Another sunny day and another warm (enough) shower! Lots of blessings. Breakfast was eaten at an outdoor coffee shop in the sunshine. The laundromat was still closed so we need to wait a few more more days to do our laundry! Oh well, we still have clean socks and clean underwear!
At 9 am we were in the bus on our way to the Medina. Our local tourguide for the day was Hakima. She told us that she has done this job for 12 years now and in the beginning it was difficult to get the jobs as a woman. Women's role in Moroccan society is changing slowly according to Hakima. The present King Mohammed V is bringing many changes. He has chosen a wife from "common" background who is a computer engineer. That is a first for Morocco. She is also seen in public which has never happened before. The wife of his father, King Hassan II has never been seen in public. King Mohammed is progressive in bringing all of his country to a higher standard of living. He has realized projects such as electricity for the southern small villages of the Berber Moroccans and free public education.
Our first stop was at one of the 7 beautiful doors to the Royal Palace. From there we drove to a high lookout point with a view of the Medina of Fes and surrounding area. Then it was on to a workshop where they make clay tiles and paint them. They are used for mosaics on items such as water fountains, mirrors, big vases, wall hangings and bathroom counters. The size and form of the pieces needed is drawn on the tile and then they break the tiles into the smallest pieces with a special hammer. They arrange the pieces in the pattern they are creating upside down and I don't know exactly the next steps anymore. I do know that they use soap to glue them first and in the end they take the masterpiece out of the form and voila there is a beautiful household item with mosaics. They also make pottery from the clay and paint them with patterns that have cultural or religous meaning. This is all done by hand and the paints are made from natural dyes like saffron. It takes 6 years to become a Master Craftsman in this work. There were some beautiful pieces of art in the store there.
We entered the Medina at one of the many entrances. The Fes Medina is the largest in Morocco with 150,000 inhabitants. There are over 9000 streets and alleys and no signs to tell you how to get from A to B. The streets have names and we are told that they have mail delivery by someone who knows that square part of the Medina very well. The streets are narrow and you cannot drive a car there. Transport is one by moped, donkey, cart, bike or walking and carrying your stuff. There are beams across the streets where there are no donkeys allowed, so they cannot get through. Sometimes the alleys are so narrow, only one person can walk through it - you have to go sideways to pass someone. The wonderful thing is though that even though the doorways are small and the alley dark, once you open the door to a shop or house, often there is an amazing space with very high ceilings. The sun does not shine into the streets, shops and houses because of the narrow streets. It is much cooler in the Medina than outside the Medina.
As we walked through the streets in the Medina, we discovered that many shopkeepers are still on holidays and we had an easy strolling and staying together - it was not busy at all. Hakima showed us some interesting details of the shops and houses there.
We visited a leather tannery. Once through a small door we had to climb several flights of steep stairs with mosaics. We were given some sprigs of mint leaves before we went into the tannery to protect us from the smell. Once in the shop we looked over the railing and saw down on the ground the big kettle-like things the size of hot-tubs with the hides soaking in the different colours of dye. Men were standing in those bins up to their knees working on the hides. The store had two levels filled with leather goods such as purses, shoes, slippers, jackets and ottomans made from either lamb, goat or camel hides. Several purchases were made by some of the group members. Donna (a group member) tried on a great orange leather jacket. Somehow the salesman thought that Brian was her husband and he deferred to Brian when he negotiated a price. Donna left the salesman with his belief and told him that Brian had all the money so he had to make the decision. She had already decided not to buy the jacket. Kenny, a younger member of our group decided he was their son and so he also got into the process. We all had some good laughs! In the end no deal!!
In the carpetshop we were shown some beautiful carpets. Here the push to sell was strong - one of "our" couples bought a carpet and took the pressure off the rest of the group.
Walking through the Medina we still saw some sheep hides either in a pile or being transported by a donkey - the smell was unbearable!
The last shop we visited had a very small door and a very low and dark dirt floor hallway entrance. Then the hallway opened up into a large area with at least 4 looms for weaving cloth. The floor was hard dirt, the walls like a barn but the textiles they make there were beautiful. They use wool, cotton and silk to make scarfs, curtains, bedcovers or material to make djallabas (long Moroccan clothing worn by both men sand women). The people working there dressed us up with headscarfs. They draped them differently each representing a different culture or custom of wearing them. That was fun and of course the group had to pose for a photo!
By then it was 4pm, our money was spent, we were tired and thirsty so we chose to return to our hotel with a free night to relax. We ended up having a sandwich at an outdoor sandwich shop across the street from our hotel with Dennis and Linda, our Dutch couple.
Another interesting day. Tomorrow we are heading south to Midelt in the Berber region of the Middle Atlas mountains.