Taking Tea in the Kasbah

Bab Bou Jeloud, Fez

Bab Bou Jeloud (Blue Gate) at the entrance to the Fez medina

My daughter and I are huge, huge fans of the show the Gilmore Girls and so it was a given that Fez would be one of our first stops in Morocco. Due to the enormous ash cloud from the erupting volcano in Iceland that grounded most flights to/from Europe that spring (what was the chance of THAT happening at the EXACT time I was flying to Morocco?), our connecting flights through Madrid were delayed. Sadly, we only had about 24 hours to spend in exotic Fez before we needed to meet up with the Cross-Cultural Solutions program in the capital city of Rabat.

The place I had chosen for us to stay in Fez is in the middle of the 1000+ year-old  medina in the oldest part of the city. I chose Dar El Hana for several reasons, one of which was so we would be in the middle of the action and history of the ancient core of the city. The other reasons were that the owner, an Australian expat named Josephine, speaks English and because her dar (the name of the traditional Moroccan house with an enclosed central courtyard) was getting glowing recommendations on travel forums like Trip Advisor.

It did not disappoint.

Josephine arranged for us to be picked up by cab at the Fez airport by a friendly driver who took us as far as the entrance of the medina. Since the medina can only be accessed on foot, moped or donkey, the cab driver connected us to a porter (also arranged by Josephine) who scooped up our suitcases in a wheelbarrow and led us through the winding labyrinth of the medina to the door of the dar.

As we stumbled along the uneven dusty streets and narrow alleys behind the swiftly moving porter, my first thought of being in the medina was “this is like from a movie set of an Indiana Jones film”. (Can you tell I have a thing for Indy since this is now the second consecutive post that I’ve mentioned him in?) Not a very profound thought, I know, and very U.S. culture-centric of me, but there it was. I was awestruck (and apparently dumbstruck) over the little shops and booths selling foods, spices, fabrics, and many other wares. It was simply fascinating.

People had told me that I would fall in love with the first country I travelled to and that’s exactly what happened: it was love at first sight. Morocco had me at hello.

Fes medina

olives in the Fes medina

The outside of the dar didn’t look like much at all. The thick, austere mudbrick walls were plain, if not down right ugly. But once you entered through the heavy wooden door into the center courtyard, the magic that is Morocco was revealed.

Intricate, colorful zelij, or mosaic tilework, gleamed underfoot and on the walls. Ancient thick, wooden beams held up the intricate ironwork balconies and a glorious skylight filtered in the light from above.

tilework, Fez
Intricate zelij, each colorful piece hand cut and shaped to form the detailed mosaic pattern

Dar El Hana is not the most glitziest of places to stay, but it more than makes up for that with the attention to detail and the amazing thoughtfulness of the staff and owner.

dining courtyard at Dar El Hana from the window of our room

Dining room/courtyard at Dar El Hana, as seen from the window of our room

Lounge room at Dar El Hana

our room at Dar El Hana

Our narrow room at Dar El Hana

We were graciously welcomed and shown to our room on the second floor. Up the very narrow stairs we went, glad to finally have a place to rest after travelling for almost 26 hours.

It was approaching dusk by then and we were exhausted, though I was also itching to get out into the streets and alleyways and start exploring. Because the medina is very difficult to navigate by day with a map and because we would have been “unescorted” females, Josephine advised us to not go out exploring alone. Thankfully, I had pre-arranged for a guide to show us around for the following morning so we conceded and agreed to join Josephine and the other guests for dinner in the dar that evening. It was just as well given how tired we were.

After we settled in to our room, we were taken up to the roof top terrace to have the first of many cups of sweet mint tea, the traditional Moroccan drink. Watching the sunset over the city, we toasted ourselves for having finally made it to Fez (Rory would have been so jealous!).

Me, rooftop of Dar El Hana
Me, sleep deprived, having my first glass of mint tea on the rooftop terrace of Dar El Hana
Kenzie, rooftop of Dar El Hana
My daughter, having her first glass of mint tea on the rooftop terrace of Dar El Hana

Back in our room, I opened the shutters on the courtyard window to let in a little more light. As I did, I had a view into the other upstairs room in the dar. Before I walked away from the window, something caught my eye: a bright yellow “O” on a pair of green shorts worn by the guy sitting on the sofa.

