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Arriving in Fes from Tangier at 2 AM – First Time in Morocco

The high speed ferry was nice and took just 35 minutes to bring me to Africa. On board, a customs agent stamped my passport and then we debarked with no real formality. As I walked off in my hat, dozens of taxi drivers and touts swarmed me. I didn’t have any money so I walked in the direction I thought the atms might be in and found one. I figured out that the exchange was about $11 per 100 and got 300 Dirhams. I didn’t know what that would get me.
A persistant taxi driver followed me and then took me to the train station. I didn’t understand the amount he requested and being tired and used to the ever so honest Spaniards who seem to never even consider cheating you, I handed him 100. He handed back 50. I knew I was being gouged, but I let it be. Having no idea of Morocco and realizing that the language is totally different, I didn’t want to start with an argument.
At the train station I had four hours to wait for the train to Fes where I had decided to go to get away from the port city. I changed my last 10 quid for another 130 dirham and sat studying my new phrasebook.
I met a lovely Moroccan woman who is married to a Spaniard and we spoke in semi-fuent Vagonese for about an hour, part Arabic, part Spanish, part French, part English. We were joined by a very nice Moroccan man from Rabat who conversed with us. He seemed to not be short of money and as such was absolutely no threat. I used the restroom and a beggar-like woman demanded a dirham when I came out, she was sitting there like an attendant, so I gave her one. I hate being so obviously a foreigner and already I was beginning to miss the noble and honest Spaniards I had come to love.
When the train arrived, my two companions went to first class and I went to second. They suggested I join them in first, but I like to ride the cheap seats before I ride the expensive ones (it was a difference of about $4). On the train, I met a man named Mohammad from Sidi Kacim where I had to change trains at 12:10 am. He was quite a nice older man who suggested I be very careful in Fez because I was such an obvious foreigner. He also gave me his number and said I should come visit him in Sidi Kacim to see what non-tourist Morocco is like. I might do it.

I’m sure he sees money when he looks at me, but I found him to be the sort of crafty guy that would not only make money off me, but also end up saving me money. Incidentally, Omar, from Rabat also said I should call him.

Moroccan trains are confusing and the stations are not clearly marked so I dared not go to sleep even though I had hours ahead of me. So I sat and watched the darkness roll by occaisionally broken up by run down Arab tenements and distant blue and white lights of houses. I wonder what it looks like in the daytime.

Arriving in Fes, it was well past 2 am and I was exhausted. As I walked out the train station gate I saw the guard motion towards me to a young man in a yellow jacket.

He beelined on me and started speaking English. The damn hat has to go. I talked with him, tried to be polite, and he was insistant, so I disengaged. He had mentioned a guesthouse in trying to guess where I was staying (impossible since I didn’t know) and so I told the first taxi driver I encountered to take me there. It was one of the most expensive places in Fes and was closed for the low season. Shit.
I was abandoned in a dark part of Morocco’s vast medina with nothing that looked like a hotel or cafe anywhere near me. At this point, who should arrive but the English speaking guy from the train station. I felt like I had been set up. Despite this, I got in his car and then he led me to his father’s guest house, an amazing palace of a place, showed me a incredible room and then told me it was 700. I would have paid it, but at this point I only had about 250 left and I hadn’t been to an ATM, besides it seemed like too much luxury for me by myself. I told him my financial situation. I was exhausted and making stupid travel moves.

He took me to his friend’s guesthouse that seemed to also be closed for the season, we climbed in through the garage and then I paid the great price of 250 dirhams for what was actually a pretty decent place where I was the sole guest. Karim, for that was his name, tried to win me over with ideas about making businesses and buying carpets and reselling them. All probably very valid. At this point I told of my need to sleep and then shortly after I had retired, I heard Karim leave. At this point, I was the sole inhabitant and I began to suspect that I was sleeping somewhere illegally. I got up from my bed, went to the reception desk, figured out how to access the 56k modem on the computer there, and left the name and address in case I should suddenly disappear. I had a seriously queasy feeling from this guy and I thought that when I didn’t want to participate in his business ideas, things might go from bad to worse.
Then I had to sleep, the morning call to prayer was blasting but that didn’t stop me from catching a very necessary three hours of shut eye. Then I woke, brushed my teeth, jammed my hat into my bag, put on my black robber beanie and black shirt, and beat feet from what was probably an expensive night of illegal habitation. I wanted nothing more to do with Karim.

Having no money at this point, I walked several miles from the Medina to the new town center where I had seen on the internet that there was a youth hostel. I found a bank machine, withdrew five hundred dirhams and then found an honest taxi driver who actually used the meter and told me what the minimum fares for day and night are 4 dirhams by day, 6 dirhams by night. He offered to get me some very high quality hashish which I politely declined and then he dropped me at the youth hostel. I was stoked, online I had seen that they scheduled tours, had maps, made excursions to other areas, and even did safari’s in the sahara…unfortunately, they were booked full. The manager suggested I look at the hotels on the next street. I found one dingy place for 70 dirhams and most were around 2-500 per night. I wanted to pay less. I chanced upon an expensive cafe that boasted wifi, but my plug didn’t fit in the outlet, crap I thought, I need a new adaptor, but later I was to discover that in fact, it was just a strange outlet. In the short time I had before my battery died, I found the name of a Pension I liked, the Hotel Olympia which had some good reviews.
Several cab drivers refused to take me there since it was back in the Medina but finally I found one who agreed for 15 dirhams. Arriving, I saw lots of non-moroccan guests and figured that this was alright, but they too were full. I thought this was the low season? Next door I found another box room hotel called the Hotel Mouritania. The room was 80 dirhams a night, I booked for one night, dropped off my things, and then wandered around the narrow souks of the Medina. I got lost and then refound my Hotel. I can’t tell you how nice it was to not be dragging around my bags.

The souks are filled with craftsmen making leather, metal goods, rugs, and more. Donkeys crowd the narrow ways as they are the sole means of moving goods from one area to the next. Shops selling pirated CD’s sit next to shops selling live chickens or still bloody lambs. I was still too freaked out to take any pictures even though I’m sure I look like a tourist, though I think the beanie, 7 days of beard growth, and overall state of dirtyness help to mask me a little. One aggressive fellow got in my face and said Donne moi l’argent since French is the second language here. I stared at him and said no, things seemed to be progressing and then an older man shooed him off. I sat and ate couscous and chicken and fruit salad and tea and a coke and paid too much for it. 90 dirhams and now I am going to bed at about 5 pm, probably about 24 hours later than I should have. I’m sure this is just the beginning.

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Vago Damitio

Damitio  (@vagodamitio) is the Editor-in-Chief for Vagobond. Life is good. You can also find him on Google+ and at Facebook

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