The taxi door was held shut with Sellotape and bumper stickers. A string of brightly coloured beads hung from the rear-view mirror, bouncing frenetically in response to the many bumps and potholes that littered Fez’s side streets.
As a typical student, I was desperate to ‘see the world’; find somewhere untouched by tourism and all manner of other clichés easily recognizable in an early twenty-something. For me, it became about the ‘Coca Cola Test’; it’s a relatively well known fact that, even in the most remote countries in the most obscure and rarely frequented parts of the world, it’s almost always possible to buy a Coke. Whether this is from a languid street vendor, sitting beneath a parasol beside a dusty road or served in an iced glass inside an air-conditioned, Westernized shopping palace, Coke is the international beverage that reminds us, just a little bit, of home. My curiosity nudged me tentatively towards visiting somewhere in which Coca Cola is not an inevitability; do such places exist?
Having scoured the internet for the cheapest flights to the most obscure destinations, Fez seemed like a reasonable option. A city in the midst of a diverse country, immersed within an enticing and wildly exotic continent, Fez undoubtedly had appeal. Did, however, it have Coca Cola?
My arrival in the city was not, to my surprise, blurred by noise, confusion and disorientation (as is so often the case). Instead, the city seemed welcoming, the unfamiliar sights and sounds nudging me tentatively towards the start of the adventure. The streets of Fez emit a feverish energy that is juxtaposed with the tranquility of its residents. Men crouch, bare-footed in doorways, smoking from long wooden pipes, calmly watching as the day unravels.
Naïve optimism taught me to overlook practicalities and, by travelling to Fez in mid-August, I had subjected myself to extreme and debilitating heat. Relatively undeterred and draped in all manner of coloured scarves, I set out to explore the Medina. Fez has been photographed many times though no picture can encapsulate the complexities of the tangled streets. The vibrancy, colour and cinnamon richness of the spices and herbs lining the well-trodden pathways induce images of apothecaries and bazaars; a rich, vibrant and altogether mysterious world; dappled corridors hidden from the blazing sun. In Fez you want to touch things, pick things up, hold things to your nose and breathe in the exotic, unfamiliar richness. Opulent, brightly coloured fabrics entice shoppers into the dusky secrecy of the shops within, whilst sugary, sweet-smelling treats demand attention from the occasional tourist ambling past.
Sometimes, some things are inevitable. The lure of luxurious and relatively inexpensive draperies is hard to resist. With my credit card poised lazily between my fingers, I purchased a few items to take back to England: a scarf for a friend and a mirror for the living room amongst other bits and pieces. For the next few days, my purchases remained, beautifully and ornately wrapped, on the mosaicked floor of my hotel room whilst I continued to explore the city, curiously meandering the city’s enigmatic pathways, eating evocative meals scented with ginger and drinking sweet peppermint tea from richly patterned glasses.
On the day of departure, naïve optimism gave way to a potentially expensive reality. Having purchased a significant amount of jewellery and soft-furnishings during my trip, I had left myself in a precarious position and my small bag of hand luggage considerably exceeded the 10kg allotted weight limit. Looking to my left, I noticed two of my fellow passengers scrambling frantically through their suitcase; they were removing items of clothing and hurriedly pulling them on over the ‘going home clothes’ that they were already wearing. With little time to lose and the promise of a hefty excess baggage charge hanging threateningly over me, I did the same. Purple harem pants were slipped on over jeans and scarves were tied in to my hair; the result of my endeavours, a narrowly averted charge and a particularly uncomfortable flight home.
Fez passed the Coca-Cola test and, with it, satisfied my whimsical - but ultimately trivial - curiosity. It is a richly mysterious city; a gateway into North Africa; cloaked in the enigmatic perfume of cinnamon and peppermint; dappled with opulence and vibrancy, the magnificence of which far outweigh the irritations afforded by the airline’s excess baggage restrictions.
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