Fes & Tangier

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Africa » Morocco » Fès-Boulemane
March 26th 2018
Published: March 26th 2018
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Fes > Tangier > Tarifa > Algeciras > Granada

Wednesday, 21 March – Fes

Our boutique hotel, Riad Andalib, is the bomb! It’s in the Medina but has the best location of any hotel you could hope for. You enter through a door in the wall and come into a beautiful atrium with a water fountain and plunge pool, and 10 tables under a clear roof. The intricate carving on the doors and concrete frescos is amazing! On the perimeter of the atrium are the rooms, overlooking the peaceful courtyard. Our suite has a comfy bed and massive bathroom, and the breakfast is delectable. The food just keeps on coming and the local ricotta is to die for! The Riad owner is a wonderful man, Moroccan by birth but he spent time living in Montreal before coming back to renovate the Riad. There is literally nothing I can complain about.

Fes is an interesting Medina and totally different to Marrakech. Firstly, there are no cars or motorbikes allowed, only horses and donkeys, so it’s a lot less frantic. It’s the biggest Medina in Morocco with 9000 alleyways, but there’s really only 50 or so that are worth wandering. Reibal, the Riad owner, gave us a walking map and told us how to avoid guides and people who harass. Fes has a rule that anyone who harasses tourists can be arrested. They even have plain clothes police wandering the Medina looking for these people. Reibal also told us that when we buy things, offer 1/3 of the price.

The main entry is the Blue Gate and from here you enter a food market. I was shocked to see a full in-tact camel’s head hanging from a hook at the front of one stall, and even worse was the chicken shop across the street who just happened to be slitting a live chicken’s throat when I looked his way. I know we are quite removed from our food in Australia, but I don’t need to see it happen to remember how it ends up on a plate.

Fes also has the oldest tannery in Morocco so we went into one of the leather shops and ascended to their terrace to see the spectacle. Dozens of concrete vats were below us – some with limestone, pigeon poo, water and dyes. The skins are soaked in limestone for 5 days to remove the hair, then soaked in pigeon poo for the ammonia to soften it, then washed in a big washing machine. They are then dried and craftsmen use crude tools to shave the skins so they are uniform in texture. They then put them in the dye vats. Poppies are used for red, curry and saffron for yellow, hemp for brown and indigo for blue. Once dyed, they go to an artisan for leather shoes, handbags, jackets etc. You watch all the workman do their allocated jobs so it’s quite interesting with 50 or so people walking on top of the vats and then jumping in to do their work. They don’t even use gloves! It reeked something chronic, but they give you sprigs of mint to help so it wasn’t too bad. Having a cold helped too since I’m still mostly blocked!

Looking at the tannery from these shop terraces is free but you have to browse their store afterwards. We did the obligatory dance of “lovely handbag, good price. Pretty shoes, we come back later.” This was all well and good until I saw a striking red leather jacket and they insisted I try it on and of course, it fit perfectly. They said the price
Anyone for camel stew?Anyone for camel stew?Anyone for camel stew?

Opposite this stall, they were slitting live chicken throats. Talk about a reality check for where your food comes from!
was 2500dh ($352), I offered 1000 because I didn’t really want it nor expect them to take it. They countered at 2200 and we tried to leave but they dropped again to 1800. They continued blocking our exit and dropping the price until the boss said 1100. At this point, for $155, I caved. So now I am the owner of a shiny new red camel leather jacket that needs to be dragged around Europe for the next 3 months!

When I told Reibal that I had succumbed and how much it was, he said that I had bargained an excellent price. I also liked one of their handbags and some of the leather ballet flats but after my big spend, I can do without those. Don’t really have space in my luggage for more stuff!

Thursday, 22 March – Fes

Reibal told us about a famous patisserie in Fes so today we set out to find it. Fes is broken into the Medina (old city) and the Nouvelle (new city), which are a couple of km’s away from each other. First we went to a viewpoint to get a photo of Fes from above, then to the train station to purchase our tickets to Tangier.

