On the Road Again

The thing about Fez is that it's built kind of like a bowl.  Staying on the lip of the bowl provides fantastic views of the city and the surrounding mountains....and pretty sore calves the next day from all that uppy a down.  But it's a small price to pay for one of the world's most remarkably preserved medieval cities.

After loading our trunk with woven fabrics and ceramic plates we headed south, back to Casablanca and then further south the next day to Marrakesh.  Marrakesh was its dirty, loud, crazy self and we spent waaaayy to much time in the carpet shop haggling with our friend Mbarek.  There really is nothing in the world like a good haggle.  There is a feeling not unlike "seeing what you can get away with".

He said 400?  Well, I'll see if I can offer 275 and keep everyone smiling....  do I dare offer 200?

There is  a delicate balance between playing the game (which is fun and necessary) and insulting someone.  I never want to leave a shop (again) with bad feelings.  Do I pay a bit more than locals because I'm a westerner?  I sure do.  And you know what?  That is fine with me.  I want to pay a fair price, but that's not the most important thing in the world.  We have returned to the same carpet guy in Marrakesh 4 or 5 times now and are always greeted with warmth and offered fair prices.  Over the long run, it made much more sense not to burn our bridges with shop keepers for an extra 10 bucks.  I might have learned that lesson the hard way...

Our next stop was Essaouira, perhaps our favorite city in Morocco.  We stayed in apartments by the sea and spent a great weekend just wandering before heading back to Casablanca. 

And NOW I'm headed off to the Sahara for the first time - just days before we pack everything we own, not to be seen again for 10 months.  Hopefully I make it back safe and sound and can keep my pack out brain in tact... 


Veer to the Right, There’s a Big Donkey

That seemed like a perfectly normal thing for me to whisper in my mother-in-law’s ear our first night in Fez.  Calm as a cucumber so as not to startle her or said donkey. We’d driven the three and a half hours from Casablanca to Fez in alternating rain and post/pre rain splendor.  The north is already greener than the south, but after gushes of rainfall the fields became a patchwork of sweating, growing, green of every shade expanding all along the highway. 

The four of us, Max, his parents, and myself pulled into a glorified alley slash parking lot outside the medieval city of Fez and plunked our luggage down on the wet stones separating us from the sludge below.  Max and I sometimes forget how things in Morocco look the first time you encounter them.  We wheeled our suitcases under a decrepit arch leading into the labyrinthine city, dark, smelling of leather and donkey droppings, a steady drizzle coming down on us and only a few lamps lit to expose scores of gnarly street cats and thought  “Ah.  Fez.  We are here!”  without really considering the trust his parents displayed by following us into the darkness.   Donkeys probably seemed like the least of our worries at that point. 

In true Max fashion, he weaved us in and out of alleys and tunnels until we arrived at the door of our Dar.

“I memorized the Google maps aerial image of this section of the city”  He shrugged.

Of course he did.  One of the many reasons I keep him around :)

Off season is a beautiful thing and we were ushered in from the cold and into a palace of tile and carpets as the only guests.  A fire welcomed us to the salon where we nibbled coconut biscuits and sipped mint tea.  After chatting a bit and releasing some donkey related tension, we were shown to our room.  Room is a terrible understatement for the beautifully wrought enormity they had rolled two extra single beds into for me and Max.  Moroccans, Fassi’s in particular, are very proud of their traditional hand crafted skills – tile making and zellij, carpet weaving, ornate stucco and wood carving, stained glass, luxurious fabrics – the stuff of Orientalist’s dreams – and this room was the perfect exhibition of all of them.

We somehow drifted to sleep in our fortress after a lovely meal and arose the next morning to blue skies instead of the dripping grey ones we’d expected.  A local friend of ours walked us through the medina explaining and exploring the oldest degree giving University in the world, the local Madrasa brimming with 5 year olds, the leather tanneries with 1,000 year old practices, the crickety looms that churn out beautiful woven fabrics, a pottery co-op producing the iconic blue and white dishes of Fez and best of all, the 9,000 plus streets of the ancient medina bustling with people, animals and the smell of roasting meats.