FEZ PART 1
9TH-12th JUNE 2015
The bus for Fez left at 1-30pm so we had time to bid farewell to Omar at the cafe Haji.
On the above map I have marked two Tangier ports, Tangier Med Port and Tangier Ville Port. Some travellers get them confused, much to their detriment, for example, turning up at the wrong port to catch a ferry and to find the ferry left from the other port.
In the previous post I mentioned we bought our bus tickets for the journey to Fez the day we arrived in Chefchaouen, therefore we thought there would be no worries prior to departure. All we had to do was walk down to the bus station but this turned out to be not so simple as we managed to get lost, however a local lad came to our rescue. The boy who escorted us did do so not because he thought there was a tip in the offing but because he wanted to be helpful. On the way we chatted and one question I put to him was about his future plans. He said he was going to study dentistry and after talking with him I think he will make a successful career of it. If the lad in question reads this entry all I can say is ‘thanks a lot’.
Fortunately the bus windows today were a little cleaner than the bus from Tangier to Chefchaouen so we were able to take some photographs and although they are not absolutely clear they are better than none at all. The trip was very scenic as soon after leaving Chefchaouen the road twisted through the Rif Mountains, traversed barren and severely eroded lands then as we got closer to Fez passed into fertile black soil country. Following are a few photographs taken from the bus for you to dwell on.
Not all hay is gathered by hand as on the road today there were many grossly overloaded trucks with machine-bailed wheat stubble hay on board.
There is a clay in Morocco referred to as Ghassoul Clay. This clay is used in conjunction with argan oil as a beauty treatment. It is mined in remote places in the High Atlas mountains and has the ability to absorb impurities from the skin and hair and is thus much sought after. It is highly unlikely the clay hill in the photograph above is Ghassoul clay, it is more likely to be of a calcareous nature (high in calcium carbonate).
There is one thing Morocco needs and that is trees. Migrating storks think so too as they are forced to nest on manmade structures such as fabricated communication towers.
There is a trend these days to move away from simple steel fabricated mobile phone towers like one shown in the above photograph. More creative towers are appearing.
There are conflicting opinions on the web as to where the first tree-style mobile phone tower was installed. It was either in Cape Town South Africa or in Denver USA back in the 1990s. Regardless, the concept of disguising ugly fabricated steel towers as trees is catching on.
Following are a couple more random shots taken from the bus. I have found the best approach when taking photographs from a moving vehicle is to set the camera on a high shutter speed with focus locked on infinity and when taking closeup photographs (footpath distance from vehicle) pan the camera. It is best to take multiple shots (in my case, sport mode) and then the best of the series can be selected.
There were multiple strips like the one in the above photo parallel to each other and about 800 metres apart running over the ridge, obviously firebreaks.
First set down and pickup stop was about halfway between Chefchaouen and Fez. Of course at bus stops such this there are a plethora of food stalls. One particular stall owner didn’t warm to the fact that I took a photograph of his stall because when he saw my camera he came at me with a knife. Fortunately for me I was in the bus when I took the photo so I was not exposed to his sharp blade.
The butcher who spotted me taking this photograph is in the background to the left of the leg of beef. Next to the knife-wielding butcher’s stall was another stall specialising in the Moroccan art of tagine cooking.
Traditionally the tagine pot is made from clay which is sometimes painted or glazed. It is made up of three parts: a base section in which charcoal is placed and lit, a shallow dish in which the food to be cooked is placed then a truncated cone lid to cover the food. The lid is designed to return condensation to the dish in which the stew is cooking. The modern replacement for the tagine pot is a pressure cooker.
Tagine dishes include: lamb with prunes and almonds, lamb with plum and eggs, olives and vegetables, lamb with mango and lastly, chicken and vegetables.
Slow cooking or pressure cooking is common in Morocco and in Part 2 of Fez when I take you through the Fez market we will look into a pressure cooker restoration workshop. Bev and I tested tagine cooking in a restaurant and it certainly is a culinary delight.
It was mid afternoon when we reached Fez and as soon as we passed out of the bus station chaos hit us. The traffic and crowds were overwhelming and the taxi, hotel and tour guide touts descended on us. Fortunately Bev had again prebooked our accommodation so we had no need of the hotel tout services. However, even after explaining to a couple of hotel touts we had already booked Hostel Dar Lalla Kenza one suggested it was closed down and was no longer taking guests. Another said it was in a bad part of town and we shouldn’t stay there. On a previous occasion a hotel tout told us the owner of a hotel Bev had booked belonged to the mafia and we should not stay there as the owner was a dangerous man. Regardless of the bad hotel ‘tout reviews’ we stuck to our guns. All we needed was a taxi, which was easily obtained with the help of a young boy who, it turned out, had an ulterior motive.
The lad who hailed a taxi for us was touting his father Abdul’s services as a tour guide. In the heat of the moment Bev and I agreed to meet with his father the next day. It turned out to be a fruitful union as Fez really is a difficult place to find one’s way around.
