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Two Years & Twice Around the World...  
Chefchaouen, Morocco
COUNTRY FACTS Pop: 33,241,259 Area:446,550 km2 Gov't: Constitutional Monarchy Religion: Muslim 98.7%, Christian 1.1%, Jewish 0.2%.View Map
Chefchaouen, Morocco, April 30, 2004  

Morocco Flag MOROCCO


April 30. ALGECIRAS - CHEFCHAOUEN We caught the 12:15 ferry from Algecira to Ceuta.  It only took about forty minutes to cross the Straight of Gibraltar.  Landing in Ceuta it looked like we hadn't even left Spain with rows of apartment buildings neatly stacked up the hills, facing out to the Mediterranean.  From the ferry dock it was a short walk to the bus stop where we crammed onto a packed bus to the frontera (border).  The bus was mostly full of Moroccan people, many with bags of groceries from SuperSol.  Someone was packing some fish from the smell of things. It only took about fifteen minutes to reach the border where the bus emptied out and people filed into a fenced-in walkway that led to the border crossing.  We followed the flow of grocery toting people through the walkway.  There was no passport check as we left Spain.  When we entered the no man's land we were directed by a couple of Moroccan police to a the foreigner queue.  It was actually more of a cluster, where we stood in confusion for a few moments until we realized that we didn't have the necessary entry form.  Rob gestured to a guard standing nearby and he procured us the required form.  With our forms filled out we inched our way towards the window and got ready to hand over our passports with the rest of the group.  They only came to the window periodically to collect a stack of passports or to return the completed ones.  Once our passports had made it through the window we just had to wait for them to come back, which took about five minutes.  

From the passport window we went to change money and then exited the immigration area into a sea of taxis.  Our guidebook indicated that we could get a shared cab to Chefchaouen for about 70 Moroccan Dirham per person but we were surprised when the first cab we talked to readily agreed to the figure so as we were getting in we wrote the amount on a piece of paper to confirm.  He shook his head vigorously and said "No! 70 euros."  We got out of the taxi and searched out a real shared cab to the nearby town of Tetouan.  These "grande" taxis, as they were called, were all Mercedes Benzes and crammed six people into each car, in addition to the driver.  Our driver had an image of Chefchaouen, MoroccoOsama Bin Laden on the mobile phone attached to the dash.  There were already four men squeezed into the back so we wedged our bodies into the right front seat.  Rob took the left half of the seat so I didn't have to be smashed up against the driver, which put him half sitting on the gear panel in the middle of the car.  It was all fine until we pulled out onto the highway and the driver shifted into high gear.  Rob jumped as the gear handle was shoved into his leg.  It is good thing that we didn't have to go in reverse...

With so many people crammed into the car that the driver couldn't see well and we narrowly missed colliding with a small white truck as we merged on the highway.  I saw the truck bumper move up on us quickly and come inches from the door before our driver swerved.   Luckily it was just a twenty minute ride to Tetouan and once we reached cruising speed there was very little to slow us down.   The taxi pulled up to a curb alongside all of the other grande taxis and everyone piled out.  We didn't know which way to go for the bus station but were helped by a friendly Spanish man who walked us through the park across the street and up some stairs to the busy station enclosed in a large building.  A bus for Tetouan was leaving shortly so a man at the ticket windows walked us downstairs to where the buses were parked and helped us buy our ticket and get our bags on the bus.  It was CTM bus which meant it was pretty clean and the bus left on time.

The countryside butting up to the Rif Mountains was very lush and pretty.  We wound our way along the highway and gradually climbed to the village of Chefchaouen.  It wasn't an attractive place at first look but the scenic countryside made up for that.  The bus station was at the bottom of the hill which meant we had a steep hike to find the center of town.  Kids playing ball in the sChefchaouen, Moroccotreet greeted as we walked past but we soon became aware of someone shadowing us.  He was pretty obvious.  We paused and he tried to look nonchalant as he took a seat on the wall nearby.  We waited a bit longer, making it clear that we saw him, and he finally went away.   Once we reached the top of the hill we had a good long traverse to the center of town.  As we got close to the medina (old town) we picked up another shadow.  This guy was cleverly trying to track us from ahead but gave himself away when he kept looking back to see that we were coming.  When we reached a large traffic circle with a park in the middle we took the longer route around and found a bench to sit on.  It seemed like a good spot to check our guidebook and make sure we were going the right way.  We hadn't been seated for more than thirty seconds before a couple of young boys approached us with "Looking for hotel?" and "Looking for restaurant?".  We said "no" and went back to our book.  They kept at us until the man who had been shadowing us from ahead finally came back to find us.  When he showed up we told them all emphatically that we didn't need any help and walked away. 

