The Maze (Morocco #5)

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Humanity must indeed have some perverse fascination with mazes. This seems to be the only explanation of why urban planning ends up creating cities with no street names (Tokyo), streets with dead ends in stinky canals (Venice), and don’t even get me started on slums. With this in mind, enter Fes…

Location: Fes

Method of arrival: Taxi

Mood: Tired. Smelly. Dirty

Smelling of camel, with desert sand filling what seemed every crevice of my entire being, from clothes, to shoes and even my blisters, I make my way to the hotel I decided to splurge money on. I will go in greater detail of describing this wonderful place later, as I think it would be much more appropriate to understand just how pleasant my stay was there after you understand how this city is.

Any complete labyrinth would, off course, come with a plethora of smells, rotting stuff, countless attempts to find your way, the only thing missing from Fes being the minotaur. Fear not, wary traveler, the minotaur is instead replaced by a myriad of street children and other people who insist on helping only if you give them money. Hell, even if they don’t help, they want money.

Luckily, I had a place to retreat to:

Riad Fes. Also known as “a little bit of heaven in what seems to be purgatory”.

So imagine this: a very smelly, dusty, filled with the human equivalent of vultures and you are a rotting carcass city. Then you find a door made of glass, and you enter the place, and it all smells pleasant. Incense filling the air, with incredibly friendly and competent staff (really, they were always helpful and great manners).

As I took a seat there, waiting to be checked in, face covered in dust and camel hair, they brought me a cold, wet towel infused in jasmine, a freshly squeezed orange juice and a tray of cookies. More cookies awaited me in the room, together with figs, a bathroom with two sinks (cause, why not), cleanliness and…

Sure, I did end up paying a nice sum for staying here for one night (which I wont disclose. Go figure yourselves out, you have the website). I said to myself, however, that even if one doesn’t have a fat bank account, once in a while you need to see how the “other side” lives. You need to treat yourself, and my stay at Riad Fes had sincerely made my trip so much better.

The interiors were beautiful, the breakfast was just scrumptious (I can’t even explain), and all this in the backdrop of a city that has a lot of potential to crunch down your nerves into small dust and sell it as natural viagra.

I ended up hanging with part of the gang with whom I had been in the desert; meeting up at Bab Bouljoud (the big blue gate to the medina – which, as mentioned in other posts, is the area inside the walls). We were eventually persuaded by one of the “official tour guides” to pay him to show us around – which in hindsight was worth it. Can’t quite remember how much it was (not expensive), but it did save us from being constantly hassled by the street urchins and we didn’t get lost.

Oh, that thing on doors that you can see in the picture is called the “Hand of Fatima” (Fatima being Prophet Muhammad’s daughter) and is used for protection again the evil eye.

The tanneries is one of the big touristic things to do in every Moroccan city it would seem (Marrakech also has one frequently visited). It’s where they prepare the leathers for all the shops – and it is a stark reminder that people work in horrible conditions and why technology just needs to wipe this sort of shit from existence.

Speaking of shit, the white wells are actually made from a wonderful concoction that contains pigeon excrement (for the sulfur) – being used to clean the pelts as far as I remember.

Then there’s wells (I call them wells because no better word comes to mind now) for colours – also all using “natural” ingredients only. Finally, they wash off the chemicals or whatever in a giant wooden washing machine.

It all looks like something from the new Tomb Raider game – not like a place in which human beings are supposed to work. And it smells. And then they try to convince you to buy some leather, even if you don’t need to.

We roamed around a bit more, seeing a medrasa (which was more or less identical to the one in Marrakech), going to various shops…

Nothing really tickled my fancy. The shawls and the leathers were nothing special compared to, for example, India and the kashmir there. The one thing I was interested in were spices – especially saffron (the most expensive spice in the world). There is also a lot of products with argan oil – look it up if you don’t know what it is – at very good prices again.

Ramadan didn’t seem to stop the shops from opening, not even the restaurants near Bab Bouljoud which were welcoming tourists all day. Just go near the Bab and wait for them to come to you – the waiters. In their attempts to make you go to them, they will keep making offers, and then another waiter makes another offer… and so on. You don’t have to do a thing. Just wait.

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