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

Sunday, January 21, 2007


(part 1)

If there was one word to sum up our first couple weeks in Morocco it would be: different. In every "sense" of the word, we have truly entered a land in which the scents, tastes, sights and sounds are an explosion of culture stronger than anywhere else we've ever been.

The tradition of mint tea is consumed at all moments of the typical Moroccan day. From haggling with a carpet dealer, to investigating accomodation for a night, one is always offered a glass (if not three) of the sweet and delicious drink.

We decided to begin our African experience in Fes, Morocco for it's inexpensive access from London and it's geographical position in the north of the African continent. The first thing one encounters in Fes is Fes-Es Bali, or the old medina: a relentless maze of over 10,000 paths and alleyways leading through miles of shops, food stalls, residential areas, mosques, medersas (holy schools), hammams (public baths) and local craft workshops. There aren't any motorized vehicles in the medina and the primary mode of moving cargo through it's alleys is, and has been for thousands of years, the donkey.

A sign of caution to the uninitiated: donkeys always have the right of way. You often hear their caretakers yelling "Balek! Balek!", translated as "Look out!" while they charge through the crowded alleys.

One of Fes' most famous exports, demonstrating the highest quality of local craftsmanship, is it's leather. There are numerous tanneries in the medina, although the Grand Tannery is the most impressive. Home to a centuries old tradition of men knee-deep (literally) in pigeon dung, cow urine, sulphuric acid, various animal parts and vegetable oils, they produce some of the softest leather imaginable. It's an amazing sight and a stomach wrenching odor.

A view overlooking the Grand Tannery. The cooperative selling the goods produced in the tannery offers views of the men in action. Some see this as "extreme" voyeuristic tourism, as the men get filthy working in sub-standard conditions and tourists observe from the gallery sniffing fresh sprigs of mint to offset the foul scent.

Shoes anyone? A shot from within one of the coop's shops. Get ready to bargain, and bargain hard, if you're interested in taking home a piece of the fun.

For us the most enjoyable aspect of the medina was simply wandering around aimlessly. Take one turn and you can peek into a mosque during prayer time with hundreds of Fassi on their prayer rugs, heads pointed East toward Mecca. You can take the next turn and find a freshly slaughtered lamb on a hook ready for grilling, baking or frying. We tried our best to get lost nearly everyday, however we always found our way back home.

On one afternoon we turned a random corner and immediately made friends with these Saharan tribesmen playing music from Guinea. Our Arabic classes began to pay off right from the start of our visit.

Apart from the amazing medina, Fes is an impressive sight from a distance. From the Merenid Tombs, a short walk up one of the hills just north of town, one can view dozens of towering minarets from the numerous mosques, the Middle Atlas mountains and the abundance of cemetaries surrounding the medina. Also in constant view are ominous plumes of thick, black smoke coming from the ceramic factories in a nearby valley. The iconic blue and white pottery produced in these factories is another fine piece of craftsmanship for which Fes is famous.

A local dude walks along a path above the medina.

Rachel and I on the terrace of our hotel in the heart of the medina. Rooftop terraces come standard with most accomodation in the medina and are a wonderful way to escape the overwhelming madness below.

Check back soon for part two of our minty madness!!!


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