Hello all! I am now back in the USA and getting used to having a washing machine again (how fabulous!), people driving sanely, and being able to drink the tap water. However, I’m going to chronicle my adventures from where I left off, so back to September 2…
Once again, I was told by my hostel guy in Cairo to be up at a certain time to make it to the airport at 7am for my flight, and once again I left almost an hour later and still was fine. Also once again the cab driver took me to the wrong terminal. You really have to watch what’s going on. The driver did not carry my bag so he didn’t get a tip.
The flight was uneventful, though it left almost an hour late, and when I got to Casablanca the airport baggage area was a mess. There were bags everywhere. I’m not sure if they were from flights that were cancelled or lost luggage that had not yet been claimed but it was really an impressive amount of bags. Then it took ages for the luggage to come out, at least 45 minutes.
The train station is right in the airport and I got to Casa Voyageurs easily enough and only had about a 45 minute wait for the train to Fes (Fez). Unfortunately, I kept buying first class tickets but never made it to a first class car. The sign said “first class at the head of the train” so I went to the end where the train was “heading”. Apparently though, in french, or in moroccan, “head of the train” doesn’t mean the direction the train is heading. At least not in this case. The first car I was in had broken air conditioning and it got to be in the high 90s and even the locals seemed annoyed about it. Eventually I moved to another car that was at least mildly air conditioned. The stops were never long enough for me to feel like I could get off and make it to the other end of the train so I just stayed in second class.
I arrived in Fes and got a taxi and made it to the Riad which was stunningly gorgeous. It was a historic house restored into a hotel and was just beautiful. See my photos when you get a chance, once I get them posted. The name was Dar Cordoba. The only negative was we ate dinner there as a group the second night and the guy who runs it totally screwed us over on the price. We didn’t pre-negotiate the price because we had mistakenly assumed since we took up the entire place that we’d be treated decently. Dinner should have cost 50 or at most 100 dirhams, but we were charged 200 dirhams each. We were also all so new on the tour that none of us had reached complaining level yet, though it did start us off with a bad taste in our mouths (forgive the pun). Good thing he didn’t try this on the last night of our tour as two weeks of traveling around and we would definitely have complained about something like that!
The next day the tour officially began with a guided tour of the Fes Medina. Fes is a totally crazy maze of rows that are almost impossible to negotiate unless you live there. Having a native guide also helped because it kept touts at bay and he “helped” us when buying stuff. He told us “good” prices to buy at. This means they were slightly inflated and he’d get a bit of a commission, but you weren’t getting totally screwed on the price by several hundred percent.
However, one of the first stops I made along the way was to get a new sim card for my cell phone so my mother wouldn’t have a heart attack during the two weeks I was there from not hearing from me. We stop at a vendor (there are stalls everywhere) and Thomas, one of the tour managers, spoke to the vendor in either french or arabic, I forget which, but it wasn’t necessary. Turns out the vendor’s girlfriend is currently living in Orange, NJ (about 2 towns away from my hometown) and he spoke excellent English.
Our first guided stop was a historical house called the “Dar Ba Mohamad Chergui” is not open to the public, it was amazing. It was originally a harem house where three wives and their children stayed. It hasn’t been restored, despite UNESCO offering to pay for 50% because heirs can’t agree on what to do. Though unrestored you can see the amazing tile-work and gardens that were built. The whole medina has amazing detail in its architecture both in terms of the details of the woodwork, and accents and the tiles. Everything from fountains to doorways to ceilngs is just spectacular.
After the house we went to a tannery. From the ground you can stop in doorways and see the areas where the leather is first dropped off but you don’t really get perspective on the place until you see an arial view of all the “wells” in which they soak the leather. You go up several stories so you are able to look down on the tannery area. You can see from the photos (once I get them posted) that it is very colorful and really interesting. Working there must suck though. You are waist high in noxious soaking vats as you work the leather. These people can’t have very long life spans!
Even as you watch from the roof it stank beyond belief. They give you sprigs of mint to hold over your nose to lessen the smell. After leaving the roof you go into a store which is floor-to-ceiling leather products. Purses, jackets, pants, poofs, shoes, belts, you name it, they sold it. I bought a purse for $36 that would have been several hundred dollars in the US, but only a few hours later it tore and started to fall apart. Fortunately it was the same day so the guide returned it for me later that night and gave me a refund the next morning. I could have bought something else, but I’m not really “purse girl” anyway, so it probably was just as well.
When it comes to pottery, Fes has a particular style of it is known for (usually blue and white, though there are some other colors they also use) and a friend of mine collects it so it was important I get something for her there. I could have gotten that style later in the trip, but the widest selection and best prices were there. In the end I spent about 45 minutes selecting something for her (much agonizing over what to get) and about 3 minutes selecting something for me. About 10 minutes after leaving the shop I dropped one of the bags. Fortunately I broke the thing for me not her, or I’d really be pissed given how long I spent picking out her gift. This was a lesson to me not to buy pottery on this trip if humanly possible (fortunately, her gift her was well wrapped in my cushy jacket and survived the trip).
We continued shopping around the medina and stopped at another UNESCO-renovated site during the day, and had lunch at a really nice restored riad as well. We returned to our hotels that night pretty exhausted and well-spent in all senses of the word.