Into the Labyrinth

We traveled to Morocco for several reasons, of which some proved more valid than others. First of all, with temperatures stuck firmly below freezing, we were seeking respite from the bleak Polish winter. We packed a wardrobe fit for spring and, upon arrival in chilly Fes, discovered the value of layering. Morocco wasn’t the warm African oasis that we had envisioned. Strike one.

Secondly, we (Radek in particular) wanted to do some serious home decoration shopping. Visions of souks full of exotic carpets, coffee tables and ceramics all at bargin prices swirled through our brains. There were souks upon souks for sure. Unfortunately, each exotic item had a strictly European price to match. Strike two.

Finally, we wanted to get out of our comfort zone and experience a culture whose differences would knock us off our feet and open our eyes. This Morocco could deliver in spades.

Fes is one of several cities claiming to be the oldest in the world. This may or may not be true, but it certainly must be the city that has changed the least. The narrow, twisting pathways were well-trod long before cars, or even horse-drawn carts were a twinkle in someone’s eye. In fact the entire medina is more reminiscent of a dilapidated mansion than a city, the streets more like hallways, the buidings more like rooms off a corridor.

You can walk for hours through Fes, spiraling inward and outward, and never get your bearings. You wander endlessly in one direction and yet somehow return to the same carpet souk where you began. It would be difficult enough to get from Bab Boujould to the Kairaouine Mosque with all of your concentration dedicated to the task, but the proud citizens of Fes do not allow you this luxury. Everyone from the age of four and up wants your money. Whether it be through a sale in a souk or a guide through the streets or just plain trickery, you are constantly accosted with offers, come-ons and outright lies. For this reason I must recommend that, if you are looking for a nice break from the stresses of life, you cross Morocco off your list.

If perpetual onslaughts of equal parts hospitality and hostility don’t bother you, then by all means come to Fes for the food. It’s cheap and fantastic. All of the smells swirl together, tajines and kebabs and brouchettes and cous cous; the spices mixing with the grill-smoke in the air. Even the coffee has a distinct  Moroccan flavor. But the prefered drink is mint tea, a beverage that lubricates all business and social transactions.

Not to be outdone by the smell, is the sound of Fes. The music, conversation, calls of something which must be translated to mean, “Watch out there’s a donkey coming” and above all the muezzin calling the faithful to prayer. The mosques may be off limits to non-Muslims but their sounds are heard loud and clear throughout the city.

Everything about Fes is constantly in your face, from the people to the smells to the religion. So for all the lack of hot weather and third-world prices, we found something a whole lot more unique. But, if you do go, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

 

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