Daily Wanderlust: The leather of Fez, Morocco

Morocco is  a whirlwind of sights, sounds, smells. From the souks to the orange juice stands, the medinas are a constant attack of the senses until you are able to escape to a riad.

Honestly, it was not my favorite place in my travels. It was very hard to be a solo female throughout most of the country.

But, there were definitely moments of supreme awe. When I was visiting Fez, about half-way through my time in the country, I was approached by a “free” guide. For most of my time in Morocco, I waved off these men. But, for some reason, his persistence wore me down and  I him let whisk me through the dusty maze of the Fez medina.

We spent a day together, drinking the delicious mint tea, exploring local pharmacies, the tannery, and even an artist “enclave” of rundown, dimly lit rooms where leather was dyed and hung out to dry in the hot desert sun.

Newly dyed leather hangs from a railing in Fez, Morocco.

 

Destinations

Daily Wanderlust: the Fez tannery

During my time in Morocco, I hired a guide. Even though I swore I wouldn’t. I just got so worn down, tired of pretending to not hear the calls, tired of being on guard.

When in Fez, and I met Sayid, I succumbed and let him take me around the old medina of Fez, which dates back to 793 AD or something crazy like that.

He took me to all over town, including to the coolest overlook in the city, a bath, and even to the leather tannery.The tannery dates back nearly 1,000 years and still processes hides of animals using traditional techniques.

Here, vats are filled with pigeon poop and veggie dyes to prepare the skin for leather production. On a hot summer day, you can smell it across the medina.

 

Destinations

Escape of the Week: A Turkish Camel

Turkey has some serious bus stops. Like, serious. These huge facilities greet thousands of visitors a day and come complete with restaurants, shops, pay-to-pee squat toilets, and more. They even wash the buses quickly when passengers disembark to stretch their legs.

On the first day of my Fez Bus Tour through Turkey, we stopped between Istanbul and Canakkale to give the bus driver a rest AKA spend money on food and random Turkish trinkets. At this particular bus stop, which was surrounded by endless sunflower fields, there were some animals kept behind awful white bars, on display for everyone.

I loathe animals being treated with anything but love and respect, so was pretty peeved when I saw a camel and an ostrich contained in small spaces. I walked up to the camel and was immediately touched by its friendly demeanor and beauty. I guess after seeing so many people each day, it was pretty domesticated.

Of course, when the camel popped its nose out towards my face, batting it’s long-lashed eyes, I had to snap a picture.

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Fairytale land

Napping is a beautiful thing. When I wake-up from a nap I feel refreshed. Revived. Renewed.

I woke up mid-afternoon in Goreme and quickly emerged from the damp cave to take in my surroundings.

Scotty sat outside at picnic bench, working on paper work.

A few minutes later, Claire emerged from her bed, too.

Claire and I had been reunited in Olympos on our last night.

“I’m on your bus,” she said as we sat in the tree house bar.

I was thrilled.

She and I bonded over the gross stories of Murat and decided to hang out in Goreme for three days, along with Scotty.

We didn’t do much in those three days. We ate. We lounged at the pool. We walked around town.

But, mostly we marveled at the sheer beauty of the town.

Goreme isn’t big. In fact, it has a distinct small town feel. It has Old Man Alley, where old men (of course) sit at a cafe and stare at you as you walk by.

Like they’ve seen you naked.

Everyone at the shops knows everyone else at the shops. They tell you were to go (because they get a nice kickback), they give you “good deals.” Restaurants are abundant and delicious, specializing  in clay pot meals where they cook the food in terracotta pots all day and then bring it to your table and crack it open, displaying a mix of veggies and meat in a delicious sauce. They serve amazing homemade wine.

There are locals and then there are tourists of all kinds, all in town to see one thing — the cave homes and fairy chimneys of the land.

The homes and chimneys jut out of the ground, big hunks of light-colored rocks, some with windows, some with doors, some housing entire hotels.

They are freaks of nature in the coolest sense possible.

I loved it.

At sunset, the tall caves would echo the sky, turning pink and purple and orange as night grew closer.

I wanted to take tours, to go on the hot air balloon ride, but instead, I just relaxed. Money was a bit tight, so I was OK with hearing every one’s reviews of the tours and experiences they had at night as we sat around enjoying the delicious barbecue.

On my last night in Goreme, I went out with Scotty, Claire and another Fez tour guide. We went to a cave bar and sat around, listening to “We Don’t Speak No Americano” and “Waka Waka.”

After we were done, we ran into a local Scotty knew and hitched a ride in a pimped out van to the desert next to the city.

For about 20 minutes, I just looked up.

The stars were like Koygeicz, sparkling in the vast black sky.

It was a good way to end my time on the Fez tour.

I was ready to go back to Istanbul the next day and to have my reunion with one of my favorite mates from Down Under, Chris.

