Life Unparalleled

Loving Life as a Foreign Service Family – Current Parallel 41° 23' N – Barcelona, Spain

Morocco Girl’s Trip- Fez and Ifrane


Day 2 in Morocco and we were on the road again. This time on the road to Fez. Coming down the back side of the Rif mountains was quite the winding road. Charming with little farms all around. Donkeys backs packed full of firewood or produce. I don’t know how they trained the sheep, goats and donkeys to stay off the roads but they did. Some of the hills were so steep they were furrowed for planting. Full of beauty but also full of tight winding roads. The first two hours of the drive were pretty miserable. Both LeAnn and I are prone to motion sickness. Very prone. Every morning Dramamine tablets accompanied our breakfast but it still wasn’t enough. Within minutes of hitting the road we were begging our very confused driver to please turn on the AC, full blast. We would brace our feet against the seat in front of us, hold on tight to the “Oh Shit!” handles on the ceiling and blast upbeat music. This was our on the road anthem blasted from my Bose speaker first thing every morning.

We made it through with out either of us officially getting sick but I think we ate 20 packages of Mentos and dozens of packets of gum. Every time we stopped anywhere we bought more. Our driver and guide were so confused. Once we were finally down the mountain we drove through beautiful agriculture fields. Alfalfa, strawberries, lettuce, artichokes, carrots, tomatoes, even banana trees under tarps. We passed orchards full of blooming cherries, apricots, almond and apple. The air smelled continuously of orange blossom. Cork and olive trees were everywhere. It reminded me so much of California and LeAnn of Ohio. I was lovely. As we got closer to Fez we began to observe an abundance of picnics laid out under olive groves. We passed hundreds of families on blankets and kids playing soccer and climbing trees.

Soon we were happy to enter the city. Fez was a gorgeous city of white.

This is the entrance to our Riad Palais D’Hotes. It was so stylish and plush.
I love the plaster work so much.
Purple was the color of choice
Sunset with a dinner of cheese and bread
We woke early and enjoyed some yoga on the roof. Clean air and fresh breezes were a welcome change.

The mornings first stop was to the Royal Palace along with a brief history lesson about the history of Morocco and the numerous times the capital had been moved.

This is the Jewish quarter. I had no idea so many Jewish people fled to Morocco over the ages. Notice the difference of pattern in the plaster work.
A game of guess this legume or grain. I did remarkably well I think he was impressed.
Soft olive oil soap that is used in the Hammam.

What is a Hammam? When I read up on it before I traveled it was described as an Arabic Turkish steam, cleaning with a special black soap, and massage. It ended up being far more of an experience than we expected. We chose to use the hammam at our riad rather than one in the medina because we could then just eat pizza on the roof in our PJ’s. Did I mention we really enjoyed our time on the roof? Anyways they lead us into a small room and the two ladies just stared at us. There were white robes hanging but when we reached for them they shook their head and said it was after. So we stripped down and they led us into the steam room where they proceeded to throw buckets of hot water at us, steam us, cover us with olive oil hammam soap then scrub off multiple layers of skin using a special scrubber all followed by a massage. It was shocking and ticklish and a bit painful but it was an experience not to be missed. Really LeAnn and I shrieked and laughed the whole time I’m sure the workers thought we were a bit crazy. The locals try to attend every week or two.

We then went to visit the Borj Sud, a fort built in 1582. The current capital at that time was Marrakesh and this fort was built with cannons facing TOWARD the city to keep revolutionists at bay.

It is hard to tell from this picture but it is a steep drop on the other side of this fence. These men carefully walked the ledge to attempt to sell Fes style hats to tourists.
Fez the city of white.

On we continued to visit a pottery and mosaic studio called Moroccan Tiles, Zallige Factory. It was fun seeing the pottery and mosaic being made. This place was significantly more expensive than the pottery you could find on the streets for sale. We were told this pottery was of higher quality and much stronger. Who knows if this is actually true but the two pieces of pottery I purchased here made it home in my luggage undamaged while almost everything else I purchased and was wrapped similarly broke in transit. So is the cost worth it, who knows but it was a fun excursion none the less.

Powdered clay is brought to the pottery studios from the hills near by and then reconstituted in these large vats.
Thrown on foot powered throwing wheels.
The kilns where the pottery traditionally used to be fired.
The traditional kilns were powered by burning olive pits which thanks to the oil saturated in the pits, burned very hot.
Individual mosaic pieces are drawn on fired clay using a stencil. He moved so quickly while listening to his music.
The individual pieces are hammered and chiseled from the larger tiles following the stencil patterns.
The mosaics are designed upside down so they can be covered with cement and then epoxy to hold the pieces together.

