Well everyone goes all misty eyed when they go on about Fez, “Oh it’s so wonderful, you’ve just got to go!” Well although we enjoyed our hotel unfortunately we didn’t get that “I’ve just gotta tell all my friends about this place!” sort of feeling. Maybe I built up my expectations so much so that when my plan came to fruition I was sadly disappointed. Somehow I think it was to be expected after my mad rush to get to Fes in time to see the storytellers at the Clock Café. After seeing a video about the storytelling tradition at the Clock Cafe and then missing it in Marrakech I was adamant that I wouldn’t miss it again, hence, Fez.
As our tyres were at the end of their life Ron wanted to go to via Casa Blanca, the only place in Morocco where proper replacement tyres were available, however, that would’ve meant going in the opposite direction. I was almost fanatical in my quest to get to Fes in time for the storytellers so luckily we dodged a bullet when the rear tyre disintegrated and Ron was able to find an “Africa Safe” replacement in Midelt. Things could’ve been a whole lot different.
So was the mad rush to Fez worth it?
Well the visit to the Clock Café was a real bummer. After the mad rush to get to Fes we visited on jam night the night before story telling and sadly the venue just didn’t have “it”. Just like Marrakech the food prices were aimed at tourists, however, the venue let it down. The jam session took place in a private corner away from people so I was not very happy at all. In Marrakech I was quite happy to pay the high prices as it was part of the experience, but Fez felt like just another tourist rip off joint, the food lacked flavour and the venue definitely does not have any ambience. Disappointed I didn’t return the next night for the storytelling.
The handicrafts in Fez we quite interesting however including all the leatherware. Fes is home to the second largest open air tannery in the world with 365 open vats and supporting 800 families. It really is fascinating looking down from above at the vats of all different colours and watching the workers as they turn the animal hides into high fashion. Mules and donkeys piled high with the raw hide skins thread their way through the narrow streets on the way to the tannery.
Surrounding the vats multi storey gift shops with all sorts of multi coloured leather products. On every level rooms absolutely chockas with all different coloured handbags, hats, leather coats, pants, baskets, shoes. Meanwhile, touts shuffle tour groups through stopping briefly to pass out sprigs of mint to sweeten the smell of the place. As you can imagine turning a raw skin into the finished product is quite an involved process. Bird guano is used initially to soften and clean the skin, hence that lovely ammonia smell. The dyes used in the final stages are vegetable based using things like Poppy’s for a brilliant red colour and saffron for brilliant yellow.
In little workshops throughout the surrounding area the finished leather are transformed into all sorts of items to be sold by wandering hawkers, in small gift shops or the bigger multi storey shops as part of a collective.
Wandering around the medina is quite interesting with small workshops manufacturing all sorts of crafts.
We were lucky to discover a rug manufacturer housed in Dar Ibn Khaldoun. 1300 ladies are employed by the collective with on average one lady taking 3 1/2 months to make a single rug. The rugs retail for about 12,000 dirhams and measure 6 metres square (7 x 10 feet). They’re usually either traditional Berber designs of geometric shapes in reds, blacks and whites or Imperial (Arabic) designs of all sorts of colours. Blue is the colour which is renowned for carpets from Fez. The carpets have two sides with the design on both with the knotted side used for summer and the thicker tail side used for winter. The carpet salesman did his best to talk us into buying a carpet bringing out all sorts of rugs and runners. Although they were beautiful and despite promises of storage and shipping we declined. No room for carpet on a motorcycle.
One highlight was a visit to a park Jardin Jnan Sbil,a few km’s from our hotel. Set amongst the hustle and bustle of the city it provided a nice break away. It had some lovely walks around a man made lake surrounded by trees and lots of quiet corners. Lots of people were taking advantage of the benches to sit and chat.
We also discovered unique Fez style pottery which was quite unlike the pottery we’d seen in other parts of the country. All in black and white geometric patterns it was quite striking. Luckily there was no one offering to show us their family workshop so we could look at it without any pressure but were not able to get any photos.
As for the 900 odd streets inside Morocco’s largest medina we skipped most of them as after the first 400 or so they all start to look the same.
Next stop Al Hoceima on the Mediterranean Sea.