Morocco is a contrasting country. It's not just about the unification of cultures: Arab, Berber and European. And not only in natural contrasts: ocean, desert, mountains. But everyday life is full of paradoxes.

In January I visited Morocco and was amazed at how colorful and contrasting country it is.

Fez: how locals make money on tourists

Fez amazes with its intricate streets where even locals can get lost. In the vast and convoluted Old Medina (old town), I saw what classy riads (hotels) lurk behind ragged walls and low, inconspicuous doors studded with brass. Here, the wrapper and the candy never match. In Fez, one must be guided by intuition and look even into dumb alleys to see the treasures of Aladdin.

For example, this is how I found the oldest functioning university in the world ... you can imagine that it got lost right here! This is Al Qaraouin University, an Islamic educational institution founded in 859. It is registered in the Guinness Book of Records as the oldest university in the world ( its courtyard is in the title photo ).

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The medina of Fez is very contrasting. There are two main streets where tourists walk. But as soon as you turn the corner, the real life of ordinary Moroccans opens, where a laborer gets 5 USD dollars for one day of dressing a skin, and those who know a few words in English impersonate a guide with a price tag of 30 dollars for two hours. There, on the streets, they bake delicious wood-fired bread worth 20 cents, but at the same time, if you need to ask something from the locals, they will answer for at least two dollars. 

In Fez I lost my rented car with all my belongings. I parked and went on a guided tour, and when I returned to drive further, I did not find a car. 

I had my car documents and passport and I decided to go to the local police. Without French or Arabic, it is very difficult to figure out something in Morocco. Almost no one speaks English. Having enlisted the help of a guide, I still managed to communicate with the police. The car was immediately put on the wanted list and after a while it was already found ... at the penalty area. It turned out that the police evacuated her behind a parking lot in a UNESCO-protected area. Although I did not see the prohibition sign, and besides my car, there were others.

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After exhausting trips to various police stations and filling out a dozen forms, I was able to pick up the car. As a result: 4 hours of red tape and $ 50. In this story, the actions of the guide seemed suspicious to me, because he probably knew that it was impossible to park the car in that place, but he did not tell me about it. Perhaps this is a way to grab more tips by helping “unlucky” tourists take back their cars. So be careful with parking.

Leather workshops in Fez

All the shops in the old town of Fez are full of colorful leather goods: bags, shoes, wallets, jackets. And this is understandable, because it is here that the famous tannery factories are located, where animal skins undergo a full cycle of processing using medieval technologies to produce modern things.

 

Chouara is the oldest tannery in the world. Most tourists know it for its multi-colored vats in which they dye their skin. The panoramic view of this place from above is an innocent and even attractive picture, like multi-colored watercolors. However, I decided to go downstairs and take a closer look at the production.

Everyone who has visited this place cannot forget its smell. Heavy, disgusting, all-pervading. I was lucky to get there in the winter. In summer, in the heat, the aromas intensify. At the entrance, tourists are given a sprig of mint, but it, of course, does not help much.

So, having descended closer to the workers, I was shocked. A spectacle like a horror movie. Around the remains of blood, animal skins in packs hang on donkeys, which are used here as transport. The workers themselves are very gloomy. But they can be understood.

How does everything work in Chouara? First, the stripped skins are soaked several times in a limestone solution to separate the remnants of the fur from the skin. Then the excess is manually scraped off. To keep the skin soft and pliable, it is soaked in bird droppings. Then the leather is dipped in vats with natural dyes and dried on the roofs. 

Although the sight is not pleasant, it is definitely remembered and impressive. It's amazing - Morocco is one of the most developed countries in Africa, but such ancient types of production are still alive.

Michelin-starred restaurant in the mountains of Morocco

From Fez I went to the Atlas Mountains, which impressed me no less than the cities. Small villages are crowded like nests on the mountain slopes, the air is fresh and cool, snow still lay on the peaks in January. The hotel I stayed in was very atmospheric with amazing views. There I was greeted with such hospitality that it seemed as if I was their only guest. They were treated to tea and sweets, offered a blanket, told what to see in the area and what to have fun. 

On the way from there, another interesting story happened to me.

Most cafes and restaurants in Morocco are small and inconspicuous. Everything is very simple, modest, but delicious. Especially outside the cities. There was a sign next to one of these village establishments: "Chef with a Michelin star is preparing." At first I thought it was just another tourist gimmick from resourceful Moroccans, or just a joke. Nevertheless, I decided to check and find out what is the connection between the "hut" at the foot of the Atlas Mountains and haute cuisine.

An English speaking girl worked in the restaurant and explained to me what was going on. A French chef with a Michelin star actually cooked in the kitchen of this establishment for one week. He, this girl and the waiter came to the country to share knowledge and experience with their Moroccan counterparts and at the same time increase the rating of local restaurants. Morocco was once a colony of France, and cultural exchange between the countries still takes place today.

We were treated to traditional Moroccan dishes, but they were served exquisitely and included some secret ingredients for a more sophisticated taste. 

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I became convinced that Morocco is indeed a very contrasting country. And the point is not only that it has combined Arab, Berber and European cultures. And not only in natural contrasts: ocean, sea, desert, mountains. But even in ordinary everyday life, it is full of paradoxes. Well, in what other country will a chef with a Michelin star cook for you in a godforsaken village near the mountains?