Tuesday 12 January 2010

First impressions

Dar Iman, Fes, Morocco

Leaving Tangier the other day, I reflected on how I would have to get used to leaving places knowing I would never be going back. In an unseen twist of fate, the chances are I will be going back, since you can't really get to Chefchaouen without doing so, and that is one place to which I will definitely return. Probably not for a while though, so for now the focus moves to the next destination, and that is Fes.

We are travelling by bus again, through the Rif mountains. The scenery is staggeringly beautiful. The roads are in fairly good nick, though we slow down intermittently for ancient trucks and herds of sheep etc. A stop en route at Ouezzane is pretty funny - a crazy car park full of market stalls and beggars - bustling, hectic and transient. I pay a dirham for a piss and give ten more to a little girl who is begging by pulling silly faces at me. I take my seat on the bus when the other beggars have been cleared off.

I stick the ipod in and let Johhny Cash entertain me for a while. All along the route the land is cultivaated, and those that toil it stand and stare as the traffic passes. Looking at their little homes, simple and isolated - so far removed from the lives we lead, I wonder how long I would survive. Pen reckons she couldn't do it without the internet or a library. She has a point. What would you think about all day, let alone do?

As we get closer, the Middle Atlas mountains appear on the horizon. Behind the menacing clouds in the distance, the sun begins to not so much set as slink from view and before long we are off the bus and haggling with the first taxi driver we see. He takes offence at the suggestion that he might be lying about how far away the medina is, before we realise he is absolutely right.

Pretty much every Moroccan town or city is divided into a medina and a ville nouvelle. The medina of Fes el Bali has been around for some 1200 years and is the largest of its kind in the world. We arrived fairly late, chilled in the Riad for a while and had a local dinner in a street cafe with only one discernible table. We are staying just off Talaa Kebira, the first section of which is a food market. Giant ox tongues loll from hooks, camel meat is a popular choice, with huge cuts of the stuff hanging from the butchers' stalls. Chickens are weighed on old scales whilst still clucking, and intricate arrangements of spices, fruit, vegetables and olives add so much for the benefit of the senses.

Take one large camel...

Just imagine it with bacon across its back

Jamie Oliver's tongue

It's not as cold here as in Chefchaouen, but there is still rain about and the wind is whistling down the narrow streets. At first glance, Fes is an incredible place, but something tells me that I won't quite fall in love with it. Maybe it's the guys strutting round the place looking cool, or the fact that there are loads more tourists. Or maybe it's just that sense that you get the minute you arrive somewhere that tells you instinctively the kind of place it is: the kind you come back to, or the kind you don't.

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