Ahhhh, the Fez Medina, a wonderful, crazy, busy, friendly, alien, hostile, relentless, bustling, angering, joyful, tasty, stinky maze of madness and humanity. Fez is the largest intact ancient city of it’s kind in the world. And it is ENORMOUS. 150,000 people live in the twisty turny maze of the medina. World class leather, carpets and pottery are made. A wall that’s 30 feet tall and 30 plus kilometers long surrounds it (and that’s just part of it). It’s been there for 1400 years or something. The “new” part is 700 years old. It is INSANE.
And I was there on the goat holiday (it’s still going. Reports vary from 3 days to 10 days. Guess it depends on home much money you have or how religious you are, how many days you take off). It really is AMAZING. So cool to walk around. To see, hear, smell. Awesome.
But one thing that doesn’t stop for any holiday is the Touts.
Now, if you’ve been to other countries, you konw the touts. The Men (it’s always men), ranging from 12-35 (or older sometimes) who come up to you and welcome you, tell you they love your country and then insist on:
1. guiding you someplace you don’t want to go
2. guiding you someplace you know how to get to
3. taking you to the a. tanneries. b. pottery lane c. carpet shop d. berber pharmacy
4. say your hotel is closed, but they know one who isn’t
5. take you to a restraunt, shop, taxi stand, cafe.
And they don’t take no for an answer (well, the annoying ones don’t).
So you get this head down mentality that keeps you from engaging with the NOT annoying people who live and work in the Medina. But they find you anyway. And here are a few tales of Fez.
TALE 1: “YOU GOT A PROBLEM WITH ME?”
So I’m out touring fez for my second day there. Enjoying sites. I head out to Barj Nord, a big fortress outside the medina with views of the sprawl. And meet some Polish tourists. Chat a bit. Generally I’m not bothered. I goto an old tomb on a hill with a great view again. There’s a berber man there, he welcomes me, offers to show me his carpet and his hats. He’s nice, it’s pleasant. I don’t buy a rug, but buy a nice knit hat for 5 bucks. He warns me of pickpockets.
I get back to the medina just fine. Enjoy lunch and head back to my guesthouse (DAR FATIMA, I recommend it. They are super nice and fun). I walk in and, as manifesting works… there are 2 American girls sitting in the living space! Yahoo!!!!!! YA-FUCKING-HOOOOO!!!!! :)
Well we chat, they just came from the desert. I ask of the tour, there’s was WAY cheaper than what I was about to book. Hmmmm… They were led to Dar Fatima by a guy named Mohammed (not the same Mo as I met before…oh wait, I havne’t told that story yet. Well, in another email). So me and the girls decide to go explore and maybe grab some food in a bit (it’s like 5:30, so it’s dark). Well there was some confusion with Mohammed, because he was going to take them around, but they’d said they have no money, he seemed okay with that. Wanted to “practice his english. He’s a student” (That is clue number one my friends…)
So if I’m going to go with them, he will charge me 150 Dhm (that’s almost 20 bucks) to join them, but they are free. Well…that’s stupid. I know where I’m going and just like to explore if I don’t. But I’m going out at the same time, so we walk down all the steps from Fatima and go outside.
As soon as the door closes, Mohammed leans forward agressively toward me and says “You got a problem with me?”
I have NO IDEA what he’s talking about. “YOU GOT A PROBLEM WITH ME?”
I have a habit when shocked of smiling or sort of laughing…well, you don’t do this to a Moroccan man.
Me “Are we really going to have this conversation? What are you talking about?”
Him “You have a problem with me”
Me “Really, you wait till the door closes and now you say this?”
(I’m thinking…I have no idea what to do right now and no idea what is going on…)
Well, we’re on a little alley in the medina of Fez. A couple folks walking by stop. The girls have NO IDEA what is provoking this. And honestly, I’m so annoyed by all the fucking touts I kinda want to have him swing at me so I can drop kick his ass with some Tae-Kwon-Do!
Sonja tries to figure out what’s up. Explain that they were just in the desert, and went trekking etc etc. Another guy standing there, and his girlfriend motion me over and we start talking. He doesn’t know what’s up, and I feel like he said something about me taking money from Mohammed. (I mean, I KNOW Mohammed is leading them to shops, but if they want to go, they want to go, that’s fine).
