We caught a bus to Fes, which went smoothly and included a stop at a little roadside stall where we tried delicious fresh cooked burgers. When we arrived at the bus station at night, we were immediately confronted by lots of taxi drivers asking us where we wanted to go. One man attached himself to us, tried to call the place to find out where it was, and then wanted fifty dirhams to go there. We refused and he then became angry, told us he had helped us, that we were paranoid and asked us why we came to Africa if we were going to be rude. I became upset, so we went into the waiting room and out the other door, where another guy asked us about a taxi and then called me a bitch when I said no.
We walked down the street to the mini taxi stand and negotiated a fare, and that’s when we found out Reuben had been pickpocketed and our wallet was gone. After taking a few minutes to calm ourselves (much easier as we had a stash of extra money) we got a taxi for 25 dirhams and took it to the gate to the medina that was marked on Google maps. We immediately had someone offer to be a guide, we said no but he followed us for awhile. We went to the place on the map where our riad was supposed to be but couldn’t find it. A young man told us he knew where it was and offered to show us. We followed him through dark alleys for about 45 minutes as he first told us it was expensive, then asked person after person where it was. At the beginning I was sure he was taking us somewhere to be mugged, and I kicked myself for not asking the policeman we had seen where to go. When we finally, finally found it Reuben gave him 15 dirhams and he became angry and asked for more. (We let the riad owners deal with that one). When I got into the beautiful guesthouse I started to cry – and to make matters worse, their wifi wasn’t working so we couldn’t even immediately cancel our credit cards. We had to text my Mum in New Zealand to try to cancel them on our behalf.
The next morning I had very mixed emotions – afraid to go out, afraid to get lost, or be insulted, or insult someone by not paying them enough. We don’t want to have to get a guide in places, we want to be able to be independent but also be safe. I also wanted to keep perspective – we weren’t harmed, we only lost about $35 NZD, and people said some mean things but they were also less than truthful. The taxi driver who told us we were paranoid was actually trying to charge us double. The guy who told us he knew where the riad was had no idea and happily led us around in circles hoping to get more money. It should have been a 10 minute walk! We made a mistake by having the wallet in a front pocket and by not contacting the riad and assuming we would be able to find our way in the medina at night, but they weren’t the worst mistakes in the world and we will be able to recover from this. It is such a struggle while travelling to find a balance – how to trust people and accept help but at the same time be very cautious and take everything with a grain of salt.
So, we decided to be brave, to give Fes another chance, to go out and explore and find out why people love this city. In travelling and in life, I want to try not to be emotionally affected by what strangers who don’t know me say to me. It’s hard, because my natural desire is to want to be liked and to please people but when people are lying and pressuring and following me I need to be tough, to just ignore them and to realise that yes, they will think I am rude, but that’s better than me losing my temper and emotions and becoming deeply upset when they harass and provoke me.
So, did Fes get better? Yes and no…our next days saw us hassled by people wanting to be our guides, whose response when we said no was to tell me I had a big ass (great for the self esteem – I did try responding to one guy when this happened that he had a small dick. Not sure this was the most mature response but it was satisfying!) We managed to see our unscrupulous “guide” again who took the opportunity to hassle us again “Never have I ever met tourists like this!” One particular lowlight is people who tell you “X is that way”. If you start going that way, even if it was the way you were going already, they will follow you as if they have been appointed your guide and expect money. You have to be quite fierce to get them to go away. We were tricked into going into a shop where they demanded $10 NZ each to see the tanneries or that we had to make a purchase (we declined and left). It did have lots of highlights though which I will talk about in another post. In general, the learnings from Fes were:
1. The medina is huge, and complicated. Especially if you arrive at night, arrange with your riad to meet you at the nearest gate. It is worth any extra money they might charge.
2. Be extra careful with your wallet at stations!
3. Learn to ignore comments and offers of guides. Don’t engage and choose very carefully who you ask for help from or they will expect payment.
4. Despite this post, still go to Fes! Stay tuned for what we loved about the city…