Our passage through Fez was a true time travel, but not only because of the environment that easily made us believe that we were living several centuries ago (as in most of Morocco); but because we also traveled to the past of our own life and for five days we were again (almost) teenagers.
Before reading further, a clarification: what is this post?
This is a story of our experiences and is 100% subjective. If what you are looking for is practical and useful information for traveling in Morocco, with statistics and specific data, you can find all that and much more in this post Morocco: practical guide for travelers (by clicking here).
Returning to Fez…
For those who are just getting to know us, I tell you that when we arrived in Fez, we were 32 years old (Noe) and 35 years old (Omar), so adolescence had long been left behind. But in Fez, because of the turns of life and the Couch-surfing, we spent five days with a group of friends between 18 and 20, who made us part of their band in a minute. Thanks to them we immerse ourselves 100% in the local life, we learned words in Arabic, much about Ramadan that was about to start, we shared delicious meals, and we lived the famous Moroccan hospitality at its best.
The beginning of the story takes place a couple of weeks ago with Abdel, a 24-year-old Moroccan had met us at his home in the medina of Tetouan, through Couch-surfing (you can read all about that, our first experience doing Couch-surfing in Morocco – and in the world – by clicking here). Before we left and as we had the whole trip ahead, Abdel told us that maybe he could get in touch with friends who could stay in other parts of Morocco.
When we told him that we were going to Fez, he soon contacted Intrissar, one of his friends there, to see if she could host us. She had all the good will in the world, but she still lived with her parents and they said no.
But this chain of Moroccan favors did not end there, but was just beginning. Intrissar asked among his friends and so it was that Njema, who had begun to “live alone” less than a week ago, offered to meet us at his house. When we found out about this, via chat with Intrissar, we couldn’t believe it. It seemed to us from another world that she had done all this for us when she did not even know us and had no obligation.
The quotes I put above with respect to “living alone”, are due to what we would discover over the days: Njema lived alone, yes, but being the first of his group that was in this position, their house worked as a meeting point for the band for 24 hours. We were at the heart of the action.
Returning to the story: we arrived at Fez around 10 at night. We met Njema, Hamza, Zaid and Adnan in a cafe where they summoned us and after a very brief introduction, they loaded our luggage and we started on our way home. Njema spoke Arabic and French but not English, so Hamza and Zaid who spoke it perfectly officiated as translators. In the middle we stopped at a butcher shop, where our young hosts bought meat to prepare kofta (minced meatballs with tomato sauce), which we all ate together, sitting on blankets and pillows on the terrace, with our hands and a lot of bread, at Moroccan style. The video below was from another meal we shared at Njema’s house, one of the few that was with fork, but it shows well what I mean by this “Moroccan style” anyway. It also shows the way I don’t understand anything when the boys speak in Arabic, ha! Come in and see…
We still couldn’t believe the situation. That immeasurable hospitality and more coming from such young people seemed to us from another planet.
As if such a reception were not enough, Njema left us his room and his bed, so that we had privacy and the rest of the band settled in the living room of the house, with blankets on the floor and in the sofa.
When we woke up the next day and opened the door of the room it was like being 18 years old again and being on those days that we never want to end, when all your friends stay to sleep in your house, to continue being together at next day.
A while later the next surprise would come: it turns out that Fridays in Morocco are the days when cous-cous is eaten (it would be something like the gnocchi of 29 in Argentina, only this is every Friday of the year). And not only do you eat cous-cous, but you normally do quite extra from what is necessary and give it to neighbors, friends or family.
That day was Saturday, and even better, because that extra day allowed Hamza’s mother’s cous-cous with whom Hamza suddenly appeared after being absent for a while, taking more flavor and being the exquisiteness it was. Never in my life did I eat such a delicious cous-cous. Hamza’s mother had kept it, as tradition indicates, to give it to us, that we ate it once more in the best Moroccan style: on the floor of Njema’s house, all round around the giant plate and with the hand.
After that feast of flavors, we started our way to the medina and there began another chapter. For you to imagine, the medina of Fez was built in the 10th century, there is the oldest university in the world and is one of the four imperial cities of Morocco.
That was the third medina we met in Morocco and by that time I had already confirmed that I have something with the medinas, a very strong connection, something that binds me to them inexplicably. And this would not be the exception but quite the opposite.
The medina of Fez was incredibly authentic and although it was perhaps the largest of all we were and it might seem unbeatable, I loved walking through its streets again and again and I was never afraid of getting lost. It is curious that sometimes it costs me much more to orient myself in more “square” cities or in cities that I know well, such as Buenos Aires, but in the medinas, I walk as if I were seeing an invisible map, as if I had already walked there before in Another life and always, somehow or another, I end up finding the way.
