I awoke on my first day in the tan and ocre-yellow coloured city of Fez, Morocco. This city was so much of a difference from Tangier and Chefchaouen. Fes was the spiritual center of Morocco and at first seemed to be so much less than the other cities and I wondered if I had made a mistake. The city looked like it had run out of colors centuries before and was left unpainted. It was such a stark difference that I felt disappointed until I really started to dig into the city and explore.
Inside the medina I got sucked into all the incredible images surrounding me. The souks (market stalls) were all selling similar stuff as the rest of Morocco, it’s just this time it felt different. It wasn’t as liberal as Tangier, something I also worried about at first but it only took a short while for me to be completely absorbed into the culture.
The souks were fabulous, selling hand made lamps, Berber rugs, Moroccan oils, spices and fragrances along with a myriad of other things that made everything feel like it hadn’t changed in a thousand years. I could walk by the same souk 4 times and appreciate something different each time. The city was filled with young men trying to sell me hash, trying to direct me the opposite way I was going to appear my friend, all kinds of hustles and after my first day in Tangier just didn’t work on me any longer.
My first stop ended up being the Chouean Tannery, by mistake, as all the streets seemed to lead to it at first glance. In reality I was probably just lost and walking in circles. I climbed up the stairs, through one of the leather shops. The smell of whatever it was in the air, maybe ammonia, part of the process of tanning the skins I suppose, it wasn’t noxious, within a moment I didn’t even notice it. They were handing mint leaves to the less inoculated tourists to keep under their noses. The tannery consisted of a bunch of giant cauldrons, big enough to fit a man inside. The structures were built in the 12th century and had only really undergone minor refurbishing since. Inside the cauldrons where men, dipping hides into water of various colours that looked to be about waist deep and pulling it back out and stacking it. Some of the men were young, some old, all must have lower back pain like I couldn’t imagine. I’ve always known that tanning leather was a difficult job, slaves in France would have incredibly short life spans in the tanneries it was so brutal. Seeing it in person made me wonder if I could make it one week.
I continued through Fez for the next couple days, just wandering and snapping photos. I was tempted to buy things a few times, but my better judgment prevailed, as I couldn’t afford the space. Still, I did appreciate all the little intricacies of craftsmanship and design in nearly everything. There were people scattered throughout the medina creating the things they were selling.
The streets were old, the walls rose from the stony streets with crumbling stucco in various shades of brown. The doors all had a wonderful personality (much like all of Morocco) that just made you want to take photos of all of them. Some of the small doorways and alleys that shot off from the main walkways would just lead into the most interesting little adventures, twisting back and forth, usually getting more and more narrow as I had difficulty trying not to hit my head ducking under low beams. The whole of Fez just felt like an ancient city that was still functioning in the way it would have been so many centuries ago. That thought continued to excite me. Even during the day you could find dark passageways, as the walls rose high enough that the medina was in the shade nearly all day. At night, it was lit by dim lights that made the ambiance so much more authentically old and creepy.
My second evening in Fez I ventured out for a nice meal, in a little rooftop place just outside the medina, I had a couple xanax in me and was pleased that there was wine on the menu (being that it was the center of Islam for Morocco.) I had lamb couscous, drank my half bottle of wine and then had my moment that I have in every place I go. It’s usually sooner; it’s usually after I’ve been stressed a bit. But there on that fancy terrace drinking my red wine, feeling quite delicious I thought: Holy fuck, I’m in fucking Morocco.
My final day in Fez was kind of exciting, I was hustling to book a car to take me to Casablanca. Then I was hustling around to see a few of the things I felt I had missed. I caught the final sites and went back to my room a little early to pack my stuff for a late morning departure. One of my regrets from that day was there was a butcher in the market, that had the head of a camel hanging outside his shop to show what he was cutting. I asked permission to take a photo, something you learn pretty quickly in Morocco, that if you don’t ask, shop owners will chase you down and make sure you delete the photo. The shop owner snapped no at me; it was late in the day and I'm sure he was over it, so rather than push it, I just retreated and would try him in the morning. I found this the same with the olive merchants. The souks with the most visually spectacular stalls with fancy woven baskets holding thousands of the most perfectly colored olives would always say no to my requests. I suppose I should have just purchased some fucking olives, another lesson in that I guess, I don’t know how many times I end up with fucking regret because I hesitate with photos.
I was pretty beat that evening and crashed out early without dinner. Morning came sooner than expected; I cracked to it and got down to the market, went on a postcard stamp search and topped up my sim card. To my disappointment there was no camel head outside the butchers shop. I ran back to my BnB, met my driver, loaded the car and we blasted off.
It took about 4 hours to get to my hotel on the water in Casablanca. My immediate impression was it was a large, modern city, with all the modern troubles, including traffic. My hotel was fancy, the lobby was a bit dizzying with the most luxurious wood carved and wonderfully upholstered furniture that looked like it was stolen from the sultan palace
I tossed my stuff in my room, headed down to the bar and while sipping on a terrible martini wrote for a while. That night, slightly buzzed, I had couscous and lamb skewers in my room and crashed the fuck out, enjoying the real wifi for the first time since Tangier. I got to bed early and just enjoyed my king size bed, the view of the ocean and reflecting on my travels thus far.
Morning came I got out a little late as I waited for the sun to break through the Atlantic fog. I took a stroll down the waterfront. The boardwalk was stacked with seaside restaurants and unique aging hotels that started to look abandoned. Some of them had port windows that reminded me of something you would see on route 66. The ocean looked cold and uninviting. I could imagine how fun the beaches may have been in the summer. My walk down the boardwalk turned into about a 2-mile hike to the largest mosque in Casablanca, called the Hassan II mosque.
It was right on the water and enormous. I sat and looked at it for a while, watched the people walking by before jumping a cab with plans to go and get my hair cut (I love a good Arab barber) but that plan was quickly thwarted by traffic and I gave up and headed back, it was already getting a bit late and I had to be ready for the airport in the morning.
I barely made it to the airport that morning, the traffic was terrible, I likely wouldn’t have made it if not for my driver who was quick enough to see how fucked it was and took back roads the whole way there. I boarded my plane and it took a whole 5 hours to get from Casablanca to Cairo, just to give you an idea how fucking huge Africa is. Once in Cairo, I was a little concerned that I would have trouble, last time I was in Cairo I had to bribe nearly every security person because of my tattoo machines, this time I had a plan, and that came in the form of a forged note from Star Alliance saying that tattoo machines were allowed on their participating company flights. Worked like a charm, thank you Photoshop.
After 5 more hours from Cairo I landed in Entebbe, Uganda. Security made me practically unpack everything I had (no small feat) and then laughed while I jumped on my pelican cases to get them back closed again. They were amused, I certainly was not, it was 0330 and I was in no fucking mood. Once I got outside it was pissing rain, and there was a man with a sign waiting for me, he drove me to my hotel, I collapsed on my bed just after calling home to let them know I had arrived. My eyes closed excited with the thought that all the wonders of Uganda awaited me starting the next morning.