Italy Morocco Pyrenees

May 2015

Part 2: Fes

I can't believe my eyes when I read the forecast before our breakfast at Chefchaouen: we are about to face 40 Celsius on our way to Fes and unfortunately so it is... in May! My hottest May ever. After the first km it literally feels like riding with a dozen of hair dryers aiming at me all the way. I open the visor of my helmet to allow some extra air and it soon gets even worse. So I have no other choice than repeating this routine of riding with the visor down till I (soon) can't take it anymore then open the visor till I (even sooner) can't take it anymore either. Over and over again. But there's even worse stuff to face and that's the accidents on the way. Or let's say the not so proper driving behaviour which offers scenes like this right after you exit a blind corner:

Talking about corners, the route we follow to Fes on the N8 has lots of them and nice ones but the terrible tarmac doesn't allow that much of fun as it often offers nearly zero grip crossing some awful towns on the way like Bab Berrad and Ketama. Part of the countryside is quite beautiful and I will never forget the exceptional smell of pine trees and eucalyptus that kept my helmet open with a big smile on my face.

We stop a couple of times to fight the dehydration. During one of those breaks I pay a visit to a rather minimal toilet:

Moroccans often ask us to picture them on our bikes:

We finally make it to Fes - Kim and Peter offer to go find a place to stay for all of us. Waiting for their outcome I experience a very sweet moment when our dear friend Susan offers some tiny koala souvenirs straight from Australia to a group of schoolgirls. This gesture seems to surprise (and upset?) the woman (teacher?) who escorts them. They are so cute and thankful all the way till we miss them from our eyes:

Our arrival at Fes is not super pleasant in the heart of a heatwave. The city is a chaotic maze and except a few kind locals out of the touristic business everyone else is attacking you to sell you accommodation, hash or any short of imaginable or unimaginable stuff and services. I am already convinced that this weed selling thing is going to follow me all the way since to them every long haired guy like me looks like a total joint addict. It was similar in Chefchaouen but Fes is much worse on people harassing you: they are crazy overpriced at first and they never give us directions to what we are looking for - instead they try to take us to some brother's or cousin's place where they expect us to be willing to get ripped off. I won't forget the scene when one of these times a guy insists to take us to another place instead of a specific square we were looking for and just for the shake of the adventure we decide to go see what he has in mind. After a fast walk in ultra narrow backstreets where you can barely see the light of the sun he takes us to an almost hidden stairway where a "restaurant" is. Empty. When we ask for the menu (again just for the shake of it) he brings us a page with prices like a Michelin star place in Switzerland. We leave with a smile reading "that's greedy and stupid af".

The hotel we choose to stay has no single rooms (I'm the only single of the group) so I have to negotiate the price for one of their suites and here's part of what I've got:

I hate negotiations but I wasn't willing to be ripped off either though I got a pretty nice and comfy place. The negotiation scene was kinda funny. I propose the guy at the reception to pay half otherwise we'd all leave and he says "I'll have to call my boss for that". I wait for the "boss" of this riad and he comes shortly after. A short guy, kinda Mr. Serious with an inflated tire tube for belly. I stand up, give him my hand and with a little too happy attitude for a Mr. serious like him greet him with a smiley "Hello boss". Short of trying to imply an upset he goes: "I am not the boss, I am the owner. God is the only boss". Save this last one, says a lot about this country. Yes, he also made a "discount".

Later at night while walking around the city we only manage to see a dirty mess of tiny backstreets so narrow that you can't even take a decent photo. It doesn't take long to convince ourselves that in such a messy maze in the absence of people willing to give you directions we should leave our pride behind and ask for proper guide for the first time. During our nice dinner back at the riad we ask the owner to find us one.

Next morning, the end of our breakfast finds us with a guide waiting for us. The owner of the riad really got us the best one possible. Very smart, fluent speaker, spot on knowledgeable and no BS at all. This gives me the space to develop an extended chat with him seeking for insights about Morocco. He is almost praising the competence of their King providing as proof that Morocco skipped the turmoil of the rest North African countries. Could be, why not. Even though he could be king's guy/agent anyway :)

With the streets being less crowded and the help of our guide we have a better day walking around Fes this time. The heat is still around 40sC but most of the streets are so narrow that the sun can't make it's way to us. Less mule and donkey shit today allow us to enjoy smelling most of the products for sale at the old Medina. Not the smell of things like these though:

Mules and donkeys struggle (often under heavy load) in those tiny backstreets:

People too:

I must say I'll never forget the image of the decorative stuff they sell there for their weddings. You wanna make Celine Dion jealous? Let Morocco host your wedding :)

We are unlucky to find this tannery closed as it had to be renovated for the first time after 1000 years!

So impressive to see a whole construction site fully depending on manpower hence so silent!.

We are lucky to experience this one which is still working though:

If you haven't been to a place like the above you have no idea about the smell of it. I block my nose with leaves of mint and still it still remains unbearable.

This one speaks for itself:

I am not sure I really gave you an idea about how narrow is narrow at Fes:

Here's the "blue gate", entrance to the old city of Morocco:

There you find the manifest of independence:

An abandoned house in a war zone? No, a kindergarten in Fes:

We were attracted by the voices of the kids inside and as the young teacher sees us she opens the door and introduces us in. Wow, that's so kind I thought. Well, she asks us to pay for that in seconds...

Experiencing all these things, good and bad, I am getting more and more intrigued after Fes (or Fez if you prefer) about how the next days will be like as we will be heading South closer to the heart of Morocco.

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