It's been over a year since I volunteered in Ghana, Africa and I feel so blessed to have returned to the amazing continent of Africa! This weekend four of my friends and I spent four days in Morocco exploring the city of Fes. Fes is the capital of Morocco and is known for being the "Athens of Africa" or the "Mecca of the West". Most people in the city speak both Arabic and — thankfully -- French. Even though I took four years of French I could barely remember basic terms. After brushing up online, I managed to relearn some common phrases that helped us get through the weekend. The city is mainly made up of white cement buildings and is situated among large desolate fields and endless hilltops. While we were there, there was not a cloud in the sky and it was a pleasant 70 degrees. Most of the citizens are Islamic or Muslim. This being said, Morocco felt more like a middle eastern country. As a young woman, I definitely felt less comfortable there than in Ghana, but it didn't stop me from finding the country any less interesting or beautiful.
The first day we arrived in Morocco, we explored Old Medina where our hostel, Funky Fes, is located. Old Medina is home to a large market where locals sell everything from Moroccan pastries to sets of lingerie. We were having some major culture shock, so after about ten minutes we left to get some lunch. We passed endless markets in the tiny passageways that displayed delicious looking pastries, but I was too nervous to try one. I wasn't exactly sure what anything was and it didn't help that my friend told me she accidentally ate camel when she visited Morocco just a year prior.
Later that afternoon, my friends and I napped on the rooftop terrace of our hostel in the warm rays of sun. By the time we woke up, my friend Chelsea from Connecticut had arrived! I haven't seen her in almost three years since we moved. She is doing a co-op in London for the semester and we decided to take this weekend trip together. She wanted to see the area around our hostel, so we took her back into Old Medina. I got the courage to buy a pastry that resembled fried dough and was pleasantly surprised. It was absolutely delicious and cost — wait for it -- 1 dirham, or about 9 cents. Morocco's market cuisine and handcrafts are extremely cheap, but we definitely paid for some strategically overpriced food at some of their restaurants. I don't blame them for knowing how to attract tourists, we are such easy targets sometimes.
We spent the rest of the night lounging in our hostel conversing with some of the other travelers about what brought them to Fes. We met university students from Canada, a young businessman from California, and adventurists from Spain. The businessman frequently has conferences abroad and always manages to stay an extra few days in whatever city his company flies him into. He enjoys traveling alone and staying at hostels to meet people he would never meet otherwise. As I've written before, one of my favorite parts of traveling is listening to other people's stories and I couldn't have agreed with him more.
On Friday, we took an excursion to Middle Atlas. We had a private taxi take us around to the Berber village, a fresh water lake, waterfalls in a national park, and the famous cedar forest full of monkeys. The sites were beautiful, but the drive was honestly the best part. We were about two hours outside of the city and saw some of the most beautiful sites of Fes's endless grassy hills. The monkeys in the cedar forest were fun, but they were really aggressive. It is obvious they are spoiled because, once they no longer felt like eating the peanuts you offered, they would lash out at you. I was disappointed that they were so used to human contact. Regardless, it was really neat to be so close to them and observe their actions. The baby monkeys were also adorable!
Saturday, we took a walking tour around Medina. Our guide was interesting to say the least. He is a local Muslim and told us a lot of interesting facts about Fes, but he truly confused us. He kept trying to destigmatize the Islamic and Muslim religions and downplay the gender inequality in Morocco. We could not figure out if he was lying to make the culture sound better than it is, or if he was being honest and wanted us to better understand. For instance, he told us that women are "like princesses" and they stay home to eat, sleep, and take care of the family. Men pay for everything and think of their wives as "angels or flowers". Although men are allowed to have up to four to five wives if they have a reason to need more than one. Say, for instance, if one woman is infertile. Although, if a man is unable to have children, the woman cannot have more than one husband. But she can divorce the man. The information he told us often contradicted itself.
Overall, we really enjoyed the tour though! We learned that Old Fes is made up of over 1000 tiny streets. The buildings are plain white because the Moroccans believe it is rude to flaunt your riches when others may not have as much as you. Therefore, the beauty is on the inside of the buildings, not the outside.
The tour took us to the leather tanneries, the oldest university in the world, an argon oil shop, and an agave cactus silk weaving shop. The leather tanneries smelled absolutely awful, but they gave us mint leaves to mask the smell. The leather skins are purchased from the nearby slaughter house, soaked in limestone to remove the hair, tumbled in these large wooden washing machines, soaked in pigeon poop and vinegar to get rid of the smell (ironically) and make them soft, washed, dyed, and dried. The entire process only uses natural chemicals and takes anywhere from three to four months.
Later we hiked up a nearby hill to the Borj-Sud military monument. The building used to be used to monitor and protect the city. The hilltop had almost 360 degree views of the entire city and was spectacular.
Sunday morning, we returned to Medina to shop in the market stalls. It was nice to have a day to ourselves to explore and take our time looking at all the pottery and crafts. We stopped for lunch at Cafe Clock, which was recommended by our friend. The cafe has several floors and a rooftop terrace where we sat. They offer different workshops daily and on Sundays host a small concert. We wish we could have stayed, but we had to return to the hostel to get some henna done and head out to the airport.
Fes, Morocco was beautiful and I am so glad I got to experience it. I appreciate Morocco's customs and would never dare generalization their culture, but I did not enjoy the inequality of women and aggressive market salesmen. Most people kept trying to convince us they are not pushy and are very accepting, yet this only made them seem more aggressive and made us more uncomfortable. Still, my experience in Morocco was unforgettable and I am so glad I went!
When In Rome
Two of my most cherished hobbies go hand-in-hand. Writing is my favorite way to reflect after traveling to a new country. I have kept this blog ever since I studied in Rome to share my travels with families and friends. I hope you enjoy learning about my experiences and getting a sense for my writing skills. If you have any questions, please reach out!