Great name...

Trip Start Apr 29, 2006
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Flag of Morocco  ,
Monday, September 25, 2006

Someone was taking the piss. Back in medieval times. The planners of Fez I mean. I can imagine them sitting around one evening over a mint tea and a spicy Moroccan tagine discussing how to make Fez the most completely impossible city to navigate. It would probably have gone somthing like this:

Dude No 1: So the king wants a city impossible to navigate hey? Alrigth - let's just have a silly no of streets - yeah?
Dude No 2: Yeah - like 1000.
1: Yeah - or like 2000.
2: Better yet - 3000.
1: 3000? That's just being silly.
2: Yeah - I know. Ok. How about 5000 then?
1: 5000 - yeah. That's so beyond silly that I like it. As long as they are all narrow and windy.
2: Yeah - and not at right angles either. All over the place so you've got no idea where the hell you are.
1: Yeah. So - is that enough? Do you think the King will be happy with that?
2: Hmmm. 5000 winding, narrow, completely unnavigable alleys is decent.
1: What if we threw a whole heap of donkeys in there as well?
2: Donkeys. Brilliant.
1: Yeah - make a rule aboutt he minimum number of donkeys in the medina, so that you can't walk 50 metres without having a smelly donkey rub up against you while it passes.
2: Smelly donkey rule - Genius Ahmed.
1: Thanks.
2: And, just to make it even more silly, why don't we make it 10000 winding alleys?
1: Well, while we're being sily, why the fuck not?
2: Brilliant.
1: Brilliant.

Fez. 10000 winding alleys. 10000 donkeys. 10000 Moroccans bugging you to be their guide. 10000 moments thining that you recognise something. 10000 realisations that you're still lost. 10000 shopowners that choose not to hear 'Look mate - I've got no money - seriously'. 10000 shopowners that get shitty when they realise that you really don't have any money. Hundreds of mosques. Few food options during Ramadan. One tannery.

Well, there's more than one tannery. But I only went to one. Therefore, there is but one tannery. But what an amazing sight. The tannery is nothing less than a sensory overload - the overwhelming, nauseating smell of fresh animal skin; faeces of all sorts combined with the extraordinary, vibrant colours of the tanning and dyeing pits made the tannery the highlight of my visit to Fez. And I'm sure it was once on the amazing race. If the tannery in Marrakech was somewhat of a disappointment, the Fez tanneries were the complete opposite. Brilliant. So, having viewed the blue, brown, turquoise, cream, green and 'every-type-of-red' stenched filled pits from a rooftop, I decided to get down and dirty with it, with a visit tannery side. Who knows what I stepped in or ventured through, but suffice to say that the odour was not the most pleasant experienced in my lifetime. It was, of course, worth it. And 10000 respects to the workers in the tannery. Apparently this particular leather making process is traditional and ancient, a claim that I don't at all doubt on the basis that if there were a less hideous method of producing similar quality leather, they would definitely be using it. Tanneries? Disgusting. As a sight? Brilliant.

The 10000 winding alleys have occupied the majority of my time in Fez, both by choice by also due to being lost. No doubt, based on my 3 days in the medina with no fucking diea where I was, the planners of this old city achieved their design obnjective - complete and utter, unnavigable street chaos. The idea of 10000 winding streets and alleys; an incredibly expansive network of holes in a wall; secret paths barely visible between buildings; is impressive. In reality, howevr, the souks, stalls, mosquse and everyday activities oin teh medina mirror almost perfectly what is seen in almost any other medina. Fez's medina is certianly greater in stature and complexity than others I have visited, but not in character or aestethic appeal.

The hassling of tourists is way worse in Fez than anywhere else. false guides are everywhere and will follow you relentlessly. Just as you think you've rid yourself of one, another one or two appear, having been to the same school of touting and hussling as every other Moroccan, with "Hello - my friend - where you from?" Interaction with the touts can be fun. There are all different sorts. There are those dudes that just demand stuff from you for no good reason:
Tout: Hello my friend.
Us (me and another guy): G'day cobber.
Tout: You give me this ring (pointing at my friend's ring)
Us: Huh? (Yeah - why not? Cause I've been looknig for a little punk Moroccan to just give stuff to)

There are the ones that get shitty if you don't buy:
Tout: Friend - come in and have a look. It is free to look.
Me: Yeah mate - thanks. But I've got no money and I'm not going to buy.
Tout: No problem. No matter my friend. Just look is ok. No need to buy.
Me: Ok mate - but just so you know - I've really got no money and I'm not going to buy.
Tout: It is fine. Look - hey- very nice, cheap carpet yes?
Me: It's very nice mate - but I've got no money and I'm not going to buy.
Tout: You no buy? Why not? You don't like my carpet?
Me: I've really got no money and I'm not going to buy.
Tout: No money no honey. Get out.

And then there are the guys who just say shit that makes you laugh.
Us: How much for the water pipes?
Tout: Which one you want? The big one or the small one?
Us: The small one.
Tout: I do not have small one.
Quality.

And, finally, there was the dude that just kept flexing and showing us his 'guns'. "Mate - you are huge. Fucking built".

Beyond the mad medina, its tanneries and its touts, Fez did not offer much. The Museu Batha, set inside a modest palace, was nothing more than ok. An average fortress looking down ont he city was closed. The 'Fez Fair' as I like to call it, was really quite hilarious - Moroccan carnies. And the Jardins de Boujeloud are the most average gardens that I've ever visited that bear a french name - certainly not Jardins du Luxembourg.

Fez has been enjoyable but there definitely comes a point when you get sick of the hassle. It will be less in Chefchaouen.

So to the Top 5. Well, it's Ramadan. You know - that holy month of Islam. If you don't know the deal - no eating, drinking, smoking during daylight hours - ie 4am to 6.30pm. But that's not all - Ramadan and its rules have ramifications. And a tourist should know them. There are the Top 5 things a tourist should know about Ramadan:

5. Some of the locals will express their displeasure quite vocally if they see you with a bottle of water - especially on a 35 degree day.
4. The local food stalls and cafes? Not open during the day. You know what is open? Expensive tourist restaurants. Killing me. Maybe I'll join in the fasting.
3. A really loud and chocking cannon goes off to signal the time when consumption may begin. Frightful if you don't expect it.
2. People will play trumpets, drums and cymbals all night. They stay up all night. At 4am, a really loud siren goes off to mark the time when they have to fast from. So so average. So much worse than the cannon.
1. Smokers get agitated come late afternoon. Withdrawals. Such agitation leads to agreession. Ramadan sees a 300% increase in fighting in Fez, or so, at least, I estimate.

Chefchaouen...
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