Morocco During Ramadan Part II: Fes and Meknes

Part I can be found here.

The next day, we took another bus to Fes which took about 4 hours on another, almost equally sketchy bus ride through southern Morocco. The lush rolling hills and mountains of northern Morocco gave way to countless miles of rolling farmland peppered by the occasional home or small village with families, including small children, toiling the fields as we drove by, accompanied by family-owned donkeys or goats.

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Eventually, we made it to the much larger city of Fes. Fes is a walled imperial city that is the second largest city in Morocco after Casablanca. As we drove into town, there was an incredible number of people who thronged the streets on each side of our bus. We knew at that point that Fes was going to be a much crazier city than Chefchaouen. The city is known for its leather tanneries and the labyrinthian winding medina (central market) that is nearly impossible to find your way out of. We stayed at a riad (another name for a hotel) just outside of the medina which we had trouble finding even with GPS as we were jostled around by the insane number of people shopping in the market. We found it eventually after stopping at a cafe to get our bearings while I had my first ever camel burger which honestly did not taste much different from a beef burger.

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We spent several days in Fes walking through the winding market streets while shopowners would call out to us in English trying to get us to look at their wares. At first, we found it annoying but as we got used to it later in our stay we were able to take advantage of their eagerness to sell and made some great deals haggling with them for souvenirs to send home to our loved ones. Though often annoying, most merchants were generally nice people just trying to make a buck.

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The view from atop our hotel

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As I mentioned earlier, since Fes is largely known for its leather products, we allocated some time one morning to head to the largest tannery in Fes to take a tour. We made our way down to the bottom of the Medina, picking one of the many annoying Moroccans in our faces promising a tour of the tannery who we would later find out didn’t know any other English other than “I take you on tour.” Oh well. Sprig of mint leaves in hand, we descended into the tanning pit with the nauseating smell of pigeon poop and cow urine, both of which feature heavily in the leather making process. From the second we walked into the tannery, the smell absolutely assaulted our noses to the point that it made my eyes water and I am pretty sure Lauren almost threw up.

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The tannery pit looks like an artist’s watercolor palette with huge vats filled with different colored naturally made dyes. In these vats, workers stand in the dye up to their knees and dip the leather into them throughout the day before eventually selling the dyed leather to craftsmen on the streets who craft the pelts into what you see in the Moroccan medinas. Morocco is one of the few places that the process of making leather is done this way and hasn’t been modernized sometime in the past couple hundreds of years. We left after a few minutes, happy to get away from the stench and paid the man for our “tour” before walking into a leather shop next to the tannery to see the shop’s wares.

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I had been wanting to buy a decent-sized leather messenger bag for a while but didn’t want to pay a couple hundred dollars for it and found one I liked at the store we were in. When it came down to discussing price, the gentleman that was “helping us,” started at 1200 dirhams which is the equivalent of $120. We started to haggle at half the price, but we were very stringent on moving and eventually settled for 650 dirhams ($65). Though happy to get him to go as low as he did, I wasn’t sure I got a good deal but the guy we were haggling with seemed genuinely upset for letting the bag go at the price he did so I think we made a pretty good deal, especially as it is handmade. It still smells strongly of tannery though, so I am going to have to find some way to get rid of the smell!

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Showing off the goods

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We left, not exactly with the greatest appetite after being exposed to the tannery but nonetheless hungry as we hadn’t eaten that day yet. We wandered around the medina with no idea of where we were until we found the first sign that said “restaurant” and went into it to have lunch. We spent the next glorious hour on the rooftop terrace of the restaurant, not a single soul in sight besides one of the thousands if not millions of stray cats that live on the streets throughout Morocco (whom we named “Homegirl”). We ate a traditional Moroccan meal of salads, tagines, couscous, kefta and chicken kebabs, mint tea, and a little bit of rum that we had brought along in a flask with us from duty-free mixed with diet coke, neither of which is traditional Moroccan, obviously.

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View from the restaurant

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Our pregnant lunch date, Homegirl

This was nearly the end of the paper money we had got out in the airport in Tangier so our next trek through the winding streets of the medina was in search of an ATM that actually worked. Six ATMs, a ton of walking, and a lot of panic later, we finally found an ATM that we could get money out! Later, we celebrated our success with our little shopping spree in the medina, getting souvenirs for literally everybody we could think of which was bolstered by the rum we had drunk for lunch. Let me tell you, all the annoyance of the merchants in the medina is greatly reduced after a drink or two! That night we relaxed after our busy day at a nearby hotel bar we found earlier in the week that is one of the few that sells alcohol during Ramadan, one which we may or may not have gone to three times during our trip to Fes.

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One of the higher end buildings tucked away from the medina

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The next day, we hopped on a first class train to Meknes after running around trying to send off our shit load of souvenirs, eventually finding a FedEx that was actually open. When we arrived in Meknes, we were honestly so worn out from all the walking and shopping in the busy medina that we spent the first day in Meknes at our hotel pool relaxing in the sun and sipping on some Moroccan wine.

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The next day we had plans to head to Meknes’s medina but I had gotten the dreaded stomach bug that affects almost 50% of all travelers to Morocco. For that reason, we did not leave the hotel much that day. I was, however, able to take a quick walk through the city to get some initial impressions on the city. I would describe Meknes as having the busy shopping atmosphere as Fes but without the annoying pushiness that was prevalent in the larger city, as many merchants didn’t speak English and didn’t try to force you into their stores. The medina was a bit disorienting in comparison to Fes as the alleys were much thinner and the mannequins that lined each side of the shopping street were so lifelike that I often found myself excusing myself to them before realizing they weren’t even real people! There was plenty of real people in the Medina too and I lost patience with how busy it was and quickly made my way back to the hotel after only a couple hours. The rest of the day found us hanging out in the pool again as one, I was afraid to leave the premises for too long due to my stomach bug, and two, because Fes had worn us out so much!

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We left Meknes the next day to head for Tangier for the night before heading back to Italy for the last time on our trip. We spent our last day in Morocco relaxing before taking the short walk from our hotel to hang out at the beach for a little bit and to look out over the straight of Gibraltar to the tiny European country. It was a perfectly relaxing last day to spend in Morocco before heading out the next morning for our extremely early morning flight and the last Ryanir flight until we come back to Europe next time!

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Our successful first foray into Africa was easily one of the more unique experiences we have had on our adventure, with Jordan possibly being the only country more foreign to us as Americans. The culture and customs of Morocco are rough around the edges in a refreshing sort of way in that it forces you to take it how it is and accept its many differences from what you are used to. Equal parts strange and unpredictable, Morocco is both exciting and different in a way that is both fun and more than a little draining! I am glad to have gotten the experience of visiting the country and would definitely be open to visiting some of the country’s other large and unique cities in the future.

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