Lost in the Medina -- Marrakech and Fes, Morocco

January 17-27, 2007









We spent days wandering and getting lost in the medinas of Fes and Marrakech. Entering these medieval walled cities through one of the high arched babs is like stepping through a portal into another time. The ancient streets, alleyways, and corridors threading through this maze of stucco, brick and stone are too narrow for cars, and only donkeys, handcarts and motorbikes transport goods and people into the interior. These are walking cities, and the asymmetrical spaces created inside are wonderfully full of surprises -- a reminder of how the automobile has shaped the (comparatively bland) urban landscapes we inhabit back home. Without warning, a new and different space opens up as we round each corner. Occasionally we get a glimpse of secluded interior courtyards with beautiful zellij tile work or gardens with palms and orange trees.

It seems like the map in our Lonely Planet guide will make navigation easy, but after ten minutes and countless turns through crowded lanes, we have no idea which way we are walking. There is no shortage of helpful "guides" who promise it is only a short way in this direction to the tannery (i.e. leather shop), herbalist (i.e. spice shop) or palace (i.e. carpet shop), or any number of handicraft markets. Before long we find ourselves sitting in overstuffed chairs inside a dimly lit towering interior courtyard sipping glasses of super-sweet spearmint tea while a team of assistants roll out carpet after carpet in front of us. The salesman says: "If, if you were interested, which one do you like best? Just tell me what this would be worth to you -- make me a drop-dead offer!" And these carpets are some of the most beautiful we have ever seen. I don't know how we managed to walk out of there without buying one...











Starting at dusk, Marrakech's main plaza, the Djemaa el-Fna, fills with masses of Moroccans (and tourists) and the stage is set for the nightly street spectacle. A huge number of food stalls and kitchens appear in the center, with benches, tables, stoves, and tableware rolled in on large hand carts. Crowds gather around the troupes of storytellers, musicians, drummers, snake charmers, and acrobats for the show. The food is excellent (no alcohol) and every night is a party.

Sound Recording:

A stroll through the Djemaa el-Fna, starting with the 6pm evening call to prayer (5:09)









Snow in Morocco?

Our last morning in Fes began with the quiet of large snowflakes drifting down outside our hotel window. Later, as we rolled northward on the 8am train to Tangier, we could see the olive, orange and apple orchards transformed into a winter wonderland.





The northernmost tip of Africa recedes into the distance as the ferry takes us from Tangier, Morocco to Tarifa, Spain...

Bologna, Italy (plane) ► Marrakech, Morocco (train) ► Fez (train) ► Tangier