18 2 / 2012
Easily my favorite city in the entirety of Morocco, Chefchaouen is known as the “blue city” due to its overwhelming color correlation and architecture, but it should also go by another nickname as the Amsterdam of Morocco. Chefchaouen is situated about an hour from Tangier, which is the northern-most point of Morocco in regards to its position with Spain, and the city from which you can leave to go to Spain. Due to its proximity to the Spanish border and the shore of Morocco, Chefchaouen is a clear tourist destination and I was more surprised than I should have been at the number of clear foreigners idling in the city, as well as the vast language ability of the native population. One of the huge selling points of the touristy part of the city is that almost everyone you encounter is extremely eager to offer you hashish and assist you in securing some if you are so inclined. It was most certainly the most common point of conversation and it got very repetitive to have to keep declining, in our most polite attempts. (At one point someone even jumped out from behind a rock on our trail that I talk about a little later, it got real intense.) Upon arriving to the city we were exhausted after our seven-hour bus ride following a late night out the night before with our Meknes friends and solely wanted to find our hostel. The petite taxis that took us to the center part of the medina from the bus station passed through the majority of the new part of the town, which was completely painted in blue. The guardrails and construction were even blue and every building seemed to have some blue on it somewhere. Upon arriving to the medina we were approached by various Moroccans who wanted to guide us to our hostel, Riad Baraka, as clearly we were foreign, carrying luggage, and looked slightly lost. The thing about tour guides is not that they aren’t friendly and helpful, but rather that in some places they are slightly pushy and always are looking to make money. Considering the lack of street signs for the most part and our confusion with the medina we chose to take one of the extremely kind men up on their offer and he guided us the roundabout way to our hostel for the night. Riad Baraka is located in a very central part of the medina and is owned by an extremely friendly and gregarious British lady (and I would highly recommend it if anyone is in need of a place to stay in Chefchaouen in the foreseeable future) and she guided us through the hostel.
The interior was beautiful, four floors and modernly furnished although the paintings and decorations made sure to relay the Moroccan environment in which it was situated. The layout of the hostel actually reminded me of a Baltimore row house, which made me that much more comfortable. Our bedroom, which I shared with my roommate Chelsea, was a queen bed and remarkably comfortable, almost like a cloud compared to the plywood and mattress that I sleep on nightly in Meknes (although I appreciate having a bed, I’m not complaining, it could always be worse). The best part of the hostel though was the beautiful rooftop that had two levels, ample sitting space and was gorgeously painted. The rooftop even had a heated sitting room where there was a large collection of DVDs able to lounge and watch a movie under the stars. We decided to unload our bags and venture around the city since we were only intending to stay for twenty-four hours. Since there were four of us we realized that it would make the most sense to split up because we had forgotten to secure our return bus tickets for the next afternoon so Genaro and Chelsea returned to the bus station while Gus and myself ventured through the city in order to find a place for dinner. We wandered out of the medina and into the new part of the city which was more modern and less crowded since there is more space between buildings and areas. We walked around for a while and admired murals, which were adorned with blue as well as a few garden areas before we met back up and found a restaurant that specialized in seafood in order to get lunch. Since we were close to the shore and the prices were fairly cheap Genaro, Chelsea and I decided to all get the seafood special plates which were filled with a montage of seafood, including calamari, shrimp, entire fried fish, anchovies, and French fries, and was by far the most delicious meal I’ve had since arriving in Morocco. Following the restaurant we wandered back into the medina and decided to stroll around, stopping into various shops and talking to Moroccans until we found the main square within the medina. Different from other cities that we had been into up until this point, the main square in Chefchaouen was situated across from a mosque/museum and around a gated extremely large pine tree that was decorated in beautiful lights. All of the restaurants had patios that catered to relaxing in the night area and was an amazing place to enjoy a mint tea and sit under the stars. On our way back to the hostel we got approached by another man who seemed incredibly friendly and me being the naïve person that I am assumed wanted to converse and that I would solely be making another Moroccan friend. He was also fluent in Spanish and I had the opportunity to practice my language skills for a solid twenty minutes, which reaffirmed that when placed in a critical situation I am much better at Spanish than I let myself believe, a real confidence booster and highlight of the trip. Despite his friendly demeanor he ended up taking us to his Berber friend’s shop that attempted to persuade us to buy all sorts