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The Fez night bus of discomfort

“All aboard,” Scotty said, standing outside the Fez bus as a group of 16 of us loaded ourselves in.

It was 8 p.m. and we were leaving Olympos, headed to Goreme in the Cappidocia region of Turkey. The ride was going to be a long one — 10 hours — and get us in to our next city at 7 a.m.

No one was looking forward to the ride.

About an hour in to the trip Scotty nudged me.

“Look,” he said, gesturing to the driver’s console. “We have no gas.”

“What?”

I looked. The needle clung to empty.

“Well, that’s no good,” I said. “Maybe we should tell the driver to stop at the next station.”

“Yeah,” Scotty said.

We drove for an hour before we passed civilization again. The air-con was off.

Not a good sign.

Then, a few kilometers up, I saw the twinkling lights of a gas station.

“Oh, good,” we both said, sighing with relief.

We drove past it.

“Seriously?” I said, looking from Scotty to the driver.

There is no way in hell I am pushing this bus up the mountain.

“Oh my god,” Scotty breathed. “We have to stop.”

“Say something,” I urged, every second was precious since we were likely running only on fumes.

“I don’t speak Turkish!”

Instead, Scotty gestured to the driver, telling him we needed a bathroom break.

Anything to get him to stop.

Twenty minutes later, we were at the gas station.

“If he doesn’t fill up now …” I began.

Luckily, he did.

Before we got back on the bus, I popped a Tylenol PM. I needed to get some sleep. I still ached from falling.

But, for some reason, Fez doesn’t use nice buses. They are the most uncomfortable buses I have ever been in. Barely any cushion. Barely any leg room. No bathroom. Clearly, the money spent on the tour doesn’t go to taking care of the customer’s comfort.

For the remainder of the night drive I teetered between awake and asleep, adjusting and re-adjusting.

A few hours later, when the sun was rising over the desert, I was awake for good.

The scenes before me were beautiful. Orange sky touching sand, giving way to early-morning blue.

As we drove into Goreme, Scotty woke up the bus.

“That is the hot-air balloon ride you can go on,” he said, pointing out the window.

It was magnificent.

Hundreds of balloons, all different colors, floating at different heights, lingered in the sunrise over a valley of cave homes and fair chimneys jutting up from the ground.

Stunning.

At 7 a.m., we pulled into Shoestring, a cave hostel with a pool on the highest terrace.

After a quick breakfast, I dropped my bags in my room and crawled into bed, thankful the cave I was staying in had no windows.

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Seeing stars

SCOTTY.

I had never been happier to see someone walk down the hill as I was to see Scotty.

“Hey there,” he said. I didn’t even let him finish introductions before I grabbed him, pulling him into a hug and expressing just how glad I was he was there

I quickly filled him in on what had happened in Kusadasi and he immediately promised me I would be safe now, taken care of.

That night, I finally got some sleep. The next morning, I caught the Fez bus and we headed to Koygeicz, a lake town near the Aegean Sea. But first, we had to stop at a leather factory for a fashion show, and a ceramics factory for a demo and tour.

Once we arrived to Tango Hostel, we got our rooms sorted and made plans for the evening — a boat cruise on the lake, followed by a stop at the mud bath and thermal bath, then a little night swimming.

It sounded great, especially after the week I had prior.

About 12 of us boarded the boat after nightfall, clad in our suits and ready for a fun night out.

The captain on the little wooden boat mixed up some punch which was passed around, and we headed off to the baths.

Corinne, another tour guide who was on the bus with Scotty, and I sat together and talked about our experiences in Turkey. It was nice to tell someone my story and not be in the midst of it still.

It took about an hour to get to the baths, which by day produce a carnival-like atmosphere, packed with people, but at night create a serene and lovely place to get clean.

“You have to walk past the stones in the mud pit and then dig in,” Scotty instructed us as we walked tentatively into the clay.

I could feel the tiny stones digging into my feet, the sea grass brushing against my ankles and shins.

“Dig in!” Scotty once again instructed.

I reached down into the wet slop and grabbed a chunk of clay.

“Now, smear it all over you!”

I did.

Gross.

After being thoroughly covered — from hair on my head to heels of my feet — I hopped out and sat on the bench, waiting for the mud to dry before washing it off of me.

About 20 minutes later, our group was jumping into the lake, a cloud of mud spreading like ink in the black waters.

The water lapped against me, cool, refreshing.

Then, we went into the thermal bath. It was similar to the one I went to in Budapest — it had the same sulfur smell — but tingled my skin more. Maybe because I was so clean from the mud?

The time passed midnight, and we all got back on the boat. On the way back to land, I stepped outside of the main seating area, onto the bow of the boat and looked up.

Stars.

The most magnificent sky I had seen in years.

