Fez, Morocco

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Fez was my favorite city in Morocco. Before I went, I had heard both good and bad accounts from other travelers, so I figured I had to experience it for myself. People in Marrakesh told me Fez was dangerous and boring, but I found it to be friendly, fascinating, and absolutely gorgeous. I think one of the main reasons I enjoyed it so much more than Marrakesh was because I visited during my second trip to Morocco. Knowing more or less what to expect made such a huge difference in my ability to enjoy myself in this country. By the time I got to Fez, I was fully prepared to deal with being bothered and harassed on the street, I felt confident with my haggling skills, and I felt like I generally understood Moroccan culture much better than I had while I was there in February. Basically, I wasn’t going to let myself be intimidated. I only had three days in Fez, but I was ready to make the most of it.

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I had quite the adventure getting to Fez from Chefchaouen with with my Argentinian friend, Brenda. We bought bus tickets a day in advance, but of course the bus broke down the next morning, so we were thrown onto some other bus that was absolutely sweltering inside. I actually thought I was gonna die of heatstroke – the sun was shining directly onto my face for the entire three hour journey and I didn’t have any water. Then we had to switch buses, which is a bit of a stressful experience if you aren’t used to it. The bus just pulls over in the middle of absolutely nowhere, without any warning nor explanation, and some guy gets on and screams “FEZ? FEZ?” and you have to raise your hand and then he whisks you off the bus and shouts at you to get your bags and then suddenly a different bus appears out of nowhere and you have to just jump on – and before you know it, you’re hurtling off in a completely new direction!

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A public bus in Fez – the back door had been broken off so more people could get on.

All I can say is this is totally normal in Morocco, and it’s an instance in which you just need to trust people. Public transportation in Morocco might not make any sense to a Westerner, but no matter how delayed or uncomfortable your journey is, people will always make sure you get to where you need to go eventually. The key is to go with the flow no matter what!

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I loved Fez from the beginning, just from looking out the bus window and watching the way the afternoon sunlight made the ancient city glow like gold. Brenda and I had quite the time finding our hostel – asking for directions in a big city is an instance in which you shouldn’t trust too easily, because unfortunately there are a lot of people out there who will take advantage of your naivety. Also, watch your bags, because there are pickpockets around. Especially watch out for children – they may seem very sweet, but some of them will seriously pickpocket you if you aren’t paying attention!

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After some stressful navigation, Brenda and I finally found our hostel – Funky Fez, which I can wholly recommend, by the way. The intimidating thing about Fez is that it’s home to the largest medina in the entire world – meaning the old part of the city is an endless labyrinth that would literally take years to learn to navigate without a map. There are no cars, as the twisting alleyways are simply too narrow for anything except pedestrians and donkeys (watch out for donkeys). The medina in Fez is unlike any other place I’d ever been to – it was built in the ninth century, so the mere notion that it was a thousand years old gave me actual goosebumps (very typical of an American, I know).

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It is literally impossible to find your way through the medina without asking someone for directions – Google maps doesn’t always work, so you need to be willing to get lost and enjoy the journey as you stumble across delicious food stalls, metalworkers, women selling argan oil, and God knows what else. The sights, smells, and sounds are all completely fascinating, and there’s always something else to discover just around the corner. We got lost for two hours one time, and we had an adventure getting back to our hostel – we actually ended up hiring a couple of kids to show us the way. I had a lot of fun getting lost. That said, I would have felt very uncomfortable walking around the medina all by myself, especially at night. Definitely find a group to go with, which will be easy if you’re staying at a hostel, since everyone is in the same boat.

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I think I got very lucky in Fez in terms of meeting the right people. In Marrakesh I had quite a bit of trouble with harassment, and I didn’t make too many friends in the hostels I stayed in. But in Fez, I met a fabulous group of solo travelers at my hostel, and we had an absolute blast walking around the medina together. We had a wonderful tour guide who showed us the oldest leather tannery in the world, Chouara – it’s huge, colorful, and over a thousand years old! That was one of my favorite sights in all of Morocco, because I’d never seen anything remotely like it. We were given bunches of mint leaves to keep the stench at bay – they use cow piss and pigeon poop to soak the leather, so you can imagine the smell. The whole leather-making process was super interesting, and the finished products were absolutely exquisite. Unfortunately, I couldn’t afford any of them.

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I found Fez much more relaxed than Marrakesh – it felt less glitzy, less touristy, and less superficial. There were more people who seemed to just be going about their daily routines, whereas in Marrakesh it often felt like so many people’s sole purpose in life was to make money off tourists. Fez felt truly ancient, very authentic, and breathtakingly beautiful. The place was surreal to me – I really did feel like I had gone back in time. There was some kind of magic in the air, the architecture, the everything.

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The ultimate highlight of my second trip to Morocco was my last day in the country, when I took the train from Fez to Tangier to catch my flight back to Europe the next morning. After my horrific experience on the overheated bus from Chefchaouen, I splurged on a first class train ticket (it was actually only twenty euros) and sat in a compartment with five other Moroccans. They all offered me food, and I shared my strawberries and bread with everyone. The old man sitting next to me asked (in broken French) if I was sure I knew where I was going. I told him I could manage, but he insisted that I should be accompanied by a local. The woman sitting across from us, listening in on our conversation, said she could give me a lift to my hotel. Not only did she give me a lift, but she also took me to the mall in Tangier and bought me strawberry frozen yogurt! We chatted away in French, and then she and her brother took me all the way to the airport, which was nearly thirty kilometers out of the way! I was so grateful and happy that my second adventure in Morocco had ended on such a good note. Honestly I was kind of heartbroken to leave, and I couldn’t get over all the weird and wonderful encounters I’d had with strangers. I think it’s safe to say I’ll be back to Morocco for more adventures at some point. There is still so much I haven’t seen, and I want to experience it all.

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