Hard to believe, but Fez was even more crazy than Marrakech! From the second we jumped off the train at 2am (not literally this time) it was nuts. We caused a massive argument amongst the cab drivers by not using the first guy we spoke to and loaded our bags in while they all yelled at each other in Arabic. Our driver was pretty sheepish two minutes later when he realised he had a flat tire and that we needed to hop in one of the other taxis.
Our new driver didn’t speak English but agreed very whole heatedly when we said “Ain Azletten”, which was the name of the square we were headed too in the old town or medina. The square was a lot quieter than we had imagined and to be honest was a little freaky. We started off into the maze of streets, some of them completely dark, using our airbnb hosts notes as our guide. We spoke to one guy who thought we wanted to stay with him and walked us all the way to his building before we realised he wasn’t showing us to our accommodation. He then told us his friend was a private taxi driver and could take us anywhere we wanted to go. Luckily we came across a cafe owner who spoke really good English. He explained that we were not at Ain Azletten Square at all and that it was even less safe there at this time of night.
So we headed back into the maze of streets to find our new friend the private cab driver. As expected we haggled over the price for ten minutes (he could clearly see the desperation on our faces as 2am rolled past) before we were able to leave. He took us to the square and luckily I was able to ask him in French if he would accompany us to our accommodation as security for an extra euro, which he gladly accepted.
The directions from our host were to make a few turns into the medina (old town) streets and find a particular cafe/bar where we would be shown to our Riad (hotel) a few twists and turns away in the medina. Of course the joint was closed when we arrived. We were both shattered and then stoked in the same second as our cabbie come security guard turned translator and started asking a local guy in one of the buildings where the bar owner lived. Laughing at the randomness we followed him around a few streets where he knocked on a front door. Out came the bar owner who walked us to our accommodation. I wanted to hug him so badly when he appeared and as though this was nothing unusual said “oh yes, follow me”. What a mission!
Despite the crazy night before we had to be up for breakfast at 10am, so we got up and headed to the dining area of the riad. We waited about an hour before we realised the host wasn’t coming and headed out to find whatever we could to eat during Ramadan. We actually found a little corner store selling tasty muffins, which made a descent breakfast.
We contemplated going back to bed but decided to take on Fez’s crazy medina streets instead. The tiny streets, too narrow for cars were starting to fill with people. We passed a few donkeys loaded with gear that just about knocked you over if you didn’t jump out of their way.
My favourite was a 3 donkey pile up we were stopped by, where two locals faced each other in a narrow bottle neck and argued over whose donkeys should have to reverse up.
As we got deeper into the maze we passed people selling differing degrees of dishonesty from “the best free view of the tannery” to “you lost, I help you, where you go?” When we did arrive at the actual tannery, we still had to argue with the actual guide for five minutes to determine if he was lying or not. Once convinced, he led us past the skin cleaning rooms and into the tannery. I’ve not smelt anything worse in my entire life than the cleaning rooms. The skins are covered in hair when they arrive which needs to be softened and scraped off. The smell this produces had me gagging so badly that all the locals in the area all got a great laugh at my expense.
Of course our guide promptly doubled the original price when we arrived at the view over the tannery. It was pretty impressive and worth the extra two euro even though it was missing a few of the brighter colours as they are understaffed during Ramadan. Pretty crazy that the place has been running since the 14th century and is owned by around 100 families. The leather (once the hair is removed) is softened in the white pits that are filled with pigeon poo (a natural ammonia) that also stinks a lot. From there they go into the coloured die pits. Working in there would not be great for your back.
As is customary with anyone who leads you anywhere in Fez, we finished our trip in a rug store. We sat though his friendly explanation of the rugs before explaining we were nomads and had no need for rugs. Obviously this is a familiar excuse and he was very quick to run us through the “very easy and cheap for you sir” postal arrangements he offers. We made for the exit and after fobbing off one more grubby little guide asking for his tip, we were free.
The streets were even crazier when we returned and wanting to get involved in the mayhem I decided to get a haircut. The barber was hilarious. He understood our basic French, which we exchanged over a few laughs. The adventure lasted over half an hour with the bulk of it involving him asking me what I thought of the cut, me then saying “bravo” and thanking him as I went to get up and leave. He would then find one or two hairs out of place that needed correcting. This went on 3-4 times before he finally let us go. It was a good laugh.
We were starting to get pretty peckish and wandered into the only restaurant with its door open. It was in fact still closed until Ramadan broke at 730pm but for a small fee the owner was happy to walk us to another restaurant. This restaurant turned out to be a cracker! Again full of tourists but the food was the best we had in Morocco. Delicious dips and really tasty lamb.
With our energy restored we decided to have another crack in the market streets and headed out after a couple of pairs of leather slippers. We wandered a few stalls and sussed out the different levels in quality and price, before heading back in the direction of the tannery where Clare decided the quality was better. She eyed a pair she liked the look of. So, over to yours truly for the haggling as Clare hates bargaining. From his starting offer of 240??? We got him down to 160. But we knew who’d done better when he was willing to throw in a little leather purse free of charge. He did give us a tip though, he said if you let a guide take you to any kind of store or restaurant in Morocco you will pay at least double the value of anything as the guides are super greedy and take a big cut.
Once we were safely back in the riad I headed to the terrace to relax in the sun, while Clarie went back out for a traditional Haman. A hilarious experience where the women all sit naked in the steam room and one particular woman gives you a good scrubbing with a cloth and hot water. Very relaxing apparently. I was happy to take Clare’s word for it and give the male one a skip.
By dinner time we were both pretty bushelled, but just had enough energy to head out and get screwed over one more time. We grimaced our way up three flights of stairs (legs still aching from the hike) to a very dodgy restaurant with a great view over the medina. The food was ok and the price ridiculous. Seeing as we were there only customers we decided to just let them fleece us. By the end of it all we were both pretty ready to head back to the UK where everything has a price tag and no one wants to be paid to tell you where something is, to have a photo or to get you a great deal on carpets.