Fes Medina and Tagines

Our over-attentive hostel owner knocks on our door at 9am to invite us to breakfast. We had decided to ditch the included breakfast as a way to bargain down the price of our room, which I’m certain he remembers, he just wants us to change our minds and pay for. It saved us 50mdh (5€, $7cad) for the night, and we’re just as happy to grab a street bread with some cream cheese to spend 6dhm (nothing) instead.

He’s been very friendly, but also pushy as hell and trying to make us sign up for a desert tour with his friend. We’ve explained about 10 times that we don’t want an organized tour but the “advantages” of booking with his buddy has been explained to me at least 5 times now. I’ve been trying to sneak in and out of my room in order to avoid him until we leave.

First priority this morning is to get our bus tickets to Merzouga. We plan to take an over night bus tonight, as the ride is a whopping 10 hours and we don’t have tons of time to spare. Merzouga is a town just outside of the Sahara, from which we hope to find a guide who can take us into the desert for a night or two. Finding your own guide is clearly much cheaper than booking a tour where money changes hands multiple times and everyone’s taking their cut. I’m also hoping it’ll be a more authentic feeling experience. We’ll see! At the end of the day, visiting the desert is visiting the desert so I’ll be happy regardless.

We take a petit taxi from the medina to the bus station to book our tickets, which coke to 180mdh (17€, $23cad) each. That’s not so terrible when you factor in the money we’ll save by driving through the night. We now have 9 hours to spend in Fes before we need to be back here at the station.

Priority 2 is something I wasn’t really planning to write about so I could make it a surprise, but it became a larger part of my day than anticipated, and became too funny not to document.
I want to buy a little Moroccan handicraft for both my grandmother and my parents, who helped me out a lot in being able to afford this trip. I’ve loved every tagine dish I’ve tried here so far, and the ceramics made here in Fes are beautiful, so I decide that it seems like a fitting gift to send home. I come across a shop within the medina where you can see the tagines being made and hand painted. There are probably hundreds, if not thousands, of different tagines, plates, bowls, and other ceramics on display up front, while three men are working away towards the back.

I start picking up tagine after tagine, trying to decide on the best sizes, designs, and colours – an overwhelming task. The shop keeper is on me the moment I set foot inside, and is doing his best to help me. When I finally decide on a couple I like and set them aside on the floor, I start haggling for a price. He starts at 200dhm (19€, $26cad) for the two. I respond with a firm, “ummmm, no”. Even though I don’t really know what these should cost…I can promise you it isn’t 20€.

He immediately drops the price in half, to 100dhm, but I push for 90. He agrees, and begins wrapping them up in newspaper. I start to speak – the words are literally coming out of my mouth – asking him to wrap everything very carefully so I can ship it home…when I step over one of the tagines, clip the top with my stupid pointed toe flats, and smash the lid in two.

I could just die. I am mortified. I am filled with embarrassment and self loathing. What’s more, I’ve just lost all bargaining power. Now he’ll probably make me pay 800,000dhm and there won’t be anything I can do about it. I apologize profusely and just want to run out of the shop so I can crawl under a rock somewhere with my giant feet. He goes to look for another tagine like the one I had chosen (and swiftly destroyed), but can’t find a match. One of his associates comes from the back with a tagine that’s actually more beautiful than the one I just smashed to smithereens, but even if it had been absolute trash and I’d hated it, I would have accepted it like a Nobel prize.

I take out 150mdh and offer it to him, still feeling like a dick and wondering how much he’ll actually ask me for. Instead of taking this opportunity to rip me off, he declines my extra money and only takes the 100dhm note. I insist he take the extra 50, but he won’t accept it. I’m pretty speechless. This would surprise me anywhere in the world, but the middle of a touristy Moroccan medina is the last place I would expect to receive this level of generosity. Just one more piece of evidence towards how wrong I believe everyone is about the terrible dangers of Morocco. They are the. nicest. people.


