A medina is a walled section of the old town with many narrow alleys and streets. The largest medina in Morocco can be found in Fes and comprises of 9,000 streets. Clearly, there wasn’t good urban planning when the old town was built so the streets essentially form a giant maze. It may sound like fun but just wait until you’re lost in it and the local kids are taunting you.
Fes is a huge tourist draw due to its medina, tanneries, and glorious past as one of the ancient capitals of Morocco. We were quickly learning about the many rules in the Moroccan tourism industry. For example, our driver could only be a driver. He was technically not allowed to “guide” us inside any medinas. The local “touristic police,” as he called them, would give out-of-town drivers a hard time if they entered the medina with clients. The reason for this is because local cities want to give tourism jobs to their own. As a result, we had to hire a Fes guide to show us Fes medina. Only in small towns like Chefchaouen could our driver openly walk with us and show us around. Although our driver was excellent and didn’t take us “shopping” to earn commission, I can’t quite say the same about the guide we hired in Fes.
Our Fes guide arrived to our riad and led us down the narrows windy alleys. We paid him 300dh (~$40 USD) for a 3 hour tour of the medina. When it was time to see the tannery, he told us to follow him up some stairs. The stairs were narrow and steep and seemed like they would never end. When we finally emerged at the top, I realized we were in a leather shop. But to see the tannery from above, you have to go through a shop. We were handed some mint to put in front of our noses to mask the leather smell. After taking more than enough photos of the tannery, I was ready to head back downstairs. Not so fast! We were stopped by the shopkeeper, who insisted that we look at his leather goods. Henry was quick on his feet and told the shopkeeper that we’re vegan and it offends us to touch animal hide and we would never buy anything with animal product. I almost laughed because we’re really quite the carnivores but his strategy actually worked and we were let off easy.
Henry tried the same tactic at the rug cooperative. He told those guys that he has really bad allergies and cannot use rugs at home. We quickly exited the rug shop. Come to think of it, our tour took less than 3 hours since we got through all of the shopping stops so fast.
On the eve of our departure, our driver took us to a hill where we could oversee the entire medina. We waited until sunset and heard the echoing calls to prayer from hundreds of mosques below. Prior to visiting Morocco, I thought everyone in the country prayed five times a day. According to our driver Jalil, only ~10% of Moroccans pray in the mosque that often. Many only go on Fridays. Other pray at home or at their work. You can also “make up” prayers; instead of praying five times a day, you can say all five prayers altogether at the end of the day. And there are many other Moroccans who just don’t pray at all.
At the end of the evening, we returned to our amazing hotel called Riad Laayoun. This was my favorite accommodation of the trip and the price was very reasonable. The owner, a French man named Jean-Claude, was charming and so were his employees. The place was just gorgeous.