Checking out Fez

6 October 2014

As we walked up the main street of the medina the sheep skins that once lined the streets were now stored behind one of the shops walls. We had seen two men working the night before to stack up all the skins and while the doors were all shut; my nose knew we were out in front. Luckily it didn’t linger long and the smell of rotting flesh wasn’t too over powering since this morning brought fog and much cooler temperatures to the desert.

Remnants from yesterday's slaughter. Intestines hanging on the same clothes lines as the newly blood free clothing

Remnants from yesterday’s slaughter. Sheep parts hanging on the same clothes lines as the newly blood free clothing

Our plan for the day included the Roman pillars. We could see these pillars from our roof top and the reasonable weather made today the day we went to see them up close. It was a short walk outside of the Medina and up a small hillside to the pillars.

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As we walked up and looked out at the densely populated Medina, we caught a glimpse of something we hadn’t seen a few days, open space. Just on the other side of the pillars was rolling hills with a few homes and plenty of olive trees. I was more impressed with the Medina views and being able to find our riad.

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Back on the road outside the gates of the Medina we made our way towards the Royal Palace. We came across beautiful and peaceful looking park that was closed for the day. In all the chaos of the city life this park looked like a true refuge.

We walked thru what I assume to be the newer medina, with wide walk ways, but still lined with small shops, before we arrived at the Royal Palace. We spent a short time there taking photos and when I walked from the main entrances toward a smaller door which had lots of beautiful details I heard a whistle and a guard point at me directing me to walk back from where I had come from. I guess they really only want you to look at the main gate door.

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From here we walked up to the new town, with big wide roads and many round a bout, Pizza Huts and shopping centers and cars zipping by. However even in this, we saw a few sheep carcasses lying on the very wide sidewalks. Soon enough we were at the train station to pick up our tickets for our train ride to Marrakesh in a few days (we figured we’d already done one 6+ hour train ride without seats so it would be a good idea to pay the extra few dollars to ensure we had a seat in first classs). The station was surprisingly calm and there was only one guy behind us who I thought was trying to cut in front of us, otherwise the line looked just like a line.

After our lunch just up the street from the train station we caught a cab only a few meters from where we picked up our first one when we arrived. This time however we got the metered price which was just under 10 dirahm as opposed to the 50 we paid Friday. You gotta love when you learn you paid the tourist/holiday rate.

For dinner our guesthouse host brought us some leftover’s from last night’s celebration. For a few days, the meals are part of the celebration and only certain parts are consumed. Last night it was the stomach, so tonight we were able to try it. While the flavors were nice, the texture was a little odd. Most bites were fine, but occasionally there were pieces that were just weird. I am glad we were able to try this dish knowing that this was probably the first and last time I would have it.

Today’s Travel:  From the Medina to the Roman pillars to the new town with a stop at the train station before catching a cab back to the blue gate.

Accommodations: La Maison Maure

Apocalypse now…oh, um I mean Fes Medina on Eid al-Adha

5 October 2014

I had to make up for the lack of water during the day with almost 2 liters of water in the late afternoon/evening, which meant nature was calling just before the pre-dawn morning call to prayer. This morning it was a little different; I only heard one mosque when typically there are three or four. Also for the first time I was paying close attention and I heard during this longer than usual call the mention of Ishmael a handful of times.

After that the city was silent for what seemed like hours. Typically you can hear the city buzzing with conversation, people moving about and kids yelling. Today I only heard a few random moo’s from a cow until about 10am when the city started to wake up. As we sat on the terrace we could see families congregate on their rooftops and begin the process of offering a sheep. And that is when the day started to feel like the apocalypse. The first step was cleaning of the animal which the animal adamantly protested and you could hear their cries before they were tied up and slaughtered. In the distance every now and then you could hear a women cry out in prayer which only made the hair on your neck stand up. The men of the family were responsible for the killing and skinning while the women cleaned and hung out the intestines to dry on the line as if they were hanging clean laundry. We could then see smoke rising from the streets and smell the burning of hair and flesh and see pieces of ash float by.

It was now late afternoon and we wanted to venture out to see what the streets looked like today. I thought I had been prepared for what I was going to see. Upon arrival here our host told us not to be alarmed when we see men covered in blood walking down the streets carrying knives as they are most likely butchers who work overtime today for the families who want to hire them. Additionally he told us about the fires we would see in the streets with sheep’s heads burning to remove the hair would all be ‘normal’ today. As we walked down the street everything became a bit too real and the holy shit look I had on my face I think made the kid walking by me stop to say bonjour with a smile and giggle as I barely noticed his presence until I heard is laugh. I don’t think there is a proper way to react to seeing men, teens and young boys with bloody clothes and others walking down the street with huge knives as others were smashing the ram’s heads into the ground trying to break off the horns or the small kid with a pocket knives scrapping off the burnt bits from the bones or the men dragging the skins up the street to pile them up.

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The look on this cats face pretty much sums it up

The look on this kitten’s face pretty much sums it up

Somehow in all of this, I missed the women walking by with a hacksaw and as Adam called it out, I couldn’t even process it to turn around as I could only look to the streets in front of me in shock. In my mind it was crazy, jaw dropping, what the hell is going on madness. The streets were otherwise empty and almost all shops closed expect for the one or two open restaurants and the few guys selling loose cigarettes. As you walked by the roaring fires with what looked like old mattress springs used as the grill I would sometimes run by hopping over bones and flesh and just crossing my fingers that the kids would take note of me going by and not go to stoke the fire or flick off a bone as I hurried by.

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We stayed mostly to the main alley ways only venturing off slightly and making a turn a round after we heard some shady looking characters offering up some hashish. The smells were so pungent and there was no place to get relief from the smells. After our short trip around the city we grabbed lunch before retreating back to the comfort of our riad’s roof top.

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Today’s Travel:  A walk on the main road of Fes Medina

Accommodations: La Maison Maure