of rugs and herbs in order to solve all sorts of problems in our life. Now we aren’t the type to buy things for the sake of buying considering one, we live in Morocco and can purchase souvenirs any time the mood strikes, and two, already have a loveable Berber friend Abdul who I’d prefer to buy Berber goods from (see Prophet Mohammad’s Birthday Celebrations post…) so it was a solid twenty minutes spent trying to politely refuse to purchase anything despite the insistence that he was a good hardworking multi-lingual man with a wife, multiple children, girlfriend in Hawaii and therefore we should most certainly purchase something because clearly I needed it. (I also got repeatedly told I was beautiful and that I clearly wanted something and/or would buy something because I have an inability to say no in most situations and due to the language barrier I usually smile and say minimal with my obnoxiously large doe eyes which I think is taking as a sign of enjoyment… we return back to this later.. Arabic language reference for you there.) After repeated protests and finally a firmer goodbye from our good friend Gus, thank goodness for him by the way, he’s gotten me out of many an awkward situation, we finally left the shop to be greeted by our always helpful guide who had been waiting outside and demanded payment for taking us to the Berber shop, though I thought we were just going to be friends!, and despite the fact that Genaro had already purchased him a pack of cigarettes at this point. We thus decided it was in our best interest to attempt to wander back to the hostel by ourselves at this point and spent the remainder of the night on the rooftop enjoying the city, potentially watching a movie, and maybe cracking open a bottle of wine. And of course, I stopped a purchased a Kinder Bueno on the way. (Seriously, they need these in America) We returned to Riad Baraka and ventured to the roof, taking some nighttime shots over the medina and admired the stars as the city is situated between the Atlas Mountains and the hostel itself is perfectly placed in the middle of the medina. The four of us decided to watch a movie inside the heated room as it was still fairly chilly at this point in February and picked out the Tree of Life since it was independent and we were certain we had heard great things about it. I can honestly say I wandered out of the heated room to sit in the cold under the starts instead after an hour after witnessing both boys sleeping beside me although Chelsea maintained it would have to get better and persisted to watch. She instead told me it was a wrong decision but had made a great Australian friend who was also staying at the hostel in the process. Finally we all adjourned for the evening and collapsed quickly into our lovely plush heaven-like beds. In the morning we were served breakfast complementary with our stay at the hostel (which by the way was less than $2 for the night) after a fantastic shower in the most beautiful bathroom I have ever seen. The breakfast was a delicious yogurt and fresh fruit parfait, fresh squeezed orange juice, hot mint tea, and a marochia, which is my favorite pastry coated with chocolate on the outside and filled with a delicious almond filling. Afterwards the kind British lady, by the way she has the most adorable accent, let us keep our bags in her room so we could roam around the city and potentially hike up the mountain. She gave the directions to the mountain, over the city view to Gus, because after the previous night’s events I had proved that I wasn’t capable to navigate anywhere, which is also very true if you’ve ever been in a car with me as a driver or passenger, and we found ourselves walking around the side of the entire medina until we reached a road that passed over a stream with the cutest baby waterfall where Chefchaouens (I definitely just made that term up but I much rather prefer it to calling any citizen “natives”) were washing their clothes and hanging them to dry on the roof of the pavilion situated on the river. We crossed the road and headed up a path up the mountain where Chelsea decided to run because she wanted exercise ( I was wearing boots, plus I usually only run when chased ji ji ji) while Gus, Genaro and I decided to stroll up instead. We spent the majority of the walk joking and carrying on, per usual and since we couldn’t see the end in city found a giant side of the mountain and decided it would be a splendid idea to detour from the paved path and climb up instead. Gus leaped up the way with his terrific climbing shoes and eagerness to take pictures at the top with an overlook of the entire city, while Genaro and I scrambled up slowly due to Genaro’s converses (not appropriate anything shoes) and my dire fear of falling and sliding/somersaulting backwards down the mountain. Also I failed to mention that this was an extremely vertical climb, always an added bonus. Upon reaching the top a good few minutes ahead of us Gus scrambled back down as he realized it was private property and someone was yelling in Arabic, and of course once again led the way ahead back down the path. Genaro who had invested a good deal of effort into the climb up, at one point on hands and knees (I wish I could have videoed this for austerity) was slow to have to come back down and I stood in panic as I envisioned myself falling in slow circles back down so instead slid as quickly and slowly as I could on a sideways slant to the beginning of our ascent. Continuing on the path once we all safely reached level ground, we climbed further up the mountain, this time