There is a reason that cliches are called cliches.
Typically, all the guide books mention that you should not make friends on the trains, because you’re likely to meet a smooth talking Moroccan on the trains claiming to be very well to do, with a good job. They get into easy conversation with you about your job, family, the country you’re from and why you’re in Morocco. After buying you some tea (they will never let you pay), they invariably will mention that they have some family … brother/sister/uncle who can guide you around Fez or any random Moroccan city and you won’t have to pay them but they will do it as a service to a foreigner. Of course, if you would like to show your appreciation, you may give them a gift, as the brother/sister/uncle will have many children to support … use a ridiculous number like 7 or 8 (Of course this is a ridiculous number to North Americans or for some Trinidadians).
In Trinidad, this would be known as a “smart man” … now I don’t really know how people get taken for ridiculous amounts of money and crazy back tours and carpets, since a Moroccan cannot outsmart a Trinidadian … no offense to Moroccans anywhere, but Trinidadians are not known as “Trickydadians” for nothing.
Thankfully, the smooth talking Moroccan approached me just like I expected, of course this one claimed to be a policeman on the train. He was friendly with the conductor, shook hands with them and the conductor knew Mohammed (Is everyone in an Arabic country named Mohammed), and he operated like he knew everyone. So conversely I provided the story about being the poor student from a Third World country, who had never left Trinidad before and I chose Morocco because I have good friend who always talked about Morocco being a beautiful place, and basically I was lost on the way to Marrakech. This song and dance went on for 2 hours, when he mentioned that he has an uncle who would “guide” me around for a nominal gift.
This was great, in that now I had a guide to shield from other guides and someone to help me take the Petit Taxi from the Gare Central to my Riad. Once Mohammed was confident that he brokered a good deal, he excused himself saying that he had official conductor business to take care of. We were both happy … I had the guide and he thought he had someone who would go around to buy carpets and other bullshit.
Getting into the train station was really quite different to my expectations. The train station was like Tangerville’s, a beautiful new building complete with artwork and decoration. For those who are more nervous, there was tons of security, no hustlers inside the building and not one to bother you at all, taking the trains here is really a marvellous experience so far between the two stations I have been at.
Now armed with my reservation at the Riad Damia Fes and my guide Abdul, it was off in “une Petit Taxi” to the Riad to drop off my backpack and take a refresher before heading out on the town. Abdul was a very nice older man, about 50 or so, and I felt a little bad in that he had no idea what he was heading into with me.
Our first mission after the hotel was to head out for some tea and for me to get some food. We went to one of his places for tea, which was 6 dirhams ( 0.70$ CDN), and we met some of his friends who knew places to shop. It was at this point, I had a chat with Abdul about the price for the night and the day tour and the fact that I was not interested in buying anything, not even a spice bag because it meant I would have more on my shoulders to carry. He was very nice about the whole thing, and I said I would walk on my own to find something to eat, while he played cards with his friends.
I ended up walking for 20 mins enjoying the night and the sounds, till I ended up at a streetside cafe, complete with guys in uniforms serving plates of chicken and beef. My meal of a Plat Poulet sans Fromage, consisted of two baguettes, a plate full of grilled chicken breast, mixed rice, fries and salad with a lovely bottle of coke (not plastic but the old school bottles) for 30 dirhams. Did I mention that everything is phenomenally cheap? I would pay triple that in Montreal or Toronto for less food.
After my meal, it was on to seeing the nightlife.What nightlife??? Unfortunately/fortunately (depends on the perspective) I picked an auspicious time to come to Morocco- Eid Almawlid Annabawi, the birthday of the Prophet Mohammed.
The twelfth night of the month of Rabi al-Awwal is a night of the blessed memory of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) throughout the Islamic world. In every corner of the world countless Muslims wait for this night, praying, re-reading his biography and celebrating his auspicious birth with different rituals, customs and ceremonies, unique to every culture and society. These celebrations, no matter what form they take, are indications of various perceptions of the Prophet and the integration of Islamic notions with cultural patterns.
In Fez, all the bars were closed, however as foreigner, Abdul took me to an underground bar to watch Barcelona play Malaga and have some Chivas (finding single malts on my tour is proving to be quite difficult). I couldn’t take any pictures of the bar, since it is illegal to serve alcohol during this period. After the game, it was on to walking to the Medina and along the avenues.
Walking at night, I was amazed by the number of beautiful fountains that were on the promenades, yet there is supposedly a water shortage in Morocco.
After the bar and walking on the promenades, it was time to head back to the hotel. However another great thing about the Petit Taxis, is that they are so affordable. Abdul and I flagged down a taxi back to the hotel, and we ended up passing by the Royal Palace at night. There were tons of guards around the palace, but it was never an issue to wander around, they do like their tourists here, no matter what time of the night.
From the Palace at night, it was on to a panoramic view of the city and yet another drink at the Hotel Maimondes at the top of Fez. The views were obviously spectacular!
The impressive thing I took away from tonight was the cost factor:
- Taxi tour at the end of the night for one hour – 38 dirhams (4.75$ CDN)
- Abdul’s fee for tonight – 40 dirhams (5$ CDN)
- Chicken plate with drink – 30 dirham (3.75 CDN)
- Drink and tapas at the first bar – 28 dirhams ( 3$ CDN)
Hence for an entire night of entertainment cost me about $17 CDN. I’m looking forward to day touring in Fez and another night here, then off to Marrakech.