Exploring the Medina/Tombs

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I woke up to my second day in Fez really weighed down by the cold I was carrying since Barcelona. The delicious free breakfast provided by the hostel gave me the energy I needed for the tour I had planned for that morning. I got orange juice, my choice of tea or coffee, a pistachio yogurt cup, a little cheese triangle, half a piece of buttery bread, a plate with small baguette slices, and another plate with small corn bread squares and rolls that tasted like homemade flour tortillas (Mexican resemblance continues)—I slathered it all with the strawberry jam they gave me.

 

SAM_4491After breakfast, about eight other travelers and myself followed our tour guide into the medina. I’m really glad I was able to share the cost for the tour with a group because I got to explore the medina like I never would’ve on my own. We went through many tiny streets, wide and dark, stopping at all the important sites including the tannery and the oldest university in existence (Al-Karaouine).

Our tour guide also took us to various stores where I’m sure he was making commission on purchases, but I didn’t mind it much because I got to feel beautiful carpets, see fabrics being made, and was able to sample argan oil products.

I never would’ve ventured on my own so deep into the medina, which was a very different experience than just walking back and forth on the one main street near my hostel. It was much more lively, with people buying and selling all sorts of things or having breakfast on the side of tiny stands, mules going back and forth, and a plethora of sights and smells hitting you at every corner. I chatted quite a lot with one of the travelers who was a fellow paisano from Guadalajara. He also agreed with me that Fes was a lot like Mexico.

Here are some pics:

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After the tour ended, the guide asked us for more money than we had originally been told, which led to quite a fight inside our hostel. Once things were settled, the group split up, with most people going up the road to the Merenid tombs while four of us sick and/or hungry went in search for food.

Two Germans, an Irish lad, and myself were offered many menus at a discounted price. I was not feeling well at this point so I let the others choose. After a couple of minutes, I was served soup with bread, followed by a ridiculously large plate of cous cous and chicken accompanied by large chunks of sweet carrots and potatoes coated with raisins. I still can’t believe we were given all of this plus coffee and dessert for 40 dirham (4 euros). After this overindulgent meal, I returned to the hostel where I stayed in for the rest of the evening.

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The following day, I decided to visit the tombs. The best time to visit is supposed to be in the evening to avoid the scorching sun and to watch the sun set over the medina, but I didn’t want to be out on some mountain alone while it was dark so I opted for the hot 20 minute walk in the morning. I went in circles for a while, then finally found a large highway outside the walls of the medina that resembled the one on my map. I walked for quite a bit but stopped after I couldn’t deny the fact that the road was going downwards instead of upward.

As I was trying to decide where to go, a man began calling me. At that point, I had been primed to ignore the many comments made to me by men in the medina so I just began walking the other way. The man began following me though and continued to do so for about 10 minutes, which really made me nervous. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the first or last time I was followed during my stay in Fez. I know I stuck out, mostly I think, because I was a woman walking alone since I didn’t see many women walking by themselves.

For some, I obviously was a tourist and was talked at in French or English, but I was also asked a lot if I was Moroccan. The tour guide told me that at every place we visited he was asked by the men if I was Moroccan. The cousin from the desert tours also said he thought I was Moroccan when I walked in, and another guy who followed me (twice in the same day) told me the same thing. I’m not sure if this is why I was bothered so much.

Regardless, I’m wary to write about this because I don’t want to reinforce any sort of stereotype. It’s sad to say that I’ve experienced street harassment in many places, the most frightening one actually in Germany. I never felt unsafe in Fez despite all the attention, just quite uncomfortable and frustrated that I didn’t know what to say or where to go since I’d risk bringing more attention to myself as a tourist or getting lost. The majority of the other women at the hostel traveling in groups had very different experiences though. Another solo traveler who got lost was actually helped by a man in the medina and even invited to have dinner with his family; they even packed her some food for her travels the next day.

Anyway, anyway.

I began walking closely behind a group of women until the man stopped following me and took a turn into the medina. I kept walking straight to give myself some time before I headed back, then suddenly, I saw the tombs straight ahead! Life works in mysterious ways I suppose and although I disliked being followed, the man ended up pointing me towards the right direction! By the time I reached the stairway leading up to the tombs I was drenched in sweat since I was wearing a long-sleeve shirt, jeans, and a scarf. The view of the medina was fantastic though and it was nice to sit up there for a while.

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There was a Moroccan man up top who spoke very good Spanish who pointed out some places to me while giving me a little bit of history. Then he showed me some leather pouches he was selling and well, I ended up buying one–I really need to work on my assertiveness. I only had 70 dirham and 2 euros on me, so at least I got it for around $9 and not the $20 he originally wanted.

After returning to the hostel to rest and taking off some layers of clothes for a bit, I walked again in the medina through a new road. This one had mostly stands of food and spices and I ended up eating a meat sandwich for dinner at the low cost of only 10 dirham. I gave up on finding the gardens for good and just went back to the hostel.

 

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