Fez was our first major stop in Morocco. We flew in to Rabat, stayed there one night, then hopped on a train to Fez the next morning. It was a beautiful day and the train process couldn’t have been easier. It was crowded though, which meant we spent the entire three hour journey standing, but mostly we had enough space and a great view of the passing scenery. I was so happy for the warm sunny weather and the prospect of two weeks ahead with SA that the three hours passed quickly and soon we were walking the rather long way from the station to find our Riad in the medina. A combination of things on this first afternoon made me unhappily realise that this was a place where it might be difficult to have genuine local experiences. It began when the staff at our Riad recommended a place where we could find Burger King, pizza places, etc as an area we should try to eat. I was a little shocked at this — the food was one of the things I was most excited about, as I suppose it is wherever I travel, or on any random Tuesday morning for that matter.
Both secretly dismissing that advice, we enjoyed our welcome tea, quickly settled in to our beautiful room and then headed out to discover the medina — before being brought to a halt by the first of the many helpful (I resist the urge to surround helpful with quotation marks, because some genuinely are) locals eager to assist us on our merry way.
I’m not opposed to being helped with directions, but my favourite thing in a new place is to simply wander, looking at the map occasionally — I don’t want to be led quickly through the medina, passing interesting shops, beautiful doorways and mystical alleyways that beg to have their picture taken. It’s about the journey, not the destination, right?
Our new friend led us away from the main road we were on, down a series of winding alleys, including one that was so dark and narrow my survival instinct definitely stirred a little, then out onto a main road that looked suspiciously like the one we were on before. While SA was led into the take-away shop to get some food, I quickly walked up the road about 30 metres, to find the exact point at which we had first met this guy — confirming my suspicions that he had taken us on a much longer, completely unnecessary route to find something we easily would’ve found ourselves.
I wasn’t shocked at this — anyone travelling to Morocco should be well aware these kinds of things happen on a regular basis, as I was, but I can’t say I was happy to discover that my suspicions were correct. From this moment we were much better at politely but firmly declining most of the invitations and offers of help we received. Some were genuine, and some were not — we certainly needed directions on one or two occasions in the medina, and were extremely grateful to those that helped and welcomed us while asking nothing in return.
But that afternoon was an important lesson for the rest of our time in Fez. Tourists being led on overly long, complex routes through the medina is something we witnessed more than once, and I’m sure there’s a conspiracy to use this tactic in order to convince tourists they can’t find their way themselves and will need a guide. The medina in Fez is a complete maze comprised of 9,400 streets/alleys/slight fissures you can only just pass through, so I know many people recommend a guide, but we decided to try without one and once we were a little more on our toes, had a fantastic time exploring.
The area we discovered that day was a little different than what we found over the remaining days. A little more local, a little more rustic (hooray!). It was a great introduction to the bustling city Fez represents. We bought some delicious fruit from a street vendor, and finished the day with a tagine and one of the 386 mint teas we enjoyed on the trip.