Holiday in Morocco: to the desert and over the Middle Atlas to Fès     Click here for the map

It was a long and boring ride from the Todra Gorge to Erfoud and Merzouga. Merzouga is close to the Sahara, 40 km off the Algerian border with police roadblocks all over the place. It was hot again (>40°) but we made a nice evening stroll in the Sahara PHOTO 13+14, slept in a Berber tent PHOTO 15 and on day #4 it was wake up time at 4AM, to ride our dromedaires and see the sun rise over the Sahara. PHOTO 16-18
Our tour ended here and to avoid the puke-busses, we took a "grand taxi" for the next 200 km to the north over the Middle Atlas. 
Midelt is a strategic stop-over, not very interesting but for us unexpectedly nice because of our meeting with Youssef, a young guy who speaks seven languages and just graduated in electrotechniques. He took us to the museum of local Berber culture, and the manager invited us for tea in the garden. After that, Youssef showed us his family's house in the kasbah. It was interesting to see how a kasbah with ordinary houses (different from a castle kasbah) is constructed. The people live on the first floor: Youssef and his mother and two of his four sisters, his uncle and aunt and their four kids, and two cats. The sheep also live in the house, on the bottom floor. Scraps are dropped through a hole in the ceiling from the kitchen above, a natural form of waste disposal.
A kasbah house does not have windows so it does not get too hot inside. We had tea with the family and had a great afternoon and a nice evening in a cosy restaurant, so our stay in Midelt was not dull at all.
PHOTO 19  
By bus from Midelt to Fès. Piece of cake, we hoped, with the biggest part of the Middle Atlas behind us. But the ominous puke bags were distributed immediately at the start...
In Fès we stayed two nights in a backpackers hotel in the old town. Fès consists of three separate towns: Fès el-Bali (the old town), Fès el-Jadid (a newer medina) and the Nouvelle Ville (modern). Most must see's and must do's are of course in Fès el-Bali. Basically this town consists of some palaces, mosques and medersa’s (Quranic schools)
PHOTO 19A+20A, and the small houses and back streets, alleys and slums. The shops in the soukhs are grouped in a strict hierarchy. Closest to the mosque come the vendors of candles and incense, next are the booksellers and the vendors of leathergoods, followed by clothing and textile; then, with fruit & veg, the walls and gates of the city are reached. Special in Fès are the henna and spices soukh, and the artisans: silver and musical instruments. 
The soukh is not accessible for cars, so donkeys and horses still do the job; even for the Coca Cola company
PHOTO 21. The soukh of the leathergoods is the most interesting, as the “tanneries” are right behind the shops: rows and rows of pits in which the leather is washed PHOTO 22, tanned and dyed in again rows and rows of pits. Finally the leather is dried on the roofs. The dying is done with natural products such as henna (orange), peppermint (green), indigo and saffran. The smell is almost unbearable. For that reason, and because it is hard work, it is a job strictly for men.
If you buy something else than food in the soukh, you have to negociate about the price; this applies to locals and even more to tourists, who get charged skyhigh (if they don't haggle well enough). Furthermore, Moroccans are extremely honest. Maybe because the Quran tells them to be honest, maybe because the punishments for theft and worse crimes are quite heavy, but a postcard seller showed it again when we bought 5 cards in his shop for 2 euro's. He realized that he had made a mistake and came after us. We had already climbed the hill for a few hundred metres, and panting and puffing he returned 1 euro to us.
Fès is famous for its ceramics (white, painted with blue)
PHOTO 23 and for its magnificent zellij: mosaics made with small hand cut tiles PHOTO 24. There are more than 360 shapes available in many colours; the mathematic geometry and the creativity with which the mosaics are made, ensures that you can look at them for hours.
The palaces are occupied by hotels and restaurants and you can only see the interior when you order a consumption. After one look at the menu we wanted to leave immediately, but because of the low season the waiter told us that we could take one menu for two persons. Indeed the servings were ridiculously large. Culinary, the restaurant was OK but we felt unhappy with all those poor people within a distance of only a few metres.
The following day we went to Casablanca by train, which is far more comfortable than by bus. The last 100 kms by bus, and home again in El Jadida!

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