The blog is not finished! But after the Theft (yes, capital letters), the want/need to update the blog took second fiddle to dealing with the Theft and just finishing the trip sans computer. Since being home, it's been hard to get that motivation to complete it. But I will. Ever so slowly. Please be patient!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The Start of Something New

The following takes place between Days 172-173, May 18-19, 2011

Still a tad bit drunk, I made it somehow to the bus station with time to spare. The strange thing though was that by 4:20am, ten minutes before my schedualed departure time,  the bus station doors were still locked. There were a couple other people with luggage waiting as well that were taking the same bus so I wasn’t worried that I was at the wrong bus station.

Eventually the doors were opened and we began to wait once again for the bus which ended up being over half an hour late. All I could think was “You mean I could have been sleeping this entire time?”

IMG_6648Once I got on the bus which was already packed full, I promptly passed out. I was dead to the world for the next three or four hours until we arrived at the ferry terminal in Algeciras. Not exactly sure what I was doing, I just followed the crowd into the building and to the waiting room. It only took about an hour before the bus driver showed up with the tickets for the ferry.

I breezed through customs and settled onto the ferry. I had hoped that I would see the Rock of Gibraltar from the ferry as it crossed the waters towards Morocco but the weather didn’t allow for it. But beyond that little disappointment, the ferry ride was quite enjoyable. Short, perhaps two hours. And I didn’t  get sea sick like I was afraid I would!

Arriving in Morocco was a bit anti-climatic at first. Get off the ferry, show your passport to theIMG_6653 guards on the dock, reboard your bus, and drive a kilometer up the road. It was here that a group of other buses were waiting. Depending on your destination city, that determined what bus you moved to. The good news from this was that the extremely full bus split onto three or four different buses, making it much less crowded.

The bus trip to Fes lasted a further 7 hours, arriving a good two and a half hours earlier than expected which would normally be good but I had set up through the hostel a pickup for free. And here is where I turned into an Ugly Traveller. I managed to change some Euros for some Moroccan Dirhams and attempted to use the pay phone to call the hostel to let them know I had already arrived. At the same time, I had a taxi driver start to pester me. The moment I knew he was attempting to pull a fast one and possibly take me to the wrong place was when he said “I’m good friends with the owner” and called the owner a name that was different than what it actually was. Hungover, overtired, and frustrated that I couldn’t get the payphone to work for more than 20 seconds(My mistake though . . . I didn’t realize that you had to keep putting money in), I got very short with the man. After I finally got ahold of the hostel and confirmed they were sending someone over, I did the most Canadian thing I could possibly do – I tracked down the taxi driver I had been testy with and apologized profusely.

Things got significantly better once I got to the hostel. The girl at the front desk, Nadja, was extremely friendly and got me signed up for the supper that evening where I ended up meeting Jaime from Guatemala and Kelly from Washington.Over a wonderfully huge meal of couscous and bread we decided to take a guided tour of the medina together the next day. With that settled, I crashed out cold in my bed.

IMG_6663The Medina, or “old city”, can be found in every Moroccan city. It is the chaotic, maze-like streets that make up the walled portion of the city. It is the original part of the city before the French came to create what is commonly called the Ville Nouveau which, again, every Moroccan city has. The draw though, is always the Medina. Carpet sellers, tanneries, food stalls, the amazing chaos that surrounds you, and the attack to the senses that come from all directions makes for a great experience.

Fez has the largest Medina of any city and it is also one of the oldest as Fez used to be the IMG_6671Capital of the country for hundreds of years. Navigating the winding streets seems simple as you watch the locals zip to and fro with a direct sense of purpose, but for the newly arrived tourist, it’s very easy to get lost. Street signs are hard to come across and most are in arabic anyways. Our hostel is just on the outskirts of the Medina and just getting to the entrance with our guide showed us just how good it was to get a guide.

The tour was simple and unfortunately it became clear that the guide was doing little more than taking us from place to place to take pictures. He barely gave any explanations as to what IMG_6673we were seeing other than “This is where they dye the clothes” or “This is the metal working area of the Medina.” It equally became clear that he would be like all the guides the guidebooks warn you about. The ones that get you into the stores so the shopkeeper can give a short spiel on how they make stuff and then spend half an hour trying to convince you to buy something.

The sales pitch is usually the same too. “Which one do you like the best?” The moment you answer, you’ll be spending all your energy explaining that “Really, I’m not interested in buying anything right now.” Even explaining that you’re backpacking and have no room to carry around a large carpet is just an opening for them explaining their shipping prices with special discounts just this one time because “I love Canadians and a group of Canadians were just in here last week and bought so much stuff because Canadians are nice and like to buy things.”

However, that being said, it was still a good day. It helped give the three of us a good sense ofIMG_6732 direction and also helped us pinpoint landmarks to look out for in later treks to know where we were in relation to the hostel. We managed to go inside a restored Islamic school to see what it was like. And seeing the tanneries from above was an amazing experience in itself and we actually had a good shopkeeper who, before his sales pitch, pointed out with great detail how the leather in Fez is made, what plants are used to create each dye, and so on.

IMG_6724From the smell, I’m certainly never going to complain about my years of shoveling out calf pens on the farm anymore.

In the end, when it became clear that the three of us were not in the mood to buy anything, the guide led us back to the hostel. And it seemed like he couldn’t take us back fast enough. There were more than a few times that he would rush off ahead of us as we got caught behind a slow moving person and we’d only be able to catch up because he stopped to buy more items for his dinner later that evening.

IMG_6791In hindsight, we probably could’ve skipped getting the guide and just did it on our own. Though, we did try to find the Jewish Quarter later that day on our own and got hopelessly lost. We did find a nice looking park though to relax beside. So it wasn’t a complete waste of time.


  1. The information was helpful and introduced me to some new ideas.

  2. Oh man I am more excited than ever to get to Morocco. It's going to be crazy & wild & new... Can you email me the hostel you stayed at through out your time in Morocco.