Sunday, July 21, 2019

Morocco 2019 - Day 3 (7/16/2019) - Fes

We continued the trend of getting a late start, not making it down for breakfast on the hotel balcony until 10:45am.  My shoulder was even more uncomfortable going to bed the night before, and I relented to Fran's suggestion of taking a couple of the Aleve pills that she had brought.  This helped greatly, as I was able to get several hours of uninterrupted sleep; and much of the inflammation was gone for the better part of the next day.

The breakfast spread that they brought to us was large, with several types of breads and pastries, yogurt, mini cheeses, eggs, and orange juice.  Unfortunately, though, the lack of appetite that I had experienced at breakfast the past couple of days continued; I was only able to stomach a yogurt, a small slice of pound cake, and some juice.  For some reason my mouth was just too dry to eat more bread - I'm not sure if it was due to lack of hydration, anxiety about getting sick from the fruit (it didn't help that the prickly pear that the hotel butler had bought us off the street the day before was the likely cause of mild diarrhea for both of us), the hot climate, or anxiety about my shoulder.  In any case, my lack of appetite thankfully this didn't stop Fran from digging in.

After eating and drawing up a rough plan for the day, we walked out to try to find our "friend" Mohamed (the student who had offered to show us around the day before) at his regular hangout by a nearby water fountain.  But we first came across another young man, who turned out to be a friend of Mohamed's (his name was Reda, if I remember correctly), who offered to take us around.  The two of them tag-teamed to be our unofficial guides for the next almost 3 hours.

The medina in Fes is a maze of narrow streets and alleys, some lined with shops or workshops, others with markets, and many just living and community quarters for the people of the city.  The advice that Fran had read and received was to get a guide to explore the medina.  As is to be expected, these guides also have agendas beyond showing your around.  Mohammed and Reda took us to several shops where they had connections, I'm sure in return for some sort of kickback of any purchases made.  Luckily, a couple of them (a carpet maker and a ceramic shop) were places where Fran wanted to buy items for herself or others anyway.  They also took us to a tannery, which was interesting to see (with the vats for removing hair/fat, and for dying the leathers), and a high-end Moroccan antique shop (much less interesting).  Non-shopping stops included a view from near the top of the highest hill in the medina (which was unfortunately also a trash dump), and a terrace overlooking the emerald green shingles of Karaouiyne Mosque and University (though it annoyingly took a bit of prodding to get the view of the mosque; perhaps because people generally charge to get the view from their terrace, so Reda had to pay for it (or so he claimed)).  By the end of the couple of hours wandering through the crowds, the alleys, the markets, the donkey dung, and everything else, I had worked up quite a sweat; though it was not nearly as bad as it could be given the temperature in the low 90s, as most of the alleys of the medina are in the shade.  It was also interesting to deal with the fact that our two guides were operating in the black market; at times (especially in the highly trafficked areas), they would have to simply point us the the direction to go and then either walk far ahead of or behind us so that they would not be stopped by police for not having a guide license.  We ended the tour back at the pathway to the hotel, with us paying them each 200 Dirham, plus 100 more for the terrace (there was poor price discovery and negotiating on our part, so we likely overpaid significantly; but, first world problems...).

We took a little less than an hour to cool down, rest, and have some snacks in the room; this was mostly for my benefit, as Fran could have kept on going all day.  We then decided to drive to check out Fes el-Jedid - a newer part of Fes (it translates to New Fes, but it's more an extension of Fes el-Bali, as there is a real new part of the city outside both of those areas.  Like Fes el-Bali, cars are not allowed into most of the newer medina, so we found a parking spot near the wall at Bab Makina.  We then walked down into the main street (Grande Rue de Fes El Jdid) intending to do some exploring on our own.  When a man sensed that we were lost, he initially gave us some general directions, and then began leading us through a tour of the Jewish quarter.  We followed for quite a while, as he was being friendly and we didn't want to be rude, but we (especially Fran) eventually lost our patience.  When Fran forced him to take us back out to one of the main roads, we told him that we were going to find our own way and refused to pay when we he asked (partially from annoyance/frustration, and partially because we didn't have any small bills).  From there we walked to the main gate of the royal palace (the gate is all you get to see, as the public is not allowed inside or on any of the rest of the grounds), and then doubled back to the main street in search of a restaurant for dinner.  We wandered around a bit but our search was unsuccessful, so we headed back to the car.

Our plan was to find a restaurant near the parking lot at our entrance to the old medina, but during the drive back the tire pressure warning came back on in the car.  After a brief pull over we decided to continue down the road to find a gas station.  We passed a couple of small mechanic shops, and decided to double back to the first one.  There, Fran asked for a top-up of our tires, a task that was performed by a young boy (perhaps 10?) who was covered in grease from performing this and similar jobs at the shop.  When we asked how much we owed, one of the men replied (in French) that we should give however much we desired, so we have them a 20 Dirham bill, thanked them, and were on our way.

We decided to head back to the hotel to inquire there about nearby restaurants.  Even the short drive back was eventful, as I had some minor difficulty getting the car up the steep gravel road to the gate of the hotel driveway.  Back at the hotel the hostess inquired about restaurants for us, and then eventually sent us out with a butler to a place that would be open.  The restaurant was not very close to the hotel, and during the walk I completely lost track of the way to get there (Fran was paying better attention, but also couldn't remember all of it).  At the restaurant (in which we were the only patrons, though we were perhaps early since it was barely 6pm), we found that their vegetarian menu consisted of essentially the same things that we had eaten the last 2 nights - couscous and vegetable tagine.  We communicated to the waitress that we were looking for other vegetarian options, and she told us that they could make some rice in traditional Moroccan sauce with grilled vegetables.  When the food eventually came out, we found the vegetables to instead be boiled, and (worse) I bit into a couple of small bones (we're guessing lamb based on the taste of the sauce to Fran) before I could even finish a small plate of the rice.  At this point we decided to stop and ask for the check.  The waitress was apologetic when Fran explained to her what had happened and brought us over some sliced watermelon as an offering on the house.  We politely refused, paid 200 Dirham of the 260 Dirham bill, and left.

We then decided to be adventurous and find our own way back to the hotel.  Fran boldly took charge and led us back safely with only one brief wrong turn (and despite a man trying to convince us that our way was blocked so that he could extract money from us as a guide).  Back at the hotel we showered and then headed down to the balcony to inquire if they had any desserts for me.  Not finding any offerings suitable, Fran retrieved her snacks for me to nibble on while we enjoyed the cool night breeze.  Fran also noticed that the moon was only partially lit despite being a full moon the night before.  A quick Google search revealed that there was a partial lunar eclipse, so we enjoyed the view for a bit just as the last call to prayer came on, before heading up to the room.



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