Rachide turned up at 11am so we could have a lie in. We went to a café for breakfast before taking a bus to the south of the old medina. We were led again into the maze of alleyways which were full of the smells of cedar wood, manure, glue, food and cigarette smoke.
Rachide showed us the main gate of a large mosque which was covered with intricate carvings. There were faded tiles on the floor by these big wooden gates. Just down from the mosque, we were shown a ‘fondouk’ which is used by men from the countryside as a hotel and a stable for their donkeys. The men use their donkeys to carry large loads around the city. Dan took some pictures of them. In general, the donkeys and mules are mangy and badly looked after. We have seen some carrying enormous loads on their backs.
Rachide then took us to a tannery where I had never smelt anything so bad in my life (even worse than the smell of the Dharavi slum in Mumbai which I experienced in 2008). We were on a balcony overlooking the tannery. The smell was appalling. Inside were round pits full of different coloured liquids with hides being dipped and scrubbed in separate hollows. To the side was a huge rotating barrel which was used to clean the hides. There were young boys in ragged clothes working in some of the pits. Behind us, in small, dark rooms were more young boys scraping the hides or carrying out other treatments on the leather. They all looked very dirty and raggedy.
Up above us was a group of tourists taking photos. Rachide took us up to where they were standing where we had an even better view of the almost unbelievable scene below us. There were numerous dye pits each containing a different colour. Many of the other tourists had sprigs of mint held beneath their noses to mask the stench. Rachide said that to experience the tannery in the whole we should smell it too.
Some of the hides were drying in the sun. It was almost a Victorian scene; an industry trapped in the past and worlds apart from anything I had seen before. Rachide explained that not all of the children went to school who worked here. Some of them had to work because it was too expensive to send them to school.
The three of us left and Rachide took us to a carpet shop. Having just bought a few in Chefchaouen, we were not keen but we went through the motions of looking and drinking tea with the owners before leaving, returning to Rachides’ house for lunch. Lunch was a plateful of cooked lentils with a tomato salad and bread.
In the afternoon, we looked around large mosques and some artisan areas. Rachide took us into a brass and silver shop but we were not interested in their goods, much as it was fascinating to see them bashing and tinkering the ornaments. We wanted to see the leather area but, before going there we went into a Berber blanket shop. We bought three colourful blankets which we sent home for Christmas presents.
In the leather area of the city, we looked at leather jackets but they were all horribly fussy and complicated designs. We bought nothing, although we did buy a Babouch and a kaftan for Christmas for our young sister, Saskia.
The weather had changed and it was beginning to rain lightly. We went into another leather shop where I found a leather jacket I liked and a leather ‘pouf’ for Dad. I spent time haggling with the shopkeeper (which I enjoy a great deal) and bought the goods for half the price he originally asked, despite the shopkeeper getting angry in a well-rehearsed act. The shopkeeper stopped acting when we agreed the price and I got a kiss on both cheeks from him which felt a bit odd! Rachide later told us that he did not like all this kissing and hand-holding between men in Morocco.
We had earlier left the blankets we had bought in Rachides’ local bar so we returned to pick them up before returning to his house. There we had a chicken tagine for supper, which was delicious. Rachida was more friendly and relaxed with us.
Rachide wrote down some Arabic words and phrases for us to use on our travels. The brother of Rachide’s brother-in-law appeared for supper. The men seem always to eat apart from the women. Rachida is very nice and seems to run around for Rachide a lot.
We left after saying thank you and went back to our hotel, tired out after another rigorous day in Fes.
Will Hawkins lives in Lincolnshire with his family, works in a technology company in London and does as many micro-adventures as he can.
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