Donkey Crossing

Welcome to Donkey Crossing! Donkey Crossing is an on-line account of one Limey and one Yank living one Dream. From September 2006 until the end of 2007, we plan to visit friends and family on five continents and immerse ourselves into various cultures, natural phenomena and ways of life. We hope you enjoy our tales and visit often! Cheers, Jason and Rachel Napoli

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Minty Moroccan Madness in the Medina, Part 2

(Scroll down for Part 1)

Behind this striking fountain is the Royal Palace, occupied by King Mohammed VI, who made a rare visit to Fes while we were in town. His visit was a high profile affair, illustrated by the abundance of Moroccan flags flying throughout the city, frequent road closures and for us, sightings of His Majesty as the royal motorcade drove past us on two separate occasions.

For a flavor of wealthy and elegant traditional Moroccan living, we spent our first few nights in a restored Riad, richly decorated with mosaic tiles and ornate stone.

This famous Fes landmark, the Bab Boujeloud, is the gateway to the old medina (walled city).

Approaching the Bab Boujeloud for the first time, we were unprepared for the sensory overload awaiting on the other side of the striking arch way. On entering Fes-El Bali we were confronted by scents of kebabs on charcoal outside cheap eateries, a choice of intriguingly colorful passageways to explore and a barrage of unofficial guides offering their services. Young boys tackled each other, dodging old men wearing hooded djellabas and babouche slippers, while women attired with varying degrees of conservatism went about their daily business. We meandered down Talaa El Kebira, an artery to the heart of the medina, marveling at the goods on offer and soaking in the eclectic scene.

There are plenty dried fruit stalls like this one embedded in the medina. We stocked up on delicious dates, figs, apricots and walnuts here. Judging by the framed photo on the left, Ronald and Nancy Reagan must have had the same idea!

We could have purchased olives, live chickens, fresh lard by the vat (a particularly unappealing local delicacy) cobalt blue & white ceramics, metal teapots, fruit and vegetables, traditional clothing, antique carpets, unfamiliar musical instruments, henna, leather goods, animal body parts that may or may not be edible, and pretty much anything that can be bought and sold. Although our only purchase was the dried fruit & nuts, our voyeuristic appetite was certainly satisfied in the medina.

"Uhh... has anyone seen my torso?"

Abdul, this friendly Moroccan carpet seller, made us very welcome. In spite of our up-front lack of interest in purchasing carpets, we were served mint tea and given a private viewing of a range of Moroccan carpets in varying degrees of age, quality and cleanliness. We have found warm welcomes like Abdul's extended to us by many kind Moroccans.

Interspersed between the souks (markets) within the medina are a plethora of treasures, including mosques, medersas (Muslim colleges), hammams (steamy public baths), tanneries and of course Fassi homes.

This doorway is in the mausoleum of the saint and founder of Fes, Moulay Idriss II. With it's fine examples of Moroccan stone and tile work, the mausoleum is considered one of the holiest buildings in the city, and is closed to non-Muslims.

Fes is an invigorating, awakening experience. This exotic, intense and foreign world will leave even the most seasoned traveler disoriented and awed. On a roof terrace, away from the street-level action, one can reflect in Fes's traffic-less calm. I found myself at one with the spirit of Fes, admiring it from above, when the peace was gently broken by the call to prayer. In each mosque a muezzin (servant of the mosque) summons the holy via loudspeakers, singing his call to prayer five times a day. As other muezzins join, the call swells into a chorus of separate, complimentary tones. The beauty of this organic sound is something of a religious experience, even for a non-Muslim. The pre-sunrise call (around 5.30am) is especially moving.

Fes from above.

The rich sights, sounds and smells of Fes are so overwhelming to the visitor that the city can feel like a fantasy land. Many pockets of the medina are indistinguishable from the way they would have been thousands of years ago. But Fes is a breathing, functioning reality - a modern day city that feels like a magical playground. What a great introduction to Morocco!

Next on donkeycrossing: read about life with a Moroccan family in the medina. Check back soon!


Blogger Hot Toddy said...

Rachel & Jason

Fes looks amazing. You are doing a wonderful job writing your travel log! The word choice makes it all come alive. I can close my eyes and imagine it from your descriptions and the pictures. Thanks so much for taking the time and sharing!!! I know it is a commitment and we all appreciate your efforts.


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