To Fez

Continuing from my previous blog on Morroco…

From Marrakech, my next destination was to be Fez, one of the imperial cities of Morroco and also its ancient capital. The cities did not look awfully far on the map, so I decided on taking a direct train. The entire journey took 7 hours long, which was perfect for me. Whilst I had a brilliant time at the magical Marrakech, I needed a recharge; some alone time to be away from its hustle and bustle.

Despite the journey time, the train ride was very pleasant, offering a sneak peak of the beautiful wild plains and landscape which Morroco is so well known for. It was, alas, spoilt by some bad experiences with some people I met. The kind looking train conductor led me into believing that the riad which I had booked into (against my better judgement, I told him where it was) was a scam and was unsafe, in the hope that I will sought him for help.

Such was the unfortunate theme of my 2 weeks travel in Morroco. I had to learn to be mistrustful.

I rested the night at the safe comfort of my riad, knowing all too well that tackling the Medina (old town) at night on my first day in Fez would have been a very bad idea.  

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Fez at night is a world of its own. My favourite shot of the trip
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Arabian night

Fez’s medina matches the scale, grandness and perhaps even outdo the confusion that is Marrakech’s. However, it also feel more cultured, less chaotic, and definitely less screaming in your face by the ubiquitous store owners. I gave up figuring out where I was a few minutes after stepping into the medina, for getting lost was the real fun, and that is indeed what everyone who has the chance of visiting this enchanting city should do.

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Every little corner is worth exploring, for one will never know what lie ahead
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People watching in Fez

Against Marrakech’s brick walls of red, the streets of Fez are predominantly pale and yellow, forming a very interesting contrast. Some of my most memorable shots were taken against this distinct backdrop, many of them mere non-descript corners.

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I bid farewell to this beautiful city after 2 nights stay. I paired up with an American traveller I met in Fez, and we journeyed up north.

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The people of Marrakech

#1 I think this must be the first stranger I ever took such close shots of. I gave the beggar some dirhams, and respectfully asked for his permission before taking this picture of him.
#2 I arrived at this quiet neighbourhood and was captivated by the distinct red walls. There was a pair of siblings who seemed perplexed by my presence. While his sister cheekily ran away, this little boy stood still, giving me the opportunity to take a portrait of him against these walls.
#3 This was taken near a local fish market. I spotted this kid sitting on his bike serenely amidst all the noise and hustling. I gave him a signal by lifting my camera, to which he replied with a silent nod and a smile. It was a magical moment.
#4 While wandering aimlessly at the Djemma El Fna, I felt a gentle tug on my shirt. This girl was trying to sell me some tissue. When I gave her some money and told her that I don’t need the tissue, she offered to let me take a picture of her by posing beside this orange juice cart. This is one of my favourite picture of the trip.
#5 The cheeky kid who asked me for more money after I gave him some. I held by my principles and refused!
#6 While wandering around a neighbourhood, this man invited me into his place for some mint tea. He began showing me some pictures of a nearby mountain which he offered taking me to the next day. Sensing that things weren’t quite what it seemed, I politely declined and left his house.
#7 Staying at a local Riad (Guesthouse) gave me the opportunity to make some local Moroccan friends. Most of them are ‘Berbers’, the indigenous ethnic group in North Africa. Learnt a lot about their history, stories and even their local music through the broken English we shared. I still keep in touch with a few of them on Facebook.

Reminiscing the African tracks

The seed that we planted in this man’s mind may change everything.

Inception, one of my favourite movies of all time, had some truly powerful quotes. Men’s mind is a fascinating place. An idea or a perception, once born, even when left untouched, refuses to go away.

When I first heard about the country of Morocco some years back, the seed was planted.

This is my first attempt to recount my steps into this intriguing country last December. A solo backpacking trip of 2 weeks in an entirely foreign part of the world, I was left gasping in the first 2 days, ready to head back to London.

I had, of course, spent my first days in Marrakech.

Djemaa El Fna

Marrakech, one of the 4 imperial cities (Fes, Meknes and Rabat being the others) of ancient Morocco, is akin to the rebellious child of a family. Travellers may only need to witness Djemaa el fna to form a similar conclusion. This famous square was inscribed by Unesco as a “Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity”- a rather elaborated and awkward description. What it means in plain English is that this is a messy, sweaty, smoky, noisy, and chaotic din of a crowd.

Fortune tellers
Square transforms at night
Have your pick at the local food fare

Orange juice vendors, fortune tellers, street performers and snake charmers unite at the Djemaa el fna each day by some inexplicable bond. Many will willingly strike up a conversation with broken English (or in my case, any Asian phrases they can conjure), share a smile, or pose for a photo- all for a few tourist money of course!

Colourful snacks
Just one of the many meandering lanes in the Medina

Away from the square, the Medina (old town) of Marrakech refuses to let up. Be it carpets, leather goods, vibrantly coloured clogs, or the inviting scent of the Tagines, there always seem to be something around that corner. It is as if the world’s best sales people congregate in this small ancient maze of the town, where street names are the equivalent of a broken compass needle, charming travellers off their intended paths.

Such is in fact the best way to explore the Medina. I did away with maps, relying on gut feel and a scent for adventure to guide me through the impossible maze. Time was never in a hurry though, for I enjoyed my time doing nothing, observing how people here live their lives.

Transportation option
Man and cat
Kids delight

Each night I went back to my Riad, nursing the wounds caused by the barrage of sound, scent and sight. But each following day I went back, searching for more.