Marruecos, Part 5

I tried my hardest to eat the night before, and I thought I would at least be able to sit quietly at the bellydance performance at 10 pm, but when I woke up to a bright sunny day, there was a half eaten plate of food (much of which was strewn around my bed as I tried to eat it in a half-dead coma) and it was clearly past 10. But I was no longer ill, I was well rested, and this was the day many of us had been waiting for for the whole trip: shopping day! I breakfasted and got ready to go along with the rest of the tour, and we split up into 3 groups to tour the Medina of Fez.


The Medina is basically the oldest part of the town where all the commerce gets done. Every town has a Medina, but the Medina of Fez was particularly impressive due to its size. The place has over 9000 streets, many of which do not have names, and many of those with names lacking any sort of street sign. Theoretically I guess you CAN get around by yourself, but I was glad we had our Moroccan tour guide Amina to help us out. Like the Sahara desert town we visited, this place was legit. The streets were packed with men, women, children, donkeys, chickens, shops, products, poop . . . it was smelly and busy and a little overwhelming. Despite the size, Amina told us that the Medina is a very close and trusting place, and if you went to do your shopping and found you didn’t bring enough money, vendors would be happy to let you take your purchases and get paid back later. The thing is, being such a tight-knit market, if you DIDN’T pay the vendor back, everyone in the whole Medina would know and they would never trust you again.


Amina in general was a wealth of information about Morocco. For example, we kept seeing all these numbered boxes spraypainted on the walls as we traveled around the country. In some of the boxes there were pictures painted. Well, I noticed that none of the boxes went past the number 30, so I assumed that it was some sort of calendar showing events (which was a pretty good guess, if I do say so myself). But Amina told us that they were actually for elections, and that each picture that was spraypainted in the boxes represented a political party. The number was also significant in communicating election results. I had been so focused on the spray paint itself that I didn’t notice WHERE the “calendar” was: on walls in front of schools and other such likely polling places. Amina also told us about cafés in Morocco, namely that they were segregated by gender. There were cafés for men and cafés for women, which of course prompted me to ask, “How can you tell the difference?” At first she looked blank and said, “You look in the window and see whether there are men or women inside.” but after I explained that I meant how would a Westerner know, Amina said that that sort of segregation only loosely applied to foreigners. If I were to go into a men’s café by accident, they would still serve me my coffee, but the owner might politely explain to me about the different cafés so that I could go into the right one next time. If a Moroccan woman went into a men’s café, she would probably be asked to leave.


Our first stop in the Medina was a leather tannery; Morocco’s oldest leather tannery, in fact. They gave us sprigs of mint as we entered but I didn’t notice any sort of smell at first. We went up to a shop/balcony overlooking the tanning process and got a brief overview of how cows turned into coats (did you know: they use pigeon poop instead of chemical ammonia?). At this point the wind shifted, and boy was I glad for the mint then. One of the first things I focused on was the wall of leather shoes that were elaborately embroidered in every color of the rainbow. I knew my sister would love a pair, so I abandoned my first Christmas present idea (a scarf) and began trying on shoes. I’m not really good with European shoe sizes, but I know that in America I’m a 9 and my sister is a 10, so I was able to gauge the right size. We were also given a free bracelet of woven leather, which was kinda cool. I considered buying my mom a purse but I couldn’t find anything that really seemed like her, so I decided to just move on.


We then took a quick peek into a bakery (with an enormous brick oven that a man was standing half inside as he moved bread around) and then stopped in a Berber pharmacy to smell, taste, and buy spices and herbs. I got some Moroccan tea and basically just ogled the shelves and shelves full of jars. It was kind of like my visit to the Chinese pharmacy in New York, except that I understood even less of what was written on the products. Several members of the tour got henna tattoos while we waited for everyone to choose what they wanted and pay. The most amazing thing I think was the variety of spices and the price. One of the spices they were selling was saffron, which is so vital in Spanish cooking, and it was ridiculously cheaper in Morocco.


Our last stop before lunch was a textile cooperative, where men on giant looms were weaving some of the most beautiful cloth. It made me think again of past trips, this time of being in Atitlán and watching the huipiles being made. I bought 2 scarves, one for my mom and one for my cousin, and I was out of money (dirhams, that is). It was a little sooner than I had planned, but the word was we weren’t going to be allowed to exchange our dirham back to euros, so I was glad to have gotten all of my money out. I spent about what I planned, even though I took out more than I needed (I ended up swapping it back with 2 other people on the trip who still wanted to make purchases).


Lunch was unfortunately sub-par. The restaurant took forever, which severely curtailed our free time. The food was good, but nothing out of this world. Also, I was trying to be careful, so I just ate a lot of vegetables and couscous. We eventually got out of there and went to a little square where we could wander and shop on our own. I didn’t have any money left, but I still had fun looking at all the hubbub around me. Also, my mom called me on my cell phone, which weirded me out because the phone has a Spanish SIM card in it, and I had already tried to call her with no success. She had gotten my email the night before detailing my sicky self, and wanted to make sure I was ok. I told her I was, and also a little about the trip, and the call was probably paid for twice, once by my mom and once by me for roaming, but it was good to hear from my family.


We got back on the bus mid-afternoon because we had a 10pm ferry ride to make. The bus ride back to Tangiers wasn’t bad, except for the fact that my stomach and intestines at that point went into full-on revolt at what they had been put through for the past 5 days and began simultaneously twisting and screaming in pain. I have probably felt that much stomach pain before, but I would guess that it was that time when I went to the hospital at 3:30 am and was given morphine. Anyway . . .


We made it to the ferry on time, and I don’t remember the ride being as bumpy as before (I was also lying down this time, so maybe that had something to do with it). Off the ferry, back on the bus, and back up to Sevilla. I don’t remember which highways we took to get to Tarifa, but I do know that on the way back we took the good old A-381, and I sadly watched as the exit for my pueblo whizzed by. 3 am saw us pulling into Sevilla, hugging people who had been strangers less than a week ago, trudging back up to the hostel, and essentially paying for a bed for 6 hours.


It took me 4 days to recover from that trip, and I would do it all again in a heartbeat. I took tons of pictures and it was really the experience of a lifetime.


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