It was a 5 hour drive from Chefchaouen to Fez in the old Mercedes taxi. With no AC, we had the windows rolled down, and the air that whipped across my face and through my hair felt like a blow dryer. Speeding along the highway, we drove through groves of olive and almond trees, past dry brown fields once filled with hay, and small towns consisting of only a handful of decrepit buildings. We passed swarms of children walking home from school in small groups, seemingly in the middle of nowhere, sometimes crouched in the shade of a broken down wall. The lucky ones sat nonchalantly on a donkey, getting the easy and (somewhat) faster ride home.
After a few days in the charming village of Chefchaouen, we were ready for a bit more grit. What better place to find it than the largest living Islamic medieval city in the world. The medina in Fez is also believed to be the largest contiguous car-free area in the world. That being said, nothing can really prepare you for the labyrinth of narrow alleys and markets, the restaurants, workshops and mosques that fill the maze of passages.
Fez is a city of assaults. Assaulted by the young boys offering hotel rooms and tours to the tanneries, by people pushing their carts through the dense crush of bodies in the narrow streets, by the local shoppers, by the shop keepers calling to you with their olives and nugget and leather slippers for sale.
You are assaulted by the donkeys that barge through the crowds, laden with hides and produce, by the thousands of stray cats, by the wandering chickens.
And of course, you are assaulted by the smells. Of spices, of smoke, of fresh bread and tagine, of donkey dung, of semi-cured animal skins from the tannery. One moment you are intoxicated, the next, debilitated.
People are yelling at you to buy things, to move out of the way, offering rooms and restaurants. Donkey hooves strike loudly on the cobblestone alleys. The call to prayer layers itself over the city, rushing over rooftops, nestling into the alleys below. The distorted stream of Arabic vibrates in the air, echoing off the stone walls.
This assault on the senses is exhausting, yet somewhat addicting. After an invigorating mint tea in the solace of our riad, we are off again to explore the secrets of the medina...