When we arrived in Fes after our 9 hour taxi ride we were both pretty miserable and fed up with Moroccans.
Luckily this all changed very quickly once we met our couchsurfing host Taoufiq. He offered to host us for two nights in his flat in the new town. This was the first time we met a local privately and went to their place so we were a little bit anxious. Taoufiq welcomed us with the best tea we tasted and we felt at home immediately. We felt honored as he gave us his bedroom instead of the sofa. After showers we had a light dinner and we spend some time with his children helping them practice their English and our French. Taoufiq then took us out to the Merenid tombs and some ruins on a hill in the north of Fes overlooking the whole medina. Sadly we missed the sunset over all the chatting during dinner but it was still a great view. All the minarets were lit up and we could hear all the buzz of the evening shopping.
On the way back he decided to invite us to one of his favourite restaurants that serves the best pastillas in town. The food was super yummy! Back in the flat we spend the rest of the night talking about life and people in Morocco and travelling around the country.
In the morning we had a relaxed and yummy breakfast while discussing things to do and see in town. First port of call for us was the bus station as we needed to buy our tickets to Chefchaouen. From there we walked the remaining 4.6km to the edge of the medina. On the way we visited a supermarket for the first time in this country to get some ingredients as we volunteered to cook dinner for our hosts.
Unlike the medina in Marrakesh (which is more or less a square with Jamaa el-Fna on one corner), the one in Fes consists mainly of two very long almost straight streets in east-west orientation with a lot of smaller derbs branching of. The whole atmosphere was a lot more relaxed than in Marrakesh too. Here you can actually look into shops without getting ushered in or harassed. People are a lot friendlier and we never once had a menu shoved into our faces like on Jamaa el-Fna. Obviously shop or stall owners still talk to you but they do so in a much nicer way which makes it easier to respond without having to worry that they will take your response as a sign you want to buy half their goods. They take the first ‘No’ as an answer and still say ‘You’re welcome’ even if you leave their shop empty handed after 10 minutes of browsing and talking.
Fes is famous for leather products as it is home to a few big tanneries. Obviously, we were curious to see them but when we eventually found them people tried to haul us through their shops and up their viewing terraces. Our aim at this point was actually going into the tanneries and we didn’t mind paying for it. We were put off by some person blocking the path, shouting at us in French and, as we persisted on our way, he ran ahead and closed the doors. Disappointed we marched off towards the metal souks. The workers there are masters in hammering copper and brass into teapots, sinks, plates, baking tins or useful object and then covering them with engravings.
In the evening, we had the most multicultural cooking experience. A Moroccan friend of our hosts who lives in Brussels had come to visit and decided to make chicken tagine with peas while we explained to the children the art of making Swabian Spätzle. This happened in a mixture of English and French with some help of Google translator. Inbetween all this, Samira and children taught us some basic yet useful Arabic which we expanded over dinner.
After the kids had retired to their rooms, we learned that Taoufiq was running an organisation called Volunteering Nomads which looks after people in the Atlas mountains. They collect and distribute donations but most importantly organise medical support. Doctors volunteer and go to villages to see people who can’t even remember their last doctor’s appointment. This is all made even more difficult by the language barrier as many (especially older) people only speak Berber. Beside all this the organisation seeks to improve the general life of people in areas like (higher) education, setting up and running businesses or empowering women to choose who they marry. The stories Taoufiq told us together with his passion would have made us volunteer immediately had there been an opportunity to do so.
We were really sad to leave Taoufiq but he was going on holiday so had to move on to our next riad since decided to stay an extra day in this nice city. Before he left we got a lesson in making Moroccan mint tea and we went out and he and his friend helped us to buy a good quality teapot. Again we discovered that our riad was marked twice on our map and lucky as we are we tried to find the wrong one. Thankfully a friendly local showed us the way although he was worried about getting in trouble with the police since he was not an official guide. Once there we enjoyed the hot mint tea in the cool and amazingly decorated building.
After learning from Taoufiq that we have the right to go into the tanneries for a tour if we payed we felt encouraged to go back and try our luck once again. This time the shop owners were much nicer and we followed one of them onto a big terrace where he explained the whole tanning process and that they use natural ammonia from pigeon poo (there must be some big pigeon farms somewhere). In the shop we spent some time searching for the leather poufé we wanted (which proved to be very difficult due to our taste). We managed to find one later in a completely different part of the medina after almost giving up. Ted immediately claimed it as his throne!
During shopping for dinner we tried another local speciality: khlia. This is bits of dried and smoked meat cooked either in its own fat or in oil. Stored in the cooking fat it can be kept for up to two years. It took us a while to work out that almost every stall sold it in buckets covered with fat (being able to read the arabic signs would have been handy). In the evening we had our first of many roof top picnics thanks to our tightening budget. Our joy got only slightly dampened by the very temperamental door lock to our room. In the end we had to abandon locking it in order to make sure we could back in.
After some big packing and a good breakfast we got the taxi to the bus station headed off to the mountains once again with restored faith in (at least some) Moroccans.
Watch this space to find out where we went 🙂