The taxi promptly conveyed us to Hostel Dar Lalla Kenza. The driver was friendly and he gave us a commentary relating to the history of Fez as we went. His parting comment was ‘I have a friend in Australia and his name is Crocodile Dundee. He carries a big knife’. Most people we have met in the last three years in Europe have seen the movie Crocodile Dundee and at least one documentary relating to Australian wildlife. The moviemakers place a lot of emphasis on sharks, snakes, spiders, stinging jellyfish and crocodiles. The reader might remember that in a previous post I showed a copy of a card I hand out showing the area in Australia where crocodiles live. They don’t live all over Australia as the sensationalist journalists advocate nor are there snakes slithering up the main streets of Sydney, as some people believe.
The taxi dropped us just outside the medina wall and all we had to do was find the hostel entrance. Bev had copied directions from an email sent to us by the manager which proved accurate and after a few twists and turns we ended up in a dead end facing the front door of Hostel Dar Lalla Kenza.
The entrance, as the painted sign on the wall suggests, was between the two buildings (in front of the man sitting on the rubble heap). I should point out that by the time we left Fez the rubble had been removed and it appeared that the steps were going to be tiled.
By the time we arrived at the door of the hostel we were beginning to believe that we may have chosen the wrong place to stay but to our surprise it turned out to be most commodious and equally as good as our lodgings in Tangier and Chefchaouen.
Hostel Dar Lalla Kenza was once a riad (private residence). Riads have no external windows, the only connection with the outside world was via the main door. Having no external openings other than the main door meant residents were safe from outside influences. To get light into a building of this nature a central courtyard was incorporated into the design. Rooms within the riad faced into the courtyard which it was said encouraged reflective thought.
Visitors like us have preconceived ideas about building design, find it difficult to accept that behind what appears to be a claustrophobic building from the outside could be anything different on the inside. The metaphorical phrase, ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’, meaning one shouldn’t prejudge the worth of something by its outward appearance alone, certainly applies when it comes to riads converted into hostels/hotels.
The courtyard of Dar Lalla Kenza was colourful, airy and the wall adornment detail was amazing. The following photographs show the wall detail and the general layout of the courtyard facing windows. One of the distinct advantages of the hostel was it attracted young travellers from all over the world. One night there were Irish, Mexicans, Brazilians, Spanish and a fellow Australian there.
Within the hostel there were some fine examples of Zellige (tiling). Zellige was a statement of luxury and utilised small pieces of shaped glazed tiles in geometric patterns. Gaps between the tile pieces were filled with plaster. Fine examples in the above photograph are the steps, columns, lower portions of the wall and the tabletops.
The purple wall in the staircase well is an example of ‘tadelakt’ which is an ancient Moroccan method of wall coating. Lime from the Marrakech Plateau is mixed with water, fine limestone sand and colour pigments and is applied to the wall with a wooden float. Then at the appropriate time the coating is smoothed using a smooth float then the wall is rubbed using a hard smooth stone. The word ‘tadelakt” in fact means to ‘rub in’. The wall surface is then sealed with an olive soap solution. Tadelakt is used not only on interior walls but on exterior ones as well and it is also used to coat baths, showers and basins.
Every time I went up and down the stairs I rubbed my hands on the beautifully smooth undulating surface. I’m thinking I might have a go at doing a wall using this method when I return home.
A fine example of the interior wall decoration is shown in the bottom left corner of the above photograph. I found it difficult to believe that the wall decoration was not cast and I kept going back to look and feel the wall. I came to the conclusion that because there were irregularities in the wall pattern that it was hand carved/chiseled. Unbelievable when you look at the extent of the interior.
Dar Lalla Kenza had a rooftop area where clients can relax and look out over Fez and its surrounds.
Judging by the number of satellite dishes on the rooftops Fez is well and truly connected to the world. The tall towers are of course mosque minarets.
Many Moroccon mosques have three decreasing size orbs on top of their minarets. The reason for the orbs is steeped in myth however most stories relate to the wife of a sultan who broke her fast during Ramadan and she was ordered to have her gold jewellery melted down and made into orbs and displayed on a minaret.
Call to prayer in Muslim cities and towns cannot be avoided. Call times revolve around sunrise and sunset. The first call from the mosque above was at around 4.30am and the next was two hours later. Depending on the mosque location there are five to six calls to prayer each day.
The call to prayer reminds us of places visited over the years…India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Syria, Iran and Turkey come to mind. The Muslim call to prayer is much more melodious than the ringing of church bells. It’s a haunting mysterious sound that becomes indedibly etched in one’s mind. The only problem with the call is if there is more than one mosque in the vicinity and the calls are not synchronised. The result is a cacophony of disjointed sound.
That’s the end of Part 1 of another Encountering the Past Odyssey post. The next post will relate to out and about in Fez. Bev and I hope you tag along.
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