Forget GPS...and get lost in time - literally and figuratively.
We hired a "guide" (a.k.a. the con-man who lined his pockets with our money) named Mufassa to spend the day walking five of us girls through the Medina and taking us to various stores and to see memorable sights that tourists can miss on their own. He was knowledgeable, interesting, competent....and, let's be honest, he took us for a ride. We knew that he was getting paid commission on anything that we purchased...and paid he got!! We were taken to the nicest and priciest (no surprise there!) places in all of Fes...I am sure. What we failed to understand is that when bartering it's not personal. It is a game and you should never feel bullied into something. But to an inexperienced barterer, they make you feel bad and in the end, you actually pay a higher price than the item is worth.
Case in point: We went into a house that is currently owned by Berbers who have a long family-run business of making Berber carpets out of their home. They wined and dined us (read: gave us mint tea, showed us around their house, and called us their "sisters). Before walking into their home all of us said that we were not interested in purchasing rugs. Fast forward 1 hour and Jami has purchased two rugs, Kristen the same, and Alexandra has purchased three...and we all walked out with a "What the hell just happened look on our faces?!" Well, they used their Berber dialect against us and made us feel so terrible that we got suckered...again.
Jami liked these two rugs and expressed interest in them. In no less than a minute, both rugs were rolled up, covered in packaging tape and they were saying, "I give you good price. Basically free."
"Um....OK. How many dirhams for both carpets?" Jami meakly inquires.
They reply, "4,000 dirhams for the both."
"Yeaaa....I can't pay that price. How about 2,500 for both?" she questioningly counters (even more than she should have offered if she was following the typical "bartering guidelines").
At which point, the head Berber, takes her carpets drop kicks them high into the air...and starts shouting in Berber to his other "conmen" and Mufassa. We are wide eyed at this point and looking at each other for support on what to do next.
Mufassa then says, "You have offended his family business. This is good carpet. Worth good money. Because you are a teacher, you pay 3800 dirhams."
"Yeaaa...but that is still too much," she says. (She is giving in - I can see it in her face. She is way too nice, believing, and she is being guilted)
The head Berber then kicks the blankets again into the other room and says, "You are getting a good deal. Almost free. How do you expect? On the price you offer, my sister will have no meat for her couscous."
Yes, he really said that. While under "normal circumstances" one might think...Gimme a break... However, here, we start questioning what is fiction and what is reality.
I bet you can guess what happens next. Yes, Jami felt terrible; she felt as though she really had offended their family and worried that she was trying to cheat them out of money that they so needed...for chicken...for their couscous. Jami left the home with two carpets in tow - tail between her legs...3800 dirhams later.
And just as we walked out of the house, I turned around to see "Head Berber" slipping our conman guide some cold, hard, cash...with an accompanied smile, followed by a high five.
They must love us soft-hearted, clueless Americans.
However, surely without a guide we would still be walking aimlessly among the thousands of car-less alleys and streets that make up the walled city within Fes. It is an unmappable labyrinth of souks, alleys, and cul-de-saks. It is the largest car-less urban area in the world. The 9,000 or so streets snake and slither about in every direction including 13,380 historic buildings and - hide your credit cards - 10,539 shops.
Fes is a city that seems suspended in time between the Medieval Ages and the modern world. It is the third largest city in Morocco, and is highlighted by gorgeous textiles, beautiful leather goods, intricate jewelry, fresh produce and spices, and impressive restaurants.
One of the highlights was walking into one of the cul-de-saks and coming upon a very small bakery or "hole in the wall" where we were able to sample the sweet, hot bread straight from the oven! Each family that makes their own bakery adds their "family crest" or symbol to the bottom of the bread to distinguish it from all of the other bread-making families.
The delicious bread, was later followed by juicy, ripe nectarines right off of the street...
We had the opportunity to visit the tannery and see the men in action as they prepare the animal hides, dye them, and then transform them into gorgeous leather goods.
Here is a picture of one of the mules carrying the animal hides down to the tannery.
We came equipped with our Moroccan Gas Masks and peered over the edge to watch the tannery workers perform their disgusting, yet very interesting and amazing, craft. This process has been happening since Medieval Times and the jobs are passed from generation to generation. It is not surprising that it is a male profession.
The red color is made from poppies, so it is a bit more expensive, while the yellow color is from saffron and pomegranate.
I did purchase two bags here...after doing a thorough sniff. I asked about my stinky bag and was told, "Oh no...that is very bad. It only smells like that if the 'dirty' end of the animal is used."
Sweeet....I really do have an @#$ bag.
We then went on to a spectacular shop where they make hand woven scarves, blankets, and Moroccan clothing. In an attempt to ease the hold on our respective wallets...they buttered us up with - what else - mint tea, compliments....and, every girl's favorite pastime, playing dress up.
Leaving the medina, bags slung over each of our shoulders and around our wrists - it was obvious - they saw us coming!