I pointed it out to my daughter and said, “That’s so weird. That guy over there has a pair of shorts on that look like they’re from the University of Oregon.” She, too, looked out across the courtyard, both of us now completely invading the privacy of the other guests. Then, even though I am about as shy and introverted as they come, I decided to go over there and knock on their door to see if, after traveling nearly halfway around the world, we were sharing the dar with fans of our hometown university.

As luck would have it, not only were they U of O fans, but the man, woman and their 22 year-old son (who was in Morocco working for the Peace Corps) were also from our hometown. And they happened to live 8 or so blocks from our house.

The world suddenly felt a lot cozier.

(Clearly, my Travel Mojo was at work on his first international assignment – see this post for more on the wily little fella.)

Later that evening, we all had dinner together with Josephine in the dar. Over heaping plates of amazingly delicious food, we chatted until late in the evening, swapping stories from our hometown and listening to their travel tales thus far.

I couldn’t have asked for a better introduction to Fez.

And I still couldn’t believe I was in Morocco.

In Africa.


I was officially an intrepid traveler.

In my next several posts, I’ll share what we did on our tour of the Fez medina and in our volunteer week with CCS in the capital city, Rabat.

So, dear readers, have you had any dreams fulfilled lately? Anything you’ve pushed yourself to do even though you were nervous to do it? Any serendipitous travel stories? Please share! I’d love to hear about it.

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16 thoughts on “Intrepid Traveler: Go Big or Stay Home, Part 2

  1. Wow, that is a narrow room in that one picture. I bet it was comforting to know you wouldn’t get lost in it 🙂

    It sounds like you two had a great time. You certainly got some great photos.

    Your posts have me toying with the idea of volunteering in China.

    • That room was spacious compared to our room in Marrakech. 🙂

      How exciting that you’re thinking about volunterring abroad! Are you thinking about volunteering with CCS in China?

      • Actually, I think I am. The novel I’m working on, which will be part of a series, is fantasy set in an imaginary world where I liberally steal from–I mean “pay homage” to–Chinese myth, history, and culture. So a trip do China would be “research” 🙂 Plus, the idea of contributing to something that improves people’s lives has a big appeal.

        • That’s great, Mike! I have a friend (different one from my post) who volunteered in China with CCS so I can ask him about it for you if you’d like. I love the idea of making it a combined effort of giving back and doing research for your novel. 🙂

          • That would be great, thanks 🙂

            Although if I were to volunteer, I have no idea what I’d do about food. I’ve never been an adventurous eater at all. I need to work on that.

            • Great! I will send an email to my friend.

              As for food, you will be served some traditionally prepared meals in the CCS house. Our experience in Morocco was that it was all delicious Being a vegetarian, I was worried that I would only be offered meat-filled meals, but that was not the case. CCS really strives to take care of you in that regard. You could start now by asking around about great Chinese restaurants by you and trying a new dish every few weeks. Chalk it up to “research.” 🙂

  2. Wonderful, descriptive recap of your adventure, Tami.

    The farthest I’ve gone outside my comfort zone since your last post was to the rec center to check out Zumba classes.


    Keep the fascinating pictures and travelog coming. I am fascinated!

    • I’ve heard Zumba classes are great fun. Good for you for checking it out. That would be out of my comfort zone, too. 🙂

  3. How exotic.
    When in Istanbul, my husband and I wandered through the Grand Bazaar. And it was grand. I bartered for the first (and so far, only) time in my life. What was really amazing, though, was to think of all the travellers who had come to this bazaar, who laid down their footsteps before me. Awesome.

    • “to think of all the travellers who had come to this bazaar, who laid down their footsteps before me.” – yes, that’s it exactly! The history of the medina was and is so awesome, not to mention that it apparently looks much the same as it did hundreds of years before. It was like being in a time machine. I loved it.

  4. Can’t wait for the rest of the story. I wondered about you walking through those mazes of streets. I’m even more eager to get to Morocco now.

  5. I love that your ‘travel mojo’ was at work. That’s the way my husband and I always felt when we’ve traveled to Mexico. We’ve had lots of good experiences and serendipity that made our travels wonderful. Morocco has always seemed exotic to me, I think early movies of the 1930s and 40s left me with images of the colorful bazaars, streets of tented vendors, camels, and etc. Thanks for this journal of your trip adventures. I’m enjoying it.

    • I love serendipitous events when traveling! I’m glad you and your husband have your own version of travel mojo working for you. Morocco is exotic and completely approachable in my opinion. If I could do it with a teenager on our own not knowing either languages being spoken there, I am confident most anyone can do it. Glad you’re enjoying my adventures. 🙂

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