top of page
  • Ivor

Fez: A Phenomenal Fuck Up

Before researching any trip, you must ask yourself ‘is there a likelihood that I may never return?’. Rarely is the answer yes, unless your idea of a fun September sojourn consists of Somali piracy, Colombian cartels or North Albanian amputation. No, for the less Odyssean travellers, a summer holiday’s greatest risks are rather more trivial. Of course, a babbling flock of Essex Mintys may perturb a Mallorca retreat with their chorus of ‘OMG BAAAABBBBEHHHH do not let Dan mug you off like that you deserve be errrrr’. The nauseating concoction of topless gearheads, skin fades, fake eyelashes and ‘maaaate trusttttt me she’s better in person’ is enough to send most people straight to Shutter Island. Ward C, perhaps. Yet you always go back, as this tasteless tomfoolery is harmless enough to make it enjoyably familiar.


This is not the case with Fez, an ancient city in the heartlands of northern Morocco. Pitched to my friend and I by social media and travel agencies as a ‘traditional, authentic Moroccan experience’, we decided to include it as our first stop on a short trip through the country. What we quickly realised was the neglected truth that words such as ‘traditional’ and ‘authentic’ do not necessarily connote ‘enjoyable’. Imagine how quickly travel agencies would go out of business if they used these terms indiscriminately. ‘Visit Mosul for a traditional and authentic Iraqi experience’. You scarcely have time to write a complaint before Ross Kemp began dragging your beheaded corpse away from the sea of wailing and self-immolation. I’m being extreme and facetious, but the short and narrow of it is that you should always wonder whether these terms indicate quaintness or medieval misery. With Fez unfortunately, unlike the rest of our stay in this wonderful nation, we found that they spelled the latter.


We had high hopes upon our arrival. My friend spent the flight talking to a fascinating Moroccan professor about everything from African geopolitics to pre-Socratic philosophy, while I managed to fall asleep before the infantile wails behind me reached their crescendo. The flight arrived on time and I was high-spirited, in spite of the beach ball beside me and his radioactive flatulence. The evening skyline upon landing was an intensely beautiful vermillion, resembling a Turner or one of Monet’s later works. The airport itself, with its embroidered pillars and marbled flooring, put the aesthetics of Stansted to shame. Apart from the suspiciously long border control and some superfluous checks, everything was going swimmingly.


The airport however was a highlight, and I can only imagine it is deliberately pleasant to lull visitors into a false sense of security upon arrival and to afford them a reprieve when they limp back for their return. The drive to our Riyad was hopeful and our driver was engaging, yet we were blissfully ignorant of a phenomenon that would become the leitmotif of our trip- the tourist tax. 100 dirham was paid to the driver and 50 to a porter for carrying my one bag approximately 20 yards to the hotel door. So began a fiscal fleecing that would have impressed the Lehman Brothers.


We were the only people staying at the hotel, but for the time being this didn’t concern us. Our minds were more preoccupied with filling in the guest forms. Kim Jong-Un would complete less paperwork getting a visa to the US. Short of providing our bank details, we ran through parental numbers, passport numbers, passport stamps, and all. Our dinner however was a delicious spread of Moroccan cuisine that justified the appeal of a ‘traditional’ experience, yet the fact that my friend’s loo didn’t flush afterwards did not make a career as a plumber seem particularly appealing. Nor was his shower effective, instead resembling, according to his astute analysis, the final trickle when using a urinal. We parted ways and went to our rooms nonetheless looking forward to immersing ourselves in this eagerly-anticipated city. I tucked myself in smelling of exotic aromas and lulled to sleep by a mellifluous chorus of crickets. ‘This will be great’ I childishly thought. Such an adjective was premature.


I believe it was Kafka who said ‘all language is but a poor translation’. The idea, of course, is that however rich with descriptive possibilities are the human tongues, linguistic labels can never do complete justice to the thoughts in our heads. Something will always be lost. I can safely say I will not be able to sufficiently convey our irritation about the day we spent in this city. The instant you leave for the medina you enter a labyrinthine world of avarice and confusion, uncertainty and insincerity. We had been warned of this a bit before going but underestimated its significance. The medina has 9,500 streets, making it the largest in the world yet also the most untraversable place known to man. The inevitability of getting lost is exacerbated by the lack of data available which disabled google maps. This combination affords locals the opportunity to profit immensely from tourists’ bewilderment by offering guidance while concealing less than Samaritan intentions. Within 10 minutes of departure, we were confronted by a young man bedecked in footballing attire who insisted upon helping us find our way to the agora. We were unable to escape before he began to lead us on and we, naively, felt no other choice but to follow. We only recognised the extent of our error until he stopped at his father’s shop and compelled us to enter and listen to endless expositions of textile craft. After enduring the smell of goat and sheep shit for as long as we could, we were mercifully freed only to hear the hostile howls of his thieving son.


