Five days in Morocco is nowhere near enough. It is a gorgeous country, and holds endless potential for adventure: surfing, cycling, motorcycles, hiking, climbing, etc.
But for this trip, I opted to spend the majority of my time with friends in Fes, and for that I have no regrets. I am leaving Morocco encouraged beyond imagination. It’s not often that one goes to a Muslim country and leaves more encouraged in their (Christian) faith, but that is exactly how I feel. I couldn’t have picked a better way to spend my two personal days, a long weekend, and $1000.
For the most part, I spent my time hanging out with friends (new and old), playing a Mexican dice game and darts, drinking A LOT of espresso, wandering through the Fes Medina, taking photos, and joking that I learned Darija, the Moroccan dialect of Arabic, in just two days. I didn’t, of course, but I did find that I could understand some words (shared with Swahili) and oftentimes could follow the general idea/tone of a conversation, which was fun. Plus, I always enjoy listening to people talk in other languages and the challenge of listening and watching facial expressions to attempt to follow along (and after four years in Tanzania and traveling to 23 countries, I’m kind of used to it!).
The old medina in Fes is like Stonetown on steroids. It is a maze of winding, narrow streets, overflowing with color and life. It’s shockingly beautiful. The medina is over 2700 years old, and is home to one of the oldest tanneries. With the exception of a large washing machine to help clean the leather, the traditional tanning process is still used. It smells like a cross between a strong cleaning solution and a butcher shop–which is why when you go to see it, they offer everyone a sprig of mint. I didn’t personally mind the smell, but I can see how anyone who hasn’t spent time processing animals for meat would find it somewhat revolting. The first day, I walked through the medina with the help of one of my Moroccan friends, who served as both guide, commentator, and translator. It was much more challenging the second day, on my own, to find my way through the medina, but still enjoyable! It was also on that first day in the medina, that I was introduced to harira, a traditional soup, the famed Moroccan mint tea, and other traditional Moroccan foods and sweets. Everything was delicious!
On my last full day in Morocco, I took the bus to Chefchaouen, a small town about four hours from Fes where all of the buildings are painted blue. [Hint: if you are going for a four hour bus trip, take your headphones. You might end up across the aisle from a (very) loud couple. Stupid mistake, that one.] Chefchaouen was beautiful, and it was a bit crazy how blue everything actually was. There is a 30km walking circuit that passes through the city that would have been cool to try, but with only six hours, there was no way I would have made it in my worn-out Masaii sandals (which were, in fact, completely broken by the end of the day anyway), so I stuck to wandering the city streets with a short detour to a mosque on one of the nearby hills. At the local cafe where I stopped for lunch (soup and mint tea), a gentleman asked me if there was anything I wanted to know about the city, and my first question was why all the blue. Though I didn’t completely understand his reply, I got the impression that it was a Jewish city at one point and that the Jews brought the color. He also said that the color helps keep the houses cool during the heat of summer–and that keeps mosquitos away. Wikipedia supports my interpretation, by the way… Shortly after my lunch break, my flip flop broke almost entirely, and though I eventually found and bought some super glue, it didn’t work at all (maybe it was old?), so I just hobbled (and eventually just walked barefoot rather than risk falling on my face) to the bus stand. Just before boarding the bus, a young guy came over and offered me more superglue–and this time, it worked. Since I had been sitting there for awhile, I was surprised first that he even noticed my shoe was broken, and secondly, that he both had superglue and offered it to me (in English).
One of the things I found really awesome about Morocco is that instead of bars or pubs, they have coffee shops. Everywhere. The cafes are where people gather to watch the football matches, and, I’d assume, to socialize or have casual meetings. It’s really quite brilliant.
All in all, it was an awesome trip and I’m so glad I went. Morocco is definitely on my list of places to go back to!