When I saw them throwing the pottery on the wheel I asked if we got a chance to try. The potter laughed at first but sure enough allowed us both to take a spin.

Not my natural talent.
LeAnn purchased some beautiful plates and other items.
I left with this enormous platter with which I couldn’t be happier. Don’t let the photo fool you it is huge. About the size of my arms circled in front of me, big enough for couscous for 12 which was my goal.

We moved to the Fez medina which is a World Heritage Site. It was wonderful, exciting and overwhelming all in one giant emotion. There are 10 medinas in Morocco.  A medina is typically walled, with many narrow and maze like streets. In most cars are not allowed so everything is taken in and out by cart. The word medina in Arabic simply means city or town, it cognates with Aramaic-Hebrew referring to a city or populated area.

We were able to observe craftpeople at work.
The brass work was impressive, I came home with one of these hand knockers to be used somewhere at some time.
This was taken near Caraouyine University which was started by a woman and is said to be the oldest university and library in the world. So cool!

We visited a Coranic School, Medersa Attarine and learned more about the history and teaching of Islam in Morocco.

Our guide said that every mosque should begin with mosaic, including mosaic that writes out the name Allah, followed by intricate plaster work, followed by wood work.
The Imam, mosque leader, would stand in this alcove while leading prayers or teaching.
We were permitted to visit the upstairs rooms which traditionally held students that were there studying.

We wound our way through the medina to the tannery section. Our guide was leading us but he needn’t have bothered, we could smell it from far away. At the tannery, hides are first soaked in a mixture of cow urine, quicklime, water, and salt. This caustic mixture helps to break down the tough leather, loosen excess fat, flesh, and hair that remain on them. The hides are soaked for two to three days after which tanners scrape away excess hair fibers and fat in order to prepare the hides for dyeing. The hides are then soaked in another set of vats containing a mixture of water and pigeon poop. Pigeon poop contains ammonia that acts as softening agents that allows the hides to become malleable so they can absorb the dye. The tanner uses his bare feet to knead the hides for up to three hours to achieve the desired softness.

The hides are then placed in dying pits containing natural vegetable dyes, such as poppy flower (red), indigo (blue), henna (orange), cedar wood (brown), mint (green), and saffron (yellow). Other materials used for dyeing include pomegranate powder, which is rubbed on the hides to turn them yellow, and olive oil, which will make them shiny. Once the leather is dyed it is then dried in the sun.

We were led through a beautiful leather store to the roof terrace where we were shown the leather vats in their full glory. The shop worker was impressed that I knew that pomegranate was used for yellow die and not red. Harrison when he was a baby used to crawl outside and pull pomegranates off the tree and eat them skin and all. His white onsies were all stained yellow.

The smell, it can’t be described but you can imagine.

Wool drying in the sun. As we were shopping for rugs we were told repeatedly not to buy a cheap wool rug as they use wool that has come from a dead sheep rather than being sheared from a live one. They claimed the dead wool once it got wet would smell up the whole house just like a tannery.
I purchased this poof from the leather shop. You can’t imagine how soft the camel leather is. The colors on top are actually strips of sheep leather woven in to make the design.
We went to lunch in the medina, it was beautiful but crazy expensive and we got in a bit of an argument with the server charging for things not listed on the menu. In general people were kind and honest but you do have to be careful.
They sold delicious nougat full of nuts, the sweets brought huge swarms of bees. There were everywhere. Even for someone who doesn’t take issue with bee’s I found it to be a bit much.

We were winding our way slowly out of the medina when we heard a clap-clap-clap, LeAnn’s eyes brightened and she said “Teacher!” Sure enough we we peaked through a small door and witnessed the most adorable mini classroom. LeAnn poked he head in and our guide explained that we were teachers. The teacher welcomed us in and we got to chat with the little children for a minute or two and we of course gave them all candy. LeAnn was so happy, she is meant to be a teacher.

You can see they write on chalkboard slates
Our last stop in the medina was at a small embroidery shop. I fell in love with Moroccan embroidery, specifically from Fez called Terz Fesi. It is a combination of cross-stitch and straight stitch but the amazing thing is there is no wrong side so both sides are equally beautiful.

We really enjoyed Fez but we had to move on. We were on our way to the desert but first we had to pass through Morocco’s Vail. Who knew there was a ski resort in Morocco. Ifrane reminded me of walking through downtown Aspen. I would love to return some time to ski.

This is a Wikopedia image of Ifrane during the winter
Ifrane is surrounded by beautiful cedar forests occupied by Barbary macaque monkeys.
Lion rock in Ifrane.

Onward to the desert.

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