Once inside the medina we found ourselves in a maze of little alleyways that were packed with shops.  One friendly shopkeeper pointed us in the direction of the hotels.  We checked out two places before ending up at the backpacker favorite.  Chefchaouen, MoroccoThe second place was quite nice with its covered courtyard but the prices had gone up double since the book was published.  The backpacker hostel was painted in the trademark Chefchaouen blue and had a cheerful open courtyard with checkered black and white tiles across the floor. Our room was quiet and cozy enough but the shared bathroom smelled something awful.  The lukewarm shower on the basement floor that had to serve the whole hostel turned out to be another down point but the staff were friendly and helpful.  

The hostel stood next to a public hammam (bathhouse) and was just off the main square.  The plastered exterior of the buildings in Chefchaouen were tinted with various shades of blue.  The blue washed exterior of our hostel and the hammam spilled out onto the street where it met the cobblestone pavement.  A kasbah (15th c.), or fortress, with its rough brown facade, dominated the small square.  Only the minaret on the nearby mosque could compete with its towers.  Facing the kasbah and mosque was a row of tourist targeted cafes and restaurants.  We chose a restaurant just off the square for lunch.  It was a small place called Aladdin's, decorated with colorful cushions and lively Moroccan music. We had the place almost entirely to ourselves.  A cat peeked in twice through one of the windows to beg for food before leaping from the window sill to make a break for the stairs.  Cats were the Prophet Mohammed's chosen pet and seemed to be well tolerated in Morocco.  We had pastilla, a sweet and savory chicken pastry, one of Morocco's famous dishes, accompanied by some mint tea.  The waiter poured the tea from high above the glass to give it a frothy layer on top, in traditional Moroccan fashion.  The Moroccan style of mint tea was much sweeter and more minty than the Egyptian version.  There was almost time of the day that cafes weren't found full of men taking their mint tChefchaouen, Moroccoea or coffees, the newer French alternative.   

After our lunch we wandered the labyrinth of small streets that filled the old walled medina.  The streets climbed the hillside and were full of life.   Many of the buildings were awash in white and various shades of blue or, occasionally, green.   The village was founded by Riffian Berbers (Berbers were the original in habitants of north Africa) in 1471 but really began to prosper in 1494, after Jewish and Muslim refugees fled there to avoid religious persecution in the  reacquired Spanish province of Granada.  Christians were officially banned from Chefchaouen until 1920, when it was occupied by Spanish troops.  The characteristic blue color was only added in 1930 by the Jewish community.  The doors and windows were previously painted green, the color of Islam.      

The small pedestrian streets were full of people, mostly locals, moving from place to place, doing their shopping, or kids playing in the streets.  There was the occasional tourist shop here and there with some fairly persistent shop keepers  but, otherwise, it was a very relaxed place. We saw children making the trip back and forth between their homes and the local bakers.  They stacked the large sheet pans full of cookies on the floor of the bakery and then stood to wait for their goodies to get baked in the large wood fired oven.   Our walk took us up across the hillside, to the medina gate, and back through the steep narrow alleyways that comprised the souk, or market area.  Still feeling full from our late lunch we didn't have dinner but stopped on the square for some mint tea.    The glass of tea was stuffed with mint leaves but on top they added a sprinkling of jasmine petals which made it particularly aromatic and flavorful. 

We met four Dutch people, who had come over on the same ferry from Spain, at our hostel.  They were among the few other independent travelers that we saw in town.  Otherwise there was just the occasional tour group filing through.  It wasn't the high season for Chefchaouen.  The weather was a bit wet and cloudy but the lack of tourists more than made up for it. 

SPAIN Madrid Mar 23 Mar 24 Mar 25-26 Mar 27-30 Granada Mar 31 April 1-28 Semana Santa Part I Part II Photos I Photos II Photos III Photos IV The Alhambra Part I Part II Part III Part IV


MOROCCO Chefchaouen April 30 May 1 Fes May 2 May 3 May 4 May 5 May 6 Meknes May 7 May 8 May 9 Sahara May 10-11 May 12 May 13-14 May 15 Marrakesh May 16