12 sweaty hours later, with many stops along the way, I arrived in Fes. I caught a taxi to Hotel Batha and met Paul. This Frenchman, 2 meters tall, dwarfing me, has been living in Fes for the past 6 months. Before this, Afghanistan and India. He is living in a house constructed in the 1700s with impressive tilework and woodwork, and they are renovating the house. This house, in Batha at the edge of the medina, would become my haven for the next few days.
Fes has long been known for hassle, hassle, and more hassle. It’s true. Shopkeepers and children and all different people call out to you in English and Japanese and French and whatever else their mouths can throw out, and it’s constant, unrelenting, and overwhelming. Fes has the world’s largest living medina, with donkeys transporting cargo throughout, fountains where people come to bathe and fill up bottles and buckets, shops and stalls selling everything imaginable, seemingly empty alleyways opening up onto shopping avenues…and it is a sure fact that you’ll get lost. A few hours in the hubbub of the medina was more than enough for me, the first day I went to explore alone, then met a Japanese girl who I invited to join me in the hammam.
I first experienced a hammam in Turkey with Abby in 2002 in Kusadasi, and since then have made it a point to visit a hammam in each Muslim country I go to. You strip down to your underwear and then a woman, normally an enormous one, scrubs layers of dead skin off you, revealing clumps of dead cells and your fresh skin underneath. There are normally 3 rooms, progressively growing hotter, and you go from the hottest to the coolest, being shampooed, soaped, massaged…it’s great.
The next day, Paul took me to his spots in the medina, then I explored a bit on my own, checking out the famous tanneries where leather is treated in the same way as it has been for centuries, then completely beat, I headed back home. In the afternoon I tried a bit more but was growing increasingly irritated and short-tempered with all the hassle around, so I gave up by sunset and went home. I was really ready to get out of Fes – and in fact, I felt, Morocco.
The next morning I went early for my bus to Chefchaouen, and I hadn’t been sure how long I would stay. I knew that I would like the town, and I knew it was a place where I could stay longer if I wished, but I also felt that by moving quickly through Chefchaouen I would be able to get more time in Portugal. So I left my things at the bus station and walked steeply uphill to arrive in the medina. It was every bit what I had hoped for. The streets are painted a ghostly pale blue, with turquoise, lavender, and periwinkle doorways, window trimmings, all with earthy red rooftops. It’s quiet, calm, and people are genuinely friendly.
Glad to have seen it but ready to finish my Moroccan journey, I jumped on the next bus to Tangier and arrived, met Cindo, a Portuguese man living in Morcco for the past 5 years, and after a feijoada passed out. I was at the edge of Morocco, just a short boat ride away from the European continent again.
I loved Morocco with its endless changing scenery, delicious food, and the real Muslims that are so welcoming, hospitable, generous, and want to share their beautiful country with you. At its best, it offers a supremely different, exotic place from continental Europe even though a tiny body of water separates the two continents. Architecture with exquisite craftsmanship, desert, mountains, canyons, sea, smells and tastes that burst with fullness and richness combine with people in beautiful clothes and fabrics, women covered racing down the streets with robes flowing behind them, children with bright smiles running around. But there was also the other side of Morocco, which wants to rip you off, constantly after you for something, which disrespects foreigners and especially women…it was great to go there, but I was also really happy to leave. I’m sure I’ll visit again, especially the south, but for now it was a chapter I was ready to close.