‘Make me happy’. In most places this may be considered a less than subtle, creepy demand for a more lecherous activity. In Fez it is the call for a two hundred dirham. This man was scarred, armed and well prepared to follow us to Timbuktu to obtain his fee. My friend and I’s unspoken communication conveyed three mutual thought- fight, run or pay. Both steeped in Greek heroic literature, obsessives of the James Bond franchise and impulsive morons, the first was tempting but for the crowd of friends we noticed circulating to the scene. In 1972 9 SAS soldiers had managed, with only two casualties, to fend off between 200 and 300 Omani communist guerrillas before reinforcement arrived. Alas, we are not the SAS. Nor was running an option- a price would be on our heads in impassable enemy terrain. Diplomacy was our last resort, and with a Kissinger-like negotiation we managed to half the price that was to be extorted. We considered this a hollow victory.


Haunted by our misfortunes, we lamely took to the winding streets. The experience detonated our senses. The miscellaneous fumes of intoxicating smoke, cat piss and spice corroded our nasal passages, while the scenery of beheaded chickens, jaundiced teeth and hypnotic alleyways battered our eyesight like thunder upon a mountainside. Round the decay of this colossal wreck lay one place of sure refuge, a restaurant owned by a former Italian ambassador. An architectural cross between a palatial mosque and a Pompeian villa, with its luminous colouring and ornate design, we basked in the peace and serenity of trickling fountains and chilled lager. Yet herein lay another foe. The geriatric proprietor noticed our guard down, weakened by mild midday inebriation. Light small talk, pleasant enough, yielded to darker ambitions. Like Victor Krum, this man was more of a physical being. When offered entry into his small library, I received a brisk but purposeful caressing in my nether regions, a bold move presaged by earlier touching elsewhere. My friend, to a lesser degree, was the object of similar tactfulness before we hastily decided that the tumult of the outside world was preferable to further intrigues.


We exited with the comfort of a new guide, a professional whose welcoming demeanour afforded premature relief. A whistlestop tour of every shop known to man, from oil and carpet vendors to traditional massage parlours, was a curious if not slightly tiresome interlude between the morning and lunchtime. Managing to reach mid-afternoon with our pockets and arses unmolested further, we settled in to what was pipped as the go-to tourist restaurant. After paying the man handsomely, through free-will this time rather than cosmic predetermination, Zeus decided to get funny with us. The day darkened, the heavens opened, and lightening peppered our fragile covering. If this didn’t forebode the apocalypse, the local cuisine did. Whilst I was treated to an innocuous spot of lamb tagine, my friend’s insides were tortured by a chicken that Jaws would be unable to break. The lugubrious views of dilapidated terraces, my friend decided, were inferior to the grey brick wall in the opposite direction. Mutually staring away from our stormy backdrop, we passed the time complaining like only British people know how- with exaggeration, petulance and an entirely undeserved self-pity.


We found ourselves stuck between a rock and a hard place. Showered by torrential rain, we could either wait out the tempest in the uncertainty of the Medina, where all manner of sensual and physical horrors awaited, or try our hand at finding our way back home. We opted for the latter until we recalled the near hopelessness of our task. The predators sniffed out a new prey. For a second time in the space of three hours, we were accosted by a youth who not only demanded our money, despite saying we’d rather not have help than be guided by him and pay, but dropped us in a location that was still far from our destination. Managing to find wifi in a local hotel, we crawled back drenched and thoroughly ticking. He had offered us drugs and, for a brief moment, the desire to transcend this sordid environment had been temptation enough. We settled however on some extended moping in the safety of our rooms. We reminisced about the day we had to the comfort of Skyfall.


When we had finished satisfying our querulous needs, we remembered we had to eat. We had, for better or for worse, booked dinner at the perverted abode in which we had earlier drunk to our discontent. Yet unbeknownst to us, the hotelier had booked us in for somewhere else. We were told that to cancel our unwanted arrangement we would have to pay a hefty fee. This claim, upon interrogation, was smoke and mirrors. It was another attempted robbery but from inside the safe house. Thus, the trip effectively ended. We had dinner, craftily subverted a third guidance tour, and slept with the consolation that we would be moving on to see a Roman ruin outside Meknes. We think about the Roman Empire a lot, after all.


To break from this satirical hyperbole, Morocco is a wonderful place to visit. The people on the whole are more than welcoming and the scenery is delightful. The culture has fertile roots and is uniquely eclectic. Yet with all flourishing orchards there are some rotten fruits. Fez is not a place I would recommend. Quod erat demonstrandum.

0 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page