Don't try this alone...
29.04.2010 - 29.04.2010 30 °C
We had a great big breakfast to set us up for the day. Mohammed was waiting for us, this time in a traditional djellaba. We head out into the medina. Within two minutes we would have been lost. The medina consists of narrow paths that you can reach across, built up for three or more stories and sometimes built over completely so you can touch the ceiling too. These lanes are not in any regular pattern, but are determined what was built there in years long past.
We head around to start in the area where the coppersmiths are out beating out so much of the copperware that is used in the Moroccan kitchens. The noise of all the smiths hammering away on the copper is deafening, and we soon move on. Next is the ‘surprise market’ as you will get whatever the local farmers bring in. By the time we arrive, a lot of the produce is gone, but we also get to see the various butchers and fishmongers in action. The butchers are chopping up the carcasses in front of you, making sure you know you are getting. There is no refrigeration in these shops, so it is no surprise that most of the meat goes early. Chicken stays fresh for a lot longer as your chicken gets prepared for you there and then! Fes is a fair way from the coast so it is interesting to think how fresh the fish is.
We get taken next to the silks area where the locals get silk which they then spin and dye with ‘vegetable dyes all natural’ which are then available as short lengths for the local ladies to use in their projects. A massive range of colours are available whether through skill or natural variation the guide would not say. We also come across the famous university which is older than the Universities of Oxford, Bologna and Paris, some from Fes say the oldest in the world. It takes a paramount position in the medina, having grown to cover 5 hectares of the medina’s 84. We keep on running into the doors of the university and the central mosque as we circle around. Each of the doors is a masterpiece of painted Cedar, mosaic work and plasterwork in what we would think of as a classic Arabic design with the straight sides leading up to a circular top.
We walk past the colourful nougat sellers, the little medina supermarkets that sell everything from a front the size of a shower cubicle, the fabric and button sellers and the traditional djellaba and kaftans. It is a constant visual circus watching the people at work, shouting out to each other (the guides spend a large proportion of their time catching up with each other and whomever else they run into) and taking in a new sight around the next corner.
Next we go to the carpet man where our guide assures us we are under no obligation unless you feel the urge...Our host is very friendly and tells us all about the house we were in and the cooperative they work for, and how the carpets are made. The carpet is the ladies’ work, and they go out and select the wool, clean it and then spin it. They take it to be dyed to the colour they want and then start knotting. The whole process can take several years and the rugs are designed to have a winter (deep) and summer (shallow pile)side, as the carpets used to be what people would sleep on. The carpets are beautiful to look at, but we cannot see where would put them into our house. On the other hand, Mum would love them... ‘And they are a very reasonable price, around $3500 to get back to Australia, and if you want you could by extra and sell it to cover the cost of your trip – you can sell for $20K easily – tell you what if you can’t, do not even send me money for the carpet’. As good as the carpets and his salesmanship is we politely decline – ‘This is the first time this has happened!’ and get thrown out the tradesman’s entrance.
Next is a lunch to ease off with. Or so we thought. First course of lunch is salad – which means a dozen plates with individual salad items on it, each prepared in its own way. After that there is the main course, but since we have had the veggies, this is only meat in a tajine which is nice but not as spicy as we are used too. Not sure if they are toning it down for tourists or if it is authentic. All the waiters and guides swear it is authentic.
We then head to the famous tanneries of Fes, where we get to overlook the centuries old process of stripping back the hides in a mix of lime and pigeon droppings to remove the fat and hair. The people who have this job must not be able to taste anything after a day at work, and probably don't have many friends. All in all, it does not smell too bad, but everyone says wait a few weeks until it starts to heat up.
After the stripping bath the hides are dried, then prepared for the dye baths where the dyer has to tramp the hides in the dye for hours to get the colour in and consistent. They do all this in bare legs, where we are assured is fine as all the dyes are natural vegetable extracts - who knows it may make their leg hairs glossy and silky. The skins are then left out to dry again to set the colours. A good look around the leather shops - the only place you can get a view of the tanneries! and then off without buying again. I think our guide is frustrated with our lack of purchases as we have been told they get a cut!
Next place is the weavers where they are hand looming some fantastic fabrics with some great colour combinations. Gaelan is really keen on running the loom, which is man's work (unlike the carpet looms). He is tried out for his Berber burnoose, very fetching.
This was the end of the tour - there are plenty of things I have missed out, but a great day was had by all. As we said goodbye to Mohammed, we asked where a barber was,and how to get out of the medina afterwards. He found us a barber close to our side of the medina, and we set down for a cut and a shave in my case. All up Youssef spent 50 minutes on our hair, and got us mint tea too. A worthwhile 80DM.
Next we thought we would like to go back into the medina and get some nougat - so we set off in one direction for about 200m without hitting any, so we traced our steps back. We then headed down the other direction and after a few turns started to get a bit nervous. There were a few way markers like the man selling goat's heads (and nothing else), but we did get to the nougat and spent up.
Traced our steps back and G guided us back to the riad. Crashed out and had no dinner -too full.