Fez is the city in Morocco that best holds the ancient flavor of the culture. The Medina, separated from the modern city by the ancient walls, is the home to countless mosques, shops, crafts, spices, and a souk that you could easily become lost in.
Outside each of the gates is a cemetery. If you die, you are carried out the closest gate and that is where you are buried.
Inside each gate is the food market. The fruits and herbs are mouthwatering in contrast to the sheep heads on the counters and the blood running down the streets. The last cries of chickens as they are butchered is sometimes interrupted by someone yelling for everyone to get out of the way of a donkey.
As you wander inwards you are rewarded by the wonderful smells of the spice market. Huge bags of spices are available for purchase, rich in both color and aroma. Tapes of someone chanting the Koran can be heard from may of the shops.
Other sections of the souk include a garment section where you can buy clothes or have them custom made. You select the materials and the threading and buttons. Each stall in the market had hundreds of bright colored threads to chose from.
The wood carvers work in their little stalls and examples of their talents line the walls. Men weave cloth using looms and shuttles and women embroider table cloths and placemats. People in stalls sell old coins, antique pots, new ceramics, scarves, and other assorted odds and ends.
You can wander forever or sit at a small cafe and drink mint tea. All seats face out and as the sun sets and the people hurry to close their shops, a final call to prayer is heard above all other noises.
The Hammam is the public bath house. I went to one outside of the Medina in the modern city of Fez. I was not sure what to expect so I asked a few people. Of course there were only men to ask so I did not get the actual story. They told me to wear a bathing suit and bring a towel, washcloth and soap and shampoo.
Well part of that was at least true. Since the building for the women is a different one for the men, we had to separate. Bill waited on the street corner practicing his Arabic, while I ventured down the long alleyway towards the Hammam. I arrived with 50 dirham. I walked in and noticed that I would be the only one with a bathing suit. Oh boy. They did not know what to do with my 50 dirham so they sent me to a man in the alley and he changed my money and kept some of it and I went back and gave the rest to the woman who seemed to be in charge. I have no idea if I did this right.
I took off my clothes and the women seemed to have a lot to say about the bathing suit, though I have no idea what. They all had black underpants or nothing. The compromise (I think) was to wear only the bottom part of the bathing suit and to let the top part hang around my waist. This seemed to be OK. (I think).
They would not let me wear my sandals (another change in the story between what the men say to do and what really happens). One woman walked me thought the 'hot room' into the bath section. She sat me on the floor and poured water over my head. She left and I was confused so I started to shampoo my hair while sitting on the floor feeling like an idiot. I went to scoop some of the water out of the bucket but apparently that was the wrong thing to do because the woman came back and dumped the water on me.
She then made me lie on my back on the floor and she washed me with a hand cloth and peeled off at least three layers of skin. Occasionally she would fill the bucket of water up and dump it on me, scalding my pink exfoliated flesh.
She pushed me over on to my stomach and did the same on the back. Then she dumped the hottest bucket of water ever on top of me and then decided it was time for soap. I found out later that that was the massage.
She found a bottle of nail polish in my bag (I had brought it for her tip) and all of the ladies wanted to put a little bit on their nails. One final bucket of scalding water and she pointed to my towel. I figured it was over so I toweled off and went back to the main room to dress. I had experienced a part of the culture that many visitors miss, and I think that even today, the ladies there might still laugh at the little red haired girl who had no clue.