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The adventures of the Mel

Fes-tastic

MOROCCO | Saturday, 12 July 2008 | Views [583]

We’ve just arrived in Fes but haven’t had a chance to really explore yet. I’m also pleased to report that we have a hand-held shower for the first time. At low to mid 30s, it’s a good 10 degrees cooler here than in Marrakech which we are quite grateful. It just got too damn hot to do anything there. I have no idea how they don’t collapse from heat exhaustion. The men tend to wear either business dress (long shirt and trousers, sometimes even with a jacket on) or long everything-covering traditional dress, and the women generally wear long-everything covering traditional dress which usually has a red-riding-hood-esque (or KKK-esque, take your pick) pointy hood attached at the back. However, more often than not they wear a hajib in preference of this hood. Either way, I have no idea how they don’t die of heat exhaustion. I was struggling wearing a top that covered my shoulders. I just wanted to rip it off and wear my singlet. On the bright side it’s a dry heat. I can cope with 40+ temperatures if it’s dry.

On our last day in Marrakech we went for a brief walk around, mainly to go to the bus station and get hassled by touts. Doesn’t matter how many times you say no, they still hassle you and hassle you. BUGGER OFF! We eventually got away and got the bus company that we wanted to – the nice one. Sure it’s more expensive but at least they have the pretence of air conditioning.

The bus station touts are nearly worse than the vendors at the markets. Nearly. At least the markets have personality, walking through crowds of women hastily rummaging through scarves from illegal vendors, men with spice towers like traffic cones and stalls with piles of olives that would make Anna and the Camberwell deli look runty, colourful men with hats and cups dangling that I realised sell WATER, not cups, and the other dozens of vendors calling out to you in first French (it’s obvious you don’t speak Arabic), then Spanish, then English. It’s amazing the languages they know. Our waiter last night spoke six languages. Six! The above four plus German and Italian. It’s one of the biggest tragedies of living in Australia – you have no real exposure to different languages. Sure, you learn a language up until middle high school, but very few people actually see the point of learning anything – when are they going to use it? I wish I knew more.

We finally went and had dinner at the food stalls in the main square – and what an experience! We had already decided which stall to eat from after our walk through there the previous night, thankfully, because these vendors are just as vigorous with their summoning of your custom. We sat down to eat a great meal in an amazing atmosphere. We had the tout calling out to people constantly around us (in the same run through of languages), smoke billowing out from other stalls, the sizzling sound of cooking, the sound of a large crowd behind us and in the background, snake charmers and drummers and some traditional Middle Eastern music. It just made me smile whilst I was eating –ne of those moments where you cannot be anywhere else apart from where you are. I think one of the other great things is that the tourists are vastly outnumbered by the locals, so whilst it’s busy and chaotic it has a wonderful real feeling to it, rather than just tourist central.

So, yesterday we had a ridiculously long bus ride to Fes (8.5 hours really means 10.5 hours) and essentially had dinner and went to bed. Now we are about to go and explore Fes, so I bid thee farewell.

*******

Aren’t you lucky? Two posts in one. Of course you are. Fes is a remarkably different city to both Marrakech and Casablanca. For starters, we are staying in an area called Ville Nouvelle which is a lot more urban than much of what we’ve seen in Morocco. The medina of Fes is also very different to that of the other two cities we’ve seen. It’s a lot larger and….I’m honestly not really sure how to describe it. There are markets, residential areas that barely make the title (slums would be almost more appropriate), heavily laden donkeys and horses pushing their way through the crowds (at times pushing you right up against the wall) and leaving behind portions of excrement which assault the nostrils at every second or third alleyway you choose to wander down, touts that hassle you to take a tour with them and speak (yet again) a few different languages until they think they’ve got your attention. And believe it or not ladies and gents, it is actually ANDREW that continues to talk to them; I ignore them. He goes on having a conversation and I’m trying to drag him away. I plead with him to ignore them but there is some mysterious and annoying part of him that is inexorably drawn to conversing with these dodgy characters.

I think the main difference is that Fes is dirtier, at least in the places we walked to. Granted, we did the unthinkable – we entered the medina without a guide. Not that several people didn’t try to become our guide. But not only do we generally dislike going at other peoples’ paces, we wanted to immerse ourselves into the medina, ugly truths and all, get lost for a couple of hours and emerge by ourselves with a conquering feeling. And that’s just what we did.

We weaved through the tightly knit markets, the goods hanging down, the smells of fresh (and not so fresh) meat and food wafting through and mingling with the dung permanently mashed into the cobblestones. Within a matter of minutes we had descended into the ghetto-like residential areas; wide eyed children playing cards and chasey games stopping to stare at the ill-placed tourists – I assume none of the guides take normal tourists anywhere near these places; rubbish strewn everywhere that again combined with the faecal remnants of past equestrians; and many, many stray cats and kittens (I know! Not dogs) that you’re really not sure if they’re alive or not until they flick their ear or sneeze. They lie there, furred mangy skeletons with open wounds (frequently around the eyes), conserving energy in the heat unless a scrap of food ends up near them when they then furiously eat, not sure of when food will come again. It is really saddening – anybody who thinks that putting stray animals down is cruel should come and look at the conditions that these poor animals endure. I am just glad that our numbers of stray animals are very, very few.

It’s amazing that a place can be so ugly and yet so captivating at the same time. Although it lacks the atmosphere and beauty of Marrakech, there is still something that draws you in here in Fes. Much of the surroundings are bare and the buildings are nothing short of hideously decrepit, but you are still drawn in somewhat. We went past a few mosques where we could actually see in and watch people praying – strangely enough, the only really beautiful buildings that are taken care of. There were many tanneries that people tried to get us to go see, but we politely (and increasingly not politely) declined and continued on our merry way walking through the medina labyrinth.

We emerged about three hours later, exhausted but triumphant that we had done the medina by ourselves. We only had to walk home in the searing heat (okay, it was only around 36ish, but it still felt damn hot walking out there exposed) with little to no shade. At times we crossed the road just to get those five seconds of shade from that one tree, and then cross back to another tree. On that….crossing the road is always an interesting pastime. Cars zoom past, ignoring any would-be pedestrians and you are often stuck there, watching the traffic fly by and wondering if you can ever get past. We discovered that the best thing to do is to screw up your face, half close your eyes, put your head down and walk out onto the road. It’s certainly what the locals do (well, maybe they don’t screw up their faces), and what Andrew has taken to doing. I prefer to wait for a local and follow them (so they get hit first!), but I guess the traffic is going slow enough and they are more aware of kamikaze pedestrians than the drivers in Australia.

Anyway, we are going to head out into the heat again and see if we can’t get ourselves a bus to Tangier.

Hope you’re all well!

XX

Fes photos

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