From the station, we walked 3.5km to "La Villa", the famous patisserie. We sat down and ordered 2 hot chocolates, a chocolate tart and hazelnut mille feuille. The hot chocolates were the hero because they were exactly like a thick Italian chocolate. From there we walked another km or so and came to "Paul", a patisserie founded in 1887. We indulged in their chocolate and caramel eclairs.

We returned to the Medina and wandered down a different path back to our Riad. 9km is what we walked in total and it’s just as well because those two stops were pretty horrendous for our health!

For our last Fes dinner we dined at the Riad, even though it’s super expensive. It’s rated #3 of 244 restaurants on TripAdvisor and we’d been skipping lunches ever since we left Marrakech – mainly because there wasn’t any good food worth stopping for in the desert – and in Fes we’ve been rising late and having breakfast at 9.30am so no need for lunch. We figured that we had to have one fancy meal in Morocco. Dwayne had lamb couscous and I had a veggie tajine, which happened to be the best tajine I’ve had in Morocco. Not really worth the $15 but hey, it was a once off.

Friday, 23 March – Tangier

We farewelled our beloved Riad and caught the train to Tangier. Given it was a 5hr trip we decided to pay the extra for 1st class and we were happy we did. Unlike first and second in Europe, the difference between the classes is enough to warrant the price. Note to other travellers – always pay for 1st class trains in Morocco.

On the way to the train station the cabbie stopped for a woman who spoke to him in French, and he agreed so she jumped in the front seat. A couple of minutes later when we were talking, she enthusiastically turned around and said “Are you guys Aussies?” It was the first time we’d met either an Australian or Kiwi in Morocco. She was living there teaching English whilst trying to decide whether to return to the real world (of working) or continue as a vagabond on her global jaunts.

On the way out of Fes I saw the saddest thing I’ve seen

Red from poppies Blue from Indigo Yellow from cumin and curry Brown from hemp
since we got here. There was a donkey in a field who was completely lame on all four legs. It looked like one leg was broken or sprained and one leg had a tumour at the knee. I couldn’t see the other two legs but he was taking one awkward step, gaining his balance and then taking another one. The poor thing was unsteady on all fours and was obviously in pain. It made me want to cry.

The trip is very green – a significant contrast to the south of the country. There are rolling hills with fields of millet, fruit and olive trees as far as the eye can see. It’s hard to believe this is still Morocco. However, the dilapidated buildings, endless line of dirty rubbish and donkeys remind us that we’re still in a poor country. It’s a shame people toss their rubbish anywhere they want, as it scars the otherwise scenic landscape. Unlike the dry river beds in the south, the rivers here run with lots of muddy water, similar to Marrakech. In fact, the only clear water we’ve seen on the whole trip was the natural springs in Todgha Gorge.

Half way
Hand shaving the hides of blemishesHand shaving the hides of blemishesHand shaving the hides of blemishes

You can't see it immediately but this guy is sharpening his big T-blade and then he puts one end against his chest, leans over the hide and pushes the blade end down to soften the hide and get rid of blemishes. It's literally back breaking work as he works his way from left to right and back again.
into the trip the mountains and hills receded and there were flat open fields for the next 3 hours to the coast. The north and south of Morocco are like two different countries. The north is like the French countryside (minus the cuteness) and the south is like the Middle East (minus the Arabs). Strangely enough, there seems to be more poverty in the farming north than in the desert south. We saw several shanty towns with odd pieces of canvas or fabric making up a one room shack and rooves with stones on top to hold them down. We did not see this in the south. Even the Bedouin tents that you see in the desert are bigger and sturdier than the shanty towns. Strange indeed.

Sabbath, 24 March – Tangier

We tried to find an SDA community to fellowship with today, but it turns out that Morocco doesn’t have an SDA presence. They used to have two churches in Casablanca and Tangier but in the 1970’s the king expelled Adventists and appropriated all church assets, so most of the families sought refuge in France. Those that choose to follow the faith in the Morocco of today, do so in secret.

