10 January 2008


(Some musical accompaniment for your reading enjoyment; both in traditional and classic formats. Fesbulous photo album here.)

Morocco was so much like a trip to another planet, I'm not even sure where to start. (But I'm told the beginning is a very good place).

Flying on the morning of New Year's Day is never going to be fun, thus no one wants to do it and you can get fly to exotic Morocco on the cheap, which is what Polish and I did. When flying out of Paris you have two choices for airports: the shambolic slag-heap of Charles de Gaulle (watch for falling roof pieces!) or charming and efficient Orly. The only not-so charming thing about Orly is the special €7 monorail train you have to take to get there from the nearby train station. Why so expensive Orly? What gives? The monorail turned out to be one of the most expensive things of what turned out to be an otherwise fesbulous intercontinental holiday. Who knew I'd be back in Darkest Africa so soon?

Landing at Fes' cute-as-a-button little airport was sheer golden-afternoon gorgeousness, all breezy olive groves and mountains in the distance. And after struggling with some immigration-disorganisation, I was quickly struck by just how different everything really was. First thing I saw outside the airport doors: an old Berber lady with face tattoos walking between the orange trees. "This places is gonna be something else" I thought. As our dilapidated taxi lurched along to the hotel, I thought about how airport taxi rides in Asia often leave you with the feeling "this place is the same, only different." Fes, on the other hand, was different, period. Straight away there were minarets and goats in trees, djebellas and shepherds with sheep. Gliding past the Art Deco villas of the French-built 'Ville Nouvelle' towards the medieval Bab Boujeloud gate to the Old City, I couldn't help but feeling I was travelling through time rather than space. Our hotel, former British consulate and one-time host to young Winston Churchill, further added to my temporal confusion.

What a city! We walk down the Petit Talâa and the Grand Talâa –the old city's main streets, barely two meters wide. There are no cars in the Medina. Instead there are donkeys. Delivery donkeys, garbage donkeys, donkeys to pick up your Coke bottles and donkeys to carry camel hides to the smelly tanneries on the other side of the city. Some of you might have even gotten a postcard that was carried out of the Medina on a donkey (and not many people can say that!). We see veiled women at fountains, pigeons waiting to eaten, animal carcasses on hooks, a store full of pickles; the air smells of spices and smoke and the sound of Moroccan horns and drums tumbles out a dark archway. People offer us rugs, tangerines, tajines, pots, pot, Arabic clocks that sound the call to prayer, pewter teapots, Berber jewellery, slippers in ever colour, and at least two donkeys push us out of the way. –We've been there twenty minutes.

Fes is the most complete medieval city in the Arab world and was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1981. The old city is built in a basin, with a spider's web of lanes all sloping down to the Kairaouine Mosque at centre. It's one of the largest mosques in North Africa and, arguably, the most important university in the Islamic world. The city, its people and its 364 other mosques all spiral out from here. Yet strangely, this heart of Fes is almost completely hidden behind the urban fabric of buildings, houses and shops. The best non-Muslims can hope for is a glimpse through an open doorway between prayers. (Lots of stuff in Morocco is off-limits to us infidels). Despite the overt religiosity of the Fes, it didn't feel particularly conservative. There were lots of women out and about, as many without a headscarf as with. Full on veils were pretty rare - I only saw a few.

Something we did see a lot of, however, was buckets and buckets of icy rain our second, third and forth days there. We got wet looking for the best fes-hat shops. We got wet searching the souks for socks. We got wet getting lost. "Will it rain tomorrow?" I ask. –"Only Allah can say" the fes-hat man answers. Barring a direct line to the Big Guy, I remember a valuable travel lesson: it always pays to carry an umbrella (meaning, of course, that you can't leave it in your suitcase at the hotel). "Inshallah it will stop raining soon," but it never really did. We were often wet and cold, but it didn't stop us from rockin' the casbah (though the shareef don't like it).

Overall, I give Fes five muezzins out of five for its dirt-cheap plates and rugs, delicious couscous and pastilla, and general medieval Arab fezmazingness. If I had to do it again, I'd go outside of diluvian flood season, I'd go up to the Merenid tombs where you can get a panorama of the entire old city, and I'd spend more time just wandering the tangled maze of alleys getting lost (which is something that we definitely did not do at all; no taking a wrong turn and walking into the teen hustler section of Fes, no sirree, that did not happen at all). If you decide to go; read The Spider's House by Paul Bowles and watch the Morocco Ab Fab episode.

I'm calling it now: Fes is my new favourite place on the Dark Continent. And though I wasn't able to sell Polish in the market for 2000 dirhams, I have to thank him nonetheless. Shukran for laughing in the rain and for rockin' Moroccan!

Shukran Fes! Truly Fesbulous.


Anonymous said...

nice job. polish? hmm. can this year handle another tag line?

sentiments: i liked the entry. it was good, fast flowing, detailed, and overall humorous. i didn't recall some of the details you included but you are the story teller. who am i to question!?? i liked the music at the beginning. nice touch. what i didn't like was the under usage of donkeys. more donkeys! two donkeys when we got there? how about 10!?

pensées: i felt happy that i was there and sad that i'm not there.

emotions: loved it.

Tokyo Tintin said...

donkeys: there were donkeys everywhere: delivery donkeys, coke bottle donkeys. i point out two in twenty minutes which calculates out to an aproximated 894 encounters with donkeys over the course of our stay. i trust this is a stisfactory quantity of donkeys for your liking?

Unknown said...

...ohhh you - i'm filled with jealousy, but glad to hear it was fabulous. and i want to hear more about the food. what were some of your favorite dishes - and did you eat lots of delicious dates?

Miss Ash said...

Photos to follow???

Tokyo Tintin said...


Strangely enough, we did not eat any dates! I didn't even think about it until you mentioned it just now. Weird. Maybe they weren't in season or something.


I'm working on the photos, but it takes time. Patience we must have.