Sonja comes over and says, “It’s okay, he understands”. And then he lights up a cigarette, as Sonja and Leah rush through what they did and the costs. It was rediculous. Then he says “How much you pay?” I say “The guy says it’ll be 320 Euro.” Mohammed “No no no. You book with me and I can do it all for 200 Euro. I was just in desert. I’m a guide”.
REALLY? You threaten me, then 5 minutes later want my business. Come on!!!
Anyway, no more tensions there. End up walking with them a bit. I knew they would get harrassed, but I had to go a different direction, or there would be more problems. They were fine. Said Mohammed claimed I was “in the mafia”. Yep. I’ll put out a contract on you, don’t you know it!
Well, the night just keeps getting better. I walk all the way to the main gate, where I knew I could get some good food. I ate alone, because my new friends were being annoyed by the “guide”.
On my way back, it was maybe 8:45pm. Getting late in Morocco time. Shops all closing up. I had to walk the main “road” (it’s maybe 8 feet wide) to a side one and then I would head through a passage to my hotel. Problem is…I’d never walked BACK that way before. So before leaving the cafe I looked on the map, saw some landmarks I could memorize and use, and head out…
I’ve got a bottle of water, I’m walking focused. I don’t really answer folks when they ask the ever coming first question “Where you from? Welcome Morocco. Your second home Brother.”
But then a (maybe drunk, maybe high, maybe just annoying) guy comes up.
“You want to goto Tanneries? To pottery? Buy good stuff?”
“No thank you.”
“I take you, Tanneries You come.”
“No, I’m good.”
“It’s right up here, you come, Good deal”
I turn around (because I KNOW I’ve gone too fucking far down the street, and more guys are sort of appearing).
So I walk past another couple
“Where you from?”
“LEAVE ME ALONE.”
I never looked back
“FUCK YOU! FUCKER! FUCK YOUR MOTHER! FUCKING ASS HOLE!”Etc etc etc
Now I KNOW I’m in a bad place. I do not have a clear idea where to go. I know even if I PICK the right side alley, it is not close. Maybe 300 meters of quiet alley and dark passage. Then I have to open the fricking door, which isn’t easy to open.
This is not cool.
I can’t leave it alone, so I say (not really very loud) “Glad you practiced your English” as I’m walking away
Other people on the street (thank god they were there) started to look at what was going on. I pass the bank (and know that the alley is right next to it from the map). So I do a hard Left, glance quickly to see if I’m being followed…I’m not.
But I just walked into that alley. And NO ONE is around.
I quickly debate turning back onto mainstreet, going up to gate and hanging at cafe. But really, if they sit and wait, I’m fucked.
So I go for it.
I don’t run, I walk, senses tuned to sounds of footsteps behind.
I slide under the passage, out onto Fatima’s alley. And up to the door. Look back…
Open door. Slide inside.
I’m a bit frazzled. Fatima’s daughter wants to know if I’ll be doing the 320 euro tour so we can call the guide for the pick up tomorrow. I say “I need to calm down”.
I chat with Leah and Sonja, we tell stories of Mohammed and the “Fuck your mother” guys. And I think “I’m not going on this tour. It’s way too expensive and I’m in no hurry…but I’m getting out of Fez”.
So I have.
We toured the Jewish quarter and saw a few quick sites this morning. Had some great conversation. Ran into this Aussie couple I chatted with yesterday and then went our separate ways. Emails swapped. New friends.
I rode a grand taxi (a full size Mercedes, painted a certain color depending on the city, that goes between towns. They ALWAYS put 6 people plus the driver in them.) So it was me and another guy in the front seat. Cool…I had my arm out the window as we headed into the LUSH GREEN MOUNTAINS. Um, this is Morocco? Yep, cedar trees and other evergreens. Very pretty. Past the french inspired town of Ifrane. Very cool, kinda wish I’d stayed there. But got to Azrou.
Pretty mountains. Very nice people. The hotel guy is fun, we chat (in rough English) about travel, America, Los Angeles, his trips etc. I met another traveler at the restraunt (though I was by far the ONLY one here for awhile). His name is Mike. He got fed up with Fez and headed out today too. We’ll go hiking tomorrow.
No Touts, though one guide came up to me with his friend, they had a book of testimonials and a photo book a Dutch couple had made for him of their trek. He told me what we could do, said “Just a proposal. No pressure. If you want to book, let me know later”. And they left me be. And I climbed on this cool huge rock pile that’s like 100 feet of volcanic awesome that overlooks the town, the mosque, the full moon and the fading sunlight.