. Sipping on hot mint tea listening to the bubbling water and watching various Moroccans clambering into the stream for photos, I felt very much at peace.

I decided to weat a head scarf again while eating as it was really chilly in the mountain air. I had about 5 layers on

Wandering back down through the medina and being coaxed by shopkeepers to come into their shops to look at their carpets, I felt quite sad that I had decided to only stop for a few hours. I had a go at haggling for a lovely purple and black scarf after reassuring the shopkeeper that no I definitely did not have space in my backpack for a rug. I agreed on a price of 40 dirhams (about €4) with the storekeeper, then he started to say ‘I love you, I love you!’ and kissing the back of my hand. I assume that means I paid too much for scarf! Then I hopped on the bus and was on my way to Fez.

See the blueness of the medina to the right of the city?