Suffocating

Trip Start Dec 16, 2009
1
12
25
Trip End Jan 09, 2010


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Flag of Morocco  ,
Sunday, December 27, 2009

Breakfast - the typical Moroccan spread, but with a type of homemade bread that we had yet to sample here, and with some yogurt and cheese. Feeling brave, I tried some of the yogurt and cheese and luckily, didn't have any stomach issues with the dairy products.

We decided not to call Hicham nor use an official guide today, and instead followed a walking tour found in the guidebook. Interesting - we haven't seen this anywhere else, but in Fes there are numerous female hustlers. Perhaps we should have enlisted the services of one of them as the guidebook suggests that Fes is one of the most mind-boggling places you could ever visit, and I tend to agree, though it's probably not much more so than Marrakech.

Surprisingly, we managed to find our way around without too much issue; perhaps we are getting slightly used to navigating Morocco's crazy medinas. Of course, the guidebook's walking tour lays everything out very nicely, making it a little harder to lose your way. But still, Moroccan medinas are the definition of insanity, and you'd be surprised at how little precise instructions can help you, in certain instances.

After completing the tour, we made our way over to the famous Fes tanneries - this was quite the adventure, as the guidebook's directions were to walk north or northeast from a certain square for 50 m until a fork in the road, and to veer left. Well, we did that, but ended up nowhere near the tanneries.

After the tanneries, we ran into an Australian couple we met in the Sahara. Later that day, we also saw an Argentinean couple that also spent the night in the Sahara with us. It's always funny how you can run into people while traveling, since everybody generally sticks to the same tourist route.

After several hours of wandering through the medina we had enough and escaped out one of the gates, to a beautiful luxury hotel to catch our breaths. We were going to walk back to Bab Bou Jeloud, the famous blue gate of Fes, for lunch. One of the hotel's workers suggested we take a taxi because it was quite a long walk from there.

We took the opportunity to head over to the CTM bus station and buy tickets for tomorrow's journey to Chefchaouen, since it's a very popular route that often sells out. After getting the tickets we waited patiently outside for a taxi, but to no avail. A local man approached and told us that we needed to cross the street for taxis back to the medina. Always suspecting a scam I was immediately on guard, but it turned out to be another one of my "Asshole in Morocco Moments" - usually it is a scam but sometimes it is not, as in this case. Turns out that the guy was just being friendly, welcoming us to his city, and that I can be a jackass while traveling in Morocco!

After lunch it was off to the Royal Palace - the guidebook's cover shot is an amazing photo of the palace's brass gates, and is so stunning that it made us want to go there just for a closer look. It was NOT easy to find - I had the idea that it would be easiest to get there by stepping outside the medina walls at the blue gate, and re-entering somewhere closer to the Royal Palace. Wrong! It's difficult to gauge which walls correspond to which walls that are shown on the map so we ended up not actually exiting the city walls, and walking in a big circle and finding ourselves back at Thami's, where we had just finished lunch!

We tried again, this time walking far enough to clear the city walls, and re-entered in a very busy part of the medina. We got some directions from a security guard but that didn't seem to get us any closer. We came across some signs that directed us towards the palace, but that still didn't seem to get us there. Finally, we asked one other security guard for directions and managed to stumble upon it.

On the way back from the Royal Palace, we came across a perfect example of how men and women don't communicate very well. On our walk to the Palace Mary asked me "Is that a dead dog?", in reference to a dog lying in a park. I didn't actually see it, but assumed the question meant "Is that dog lying in the park dead or alive?" Thinking nothing further of this at the time the question was once again raised as we walked past the dog on the return trip, and this time I caught a glimpse of it.

The animal was definitely dead, as its legs had been tied together and it was half-skinned. A better question would have been "Is that obviously dead animal that has been tied up and half-skinned a dog, or some other furry four-legged creature?" It is true, men are from Mars and women are from Venus!

Back to the guest house - on the way, I witnessed a rather comical moment - a rather drunk or high man who attempted a Jackie Chan-like maneuver. He was walking towards us through a typically crowded medina street, and tried to dodge us by springing off a propane tank sitting against a wall, presumably to magically fly over top of our heads. He failed miserably, slipping off of it, and instead stumbling forward and into me. He only managed to get about 6 cm of air, rather than the approximately 6' he needed to clear my head.

I picked up a calling card to reserve accommodations in Chefchaouen and Ceuta, because we had a bit of a problem reserving them online. We tried booking on one website, which was a royal pain in the ass - the site forces you to create an account and fill out three pages of information, making you fill out almost the exact same information at every page. I finally got to the last page, only to be told that my address information was invalid.

Mary then tried, because we thought it may have been an issue with the address I entered not matching exactly what is on record with the credit card company. She had a little more success but was eventually told that her account could not be activated, and that she needed to call a certain number to clear up the problem. This website was absolute crap! The whole point of allowing online bookings is that it's supposed to make life easier for everybody involved, not make it impossible to book it!

But then ... we had further problems calling places. The first place I tried was full so I continued calling places in the guidebook, but could never get through, always being told by the phone company's automated attendant that "This number is not allowed." We wasted almost an hour trying to reserve a place ... it was strange, because we had managed to reach the first place, but none of the other numbers worked.

We finally realized the problem - the first place we called had a number on the website which worked. But there turned out to be an extra '5' in their number that didn't show up in any of the guidebook's numbers. Guess the Moroccan phone company added that since this guidebook was published!

Frustrated, we finally managed to make a reservation for Chefchaouen before heading out for dinner at Cafe Clock, a cafe/restaurant/lounge/cultural venue run by an Aussie expat. A very cool setting probably known for its art exhibitions and musical performances as much as for its food, it's definitely not your typical Moroccan cafe.

After a short walk around the medina it was back to the guest house - another early Moroccan night, it's difficult to stay awake in the evening because the days are so draining. All the extra walking from getting lost and always having to dodge donkeys and avoiding hustlers really takes a toll on you. At times today in the Jewish Quarter it was absolutely suffocating, and it really knocked us out today.  Or maybe we're just getting old?
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