Culture shock anyone?
Fez Travel Blog› entry 11 of 15 › view all entries
Let me say, Morocco is a long way from Spain, if not geographically, then culturally and administratively. We got our first cultural re-alignment as we prepared to disembark the ferry across the straight of Gibraltar, and learned that one needed an immigration stamp before leaving the ferry. Where does one obtain this stamp? From one of the 2 immigration officers who boarded the ferry when we landed. How many people were there to process? Hundreds.
We observed what I've typically coined the “asian lineup” forming at the 2 stations which were set up.
After an hour and a half of getting to know my new neighbors in this mosh pit, we got our stamp and stepped into the scorching desert air of Tangier. The wind whipped over the waters and stirred the soil and grit sufficiently to form that familiar elixir of air, dust, heat, garbage, and sweat that feels and smells the same across continents. Add in some diesel exhaust and you could be in the streets of Saigon on a good day. The same rules apply as well.
Needless to say at the end of our 20hr travel day we were quite happy to get to Fez by train, negotiate one last cab fare, and step into the ancient walled medina. We were too tired to argue with the “guide” we picked up to lead us through the rabbit warren, and collapsed thankfully into our beds at the riad (guesthouse) that we had booked from the train station after we'd figured out the new phone numbers. Due to the ingenious traditional design of these buildings which kept the interiors mercifully cool we were able to stop sweating for the first time that day.
Old Fes was exactly as advertised. Busy, crowded, loud, confusing, and so ancient you felt like you were living in an archaeological site. Everything was transported by mule or donkey through the narrow twisting streets, and every piece of space was used for somethings, from selling spices to sandals to tourist trinkets, or simply storing garbage for collection. Tourism was evident as in many places, through the westernized restaurants and souvenir shops, but beneath this thin veil one realized that this was not just a Disneyland but that people LIVED here, and that it was very much a real city, with people going about their lives and plying their trades. That alone describes the fundamental beauty of Fes.
We soon realized that we'd managed to visit in the midst of a major world music festival, and took in an amazing show featuring whirling dervishes, both traditional forms from Turkey, along with a modern interpretation. In it's setting with one of the major city gates as a backdrop I found it brilliantly produced and moving beyond words.
After several days of getting lost within the old city, eating organ-meat sandwiches, and downing many glasses of fresh fruit juice, it was time to board another rickety toaster-oven train this time for Marrakesh.