We traveled from Marrakech towards the Atlas Mountains, stopping in a Berber home in a village near Marrakech. The lady of the house made tea for us with a dramatic tea pouring technique that is used to aerate the tea and improve its flavour. The family lived on the upper floor of the home that appeared to be built from adobe.
We walked by small stalls in which they kept livestock and then up the stairs to the living area. Outside the living area was a Berber hamam – similarto, but simpler than a four-room Turkish bath. Both involve water and scented hamam soap. Here’s a website if you are curious about it. Their large sitting room easily housed our group of about 20 thirsty tourists. I took some photos from their patio. The money the family made from visits like ours was probably helping to put a daughter through university.
This event was followed by the standard two minute camel ride, which we declined on. Camels do make photogenic subjects, however.
We opted against Insight’s included tour of the Fes medina, opting to hire a personal guide for a full day. This gave us more time there and much freer movement. We decided this before leaving Canada. I found a superb young man, named Younes, through a very helpful woman on Lonely Planet’s forum, who visits Fes annually. I communicated with Younes initially by phone and then we worked together on what we wanted to see, arranging this by email.
I made it clear that we did not simply want to be brought around to places where we would be expected to spend so that Younes could get a commission. This must be clear from the start. When we got to Fes I phoned him from the hotel on his cell. We had connection problems so just quickly said, “We will meet you at 10:15 at the hotel as agreed by email,” and hung up.
As our group was about to board the bus for supper, Younes showed up and somehow found us. He went out of his way to assure us that he would come for us in the morning. Our up-tight Insight tour director flipped out when we told him our plans. He threatened to call the police until we explained how we had pre-arranged the whole thing.
Below are three photos taken at Al Karouine University founded in the ninth century, which claims to be the oldest continuing university in the world. While we walked, Younes talked of having guided Nicholas Cage, Leonardo DiCaprio and Julia Roberts during his time as a guide. He was very impressed with Julia Roberts, who had some very specific things she wanted to see. Apparently she is involved in charitable and educational projects to do with young people in Fes. Since he humbly admitted, even though a student in university, that he couldn’t read the 9th century calligraphy I’m inclined to believe him about the celebrities.
A colourful highlight was a major leather tannery in Fes, where we specifically asked Younes to take us. They gave us a sprig of mint to hold near our noses, but the smell wasn’t that bad. The leather goods were amazing, but, even after touching the wonderful softness of the vividly coloured jackets, handbags and other beautiful items, we somehow resisted. Right: We passed by a shop in the metal working area. This was a noisy highlight. There you go; if I include our delicious lunch, there’s something for all five senses in the medina.
Miscellany: An early photo of a square before entering the narrow streets with Younes, patiently waiting for me, on the right. A prayer niche in the restaurant where we lunched; it must have been a very luxurious home at one time. On the right a patient and colourful donkey.