The Milkyway stretched before me.

In that moment, I had such a deep appreciation for where I was. Who I was. What I was doing. The experiences I had the days leading up to this.

I was thankful to be there.

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Running Scared

After a couple of hours at the beach, I went back to the hotel to shower and do some writing.

I tried to sneak back into the hotel, I didn’t want to see Murat’s beady little eyes glaring at me.

Fortunately, he was sleeping on the couch, so I didn’t have to talk to him.

Door locked, I took a quick shower (no hot water) and was getting dressed when I heard a knock at my door.

I froze.

“Yes?” I called.

“Hi.”

It was Murat. At my door.

I didn’t say anything. I had these images running through my mind of him coming in to my (empty) dorm room with his key … fear ripped through my body.

I said nothing. I dressed quietly, waiting to hear footsteps fade … the elevator door to open.

Nothing.

I had no idea what to do. All I knew was there was no way in hell I would let him come into the room. There was no one in the hotel that afternoon. No one would know anything.

Never in my life have I felt trapped, but I did that Sunday afternoon … wondering how long I needed to wait to emerge safely from my room and avoid the one man who actually inspired fear.

I toyed with getting my little Swiss Army knife out of my pack, but reasoned it was more dangerous to me than anyone else, so instead, decided I would have to exit my room quickly, squeezing through a barely opened door and quickly shutting it behind me so if he was still there, he couldn’t get in the room alone with me.

There was no way I would let him get into my room.

I opened the door just a crack. Silently.

He wasn’t there.

Swiftly, I moved from my room to the abandoned hall, clutching my laptop against my chest and stepping towards the elevator.

Then, Murat appeared in the doorway of the room across the hall.

He has been there the entire time. Waiting for me to exit my room.

I looked at him blankly, silently hating every part of his being.

“What?” I asked him.

“I owe you an apology,” he offered.

“OK.”

“I am sorry. I was stressed this morning. How are you?”

Was this an olive branch? Did I even give a shit?

“I’m great. I had a great day.”

“Can we talk on the terrace?”

“Fine,” I said, sighing.

There was nothing he could possibly say to me to make things OK. He had come to my room. Stalked my door. My guard was on high.

We got into the elevator.

He smiled at me. I responded with a smirk.

Then, he was on me. Trying to kiss me. I squirmed out of his grasp, his lips planting on my cheek.

You’ve got to be kidding me. He didn’t get it. He was relentless.

I said nothing. I was too angry to open my mouth. I didn’t trust what would come out. There have only been a few times in my life where I have been too stunned to talk — all similar situations like the one in the elevator, but even worse — and exited the elevator and walked out to the terrace.

I trailed behind him, seething, as we joined his family at a table.

“Tea? Coffee?” he asked, pretending the little event in the elevator had not happened.

“No,” I replied, not even looking his direction.

“So, I booked some tours today,” he began.

I looked at him, hatred spilling out of me.

Why on earth was he telling me this? I didn’t care.

He rambled on about booking tours as if I was still working for him. As if his apology meant everything was OK.

I said nothing the entire time we were on the terrace and left as soon as he got up.

When Nathan got back that night, I told him what had happened.

I told my parents what had happened. I told everyone I knew. And, everyone said the same thing:

“GET OUT OF THERE.”

After dinner at the restaurant, Ash and I walked over to a hotel down the street and I inquired about rooms for Tuesday and Wednesday, since I couldn’t get back on my bus tour until Thursday morning.

They had rooms. Even that night, if I wanted one.

I figured I would be OK spending one more night there. So long as there were people in my dorm room, I wasn’t worried.

I said goodbye to Ash and headed back up to the hotel.

I walked into the lobby, and there was Murat, at reception, staring blankly at the computer screen.

“I need to show you something on the computer,” he said as soon as I walked in.

Screw you.

“I am going upstairs to get my laptop. When I come down, you can.”

I went to my room. There were no other bags in there. I was the only person sleeping there.

Great.

I went back down to the lobby and opened up my computer. I didn’t have any intention of looking at his computer. I didn’t care. I thought he wanted my help with something.

Three more times has asked me to look at his computer. Well, the third was more of a demand: “Look at the computer and then finish what you are doing.”

Every time I told him I was busy, when I was done I would look.

I didn’t need to answer to him, to do anything for him. I was going against what he was used to — I was telling him no.

Finally, I stood up and went to the desk.

He turned the screen to me.

My heart sank.

There, on the screen was Claire’s Facebook page where I had written: “Guess who got fired? Long story. DO NOT WORK THERE.”

I knew he had tried to convince her to come back and work after she was done touring Turkey and I hadn’t wanted her to make the same mistake I did.

And, now, there was her Facebook page, with my message loud and proud, staring back at me from his account.

I was paralyzed.