Extra-wall walls, a finding outside the medina
And speaking of medinas, let’s leave one thing clear before continuing: in Morocco, I would say 90% of the interesting things to see are inside the medinas (as happens in the Medina of Fez) or there may not even be “anything” in particular to see, and that the medina itself is the attraction (which I felt in the medinas of Tetouan and Chefchaoeun).
Now, the good thing about being with locals, is that they will surely want to show us that 10% secret of their city, their treasures, the places where travelers do not usually arrive, either due to lack of time, interest, or distances, or pure ignorance.
Thanks to that 10% and our local friends, we discovered places like this: a gallery of outdoor murals that had been painted three weeks ago, and were about eight kilometers away from the medina and one kilometer from Njema’s house, where we were . These are some of the many murals that there were, all telling something about Morocco:
What I had imagined of Morocco versus reality: the color and climate of Fez
I find it inevitable not to have a previous idea of a place or country before I know it, whether I have seen photos, read stories or heard stories. All this forms an imaginary that may or may not match what I see with my own eyes. And within that imaginary, there is the color (something that I also felt was very relevant in Morocco). What color will this or which place be? Is it as I had imagined?
The color that I had in my imagination of Morocco for a long time was between a very worn light brown and terracotta. I don’t know exactly why, probably because it reminded me of the color of the desert sand, the color of the sun, the color of the camels.
Before arriving in Fez, we had been in white and green places (Tetouan), in blue places (Chefchaouen) and in green places (Ouazzane).
Fez, was the first place in Morocco of light brown worn, the first that matched with my idea of previous color, (erroneously) associated with the whole country. So when we arrived in Fez, I felt that, somehow, we had arrived in Morocco.
The same happened to me with the weather. Both in Tetouan and Chefchaouen, we had had very cold and rainy days, nothing like what I had imagined of Morocco, where I believed (again wrongly) that everything was scorching sun and overwhelming heat. I had to travel three months in Morocco to verify that this was not the case, that this climate is not in all Morocco, but in the spring of Fez. So once again, when we arrived in Fez, I felt that we had arrived in Morocco (or at least in that Morocco that was in my imagination…)
The role of the Riads (or the oases of the Fez medina)
Something that I love about Islamic architecture and the design of the ancient Islamic cities, the Medinas, is the diversity of life that occurs inside and outside doors. And in Fez, I would say that this stood out in a particular way. The medina of Fez, is not calm and silent like that of Chefchaouen, but quite the opposite: it is agitated, huge and has a lot of activity that in general is accompanied by noise and bustle (and yes, despite all that I love it!)
And there appears the role of the riads. A riad is a typical small Moroccan palace with an interior garden. In general, many have become lodgings, restaurants, tea shops, coffee shops or all of the above. And they have that particular characteristic so characteristic of Islamic architecture: many times, one has no idea where they are, or what is going on inside, until it goes through the door.
That is when that mysterious character of Islamic architecture makes sense. Walking among the hustle and bustle, the sellers of absolutely everything, the animals (alive and dead), the infinity of people, crossing the threshold of a door without having the slightest idea of what is hidden behind and finding places like these gives the feeling to reach an oasis in the middle of the desert, or in this case, in the middle of the medina.
These are some photos of my favorite oasis in the medina of Fez, the Medina Social Club, a hidden place that is reached after missing some time between alleys, a prize for explorers, a work of art.
This place, in addition to being incredibly beautiful and making me want to stay for many hours, is very special for us because it was there that we ate our breakfast on the first day of the month of Ramadan, in which we decided to try that important experience for the Muslim world and so novel for us. If you want to read how was our experience fasting, you can read it by clicking here. And if you are thinking of traveling to a Muslim country and wondering what the month of Ramadan is like, you can read in this guide some data to travel to the Islamic world during Ramadan.
Thanks to Abdel, who from Tetouan and with his infinite generosity contacted us with his friends from Fez and was the beginning of this chain of Moroccan favors.
Thanks to Intrissar, who, even though she was unable to accommodate herself by others, took care of finding us another place to stay, and she didn’t even know us!
Thanks to Njema, for unselfishly opening the doors of his new house, treating us with infinite hospitality and sharing five days of his life with us.
Thanks to Hamza and Zaid, for being the best translators we could have had; for teaching us so much about Morocco and Ramadan, something we were very interested in; for showing us and making us live a little of their culture and customs; and for sharing with us his city, Fez, that we will always remember as the place in Morocco where we stopped a few days to make friends.
PostScript 1: If you want to help me to continue with this project, don’t forget to share!
If you have any questions, queries or suggestions, you can leave it in the comments below. And if you think someone can serve or interest this information, I thank you very much for sharing it!
PostScript 2: how do we continue?
If you want to read what happened at the next stop of our trip, you can click on the photo below to read the next post…