Alright, so now we’ve gotta head to the post office. Poor Cesc was with me through that whole nightmare and ended up having to carry the bag out of the store while I put my money away. He says he feels like he’s holding a bomb and urges me to take it from him. Fair point.

We arrive at the post office safely where I am helped by another nice man. He even pretends to understand my broken French. He gets out a large box to package up the tagines but honestly it’s just not big enough. He gets a bigger box, which I can say with confidence is still not big enough, but he insists. He’s trying to fit the bases and lids in like puzzle pieces, using nothing but a few pieces of shitty styrofoam as cushioning. Obviously the tagines are still wrapped in newspaper but I don’t know if that’s enough to make it across the Atlantic. He wraps the box tightly in thick packaging tape, and all I can do now is hope for the best. Inshallah it arrives to my parents home in an un-shattered condition.


Now we’re free to do some touristy stuff. Fes is famous for a ton of different handicrafts, not just fragile tagines. Leather is huge here, as are carpets, and different metal goods. The tannery (where leather becomes leather) is inside the medina and easy to see by hiring a guide from the street. It’s “free”, but a tip is obviously expected at the end. A guide chooses us, we don’t really choose him, and it turns out he doesn’t speak much English (or French or Spanish, for that matter) but it’s a cool tour despite the language barrier. Leather is gross, smelly and all around just terrible in the early stages, so we’re given some mint leaves to carry around with us. My favourite part is watching how the leather is given it’s colour, done with bare hands to rub yellow dye into the hide. We only see two men working, but you can tell which other people around the tannery must also have that responsibility, because their hands are stained yellow. Not permanently stained, just like they worked the morning shift level-stained.




The tour is chill until the end when we go to tip our guide and he’s pissed off that it isn’t enough money. At the beginning, we literally asked him how much he would want and he just kept saying anything is fine, just a donation. Honestly I should have known better. A damn rookie move not to agree on a price in advance. He’s now asking us for 150Mdh (15€, $20cad) which is more than I just paid for destroying a hand made good, so yeah, I don’t think I’ll be paying that for you to walk us through a room of dead goat skin. We end up paying him 50dhm and I’m conflicted because I have no idea what a standard price is for something like this, but more than 5€ seems extreme. Am I cheap?

We have some great street food for lunch, find a cool roof top patio for a drink, and basically just wander around for the rest of the day. We try to visit a very very old library, but it’s closed for restorations so that’s kind of a bummer. There is also a Jewish quarter of Fes which is something I find pretty interesting, but it’s a bit of a hike and I feel content with just the knowledge of its existence. I’m not really sure what there is to SEE or DO there. Maybe I’ll find out later that I’ve made a huge mistake by skipping it, I don’t know.

We have some great street food for lunch, find a cool roof top patio for a drink, and basically just wander around for the rest of the day. We try to visit a very very old library, but it’s closed for restorations so that’s kind of a bummer. There is also a Jewish quarter of Fes which is something I find pretty interesting, but it’s a bit of a hike and I feel content with just the knowledge of its existence. I’m not really sure what there is to SEE or DO there. Maybe I’ll find out later that I’ve made a huge mistake by skipping it, I don’t know.
Finally the time comes to catch the night bus. We have to go back to our pushy hostel owner one more time to collect our bags and I swear if I am offered a tour imma lose it. He doesn’t offer, though. Smart move.

Most of the other bud riders seem like fellow backpackers, which I suppose isn’t shocking, because I doubt too many locals have the need for a bus journey to the Sahara on a Tuesday night.

Before taking our luggage, the man loading the cabin below the bus asks for 5mdh (0.50€, $0.70cad) for “protection” of each bag. We pay this without complaint, and are then rewarded with a little white sticker which I think basically means bags without the sticker are more likely to get “lost”. OR all the bags are 100% safe the entire time and buddy is just making 5mdh x 40something passengers. Who knows.

A bus is a bus, so I can’t claim to be overly comfortable, especially when the driver keeps opening the back door for fresh air. Yes, the door, not the window.

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