By Karlie Marrazzo
It can be hard to write about a city when you only stayed there for 72 hours, and spent 36 of those hours bedridden in what started to feel like a jail cell, although it was in fact a palatial room in a gorgeous dar. Fes is a fascinating, sprawling ancient city that boasts one of the biggest urban car-free areas in the world. But unfortunately I walked away from Fes with a bit of a sour taste in my mouth.
Dave and I arrived at dusk by bus from Chefchaouen. We wound our way through the outer layers of the city, closer and closer to the central bus station, through a densely packed and dusty city in shades of beige. One brand new white Ferrari passed us by, extraordinarily out of place.
We were celebrating Dave’s 30th birthday in Fes, so had splashed out on a very beautiful dar for three nights. By the time we got there it was after dark. We went through the check in process before turning right around and going to dinner. Getting lost in the medina at night was not our idea of a good time, so we went with the recommendation of another dar with a family run restaurant that sent a porter to walk you there and back. The food was delicious, with many tiny plates of different warm salads before the meal, but I barely ate any of it as I felt so sick.
The next day was the big day, Dave’s big three-oh. We started the day with a house call from a doctor, who confirmed what I had suspected all along – I had an ear infection. I lay on the bed while he looked in my ears with his iPhone flashlight and then paid him 300dh for his services. Mohamed, the assistant manager of the dar, was a total angel and ran around to several different pharmacies to find all of the medicines I had been prescribed.
We spent the morning trying to get our bearings and walking around a tiny slice of the sprawling medina. There were people everywhere, squeezing into every possible inch of the narrow lanes, tiny scooters zipping by. I had a close call with an abnormally large donkey who almost knocked me on my ass (pun intended).
Morocco is famous for its leather, and arguably the most best place to get a glimpse of the ancient processes still used are the leather tanneries in Fes, where the animal skins are dipped into huge vats of dye and left out to dry in the sun. Dave and I are pretty adept at navigating, but the Moroccan touts couldn’t know this about us. When they see tourists, they pounce. The closer we got to the tanneries, the more irritating and aggressive they became. “Friend? My friend? Tanneries? My friend, tanneries, this way” and on and on. We’re masters of the polite ignore, but it was challenging to keep it together this time, with numerous guys from 10 to 35 years old walking right alongside us for minutes on end, flanking us on both sides and going so far as to physically block us with their bodies. Our general rule of thumb is this: don’t go with anyone or go into the store of anyone who is harassing you. There are dozens, if not hundreds, just like them, so we are much more inclined to give our business to someone who is minding their own business and couldn’t care less if we come in or not. I’m sure that’s a sales tactic too, but a much more pleasant and respectful one. You can’t go into the tanneries themselves, but there are many shops in a ring around the dye vats that offer birds’ eye views of the action. You don’t have to buy anything on your way out, but you probably won’t find a better price or better quality anywhere else.
We made our escape from the tannery area and went for lunch. We tried something a little different – a camel burger. Well, Dave ordered a camel burger and I ordered a grilled chicken sandwich, just incase one of us couldn’t stomach it. While the meat was quite heavily spiced, it was pretty tasty. We made sure to take all of the veggie garnishes off of our sandwiches and didn’t touch the side salads, like we had been for the whole trip. Moroccans don’t have a problem with the water, but for travelers it can cause major tummy upsets, even if one piece of lettuce is washed with tap water, so we were very careful all the time.
Careful, that is, until dinner that evening. To celebrate Dave’s special day, we dined in at our dar, which boasts a gourmet kitchen run by a French trained chef. I won’t go into details about our meal as this isn’t a food blog, but take special note of the starter that came with Dave’s meal, a roasted pumpkin salad. I was taken aback by the bed of fresh lettuce it was served on. Dave had a couple of bites of it but mostly avoided the greens. The rest of the meal was great and we went to bed happy.
Our happiness didn’t last long. We woke up around 4am feeling horrific. I’ll spare you the details, but we were up all night, in and out of the bathroom, lying in bed writhing in pain, and falling asleep on the cool tile floor. We had a daytrip planned to the ancient Roman ruins of Volubilis, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, but it quickly became apparent that we wouldn’t be making the journey. Dave was much worse off than I was, suffering from severe food poisoning. He was cramping up and couldn’t keep down one sip of water. Mine wasn’t as bad, but add in the dizziness, nausea and pain brought on by the ear infection and I felt awful, too.
To make a bad day even worse, we received a very expensive phone call that afternoon from the airline. There we were, lying in bed, trying to choke down bananas and steamed rice, and they’re telling us that our direct flight back to Lisbon from Morocco to start our journey home had been cancelled. It is a given fact that something will always go wrong on your travels, and you need to be prepared for the unexpected. A rerouted flight isn’t that big of a deal, but we were both feeling very ill and worn down and I was starting to have a real struggle with negativity at this point that would continue on for the rest of the trip.
27 hours after this bout of sickness started, we were on a 6:50am train to Marrakech, a journey that takes seven hours. Our spirits were broken and all we could think about was going home and sleeping in our soft, comfortable bed, but there were adventures to be had, so we pressed on.
For more photos from my Morocco trip, click here.