The Great Moroccan Goodbye Tour, Part 5: Fez
After a long day in the van, we arrived in Fez (often written Fes in French) and parted ways with Ibrahim and Mohamed. Although I was satisfied overall with the trip that Pathfinders Treks arranged*, I was looking forward to more freedom for the rest of our travels. That night, we stayed in the nicest hotel of our trip. The Riad Dar Skalli was a little pricy for Morocco, but the place was incredible. The building was approximately 1000 years old, and some of the ornate, colorful tile and delicate woodwork in the courtyard dated back to the original construction. The rest of the building had been updated throughout the intervening years, and nowadays it even has wifi. The rooftop terrace had great views of the city, but the threat of rain kept us mostly inside our luxurious rooms. For just under $40 a person (which included an excellent breakfast) we felt like royalty. We ventured away from the hotel to find dinner that evening but left most of the exploring for the following day.
(image source: booking.com for Riad Dar Skalli)
The next morning, after breakfast in the courtyard, we set out to explore the many winding streets of the Fez medina, which is one of the largest “urban pedestrian zones” (car-free areas within a city) in the world. We started at the famous Blue Gate and followed the main street through the dizzying array of shops and stalls. We eventually reached the tanneries where Fez’s renowned leather products are made. Shop owners in the area will give you a tour with the expectation of either a tip or a purchase. We followed one shopkeeper up to the roof overlooking the tanneries, where we were given fresh mint leaves to hold in front of our noses as a barrier against the smell of the urine and feces used in tanning process. It was interesting to learn about and we each bought a souvenir or two.
On the way back, we stopped at one of the madrasas, or religious schools, and admired the beautiful architecture. After getting turned around on the way back, we paid a teen 20 dirhams ($2) to lead us back to the main street, which is really not something you should do, because it’s pretty easy for them to get you hopelessly lost and then extort you for more cash. It’s better to use your map, an official guide (the city registers the “real” guides to help tourists avoid getting swindled by teenage boys), or ask a woman or a shopkeeper to point you in the right direction. I knew that, but I got us swept up by this kid because I thought we were less than 50 yards from where we wanted to be, and I was feeling less cautious than usual because for once I was part of a group instead of exploring solo. Luckily my poor wayfinding didn’t get us into any trouble, but I won’t underestimate the labyrinth of the Fez medina again.
We ate lunch and returned to the riad, where we packed up and then took a taxi to the car rental office. Our next stop was Chefchaouen, and to get there, I was going to do something for the first time in a year and a half: drive.
(to be continued)
*Although our trip with Pathfinders Treks went smoothly overall and we saw some gorgeous and fascinating parts of Morocco, I didn’t care for how much Ibrahim tried to control where we spent our money. I appreciate when a local guide helps me determine which products are more authentic or better quality, but the extent to which he pressured us to buy in some places and lectured us for shopping in others was abrasive at best, and at worst it made us suspicious of his connections with the different vendors. So while I have nothing but glowing reviews for Rachid and for my three-day Toubkal summit trek with Pathfinders, I would probably choose someone else if I were going to do a Sahara trip again.