The dark red cotton sheets hang from store to store as the setting sun peeks through the small holes onto the rough cobble stone streets below where tourists and locals alike wander the marketplace.
Assaulted with colours and smells; store owners try and lure you into their hole in the wall stores with the best possible deal. The array of products on offer is enough to entice any market wanderer. There is the sound of the butcher chopping a head of a lamb while the live chickens cluck with their legs tied to the cages which bind them. An old man with skin wrinkled by the Sahara sun pushes a cart of fresh mint as shoppers bargain for a bunch to add to their daily dose of Moroccan tea.
Morocco truly is a feast for the senses; an overwhelming experience that will leave you wondering how the chaos seems to make this thriving country function while remaining so very unique.
We made our way to the ancient capital of Fez where we had our first true Moroccan experience.
The madness of the Fez markets was something to behold. Every place we looked it seemed that everyone was on a mission. The shop keepers so desperately trying to get the attention of any of the tourists who walked past their shop front and the tourists doing anything to avoid making eye contact with these shop keepers, so that they weren’t lured into their special price web in which so many became so easily entangled.
The markets displayed an enormous amount of products from leather shoes and teapots with the mint cart brushing past your thigh to the goat head; chopped and skinned with a blank stare as the butcher behind the counter cheers and shouts to other shop keepers with chicken feet in his hands.
The smell of the market is what hit me first; each section of the market has a rather unique smell. Beneath it all is he smell of urine from the stray animals but this is combined with the smell of Moroccan leather in shoe alley, to raw meat, fresh fruit and the best of all; the smell of the restaurants, it sure does fill the nostrils.
Tourists in Fez stick out like a sore thumb as they all dine in the same area near the Blue Gate or Bab Boujeloud as it is known is a hive for tourists with overly friendly waiters luring on the edges of their establishments with menus to entice anyone who is ready to try a Moroccan dish.
Sitting amongst tourists; which admittedly is not something I enjoy doing but my stomach gave me no other option, we ordered our food but as it appears we were not the only ones at the table. The stray cats weaved between our legs trying to charm us. Lucas, not a lover of cats, soon chased them away and we ordered. The mint tea was overly sweet but the contrast of the granulated sugar at the bottom and the fresh mint certainly cooled me off after a hot day. Morocco is known for tajine, a couscous dish cooked with meat or vegetables in a traditional dish called a tajine. I had to have one and being a Monday I knew it was a good idea.
Why Monday you may wonder? Well the locals in Morocco only make and eat fresh couscous on a Friday; it is an age old tradition which makes eating couscous unique. Of course there is couscous available every other day for tourists but if you want the best then it is a good idea to order it as close to Friday as you possibly can. My tajine with couscous was not really what I expected, being in Morocco I expected the food to be spicier; however it is more plain than you would imagine and by no means less tasty. Lucas enjoyed a variety of meats on kebabs and we sat and watched the waiters lure in tourists just as we had been lured ourselves.
The Moroccan sun set over the distant mountains and the sound of the call to prayer brought a calming effect on the bustling city. Sat on our rooftop with the cool Moroccan summer breeze on our backs I felt tranquil and relaxed as after the prayer the city below began buzzing again.
The following day we had only one goal; get lost in the Medina or the Old Town. Upon further examination we had discovered that we had only scratched the surface of the Medina the night before and that we needed to delve deeper inside the maze that dominated the city of ancient Moroccan city of Fez.
Wandering through the markets I felt less intimidated than I had the evening before. The overwhelming attention thrown my way was certainly not something that I was used to but it was something I was going to have to come to terms with. While I dressed respectfully I still stuck out and not only was I stared at by men who would whistle and holler at me but by Muslim women who were dressed in their Burqas. I noticed one woman staring at me from across the street, she had been for quite some time. I looked at her and smiled as a natural reaction and I am positive she smiled back. In that moment I felt some kind of mutual understanding. We may have been from opposite ends of the earth with different beliefs and lifestyles but at the core we were both women who in some way understood each other. It may sound odd to some but that was one of the most beautiful moments of the day.
An essential part of the Moroccan markets was the leather products and Fez has one of the oldest tanneries in the world. A tannery is where all the leather is chemically and mechanically dyed before it is made into the diverse range of products which are later sold in the market place. We both knew the direction of the tanneries however as soon as we were spotted by local we were helpfully escorted to the tanneries; for a fee of course. We were greeted with a handful of mint which was abruptly shoved in our hands which confused us ever so slightly.
We walked up to the balconies and saw the array of ancient tubs with the dyes in each and local men doing backbreaking work as they dyed each piece of fresh leather as if the animal was skinned that morning; possibly because they had been. Then we needed the mint. The smell of the fresh leather and the dyes was quite gag-worthy. A few tourists were spotted gagging as they passed by, it was rather comical really. Tourists would have a sniff of the mint, lower it, raise the camera, get their shot before quickly replacing the mint while gagging on the smell. The experience was certainly one that is an absolute must in the ancient city of Fez and one that me and my nose would never forget.
As we continued to wander we left the Medina and started climbing an endless hill, arriving later at the top of Fez with a view of the entire city at the Tombeaux des Merindes. These tombs were home to ancient Kings of Morocco which have since been raided and only the outer walls remains. It provides locals and tourists with one of the most spectacular views of the city and once again we were moved by the sound of the call to prayer bellowing across the city from left to right.
I had no expectations of what the city of Fez would be like but this ancient city became somewhat of a surprise. The people were friendly, the markets packed with a chaotic business which when you sat back and observed gave it a certain meaning. All of my senses were completely overwhelmed but it was exactly what I was craving; something new and exciting and this was only the beginning of the Moroccan adventure. The best was yet to come.