If Morocco was a family and its cities were siblings, Fes would be the attractive third child with a hipster streak. You’ve got Casablanca, the sensible first born who has a responsible career and makes all the money, Marrakesh is the middle one who got a bit famous from a reality TV show in the ’90s and still draws a crowd to a party, and then there’s Fes: hip, energetic, occasionally quirky, sexy and a little bit wild.
In Fes everything’s a negotiation. Everything. Unless you have recently invented some sort of confused-tourist masking agent to conceal your entire ‘not from around here’ vibe, be prepared to spend all of your time bartering. Whether you’re trying to shop, eat, drink, look for a toilet, take pictures or get happily lost in the labyrinth-like Medina (an incredibly preserved 9th Century structure residing on the World Heritage List), you’ll be bartering with a local about it.
Photo by Pascal Le Segretain for Getty Images
Shoppers will delight in the endless bargains on whatever you fancy. Assuming you fancy a leather bag, leather purse, leather belt or leather jacket. Do you fancy a leather bag? Do you fancy “just looking” at some leather bags? Do you fancy sitting down, relaxing and drinking sweet tea in the shade where a variety of leather bags just happen to be hanging in front of you? No obligation.
Like most cultures in which bartering is de rigueur, the less you want something in Fes the cheaper you’re going to get it. And if you really don’t want it at all – because you don’t like it, you’ve never liked it, and you couldn’t fit it in your luggage even if you almost liked it… well that’s where the real bargains start! Just keep walking away, and you’ll be offered a ridiculously low price for that silver platter on a silver platter.
Moroccan slippers, anyone?
Photo by Abdelhak Senna for AFP via Getty Images.
Ensure you make a conscious effort to meet the locals.
Fes is full of characters. If you’re lucky you might end up on a medina tour with the self-proclaimed “half-eccentric guide” (read: full eccentric guide). He pinches key-rings and clumps of mint from vaguely attended market stalls along the way, and orders customers to “hold onto your horses” as you attempt to dodge donkeys. Sound confusing? Wait till he concludes the tour yelling at occupied taxis and chasing them down the street.
Just around the corner from the classic tourist landmark, the ‘blue gate’ – which marks the beginning of the medina, is an outdoor restaurant with a waiter named Saleh who likes to rap to his own CD at the table while you eat. If you hear the words “I like myself” and “I fly for a smile, not for a sad” coming from an uncharacteristically cheerful rap artist then you’ve found the right place. The meat and vegetable tagine is pretty fucking dope too.
The Blue Gate:
Photo via www.kasbahdutoubkal.com
People won’t be shy to talk to you in Fes. These are some of the things you might hear (and what they probably mean):
“Moroccan prices, not tourist prices.” (Tourist prices.)
“England? Lovely jubbly cockney fish and chips.” (You English people say a lot of nonsense quickly.)
“Australia? Cool bananas, mate.” (It doesn’t really matter what I say to you, as long as it ends with “mate”.)
“Where are you going?” (I can tell you’re lost. And for a small fee I can help you find something you’ve heard of.)
Lost and found
In the Fes medina, you won’t have a clue where you are. Don’t bother buying a map.
Fortunately you don’t ever have to stay lost for long if you’re willing to, that’s right, negotiate. Kids know a confused visitor when they see one and they’ll be offering their services as a guide faster than you can say “Um, I think if we take a left…”
This can lead to great amusement if you’re traveling with one of those people who tend to be proud of their annoyingly accurate sense of direction and get cranky when it fails them. You know the kind of person. The kind of person who’s your older brother, Casablanca.
Words by Kalon Huett, sports writer and insatiable fan of travel. He blogs here.