Life has settled for me in Ifrane.
The first weekend after classes started, most of the exchange students took a day trip to Fes, which I unfortunately missed. After two days of traveling, four days of orientation and a full week of classes, I was more than in need of sleep and rest. So, I decided to stay in Ifrane and do some touring of the small mountain city I would call home for the next four months with my friends. This past Sunday, however, I was more than ready to explore Fes. We managed to gather enough troops to pack one grand taxi with six people!
My friend Philip accurately said I had not quite lived until I have ridden in a grand taxi. Which was fair enough.
All six of us, plus the driver, crammed into the 1980s Mercedes and made the one hour ride to Fes — the first Islamic city in Morocco and the third largest city in the country.
Our driver dropped us off at the grand taxi station and we each paid 28 dirhams (around $3.50).
From the comments of the students that went last week, they all said the same thing: You are going to get lost in Fes. But I really didn’t know what to make of that statement. Lost? How?
As we stepped foot inside of the Medina it all made sense. We were in a labyrinth. Yes, a labyrinth. The road could fit three people shoulder-to-shoulder max. There were turns and dead ends and doors that opened into museums or palaces or restaurants or probably other dimensions.
But there was no one around. We had been dropped off pretty far from the center of the Medina.
Philip came to Fes the previous weekend so he vaguely knew his way around. But judging by what we just saw, you could live here for years and still get lost in the endless streets. We followed him to The Ruined Garden Cafe, where he had eaten the week before. But as luck would have it, and our story would take an unexpected turn, as we approached the gate of the café– it was closed.
We stared at the gate in disbelief. What are we suppose to do now? We are in an ancient city, hungry, and not sure where to go. A stranger approached us and spoke in English that he knew a really cheap place to eat.
Unsure if we should follow this stranger who promised us delicious and affordable food, we reluctantly agreed since there was nowhere else we could go.
He led us to another garden restaurant, surely hundreds of years old. But of course, the food was not as cheap as he had advertised. Roughly five or six times standard Moroccan prices. However our hunger won this game and I ordered a swordfish salad along with one of my friends, while the rest of the crew ordered Chicken Tagine. We drank tea, talked politics, culture, religion and Morocco — and enjoyed every bit of it.
After lunch, I found a boy and asked him if we could follow him since he was heading to the Old Medina.[My travel tip: If you ever find yourself lost, ask for directions from an old lady or a little kid. Chances are that they are more trustworthy and usually know their way around.]
I gave him 10 dirhams for helping us and we were finally in the Old Medina — the polar opposite of where we started. The road could fit hundreds of people. It was loud. There were shopkeepers and tourist and chickens and cats everywhere. Staying together proved to be an adventure of its own, as we had to surf through the waning and waxing of the crowd.
We walked up and down the streets, stunned by our surroundings. There were fruits and vegetables on display everywhere you looked. Additionally, there was clothing, artifacts and bookstores! And the smell of history! We were only six students out of millions and millions of people that have walked those same streets for hundreds of years. It was an ecstasy of sensory details.
I saw a scarf and I stopped. It looked exactly like a blanket my grandma has for decades. I remembered sleeping with it before we left Colombia. I wanted it. After a few minutes of haggling to ensure I was not overpriced, I was able to buy two scarves (one for my friend) for 50 dirhams each.
With the sunset approaching, we made our way to the main gate to head to the grand taxi station.
Fes offered us everything: delicious food, infinite opportunities to get lost, and even a little adrenaline. Even though we were never in any real danger, it wouldn’t be an adventure without a little risk involved along the way.