following the paved and clearly right trail, and finally made it to the lookout point, a Spanish mosque that had a beautiful overlook of the entire medina/city as well as mountains on all sides. We took a lovely family photo of Genaro, Gus and I and were invited by Chelsea to continue a trek up the mountain to a nearby village (nearby meaning at least two hours) with her newfound friends from Canada & the States (she has a tendency to make friends with other random travelers, always an added bonus in most situations). Deciding against it considering how things had worked out to this point in our own journey we instead wanted to trek to the complete opposite side of the city in search of reaching the summit of Chefchaouen and its medina. We wandered back the way we came and ventured back inside the medina heading further up and up (side note, there are always intense upward walks inside any medina as they are usually built in the most strategic location, within mountains, but in Chefchaouen’s case it’s literally on a mountain) until we reached the medina wall. Walking outside the medina we wanted to actually climb up to a lookout point on the wall itself, which was built even higher on a hill, another vertical hike, and climbed up the tower upon the assistance of fellow Chefchaouens who were already situated on top. The view over the medina was astounding as it overlooked it in its entirety on a downward angle and we took more pictures to celebrate our accomplishments on demolishing Chefchaouen. The four boys that were sharing the view with us asked us to take a few pictures with them, further cementing our novelty as American tourists, and then proceeded to only ask me what my name was and how to spell it, as they cycled out of pictures with me which I will hopefully find on Facebook one day with a tag, me and my American girlfriend Amanda. (Enshallah, also translates to God Willing in Arabic, used in most situations and always appropriate, and also fitting because I learned how to correctly pronounce it on this trip and not have it sound like I’m asking for a Spanish menu item) After trekking through both sides of the city we were thoroughly exhausted and wanted to grab our bags and get lunch and meet up with Chelsea before returning to the bus station to catch our 3pm return back to Meknes. On our way back to the main plaza we stopped and bought handmade paintings of various different depictions of parts of the city for only 10ds, which was a little less than $1.25 and will fit in perfectly with my art collection from around the world, and by the world I mean the various things I’ve collected from Mexico. We waited in the main square of the medina for Chelsea to return from her worldly adventures with her newfound friends and we’re approached while waiting by a fellow American named Daniel who asked us where we were staying. He said he had just arrived in Chefchaouen and said he would love American conversation so we asked him to join us for lunch, which was at a different outdoor café. We talked about our travels and he told us he was going to be in Morocco for a few weeks so we told him if he planned to stop by in Meknes anytime in the foreseeable future to give us a call. Afterwards we caught petites to the bus station and climbed aboard for our four-hour bus trip to Fez, before our hour bus ride to Meknes to solidly end our trip. As a side note, although we only had an hour stop over in Fez which was just enough time to catch dinner I have to mention our entire dining experience since it was for sure one of the funniest parts of the trip. Genaro attempted to order shawarma, but he is extremely particular about his food and due to the apparent language barrier between us and everyone he was trying to explain what he exactly wanted with his sandwich. Add to the apparent disconnection between the waiter and Genaro the extremely loud revving of a motorbike engine less than ten feet away directly outside the entrance of the open doors of the restaurant, that conveniently seemed to happen every SINGLE time he opened his mouth to specify his order, this continued on for literally three solid minutes and Genaro only got more and more irritated on top of an extremely rough four hour bus ride, five solid hours of hiking, and lack of sleep made for a scene straight out of a comedy movie, although Genaro didn’t seem to think so. I on the other hand laughed until I cried. We had already previously established on this trip that despite the fact I am fully aware that I talk WAY too fast for any normal person (heyyy auctioneer as a potential fall back career choice), I also mumble and slur my words at times and Genaro’s first language is Spanish and he has a strong accent as well so we deduced that he cannot understand most anything that comes out of my mouth and therefore Chelsea served as our interpreter for a solid amount of the trip, although apparently this was the weekend that everyone decided to tell me that in most situations it’s very difficult to understand what I’m saying, good to know two months into the trip. After boarding our bus to Meknes at around 9pm and being accosted by a man asking us repeatedly if we were going to the desert, we finally reached Meknes, where Genaro ran off the bus at a random stoplight and left the three of us on the bus because he didn’t want to backtrack back from the bus station to our apartments since you have to pass them to get there. But as a final note, we pulled one over on him and won that round, the bus driver let us off closer and a block from our apartment buildings. See ya!