Fes is a fantastical labyrinth of narrow streets that twist and turn for miles. Delights spring from around every corner. A shabby donkey ambles along, carrying a cumbersome load, while cats dart along in search of mice. There are people everywhere, going about their daily business. We laugh to ourselves as a postman purposefully strolls up to a studded door and drops a letter into the letter box – at least some people know exactly where they’re going. We don’t have a clue where we are.
Our guide, Callum, is a master of the maze. Guiding us effortlessly through the streets, he introduces us to the hidden wonders of Fes. We stop at a tiny donut shop, where the owner whips up fresh donuts for little more than a few pence. Further along the same street, we ogle at a large, hot iron ball which is quickly shrouded in a thin layer of batter that crisps and bubbles to create a wafer-like pancake.
A visit to the chicken stall is a somewhat gruesome affair. Live chickens skulk together at the back of the shop, while buyers point out their choice of purchase. A chicken is selected and the stall owner quickly slit its throat. I am forced to look away as my stomach begins to turn. In a traditional apothecary shop, we test strange potions and sniff a curious black powder that is designed to cleanse the sinus, but only succeeds in making us sneeze. We leave the shop with throbbing heads and spots before our eyes.
Callum takes us to a colourful mosque and close by people are actually blocking the street where they have spontaneously knelt down to pray. He shows us the largest tannery in Africa, where fresh leather is dyed and crafted into bags, jackets and shoes. On entering, we are handed bundles of mint. At first I’m not sure whether to eat it or put it in a cocktail, until we go out onto the balcony and the smell of the tannery hits us. I sniff the mint leaves eagerly. Men stand knee deep in great vats of dye, their skin permanently stained brown, red and blue. Sadly, many of these men will not survive to see their children grow up, as constant exposure to the dyes can be toxic.
Our day of wending through the streets of Fes ends in a relaxing evening in a local restaurant that is encrusted with colourful, mirrored mosaics. We eat traditional lamb tagine and sip glasses of sugary mint tea, while snake charmers and belly dancers take to the floor.