A two and half hour drive from Casablanca after flight in from Paris, arrive Fes late at night. Labyrinth of
medina alleyways too narrow for cars, we are lost. A few words of French and a lot of hand signals and
someone appears out of the dark – our hotel has sent someone to look for us. Down through high
crumbling walls, stray cats, and the smell of wood smoke following our man. Step through an ancient
door eight feet high, which opens to blue mosaic passage that leads up stairs to a tile fountain in a
courtyard, open to the sky and overlooked by balconies. Once a palace riad now a hotel, tiled and
adorned in plaster motifs, stained glass rooms off to the side with fireplaces roaring in cool winter
evening. Hidden rooms and velvet nooks with hookahs, we are seated on the floor and tea arrives.
Riad Salaam Fes
Intricate silver teapot, expertly poured, steaming from a great height, into red and gold glasses jammed
with fresh mint. Dinner of salads and bread – too tired to enjoy. Ushered up twisting narrow blue tiled
stairway to Sultan’s Suite which is cavernous, enough room for a harem. Painted ceiling, plaster walls
covered in calligraphy and four poster bed close to fireplace. A Moorish balcony overlooks the pool in
courtyard below, screened, so women of the household can not been seen from it. Very strange large
flat screen TV in corner, so out of place.
Camel Hearts and Cards
Awake to call to prayer from minarets at sunrise, breakfast in velvety nook. Flaky pancakes, honey, dates and coffee. Guide Ahmed arrives and we plan the day – no agenda. First lesson – Fes is the
ancient walled city – Fez is a completely unrelated hat invented by Turks – never mistake the two
please. We walk for hours in medina, a trove of alleyways some too narrow two people cannot pass.
Overhead trusses hold up medieval walls, donkeys have right of way. The butcher’s souk has delicate
camel head for sale, fully furred, eyes shut, lips sad and soft. His heart hangs beside him on a hook.
Oranges and mandarins are in season, mountains of dates, essential oils, magic argan and rose water. Fish, pancakes, bread shops and shoes. Copper and brass pots beaten by hand. We stop for tea after hours of meandering, Ahmed’s treat. Tea maker has been in same smoky alcove for 35 years, boiling and crushing endless glasses of murky green mint liquid which is dispensed in glasses wrapped in old cardboard so as not to burn fingers. Three feet away donkeys trundle by, alley cats dashing through their legs, men beside us playing cards.
Leathermen and Donkeys
The afternoon is left for leather souk. Enroute, we pass donkeys piled with wet, stinking skins, barely
room for them to pass. Large handful of mint is handed to me, to be to put in front of nose to ward of the
stench. Below us, men waist deep in vats of dye and hides.
Above them others lay out and hang cleaned skins, they have been doing this for centuries, almost unchanged. Unbelievable rituals and rites of passage to work here – hard to believe anyone would want to, but this chap seems happy? Off to Marrakech and more Morocco magic – check out these old Morocco posts.