“What is this? Why did you write this?” Murat questioned me, squinting eyes and lips curled in anger.

Why? Because you are the creepiest man alive and I think I actually hate you.

I had to answer quickly.

“It’s none of your business.”

“What is this?” He tried again, shoulders shrugging, arms lifted out, expecting me to launch into why I would write such a thing on this girl’s wall.

“It’s none of your business. It was a conversation between she and I.”

Facebook stalker.

“You stay at my hotel …” he began, looking at me with as much hatred as I had looked at him.

“Then I will leave,” I announced, grabbing my laptop and getting into the elevator in one swift move.

I raced into my room, threw everything into my bags. Panicked. He was angry. And, I was scared of his anger.

GO. GogogogogogoGO.

My heart beat in my throat as I rounded everything up, racing against a confrontation I was certain would happen in my room.

I went to the elevator to push the button down. But, right as my finger went to touch the button, it launched back down to the lobby.

He’s coming up here.

In my two euro flip flops, 15 kilo bag strapped to me, messenger bag and purse, I “ran” down the stairs, stopping at the bottom when I caught a glimpse of Murat … getting into the elevator and closing the door.

I froze, hiding behind the corner until I heard the door shut. Then, I booked it out of there as fast as I could, gathering people I had met along the way to walk with me to my new hotel.

The thing about this town is everyone is connected (and I will leave it at that … use your imagination), and that fact alone struck fear into every inch of my body.

I ran to the restaurant after I had checked in, telling Ash what had happened. She secured me an escort back to my hotel.

Never has the fight or flight kicked in so hard.

I looked around corners. I opened my room door and kept it open until I had checked my bathroom. I could just imagine Murat talking to the owner of this hotel, his “friend,” and getting a key and waiting for me like he had earlier in the day.

I checked my landline to make sure it was plugged in. I put my cell phone next to my bed. I told the hotel owner under no circumstances were any of his staff to tell anyone I was here, even if they asked for me by name.

That night, I slept with my backpack propped against the door, heart racing the entire night.

The following morning, I felt better. Until I turned on my computer. One of his staff members had created a Twitter account. I was the only person they were following.

For the second time in 24 hours, my heart sank. They had read everything I had written … I was in BIG TROUBLE.

Tears in my eyes, I deleted any reference (although I never mentioned anyone or anything by name) and blocked them from following me.

I went to my room and cried. Truly scared. I had pissed off the wrong person and I knew it.

Then, I did the one thing every parent dreads. I called home via Skype.

Sobbing, I told my dad what had happened. I gave him Murat’s name, the hotel’s name, the new hotel’s name. He tried to calm me down. Tried to talk me into going to the Greek Islands (which, thanks to Schengen, I couldn’t do). Tried to make sense of everything his very frightened daughter was telling him.

“Go to the police,” he urged. “Tell them what is going on.”

“It won’t matter,” I cried. “They won’t do anything. I am telling you, this town is all connected. They won’t care what some stupid girl is telling them. They will tell him I went to the police.”

I couldn’t come straight out and tell my parents, who were thousands and thousands of miles away what was really on my mind — I was scared for my life. For my safety.

As I talked with my parents, the hotel phone rang.

“Heellloooo,” I answered, trying to sound as un-American as possible.

“Hi,” said the owner’s brother, “Ash is here. Can she come up to see you?”

I told him that was fine and when she got to the door, I made sure it was her before I opened it.

“Hello love,” she said, standing at my door. Then, she took note of my tear-stained face. “I came to make sure you were OK.”

I sat on one of the single beds, and more tears flowed as I explained to her what had happened, how I was now being followed on Twitter, how they knew everything …

It took me nearly the entire day to return to a normal state of mind.

By nightfall, I was back at the restaurant, my little haven of safe. I was booked on the next Fez bus out of town, departing from tourist information, a separate pick-up from the one at the hotel. I had two more nights there. That was all.

In the next 48-hours I learned even more about the twisted world of Kusadasi, the role women are expected to play, that “no” doesn’t mean “no” at all and more.

I didn’t walk anywhere by myself. I didn’t, for one second, let my guard down. I always made sure I knew who was around me, where I was going, where I had been. I opened my door slowly in my hotel room, always peering into the bathroom and opening the closet before I shut the door and was inside.

On my final night in that little town, Ash and I had drinks. She came over early in the afternoon after quitting her job at the restaurant (that story is coming next, promise). She and I sat on the rooftop of Hotel Lima drinking rose and exchanging tales of our lives, then that night, we headed back towards my old hotel to roundup the Fez tour driver to let them know I was here and what had happened. I sent one of my new friends up to the hotel to grab the tour guide.

There was no way in hell I would go near that place.

Wouldn’t you know who walked down the hill to meet the two of us at the T-shirt shop?

SCOTTY.

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