Given the day had dawned bright and sunny, we decided to walk down from the Medina to the ferry port and along the foreshore towards the beach. There is a lot of beautification going on along the beach with new residential developments, fancy glass elevators from the underground car parks, wide pedestrian esplanades, playgrounds and tractors moving sand from here to there for some purpose. There were two camels plus a baby camel on the beach waiting for tourist rides, and men with 6 horses giving beach rides to those who were willing to pay. There is also an enclosed soccer field on the beach.

We think they’re trying to create a French Riviera feel, as the wide sweeping beach is very scenic. It’s just as well really, because Tangier is a bit of a dump. It’s the dirtiest, most run-down town of all the places we’ve been so far, and the taxis and accommodation are also the most expensive of anywhere we’ve been, for the poorest quality. The only saving grace is that the food here is the cheapest we’ve come across.

Our last Moroccan dinner consisted of a veggie tajine for me and swordfish kebabs for Dwayne, with mint tea of course!

Thus ends our two-week tour of Morocco. People often use the word “exotic” to describe Morocco and whilst that term doesn’t resonate for me, I think “diverse” would be more apt. I’m looking forward to getting back to modern civilisation, although entering Spanish territory with no Spanish language skills may be more difficult than Morocco in that sense.

So, what did I like and dislike?

Like – cheap place to visit, gorgeous mountains, diverse scenery and cultures, easy to navigate, French patisseries in the main cities, veggie tajine, no pork or ham ever, most people are friendly and try to help.

Dislike – taxi drivers, city driving, smoking, being ripped off, limited food options, everything unfinished or half working, unreliable services, dirty, being hassled by shop owners in the medina, kids and men seeking tips for their assistance.

I’m glad I’ve seen it but I don’t love it enough to come back. If I did, I’d spend more time in the Atlas Mountains down south.

Sunday, 25 March – Granada, Spain

It was an early 6am start – not including the start of daylight savings so we had to roll our clocks an hour forward and check in at the ferry at 7.15am, to go through immigration and security prior to the 8am departure. We didn’t pull out until 8.25am and with driving rain and rough seas, the 35-minute jet cat took an hour to cross the Straits of Gibraltar. There was a large delegation of Chinese on several tour buses and a couple of the poor lasses were vomiting into the provided sick bags, even though the swell was only 2-3 metres.

We arrived at 9.30am Tangier time but had to turn our clocks forward again to 10.30am because Spain is an hour ahead of Morocco. We had factored in a 1.5hr buffer before the train to Granada, but unfortunately the ferry shuttle between port and train station sat around for an hour waiting for all foot passengers to clear, so we missed our train and had to wait another 2 hours for a bus. We saw the Rock of Gibraltar.

Instantly we noticed a lack of rubbish and stray cats/dogs, and the addition of parks and lawns. Morocco doesn’t do lawn – anywhere. No matter how green and fertile. It’s always rock paths amongst trees and the front yard of family homes is just rock. Morocco doesn’t do clean or neutering either.

Our bad luck with inclement transit weather continued. It was raining in Tangier when we left the hotel and during the ferry ride, as well as when we arrived at Tarifa. We had to scamper to a taxi in the pouring rain and get to the bus station. Just as we had shelter in the taxi, the sun came out. We had sun for the next 6 hours whilst waiting for the bus and on the actual ride, and then 2km out from the Granada bus station, it started raining again. Another dash to the taxi in the rain as well as having to walk from the drop off point to the apartment (thankfully only 100m or so). It stopped momentarily and we decided to go out for groceries. It started raining again. Whenever we had to walk somewhere in the open, it rained. It was just not our day. However, we arrived safely in Granada and settled into our apartment for the next 3 nights. It is bliss compared to the majority of our digs in Morocco.


28th March 2018

Dear Renae and Dwayne,
We enjoyed Fes and Tangier and your descriptions. We loved Granada, especially as we had been there. Thank you and love to you both, Shirley and David.XX

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