Fez, Morocco

After two and a half days of Fez, I was exhausted, proud of myself and kind of unable to process what I’d experienced. The Medina there is by far the most challenging I’ve come across – I thought Marrakesh had a maze like tangle of streets but there at least the Medina there can be crossed in about an hour and is arranged around a central plaza. In Fez there are two “main streets” which run parallel to each other and are each about 10 feet wide (minus encroaching vendor space) but the Medina is huge and stretches out – falling generally down hill along the course of a twisting hidden river and the walls aren’t always clear – I got outside them at least once without realizing it. What is more, my hotel was at the far end from the main shopping and tourist area and not all THAT near to the main thorofare so finding my way there and back was exciting.

When I was dropped off by the taxi, I had a moment of uncertainty at the gate by my hotel and made the mistake of letting someone “show me” the way which meant he took me for a metaphorical ride along several twisting alleys instead of walking pretty much straight (as straight as anything can be in the Medina) for the equivalent of about three blocks and following the signs I’d missed right to the hotel. For this he demanded 20 Dh and I give him 10, then one more when he refused to go away. I was quite put out with him when I dropped off my things, checked with the hotel owner that, as I’d suspected, the Bab Guisse was directly up hill from my second right turn out of the doorway, and walked straight back to the gate to orient myself and ran into him waiting at the same spot he’d been before. He tried to talk me into letting him guide me around the city on a tour! Confident I could find the hotel from a known landmark, I set out into the heart of the Medina, following the route with the most people through several twists and turns until I came out at the main shopping alley. I was quite pleased with myself when I found the way back to the hotel that evening after wandering around and getting dinner. That confidence was totally shaken the next day when I got lost before I even found the main route (I’m still not sure where I went wrong) and then, after I’d found my way and had a nice ramble, got lost again when I tried to follow the previous evening’s route back to drop off some purchases and have a snack in the mid afternoon. I later decided that I’d taken a right instead of a left at the animal foot butcher after the long alley of vegetable stands and that I should have known I was off when I didn’t find the bunch of tiny meat sandwich shops with glass display cases right after that. But at the time I was completely flummoxed. I knew I was in the right area but had no idea what direction to head so I bought a loaf of bread from a tiny general store niche (1Dh!) and asked the owner for the Bab Guise. He pointed me uphill which did, in fact, take me to the Medina wall and, after guessing wrong and finding a dead end to the left, I said thanks but no thanks to a couple of kids who offered directions or “a nice berber husband,” doubled back and found the bab a few hundred meters to the right. I cheered inwardly and strolled back to the hotel in triumph. In my morning rambles I’d found quite a number of things other than, eventually, my way. I passed a construction site where I talked my way past the universal blue tarp and into a tour with the foreman who took me all over and gave his English a thorough work out because, he said, I was American and the construction was being paid for with American money. He wouldn’t let me take pictures which was MADDENING but I subsequently found my way onto the rooftop of the adjacent building and got some anyway. I also found a street of fabric stores and sewing sundries and bought, for 3Dh, a zipper which I can kludge onto my day pack to replace the main one, which frustratingly gave up the ghost on my trouble travel day leaving Rabat (the Medina of Fez is NOT the place to have a broken daypack zipper and I kept a hand on my bag at nearly all times). I found a tiny open plaza with two venerable trees shading a bunch of metal workers who had spread out from their stalls into the center to hammer copper pots and mirror surrounds. Two younger guys were joining the base to the sides of a large pot with many hammer blows and had turned the thing into a metal drum banging out dance rhythms which had tourists gathering around and tapping their toes. I lingered and made an audio recording (something I’ve only started doing in Morocco and am kicking myself for not thinking of earlier.)

When I set out again in the afternoon, I decided to follow the one of the city’s marked sign routes. The main craft shop way is picked out in red signs, another in brown. I decided to follow the green path since I knew vaguely that it wound up at a museum of local crafts I wanted to check out. I inadvertently started from the wrong end and ended up going for a several mile hike through some really off the beaten path parts of the city. I saw only a handful of other tourists the entire way and sometimes had moments of being entirely alone in the winding streets but mostly rambled past local shop and local adults and kids going about their after school business. The signs (green) were actually very good, pointing out every turn but they weren’t always in sight of each other and I often found myself muttering “Lord, give me a sign,” under my breath when it had been a little too long. That was when I somehow left the walled Medina without noticing and came out against a gate from the outside much to my confusion.

The evening saw me on the rooftop of the hotel, stitching a new zipper onto my bag in the fading light, listening to the muezins’ calls echo out and clash with each other across the city. God is great. God is great. There is no other god but God. My dorm room was a little chamber off to one side of the rooftop terrace and went off to bed when the light was entirely gone.  Fez, I’ll never forget you.


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