I’m not sure if this is the case for Fes but I do know that we will remember this town fondly because of the experiences that we have had with the people of Fes today and for that we can be grateful.
‘I feel like I went to bed and in the middle of the night was transported to a completely different place’ (Claire 2016).
‘There are some places that are different from home that you think could be home and then there are some places that just aren’t and that’s good for travelling’ (Claire 2016).
Yes profound statements from Yoda Claire, now inspired with travel wisdom as she awoke from her slumber this morning but the reality is that it is true. This is a completely different place, quite unique from others that we have visited. Yet that is a really good thing as it pushes each one of us outside of our comfort zone and opens our eyes to a world that we rarely get to experience. It’s part of what I love about travel – not only does it teach you things but it gives you perspective on so many elements of life that really just shouldn’t be that important.
Our first experience today was the Moroccan breakfast taken in the ‘Ruined Garden’ of our Riad. It was really quiet and we were the only people at breakfast at the time so service was not an issue. Now one thing that has been a bit of a joke in the short time that we have been here is the number of bowls, plates and other serving dishes that are used. I do this also sometimes at home but not to this extent and so both Philip and Claire have decided that it will now be called ‘doing a Moroccan!’
We were served up fresh mandarin juice (with mandarins being in abundance here), bananas and apples cut up, muesli, yoghurt, scrambled eggs, and three different types of breads. Well actually not bread more like giant crumpets dinner plate size and something similar to roti bread. There was also a range of condiments and then just when we thought we couldn’t do anymore, a little Moroccan cook brought out hot, large freshly cooked cinnamon doughnuts the size of bread and butter plates. Well let’s just say that we weren’t hungry when we had finished. The little cook explained via one of the English speaking staff that if we kept eating her doughnuts we would end up looking like her (yeah maybe she was a little doughnut shaped!)
Leaving the garden area, we prepared for our tour of the medina that had previously been booked. The tour was a particularly unique one as it took us to meet some of the artisans working in the medina – those that had been doing their craft for some time and were still using traditional methods. It was about learning rather than the hard sell you often get in these kind of areas. Some of the money that we paid to go on the tour then paid the artisans for taking the time to talk to us and share their work which seemed a reasonable way of recognising the skills they possessed whilst helping to subsidise an income.
For some reason which we are unsure about the 10 am tour was moved to 12 noon, thanks to the help of Fatima, one of the people who work at Riad Idrissy. This gave us some time to venture out a little on our own, staying on one of the wider lane-ways to reach the Blue gate, one of the entrances into the medina. Along the way we saw donkeys carrying gas bottles, carts filled with freshly picked mandarins, stall holders setting up for the day and kids with school bags going in all different directions. There were also tour guides informing us that if we had booked a tour through a Riad we were definitely paying way too much and to be wary of those operators not accredited to take people around the medina. Good advice and yes we may have paid too much but we were content with the arrangements that we had made and didn’t feel the need to change despite ‘well intentioned’ advice.
Arriving back at the Riad, Mohammed met us at 12 noon and proceeded to take us through the medina, a maze of tiny lane ways with clay walls and houses that encapsulated you within their grasp. People everywhere were just going about their daily business in the way that many families would have done for hundreds of years; it’s a place where time has really stopped still and between 400,000 to 1.5 million who live in the medina (depending upon who you talk to) seem like they would have it no other way. Behind doors there are little hidden treasures and people doing the most interesting of things.
One man was the oldest wood turner in the medina. He learnt from his father and his father learnt from his grandfather. He sat in a tiny little clay box on a bed of wood chips that had been created through the shavings of larger logs. When you went into his ‘room’ he had a small television tucked away and just sat cross legged as he crafted all manner of wood products. These included musical instruments, prosthetic legs and tools that helped scrape the hairs off leather hide. Despite the small size of his work space and the time that it took to make one object, this man spoke (through our guide) which such pride about his job and how he could make anything out of wood. His tools were simple and the concepts obviously handed down from generations but he knew he was the ‘go to’ man in relation to wood – he had status and he was keen to share it with us foreigners who knew nothing.
Another man dyed threads which were used to make carpets, rugs and other woven items. As an aside he also used the heated vats to dye any kind of clothing and remarked that he could even dye our blonde hair if we wanted. Again it was a tiny little clay box that he worked in, with one big ‘cooking’ pot powered by gas. A myriad of clothing was being rung out and stacked one on top of the other easy for their owners to collect them.
At the tannery we were met by Mohammed, a big man with a belly that he said had been created by cous cous and a range of other foodstuffs. He remarked that some people live to eat whereas he ate to live. We nicknamed him ‘Mr Cous Cous’.
Prior to going into the area we were handed sprigs of mints to sniff if the smell of hide became too much. Now the main large tanneries are being upgraded thanks to funding from the government and also international aide agencies and so whilst you could see where they were, they were not fully in operation. The smaller ones nearby were though and so you could see the men in the vats, dying and softening the leather, the hides being stretched out on the concrete drying and the men in a small room, stripping the dried leather of any residual hair. From here Mr. Cous Cous told us all about the different types of leather – the ultimate being camel and the least preferred sheep – “sheep is cheap” he told us. He fell in love with Claire telling us that he was going to marry her and provide her with two million camels, a palace and a leather jacket every day. This wouldn’t of course happen until after they were married. He was a smooth salesman but one that you could have fun with in the process and the sweat coming from his brow and the laughter from fellow workers indicated that he was working hard for a sale. In the end Claire and I did buy jackets for what we considered good prices. It was also a co-operative so the sale was shared amongst all workers and helps keep people employed. We figured this was a better option that buying in the medina where the stall holder ups the price considerably and the people who made the product get very little.
Another stall holder was the knife man who made handles out of sheep horn. He sharpened the knives with a large stone wheel that rotated by pushing on a pedal with one foot. This man was in his 70’s and the speed with which he was able to make the wheel rotate indicated that he was still in good shape.
After visiting a number of other people including a women’s co-operative where they make carpets and a workshop where men wove scarves and tablecloths, we returned back to the Riad to reflect on our journey through the medina. It has seemed so scary in the morning when we were doing it ourselves and people seemed quite intimidating. Now they were people and personalities and it just made the medina seem like a broad community of skills and talents and for us it created a vibrancy about the place that had merely seemed chaotic to begin with.
Sitting on our roof top terrace, eating peanuts we had brought along the way, the call to prayer rang out all over the medina. Wise Yoda Claire said ‘what’s that?’ as she thought Philip was making some kind of noise – yep up with it she is. It was just another illustration of how unique this place is and also how there is a ritual about each day which we didn’t know but which would become very familiar quickly.
So today was about people and learning from new people that we have met. It was about taking a perception and changing it by being open to possibilities and it was about taking the road less travelled in order to experience something unique. Loved it!