See my earlier posts for pictures of Fez.
I’m not sure what the incubation period is for most water born diseases prevalent in 3rd world countries, but a week out of Fez and I feel like we dodged another bullet! I didn’t want to be the first person to have to write the words explosive diarrhea on their website! The food in the markets is just too fresh and tasty to miss out on. We feasted on fresh clementines, strawberries, dates and almonds from market vendors. We sampled savory Moroccan stews, tajines, couscous and grilled meats in marinades I’ll never be able to replicate. Early in our trip planning we had this idea that we would try to expand our repertoire of meals by learning to make one local dish from each region we visited. Simple meals without complex ingredients we would never be able to find again, just a new meal to integrate into our rotation of meals that over the years has gotten dull. Mike has been more successful than I have. He’s working on a Mexican Pozole, Shepherds Pie and he’s found an easy but tasty Paella. The closest I’ve come is stocking the cabinets with great curries and chutneys we picked up in the UK. A Moroccan dish would be nice to add since 4 out of 5 of us like Moroccan food. Note to self, next good wifi research a good tajine recipe.
When it looked like we would need to stay in Rabat through the week, due to the swell report, we decided to do an overnight trip to the Imperial city of Fez. Fez is an old city. The history is complicated with dynasties coming and going and hardships and boom times alternating. More, recently the Arab Spring took its toll on the tourism industry, but you get the feeling in Fez, that regardless of politics, government or world affairs, Fez will always prevail. It is the intellectual, cultural and religious crossroads of Morocco due in part to the fact that it is home to the one of Africa’s largest Mosques (holding 20,000 people) and possibly the oldest university in the world. It is an impressive place to visit!
On the way to Fez the kids got a lesson in third world travel by taking the second class train to Fez. Needless to say, we chickened out and bought first class tickets for the three hour trip back. The difference between first and second class is about 75% less people packed in the same car. The seats are not remarkably better, the bathrooms are still just a hole on the track and the timetable is the same, but you have a reserved seat and you have some personal space. The price difference was only $3, but that small amount is completely cost prohibitive for most Moroccans. The market in Fez is amazing. Unlike Marrakesh, it doesn’t have a big central square where entertainers set up; to sing, charm snakes or perform a variety of other acts. You don’t need to find things to interest you in Fez, you simply walk and observe life as it has been lived for a thousand years. Donkeys make up most of the transportation within the city gates and only in Fez could you find a district of the city called Fes el-Jdid (new Fez) which is only 700 years old! In Fez you can lose yourself for hours just watching the humanity go about their daily lives in a world very different from our own. Random things we saw in the Fez market; a camel head hanging in a butchers stall (as well as every other conceivable animal organ being sold), a dog riding on the front of a moped, an 80 year old man pushing a 90 year old man up a hill on a bike, kids making a 5 foot wide alley into a soccer pitch, a stall selling recycled false teeth, a man sitting along the side of the street selling 10 radishes, a monkey on a leash, spices for sale by the bucket, and so many more things you just don’t see in our Western world. The aromatic odor of spices and different herbs permeate the air, as does the smell of meat grilling and leather being tanned. The smell of fragrant perfumes and the lesser appealing smells of people not bathing or laundering regularly combined with the odor of rotting garbage and fragrant flowers. The smells are both intoxicating and revolting at often the same time. It is an ancient smell of humanity packed together.
When I describe the markets of Morocoo I notice I want to use words like authentic, charming and exotic. For me it is, but for many Moroccans it is a hard life and I try not to judge with first world eyes and appreciate how difficult life can be for them. In Fez I saw a man teach his two year old how to kick a cat. My first thought was poor cat and I wanted to judge this man unfavorable. On thinking over it and trying to explain to the kids the difference in cultures I realized that stray cats are disease ridden, they have worms and they jump on table tops and steal food from your plate if you turn your head and let them. As a parent, you don’t really want your two year old interacting with these animals. It’s not animal cruelty, its simply survival.
One of the iconic features of Fez is the leather tanneries that have not changed much over the millennium. There are roughly 50 clay communal pools in the center of the medina, surrounded by balconies, where men work on tanning leather much as they would have in medieval times. They still climb into the pools to work the hides. They don’t use harsh chemicals, but they do use toxic ingredients as they historically always have; pigeon droppings, cow urine and ash. It is a multi step process and none of it looks healthy, none of it looks easy and it certainly makes you consider your use of leather.
After the claustrophobic streets of Fez we returned to the coast and the boat. From there we readied the boat to sail south, provisioned with some fresh produce and completed the check out process. Provisioning includes a little more work when in the tropics or in a third world country. I hate to admit it, but we had cockroaches board our boat while we were in Mexico and it took me months to get rid of them. In fact, I’m not sure I ever really did, we had to stay in a cold climate for the winter to really be sure they were gone. In any event, I do not want to repeat the process and I am going to be even more diligent about keeping them off. Nothing that comes on the boat is in cardboard (roaches like to lay their eggs in the cardboard glue). Every box of cereal, crackers or cookies has to be repackaged in either ziplocks or plastic tubs. Any produce I buy locally, in a market or supermarket, I soak in a solution of vinegar and water. I try to keep as much fruit outside of the boat as I can and inside fruit I pack in everfresh bags (they let the fruit breath but don’t let any critters out). It is a tedious process, but I am determined to keep it up. Yup, it would bother me to get them again, and probably in third world countries that would be the least of their concerns. Although roaches are high on the “icky” scale, they don’t actually carry anything that can harm you. That cute cuddly cat I saw in the market probably carries more infectious diseases than any cockroach ever will!